Read part one here
It comes on quickly at first, but slowly creeps over your entire body until an agonizingly comfortable numbness spreads over you, and finally you freeze to death.
Sometimes, however, it is the only thing that keeps you from passing out in sheer panic.
My lungs ached as cold air and snow invaded my mouth and I coughed, allowing my eyes to be dragged blissfully away from the house. The children of light were blinding as the sun set in a blaze of scarlet light against the horizon behind me and then faded altogether. Stars were blinking into the sky now, and I gritted my teeth as I forcibly unclenched my fists, my nails leaving small indentations in the skin. I returned to my car and cranked up the heat to max, shoving my hands against the vents. Questions swam in my mind. I closed my eyes and tried to focus on three that appeared to have clear enough answers that I could move forward. How did all of these children of light get here? Obvious. Does the person who did this still live here? Less clear, but I could find out.
What do I do now?
At first it seemed like there were a million ways to address the situation, all with equally numerous outcomes. However, now that I was back inside my car, I felt protected from the horror outside, and it allowed me to think more rationally. I couldn’t go anywhere in my car; the snow was still falling too thickly from the sky for me to drive anywhere safely. My damp hair was causing tiny rivulets of ice to run down my spine, giving me the feeling I was being watched, and I shivered. I didn’t think walking all the way back to campus was the best option, either. Knowing I needed an out-of-the-box solution, I picked up my phone and dialed Violet.
“Hello? Hazel, are you alright?”
Relief washed over me at the sound of her clear soprano voice, warming my insides more than the artificial heat of my car ever could. I opened my mouth to reply but my throat caught on a sob. Tears blurred my vision as the shock of what had just occurred subsided, leaving a hollow feeling in my chest that echoed with thoughts of what the children of light had suffered here. I glanced at my phone, worried I was taking too long, but Violet was still patiently waiting on the other end. Clearing my throat, I managed to speak.
“Hey, Violet.” I croaked as badly as I had the first time I had met her in the hospital. I paused, taking another deep breath, and tried again. “I’m okay, but I had to pull over on Cherry Street because of the blizzard…” I trailed off, faltering in my attempt to come up with a way she could help me out of my predicament, but Violet quickly filled the brief silence. “You’re on Cherry Street? That’s great!” She chirped, and I found myself smiling briefly. The situation was far from great, but I guessed she had a reason for believing otherwise. “Dallas and I are at his brother’s apartment on East Davis Drive, which should only be around a block away. Are you able to make it there?” I paused and checked to see how far away the apartment was as she recited the address, but with Violet’s impervious optimism washing away my doubt like a gentle ocean wave, I had the determination I needed. Besides, I wanted to investigate the house, so it was better if I tackled the journey alone. “Yeah, I can make it. I’ll be there soon.” Violet’s delighted goodbye faded into the background as my gaze shifted back towards the house. I could no longer see the children of light since the sunlight was gone, and now I was struck by just how innocuous the residence seemed. It appeared no different than the other cookie-cutter homes beside it in the murky blackness of the early night and the fresh snow that blanketed everything in sight with an innocent gleam. Taking a shaky breath, I buttoned my coat and grabbed an old beanie hat and gloves that had been in the back of my car since last winter, and went to investigate.
The chill hit me as soon as I exited my superheated car, but the wind had died down since I had bolted back into it earlier, so as long as I kept moving the cold was bearable. My boots crunched against the densely packed snow as I crept towards the house as stealthily as I could, keeping low to the ground with my hair tucked into my beanie. I could only hear the pounding of my heart as I flanked the right side of the house, stepping lightly over a small patch of tilled ground that must have been a garden, and continued around the back, looking for a better view inside. Small, multi-colored christmas lights sparkled above me, illuminating my path and tempering my unease slightly. This house had no fence, but a darkly stained wooden fence bordered the neighboring house so close that I could reach across it even from my position pressed against the siding. I peered around the corner of the house where the children of light had been. There was a sliding glass backdoor which revealed a dining room table and modern kitchen, though I couldn’t make out many of the details from my current vantage point. I quickly scanned the backyard: two pine trees, both covered in the same multi-colored Christmas lights as the rest of the house, loomed in each of the back corners. A line of bushes sat between the two trees, with a small dirt path in the middle that led to a larger pine forest beyond, guarded by a short wrought-iron gate. Another patch of tilled soil, almost completely obscured by snow, sat on the left side of the yard. After checking that no one was standing in the doorway, I bolted for the trees, then crouched low behind the bushes to get a better look at the entire home.
