Read part one here
Read part two here
Read part three here
“I want to stay here.”
Salem’s announcement was met with silence from everyone settled around York’s small dining room table. There wasn’t enough room for all of us, so Dallas and Violet were perched on bar stools at a fake granite island not far away. It suddenly felt like an endless abyss, the extended silence reaching even the happy couple.
“Salem, sweetie, I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” The matriarch of the Hatfield family, Gina, said imploringly, setting her fork down. “What about your school?”
“I can do that here,” Salem insisted. Despite knowing her plan had been to leave only hours (perhaps minutes) ago, I had to admit she sounded as if she had given this decision a lot of thought. “My classes are online, and I can stay with York.” The man in question had the grace to not look completely flabbergasted. “Massie-” York began, and I barely held back my smile. York’s nickname for his bewitching sister had been a wonderful surprise earlier in the evening. He sighed.“I’d be happy to have you here. You’re always welcome, and I have space.” He glanced at his parents to indicate he would let them make the final decision.
“Trust me.” Salem pleaded with her parents, following York’s gaze. “I have to do this.” After a moment’s hesitation and a quick look exchanged between Gina and her husband, she nodded. “Alright. You can stay here for one semester, and we can see how you feel after that.” The tension of the moment evaporated as Violet squealed in delight, bouncing out of her seat towards Salem, wrapping her in a tight hug. “This’ll be so fun! You can stay with Hazel and me all the time.” She glanced at me for confirmation, a spark of uncertainty in her eyes, but I was already nodding.
“Sounds like it’ll be a party.”
I tensed at Colton’s voice coming from the seat to my right. He hadn’t appeared to notice my sudden apprehension around him since Salem had told me he held another soul inside of him. This new revelation was a puzzle piece I was struggling to fit into what had felt like a complete picture. I was eager to tell Violet and Dallas the news so they could help me figure out what to do next, and I found myself growing increasingly grateful that Salem had decided to stay. Trying to prevent my brain from going too deep down a rabbit hole, I nodded. “It’ll be nice to have something to look forward to when classes are getting hectic,” I noted coolly, taking a sip of my drink. Colton groaned. “Don’t remind me. I’m not looking forward to my first 8 A.M.” I laughed in spite of myself, which quickly grew into an undignified spluttering fit. It felt bizarre but comforting to be discussing such ordinary things with this mystery over our heads. “Me either,” I panted, exhaling a long breath.
After one of Violet’s fresh baked treats for dessert, the Hatfield’s parents decided it was time for them to return to their hotel. As they said their goodbyes, I noticed Colton also starting to make his way towards the door. I felt a little guilty at my eagerness to see them all gone. York had work in the morning, so he would be going to bed soon, allowing those of us who knew about Mr. Freeman and the children of light to discuss the new information. Salem seemed to feel the same way, her legs shaking as she waited for Violet and Dallas to be seated once they closed the door after the guests. Violet was the first to breach the topic. “Dallas, you’ll never believe what happened!” I decided to let her enthrall him with what we had witnessed at the cemetery first, before adding the mystery about Colton to the mix.
“There’s something else” Salem put in as she finished. “Earlier tonight, when I saw Colton-” she shifted uncomfortably. “His eyes were glowing with a bright yellow light. I’m not sure what it means, but from the way Hazel described her powers, I can only assume that he’s connected to a spirit somehow.”
“Is he possessed?” Dallas pressed, leaning forward with a grim expression. Salem shook her head. “I’m not sure. I wasn’t able to tell if he realizes there’s another spirit with him or not. If he does know then he’s really good at hiding it, but I think it’s more likely he doesn’t.” She hadn’t explained to me how she had known there was a spirit inside the boy, and it made my stomach churn. I took a deep breath, knowing my befuddlement would enter my voice as I spoke.
“We wanted to get your help in deciding what to do next,” I explained. “Violet wants to tell the police-”
“Yes!” The brunette interrupted. “We may not be able to show them everything that Hazel and Salem have seen, but the three of us heard Mason say that the man who took him brought him to a house on Cherry Street.” A sudden realization hit me like a spark of electricity, and I jolted upright in my chair. “We could be wrong.”
