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It’s been said that there’s no rest for the wicked. The same can be said for the virtuous.

A Christmas Angel

Part One: O Little Town of North Hill

It was Christmas Eve, ten-thirty-one in the evening, an evening so meek and mild that not even the jailbirds bothered to sing. It’s in times like these, times of peace and stillness, where even the faintest whisper of chaos can be loud enough to break glass.

But this was no whisper.

It was a weeping, a shrill and mournful weeping, coming from the sliding glass doors, now ajar, hazed with frost set against a starry night’s sky. And, boxed between those doors, stood a woman: face red, eyes wide, cheeks wet from smears of tears and probably holding back more.

Schultz saw her from across the broad and dingy department of the North Hill Police. Maybe he felt something: compassion, perhaps. Or, more likely, this was but another case that demanded his attention. A distraction at best. Either way, she noticed him and he, her.

“Take a seat- “Detective Schultz said, scooting back a metal chair and going through the motions again, at this point in his career completely desensitized to an enervated jittering mass of a woman slumped over in that chair. She wasn’t the first. She sat.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s going on, Miss-?” Schultz lifted his head for her response.

“I think my daughter’s been abducted” the woman finally said with a faint breath, those wide eyes clenched shut on reality now, even though there was no escaping it.

“And when did she go missing?” Schultz gruffly said as he took another swig of his coffee, speckled with cream.

“Tonight” the woman weakly said.

Schultz leaned back and raked his fingers through his jumbled hair, scratching the dry scalp beneath.

“Well, do you know of anyone who’d want to kidnap your daughter?”

“No,” the mother said, watching her own foot drag along the mangy carpet.

“Can you tell me a little bit more about what happened? I’m in the dark here.”

She finally lifted her eyes, bloodshot and dilated, as she nervously spoke.

"I'm not sure I know myself," she said.

“Try me” Schultz bleakly murmured.

The woman leaned forward, wadding her fingers into balls that anchored onto his desk. With a sigh, she spoke:

“We had gone out to see the Christmas lights. Y’know Pinewood Park on 111th?”

“I’m familiar” Schultz replied.

“They had some lights in the park. We were driving by, and my daughter saw a Rudolph, she loves Rudolph, so we pulled in and went to see ‘em.”

“And then what happened?” Schultz asked, leaning in.

“Then we got separated. She had to go ti-ti, well, potty, so we stopped at the little public access bathroom. She was in the stall next to mine, and I told her to wash her hands when she was done. I heard the sink running, and told her to wait outside for Mommy, but when I opened the stall door, she was- gone,” the woman sniffled.

“And you think someone then abducted her?” Schultz asked. The woman nodded softly with a feeble shiver.

"I figured she ran off to see Rudolph. When I got to the Rudolph lights and didn't see her, I called out for her. When she didn't answer, I started looking. I looked for three hours, and then I came here."

Schultz leaned forward with a click of a pen, scribbling some illegible notes onto a paper pad; a formality to him, hope for her.

“Sometimes, Miss, kids just…sorta sneak off” Schultz cleared his raspy throat, “there’s a high possibility that your daughter is safe. Afraid, but safe.

The woman’s reluctant head shook before he could finish his last word.

“She wouldn’t up and leave like this. She’s never done that.”

“Kids are funny like that, Miss.”

The woman clenched her bottom lip by the skin of her teeth.

“Do you have kids?”

Schultz blinked tightly.

“No, I don’t- “

“Then how do you know?” the woman sharply said through riled eyes.

“Well- “ Schultz began.

“Because I don’t think you have a damn idea about how I feel right now.”

Schultz’s wide eyes narrowed, leaning forward with a sigh, pulling himself toward the woman by the bones in his elbows.

“Ma’am, last month,” Schultz slowly hawked, “I had a dazed, five-year-old girl approach my squad car. She told me her mommy was flying up in their apartment and she couldn’t get her down. I asked her ‘flying like a bird?’, and she said no. I said, ‘like a balloon?’, and she said yes. So, I told her to show me where her mommy was.”

The woman swallowed. Schultz's eyes finally softened, before hardening up again.

“The mother hung herself from the ceiling fan in the bedroom. The little girl thought she was flying” Schultz huffed, “kids are funny like that.”

