Cam’s gonna kill me if I don’t die getting home first. Tess walked a bit faster, shifting her basket so it stopped banging her legs. She tripped over a crack in the asphalt and stepped directly in a deep puddle. It had to rain, didn’t it? It’s dark and I don’t have my glasses and this sucks. She’d definitely been cheated by the milk and cheese seller and spent too long trying to talk his prices down, but the real list time had been at the baker’s, when she picked up a loaf by accident that would have been twice the cost of what she usually bought. The baker wouldn’t let her put it back because she’d touched it. That’s so unfair. My hands were clean. Cleaner than his, anyway, the way he kept rubbing his nose. By the time she was done there the sky had gone black and she barely had time to duck back inside the store before the storm hit. Standing in that shop with the baker still glaring at her angrily and smelling the sweet breads she didn’t bring enough money to buy had been torturous. I’m no good at this housekeeping stuff.

Walking home this late at night, in a Sector as marginally safe as the White, could get her robbed, raped, or killed. Where’s the purpose in that? This wasn’t a great thing to be thinking about right now, because she was pretty sure she’d gotten lost. The streets didn’t look the same in the evening. I’ve got to stop doing that rabbit-trail thing. I get lost in my own head and don’t pay attention to where I’m going. That house painted in three shades of hideous green did not look familiar. Time to backtrack. If she could just find the store with the big red shoe sign hanging out front, she could get home from there.

What’s that noise? Oh, come on Tess, stop freaking yourself out. The small shuffling and whimpering moan was probably just the wind, tossing around trash in an alley and howling in between buildings. Or it could be a stray animal. Maybe even a rabid one. She shifted her basket to her left hand and dug in her coat pocket for her knife. It was ridiculous, because that wouldn’t help her against any sick animal, or for that matter a person, but she felt safer with it. I didn’t have it when I really needed it, and now I’m not gonna make that mistake again.

She used to be able to walk these streets without a second thought. Before she knew people were capable of some very, very terrible things. Before…no, if she started thinking about that she was going to have a panic attack right here, right now, and then whatever it was would find her. I’m fine.  I’m all right. She was doing well until she heard the noise again, and it definitely wasn’t the wind. Something was whimpering. Maybe it’s just a stray cat. Or it’s some creepy demon murderer…you read too many books. Oh well, if they’re gonna kill me I’m screwed.  It took way too long to convince herself that the shadows weren’t a man with a knife and the sound was coming from a pile of garbage at the end of the alley. Something there was moving.

Why do I have to be such a sucker for lost animals? I should leave and go home…Tess ignored her own reasoning and started walking toward whatever it was. You should leave…it might be a stray kitten, but it could also be a rat, and she didn’t really want to get bitten by some disease-ridden pest.

Oh God that’s not a little animal. That’s a person. Half of what she had assumed was thrown-away rags was someone’s clothes, and whoever it was was sobbing quietly and their entire back was covered in something dark, probably blood. I need to go. Someone did this and they might still be here…