Violet was distracted explaining our options to Dallas, so Salem was the only one to notice, turning to me with a worried expression. “How do you figure?” she asked.
I didn’t answer her directly.“Listen,” I said urgently. My voice was louder than intended, but it had the effect I wanted. All eyes were fixed on me as I repeated “We could be wrong about Mr. Freeman. Violet had a point when she said that Mason only confirmed that the man who took him first brought him to a house on Cherry Street. I think we’re right in assuming that he was held captive in the house with the children of light, but we don’t know for sure. Not only that, but we don’t even know if Mr. Freeman lived in that house when Mason was killed. We also aren’t even sure when he was killed.”
Dallas was nodding slowly, but Violet stood up, her hands fists of righteous fury. “But that’s bullshit! Even if those are just assumptions, we can’t sit and do nothing! We know what Mason meant when he talked to us. We have to go back and talk to him again-” she turned for the door but Dallas gently took her wrist. He pressed a finger to his lips before leading her back into an embrace. “I know you want to help these kids,” he murmured, stroking her hair. “But we don’t want to wake up York. Salem, do you think we could summon this, er- Mason again?”
Salem shrugged.”I suppose we could, though there’s no guarantee he’ll appear this time.”
I closed my eyes, thinking. There had to be a way to solve this without needing to go back to the cemetery or asking Mr. Freeman directly. I cursed myself. If only I had been more direct when asking my questions. Or if we had actually been able to reach Mary, I added bitterly. If we had been able to talk with her, we could have asked how she had really died. Ever since Mason had explained that someone had distracted his mother while he was taken, I’d had my suspicions that Mr. Freeman had partnered with the man who had killed her. My eyes opened suddenly, and I reached for my car keys. “I have an idea,” I declared, breaking the thoughtful silence that had descended on my friends. “I have a book of town records from Mr. Freeman. We can search it for information about Mason. There might be online news articles about him, too. I’m not sure anyone really knows where he ended up, since he’s buried in someone else’s grave, but maybe-” my voice trailed off, and I paused. I had to reassure my friends that we weren’t out of leads yet. “There will be something we can use, I know it.” With that I went out the front door to my car. Dallas gave Violet’s hand a squeeze and followed me outside. As I rummaged around in my car with him pacing about in the light snowfall, I spoke.
“I appreciate you standing guard, but is it really necessary?”
“I’m not standing guard for you.” Dallas argued, offering me a hand as I struggled to wriggle out of the backseat with the book. “I’m making sure you don’t go off by yourself. It’s different.”
I raised a curious eyebrow. “You think I’ll go off by myself? With a known killer on the loose?”
“Well, yeah.” Dallas chuckled and scratched the back of his head. “You drove by yourself almost immediately after a car crash, you started researching the death of countless children by yourself, not to mention you didn’t ask for any backup when talking to a probable killer.”
I scoffed. “He wouldn’t have hurt me in the middle of the library.” He gave me a knowing, amused glance, and a smile cracked my lips. “Okay, I get it. Thank you.” I had to admit he was right that I had considered walking to Mr. Freeman’s house and demanding answers, though I had more sense than to follow through. “Anyway, how are you holding up? Even Violet seems to be getting more anxious as this goes on. It’s a lot to process for someone who has seen everything for themselves, let alone someone who hasn’t.”
“I’m alright,” Dallas sighed, running his hands through his hair. “I’m just worried about Salem and Violet. And you, of course. Getting involved with spirits can be dangerous. Salem told you that she showed us a ghost once, right?” I nodded, and he leaned against the car. “She’s actually shown me two. She doesn’t like to talk about it, but I thought you should know.” This information was new to me, and I gestured for him to sit with me in my car while he told his story.