The woman pushed herself back into the metal chair before replying.

“And what the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means kids are unreliable. I’m not saying she wasn’t abducted, but I’m not ruling out other possibilities. Kids, especially young ones, like to run off. We’ll put a 10-57 out on her, and I’ll try to see if the park has any cameras. Might take some time given the holiday. Maybe we’ll find someone responsible for what happened, or maybe someone who saw what did. Do you have a picture of your daughter, Miss-?”

The woman looked down, retrieving her purse, and sliding a wallet from within its depths. A small piece of paper caught her eye, tugging at tears from behind it, as she handed the photo over.

“Her name is Cassidy.”

Detective Schultz looked down. The image of a black-haired little girl smiled brightly up at him, the same innocence they all shared was tucked away in those tiny eyes.

“Detective?”

The woman’s voice shook Schultz out of his gaze, his eyes jolting to meet hers.

“What happened to that little girl in your story?”

Schultz pushed himself back, scrapping the metal chair along the floor, as he stood over his desk, arms crossed. He licked his lips.

“She was placed into foster care.”

The woman nodded silently as Schultz breezed past her. He stopped. And sighed.

“You’re right. I don’t know how you feel. But if I did, I wouldn’t be doing this job.”

--------------------------

Part Two: O Come All Ye Faithless

There were cameras in that park, six to be exact. One at the front gate, one at the back, and four scattered about, two of those being in front of the restroom areas. You could see her, too. Though the cameras had seen better Christmases, there was no mistaking the bundled-up congregation of pixels as the form of a little girl. Schultz watched as Cassidy left the bathroom, frisking down the icy path toward the Christmas lights. Camera #4 captured the whole thing.

About halfway down the beaten path, Cassidy stopped, turning her little body to face a radiating light just off-screen, to the left of the frame. The light was so bright that, at this point, Cassidy was but a shadow in its presence. Her shadow crept toward the light slowly, before scurrying toward it. As Cassidy exited the frame, the light disappeared.

All five of the other cameras captured different areas, making the source of the light indeterminable. The only other coverage of Cassidy's disappearance was Camera #3, which showed the event from the opposite direction. Cassidy was noticeable from the front now, still obscured by the light, in addition to an elderly couple sitting on a nearby bench, also bleached out from the radiating beam. Again, like before, Cassidy traveled toward the light source, with the glow cutting off almost immediately. The elderly couple watched the entire ordeal, looking at one another as soon as the light rapidly dissipated. Something might've been said between them, but no audio was captured on the cameras.

From the timestamp of 08:47:11 PM, when Cassidy exited the leftmost side of the frame, her presence was not seen again on any of the cameras. About two minutes after the light vanished, the figure of Cassidy’s mom darting down the path is visible on both Cameras #3 and #4.

Schultz supped down another swig of coffee, watching the disheartened mother panic for her missing kin. He paused the tape.

Eddie-“ the Detective called out, summoning in a young man, no older than 23.

“Is this all we’ve got?” Schultz said, gesturing toward the screen.

"Yes, Mr. Schultz- “ the young intern murmured, “there wasn’t a lot to go off of. That place is older than my grandpa. The cameras are ancient, I mean.”

Schultz nodded his head, dismissing the young man with the same gesture. Eddie turned to face the hall, then stopped.

“How was your Christmas, sir?”

Schultz sighed with another gulp of the hot liquid.

“Fine, kid. Just another day.”

Yeah- I mean, good," the young man said.

Schultz tapped his desk with a worn-out knuckle.

“Did uh- you have a good holiday?”

“Yeah. It was nice. Y’know, being away from all this.”

Schultz nodded, contributing silence to the stagnant office.

"When you see as much shit as we do here, it's astonishing that we still have a Christmas," Schultz said with a huff.

The young man nodded back politely.

“Go on, kid. Thanks.”

Eddie walked down the hall, leaving Schultz to the company of the tv. With a yawn, Schultz furrowed his head into his palm, now wiping away a salty tear. Through one of those tired eyes, Schultz stared blankly at the frozen image of the elderly couple in the corner of the screen.

--------------------------

“See if you can track down these people- “ Schultz said, placing a printout of the screen on Eddie’s desk.

