The Light of Life, So Sweet with Temptation
Chapter Four: Hunters of the Hunted
Realistically, what I was doing was stupid. My brain said this over and over and over, but my feet would not respond to this sound advice. Logically, running towards a strange noise was not smart. Logically, leaving the building with all accompanying friends was smart. Logically, leaving said friends after being attacked by a leech was the worst of all the decision being made. Yet, my legs were running at a speed I hadn’t known them to go in years, and they were not about to stop for logic.
“Jasmine! Wait!” Dan’s voice grew ever smaller as I ran, he not running nearly as fast as I was and quickly falling behind. I rounded a corner, completely cutting myself off from my team but catching a glimpse of what I was chasing: a person. It was a quick glimpse, but I was certain. There was at least one other unaccounted for person in this building, and I was going to hunt them down. Something here wasn’t right, and somewhere deep down in my gut, I knew that catching them would help to solve some of the questions I had.
Rounding another corner, I found I’d gained on my target, and that they had a friend. The two of them ran like their lives depended on it, which included the incessant tripping and flailing, the crying breathlessness, and running into every possible obstacle that was in their way. It was almost pathetic how quickly I caught up to the two of them, kicking at the slower one’s ankles to trip them into their friend, sending them both tumbling to the ground. I grabbed my flashlight, shining it into their faces causing them to go momentarily blind in its beam.
My face contorted into confusion as I looked at them: they were high school boys, no older than fifteen by the looks of it. They put their hands in front of their faces, crying and begging not to be hurt as they floundered into a corner. I watched as they both blubbered apologies and promises to leave, but I couldn’t understand what was going on. This completely went against what we’d been told by Mr. Walters, and there was no indication that others had gotten here before us, so what were these damn kids doing here?!
Loud footfalls stopped the teens from blubbering momentarily, but they immediately began their pleas once more when Dan came into view. He slowed and stopped beside me, looking down at the two boys crying hysterically.
“What the hell is this?” He looked at me with an angry, yet questioning expression. I shrugged back at him, one of my eyebrows raised in equal confusion. He turned back to the boys and stooped down to their level, looking them dead in the eyes. He glared at them until they stopped their crying, causing them to instead squirm uncomfortably instead. “Talk. Now.”
The boys looked at each other, tears brimming in their eyes once more, before the black-haired boy spoke up. “Okay! Okay! Just promise us-”
“We don’t make promises with people we don’t know,” Dan roared at them, making the teens shrink further into the wall behind them. More footsteps were heard echoing off the walls, signaling that the others were close by. “I’d start talking if I were you. My patience is wearing very thin tonight.” Dan’s voice had taken on a quiet and ill-mannered tone, one of which I’d never heard before and hoped to never hear again.
The other boy, a red-head, spoke up. “Okay, look, this was a joke, okay?! We heard that the place had been bought again and that the owner was calling in some investigators and we thought we’d… you know, mess with you. We’d move stuff around, make noises, throw things and stuff. Screw with your data and then laugh about it later. We weren’t even going to stay that long, but…”
The others now crowded behind me, catching the last few words the boy had spoken. The two teens exchanged worried glances once again, with something behind their eyes that screamed panic. I watched their faces turn a grey color as they thought back on something that they didn’t want to share, and I cocked my head slightly. An inkling in the back of my brain slowly traveled to my consciousness, and before I knew it, I asked: “Where’s your friend?”
All eyes sharply turned to me, but I kept my gaze on them. They looked shocked, blanched for a moment, and then a sparkle of hope ignited in their faces. “You’ve seen him?! Where did you see him,” the red-headed boy asked as they both leaned forward, the hope within them propelling them towards me. Dan pushed them back, making sure to keep a healthy distance between us all.
“No, we haven’t seen him. But people seem to frequently go missing here.” I looked up and down the halls again, expecting to see a camera lens glint from around a corner or the face of a teenage boy barely concealed in a dark corner ready to pounce out. Something about the way these boys looked, though… They weren’t joking anymore.
“When did you last see this friend of yours?” Lisa stepped forward, crossing her arms as she glared at the teens who sought to make a mockery of her work.
“Like, half an hour ago, maybe? We split up to cover more ground up here and to start messing around with you, and then there was this scream and…” The black-headed trailed off, looking at his companion with eyes that screamed terror. Matt and I exchanged glances, not happy to be hearing this information.
