The Child – Cecilia Bollinger ★

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Art by Julia Wanner

The streetlights gave off an eerie glow in the fog, a halo of yellow light framing the bulbs. A man was walking home, clutching his wool coat closer to his body, shivering in the damp. His name was Tom Cavanaugh. It wasn’t the most important part about him. What was important in that moment was that he had spent the night at a party with a woman who wasn’t his wife. He shouldn’t have kissed her; he knew that. But Tom had a weak will. He was pretty sure it ran in the family.

He had left at 10:30, pretty early for him. Jessica had called him, asking where he was. Much as he had been enjoying himself, he liked to keep up appearances, so he had told the woman goodbye. Still, something squirmed in his stomach when she was sitting on his lap while he told his wife he loved her.

Tom pulled his phone out of his coat pocket; it felt like it had buzzed. He hoped it wasn’t Jessica. He wasn’t in the mood. The screen lit up, but no notifications showed up on the screen. He sighed and went to put the phone back. Just another phantom call. He stopped. Pulled the phone out again.

10:30

A man brushed past him on the street, grumbling, but all Tom could do was stand there. His phone couldn’t be broken. They didn’t do that anymore. Did they? He sighed, shaking out his arm to free his wrist from his coat sleeve. His silver watch face reflected the streetlight back at him.

10:30.

Tom groaned, raising his eyes in frustration. And that’s when he saw her.

A young girl, barely a girl, stared out at him from an alley across the street, eyes just glowing orbs in the dark. A sleeveless dress hung from her pale frame, blood red tulle that seemed to float in the wind. Long, bone-white hair flowed down her back, tangling down to her knees. Dirt smudged her cheeks, but there was no mistaking her beauty.

Tom took a step toward the girl. She shouldn’t be out in the cold, especially not in that scant outfit. Where were her parents? He’d take their ears off once he got her back to them.

Something made him stop. Maybe it was that she took a step towards him, and she was immediately in front of him, so close he could reach out and stroke her milky skin. He hastily retreated a step. Too close, too fast.

She opened her mouth, and the most horrid sound Tom had ever heard came out from between her straight white teeth. The wail rang in Tom’s ears, and he stumbled back, clutching his ears, and it wasn’t helping, not one bit. Vaguely, distantly, he saw people staring at him, giving him a wide berth as they hurried past. Couldn’t they hear it?

There were tears leaking out of his eyes, shut tight against the pure pain, when suddenly it fell silent. The quiet pushed in on him, screaming as loud as the sound, smothering him in loss. He opened his eyes, slowly, terrified of what they would see. He almost wept when he took in the empty sidewalk before him. That would teach him to lend a helping hand in the future.

Tom shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets, setting a brisk pace. He wished he had stayed at the party longer. He wished Jessica had called sooner. Anything to have avoided that…thing. The sound of a breeze against his overly sensitive ears made him look up. He was standing in front of the alley where he had first seen the girl. He peered in, curiosity getting the better of him. Empty darkness greeted him. He glanced back.

There she was. Standing just outside the circular glow of the streetlamp. She opened her mouth. Tom cringed, scrambling away, hands already going back to his ears, no matter that they did nothing to stop it. This time a haunting keening pierced the cold air, a melody so melancholy that fresh tears formed in his eyes as his hands dropped to his sides, mesmerized.

The girl vanished, but the song remained, dogging his steps as he made his way home.

Tom unlocked his front door with unsteady hands. The song had finally faded out as he reached his street, but he couldn’t keep the chills away. The hair on the back of his neck was on edge, just like his heart, pounding frantically in his chest. He had forgotten all about that other woman until he flipped on the living room light, illuminating his wife. She lay curled on the couch, arms wrapped around herself, eyes staring straight ahead.

“Jess?” he asked, taking a step closer, unnerved. “What were you doing in the dark?”

A whisper of the girl’s song rang in his head, and he jumped when Jessica spoke, voice cracking.

“I lost our baby.”

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