Immediately, I felt my optimism fall like a stone into my gut.While I had been hoping a better perspective would reveal a clue about what had happened here, that was not the case. All of the windows besides the back door were concealed by blinds, though a small pink christmas tree glowed from one of the window sills on the second floor. A single lamp was the only other light on inside, sitting on a wooden end-table in a living room just off the kitchen. In a large brown armchair beside the lamp sat a tall, thin man with salt and pepper hair, reading a book. I couldn’t get a good look at his face, and without any other leads, I risked going onto the porch for a better look. I rustled my way back through the bushes and around the tree until I crouched in the glass doorway. Cautiously, I peered at the man’s face, leaving small splotches of condensation on the door.
The man had steely blue eyes shadowed by wrinkles which extended across the rest of his face. A small scar slashed across his cheek all the way to his left ear, visible through the man’s thinning hair. He was wearing a plain red sweater and khaki slacks, and for a few moments I could only gawk. This was not the picture I’d had in my head when I imagined what monster could be living here. It was still difficult to see inside, but through the din I could see nothing out of the ordinary about the interior of the house, either. In fact, it was almost idyllic: there was no pile of dishes in the sink, no pillows or blankets left scattered on the floor from prior use, not even a single bulb out in the many strings of christmas lights. I shivered, and realized I had been hiding in the doorway for longer than intended. Rising to my feet, I took one last look at the man. He was still fixated on his book, a cup of some steaming beverage sitting beside the lamp, and I sighed with relief that he had not noticed me.
Suddenly the sliding back door to the neighbor’s house opened with a protesting creak. A dog began woofing excitedly, its collar jingling wildly as it charged towards the fence barely ten feet away from where I stood. Not wanting to draw the attention of the man inside or the neighbors, I bolted away from the glass door and around the edge of the house, the dog stomping after me in a frenzy of loud barks. I trampled blindly through the snow, and yelped as my foot slipped on a cluster of thinly concealed rocks, which marked the perimeter of the garden. I plummeted to the ground with a grunt, but quickly got up and dashed off again. I did not stop or even dare to look back until I reached the apartment building on East Davis Drive. I clicked the button next to the apartment number Violet had told me and the door immediately buzzed to give me access to the building. The angelic brunette stood in the doorway of an apartment at the end of the hall, and I slowly crossed the distance between us, panting. Violet had opened her arms to hug me, but stopped when she saw my snow-covered form. “Oh my gosh! What happened?!” She cried in concern, placing a gentle hand on my back and leading me inside. Dallas waved cheerfully from a spot on the couch, and I only had time to return his wave as I was quickly ushered into the bathroom by Violet. “Why don’t you take a shower to warm up? You can borrow some of my clothes. I keep a couple of outfits here in case I stay overnight. I’ll be back in a flash,” she murmured, giving my shoulder a small squeeze before skipping off towards one of the bedrooms. I called my thanks after her, settling down on the edge of the tub for a moment to catch my breath and fiddled with the unknown temperature control before getting into the shower. Once I was thoroughly warmed I donned the clothes Violet had left for me.
They were a touch big on me since Violet was a few inches taller than I was, but they did the trick. I exited the bathroom to find Violet with a hairdryer in hand and an empty chair in front of her. I let her blow dry my hair for a while, growing tired under the warmth of the hairdryer and Violet’s rhythmic brushing. Once she was finished I yawned, wandering over and settling into a plush blue armchair that matched the couch Dallas and Violet cuddled on across from me.
“Hazel! How many years has it been?” Dallas joked, giving me a friendly nod. “It seems like you’ve had nothing but bad luck these past few days, eh? Violet said you were caught in the blizzard after you left the restaurant.” I had almost forgotten that I had seen the pair and Colton only a few hours ago at the pizza restaurant. My smile faltered. “Yeah, it’s been a rough night” I admitted, my gaze dropping to the ground. “What happened?” Violet repeated imploringly, and once again I hesitated. I needed help to understand what was going on, and I wanted more advice on what to do next. Taking a steadying breath, I looked the two of them in the eyes and explained everything: beginning with the car crash, then what I had seen during Violet’s first visit and my short investigation afterwards, until finally I described what I’d seen when I pulled over in the blizzard. As I recanted my story, I watched Violet and Dallas’ expressions intently. Violet was staring at me in awe, while Dallas’ eyes gleamed eagerly.
“Erm, so that’s everything.” I finished flatly. “I was hoping to get your help to figure out what happened at that house, and keep an eye on the man who lives there.”