“So, you’ve been up here looking for your friend? Then what? Why did you come to look where we were if you obviously didn’t want to be found?” Dan leaned in closer, closing off the breathing room the boys had.
“We heard a wail and thought maybe you’d found him,” the red-headed boy said, running his hands through his hair. “We just wanted to get him and get out of here! Our ride isn’t going to get here until morning but we were going to just walk home! We didn’t mean anything by it, ok? We promise! It was just a stupid prank!” Their sniffling started back, which I wasn’t particularly interested in hearing.
“Do your parents know you’re here? Who drove you out here?” I watched as guilt and shame crossed their faces as they thought about my questions before the black-haired boy spoke.
“Our parents think we’re at each other’s houses for the weekend, and some seniors drove us here so we could show them we were good enough to hang out with them. We waited until the cops left a few hours ago before we broke in. It’s a dare at our school to see how long people can last out here. No one lasts more than a couple of hours, but we were gonna stay the night, so we told them not to come back until morning.”
“You guys are fuckin’ dumb.” Laura gave the boys a disapproving shake of her head, and Lisa held out her fist for Laura to bump with hers, which she quickly did.
“What are your names?” Dan’s voice had softened slightly, but not enough for the boys to relax.
“Samuel,” said the black-haired one.
“Damian,” said the red-haired one.
“Ok, Samuel and Damian, here’s how this is going to work: you both are going to stick with us. You’re going to be silent and do as you’re told. Then, when we find your friend, we’re going to take the three of you to your homes where you will tell your parents what happened here tonight, you’ll take whatever punishment you get, and you’ll never step foot here again unless granted explicit permission by the owner. You got that?” Dan gave the boys a hard stare until they nodded, probably knowing they had no other choice other than compliance.
“What’s your friend’s name?” I asked, needing to get that information before we could really do anything.
“His name is Trevor,” Damian said, slowly standing up with Samuel as Dan stood and took a couple of steps back.
“Trevor. And does Trevor ever pull stunts like disappearing and worrying you both?” I raised my brows at them, daring them to lie to me.
“Never! He didn’t even want to come! He said this was stupid and we were stupid for considering it, but he didn’t want to leave us alone here.” Damian looked at Samuel, who now looked even guiltier.
“Ok. We’ll search this floor for him. He’s got to be here somewhere.” I looked at Dan who nodded at me.
“It’s either here or back on the first floor. The third and fourth floors need a key to access, which these boys certainly don’t have.” Laura flashed a large and antique looking key, which must have been given to her by Mr. Walters.
“That narrows our field down.” Dan sighed, looking up and down the hallway we were currently in. “I guess we’ll start here and work our way back.” We all nodded before grouping together, putting the boys in the middle of our circle as we walked the dark hallway.
The second floor was very simple: it was comprised of long hallways with rooms built into their walls, housing either one to two patients per room, depending on the size of the space and the patients within. Due to its abandonment so long ago, most of the rooms were cleared out, which meant that simply shining the light inside was a thorough enough search to let us know it was empty. The first hallway took us roughly twenty minutes to search, which felt like great time to us but probably felt like a lifetime to the silent boys simply looking for their friend.
I fell to the back of the group as Dan began discussing how to best search the several other hallways as quickly as possible with his team, coming to a stop beside Simon who had been fairly quiet since I’d run off to chase the boys down.
“Hey.” I gave him a bump with my shoulder, smiling up at him. He looked down, having been broken out of his train of thought, and gave a small smile back. “How are you?”
“In all honesty, my head is starting to hurt a bit. You really whacked me good.” Simon gingerly rubbed his head, wincing ever so slightly as his fingers grazed a tender spot.
“I’ll make it up to you, Simon. How’s about some lemon dill salmon and rice pilaf at my place next weekend? I know you love a good homecooked meal, and you can tell me all about the drama going on with all the other priests!” He laughed at the suggestion, but nodded.
“Yes, I suppose that would be nice. I’ve been needing to talk to someone about my frustrations with some of my fellow priests and their unwavering stubbornness.”
“Perfect. I’ll mark it on the calendar.” My grin faded a little as I watch Simon sway on his feet, looking unwell. “Simon, you really don’t look okay. There’s nothing for you to bless right now. Maybe it’d be best for you to go home? Or at least go outside and wait until we join you. I can get Matt to drive my car and I’ll take you home. Or to a hospital, maybe?”
Simon shook his head. “Nonsense. I’m just a little sleepy, like I said. I’ll be fine once we’re moving again.” I looked at him skeptically, not believing him in the slightest.
