I’ve often heard that the hardest part of every journey is the first step. When you are trying to find the motivation to write your story, staring into an endless white void that demands to be filled, that is definitely the case. That paralyzing feeling was exactly what I felt after my car accident. Another car slammed into the side of mine before quickly speeding away, despite the damage it had likely sustained, and I was choked against the driver’s seat by my airbag. Gasping, I tried to cry out but only ended up more winded, my screams only serving to scratch at my already sore throat. Salty tears began to stream down my face as my panic increased, the nerves tingling along my arm until they finally went limp. Eventually, the pressure against my chest became overwhelming, and I fell unconscious.
When I turned eighteen and started living in my own apartment, I would always find it strange to not wake up in my pastel blue childhood bedroom, despite it being over a thousand miles away. When waking from vivid dreams where family, friends, and enemies from my past reappeared, there would be a few moments before I gained full awareness of my surroundings in which I would believe I was still in middle school, with old friends no longer lost to time and decisions I have regretted to this very day evaporated into the ether. Something similar happened to me when I awoke after my accident in a strange bed, blinded by bright white lights, with an angel before me.
The illusion didn’t last long, though.
“Shit! Oh, I’m sorry, I just wasn’t expecting you to wake up. I mean-!” The girl’s voice rose an octave into an anxious soprano groan that sounded more like she was holding a note in a song. Amused out of my stupor, I chuckled, but was cut off by my much less pleasant groan of pain. I decided against speaking for the moment, and instead took in the girl before me. She truly was angelic: Her hair swirled into tight brown curls that didn’t have any frizz, and she had bright green eyes that blazed with curiosity now that the shock of finding me awake had passed. Her legs were delicately crossed at the ankles, with her hands rhythmically taping against her thigh. She wore a white dress with a peach colored cardigan and identically colored flats, and as she stood to come closer, I noticed a small outline of the State of Texas tattooed on her ankle. She was also a stranger to me, which was surprising considering she was visiting me in a hospital bed.
“Who…?” I croaked, grimacing. I could hardly bring my voice above a whisper and I guessed I hadn’t used it in a while.
“Of course!” She lightly bumped her palm against her forehead. “I’m Violet Duchane, your new roommate.” I instantly recognized the name. I had thought it was bizarre that there were no pictures alongside the names and newly assigned emails given to us on the Find a Roommate service provided by the University I was soon to be attending. While I had not always known I’d wanted to go to Central State University, I had always wanted to visit Canada. Michigan was a close second. With its short distance to the border, distinct seasons and large national parks, I had enjoyed living here on my own for the past few months while I saved up the money (and the courage) to actually apply to college. The Christmas season had just passed and the winter semester was starting in about a week. Or at least it had been when I had gotten into the car crash. Violet’s arrival likely meant that the timeline was shorter than I thought.
“Nice to meet you in person, Violet.” I replied with a weak smile. “I can’t believe you came all the way here when you hadn’t even met me.” I looked down at myself.
Unsurprisingly, I was in a hospital gown, with an IV in my arm and bandages around my head. “Did they tell you what happened to me?”
Violet’s curls bounced as she replied, rising onto her toes eagerly, a radiant grin blooming on her face. “It’s super great to meet you too! I’m lucky you’re the only Hazel Mooreland in this place. I was afraid that you would wake up and be totally freaked out and say that you’re not actually in college and I’d be accused of being a stalker.” She giggled in her bright soprano tone. “I got to campus yesterday and I couldn’t believe it when the RA told me that you were in the hospital. I guess the RD told her all about it, and she told me because I was your roommate. I told the rest of the girls in our unit but apparently that was not what the RD wanted me to do because I got a personal caution for telling the other girls that there was a complete psycho going around trying to kill us.” My eyes widened in surprise, and I smiled wryly at the bubbly brunette. I had a feeling she hadn’t gotten in trouble because she had told the other girls about my injuries. She may have been right about the person who had hit me, though (a thought I did not want to consider), so I didn’t contradict her as she continued.
