Read part one here
Read part two here
Read part three here
Read part four here
Sometimes, you have time to introspect in life or death situations.
Most of the time, however, your mind blanks and your body moves without thinking.
I screamed and surged forward, but before I could reach Salem I felt a hand grab my wrist and pull me stumbling backwards. My face twisted in furry as I turned to face my captor, unsurprised to find it was Mr. Freeman. Adrenaline coursing through my veins, I punched him hard in the jaw with my free arm, snarling something not quite resembling words. He released my arm and retreated a pace, and in that heartbeat I bolted across the room and collapsed at Salem’s side. Colton still loomed behind the chair, and as my brain slowly released me from the haze of fear and anger, I felt tears well up in my eyes. I opened my mouth to call out to my friend, but only a choking sob came out. I slowly reached for Salem’s wound as if my touch could fix it, but held back at the last moment, finding solace in the fact that she was still breathing, though she had blacked out from the shock. Colton paced around the chair and kneeled at my side, watching with the same unchanging, bored expression he always had. I glanced behind me to see that Mr. Freeman had easily recovered from my sudden punch, and was standing in the doorway of the run-down diner to prevent our escape. Past him, the world outside felt like it was in a stasis: the sky was the same bleak, dull grey it had been all day as the winter sun set with no particular urgency, and the thickly falling snow entombed us in silence except for the occasional creak of the soft, whirring wind. As Colton knelt beside me, I flinched and turned to face him, trying to think of what to say. The stinging words I’d always wanted to use on criminals seemed to elude me in my grief. Finally, I whimpered, “Why would you do this?”
Colton’s neutral expression slid into a smirk as he realized he had my attention. “Because I want you to watch.”
A burst of panic shot through me, and I fixed my gaze back onto Salem. “She can’t die,” I choked out, leaning forward to take the girl’s hand and check her vitals again. Guilt threatened to consume me from the inside out as I thought about how I had insisted on Salem continuing to help us despite Dallas imploring me to keep her out of it.
Knowing I had been right in saying it was Salem’s choice to help didn’t mitigate the feeling in this moment, though I tried to scrounge up the resolve I had felt then to help me remain calm. As I continued looking over Salem, I forced myself to gaze down at her stab wound again, holding back bile. Blood was slowly seeping through a hole in the back of her navy sweater, and I could see bright flesh glistening starkly against her clothing. Without thinking I reached for the phone in my coat pocket to call an ambulance, then stopped. If I showed my phone now they would likely take it from me before I could make a call. But if I don’t… My ears ached with the thudding of my heart as I tried to come up with a plan, wishing Violet was beside me to shove me into action. As soon as the bubbly brunette came to mind however, I remembered that Violet and Salem had gone together to talk with Colton. So where is she now? This added anxiety threatened to freeze me in place alongside the desolate landscape, and I shuddered with horror. However, my trembling quickly turned into a gasp of relief as I felt Salem squeeze my hand.
“Salem!” I exclaimed in a hushed tone. I quickly got to the point. “I’m so happy you’re awake. Where is Violet?”
“-S-Studying…” Salem groaned, and I was grateful she had noticed I had kept my voice low, leaving her eyes shut and moving her mouth as little as possible. She didn’t elaborate, but my guess was that Violet had gone back to our room to do homework, and Colton had offered to take Salem back to York’s apartment and then drove here instead. I desperately wanted to call her since I knew she was safe, but it left me with the same problem I’d had when trying to call an ambulance: I couldn’t call and ask for outside help.
But there is someone else who could help.
Without time to waste, uncomfortably aware of both Colton and Mr. Freeman eyeing us, I hurriedly whispered my plan to Salem. “I don’t want to risk those two hurting you more by making them angry if I try to call for help. But if we pull Mary out of me, she may be able to find Violet and explain what’s going on.” I thought back to the day we had summoned Mason instead of Mary, how I’d heard her voice crying out from inside my head, and the pain I’d felt as her spirit attempted to claw her way out of my body. I had written off that feeling and the voice as being a result of the summoning ritual, but knowing what I did now, I had no doubt her soul was inside me. “Can you manage the summoning ritual?” I asked, knowing Salem was already in pain. She squeezed my hand, and I took a deep breath. “Whenever you’re ready, then,” I murmured. “I believe in you.” I squeezed her hand reassuringly, then began rustling around and attempting to tear off a piece of my shirt with my free hand. It served both to temper my nerves and to provide a noisy distraction for our captors so they wouldn’t hear Salem whispering the summoning words.
