Hazel and Holly — The Long Dark
Previous: Elder Night, Part Two
Hand in hand, Hazel and Holly followed Augustus as he led them up the stairs and down a dimly lit hallway. He stopped in front of a door and turned to the sisters to chitter at them.
Holly flinched. “What does it want?”
“I think this might be our room,” Hazel said.
Augustus’ chittering turned to squawks as he hopped up and down.
“Or maybe it just wants our spleens,” Holly said, covering her ears.
“We’d better go in,” Hazel said and opened the door. Inside was a shadowed four-poster bed, dimly illuminated by a stream of moonlight from a single sash window.
Augustus squawked again. Holly darted into the room, pulling Hazel after her, and slammed the door shut. Augustus’ chittering remained a few moments before finally fading away.
Holly pawed at the door. “This thing got a lock?”
“Doubtful,” Hazel said. She walked to a dresser near the door. “Help me move this thing over. It’ll be better than a lock anyway.”
Holly nodded and stood on the other side of the dresser. Hazel pushed as Holly pulled, and the dresser groaned as they slid it across the polished wood floor to barricade the door. Then they stood there.
“Now what?” Holly said.
Hazel shook her head. “I don’t know.” She moved over to the window. Outside, pale blue light danced along the stone street, though she couldn’t tell from where it came. It wasn’t moonlight. Then the light skittered away, and in its wake followed a shambling shadow, dragging a heavy bag along the ground as it went. Hazel cringed and drew the curtains closed.
“What’s out there?” Holly said.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to know.” Hazel walked over and sat on the edge of the bed and buried her face in her hands.
The mattress dipped as Holly sat next to her, and Holly put a hand on her shoulder.
“Are you all right?”
Hazel took a deep breath. “I don’t know. I think I’ve made a real mess of things.”
“What do you mean?”
Hazel gave a wry laugh. “I mean this.” She waved her hands towards the room. “I’ve been so intent on finding Father, I never really stopped to look at where we were going.”
“But we’re getting closer. We’ve never been this close to finding him.”
“Are we closer? I’m not so sure.”
Holly remained quiet. Then she said, “What was it like when Elder… did what he did?”
Hazel eyed her a moment and shook her head. “I don’t remember much. I just remember it being cold and dark and… empty.”
Holly exhaled, as if she had been holding her breath. “It was creepy. You looked all shadowy. Like you were gone, but still there.”
“How did you get him to undo it?”
Holly shook her head. “I didn’t. Hemlock did. I threatened to burn down the house. That… didn’t really work.”
Hazel smirked. “It might have helped with the cold, though.”
“That’s what I thought!”
Then Holly said, “You should have seen him, though.”
“Hemlock. He was so calm—he even conjured a fairy that brought in light. I… I couldn’t have done what he did. It’s good that he’s here.”
They fell back into silence.
“We should try and get some sleep,” Hazel said.
Holly took a deep breath and nodded.
They crawled under the covers, pulling the thick, downy blanket up to their chins as they lay side by side. From time to time, a shriek would resonate from outside. Each time it did, they flinched and Holly would grab onto Hazel’s hand. They seemed to have stayed like that forever when there came a gentle knocking at the door.
Holly shrank under the covers even more, while Hazel took a deep breath and, struggling to keep her voice even, said, “Who is it?”
“Hemlock,” came the quiet reply.
Holly emitted a heavy sigh and rolled out of bed. She walked over to the dresser and tried to push it out of the way, but it didn’t move much. “Come help,” she said.
Hazel hesitated. What did Hemlock want? But then Holly threw her a scowl and Hazel got up and they moved the dresser just enough for Holly to crack open the door and pull Hemlock inside. They moved the dresser back—Hemlock helped—and then Holly ran back to the bed and dove under the covers.
Hazel wrung her hands, but before she could say anything, Hemlock said, “I wanted to make sure you two were all right. I wasn’t expecting the barricade.” He waved at the dresser.
“More sturdy than a lock,” Hazel said.
He nodded. “Yes. Definitely.”
The fell into silence a while, so Hazel said, “We’re fine, Hemlock. Thank you.”
He looked at the floor and nodded. He turned towards the door, but then turned back around. “All right, that wasn’t entirely true. The truth is I can’t sleep and I was hoping you two might want company. If… you know… you were also having trouble sleeping, that is.”
“We are,” Holly said. “We haven’t slept at all.”
“Mind if I stay a little while?”
Holly sat up on the bed. “We don’t mind. Do we, Hazel?”
Hazel’s mouth hung open a moment before she found any words. “N-no, I suppose not. But what about Hawthorn? Do you think he’ll be all right alone?”
