The evening was still young as Juanita peddled her bicycle on the almost empty path. The worn out tires of the cycle left the uneven dirt road and entered the path made of stones, which led to the market.
The orange-yellow rays of the sun illuminated the small buildings that sat on both sides of the road. The evening breeze felt warm against her skin and the mixed scent of popcorns, candies, freshly baked bread, and the sweet smell of the ripened fruits invaded her senses when she took a right turn towards the market.
They were having a guest and her mom wanted her to pick up some fresh bread and fruits for the dinner. Even though it was a weekend there were not many out there, which surprised her.
Her small village Belmoor was always a busy place and it usually buzzed with the crowd until nine p.m. Most of the people were shutting down their shops when she stopped in front of the vendor who sold fruits.
“Uncle Mike, mom wanted some fruits.”
“Oh dear, you shouldn’t be outside now,” his small brown eyes narrowed with concern.
“Why, Uncle Mike? I always come at this time of the hour. What’s with the people anyway? The streets are almost empty,” Juanita asked as she looked around the market.
Most of the people were whispering with serious faces and a few wore shocked expressions. The vendors were mostly loading their goods back into their baskets or carts. There was no mistaking the fear radiating from the town folks.
“Something worse happened a while ago in the town square. You must get back to your mother immediately and tell her to lock your windows and doors tight.”
“Hurry up now, kiddo. The sheriff will announce a curfew anytime now,” Uncle Mike went on to close the shop.
“Uncle Mike, we don’t have anything at home. My uncle’s family is visiting. Please give me some fruits before you close,” she asked him hurriedly.
He paused for a moment before filling her basket with random varieties of fruits. “You can pay me later, kiddo. Now, hurry up before the dusk.”
“Thank you, Uncle Mike.” She swiftly stepped on the pedal. She made a quick stop at the baker and vegetable vendor to pick up a few loaves of bread and vegetables, which will last them for a few days if there was a curfew.
“Be on your way, Juanita. It seems like a monster is on the loose,” Margaret warned while loading her basket with vegetables.
“Monster? Do you know what happened in the town square?” Juanita inquired curiously.
Though she knew she had to hurry back, she also wanted to know about the incident. Besides, she was not wasting time. She was actually filling her baskets with tomatoes and potatoes for soup as Margaret loaded her cart.
“I’m not sure if I want to tell you. There was a murder earlier this evening. And, it looks like an animal did it. So, don’t stop anywhere until you reach home,” Margaret warned.
“Sure. I’m leaving now,” Juanita nodded.
“It’s high time that you and Lilah move closer to this town,” Margaret called and Juanita waved ‘goodbye.’
She didn’t have to be told twice to be careful. Her single mother had always warned her about the monsters that lived in the dark and taught her to heed fair warnings.
Uncle Mike and Margaret were not joking about whatever event that happened in the town square. She needed to get home sooner to warn her mother.
Her mom’s estranged brother and family were visiting for the first time. They only had limited resources at home as they were not expecting them.
Their home was situated on the out stretch of the small village a mile away from the market. Her father owned a farm along the valley of Calloway Ridge, which also served as the border of the Belmoor village.
There were three villages along the valley of Calloway Ridge. The abundance of fresh water, prairie lands and rich soil where the treasure for the people lived here.
Farming and growing live stocks were the main sources of income for the people. The villages actually sat miles apart with only a small town serving as a connection.
The town square was a place which sat in the middle of the valley, connecting the three estranged villages. It was not a town at all, it was a marketplace where the people came to sell the items from their farms. Buyers from the nearby towns or cities visited the town square to buy their produce for the best price.
The town square had a bus stop, sheriff’s office, a post office and a small clinic. The children from the three villages traveled to the nearby town for school and as for colleges, they had to move to the city.
The Calloway Ridge was one of the places with zero crime rates in the whole of the United States. The only issues the villages faced was an occasional bear attack or a wild animal attack on their cattle in the past few decades and Juanita assumed that was the case.