“I was pretty young, around seven years old I think? Salem would have been eight or nine. She had just recently gotten her powers, and had shown us her friend Lily’s spirit.” Dallas laughed. “As a kid I couldn’t think of any negative consequences of being able to talk with spirits. I remember begging my parents to take us to the cemetery where my great-grandmother was buried so I could meet her, but they said no. That cemetery was way too far away for us to walk to, but there was one up on a hill in a nearby park.” He flashed me a small smirk. “Mind you, we weren’t allowed to go there by ourselves; the park was about a mile away and it was open to the public, so you never knew who could be there. But as it turns out, Lily was buried in that cemetery. Salem really missed her and was desperate to see her again, and somehow I convinced her that sneaking out of the house at night was the only way we could do that, since our parents had denied our other requests.”
I could anticipate where this story was going, but Dallas seemed to be enjoying reliving the thrilling adventure. He took out his phone and began scrolling through a GPS locator app to show me some of the places he was talking about as he continued. “So we snuck out of the house late one summer night and booked it to the cemetery. This is Lily’s grave-” he pointed his phone towards me, and after a moment of letting my eyes adjust to the brightness I would make out a glassy black headstone. “Salem didn’t know how she had summoned her the first time, so she just tried calling out to her, again and again. I joined in with her some, but inevitably got bored of it and let her do the talking, so to speak.” He took a deep breath, an edge to his voice as he went on.
“A spirit did appear, but it wasn’t Lily. It was an older woman, who seemed super distraught. She said she had a request for us: to go to her old house and give a message to her family. Salem had heard all of this before, so she said no. Too many spirits had tried to lure her to her death out of spite. The woman said she understood, but as soon as we had our backs turned she attacked Salem. Somehow she was able to wrap her hands around Salem’s neck and start choking her. I screamed at her and tried throwing rocks but it didn’t seem to phase her at all. Thankfully, the woman had given us her name. I ran over to her grave and kicked it as hard as I could. That irritated her, but I really pissed her off when I threw as many rocks as I could at her headstone, then started scratching it up and chipping away at her gravestone. She rushed for me, and that gave Salem enough time to banish her back to the other side.” Dallas showed me one last picture on his phone; an old, mostly intact gravestone, with a few chips and a large gash across the name. “I’m not trying to tell you this to scare you, Hazel. But I want you to know what you’re dealing with,” His voice hardened. “And I wanted to ask you to keep Salem out of it. She’s been through enough.” I frowned slightly. “Dallas, I can’t do that.”
“Why? Don’t you care about her?”
“Of course I do,” I snapped. “But this isn’t about you or me. It’s about Salem. She chose to stay here because she wanted to keep helping us, and she knows the risks. She knew them today when she tried to summon Mary. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt, Dallas, believe me, but if Salem wants to help and she’s the only way we can get to the bottom of this, I’m not stopping her.” I paused. “Besides, what about Violet? She was with us today and was in just as much danger. If you think Salem shouldn’t help, then Violet shouldn’t either.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Dallas retorted. “I can’t believe the three of you went there today by yourselves, but it was especially dumb for Salem. She knows better.”
“And what about me?!” I burst out. “Has what I’ve been through not been enough for me to know that we’re dealing with things that could wind up with us being killed? Should I stay behind from now on? That would leave you to deal with a serial killer and a spirit inhabiting someone else’s body alone. But wait! You don’t have powers, so you can’t do anything about the spirit.” I took a deep breath, and my anger slowly began to subside as I let myself think for a moment and not spurt out the first thing that came to mind. I sighed, looking at Dallas. His dark brown eyes reflected the helplessness he had expressed. “I’m sorry.” I said sincerely. “You’re right that we’ve all seen for ourselves how risky this is. That’s why we’ll figure it out together from now on. We have to protect the kids in this town, and the people we care about.” A small smile etched my lips and I lightly punched his shoulder. “That includes you. You don’t have to go all solo macho-man to protect us. But you would be welcome bait for any scary woodland monsters.” Dallas chuckled at that, then hugged me. It was awkward and one-armed since we were next to each other in the backseat of a car, but I returned the gesture anyway. I shoved the book under my arm and followed the brunette boy out of the car and into the chilly air. “Hopefully with this we’ll have enough evidence to say something convincing to the police.” I murmured, thinking out loud. Dallas had made a beeline for the door and hadn’t overheard me, and with another smile I followed him back inside.
