Loyal to the End
By
Nicholas Ivan Ladendorf

He is in the middle of chasing rabbits when the crash and then THUD from the kitchen wakes him. Max considers returning to his rabbit hunting but begrudgingly rises to investigate.
Still sleepy after getting up, he yawns, stretches, and does a shake as he does after a bath or swim. More awake now, he meanders into the kitchen.
He finds his master in a puddle of already cooling blood. Maxís heart breaks and the sorrow is enough to make him be a bad boy all over the floor instead of outside. Whining and trembling Max begins randomly darting his snout to points around the room and sniffing to help come to some understanding of what has happened. The investigating also sooths him. A small hole in the wall, it smells like both eggs and a burning smell. It smells like the night that comes every summer when the sky fills with sound and light but no rain. He scratches at the hole and a claw slides into it for a second as the others are raked past. He sniffs around for the source but only finds broken glass at the foot of the paned doors he often stares through. Someone was here to put the hole in the wall. But no one has been here today other than master. Max can be sure of that, heís good at sniffing.
He looks and sniffs around again, unsure what else to do. He finds that master has also made a puddle. This gives Max hope that master is still alive. Max licks his masterís hand. The hope was false.
He hears a slight whistling from the place he likes to look out from. Fresh air comes in from a small hole above the broken glass. He doesnít understand what happened but he does understand that the only way to find out is to be outside. He uses the little flapped door master made for him when he was a pup. Max wags his tail as he recalls master calling him from outside, and puppy Max pawed at the flap to test it. After a dozen or so more uncertain wags of his little tail, puppy Max pushed his nose through into the backyard and to master telling him what a good boy he was. Who would tell him now?
Max sniffs around the backyard, momentarily distracted by bunny trails. When ever masterís mate, Daisy, would see him do this she would kneel down and say in the voice she saves for him and human puppies ďWe donít chase the bunnies, we donít, because they are cute like you are. Yes you are a cutie Max.Ē
He has no idea what any of it means but he liked the way she would scratch his muzzle when saying it.
Max found many traces of bunny activity, but nothing else. Perplexed, Max sits with head cocked until the wind shifts. Riding down on the breeze from the hill beyond the fence is the bad smell. He doesnít know how it killed master from way up there but he begins to bark in the direction of the smell. He doesnít know how close it is so he just barks and runs back and forth along the fence. He shows his teeth and jumps at the fence. He acts as vicious and sure as he can.
He stops when he hears a sharp noise. Faint under all the barking. A car door maybe. Off a way, but from the direction of the smell. Cars donít go up there that often. People donít go up there often. Those are the woods where master would sometimes let Max run free to terrorize bunnies.
Max is calmer now, panting. Thinking. Notices in the excitement he tore down clothes hanging in the air. He also knocked over an empty garbage can. This one is big and the sides are flat. It isnít near the back fence so he canít go in the direction of the smell- only into the neighborís yard.
Max springs off the garbage can and scrambles over the fence. He lands on the right side of his face and shoulder but is unphased. Max rushes to the back fence whining with anticipation. The whining becomes deep in frustration as Max gets to the looked gate. He barks at the gate to open. It doesnít work, but it was worth a shot. Heís stuck on this side of the fence. He canít get back into his own yard. Max is panicky as he paws at the locked gate. If he canít get into his own yard he canít go in the flapped door. If he canít go in the flapped door he canít get to his food and water dish. Not that thereís anyone to put food in it anymore. Max then realizes the front gate is wide open.
Heíll have to run to the end of the street to get behind the house but Max is fast. Even though it takes him very little time to round the block, once heís there heís forgotten what he was looking for. A breeze reminds him.
The bad smell that is both something like eggs and something like burning is weaker now. Maybe itís getting away. Max hurries closer and closer until he is there.
His nose bumps into it. Itís a small thing. Itís hollow, the inside reeking of the bad smell. Awful. He barks at it, but it seems to be dead. He sniffs around out of instinct, lack of other activity, and to clear his snout of the awful smell.
He picks up a scent. A manís scent. It didnít occur to him that a man could have put the small thing up to killing master but he followed the scent anyway. Tracking makes him forget about his empty food dish and the body sprawled beside it. If he would have crossed bunny tracks first he might be off tracking them instead. The human tracks lead him to car tracks. In his subconscious Max recalls hearing a car start from within the backyard.