“But I thought it was super rude of them to just let you stay in the hospital all alone! Your parents weren’t able to come, but they sent you flowers and a card, and so did the other girls in our unit.” I nodded to reassure her I was still listening, but shifted my gaze towards the bright light spilling along the wall to get a better look at my surroundings. My eyes had adjusted to the cold, unfriendly glow of the fluorescent lights above me, but the fading sunlight still illuminated the wall where Violet had sat, as if her exuberant warmth still lingered. As I turned to face the light, squinting, I immediately sat back in shock, the adrenaline rush making my head ache almost as much as my chest as I struggled for breath.
The sunlight warped against the blank white wall, becoming a stick-figure drawing of a child with long, thin arms that connected down to its feet. Two blank, sunny eyes took up almost its entire face, and I couldn’t help but feel the drawing was pleading with me to release it from its prison, the child who had drawn it trapped inside the wall, desperate for me to help it escape. I stared in horror at the strange manifestation of light, looking around to see what had caused such an unearthly shadow. My heart monitor, bed, and I were faithfully recreated in pools of shadow, and I saw nothing else that would cause the light to form the shape of a child. Violet seemed not to have noticed my distraction, however, and when I finally managed to look back at her she was smiling.
“Is that okay with you?”
I paused, waiting to see if my subconscious had registered anything she had said. It hadn’t, leaving me with no choice but to reply lamely, “Sorry, I didn’t catch all of that.”
Fortunately, my angelic roommate appeared unphased by my lack of focus, her gaze softening sympathetically. “Well unfortunately you can’t leave with me tonight. My boyfriend Dallas and his roommate Colton are coming to pick me up soon, and there won’t be any extra room in his truck. They’re just getting to campus tonight, so they have a ton of stuff for their room in the trunk and backseat.” Her nose wrinkled unenthusiastically. “But I can drive you back to campus when you’re feeling better?” I did not want to be stuck in the hospital, staring at the thing on the wall for hours on my own, but I knew I would have to be discharged before I could leave anyway. I bit my lip in embarrassment, my stomach twisting at the thought of being driven anywhere. “Maybe we could walk together?” I suggested hopefully, naively believing Violet would be against walking at least two hours to our out of the way campus. Instead, she immediately brought her hand to her lips for a moment with a guilty expression. “Right, I wasn’t thinking. That sounds great.” Seeming to forget her embarrassment, she flashed me a genuine smile, turning to grab her purse before bidding me farewell for the evening.
For the next week, I made note of a few things about the strange sun drawings. The first was that they only appeared when the sun was in the sky. This made sense, considering they were shadows (or contortions of light within shadows), but it was still odd because they didn’t appear in every room despite everything in them being organized the same way. There was also no limit on how many light children could be in the same room. Once, when I was being escorted to physical therapy, I passed a room that had three of them standing shoulder to shoulder along the back wall, their bright eyes crying for help.
I came to the second realization about the children of light a few days after that first incident. I was allowed to take a short walk around the hospital campus to help strengthen my legs after the accident. I took a right out of my room, following a brightly colored path of stars on the ground that led to the main entrance and the nearby park that the hospital had bought for its patients and staff to use. I passed the door of the patient next to me, and froze as I saw a child of light inside. Three things dawned on me almost simultaneously.
There hadn’t been a child of light in that room yesterday.
The patient who had been in that room was gone.
He had only been ten years old.
I rushed back into my own room, making a beeline for the bathroom. I threw up, my stomach heaving up the same cereal I had been eating for days. I sat on my knees, panting, and rested my head against the cold toilet lid as I pulled it down to reduce the smell. Heartbeats later I was greeted by a nurse who had rushed in to help after I had taken off back into my room, probably looking as pale as a ghost.
“Hazel? Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m alright. Thanks.” I said without looking up or opening my eyes. I did give her a thumbs up, but it seemed to reassure her about as much as it helped my nausea.
“May I… ask what happened to the little boy in the room next door? Gavin, I think?” My brain felt like it was being tossed around by ocean waves. My eyes opened to narrow slits in time to see the nurses’ gaze fall to the floor. “I’m sorry, Hazel. But information concerning other patients is private.” She explained, quickly making her leave now that she was certain I wasn’t having a medical emergency. I rose shakily to my feet, giving my mouth a rinse before leaving the room again, forcing my eyes not to look at the child of light on the wall as I returned to my walk.