Grizzly bears are very dangerous and had killed people in the past. It was not the season for the bears. Also, the animal attack usually happened around the area that was closer to the forest.
Uncle Mike had said that the incident happened in the town square, which made her curious. Margaret’s words made her wonder if the monster was one of those her mother warned her about.
Her mom, always said that the curiosity killed the cat. Juanita knew how to handle her curiosity. Her first priority was to reach home safely and warn her mother.
Juanita’s legs burned due to the excess amount of pressure she put on peddling. Sweat broke out of her pores drenching her thin cotton shirt. The sun was setting down, folding its last set of reddish rays, casting an orange glow on its surroundings.
She let out a sigh of relief as the road descended to her farm. She slowed and descended the dirt road all the way to her home. Doodles, her ten-year old sheep dog ran towards her and wagged his tail in greeting.
Juanita giggled as she got down from the bicycle and went back to close the small fenced gate, that separated their farm and the house.
“Juanita! Oh, baby, you reached safely.” Her mother hugged her and showered her with kisses as her eyes shone with relief. “Sheriff Waylon called earlier. He said there is a curfew and I was so worried about you.”
“Uncle Mike warned me about some incident happened in the town square. I stopped by to pick up a few things before I left. It will last us for the next few days, mama.” Juanita informed as her mother released her from her embrace.
“That’s so thoughtful,” her mother turned to look at the items she bought. “Wow, you got enough vegetables and fruits for us to go on for a week in the least.”
“Week? I thought it wouldn’t last more than four days.”
“Your Uncle and his family left when they heard about the curfew. Apparently, Ivan cannot be away from his work that long,” her mother shrugged.
Juanita could feel her mother’s sadness though she acted as if her brother’s sudden departure did not affect her.
“Mama, Uncle Ivan works with the police in the city. He cannot stay away from work. Anyway, even if there was no curfew, he would’ve left early morning,” Juanita said as she helped her mother carry the things inside.
“Hmm... He gave his address and phone number. He invited us to his home and also said you can stay with him if you choose to study in one of the universities in the city,” her mother mused.
“That’s very kind of him. I will think about it,” she muttered and spread the vegetables on their kitchen table. “Have you locked the barn?”
“Yes, I did immediately after the Sheriff’s call. Oh, speaking of which, I need to call him and inform that you reached safely.”
Juanita nodded as her mother sauntered towards their grandma phone to call the kind Sheriff. Sheriff Waylon was in his late fifties. He was born and brought up in this village, so he knew every single family and their members of this community.
“Doodles, you’ll have to stay in the barn after dinner. Just don’t go out of the barn on your own if you hear something. Howl, if anything or anyone give you creepy vibes,” she ordered and the dog tilted its head before giving her a bark in reply.
“Good boy! Now, go and grab a bowl.” Juanita giggled as the pooch hurried towards his bowl. Her father gifted Doodles as her seventh birthday present. He was the cleverest pooch she had ever come across and was like a baby brother to her.
She almost felt bad for letting Doodles sleep in the barn for the night instead of her bed. Though he didn’t mind staying out in the warmth of the haystack, it was necessary.
Juanita thought about Margaret’s words. She was sure that the moving part was not going to happen anytime soon. Their only source of income was from the small farm they owned.
They were well off when her father was alive. He was a hard working man and when he succumbed to his illness they were left to fend for themselves. Her mother couldn’t work on the farm like her father and soon the number of animals they owned dwindled.
They now had two cows, a calf, and six sheep along with a few hens and ducks. The barn her father built himself once served as a storage space. When their cow shed got damaged in a rainstorm, they moved the animals to their barn. Juanita added a few windows and unlike their old cow shed it also protected their cattle from the wild animals.
They retired to the bed earlier that night, only to wake up to the howl of Doodles, which was silenced soon followed by the distress calls of their cattle.
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