The doctors told me it was normal. Sometimes, babies just cry. After over a week, I’m telling you now…this is not normal. My baby isn’t crying—he’s screaming. Constantly, through the endless days and everlasting nights, and I’ve tried every tidbit of parental wisdom anyone has granted me to help him: make sure he’s clean, make sure he’s comfortable. No loud noises, no bright lights. Breast feed, no formula. Be a good mother.
I’m not a good mother. How could I be? My baby, my little Jonah, cannot be soothed no matter what is done, and I find myself on the threshold of breaking down almost as much as him. His reddened face, those tears that seem too large for such small cheeks; his body shaking with such energy, it looks almost as if he’s convulsing.
The doctors spin the same story—nothing is wrong. Nothing they can see, at least, with their prodding, prying, and probing, something Jonah barely seems to notice through his cries. In just the last three days, he’s had a scan of his head, an X-ray of his chest, urine and stool samples taken, and so much blood drawn, I wondered if they left any in his tiny body. All normal. He’s not eating enough, the doctors scolded, the looks on their faces mirroring the realization at my core.
So I swaddle Jonah, wrapped up like a burrito, and pace our humdrum trailer home that I shared with my boyfriend Matthew before all of this: before, when I believed Matthew was my soul mate; before, when I dropped out of nursing school my first semester and thought all we needed was love. Before Matthew decided four months ago that he wasn’t ready to be a father. At twenty-one, I’m not ready to be a mother, but a mother I am regardless. Just a lousy one, it seems.
“Please,” I beg Jonah as I rock him back and forth while aimlessly walking between the entrance of our galley kitchen and the living room. “What’s wrong, little one? Please help me understand.”
He’s not colic. There’s no signs of any genetic disorder. No injuries related to birth defects. Or anything else I can find in my old medical textbooks to explain this.
“Baby, please,” I sob, clutching Jonah up to my shoulder as I feel his tears seep warmth into my shirt. “I love you. What can Mommy do to help?”
I don’t expect an answer, of course. Gingerly, I sit on the used sofa Matthew had purchased from a Goodwill less than year before, when life still made sense. As I lower Jonah away from my ringing ear, I begin to unbutton my shirt. He would feed, if I give him a bit at a time—through the screams, through the panic I see in his eyes as though he’s waiting for death to appear over my shoulder. Nonetheless, there’s something else there—a fire. A spark of defiance in Jonah’s expression that tells me…whatever this is, it’s not his fault. He’s fighting for his life just as much as I’m trying to save him.
Staring at my baby, a ball of anger twists my insides, at the injustice of it all, as my thoughts whirl like a centrifuge. No, Jonah, my beautiful baby. You’ll not die—Mommy will save you. Mommy will find a way.
“You sure about this?” my friend, Markus, asks as he and I march into the lobby, Jonah screaming in his stroller.
“I don’t have a choice,” I remind him, projecting my voice over Jonah’s octaves as we reach the check-in desk. “The regular doctors keep telling me he’s fine.”
“So some quack is gonna be better?”
“Listen to him!” I shout, gesturing to Jonah.
Markus slouches his shoulders. At only five-foot-four, my friend is a skinny man with dreadlocks that look abnormally long compared to his short torso, a gold cross around his neck being the only flashy thing about him. I hate how he nags—have hated it since middle school—but it’s always from a place of love.
I allow my expression to soften, and then sign in below the other patients also on their last resort. Alternative medicine—what is that, anyway?
We’re seen quickly. Faster than the other patients in the lobby, I note, as they moused their way to the receptionist’s desk, clearly to file a noise complaint.
Assholes, my glare says as I walk past with Jonah to the exam room, Markus trailing behind. I get settled, slide Jonah out to rest on my lap, and then survey the place. There’s no voodoo masks hanging off the walls, no cabinet of herbal teas that I was certain would be the doctor’s cure-all for everything from a cold to cancer.
“Looks kinda normal,” Markus says what I’m thinking.
My mood turns sour. The other doctors with their exam rooms had done nothing to help my baby—maybe there was no help here, either. Within a minute, a nurse strolls in and is immediately taken aback.
“Quite the lungs on this little guy!” he says as he scoops Jonah up to check blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen saturation.
It’s the same joke all the other nurses from all the other doctor’s offices have made. Emotions clamor up from my stomach to my throat, and I barely have time to raise both hands to my face before bursting into tears.