“Who are they?” Eddie asked.

“Witnesses, I think. They’re my only lead.” Schultz replied. “I know the image looks like shit. But you’re good at fixing shit, aren’t ya?”

Eddie nodded with a smirk.

--------------------------

The elderly couple was bewildered by the police station. They seemed like a tender matching of folks, and the clean records confirmed it. This must’ve been their first-time stepping foot in a place like this.

“Thanks for coming in on such short notice, Mr. and Mrs. Deans. I haven’t had a lot to go off of with this case, so I was hopin’ you folks might be able to help me out, here- ” The elderly couple stared woodenly at him. “Do you know why you two are here?” They were quiet for a long moment, peering toward one another with trepidation.

“There isn’t anything for us to say” the older man finally said.

“About the girl?”

“About anything. We don’t know anything- “

“What he means is-“ the woman interrupted, “we don’t know what to make of it ourselves. If we knew what happened, we would’ve come to you.”

Schultz leaned back in his chair with a creak.

“And you’re referring to what took place at Pinewood Park on December 24th?”

“It was Christmas Eve, love. It’s not hard to forget.”

Schultz nodded; eyes still locked on the old-timers. He was too invested to grab his coffee from the table.

“Did you tell anybody about this incident?”

"No," the old man said.

“Why?” Schultz asked.

"Our children wouldn't have taken it well" the woman piped in, "we feared they might've put us in a home. Or worse. We wanna see our grandkids.”

"I see," Schultz said, biting a hangnail from his thumb, and resting the hand onto his desk.

“Well, why don’t you tell me what happened? In your own words.”

The couple looked to one another. After a moment of hushed deliberation, the woman finally spoke up:

“We went to see the Christmas lights like we always do. Pinewood isn’t far from our house, and we needed the fresh air anyways. We took a few laps around the park and, when we got tired, we rested on the bench. Then we saw the young girl. I was a bit concerned when I noticed she was alone, but then we got distracted by the light. And that’s when it took her.”

What did?”

“The light.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, she called out for something. Filo, Falo…something like that. She ran toward it and then it sucked her right up” the woman trembled as she spoke, nodding her head.

Schultz was locked in on the woman now, leaning toward her for answers.

“What kind of light was it?”

“The brightest” the old man chipped in, “I ain’t never seen a light brighter.”

“Yes,” the old woman nodded as if comforting herself with a prayer, "-such a bright light. Warm, too; very warm. It was an angel.”

Schultz blinked back to reality with furrowed brows, shifting in his seat.

“What do you mean, angel?”

“I mean, the Lord. I saw Him, clear as day” the woman smiled under her fearful expression.

The old man lowered his head, shaking it next to her. She paid no attention.

"That little girl…God was callin' her home.”

Schultz blinked over to the old man, who shot a glance from his wife to Schultz.

“Is that true?” Schultz asked of him. The old man hesitantly swallowed his reply.

“That’s not what I saw” he starkly chuckled, “-it wasn’t…God, it was my mother.”

“Your mother?” Schultz asked, stupefied.

“He didn’t see it clearly-“ the woman said.

“The hell I did, Ellen. It was Marlene. We talked about this.”

“Marty, language!”

“Don’t apologize” Schultz said to the old man, “I’ve heard plenty of shit.”

"Marge, don't- don’t tell me that I didn’t see what I saw. I know what I saw. It was my mother.”

“When’s the last time you saw your mother?” Schultz threw in.

The space drastically grew quiet. The old man reflected.

"She went to be with the Lord when he was fourteen," the woman said, breaking up the silence.

"I see," Schultz said, bleakly.

“This was the first time I saw her in sixty-four years. She hasn’t aged a day. Honey-“ the man turned to his wife, somewhat eagerly, “-maybe she is an angel.”

“A guardian angel“ the woman proclaimed.

Schultz rubbed the fuzz of his grin with his hand, letting out a breath.

“Are you claiming that this little girl was abducted by an…angel?”

“Rescued-” the woman replied with a hopeful smile, “-rescued by an angel, love.”

Schultz’s expression drooped when the reality of the situation dawned on him.

“The girl’s mother would say otherwise, ma’am- “ Schultz said with a blunt expression.