Violet and Salem were huddled close together on the couch, each on their phones and looking for articles about Mason. When Violet heard the door open her head perked up and she eagerly waved us over. “Come on, slow-pokes! We’ve basically solved the case already.”
Salem glanced at Violet then smiled at me. “We found Mason’s missing persons flyer. It has his parents’ number on it, so we may be able to get his dinosaur back for him.”
“Salem! Spoiler alert!” Violet chided playfully. “I really want to visit them. They deserve to know where their son is. We didn’t see a headstone for him at the cemetery, but maybe now he can get a proper burial.”
“That’s a good idea,” Dallas replied, ruffling her hair. “Good work my clever detective.” He winked and Violet beamed, and I found myself wishing Colton were here so I could see him roll his eyes.
“I’m glad you found a way to help,” I agreed. Violet had been frantic at the thought of doing nothing, but now that her energy had returned I was feeling confident. The four of us squeezed onto the two-person couch, with me snugly beside Salem and Dallas lounging on an armrest. I opened the book and skimmed over the pages, Salem following my view to catch anything I missed. Her breath hitched as she read about Mary’s death at the hands of Carl Norton, and I rubbed her shoulder comfortingly. I continued flipping the pages until finally, something caught my attention.
Local boy (8), goes missing!
It was dated only one month after Mary had died.
The Harrisburg community was devastated to learn of the disappearance of a local boy, Mason Brewer, only one month after the tragic death of Mary Freeman. The boy disappeared from nearby Charleston Park. The suspect drove a blue sedan and went west on Galveston Road. The Harrisburg police are currently asking for volunteers to help with searches. Anyone interested can call 555-051-6953 for start times and grid assignments. Any information regarding the disappearance of Mason Brewer can be given to the Harrisburg Police department or the anonymous Crime Stoppers.
“That’s it!” I exclaimed. I quickly opened up my maps app and searched for Galveston road. It wasn’t far, and with the compass in the upper right corner I could slowly pan the GPS left. Salem gasped when she saw Cherry Street only three blocks away, holding up her hand to stop my scrolling. While a small part of me still held a shred of doubt, since we still couldn’t prove the suspect went to Cherry Street, I was satisfied enough with the other evidence we had to say that Mason had been taken to the house with the children of light. Not only that, but Mr. Freeman couldn’t have possibly moved away within a month, so if he had lived there when Mary had been taken, he couldn’t have left.
“Great!” Violet replied when we showed everything to her and Dallas. “Let’s call the anonymous tip-line then. Any volunteers?” The silence of three introverts followed, and she laughed. “Well, then. Allow me.” A quick google search for the updated anonymous tip line number later, Violet’s phone rang on speaker.
“Michigan Crime stoppers. How can I help you?”
“Yes, I’d like to report a tip about the disappearance of Mason Brewer-” Violet proclaimed in a low register.
“Okay, may I ask how you know this information?”
“Oh! Well, you see…” Violet faltered for a moment, then straightened. “I saw a sketch of the suspect and I realized who it was. Joseph Freeman, the Librarian at Central State University.”
That’s a more direct approach than I would’ve taken, I thought, but shrugged it off. The faster they investigate him, the better.
“Okay. Thank you for your information. It will be passed along to the police. You will be contacted if this lead is credible for information regarding the reward.” The four of us looked at each other with interest.
“Ah, great! Thank you,” Violet said. She hung up the phone and let out a sigh. Dallas rubbed her back. “Great work, Vi. What now?” He asked no one in particular.
I swallowed nervously. “I want to talk to Mr. Freeman.”
“What?!” Violet gasped, staring at me incredulously. “That’s crazy! If he knows the police are onto him he could try to erase evidence.”
“I know,” I said. “But he said I could come to him with any questions about the case, and I just… want to know why.”
Salem bit her lip, her worried green eyes staring into mine. Dallas spoke from Violet’s side. “If you do go-”
“You can all be outside,” I promised, interrupting. “I won’t go without backup.” Dallas nodded, and with that Salem, Violet and I went to the guest bedroom to settle down for the night, though I wasn’t sure I would get any sleep with the looming task ahead.