“Mary, come to us. We want to see you and hear your story.”
Just like before, an excruciating pain began pounding in my head, soon to be replaced by a soft, clear voice.
“Come out!” I hissed softly, my teeth grinding against each other with each syllable. “We need your help. Please, Mary-”
And that was when the glowing form of Mary Freeman appeared before us.
“Mary!” Mr. Freeman was the first to breach the awestruck silence that befell all of us as the little girl appeared, glittering a faint gold. “It’s really you! We’ll be together soon, sweetheart. I promise.” Mary didn’t respond to her father’s plea, only gave him a look of infinite love before turning to me and nodding, then whisking out of the diner and disappearing in a sparkling haze of snowflakes and winter sunshine.
In the moments that followed Mary’s departure I spoke, wanting to buy time for Salem before Colton decided to stab her again, and to prevent them from asking about why the librarian’s daughter had appeared so suddenly, and what she was doing leaving in such a rush.
“So what is this place?” I asked, gazing around the shabby looking restaurant with genuine curiosity. “Why would you bring Salem here?”
Colton flashed me a knowing look, then shrugged.“This used to be my parents’ place,” he explained, gesturing around the dismal space with a flash of nostalgia in his eyes.
“It closed down when I was young, and eventually the town got word of what had become of the old diner owners’ son, and decided the land was cursed.” Even as he explained his eyes followed me as I circled the small restaurant, trying to interpret his words. The diner looked like it had been closed for at least twenty years based on the state of neglect it was in, though some of the tables had been moved from near the center of the restaurant to place Salem on display, leaving dark trails along the dust-stained floor. When I made no comment, Colton continued.“People always get nervous when they realize the ground they walk on was tainted by a killer. As if their essence seeps out their souls and into the soil, waiting to infect someone else. As if they don’t walk beside monsters hidden among them every day.” His watching gaze had hardened to a glare, and I stopped in my tracks as the pieces finally fell into place.
“You’re Carl Norton, aren’t you?”
“Bingo” the man congratulated me with a mocking applause, then stood up with a grunt. I trembled as he took a step closer to me, but stood my ground in the hope that Salem would be safer the farther he was from her. “Anyway, when I came back and saw the old hole-in-the-wall was still around, I figured it should stay in the family.”
I prayed that Violet would somehow be able to obtain the same information I had been given, and again I wished that I had been able to simply send her our location, though I wasn’t sure how fast she would be able to find the address for a failed restaurant from twenty years ago. Pushing that aside, I realized that I had more questions.
“Why didn’t you kill all of your victims here, then? No one would have seen them.”
“Exactly.” Carl retorted. “But we’re not just trying to kill anyone, Hazel. We need those with the powers of the children of light. What use would having them all over this dump be? No one would ever see it. But if we put them in a nice suburban neighborhood, where kids and adults were likely to see it-”
“It’s a trap,” I finished, both disgusted and grimly impressed by this plan. “Precisely,” the man agreed with a grin. “And for however smart you think you are, you fell right into it. Bringing along a girl with powers even greater than yours.” He glanced back at Salem and I quickly blocked his view. “If that’s true, then why are you trying to kill her?” I insisted, “Why not me?”
It took a few moments for Carl to respond to this, though I wasn’t sure if it was because he was concocting a lie or wondering if he should torture me more by leaving me in suspense. My ears rang in the silence until I couldn’t bear the building tension and stepped to my right to make the floorboards creak. Not paying attention to where I was going with my attention focused on the killer, my foot caught on a raised floorboard and I gasped, staggering forward and using the momentum to stumble over to one of the few booths left in the restaurant with its upholstery intact. I sat down on the side nearest the door, panting, and gestured for the killer to sit across from me as he explained. Carl let out a rumbling chuckle I had come to associate with Colton, and my heart sank further in my chest. Is Colton really dead? Or is he like Mary: trapped inside a body and desperate to escape? The man settled down across from me, looking unusually disconcerted as he swiped a finger across the dusty table, as if he thought he would get into trouble for leaving his parent’s beloved restaurant in such a terrible state.