The woman rested her eyes on Schultz, trying to read him.

“Do you not believe in God or angels, Detective?”

Schultz bit the inside of his lip. “I was raised Catholic,” he said.

“That didn’t answer my question.”

“No-“ he said, “I don’t.”

“Why not?” the woman asked.

Schultz took a breath in, holding it. He leaned forward, sliding his elbow along his desk as he lowered his voice.

“Because last month I saw a woman who had hung herself in front of her own daughter. The girl came to me and expected me to do something about it. All I could do was pull the rope from the Goddammed fan. The girl had no family except for a deadbeat dad, and I’m pretty sure he got custody of her. God knows what he’s doing to her. And that was just last month. So, no, I don’t believe there is a God. And, if there is, He’s got a lot of explaining to do for me.”

The woman was silent. Then she tilted forward.

“Love, that sounds like the work of the devil, not God.”

Schultz slowly nodded, not truly accepting what she said.

“Frankly, ma’am, I can’t seem to tell ‘em apart these days.”

“Maybe that’s because we’re blaming the sheep that the wolf is using as clothing.”

Schultz nodded, curiously, at the old woman before sitting up in his chair.

“Let’s, uh, save the theological debate, hmm?” Schultz rhetorically asked, “if we can think of anything else to ask of you both, we’ll be in touch.”

--------------------------

“Hello?”

“Hello Miss Jones” Schultz spat, clutching the icy receiver of the plastic phone, “do you have a moment?”

“Yes-“ the woman quickly responded, "-any news?"

“Well, I had a talk with those old folks that claim they saw what happened to Cassidy- “

“What’d they say? Do they know who it was?” the mother snapped spastically.

“Well, you see, it’s hard to explain-” Schultz swallowed, “-do, uh, you know of a Filo or Falo?”

Falo?” the woman said, the word balled up in her mouth.

“Something like that” Schultz said. The other end was quiet for a moment.

“Do you mean Fado?”

“Maybe. Why?”

“That was our dog’s name: Fado. He was a King Charles Spaniel that ran away last month. Cassidy was heartbroken. I was gonna get a look-alike for Christmas. She wouldn’t’ve known.”

“I see.”

Why? How do you know about Fado?”

“I uh- the woman I spoke to…she said Cassidy called out the name before she went missing.”

The line went quiet again.

“Do you think someone might’ve used the dog to kidnap Cassidy?”

Schultz ripped the trim of a fingernail clean off. He spat it out.

“No. No…that, uh, wouldn’t make sense. Unless you can think of someone that knew your daughter that well, there’s no way some rando would know about the dog or use it as bait of any kind.”

“Unless Fado was there. We don’t live far from that park so it’s possible- “

“But what’re the odds of that, ma’am? Seems like an unlikely coincidence, don’t you think?” The line fell silent once more. Schultz spoke up, “And even if that’s true, it brings us no closer to finding your daughter.”

The silence on the other line turned to distant sobbing.

“I know she’s out there, Detective,” the woman whimpered into the phone, “I’ll search myself if I have to.”

Schultz cleared the warm air in his throat.

“No, that…won’t be necessary.”

“Then tell me you’ll find her.”

Schultz silently held the phone to himself.

“I’ll do everything I can, Miss Jones.”

The woman stilly responded:

“So will I.”

--------------------------

Part Three: Hark the Herald Paper Sings

Miss Jones went missing three days later. New Year’s Eve, same park: a brutal irony. They had begun taking down the Christmas lights, but that didn’t deter the hopeful mother from searching every last nook and jungle gym for something. Anything.

The missing report was listed on page seven of the North Hill Herald. No one told Schultz the woman had gone into Pinewood, but after the final words she spoke to him, her absence led him to the only place a mother like her would’ve gone.

Another one? Oh jeez- “ the ranger said, plopping the security tapes onto his desk, biting down on a wooden toothpick.

“Yeah- “ Schultz replied, leaning against the rustic doorframe, “the mother of the last girl.”

“Oh hell- “ the ranger defeatedly said with an invisible shiver, “I thought this was all over.”

Schultz took a pause, stepping inside the park office with a firm foothold.

“Thought what was all over?”

