The Hollowbrook Mystery
I leave Salem standing outside of the classroom and dart inside. I don’t know if I offended her or not, but I can tell she’s lying about not being a people person. She may hide behind her long, thick hair and her baggy clothes, but I can see the confidence and eccentric personality she’s stifling. I don’t know why it bothers me so much, sensing her secrets. It’s like I need to know them. I’ve seen her sneak in the back for a couple weeks now, not paying any attention to class but still acing every test. She’s no beginner. I also have the sneaking suspicion that she’s the one who lit the candles yesterday. She says she doesn’t use magic... I wonder if she’s even aware of it—of the pent up power she exudes—and it’s possible she lit them without even knowing.
I walk to Professor Hawkes desk, placing my bookbag in his chair. Salem sneaks in then, taking her usual place, coffee in hand. I knew she kept to herself, but I didn’t expect her to panic when someone tried to talk to her for a few minutes. It felt like I had crossed a line just by being friendly. At the same time, I’m not ready to give up just yet. This girl has a story, and I intend to figure it out.
I clear my throat, gaining full attention of the room.
“Most of you know me,” I say, throwing a smirk at Salem, seeing as how she did not. “For those who don’t, I’m Leopold Saint, the TA for Beginners Magic. Professor Hawkes will be out today, which means we will be discussing current events.” I earn a couple groans of disapproval. I ignore them. “Does anyone have any idea where Hollowbrook, Tennessee is?”
I glance from face to face. Has no one heard of this? I see Salem, looking at the floor, a greenish tint to her skin. Is she ill?
“Seriously? No one has heard about this?” No one responds. “This was all over our news stations. The whole town of Hollowbrook was massacred. A very powerful witch disintegrated everything in her path? Ringing any bells?”
“Did anyone ever figure out who the witch was?” A guy in the front row asks.
“No,” I answer, now walking back and forth at the front of the room. “Some think she died with them, others believe she adopted a new identity and fled, waiting to prey on her next victims.”
“If we don’t know who did it, how do we know it’s a girl? Why couldn’t it have been a guy?” A small brunette asks.
“I guess it could have been, but emotional killings are more common with females, so investigators lean towards female terminology. They believe that it was a girl, probably fairly young—somewhere between forty to sixty witch years, high school aged and trying to fit in. Maybe she was bullied, peer-pressured. She gets overwhelmed, anxious, and unaware of the intensity of her powers, obliterates a whole town.”
“How do they know it was an emotional killing?” A familiar voice beckons.
I turn to Salem. “You think it could’ve been intentional?”
She’s got me there.
“Why not?” I ask the class. “That’s an excellent point. Why not? I mean, they don’t have the culprit. They don’t know anything about the person who did this—not even a gender. Using your knowledge of magic, Professor Hawke would like you to draw your own conclusions in a short, one page essay, due by the end of class. Research on your phones, ask questions, debate back and forth amongst yourselves. Could this have been done by a beginner? Was it the work of a more advanced witch? Was it emotional, or intentional?”
The class begins conversing in hushed tones, seeming excited to work on a mystery. When I look back to where Salem is sitting I see that she’s gone. I check to make sure no one needs me and then head outside to look for her. I see her retreating figure.
I call her name, jogging after her. I know she hears me, but she ignores it, still walking.
“Where are you going?” I ask when I finally catch up to her. “And how are you so fast?” I pant.
“I just needed out of there,” she tells me. “Family thing.”
“I believe you,” I say, smiling. She clearly knows that I know she’s lying. “Don’t you have an essay due in, like, forty-five minutes?”
“I’ll email it,” she quips.
“Yes, I look forward to reading your riveting essay about how the massacre of Hollowbrook was intentional. I’m sure you’ll have a ton of magical facts to back you up.”
“Sure,” she answers quickly. I raise an eyebrow. She takes the challenge. “Emotional magic affects only those that caused the emotion. I’m sure the whole town didn’t instigate her.”
“So you believe it was a female?” I ask. “Even thinking that it was intentional?”
She shrugs. “Gender is neither here nor there. Not a driving factor in my opinion.”
“Interesting,” I say. “So if it was intentional what was the driving factor?”
“Nothing?” She says this as though it’s obvious.
“They killed every single living soul in an entire town for no reason?” I’m skeptical. She’s easy to talk to and has good points, but this I find hard to believe.
“Have you ever wondered if maybe they were just evil? That there was no real reason behind it? They just did it for the sale of doing it?”
She’s getting a little worked up about it but I’m not sure why. Did she have a connection to Hollowbrook?
“Salem, did you know someone from Hollowbrook?”
She looks up at me with wide eyes, full of... regret? I can’t place it, but I think I’ve just figured out one of her secrets.
Her jaw locks. “Why are you talking to me?”
“Do you not want me to?” I ask, a little annoyed. Why is she so hard to be nice to?
“I don’t do friends,” she says harshly.
“I don’t believe you,” I tell her, knowing the comment will make her mad. “And who said I was trying to be your friend? I have plenty of friends. I don’t need to go out actively seeking them. Maybe I’m just friendly. Did you ever consider that?”
“Yes,” she says, her voice dripping sarcasm. “Just your average friendly guy going around asking super personal questions of random strangers.”
“I didn’t realize asking you questions about your magic when we attend a school for the supernatural would be personal.” My voice is hard but the words are sincere. “Really. I’m sorry if I overstepped. I’ll leave you alone.”
I turn to leave, a little embarrassed, but mostly annoyed that talking to her has been this difficult. Is it so hard to believe that maybe I just found her interesting and wanted to talk to her?
“Wait,” she says in a small voice. “I’m sorry... I’m just... having friends hasn’t turned out well for me in the past...”
She’s nervously playing with her hair, twisting the long stands around her fingers, and she’s biting her full bottom lip. I notice for the first time that she’s actually really pretty. I haven’t really been able to see her—or maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough.
“These friends are from Hollowbrook?” I venture.
She shrugs, not wanting to commit to an answer.
I’ll take it. “So because those friends ended badly, you just won’t have any friends for the rest of your life?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Come to our study group tonight,” I say, surprising myself, as well as Salem.
“We’re not in the same classes,” she says meekly, an excuse.
“I’ve graded your papers,” I remind her. “I think you can keep up.”
Her cheeks blush scarlett and and I smile.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she says softly.
“Tonight, at 7,” I tell her. “I’ll meet you here and we’ll go together.”
I wait patiently for her answer. She chews on her lip some more before giving me a simple nod and then turning her back on me and walking away.