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The New Norm?

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Merrill’s day started like most. She woke up at the crack of dawn for her morning run and brought her two dogs along. A chocolate Lab named Frisk and a black and white Border Collie named Pitch. The damp air was always refreshing and helped snap the young woman awake as the endorphins coursed through her. Merrill couldn’t help but think how busy the last three weeks had been. The botched robbery at the Opal Eye and the fire at Berry Springs Park had the entire town on edge. Even with two of thieves arrested, there was still no word on the third. Residents were advised to remain alert.



To make matters complicated, there was still no official statement from the fire marshal on what caused of the erupting fireball. It didn’t take long for the rumor mill to start up and spread like a plague of terror. People started jumping at shadows and the superstitious nature of the residents began to spin crazy tales of sinister creatures and the like slinking through the streets. The young officer had lost count as to how many false alarms she had responded to of “something” causing a disturbance.



After an hour of running and thinking. Merrill arrived back home, trying to be as quiet as possible. Her parents were still asleep, and she didn’t want to disturb them. The young woman had been meaning to move out soon, but work put that on the back burner. Not that any of them minded, but she felt it was time to become more independent. Much to the reluctance of her parents. She filled Frisk and Pitch’s bowls and went off to shower. The hot water felt heavenly as Merrill stood underneath the showerhead and let her thoughts run wild. None of this made sense to her, Dunbar was supposed to be a quiet town. It had a population of roughly 10,000 people in a town nearly twenty miles across, and less than half of that was the business and residential district. The rest was all forests, trails, lakes, campgrounds, and other wildlands stretching up to the foothills of the nearby mountains. Which also brought in many tourists to marvel at its natural beauty and wonder. Even with the college and Inn-Smith academy that brought in students across the nation, it still felt like a rural east coast town out in the country. It’s own little place out of time and Merrill wanted to keep it that way.



Done with her self-reflection and feeling more refreshed, the rookie turned off the water and step out of the shower, “Alright! Today is gonna be a great day! I know people are scared, but that’s why I’m here!” she said to pump herself up.



The young officer quickly got dressed in the standard tan uniform and headed downstairs. The dogs waiting patiently for her at the foot of the stairs, “You boys be good okay!” She gave them a quick scratch and kiss before she headed to the kitchen to grab a protein bar and to the station.



~Dunbar Police Station 7:45 am~



The overly posh station was quiet when Merrill arrived. Hilda sat at front desk reading a thick book, her eye glanced at the rookie as she entered then went back to reading. As said rookie walked by the desk, she noticed the white floral sundress the receptionist was wearing had some rather notable cleavage and a near thigh high length.


“She’s really trying today.” The officer observed as she passed by the red head. She then spied Emily getting up from her desk and walking towards her. Giving a half wave and tied smile.

“Officer O’Connell I’m here to relieve you!” Merrill gave her fellow officer a salute and a big smile.



“Heh, I don’t know where you get all that energy. I’m going home to pass out. It’s on you kid.” The ginger haired woman said as she passed the rookie and gave her a pat on the shoulder.

“Have a good one!” Merrill said and she continued towards her desk near the back and got to work.



~Dunbar Police Station 11:30 am~


After several hours of organizing reports, the sound of footsteps caught Merrill’s attention. Approaching the young officer was Hilda with an older man in toe. He was in his mid-forties, had lightly tanned skin, dark eyes, black crew cut hair, and thin features.



“Got another one for you.” The redhead said abruptly as she turned on her heel and quickly marched back to her desk without another word. Leaving the man to stand awkwardly in front of the rookie.



Merrill was unfazed by the redhead’s usual abruptness as she offered the man a warm smile, “Hello sir, how can I help you?” She said as she offered him a seat.



“Thank you for your time officer.” He quickly sat down, “My name is James Warren and I live just off of Canter Road-” The older man started.



“More in the wilderness or the town border?” Merrill interrupted.



“Uh, the wilderness.” He answered.



“Gotcha, wanted to be sure. Please, continue.” Merrill said as she readied herself to take down his statement. On closer inspection, the rookie noticed he had some rather dark circles under his eyes and a very faint whiff of whiskey underneath his cologne.



“Anyway, over the past few days I’ve been hearing strange noises. I know strange noises are to be expected living out there. But I’ve lived out there for twenty plus years, I know the usual noises. Scratching noises from inside the walls, heavy footfalls from outside, and growling. Every time I went to check, there was nothing. At first, I thought it someone playing a prank on me or a critter snuck in. But, just last night, I caught a glimpse of a figure. The looked human and were wearing cloak. However, before I could call out to them. They passed by a tree in my backyard and vanished.”



Merrill stopped taking notes and looked at the older man questioningly, “They, vanish-”



“No.” A voice cut off Merrill before she could inquire further.



Sheriff Cameron Meadows stood between Merrill and James holding a large coffee cup, “We’ve been getting too many of these reports over the past three weeks. All of which turned out to be nothing. I’m not about to waste more resources than I already have on these ‘supernatural’ events.”



Cameron then turns to address the man, “Did you drink during these experiences sir?”

James went to retort before the older woman interrupted, “I can smell the whisky on you.” The older man looked away sheepishly.



“That’s what I thought. You think you heard something, so you had a drink to calm your nerves. But then your imagination makes it worse because you get inebriated. I get it, everyone has been on edge since the break in and the fire. Go home, lay off the whiskey, eat something hearty. Unless an actual crime has been committed, we’re no longer looking into these.” The Sheriff finished as she walked to the back of the station and into her office.