Classes kept our group busy over the next few days, but Friday came and my appointment with Mr. Freeman arrived. Violet and Dallas had taken up guard at the set of computers closest to Mr. Freeman’s office, while Salem had taken one of the private study rooms for discussion afterwards. My hands trembled as I reached out to knock on the door.
I flinched and turned the doorknob, taking one anxious look back to reassure myself that my friends were there before slipping inside and shutting the door behind me.
“Thank you for returning my book to me,” Mr. Freeman began, noting the book clutched tightly against my chest. “You said that you had some follow-up questions?”
I took a deep breath, then nodded. “Yes.”
“Well, have a seat.”
Taking a few tense steps forward I sat down and placed the book on the desk. Steeling myself, my voice rang clearly in the hollow feeling space as I spoke. “I only have one follow-up question: why did you kill dozens of children after Mary died?”
Mr. Freeman jolted upright in his chair, then glared at me. “I resent this accusation,” he snarled with a low growl. “How dare you-”
“Shut up,” The librarian’s indignation for crimes I knew he had committed ignited Violet’s righteous rage inside me. “I only came to ask why you did it, nothing else. I know it’s true so don’t bother trying to hide it. The police will be sure to find anything if you try.” I paused, then pressed further. “You know about the children of light, don’t you?”
Mr. Freeman’s icy gaze didn’t stray from me, but he gave up his denial. “Yes. I know.”
I leaned forward. “Is that why you did it? To see Mary again?”
The librarian didn’t reply immediately. His hostility seemed to melt into resignation, and he sank into his chair. “Why did you really come here when you already knew the answer?” He asked.
Shock coursed through me for a moment, then fizzled into emptiness. Was all of this so easily explained away? “T-That’s-” I stammered. “That’s no excuse.” Another question came to my mind. “Anyway, if I already know that, then why not a different question. Who is your partner?”
Mr. Freeman seemed surprised by this. “You will make a great detective,” he murmured with a note of pride. It passed quickly. “I won’t tell you that. You didn’t let me finish. I did not say you were right. Yes, I wanted to see Mary again. But more than that, I wanted to bring her back.”
“Bring her back?” I repeated, baffled. “Yes.” The man stood and reached out his hand. “But you should already know that. You are my daughter.”
I jerked away as the librarian brushed my cheek, bewildered. “Wh-what ?”
“That’s the power of the children of light,” Mr. Freeman explained. “If you use enough of their power, you can not only see the dead, you can bring them back to life. My partner promised to take their power and bring her back, and he succeeded. With you.”
I quickly got up from my chair and bolted from the room. Mr. Freeman called out for me as I did, but I dared not even look back until I had made it to the private room where Salem was waiting. Seeing my distraught expression and the tears brimming in my eyes, she quickly rose from her chair and hugged me. Violet and Dallas followed close behind.
“What happened?” Violet asked urgently, “Did he hurt you?” Salem shook her head, answering for me as I sobbed.
The four of us eventually settled into chairs, Salem making sure ours were right next to each other and that her hand was intertwined with mine as I explained what had happened. Stunned silence met my words.
“He has to be lying, right?” Dallas queried. “I mean, do you remember anything about being Mary?”
I shook my head. “N-No. Nothing like that. But why would he lie?”
Dallas shook his head in confusion, but Salem nodded. “That is a good point. I think he at least believes he can bring his daughter back with the power of the children he has killed.” I was relieved to hear that she didn’t seem to believe that I was someone else. Violet smiled warmly at me from across the table. “Don’t worry, Hazel. We can totally ignore him for now, okay? The police will handle it.”
“I don’t know if we can ignore all of it,” Salem reasoned. “Even if Hazel isn’t Mary, this could explain what happened to Colton.” I gasped. I hadn’t even thought of that in my haze of confusion and fear. “You think he was brought back to life with the power of the children of light?” I asked. Salem looked glad that I wasn’t so out of it that I wasn’t paying attention. “I believe it’s a possibility.”
