In April, I posted my thousandth post on this blog. To celebrate, I will share here all my short stories. Every couple of weeks, I’ll be posting one story from my celebrated Exciting Destinies series for you to enjoy. With over 30 stories so far, I hope you’ll have lots of fun in the coming months!
This week, it’s Shh—the Baby’s Sleeping from You’re In For A Ride. This is a darker story with what I hope is a nice twist in the end.
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Shh—the Baby’s Sleeping
Part 1: The Patient
I stir in my sleep, lost in unsettling dreams. There’s a fire. Ashes. Acrid smoke burning my throat. I moan, only half-awake. “Hmm?”
He nudges me again. “Come on, honey,” he says with a pleading voice. “It’s your turn. I went last time.”
My eyes flutter open. Thank goodness, it was just a dream. I rub cobwebs from my eyelids, then shut them again with a throaty groan. “Just five more minutes, then I’ll go. Promise.” I’m almost asleep again when our son’s wailing echoes in the room. I push the soft, warm duvet away and swivel my legs off the bed. “Shush, darling. Mommy’s coming.”
As my feet touch the cold floor, I steal a look at my husband, his mouth half-open, his eyes completely shut. I can hear light snoring in the brief spaces between the baby’s hungry yelps. I fight the urge to throw a pillow at him as I stumble out of bed and toward the crib in the corner. I don’t turn on the lamp, using instead the little sliver of light slipping from under the door and between the window curtains to guide myself through the all-too-familiar room.
“Shh, shh. I’m here, darling,” I say and stroke the baby’s face. The crying stops as his hungry lips root for my finger. He opens big blue eyes, his dad’s eyes, to stare at me. The eyelids are red with sleep, and I gently wipe a tear away from one of them. He grabs my hand and squeezes with all his might. Even in my sleep, my heart melts. Angel hair surrounds his lovely face. Cherry, half-open lips open hungrily. A knitted beige bear smiles at me from his chest.
I kiss his stubby little fingers and wait for him to release me, then head over to the fridge and fetch a milk bottle. My hand reaches for the microwave door. For a second, it pauses before the door as a fleeting memory of a fire tries to emerge into my head. It evaporates as soon as it reaches the surface of my consciousness. Stupid dream. With a shudder, I open the microwave door and hit the button that will warm up the milk for exactly one minute.
While drowsy seconds count down to zero, my gaze caresses my baby. He looks so peaceful, so beautiful. God, I love them both so much. If anything should happen to them, I’d probably lose my mind.
The beep from the microwave snaps me out of my reverie, and I open the microwave door.
Part 2: The Doctor
My hand reaches for the switch and turns off the monitor. “Now you’ve seen her,” I tell the beautiful young woman.
She leans back into her chair. “She does this every day?”
“She has a name. Jane.” The words coming out of my mouth sound like cracked ice. I didn’t mean them to, but I can see in her eyes nothing but pity for Jane. And I hate that. Jane’s to be helped; taken care of—not pitied.
She raises her hands before her in an apologetic manner. “I’m sorry. So, Jane does this every day?”
“Yes. She replays the last twenty-four hours with them. When she reaches the point of the fire, it’s like her brain reboots and it starts all over again.”
She shakes her head in amazement. “Her scars are the result of the fire?”
“You mean her face?”
She tilts her head in question. “There are more?”
“The scars actually go all the way down her body, but I guess the robe hides that.” I reach for a folder on my desk and pull out a bunch of photos. When I pass them to the woman, she flinches. To her credit, she studies them, one after the other, before handing them back to me. Only the pallor on her face betrays they had any effect on her. She’s tough, I’ll give her that. “When she came to us, it was touch and go,” I say as I slip the photos back into the folder. “But we have a great trauma specialist—one of the best in the country. I’m not worried about her body. It’s the scars in her soul that worry me the most.”
“I can see that.” She taps her finger against shapely lips. “I noticed there’s no mirror in the room.”
My shoulders lift in a half shrug. “With or without one, she spends half an hour each day staring at the wall where the bedroom mirror used to sit, combing non-existent hair with a plastic fork she believes is a comb.”
Her eyes light up and she nods. “She only sees what she wants to,” she says, finally understanding.
“Exactly. She is no more likely to notice her scars than she is to realize that she’s feeding a plastic doll, or that her husband is a pillow.” I steeple my fingers before me. “Which is why I can’t let you proceed with the treatment.”
Her eyes widen. “Excuse me?”
“You want to cure her. What good would come out of it? This way, she’s happy. She’s whole. She’s well taken care of. She lacks for nothing.” I lean forward, planting my elbows on my desk. “Imagine you wake up from the best dream you’ve ever had, and face a nightmare of a reality. In your dream, you are loved. Safe. In reality, you’re alone. Scared. You’ve lost everyone and everything you’ve ever loved. Would you want that?”
She straightens her back. “I can see your point but, with all due respect, that’s not your decision.”
“I’m afraid I have to insist. As her attending doctor—”
She interrupts me with a slightly raised voice. “Both the trustees and her sister—”
“Can go to hell,” I burst out and bang my fist on the desk. She gapes at me, eyes as big as teacups. I run my hand through my hair. “I apologize. It’s just…” I force myself to draw a deep breath before I continue. “It’s just that I feel very strongly about this.”
“I understand.” Her tone is ice-cold.