Violet perked up at my suggestion. “I knew there was a psycho going around trying to kill us!” She cried, pulling at Dallas’s sleeve. “We have to check out that house tomorrow! Maybe your brother knows the guy who lives there, or maybe he knows one of the neighbors!” She began to describe an elaborate plan for how to gain entry into the house by baking sweets for the man. Dallas took her hand from his sleeve and patted it calmingly before he nodded. “We’ll see what we can do. And while we’re off doing that,” he glanced up at me. “Hazel can meet with Salem.”
I sat upright in my chair as Dallas said my name. I hadn’t been paying close attention to their conversation, too astonished by their trust in me and pleased that they were also willing to get involved. In my surprise, the only thing I could manage to say was “Salem? That’s a strange name.”
Dallas laughed. This was clearly not the first time he had been told this. “Yeah. Has Violet not told you? My siblings and I are all named after the places where we were born. This-” he explained, indicating the space around us, “is my older brother York’s apartment. We were supposed to have dinner with him tonight, but he got stuck at the office because of the snow. He should be back soon. I have another older brother named Austin, and my older sister, well…” he chuckled. “Was a surprise.” He indicated a family photo sitting in a glossy black frame beside the fridge before continuing. “Salem has been able to see spirits since she was a little girl. She’s twenty now, and she flew up here with my parents to visit York and help me move in.” I leaned forward eagerly. “You mean she’s here? Would she be willing to talk to me?”
“Definitely,” Dallas agreed instantly. “She doesn’t share what she can do with everyone, but this is an exception. I’m sure she’d love to meet with you.” He stood up and walked towards the door, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his phone. “I’ll let her know to meet you tomorrow at the coffee shop on campus.” I thanked him, then turned back to Violet.
“Do you know much about Salem?” I inquired. She smiled. “Of course! Salem can be super serious sometimes but she’s a really warm person, and she has the most adorable laugh! I remember one time she and I were decorating Christmas cookies together and I accidentally slapped her across the face with a rubber spatula covered in icing. I thought she’d be super mad but she laughed instead!” She giggled at the memory. “She’s only a year older than us so she’s pretty close to Dallas, especially since York moved here and Austin moved to his namesake not long after that. You’ll really like her.” I was less confident, but tried to be optimistic. As Violet continued recounting stories of her and Dallas’ past, I yawned, soothed into sleep by the sound of her voice.
I awoke to Dallas nudging me, a plate of scrambled eggs and toast in hand. “Mornin’,” he murmured, and I could tell that he was groggy as well. I thanked him for the meal and turned to look outside. “Is the snow off the roads yet?” I asked. “Most of ‘em,” he replied. “I think some of the back roads are still covered, though.” I mumbled an incoherent thanks through my mouthful of food and started to chew faster. I was anxious to move my car away from the house with the children of light before the sun rose.
Fortunately it would be a while because of the winter season, but I didn’t want to cut it close. Finishing my meal, I joined Dallas and Violet at a small card table that must also have doubled as the kitchen table. “Good luck trying to get into the house today. Let me know what you find.” Violet flashed me an eager thumbs up, and Dallas nodded as he took a large swig of coffee. Bidding them farewell, I left the apartment and made the trek back to my car. It was covered in snow but otherwise unharmed, and I spent a short while scraping the ice off the windshield and windows before departing for campus. Today was supposed to be the first day of classes, but they had been canceled because of the blizzard. Students streamed along sidewalks with snow piled up along the edges, and I saw more than one slipping on the ice beneath. I wove my way carefully through the throng towards the student center. I remembered reading that the coffee shop was inside, and with my mind preoccupied with thoughts of the coming encounter, I made my way inside to wait for Salem.
The college had done a good job keeping the atmosphere of a coffee shop even when it was inside a bustling student center. Calming instrumental music hummed throughout the space, and the smell of coffee was infused enticingly into the air after years of being brewed there. I settled myself at one of the tables and waited, wondering if I had missed her. The picture Dallas had pointed out had been too far away from me to see clearly yesterday, and I had forgotten to look at it this morning. Dallas had given me her number, though, and I decided to text her. I’m inside the coffee shop when you get here, I typed, before adding I’m at the table in the back on the right side. My heart skipped a beat when I felt it vibrate with a text. Great. Be there soon. Deciding not to reply, I watched the entrance as students flowed in and out, until my eyes locked with a girl who strode gracefully through the crowd to my table.
If Violet was an angel, then Salem was royalty. Her face was smooth and pale, with sharp cheekbones and a small pointed nose. Her hair was black and flowed smoothly towards the small of her back like a chiffon veil. Her lips were a soft, glossy pink, and one side inclined slightly in a trembling smile as she neared. Only her eyes, which were the same warm brown as Dallas’, showed the softer side of her that Violet had described to me. She wore a red flannel shirt over black leggings with short black boots, and I suppressed a giggle at the irony. I remembered thinking Dallas was a flannel-wearing, country boy type, and my shoulders relaxed as she stood across from me.