The ranger swung his head up, locking eyes with the detective.

“You never heard?”

About?” Schultz frustratedly asked.

“The missin’ people? I thought an officer of all folks would’ve known- “

Schultz stepped a little closer to the man, crossing his arms almost resistantly.

“No, I didn’t. Enlighten me.”

The ranger sat up, spitting his toothpick from between his teeth.

"I mean, it's been a few years since all that trouble," the ranger said, scratching his head, "so it's a little foggy. But what I remember was three or so people goin’ missin' in the park. Maybe more. Started with a young boy. Mom said he went to play on the playground, didn't make it home for supper. No body was ever found, no blood or nothing. Vanished. Same thing with the next girl. No blood, no ripped-up clothes, or nothing you'd expect. Her mother was even with her-"

“What about the cameras?” Schultz asked.

“The folks down at your station said there was nothing solid on the tapes. They said it could’ve been a kidnapper who lured ‘em to his truck. Somethin’ about headlights messin’ with the cameras. But they never caught anybody.”

“What about the third victim?” Schultz muttered.

The ranger tipped his hat with a mournful nod.

“Third victim was the man who used to sit in this here chair. His name was Vinny White: good man, family man. Vinny thought there was a wild animal out there. Something that was eatin’ those people or carryin’ them away, more likely.”

“Like a bear?” Schultz asked, flipping open his notebook.

“Like uh- well, I don’t know. Vinny never found out. He went missin’, too.”

Schultz finished up his note, letting out an exacerbated breath.

“What do you think it was? You think they ran off?”

The ranger hung his head low with a wag of his hat.

"Maybe the kid," the ranger said, "but not Vinny. He had a family: a wife and two kids. No reason for a man to leave all that behind. I think they were taken, but don't ask me who or what did it."

Schultz agreed with a faint grin, void of all joy, as he glanced back down at the scribbling pen and paper pad.

"You said, Vinny White?" Schultz confirmed as he wrote.

Vincent White, yeah” the ranger replied, “and the young girl was named Bri. She was Indian, I think. I don’t recall the first kid.”

Schultz nodded, glancing up at the man.

“One final thing- you haven’t, uh, seen a dog around the park, have you?”

“A stray? No, not for at least six months in Pinewood. Why?”

"No reason, it was just a stupid hunch," Schultz said as he pulled himself away from the ranger.

“If I do, I can call ya, Detective.”

Schultz shook his head in an appreciative whirl.

"I appreciate that, but it won't be necessary," Schultz said, his eyes drifting out the window of the place to the snow-covered greenery outside, turning back to face the stack of tapes resting before the ranger.

--------------------------

The sun dipped past the horizon as the detective heaved a satchel of the tapes down toward the station. The city, draped in a blanket of fresh snow, glimmered in the moonlight above as Schultz crunched through the ice below.

As Schultz approached the department, he watched as his shadow stretched across the brick-and-mortar building. He turned, holding back a visible breath. There was a light in the distance, past a bundle of city signs and stoplights. It looked like a broken streetlamp, but Schultz couldn’t be sure. There was something, someone, centered within it. He stepped forward, trying to get a better look at the tiny figure, but as he did something within him told him to stop. He squinted at the light in curiosity before shrugging off into the station, his eyes quickly adjusting to the dimness of the drabby place as the glow from outside faded out of view.

--------------------------

Schultz sat forward as Eddie popped in the tape from Camera #3. After a curtain of static pulled away, the Detective could see a similar sight: a strip of concrete hedged by bushes and trees halfway covered in holiday lights, some removed.

It didn’t take long before the panic-stricken strides of Miss Jones entered the frame, before disappearing into the surrounding duskiness. Just as Eddie went to fast-forward the tape, Schultz lunged forward in his chair.

“Pause it” Schultz hurled.

Eddie punched the button with his finger as Schultz rocked toward the tv, pressing a finger against the static image of the elderly man, Mr. Deans, as he walked down the same path.

--------------------------

Part Four: Never a Silent Night

Three taps and no answer. Another two. Nothing.

“Hello? Mr. and Mrs. Deans? North Hill Police. It’s Schultz: Detective Schultz.”

No response.