“No, you don’t.” I rub my temples to ease the sudden thumping in my head. “I knew them. Knew her. We were friends before she even met her husband. Before they got married, started a family. I gave her my word all those years ago. To look after her, no matter what. And this treatment is not in her best interest.”
“Not your decision,” she repeats. She speaks the words simply, matter-of-factly. “She’s broken now, but we can restore her. Make her whole again.”
“She’s not a broken toy to be fixed, for God’s sake. She’s a human being.” I can see my words have no effect on her. My cheeks heat up.
“We can bring back her memories,” she continues, as if she hasn’t heard me. “Within a month, this pointless existence can end. Her sister has gone to great lengths to ensure that Jane has access to the treatment.”
I clench my jaw at the mention of the old hag. She never cared for Jane before. And now, she doesn’t care how much pain her sudden interest in her sister’s so-called well-being will bring. “Why?” The word leaves my lips before I can think.
She shrugs. “She’s my boss, not my friend. I’m only here to let you know we’ll be transferring her out next week.” She jumps to her feet to indicate this was just a courtesy call. One that is now over.
Her short skirt does nothing to hide long, shapely legs as she leans forward, hand extended. She looks like a skinny insect. One I want to swat.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done for her,” she says. “We’ll be in touch to arrange the transfer.”
I cross my arms before my chest and meet her gaze in defiance. As she eventually lowers her hand, she knocks the lamp over. She rushes to put it upright again.
You clumsy idiot. “Please,” I beg through gritted teeth. “To you, she’s a deformed monster. A problem to be fixed. To me, she’s a very dear friend. One I’ve cared about for a long time. As I said, I’ve made a promise. And I won’t break it.”
“I’m sorry. The decision’s been made.” She spins around and marches toward the door.
“Miss!” I call out just as she reaches for the handle. “I’ll need your boss’s current details. I’m afraid I’ve lost touch with her, and I’d like to talk to her myself. Explain the situation.”
She pauses for a moment, her fingers already wrapped around the silver handle. Without turning, she speaks a number.
I hurriedly grab a pen and a piece of paper and jot it down. “Her address, too.”
She turns sideways and chews her lip, then gives me that as well.
“Thank you.” I wave dismissively, and she shuts the door on her way out. Louder than she has to, but I don’t care.
I pour myself a large one. To my dismay, my hand shakes, rattling the ice cubes. I down it in one large gulp, then pour a second one. My mind is racing, exploring options. I could sue. Go to court. But I’m not a relative. Her sister would win. Plus, if the trustees are behind this ridiculous decision, I could even lose my job.
I groan and slam the glass on the table, almost knocking over the lamp. I hate feeling cornered. Helpless. I stare at the diplomas on the wall with unseeing eyes as my fingers rap against the desk’s hard wood. That annoying young insect is right. They will take her from me, and there’s nothing I can do. Unless…
I slump backwards and the back of my head hits the leather chair. I reach for the glass and take a slow sip. There is but one option. The only option. Terrible as it might be, I can’t think of a better way.
I reach into my pocket and pull out a key. One I haven’t used in years. I run my fingers over the dull metal, feeling the grooves and indentations, as memories flood my head. Then, my hand hovers over the bottom drawer. The one that’s been locked for years. As if they have a mind of their own, my fingers slide the key into the lock and turn twice. The drawer clicks softly.
I hesitate. My mind is frantically looking for another option, but there is none. I know that meddling sister well. As stubborn a person as they come. Haven’t seen her in years, but I’m sure that old age will have only made her worse. She’d never see reason. Make her whole. I scoff. She is whole. She has her family to take care of. Me, to take care of her. What more can she ever need?
But her sister doesn’t see it that way. She’ll never understand that she’ll be condemning Jane to a lifetime of despair. That’s why I stopped her from seeing Jane in the first place. She was always asking awkward questions, always prying. Always making Jane relive that awful experience. Doesn’t she care at all for her sister’s happiness? What am I talking about? That selfish bitch never cared about Jane. Always turning me away, when all I ever wanted was to make Jane happy. No, there is no other way. I have to pay the woman a visit.
I jerk the drawer open. I’d almost lost Jane twice. Once, when she got married. And then, when the detonator had misfired, almost killing her in the fire. I can’t bear the thought of losing her again. Not after everything we’ve been through.
From inside the open drawer, a detonator stares at me, its silver surface bright and shiny as if barely a day had passed since I last used its twin. I pick it up and gently stroke the smooth surface. It’s time for another fire.
Part 3: The Sister
I press rewind. The footage that my agent has secured is grainy, and the angle from the top of the table lamp is not great. It’s good enough to confirm my suspicions, though. I’ve never liked the man. That mousy doctor, who used to hound my sister even as a nerdy kid. I’d fought him when he wanted to look after her, but I’d lost. He was the expert, and I was just the paranoid sister.
We’ll see who’s paranoid now. I was sure he’d refuse her the treatment she needed. He’s already cut me off; prevented me from seeing her all these years. But taking her away from his greedy little hands wasn’t enough. Not for me. Not for her. Not for her family.
I freeze the scene and zoom in. Inside the drawer, I can clearly see a detonator-like device. I have to check my records, but it looks identical to the one found in my sister’s bedroom ashes. And when we treat her and she regains her memories, I know what she’ll tell us she saw the night of the fire. Whom she saw.
A wide grin crawls on my face. I hit a button on the phone sitting on my desk. A moment later, a woman’s voice answers. “Police. How may I help you?”
I clear my throat. “I need to speak to one of your detectives. I have some fresh information about a cold case.”
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