“You’re Hazel, right?” Salem confirmed with a worried expression, glancing around as if trying to find the real me. I smiled reassuringly “Yep, that’s me. And you’re Dallas’ sister Salem? It’s nice to meet you.” I stood and offered her my hand, and she took it in a firm, icy grip. “Do you mind if I get a coffee first?” Salem asked with a bashful titter. “I’m freezing. It seems I’m not used to the cold after living in Texas for so long,” For the first time I noticed her cheeks were flushed from the cold, growing even more red in her embarrassment. I chuckled and nodded in agreement, and we made our way to the line side by side.
I ran a hand through my hair, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot as I wondered what I should say to this enchanting girl. Should I start by telling her about my powers? Dallas had already told Salem about them, but I was certain some details had gotten lost in his retelling, which was based on my shaky understanding of events. Deciding to save the interrogations for later, I blurted out the first question that came to mind. “What’s your favorite type of coffee?”
Salem blinked at me then turned towards the menu on the wall for guidance, her eyebrows furrowing.”I drink quite a lot of iced coffee, actually. I’ve tried different flavors but I enjoy a simple mocha the best.” She looked at me intensely. “What flavor of hot coffee would you suggest?”
I gulped, my own gaze drifting towards the menu. I could still feel Salem’s eyes on me, and I thought fast to avoid making her wait too long. “Why don’t you go grab us a table and I can surprise you?” The idea seemed to please her, because she smiled. “That sounds exciting. I’ll leave you to it, then,” she murmured, confidently striding away towards an empty table. Exhaling with relief, I looked over the menu before deciding on two large caramel macchiatos. Once the order was ready I made my way back to Salem, setting the two drinks gingerly on the table and taking a seat.
Salem grasped one of the cups in her hands, holding it close to her chest to warm herself. “I am sorry you’ve had to go through so much these past few days.” she said unexpectedly. “I want to help you as best I can, but from what Dallas explained, these children of light are not the same spirits that I see.”
My hope dimmed, but I shook my head. “That’s alright. They may not be connected, but I am still interested in your powers. Dallas said that you’ve been able to see these spirits since you were a little girl?”
Salem took a sip of coffee, then cleared her throat. “Yes, I have. I’m not really sure when I received my powers, but from what I remember, when I was a little girl I had many imaginary friends who would talk to me. Most of them were friendly, but sometimes they would want me to go to strange places in order to help them. Fortunately I was always caught before I got too far.” She shifted in her seat, and her gaze drifted to the ground. I shuddered as I imagined what danger she could have gotten into as a small child wandering off alone on the whims of unknown spirits. After a moment Salem looked up, settling her elbow on the table and resting her head in her hand, smiling as she lost herself in memory. “No matter how many times I explained that I was only trying to help my friends, my parents didn’t believe me. They thought I was just running off to go exploring. It didn’t help that I was a bit of a brat since my older brothers could do so many things that I couldn’t,” she laughed. “They were quite shocked when I was able to show them a real spirit.”
This immediately piqued my interest. “You actually see spirits? With distinct features and voices that you can make out?” I asked, astonished.
“Yes, if I focus hard enough,” Salem confirmed with a solemn nod.
“That’s incredible!” I exclaimed. “How are you able to do that? Can you show me?” Salem hesitated before responding. “Perhaps, but I’m not sure I would be able to before my family and I leave. Usually the spirit would have to resonate with me somehow, like with a strong emotion, and either me or the person wanting to see the spirit would need to have a personal connection with them. Normally only I can see them.” She admitted. I waited for her to continue as her expression darkened. “I’ve actually only done it three times, twice when I was ten years old, and that was the same spirit.” Her eyes closed for a few moments, the silence dragging out between us despite the background chatter. Finally she blinked a few times, and her expression became more closed off, her voice taking on a distant tone. “She was my best friend, the spirit. She was our neighbor, and there was a fire in their house one night. My friend died in the blaze. I remember seeing her outside my window as it burned, and hearing her crying for help.” Salem could only whisper as she tried to prevent her voice from breaking, and a tear fell down her face, quickly followed by another. “I saw her playing in her backyard like nothing had changed the next day, and when her parents asked why I was talking to her I told them ‘What do you mean? She’s right there!’ But she wasn’t, really. She was dead.” I took Salem’s hand and squeezed it as she finished her story. “Thank you for telling me,” I said softly. One thing had stuck out to me in her story.
