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7: What Goes Bump in the Night

All Penny wanted to do was go home and crash into bed. She had had a long day- perhaps the longest of her life- but thankfully, it was over.

She had just started her job as a waitress in one of West Harbour’s most reputable diners but she was already planning to quit. Attending to people who did nothing but ogle her body all day long, serving said people, and most appalling of all, smiling at them even though she was thinking of over a thousand ways to murder them where they stood was just a lot more than the twenty-five year old, black-haired, athletically built woman could handle.

But even as she contemplated the termination of her new job, she knew deeply in her mind that it was an option she couldn’t take; at least, not at the moment. She had just packed out of her parent’s house and moved into a low rent but still expensive apartment; for her present standard of living, at least; and coupled with the fact that she had a two-year boy to take care of, the job was something she desperately needed and no amount of appall was going to change that.

To be honest, Penny didn’t find being a waitress all that bad. Sure, she dealt with a lot of scumbags during her shift. But she also met with a lot of nice people too; people who actually took interest in her case and genuinely wanted to help her. Those people made it worthwhile and more times than she could count, they kept her going.

She usually worked the late night shift most days of the week. She served the customers, waited until they were done, then cleaned up the diner after work alongside her other night shift buddy James. It was a routine and one she was fully accustomed to.

Just like the other days, she was done with the activities of the night and was just dropping the garbage into the trash can while James locked up when she suddenly heard it: a noise coming from the alley.

It was like a footstep but so quiet that she probably wouldn’t have heard it had it not being for the fact that the night itself was silent.

“Hello,” she called. “Anybody there?”

There was no response and she thought that it was probably the wind playing tricks on her ears. But just as she turned to leave, she heard it again and clearer this time too. There was definitely something moving in the alley.

“Hey, this isn’t funny,” she said to whomever might be there.

Presuming that it was some drunk who probably forgot that the alley wasn’t his bedroom, Penny wiped her hands on her apron, grabbed a small stick at the side of the trash can, and made her way down the alley with the intent of giving the buffoon, whomever he might turn out to be, a piece of her mind. People just shouldn’t creep other people out like that.

But she had barely walked a couple of inches into the darkness when she suddenly came upon the figure waiting for her; and the sight she saw was one the poor woman never had the chance to rid herself of the haunt of.

It was barely daybreak- the sun hadn’t even risen yet- but Sheriff White could already see that the sight in front of him was going to be a gruesome one.

Sheldon had been in bed when the call came in. “We’ve got a murder, sir,” said Tristan, the young patrol officer who had been the first cop on site.

“A murder?” asked the sheriff like the officer had just told him that he found a fish jaywalking. “Are you sure about this?”

“Affirmative, sir,” he replied, “a young woman in her midtwenties.”

Thing is, murders were as alien to West Harbour as water was to the sun. Sure, they had the occasional robberies, drunk and disorderlies, even destruction of public and private properties. But no one had ever dared to go as far as killing another person in the town. It went against everything they believed in, which was why the sheriff had quickly ended the call, rushed to get dressed, and sped down the street, siren blasting to the site where the body was found.

The dead girl laid unceremoniously in the back alley of a diner, her eyes widened in horror that still seemed to linger even after her death. Her mouth was open in a scream that unfortunately didn’t reach the ears of anybody in time to save her. Blood covered every portion of her body; more pooling around her so much so that the officers at work had to wear rubber boots in order to prevent their shoes from soaking in it.

“Vic’s name is Penelope Bryton,” said the M.E., a bald man with large horn-rimmed glasses, when he looked up to see Sheldon approach, “twenty five years old. She’s a waitress at the diner. Cause of death is multiple lacerations to her... Well, everywhere. A colleague of hers at the bar, James Thornton, called the murder in when he found her body lying here after he realised that she had been gone from the diner for too long; that was two hours ago. Judging from the freshness of the blood on her body, I’d say she was killed not so long before that.”

Of course, the sheriff didn’t need all of that information; everything was quite obvious from the girl’s body. Plus everybody in West Harbour knew who Penny was.

The last child in a family of five, Penelope had been what could be referred to as the black sheep of the Bryton family. She disobeyed rules, got into trouble almost every day of the week, and ran away from punishment only to get into more trouble.

She lived her life so much on the edge that it didn’t come really as a surprise to anyone when she decided to elope out of town with her high school boyfriend just after graduation. It was only a matter of time before she drifted away, they had all concluded.

But her bad youth aside, Penny returned back to West Harbour a few months earlier a new leaf. Her boyfriend had dumped her in the big city after he got her pregnant; and although she did have the boy, Anthony, and tried to take care of him, she didn’t particularly succeed in that regard.

So, she returned back home to her family who, after a very long counselling session with the town priest, agreed to take her back. She was getting back on her feet, catering for herself and her young son, and she definitely didn’t deserve to have her life end in a dark alley like some unfortunate destitute.

“So, what do you think attacked her, sheriff?” asked the medical examiner. “A bear, maybe?”

As impossible as it seemed that a murder had just been committed, it was even more unlikely that a bear was responsible.

West Harbour’s bears were as much a resident of the town as the locals. They loved the people and the latter looked after them in return. There was a relationship, an unspoken rule that neither side ever broke; and no matter the cause, a bear would never have ventured that far into town and much less killed a person in the process.

“A bear didn’t do this,” Sheldon replied.

“What makes you so sure?” the M.E. asked.

“Well, for one, bears can’t do that.” He pointed at something that just caught his eye, a word carved into Penny’s arm after death. The Minotaur.

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