Damn it- “

Schultz grabbed the knob aggressively and wiggled open the unlocked door. He stepped back, retrieving his flashlight from his belt, waving it around within the crack left by the door's parting.

“Mr. and Mrs. Deans? North Hill Police. We tried calling but no one picked up- “

Schultz nudged the door open with the butt of the flashlight.

“I just have a few more questions about the Christmas Eve incident.”

The silence soon faded into a soft voice speaking. It wasn't Mr. or Mrs. Deans. It was Linus. The tv, which was left to illuminate an empty couch, played a rerun of A Charlie Brown Christmas as Schultz stepped into the space. The air was as chilled as the night.

Lights please” Linus echoed from the box television.

Schultz crept down the apartment’s narrow living quarters, calling out for the elderly couple. Only Linus replied:

“-and, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not!’”

Schultz pushed the bedroom door open with a sharp squeal, aiming the flashlight at a vacant bed and peering through the surrounding darkness.

“-for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord.

The window was open wide, swallowing the sleepy city within it. The flashlight’s quivering beam, encapsulating the square window, grew smaller as Schultz approached the opening, poking his head outside, into the night sky, and looking down to the street below. Nothing.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

--------------------------

The only evidence leading to the whereabouts of Mr. and Mrs. Deans was found on the answering machine of Kimberly Basset, tenant of suite 236: an adjacent neighbor to the Deans who had joined a Bible study with Mrs. Deans two months prior to her disappearance:

Kim? Kim, this is Ellen. I know it’s late, but I was wondering if you’ve heard from Paul or seen him within the last few hours? He never returned home from- well, wherever he was. If you could call me-

There was silence on the line until:

Oh, Kim. I’m so sorry. Paul is here-

After that, the line went dead.

Whilst she missed the initial phone call, the ringing from Mrs. Deans did awaken Kimberly Basset in the small hours of the morning. Before she listened to the answering machine, Kimberly claimed that the apartment “suddenly became dark”.

--------------------------

“And then what happened?” Schultz snappily asked.

“And then…I put on my robe and went next door.”

“Did anyone answer?” Schultz clicked, biting the end of his pen.

“No-“ Kimberly said, “I tried another time but it was awfully late and I didn’t want to disturb anyone.”

Schultz nodded.

“Were you aware that the front door was unlocked?”

“If I was- “ Kimberly said with crossed arms, “I would’ve gone in.”

“I see” Schultz nodded, “And, uh, when did this all occur?”

“Maybe four or five days ago.”

Schultz nodded as he jotted a note into his pad.

“Is there a reason you decided not to report the Deans missing?”

Kimberly looked up, petrified as if blamed for the disappearances.

"Oh, I didn't know they went missing. At that time, at least. I figured they were out of town due to the New Year. Ellen said that she and Paul had grandchildren and I guess I just figured they were with them."

“I see” Schultz once again muttered, folding up his notepad. “Well, in the future, if you should hear or see anything out of the ordinary, don’t be afraid to call us.” Schultz nodded a goodbye at the woman, pivoting toward the door.

"Well, there was one thing out of the ordinary- "

"And, what's that?" Schultz said, turning to face the woman once more.

"They had been fighting, Ellen and Paul. Something about his mother. It was strange because she died years ago, before I knew them, but whatever they were saying got heated, these walls are thin. I think Paul stormed out and that's why he didn't come home.

Schultz stared off at the woman. He swallowed, nodding toward his pad.

"I see."

--------------------------

Part Five: She Came Upon a Midnight Clear

“There you go,” Schultz said, placing the stack of tapes on the ranger’s desk. The ranger looked up at the forlorn detective, whose eyes hung over his solemn face.

“You get what you needed out of ‘em?”

Schultz nodded in reply.

“Good. You, uh, in need of anything else, partner? You’re lookin’ awfully grim.”

“I’m fine,” Schultz said curtly, “I’m just ready to catch the son of a bitch.”

“Aren’t we all?” the ranger said, “Vinny would’ve respected the hell outta you. And I do, too.”

Schultz again nodded toward the ranger, smiling up at him. “You don’t know anything about any strange lights around here, do you?”

Lights? What’s this- another one of your hunches?” the ranger laughed.