James looks down depressed. Fearing that would be the end of it, “I know what I saw. Sure, I’ve had a few drinks. But…”



“Mr. Warren.” Merrill’s calm voice grabbed the man’s attention as he looked at her pitifully.



“While we can’t look into it. I do know someone who might.” She says.



The older man looks up at her with a bit of hope in his eyes, “Really?”



“Mhm, Miss Jennifer Williams. She’s a PI and was involved with the incident at the Opal Eye. She helped in catch two of the thieves!” Merrill said with pride.



A look of recognition crossed his face, “I think I remember reading something about her being involved. But not much. Do you think she’d be willing to look into this? All I want is for someone to prove I’m not crazy.”



“I’m sure she will!” Merrill said assuredly.



The rookie quickly wrote down the address of Arcadia’s Agency and handed it to the desperate man while she stood up, “In fact, why don’t I go with you. Help put in a good word! Here’s her address, I’ll meet you there shortly.”



The older man stood up and grabbed both of her hands and shook them, “Oh, thank you, thank you officer!” The older man then walked towards the front with a bit of a spring in his step.



Merrill smiled as she watched him walk out. She then pulled out her cruiser keys and headed towards her vehicle.



“She’s not going to do it.” Hilda said as Merrill passed by.



The rookie stopped to look at the receptionist who was more glaring at her book then trying to read it.



“I guess she didn’t notice.” Merrill thought.



“You don’t know that. Besides, I’m sure shill be interested!” Merrill then strode out with a click in her heel. Today was her day!



~Arcadia’s Agency 12:15 pm~



“Absolutely not.” Jennifer said from behind her desk. Merrill had just finished explaining the situation and the incident to the PI. The albino woman was quiet for a solid minute before she shot them down. She was currently in the middle of finishing a case file for a recent job involving embezzlement at the college, “I swear, they need to completely reform the staffing there. The is the second time this year.”



Merrill and James sat at two chairs in front of the PI’s desk. The rookie looked at the PI in bewilderment while James looked downward in despair.



“But he needs help.” The officer tried to plead with the PI.



Jennifer continued to write in her file as she spoke, “Not my problem. You’re a cop, you handle it. Protect and serve and all.”



“I... can’t. As I said, the Sheriff doesn’t want us looking into these incidents anymore. Please, you have the most experience with these matters.” Merrill tried to persuade Jennifer.



Jennifer stopped her writing and looked up at the rookie, her crimson eyes piercing through the dim office. It felt like a force had hit the young woman, which caused her to lean back. The albino sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration, “A one-time encounter with a break-in that the owner thought was a haunting. It’s not an experience I relish. I’ve already had three other people looking to hire me for something similar.”



Suddenly, James moved from the chair and got on his knees and clasped his hands together, “Please! I’m desperate! I haven’t slept in 3 days! I feel like I’m starting to lose my mind with each passing day! I’ll do anything!”



Jennifer looked at the man who was begging her to help while Merrill placed a hand on his shoulder for comfort.



“Unlike the other requests, he actually saw a cloaked figure running around. A part of you still want to know who they are. This might be your only chance.” Jennifer’s inner voice spoke up.



Jennifer was silent for several moments before she spoke again, “On one condition.”



The older man looked up at her, “Name it!”



Merrill beamed at her.



Jennifer took a piece of scrap paper and wrote something down on it, “Since this this isn’t my usual wheelhouse. It’ll cost you extra.” She then handed it to James.



Merrill peeked to see the cost of the job and her eyes went wide. She snapped her attention to the PI, “That’s ridiculous!”



“This isn’t your concern officer.” Jennifer said firmly and she cast a glare at her.



Before Merrill could retort. James spoke up, “Deal!”



Both women looked up him then at each other.



“Should have asked for more.” The inner voice snarked.



“Shut it.” Jennifer sniped back.



Jennifer immediately went into her professional mode, “Alright, I need to ask you some questions, so I’ll have an idea of what I need to research.”



“OH, thank you, thank you!” James went to go and clasp her hands around Jennifer’s, but she immediately reeled back and glared at him before he could, “Don’t touch me.”



The older man fell back at the glare she gave him. It was almost as if he was sucker punched by her look of disapproval, “S-sorry. I, sorry.” He cast his gaze downward.



Breaking a few awkward moments of silence, Jennifer started to interview her new client about where he lived, what he'd experienced, and what usually happened at night in the area. After nearly an hour, the PI felt she had enough to start with, “We’ll take care of the paperwork and payment later. Half upfront as a down payment and the other half when I’m done. Comeback at 5 o’clock. I need to find some materials.”



James nodded at her and thanked her again for taking his request. As soon as he left, Jennifer leaned back in her chair and groaned.



“Uuuugh, why did I agree to this?” The albino thought out loud.



“Because you’re a good person.” Merrill replied optimistically.



Jennifer gave the rookie a flat look, “I was being rhetorical.”



“Oh…” Merrill blushed embarrassed.



The PI shook her head, “Also, why are you still here?”



“OH…shoot! What time is it!?” Just as she asked, her walkie went off, “FROSTBURG!! WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU!?” Merrill bolted out the door upon hearing the Sheriff yell through the com.