“You said that you weren’t able to see other spirits until then, only hear them. Do you know why?” Salem shook her head. “No. When my parents told me to stop pretending I was playing with my friend I got so mad, and then she just appeared. They were really scared for me at first, but they’ve come around.” I hummed in acknowledgement, thinking. “Maybe the reason you were able to show them was because of your friend somehow,” I replied, mostly to myself. “My powers came to me after a car crash one week ago,” I explained. “I suspected that it may have been because I had a near death experience, and you watched your friend die.” One additional case of this happening did not mean it was completely true, but it was a step in the right direction. “Maybe the closer you are to death, the stronger your power? Have you had any other near-death experiences before you heard the spirits?”
Salem shook her head and took another sip of her coffee before elaborating. “Not that I recall. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t able to at least hear spirits.” She jolted in sudden realization. “But I did have heart surgery when I was young. I don’t remember it, and from what I understand it happens fairly frequently in newborns. But if what you said is true, then maybe I was closer to death than my parents realized.” She seemed to pale for a moment, but then her eyes sparked with sudden interest. “And if that is the case, then I wonder if we can somehow make our powers stronger.” I must have looked confused, so she went on. “I couldn’t see spirits before, only heard them. But when my friend passed there was a bright flash, and then I was able to see her the next day. I thought it was just the fire, but perhaps it has something to do with your children of light?”
I stood up excitedly, trembling with this new knowledge. If Salem had figured this out, maybe someone else had, too. “I think so. I need to do some more research, but this has been really helpful, Salem. Thank you.” The black haired girl smiled, standing up as well. “You’re welcome. Please let me know if you need anything else.” I started to follow her towards the exit, but a familiar voice stopped me.
Waving for Salem to go on, I turned to see Colton approaching me. I must not have noticed him in the crowded coffee shop before now. “Hi, Colton. How are you settling in?” I asked distractedly, still reeling from what I had just learned. Trying to regain my focus, I took in the boy before me. His curls were less unkempt than when I had seen him before, and he had a more dignified look with gray slacks and a red polo as opposed to jeans and a hoodie. “Pretty well,” he replied with an edge of pride in his voice. “I’ve put all of my stuff where I want it, but Dallas is coming to help move some of his stuff around later so things will probably be a mess again soon,” he chuckled. “Actually, he and Violet are planning to go bowling and catch a movie tonight to enjoy their last day of freedom. I thought we could join them again?” I was taken aback by such an upfront offer. Colton was nice, but I didn’t know him well enough to date him. But as I looked closer, his eyes weren’t the hopeful, bright eyes of someone in puppy-love. They were cool and expectant. Well, it can’t hurt, I thought. Plus he did pay for all the damage to my car. I glanced at the clock on the wall. “Sure, I’ll join you. What time? I want to do some early research for class but it won’t take all day.” Colton shook his head. “I’m not sure. Violet and Dallas tend to be… spur of the moment people,” he finished sounding amused. “How about I have Violet let you know later?” He offered. “Sure,” I replied with a shrug. “Thanks for inviting me. I’ll see you then.” He smiled and watched me as I turned and departed for the library.
The Central State library was the only library in the town, so it was completely open to the public. It also happened to be the largest building in town. I hoped this also meant it would have records of any wrongdoings that had happened in the house on Cherry Street. I entered the intimidating two story building and looked around. A large librarian’s desk was to my left, with a few brightly colored displays surrounding it that showed what new books were available. Large, long tables took up most of this floor, lined with computers that were filled with students, many of them playing games or looking over class syllabi. Turning towards the librarian’s desk, I greeted the boy who I assumed was the library assistant.
“Hello, m’am. What can I help you with?” His reply appeared to be rehearsed, but he had a genuine smile on his face, and I smiled innocently in return.
“I was hoping to look through some of the town records on Cherry Street?” I asked, hoping the request was not too uncommon. “I got stuck there during the blizzard last night and thought I could learn more about where I was.” Admittedly, I was a bad liar. I stared at the short blue and yellow carpet and mumbled the half-truth, but the tell did not seem to register with the boy. “Ah, I’ll have Mr. Freeman help you with that. He’s kept the town records in order for years. I’ll be back with him in just a second.” He turned and went into a frosted glass office. When he didn’t return momentarily, I began wandering idly around between the book displays nearby, examining them until I heard the shuffle of approaching footsteps behind me. Turning, I opened my mouth to give a friendly greeting, but it was strangled by a sudden gasp.
I could only stand, petrified, as I gazed into the steely blue eyes of the man I had seen living in the house with the children of light.
Credit : BexLapis
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