Hemlock shrugged. “He’s already asleep. Which is another reason for my wanting to leave that room. He sleeps nude, you know.”
Hazel cringed. “I know.”
“What?” Holly said.
Hazel shook her head. “Don’t ask.”
Holly frowned. But then she brightened and bounced on the bed. “Ooh, we could play a game. Know any good games?”
“What games could we possibly play, Holly?” Hazel said. “Hide-and-seek? You go hide, and I’m sure Augustus will have a wonderful time finding you.”
Holly both cringed and deflated. Then she perked up again. “What about stories?”
“I know a story,” Hemlock said.
“Really?” Holly said, sounding surprised. Then she grinned and patted the bed. “Sit down and tell it.”
Hemlock glanced at Hazel and then walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. He adjusted his glasses and said, “Well, long ago there was a warlock who, afraid of growing old, decided he would find a fountain for eternal youth.”
“How does someone find something like that?” Holly said.
“I-I don’t know,” Hemlock said.
“Does it exist? You can’t just decide to find something that doesn’t exist.”
Hazel said, “Do you want him to tell the story or not, Holly?”
Holly slumped. “Fine.” To Hemlock, she said, “Continue.”
Hemlock cleared his throat. “Anyway, so the warlock sets off into the woods to find this fountain, and along the way he comes across a witch’s cottage. Smoke is streaming from the chimney,” Hemlock waggled his fingers in the air, “and it smells of roasting meat and spiced wine.”
“How does smoke smell of wine?” Holly said.
Hazel glared at her and Holly shrank under the blankets. “Sorry,” she murmured.
Hemlock took a breath. “So, the warlock goes inside the cottage, and there he finds the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Love-stricken, he gets down on one knee and professes his eternal devotion to this witch who has stolen his heart, forgetting all about the fountain of eternal youth. But the witch just watches him with a cool, hard gaze. Then, grabbing a knife, she cuts out his heart and eats it.”
Silence filled the room.
Holly screwed up her face. “Is that it? That’s terrible!”
Hemlock adjusted his glasses. “Well, I didn’t say it was a good story.”
Holly sat there, her mouth hanging open as she stared at him.
A giggle escaped Hazel and she clapped a hand over her mouth. But it didn’t help, and her giggles soon turned to laughter.
“What’s so funny?” Holly said.
“It’s terrible,” Hazel said as she laughed. “Completely awful, horrible story.” She bent over and put her hands on her knees, laughing so hard she could barely breathe.
Hemlock chuckled along with her. After a minute or so, Hazel finally calmed. She straightened and wiped her eyes.
“You’ve lost it,” Holly said.
Hazel laughed a little more. “Probably. But that’s likely for the best”
Holly screwed up her face again.
There was a knock at the door and they all froze.
“Who is it?” Hemlock said.
“Hemlock?” came Hawthorn’s voice. “What are you doing in there?”
Hemlock and Hazel moved the dresser and Hawthorn stepped inside. Thankfully, he was clothed.
“Where did you go?” he said. “I woke up and you were gone. I thought maybe Augustus got a hold of you.”
“I couldn’t sleep,” Hemlock said. “I didn’t think you’d notice.”
Hawthorn drew himself up. “Well, I did. This isn’t exactly the most hospitable establishment, you know.”
“It’s not an establishment, Hawthorn,” Hemlock said. “It’s a necromancer’s house.”
“Exactly my point.” He smoothed his rumpled clothes and looked around the room. “So, what’s going on in here?”
“Hemlock is telling us horrible stories,” Holly said.
“Oh? I know some horrible stories.” Hawthorn fiddled with his fingers and raised his eyebrows.
“Would you like to join us?” Hazel said.
Hawthorn smiled. “I would love to, thank you.” He sat on the bed near Holly’s feet.
Holly grinned and snuggled down in the covers.
They passed most of the night swapping stories that ranged from mundane to completely awful, until Hawthorn and Holly both fell asleep sprawled across the bed.
Hazel sat on the floor with her back against the wall. Hemlock sat next to her. She looked towards the window, relaxing as the first dawn light peeked in from behind the curtains.
Keeping her gaze fixed on the window, she said, “Thank you, Hemlock.”
Hazel shook her head and smiled. She looked at him and, in a quiet voice that was almost a whisper said, “Thank you.”
Hemlock studied her a moment and then nodded and gave her a small smile. “You’re welcome.”
She looked back towards the window, closing her eyes and resting her head against the wall as the first bird chirped with the rising sun.
Next: Elder Dawn