A small whisper caught my attention, and I turned to see a bright light halfway concealed in a doorway behind me. A small face peeked around the frame, and I recognized it to the young spirit girl I saw earlier. She motioned for me to come into the room with her, and I nodded before turning back to Simon, who had a knowing look.
“She’s found you again, hasn’t she?” I looked at him, surprise etched across my face.
“How did you…?” I trailed off, realizing the priest must have seen me talking with her earlier.
“You’re not very subtle when you talk with children spirits, I’ve noticed. They like you more when you act silly and animated.”
“And knowing she was a she?” I gave him the side eye and he shrugged.
“It was a 50/50 shot. I got lucky.” He waved me off, leaving me and the girl to join the others up ahead. I walked into the room, bending down to be level with the girl who stood with her back against the wall.
“I’m glad to see you,” I told her, relief washing through me. She nodded solemnly, and looked up at me through her eyelashes.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I looked her over, checking the light within her to find it unscathed, which further helped me relax.
“Doctor Young is gone, isn’t he?” She looked at me with sad eyes, and I felt my face fall. I nodded, and reached my hand out, which she grabbed immediately. Her touch was nearly invisible, but there was the slightest warm tingle where her fingers touched mine, telling me she was really there. “He wasn’t in his room, and he hasn’t come to see me in so long. Then I heard him just a little while ago! He was a lot of bright lights, and he said to find you, and then he was gone.” She looked at me, her eyes wide and scared. “Where did he go?”
I bit the inside of my cheek, having no idea how to answer her question. I made it a habit to not to lie to spirits, as their suffering was already so great that it wasn’t worth telling them a white lie that could hurt them more. In this instance, though, I didn’t have an answer, and so I went with the answer I hoped to be true. That I wanted was true.
“He went somewhere safe. He was too tired to be here any longer, but he knows my friends and I can help all of you. We want you all to go somewhere safe as well. Can you help me take you all to a safe place?” I looked at her with hopeful eyes, but she stared back with a face full of defeat. She pulled her hand back, standing quietly and avoiding my eyes. Then, ever so slightly, she shook her head, her curls swaying with the movement.
“No?” I looked at her with confusion. Why in the world could she not help us? She continued to avoid my eyes, but shook her head once more. “Why, sweetheart? What’s wrong?”
She glanced up at me, her eyes full of sadness and confusion. She pursed her lips and then looked at me dead on. “Doctor Young split us up. He said we had to hide away and we couldn’t see each other anymore. At least, for some time. Until it was safe again.”
“Why isn’t it safe?” She closed her eyes, squeezing them tightly as if she was trying to forget something she didn’t want to know.
“He didn’t say! All he told us was that we needed to hide and wait for him. That he would see us when he could and make sure we were well until we were all safe again. He came to visit every day, but then he stopped coming. I waited for a long time, but he never came. So…” She pursed her lips again, knowing she was about to admit she broke the rules.
“You went to find him, didn’t you?” Her face jump to a terrified expression, expecting to be told off, I’m sure. “No, no! It’s ok! You’re not in trouble for that. That was a very brave thing to do.” I gave her a reassuring smile, and for a moment she looked confused, but then smiled back. “So, you don’t know where any of your friends are?” She shook her head again, looking slightly dejected at not being able to help.
I nodded at her, doing my best to mask my sadness at this development. “Well, at least we have you here now. Can I introduce someone to you?” She smiled widely, happy to meet someone else. I looked out into the hallway to see Simon staring into the room, trying slyly to watch us talk. I waved him over, and he made his way in quickly. She stared up at Simon, her eyes wide with awe at his height. “This is Simon. He’s here to help you.”
“Hello Simon! I’m Paula,” she greeted, her voice filled with excitement.
“Simon, this is Paula. She needs your help to get to a safe place. Can you help us?” Simon smiled down at the floor, sending a wink towards the little girl who giggled loudly.
“Does she have anything she wants us to ensure for her?” He looked to me now, wanting to be sure she felt that she had no more reason to be stuck here on Earth. I bent back down, taking Paula’s hand in my own once more.
“Paula? Is there anything you need us to do for you so you can feel good going to the safe place?” She looked at her shoes, thinking hard before looking back to me.
“Can you find my two friends? Doctor Young always called us the ‘three amigos.’ He said that meant we were always going to be friends, so they have to come with me! Can you take them to the safe place too?”
