Officer Penelope Holden stares out the window, peering out at a night lit by an eerie glow. A pearlescent frost ring encircles the fully swollen moon. She bites her lip, a deep crease forming between her eyebrows. Someone’s going to die tonight. The thought comes unbidden, is certainly unwelcomed, but is felt so strongly in her gut that it can’t be denied. The hairs rise on her arms and a ghostly tickle traces down her neck.
Letting the curtain fall, she shovels the rest of her canned spaghetti into her mouth and balances the bowl on top of the pile of towering dishes in the sink. She closes her study materials and moves them to the only place in her cluttered bungalow where they won’t get ruined or lost, the mantle over the fireplace. Wiping a hand across her chest, she dries the little orange sauce flecks on her T-shirt before pulling on her khaki uniform top. Her utility belt scrapes across the table as she pulls it closer. Wrapping the belt around herself, she buckles it, the weight settling into the deep groove that seems to never fade from the soft flesh of her hips.
She shoves her arms into the puffy sleeves of her department issued bomber jacket, pulls the zipper up under her chin, and puts her ear mufflered hat on before stepping out into the frigid night air. Her eyes widen from the initial shock of the cold, watering as she locks the door. She passes the old, neglected Nissan she’s had since high school, and unlocks her patrol car.
Sliding behind the wheel, she turns the engine on and adjusts the heat before radioing in. “Dispatch, this is Officer 2694. I know it’s a bit early, but I’m 10-8.”
“Officer 2694, dispatch acknowledges you’re 10-8. Please stand by.”
Penelope blows on her hands, tugs on a pair of thin leather gloves that won’t interfere with her dexterity as she waits for the disembodied voice belonging to Sheila from dispatch to come back over her radio.
Static crackles, the voice says, “Officer 2694, this is dispatch. Please respond to a Silver Alert and subsequent search and rescue at 1910 Old Farm Road.”
Penelope puts the car in gear, waiting for dispatch to sign off.
“Penny?” Sheila’s voice trembles, her unwavering professionalism tarnished as she breaks protocol. They’ve known each other since kindergarten. Penelope had cut the hair off all of Sheila’s Barbies in the third grade. It wasn’t to be mean, it was to make Sheila’s younger sister, braving her way through leukemia treatments and the loss of her own hair, feel better. They’d gone to their first concert together in the sixth grade. Though not close friends now, there was a familiarity between them in conversation, but it had never extended to their interactions when they were on duty. “Penny, it’s Mrs. … it’s Doris Healey.”
“Mrs. Healey?” Penelope swallows hard, one hand tightening around the steering wheel, the other clenching the radio in a fist. Mrs. Healey, school librarian to the last three generations of students in the small hamlet of Samuel, New Hampshire. Town matriarch and best friend to shy, bookish girls with odd interests. Cheerleader to every kid she met. The most beloved woman Penelope had ever known.
She hears Sheila gulp hard over the radio, followed by a sniff and a static crackle.
Penelope rubs at the sudden tightness in her chest. “Roger. 10-69. Going 10-39 now.”
As she backs out of her driveway, flicking the switch for her lights and sirens, and drives towards Old Farm Road, large, lacy flakes drift through the sky like paper doily cutouts. Mrs. Healey never judged Penelope’s choice in tales, managing to get ahold of any book Penelope had an interest in reading. She half suspected the librarian had paid for the books herself.
Mrs. Healey hadn’t cared if Penelope liked horror stories and graphic novels, only that she loved reading. She trusted that Penelope’s choices would evolve over time, which they had. Although, lately, with her harried schedule, Penelope turned too often to the TV instead, the words mere background noise, connected to on a primal instead of intellectual level.
She slows the patrol car, controlling a minor fishtail as she turns onto Old Farm Road. The tree lined street is dark and vacant, her headlights the only sign of life. Everything Penelope wants, everything she needs, always feels out of touch, impossibly far away. But she won’t accept defeat. She can’t. Despite the unease deep in her core, she refuses to give power to the fearful thoughts pecking at her mind like a hungry chicken.