As I paced around the well-kempt park, I began to consider what I had seen. From what I could deduce, the children of light I saw were created when someone, a child, passed away. I had been unable to see them before my car accident, so I assumed it had something to do with why I could see them now. Something else I noted was that neither Violet nor the nurses had noticed the light child in my room, although considering how little I knew about them this information didn’t help unravel the web of confusion slowly enveloping me. Violet had also been too excited to explain my injuries to me, but multiple nurses had been in and out throughout my stay and explained that I had fallen unconscious from shock and awoken three days later with a broken rib, alongside various bumps, bruises and scrapes from whatever unsecured, sharp garbage I had lying around my car. It appeared as if my brush with death, whether through my coma or internal injury, had given me this power once I awoke.
As I rested on a park bench, trying to make sense of these revelations, the sun slowly began to creep towards the middle of the sky, and I realized I was stalling. I couldn’t bring myself to go back inside my hospital room, knowing that a child had died there. Fortunately, it had been nearly a week since I had woken up, and most of my minor injuries had healed. After a brief conversation with my Doctor, I was free to go with strict instructions to take it easy. Violet had come to visit me everyday because classes didn’t start until tomorrow, so all I had to do was wait for her in the front lobby.
“Hazel!” Violet sprang out of a shiny, new-looking red truck door and ran over to me, tackling me in a tight bear hug. I staggered but remained upright, coughing as I regained my balance. “Hey, Violet. Thanks for coming to visit me,” I chuckled, patting her back. “I was actually just discharged, so I can head back to campus with you.” The brunette bounced with delight, releasing me from my hug. “Great! Do you still want to walk?” She asked. “Colton, Dallas, and I were planning on grabbing a pizza. Apparently the pizza place in town is pretty great.” Violet’s charm had apparently reached the upperclassmen before classes even started if she had already gleaned that information. I glanced inside the truck and found myself doing a double-take. While I had expected a well-groomed, flannel wearing, country boy type to be driving such a nice truck, that was not the case. Vapor from an e-cigarette clouded around a young man with long, shaggy brown hair and a short, unkempt beard, wearing a hoodie with a football logo I didn’t recognize and a pristine smile on his face. I couldn’t quite see Colton, who I assumed was in the passenger seat, so I turned back to Violet.
“Yeah, I’d like to walk if you don’t mind. I can do it by myself if you don’t want to, though.” Violet shook her head. “Not a chance, my dear. Dallas can follow us and keep us company.” She turned and went to explain the situation to her boyfriend. Her hand idly stroked his arm as they conversed, and she pecked his cheek before dashing back.”Dallas said he’ll follow us. Let’s roll!” She cheered. “I’m so excited to see what’s around. Dallas and I both came here from San Antonio, so we don’t know the area too well. There are so many trees!” She exclaimed, gesturing to the forest confined on the opposite side of the road from where we exited the hospital. “Do you live around here?” Violet asked, and I shrugged. “Sort of? My family lives in Ohio, but I’ve been here for the past couple of months trying to save up for college. It wasn’t easy once I had to start paying rent too,” I replied with a wry smile. “Oh my gosh I know,” Violet groaned in her elegant way. “Dallas has been working full-time for a year to get us both through the next few years of school, but we’ll both probably need to get part time jobs to help pay our bills.”
The conversation stalled to an easy silence, the rumble of Dallas’ engine ensuring things were never too quiet. We arrived at the pizza place after about an hour and a half of walking, much to our delight. Our legs were sore and heavy as stones, and our stomachs had been having a loud, grumbling conversation for the last half an hour. As soon as Dallas got out of the car, he swooped Violet up in his arms and carried her inside, the angelic brunette giggling as she was swept away.
“They’re unbearable, aren’t they?”
I jolted around at the sound of an unfamiliar voice, but settled as I saw another young man getting out of Dallas’ truck. He had dark brown eyes underneath a mess of black curls, and was wearing a red t-shirt underneath a black zip-up hoodie and jeans.
“Oh, hi. You must be Colton.” I said awkwardly, still attempting to regain my composure. I glanced back the way Violet and Dallas had gone. “I don’t think so. At least they seem to actually like each other.” Colton chuckled, holding out his hand. “Fair enough. I’m Colton McGreggor.” I shook his hand. “Hazel Mooreland.” I replied with a nod. This seemed a bit formal since I already knew who he was, but I didn’t mind. “Let’s get inside. It’s too cold to be out here, and I’m hungry.” Colton nodded and we both quickly went inside the welcoming glow of the restaurant.