The groves and the distinguishable scent of the carís tires fade away once Max reaches the paved road. But Max only started with following them, he has since become more interested in following the blood of the car. Max pictures the car limping in his mind. The image wasnít clear but is enough for him to make the correlation between the leak and the carís ailment.
It got harder and harder to track the blood. Max came across a very similar smelling blood that was almost as fresh. The space between drops were farther and farther apart. The smell of it changed. Now it smelled like burning. Not like the bad smell that from the thing that killed master, but both smelling like burning.
He did smell the burning/egg smell when he found the car dead on the side of the road. The smell came from the trunk. He barked and growled but it produced no results. Sometimes a bunny will hide by sitting real still, a few barks in the right general direction has gotten Max his fair share of bunny chases. But whatever made the bad smell didnít move no matter how ferocious Max became. Was it another dropping? Was it even alive? Was it like a possum, alive but good at acting dead? Max circled the car for a better vantage or better yet a way inside. At the front of the car Max found a large puddle of the cars odd blood. But fresher smelling than what was coming out of the wound under the car.
In the fresh puddle were an empty bottle and foot prints, the same size as the ones near the house... Max followed them until he couldnít. Tracking the car was easy because it was out of town where there were fewer alternative paths. But here everything is as segmented as the bathroom floor. There are just too many interesting smells from all the human traffic. Plus there are animal smells too. Some Max knows like dogs, cats, squirrels and even bunnies. But there are other smells that he hasnít come across yet. With so many distractions it was difficult to track, once the man crossed the small stream it became impossible. The car blood scent washed completely off.
Max drinks from the metal object that feeds the stream. There are bits of rust on the edges of the stream and grass growing under it. The metal thing doesnít feed the stream everyday, just today, just to make things more difficult. Max drinks for a while. He has worked up more of a thirst today than ever felt in his life. This is in part because master has always been there with water before. But also because heís never ran this much before. Chasing a wounded car is exhausting, Max doesnít think he could have gotten this far if the car were healthy.
His tail lowers a bit as he realizes it wasnít the car that he lost, but the man that was inside. On some level Max now understands that the man is somehow responsible for what happened to master. Or perhaps itís just that Max realizes that the man is all he has left.
He sets off for the man again. Not sure what to look for, he turns his snout up from the sidewalk to analyze the air. He doesnít smell anything that will help him find the man but he heads upwind anyway- because he does smell food.
The food smells good. Lots of meat smells. Foods that pop with oil when master would make them. The food smells combination seems familiar beyond the single thing at a time master might make. As he got closer Max could hear something that tickled his subconscious. Familiar like the smells. Familiar in the same way. Max quickened his pace as he recognized one of the sounds. Even faster once hearing the voice clearly, not because he could understand the words but because of the tone
ďLeon you better get out of here, my manager called the cops.Ē Max couldnít help but wag his tail at the sound of masterís mate.
ďDaisy I just wanted to tell you that I can accept that you have a boyfriend, but Iíll still be there for you- As a friend- if you need me. I know you should be just another waitress to me and that itís your job to be nice but I still appreciate it and want you to know that Iíll be there for you.Ē
ďDonít be!Ē The door slams just as Max finds the voices on the side of the building with all the garbage. Max sits next to the strange man and whines at the door. The strange man pats Max on the head ďSheís locked us out fella. But donít worry sheíll come back when she realizes she doesnít got anyone else.Ē Max smells the egg/burning on the manís hand just as the man jumps back startled, ďYou!?Ē
The man backs away, Max growls then barks a few times, scaring the man into stumbling and falling backwards. Max leaps onto him sinking his teeth into the manís hand. Bite, bite again and when Max has a good grip shake. Shake, shake all the strength out of the limb. The man screams and screams. Two men show up and they start yelling. Max ignores them, heís busy snapping, biting and tearing.
Suddenly Max is flying sideways. Max is on his side bleeding. Max smells more of that egg/burning from inside himself. Max hears the door open and someone says ďNo it was a dog, but Leon got bit up pretty bad.Ē
He hears daisy start with a question ďA dog bit- Oh my god Max!Ē she runs out and holds him. Max licks her hand as she sobs asking ďMax what were you even doing here?Ē though he isnít capable of answering or even understanding the question.
ďStep back maíam he may be rabidĒ even Max can tell her words are misspoken through the tears ďHe isnít rabid you idiot, I know himÖĒ
Her voice fades and she fades. Everything fades even the pain.


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