“Maybe” Schultz replied, “Have you?”

The ranger licked his lips, searching at the back of his mind.

“We’ve had a couple of complaints, yeah. People sayin’ they’ve seen weird stuff around here is common, though”

“What do you mean, weird?”

“I don’t know- bigfoot, aliens…the typical.”

“How about predators?”

“Oh, sure. Them too. We’ve seen the occasional nasty critters: snakes and lizards and what have ya- ”

“Any that glow?”

“What, like fireflies?” the ranger chuckled.

Schultz shook his head, closing his opened notebook and clicking his tongue. “Nevermind. You, uh, have a good night, Ranger.”

“You too?” the ranger said, confusedly.

--------------------------

Schultz trudged through the slushy ice that coated the concrete path, the same path taken by the lost ones of Pinewood Park.

He then stood, like a glacier erected from the ice, completely still. Breathing in a wistful lung full of frigid air and exhaling a moments-worth of clarity, glancing up at a pathway light, letting the light soak in amidst an orange sky.

“They all saw something different” Schultz mouthed to himself, realizing whatever was hidden in the light allured the missing to itself.

“Allure” Schultz drawled, “A lure.”

Schultz carried himself through the snow toward the empty wooden bench, plopping down in heavy contemplation.

“Well, what makes something alluring, though?” he whispered to himself. He nodded, “Something that we really want" he mumbled, his eyes shifting in their sockets. He flipped open his paper pad, his finger pressing against the scribbled words as it dragged past the illegible chunks of text. It stopped, Schultz's eyes darting through the trees and bushes, squinting with wariness through them, then back to the page.

--------------------------

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Anand?” Schultz spat into the receiver of the park payphone.

“Yes? Who is this?” Mrs. Anand said in a weary, hushed voice.

“You don’t know me. My name is Detective Schultz, I work for the North Hill Police Department- “

“Is this about Bri?” the woman hastily said.

“Yes, well, sort of. I wondered if I could ask you something about the night your daughter vanished?”

"Okay," the woman's voice said, her tone uncertain.

“The night she vanished you were there, correct? Pinewood Park?”

“Yes, I was. I told the police already- “

“Doesn’t matter. Ma’am, have you seen her since?”

The line remained silent.

"Ma'am," Schultz stilly said, "I'll believe you. Have you seen Bri- ”

Yes.”

Schultz froze. Somehow the answer he wanted wasn’t the one he wanted to hear.

“Was she in the light?” Schultz held his breath for the answer.

“Yes. Is it happening again?” the woman’s shaky voice said.

“I think so. Listen, when you saw your daughter, where was it?”

Mrs. Anand shuttered, her eyes dashing toward the icy window facing the backyard: a patchy green and white stretch that met with a white fence, banking on the outskirts of a thick forest.

“My backyard” she trembled; “-it was two days after Bri went missing. I woke up in the middle of the night and heard my little girl crying.”

“And you’re sure it was Bri?” Schultz asked.

“Officer,” Mrs. Anand asserted with held back emotions, “she’s my daughter. I know her voice. I know her cry.”

Schultz agreed with the woman before continuing:

“So, when you saw her, did you approach her?” Schultz asked.

“No,” Mrs. Anand said, “I wanted to…so badly…but I knew that whatever that was…it wasn’t my daughter.”

“How did you know?”

“I saw her from a ways off. She was wailing for me, crying. I opened the back door to run to her…but then I noticed that light again, the same one from the park. It was all around her.”

“So, you saw the light at the park?” Schultz asked, holding the phone so tightly that a vein might’ve popped.

“Yes,” the woman said without hesitation, “I saw Bri run into it with open arms. I couldn’t stop her.”

The Detective listened to the mother’s sniffles collapse into tears.

“Sorry,” she said.

“Don’t apologize,” Schultz responded, waiting for Mrs. Anand to calm down. “What’d you see in the light the first time?”

Mrs. Anand regained her composure with apprehension. “You wouldn’t believe it but…somehow it was my daughter, my first daughter, before Bri.”

“I see.”

“No, you don’t understand- I miscarried. She died in the womb. Yet, this was a fully-formed girl. Somehow, though, I knew it was her; I hoped it was. But how could Bri have known-?”