“I chose you to be a sacrifice at first.” Carl began. “You left for work at exactly the same time everyday, came home precisely at five thirty, even went to the grocery store on the same day each weekend. You were the perfect target for a hit-and-run. I was planning on using you for myself, but that old fool-” his eyes narrowed as he looked at Mr. Freeman, and his voice lowered in a conspiratorial way. “-wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to back out of our deal, so when I hit you that night I used my power to shove his brat’s soul inside your body. Turns out I didn’t do it quite right, though.” Clearly, I thought with an audible snort. “You weren’t Mary, but once you died she would be able to control you and my partnership with him would be over with. But there was no use in killing you and absorbing so little power when I had the opportunity for so much more.” Anxiety sent goosebumps up my arms as I stared at the man. “You didn’t do so well for yourself, either-” I ventured, hoping to glean more information about Colton’s situation, wondering what else I could do to keep him distracted.
Just as I was having that thought, however, a siren began to wail through the air.
Exhilaration pulsed through me at the dumbstruck look on Carl’s face, and I grinned as I kicked him hard in the shin, then bolted from my seat and frantically looked over the booth, trying to find his knife. In doing so, however, I lost the slim advantage my kick had given me. Carl shoved me to the ground and turned to Mr. Freeman. “Hold her down!” He barked, “We have to kill the girl and leave before the police get here.” Mr. Freeman jerked to attention at the order, but before he had taken a step I was back on my feet and charging for Carl. He hadn’t made it to Salem before I tackled him to the ground with a roar, though I immediately released my grip with a cry as he twisted and lashed out at my stomach with his knife. He got up too quickly for me to fully recover, but I grabbed his ankle and pulled, sending him sprawling to the ground again. Feeling victorious, I struggled to Salem’s side to stand resolutely in front of her. “I won’t let you kill her.” I growled through gritted teeth. The possessed body of Colton stood before me, a look of fury in his eyes that quickly changed to malice as he was struck with an idea. “Why are you so determined to protect her?” He sneered. “All you have to do is watch her die, and then you may be able to live forever. I’ve killed enough children of light that once I die I come back to life, who knows what else I’ll be able to do with more power?” he tapped a finger curiously against his chin. “But with your help, I intend to find out. That’s what you were reborn for, Hazel. Your purpose.” I tensed, preparing myself for another scuffle as he reached down for his knife, then felt dread burst through me as Mr. Freeman spoke from behind me.
“This is for you, Mary. We’ll be together again soon.”
I yelped as he grabbed both of my hands and pinned them behind my back. I thrashed wildly against the librarian as I watched Carl slowly approach Salem, pleading for the man to stop. I closed my eyes, unsure if it would prevent me from gaining her power but willing to try anything to stop him from killing Salem. The killer seemed to have noticed this, however, and without warning Mr. Freeman released one of my hands to tug at my hair. My eyes flew open for just a moment to watch as Carl Norton stabbed Salem through the same spot on her stomach.
When the killer was done, I was released to crumple onto the ground. The sirens I had heard earlier were getting closer, but it suddenly felt insignificant. I cried for my murdered friend, and eventually found the strength to crawl over to her. As I laid my head against Salem, I could feel the eyes of both men on me, and turned to look at them before rising to my feet.
“You- You won’t get away with this.” My pathetic attempt at a threat ended in a wheezing cough as the chill of the air made its way into my lungs.
Carl laughed spitefully at my words. Mr. Freeman had made his way back to the door to watch for the police, and the killer glanced at him before turning to stare back at me.
“He won’t get away with this, Hazel, but I certainly will. No one will ever be able to catch me, so long as I keep coming back as someone else.”
I could only watch in horror as he leaned down to pick up his knife, raising it slowly to his neck before flashing me one last grin.
“Until we meet again.”
The sound of a thousand voices suddenly crashed through my entire skull, blocking out my own cries.
Before I passed out, the only thing I could see was a blinding, white light, and my angel, Violet Duschance, rushing to my side.