“Yes, of course. We’ll do our best to find them. We’ll make sure you’re all together again.”
She beamed at me. “I think they could be in the play room, or the pantry! Or maybe in the room with all the pillows? Doctor Young said he made sure we were in places we loved, and Tommy and Sarah loved those places.”
“We’ll check all those places. I promise you we will try really, really hard.” Paula seemed to accept that answer happily, and I looked up to Simon, who had his bible ready. He began to read a passage from it while I continued to hold her hand gently, the two of us exchanging silly faces at each other until he finished. Then, taking out a cross, Simon began to pray, which made Paula stop and listen intently. The light in her eyes began to glow brilliantly, and she looked past me to a corner of the room.
“What do you see,” I whispered, watching her eyes shine with recognition.
“I see Mama and Papa! And I see my sissy, too! And Scraps! My puppy!” She danced with excitement, still holding my hand.
“Well, aren’t you going to go hug them?” She looked between her family and me before letting my hand go, running to the corner of the room where she slowly disappeared, her giggles ringing in my ears.
“Did she make it over,” Simon asked as he offered me his hand so I could stand up.
“She did. Her family and dog have been waiting a long time for her, it seems.”
“You watch spirits cross over, and yet you don’t believe in a heaven?” Simon ‘tsked’ me teasingly, and I shrugged.
“Until I can see it myself, Simon. You know how I am.”
“Oh yes, I know. A helper of lost souls, though she chooses to be lost as well.”
“I’ll uninvite you to dinner, Simon. Don’t test me.” I stuck my tongue out as I walked past my friend, watching him shake his head as he followed behind.
Out in the hallway, the others seemed to be agreeing on the final decision of how to proceed through the rest of the second floor, Dan giving us a general acknowledgement as we rejoined them.
“Where did you two run off to?” Lisa handed me a new flashlight, taking the one I’d been using since we entered the sanitorium to exchange the batteries inside it.
“Sent someone home. We have two more to find. Tommy and Sarah. We were advised to look into the play room, the pantry, and ‘the room filled with pillows.’” I shone the new flashlight down the hallway behind me, noting how much brighter it was compared to the one I had.
“We’ll keep a close eye out for those places, then. Laura was saying most of the children were kept on the other side of the building, so we thought splitting the team would help us cover more ground quicker so that we could get out of here sooner.” I nodded along, agreeing that splitting up was the best way to get us out faster, even if it had its flaws. I turned to look at Dan, who was looking at his phone, probably informing Mr. Walter’s of the change in plans.
“Alright. How do you want to split us up? Same as downstairs?” Dan looked around the group, considering what options we had before answering.
“I think that may be best. You and Simon should look for the kids while we look for the missing kid. Take Matt with you. He’s got a good eye on him, so he can look for anything out of place while you concentrate on other things.”
“You’ll keep the boys with you, then?”
“Oh yes. Lisa won’t let them leave her sight, so they have to stay with us.” I looked around Dan to see Lisa staring daggers into the back of the boys, who stood around sheepishly amongst the adults.
“Yeah, they picked the wrong investigative team to mess with. Lisa hates people messing with her work.”
“We’re going to use her scary nature to our advantage in this instance.” I smirked at his comment, knowing that he was quite serious.
“Alright. Well, I guess we’ll get moving.” Lisa stepped forward to hand me a large walkie-talkie before I could start walking.
“These babies will reach three miles, so we shouldn’t have any issues talking while in here. If you need anything, and I mean anything, call us. We’re here to find ghosts…”
“Not become them,” I finished for her, exchanging a wry smile before our groups broke off from each other, making our trek to the other side of the building.
The walk was quiet. Matt had his camera rolling, taking in the various rooms and angles he could as we zig-zagged down the hallway, checking all the rooms as we went. The wind outside rustled windows and shutters, putting us all a little on edge after the various encounters we’d had and making us take a second look at things that we normally wouldn’t think twice about. Our feet crunched the broken glass and other debris that had been left behind on the hallway floors, which made our attempts to be stealthy nearly useless.
Turning down a new hallway, Matt peeked into one room while Simon and I looked into another. Matt gave a small whistle, getting my attention. He motioned towards the room he was standing in front of, taking a step back so I could look inside. The room was filled with pillows. From floor to ceiling in some areas, while other areas just had large piles of pillows stacked in a perilous way, ready to tip over at any point. Paula was not kidding. This was, most definitely, the pillow room.