Clenching his teeth, Schultz looked around the vacant park, the sunlight fading into the horizon through the trees. He took a sigh.

“Mrs. Anand, I have suspicion to think that Bri might’ve seen something you didn’t when she looked into that light.”

“What do you mean, Officer?” the woman said, her voice parting with confused lips.

“I mean, the light is like a lure: whatever you want to see is what it shows you. I think,” Schultz stammered, “I think whatever took your daughter is like an angler-”

“An angler?”

“I know, it sounds foolish. But you of all people have seen the damn thing, whatever you want to call it- “

“Have you seen it?” Mrs. Anand replied.

“Not yet,” Schultz said.

“Then I’d suggest you’d watch yourself, Officer.”

Schultz nodded against the phone. “Thanks.”

With that, he hung up.

--------------------------

Part Six: Do You See What I See?

The Park brushed its chilly air against Schultz’s neck, causing him to turn from the payphone, heart pumping. Despite the empty sidewalks, the place felt very much alive, as much as an undetectable predator breathes over the shoulder of its prey. He knew he was being watched, now. And regardless of rhyme or reason, the angler, as he called it, was still in the damned place, as far as he knew, at least.

Thickets of trees obscured the surrounding sleepy city, making Pinewood appear far more remote than usual. And as the sun set on the late January evening, the faint glimmer of a radiant light from the depths of those very thickets grew louder, heralding a beckoning invitation for Schultz. He went.

Eventually, as soon as the illumination of the lit park pathway was merely gone behind him, the glow of the light was finally nearing, just through a few more trees. Schultz stopped, looking up past the shadowy snow-covered evergreens, into the night sky, perhaps wishing a silent prayer, though Schultz was not one for praying.

His footsteps along the icy trail had grown mute in comparison to the beating of his heart, which had now beat its drum-like chant through the entire park. That is, until, it skipped for a moment, not at the light, but at that little shadow it cast: the silhouette of a young girl. It was the same black hair, the same small eyes: the innocence tucked away within them.

It could’ve been the girl: Cassidy. Or any of the others, for all he knew; shadows of hope illuminated by a light of hopelessness.

“What do you want?” Schultz said in a shrill voice, his eyes squinting at the brightness lay before him.

Officer- “ a tiny voice said, “please help me! I’m so scared- I can’t find my mommy!”

Schultz pushed a tear across his face. He had forgotten what that felt like.

“You’re not the girl. What are you?” he firmly said.

“Please sir, please!” the little voice squealed.

“You’re not the damn girl- what are you?” he yelled, closing his eyes. He clenched them so tight before the heat of the light vanished from before him. He couldn’t tell whether they were open or shut now because the darkness permeated his vision. Rubbing his fingers against damp eyelids, the color around him slowly faded into view.

Then the twigs snapped from behind him, and the glow returned, pushing its way through the tree line. He turned to face the sound, running after it.

“Where the hell are they?” he shouted with puffing breaths.

The sound of scampering appendages darted through the darkness before him as he shoved his hand into his coat, retrieving the firearm he had waited to use. The angler, whatever type of vile creature it was, let out a hiss of terror as Schultz pressed on through the snapping branches.

The dangling glow of the lure shone brightly in the darkness. It was perfect in aiding the creature toward its escape. Yet, at the same time, a perfect target.

BANG. BANG. BANG.

The gunshots ricocheted through the park, leaving nothing but silence in their place. Then the sound of a limp body falling echoed through the trees, dampened by the snow. Schultz bent down, snapping another stick in the process, in order to get a better look at the thing, which was still illuminated by its own light.

It was a scaly mess of appendages, all attached to an anchoring mandible that hung against the dirt. Branching away from its body with a stretch of a long, finger-like spine, the glow of the angler’s light dimmed. Its eyes, now lifeless, were a round, pearly white that pierced Schultz’s gaze.

And that gaze, for the first time in a long while, grew into a grin, one of actual joy, watching this prey of the innocent die before him: this was all he wanted.

Schultz proudly stood as the creature’s light faded to nothing. The detective’s eyes then flushed in horror as he stared down at his shadow, cast by a looming overhead light, as it stretched along the ground.


Written by MakRalston
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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