Epilogue – Three Months Later
I settled myself onto the grass in the Harrisburg Memorial Cemetery, relishing the feeling of the cool grass against my legs. The sun had peaked in a cloudless blue sky, and all around me spirits paced and murmured to one another, but I only had my attention set on one: a little boy who had once pleaded for us to return his lost dinosaur. Mason Brewer was giggling proudly beside his new headstone, where he had finally been laid to rest by his family the day before. As I watched him racing after a small spirit girl, I smiled fondly and reached into my backpack to take out the dinosaur toy I had promised to find and place it beside the headstone.
“Mason” I called, causing the boy to dash over to me. He waved at me cheerfully, chirping a greeting before his eyes fell onto the freshly cleaned plush not far away. “You found’im!” He cried in joy, lunging for the toy and clutching it to his chest. “Thank you, thank you Hazel!” He looked past me to the girl he had been running after before.
The flash of steely blue eyes caught in the sunlight as Mr. Freeman’s daughter skipped over to our side. All at once I was struck by the memory of hearing her voice inside my head again when I’d woken up at Violet’s side in the hospital three months earlier. Together the spirit girl and I devised a plan to use my newfound powers to release her spirit from me permanently and allow her to rest in peace. Our successful escapade had made us closer than most of the other spirits I came across. “Hi Hazel! What’s up, Mason?” She squealed as she spotted the bright green plush. “Cute! I want one! Hazel, can you bring one for me next time?” I laughed. “Maybe. I suspect I’ll be out today celebrating.” Mary bounced excitedly. “Oh yeah! Today’s the big day, right? Do you think Violet will say yes?”
“I’m not sure she’ll be able to speak at all-” I replied with an amused smirk. “But yes, I’m sure she’ll agree to marry Dallas. They’ve been together for a long time, and they’ve been through a lot these past few months. I’m going to miss them when they go back to Texas for the summer.” I stretched and laid flat against the grass, closing my eyes against the glaring sun and sighing contentedly. “At least I won’t be alone in my apartment this summer, though.”
Mary nodded, but didn’t seem interested in discussing our upcoming separation. “Do you think Violet will make you her Maid of Honor? You’d look so pretty!” I shook my head, amused. “I don’t think she will. She has lots of friends from her hometown that she’s closer to than me. But that just makes it easier on me. Being a Maid of Honor can be hard-work! Plus, Violet will definitely be a bridezilla” I joked. I rolled onto my stomach and grabbed my phone, blocking the sun’s rays with my head so I could see the time. “I’ll be picked up soon to help set up the celebration brunch, so I better go.” I reached for my backpack and waved at the two spirits before heading down the twisted, pebbly path to the front entrance. A few minutes later Dallas’ truck appeared, driven by a black haired girl with elegant features.
As usual I felt a pulse of delight when I saw her, amazed that she had been able to be saved after what she had been through. As I jogged up to the truck and climbed inside, the girl flashed me a soft smile. “Did Mason enjoy his toy?”
“He was ecstatic!” I replied, bouncing in my seat. “He and Mary will probably be playing with it all afternoon. Any updates from Violet or Dallas?”
Salem shook her head. “Dallas has always been on his own schedule-” she murmured, then beamed, her nose crinkling adorably as she reminiscenced on the many times Dallas had been late to a function, which even from my short friendship with him didn’t need to be spoken aloud for me to know it was true. As Salem put the car back into drive and headed for York’s apartment, where we would be having the get-together later, I stared out the window and let my thoughts wander as I watched the trees and houses fly past. My thoughts flashed back to the day Car Norton had died, and Mr. Freeman had been taken into custody. The librarian had taken full responsibility for the crimes that he and Carl Norton had committed, and I had no evidence to prove that the serial killer had ever been involved in the murders following Mary’s death. Mr. Freeman was in jail now, to serve out the rest of his life in prison. A slow, boiling anger coursed through me as I thought of how Carl would never face justice, and may have already killed more innocent people in the three months since he had killed himself.
And that’s when I decided to write this.
I will keep trying to find him for the rest of my life. And if I really come back once I die, I am not sure if I will remember anything about my previous life. So I wrote out my story in case I ever come across it again, to bring back the memories of my time with these wonderful people, and to remember the reason why I was given a second chance.
I must find Carl Norton, and use my power to ensure that one day, there is nothing left of him to be brought back to life.
Until we meet again.
Credit : BexLapis
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