Dallas waved us over to a table, though he was hard to miss considering how big he was, not to mention we were the only patrons. I took my seat on one of the cushioned chairs, and we were quickly seen by a waitress. Once we gave our order, Dallas turned to me eagerly. Skipping the introductions, he launched right into an interrogation.
“So, Hazel, I know you were in a car accident. You gotta tell me what happened!” He pleaded animatedly. “Who hit you? Is your car alright?” Violet pouted at him, but I put my hand up to stop her before she berated him. “I’m not really sure.” I admitted. “I was at a stop sign going back to my apartment after work. I didn’t see any cars, but then, once I started to go, a car came from the side and hit me. Whoever it was drove away, though they must have at least some damage to the front of their car. I don’t think they even had their headlights on or anything.” I dug a business card out of my pocket. “The hospital said my car had been taken to a nearby garage, but I’m not really sure where that is.” Dallas plucked the card from my hand and looked it over. “Want me to call them for you?” He suggested. I smiled, relieved.With classes starting tomorrow, I had no books, supplies, or even packed boxes to bring to the dorm. This was one likely stressor I would happily have taken off of my to-do list. “That would be great, thanks.” Dallas beamed, then stood up and went outside. Through the glass I could see him gesturing with his hands nearly the entire conversation, his breath forming small clouds from both vapor and the cold, snowflakes slowly drifting into his hair. He came back in just as the pizza was being served at our table.
“The garage said that your car has been repaired and that you can pick it up tonight.” I nodded through my bite of pizza. “Do you want me to pick it up for you?” Colton offered unexpectedly. “It’s going to get dark soon, and I doubt that you would want to walk even more to get back to campus.”
For a moment I was taken aback by his generosity. I was increasingly grateful to these three strangers-turned-friends, who were being so kind to me despite having just met me. Still, I wasn’t going to let them believe I was completely helpless. Swallowing quickly, I shook my head. “No thanks, Colton I’ll probably have to pay the repair bill and they’ll have to check it over. But if you wouldn’t mind giving me a ride back to campus, I would appreciate it.” I said, looking at Dallas. “Sorry Hazel, but I can’t. We’re still taking stuff back and forth from my brother’s place. Violet can barely squeeze in the back,” He admitted. “Oh… well, in that case I guess I can drive back.” The thought didn’t appeal to me, but after walking for so long my fear of being in cars was slowly being outweighed by the pain in my legs. “I can drive it back here for you.” Colton insisted.
“The accident should have been paid for by the person who hit you. You shouldn’t have to deal with that on top of everything. Let me handle it.” He had a point. It was irritating that the person had gotten away with it and left me with the car and hospital bill. Not wanting to turn him down twice, I agreed. An hour later, after we were done chatting and had finished our pizza, Dallas and Colton left to get my car, leaving Violet and I alone to talk amongst ourselves. I felt so at ease with my new roommate now that it was easy to strike up a conversation with her. She apologized for Dallas asking about my accident, and I assured her it was fine. The conversation had eased my anxiety about my driving skills, but it had sharpened my confusion about the incident. Why hadn’t the other car had their headlights on so I could see them? My thoughts drifted into increasingly outrageous theories, with Violet more than happy to add some of her own, but all too soon Dallas and Colton returned. It wasn’t long before I was alone in my car, with my GPS set for Central State.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to regain the determination I’d had before, my now full stomach doing somersaults. I had told Dallas, Violet, and Colton to leave without me since I knew I would be nervous and it would take me a while to convince myself to shift out of park. Finally shifting the car into reverse, I backed out of Jeff’s Pizza and started following the directions towards my new home. The snow that had been lightly drifting down earlier had begun to pick up as I’d idled in the parking lot, and now the fat flakes were falling thickly across the landscape. I continued onwards, slowing my speed and turning my windshield wipers up to max to keep myself from losing all visibility. However, about fifteen minutes later I was forced to pull into a small neighborhood and stop as the snowfall transformed into a blizzard. The sun was just starting to set, and through the murky gray light I attempted to find somewhere I could properly park. I rolled slowly towards a particularly well-lit house, berating myself for taking so long to leave. Then I screamed.
The house wasn’t brightly lit.
It was covered in Children of Light.
Credit : BexLapis
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