“Well, I’d say this is where we want to look.” I stepped over the threshold, shining my flashlight around the pillow mounds as I went. No illumination from a spirit could be seen in any corners, which didn’t give me much hope for this room holding either of the kiddos I needed to find. Matt followed behind me, doing his best not to bump any of the musty pillows as he went, while Simon stuck around the doorway, keeping an eye on us and the hallway outside. As I stepped around another pile, I shook my head in defeat, feeling agitated that no one was here.
“I don’t think anything’s here.”
“Oh no. Something’s here.” Matt’s voice came from the back corner of the room that I hadn’t looked at yet, and it sounded concerned. I made my way over, looking at him as he came into view to see him staring intently at the floor. I put the beam from my flashlight towards the floor and froze: blood. Fresh blood. Smeared onto the floor and up the wall in a way that looked as if someone had been attacked and couldn’t get away. It was pooled into the corner, and there was no trail that left the room, which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
“Jasmine, what the hell is this?” Matt dropped the camera from his shoulder, running a hand through his hair and pulling at it as he went.
“I don’t know. This place is…” I didn’t finish my thought, having no idea how I would put into words what I was feeling in the moment. I grabbed Matt’s hand, dragging him away from the bloody scene and back to Simon.
“What’s happened?” Simon looked between the two of us, clearly concerned from the looks on our faces.
“Someone was hurt in there, but there’s no sign of who it was or where they went.” I grabbed the walkie-talkie from by belt, pressing the “call” button and waiting for someone to answer.
“You got Laura, over.” Her voice was clear over the radio, which made me feel better about our separation. Lisa and her paranoia to have the best equipment possible was a godsend at times.
“We found blood. Something’s really not right here. New objective is to find Trevor and leave. We’ll come back later with the cavalry. Over.”
The radio was silent. We waited patiently for their answer, though I began getting more and more anxious as the seconds ticked by.
“Dan wants to confirm this is what you want to do. That the kids will wait? Over.” Laura’s voice was hesitant, knowing that I never left spirits behind in any circumstance.
“We have others to think about right now. They’ll have to wait another day. Over.” My leg was bouncing as I waited for them to confirm the change in plans. I hated this. This entire job had turned into a nightmare as far as everything going wrong that could go wrong, and now we just needed to get out safely.
“Ok. Change of plans confirmed. Dan will call for help if we can’t locate Trevor in the next ten minutes. We’re leaving in ten minutes. Can you confirm? Over.”
“Confirmed. We’ll meet you outside in ten minutes. Over and out.” I put the radio back on my belt before looking at Matt and Simon.
“We’re running the halls. Trevor is our priority now. We stick together, and if anyone sees anything, shout.” Matt and Simon nodded, exchanging worried glances between them as they did. With that, we set off down the hall, calling for Trevor as we went and looking for any sign of blood or disturbances as we went. Nothing out of the ordinary turned up and before we knew it, we had almost cleared our side of the building. We turned the last corner, facing a large set of wooden at the end of the hallway. Above the doors, a small rusted plaque hung with the words “Play Room” etched onto its face. I felt my heart jump in my chest. We were almost done.
A large hand fell onto my shoulder, gripping it in an almost painful way as it pulled my momentum to a stop. “Jasmine, we’re not going in there.” Matt’s voice sounded terrified, and his face matched the tone of his voice. His eyes were wide and fixed on the doors, his mouth slightly agape, and his skin looking slightly ashen.
“Matt, it’s the last room. We have to check it.” I grabbed his hand, pulling it off my shoulder.
“Jasmine, no. No. Something doesn’t feel right here. We need to leave. NOW.” Matt grabbed my hand, trying to pull be back down the hallway. I shook his hand off, backing up towards the doors as he stopped.
“Matt, it’ll take two seconds. Just wait here then.” I turned and grabbed the handle of the left door, pulling it open as Matt grabbed at me again, telling me something I didn’t quite hear due to Simon talking over him at the same time.
As the door opened, a cold gush of air hit me, sending goosebumps across my arms and freezing my breath as it came out of my mouth. In the center of my flashlight’s beam, Trevor lay motionless on the floor, blood pooled underneath him as a leech stood above, pulling the light from his body greedily. The leech suddenly turned, light flowing out of its mouth like water, locking its dead stare onto me. Several more sets of eyes blackened eyes, too many to count, turned towards me as well, igniting the air with a sudden excitement and longing that made me freeze.
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Cover photo credit: Peter H.