“We should tell him, then.” Dallas interjected. “He deserves to know who he really is.”
Salem nodded in agreement. “I can speak with him sometime this weekend.” I opened my mouth to protest, but I found myself unable to voice my objection. The idea of talking with Colton now wouldn’t have appealed to me under normal circumstances, but it felt even more wrong now. I couldn’t admit to myself that what Mr. Freeman had told me was true, and discussing the matter would only bring it closer to reality. I glanced up to see Violet gazing at me sympathetically. Seeing the conflict in my expression, she perked up with an idea. “I can join you, Salem. Colton knows me better and he’ll probably feel more comfortable if I’m with you.” Relief washed over me knowing that Salem wouldn’t have to face this encounter alone. Violet caught my eye and winked at me, and for the first time that afternoon, I smiled. With our plan decided (and our stomachs now growling for lunch), we left the library. Dallas suggested we leave out the back entrance to avoid the front desk, even though it was farther to the cafeteria, and while I appreciated the idea I couldn’t resist glancing at the librarian’s office over my shoulder as we left.
I felt my heart drop as I realized that it was empty.
Once the sun began streaking crimson against the sky and the time for Salem and Violet to meet with Colton came, I was grateful for the excuse of homework to stay locked in my room. I had managed to push the conversation with Mr. Freeman to the back of my mind, but as I watched Violet’s departing form as she whisked out the door, I felt the knot in my stomach return. Part of me felt guilty for not joining them, knowing that Colton might want to talk to someone who was in the same situation he was. But from what I had learned about Colton, he would likely want to be by himself to think over his condition once he learned the truth, and that thought had prevented me from going. The longer I stayed in my room, however, the more I felt trapped. It didn’t help that I hadn’t had the time to set up my side of the room yet, so if I wasn’t looking at Violet’s decorations I felt like I was in a white, cinder-block prison. Violet’s wall had a string of pictures hung on small, multi-colored close pins neatly spaced along it, with larger pictures of her and Dallas at each end. Staring at them now, I was reminded of how long the past week had felt. All of the pictures were of people I hadn’t even met, who Violet was probably close to, even though she had quickly become one of the closest friends I’d ever had. I leaned back in my desk chair and stretched, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath as I attempted to concentrate back on my homework. Solutions Manual for Organic Chemistry: Fifth edition was still on my desk, alongside the books I actually needed for my classes. For my first assignment I was supposed to write a short essay about what the words ‘Criminal Justice’ meant to me. The concept had felt distant to me a few weeks ago, before I had come into contact with a real serial killer, but now it suddenly felt real. Returning to my work, it felt like only moments before I had written the entire 500 word essay and took a break to get a drink from the fountain at the end of the hall. I grabbed my phone so I could check it as I walked, and noticed I had a text from Salem.
We talked with Colton. He appears to be taking it well, and wants to talk to you if you are comfortable with it. Can you meet up with us?
Anxiety and relief spiraled in my brain as I considered the idea. The practical considerations were easy: I had no more homework for the day and I still hadn’t eaten dinner, so joining them would be a good way to start the weekend. The emotional aspect of this meeting was more complicated. Even if Colton had taken the news well, I wasn’t sure I was. I had no memories of my past life, so technically this reality hadn’t changed anything about me, however that fact did nothing to stop one question from constantly circling in my mind.
Who am I?
I let the cool water from the fountain settle my nerves as I weighed my options. That weight got heavier with each step as I neared the door of my prison-like room once again, until finally I made my decision.
Sure. Where are you guys?
And that was how I made my way to an unknown address about 10 miles from campus. As I drove up the short, gravel drive of the mom-and-pop diner, I felt uneasy as I looked at the disarray the restaurant was in. Wondering why Salem and Violet had chosen to come to such a shabby place, I had just made my way to the front door when I heard a scream.
It was Salem.
Heart pounding, I burst through the door. Dust stinging my eyes, they soon adjusted enough to see Salem tied to a chair, with Colton standing behind her.
I had only seconds to take in the scene before Colton stabbed Salem through the stomach.
Credit : BexLapis
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