Gingerly, the nurse apologizes and hands Jonah back. Next to me, Markus wraps an arm around my shoulders; minutes tick by, and then a woman with braided brown hair enters. She’s not too much older than me, but I spot the look on her face, a woman who has her life together, a woman who wouldn’t let a scumbag like Matthew mount her and then exit center-stage. She offers a professional smile, iPad in her grip, and then approaches all of us.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Randall,” she says and extends a hand. “I understand you’re having some issues with your little one today.” Not a question.
I swallow hard, accepting her hand. “He won’t stop screaming. It’s like he’s in constant pain and fear and I…” my voice fails me.
“Hmm.” The doctor nods and releases my hand. “Let me see him, please,” she requests and I surrender my baby to her outstretched arms.
Her face pinches up as the screams now have no buffer zone between her and Jonah. She checks him over, and after several minutes, she hands him back to me.
“I’d like to do a full nutritional panel,” she says as she picks up her iPad again. “In addition, I wish to check his hormone levels, including cortisol.”
My lower lips quivers. I can barely afford the rent for my home, the gas in my car. But as I hear Jonah bawling, as his body jerks and kicks as though fighting off a phantom, I know there’s no other choice.
“Do what you have to,” I say, and Dr. Randall gives another bob of the head, obviously not surprised by my response.
Another week trudges by. I’m still able to feed Jonah, mostly because I refuse to let him not feed. Then Dr. Randall’s office calls. The nutritional panel and hormone levels had come back—all within normal range.
No magnesium deficiency. No lack of vitamin B1, B2…B-whatever. Yes, some ranges are a little low, but that could be explained by Jonah’s feeding difficulties. None of the results answer the question, the one consuming his life and my own.
Why won’t my baby stop screaming?
Markus comes over nightly now. Last week, he bought me noise-cancelling earphones, and while I hate to admit it, I use them frequently, especially at night. Jonah’s screams…if I didn’t know better, I would think that my son’s possessed.
That evening, after I put Jonah to bed in his nursery, I comment to Markus about that very thing as we sit on my sofa. I expect a laugh, but instead Markus’ expression darkens.
“I—I’ve actually been thinking…maybe…” he hesitates to say more.
My heart sinks into my stomach. “What the hell, Markus? You thought going to Dr. Randall was nuts, but you have no problem thinking my son is possessed?”
“It’s not like that, but…” he sighs, “we’ve looked at everything else. I think he might be under attack by something. And if it’s not a disease, if it’s not his own body, then…” he lets the words dangle.
I sit silent, slack-jawed. Not because I’m angry or necessarily believe in ghosts and demons and all that, but because I’ve become so desperate, so defeated, that I’m actually humoring his idea.
“I—I know a priest,” Markus says, and I barely hear his words, muffled out between Jonah’s distant cries and my own pulse thundering in my head.
We meet Father Perez on an idle Tuesday. Jonah in his stroller, I bring him into the priest’s office with Markus by my side. It’s a large but outdated room, with 20th century wood paneling and several bookshelves. A large desk is the anchor of the space, with Father Perez sitting behind it in typical priest attire, a window behind him that pours sunshine over his head and shoulders.
“Hello, there,” he greets us and then gestures to some chairs in front of his desk.
We sit and give our introductions. I hold Jonah in my arms as I explain what’s happening to my son. The kindness on the priest’s features never wanes, but I catch a concerned glean in the man’s gaze as he shifts his attention between me and my son, Jonah’s screams strained and squeaky from weeks of constant wailing.
“Please,” I beg as tears crest my eyes. “No one has been able to help us. He—he can’t keep doing this. My baby…” I inhale and then just say it, “my baby will die if we can’t help him.”
On his desk, Father Perez reaches for a pen and a Post-It. He scribbles something down and then extends a hand to me with the paper.
“The church cannot intervene,” he comments as I pull the note from his fingers. “It would be a red mark on us if we tried any ritual to save your son. But Mother Gabrielle…she has a gift. If there’s anything spiritually wrong with your son, she will know.”
I glance at the paper with a single phone number. “A nun?”
“Not anymore,” Father Perez’s voice is suddenly sandpaper. “She was excommunicated from our church, for using abilities that others here see as…ungodly.”
Ungodly? As the word seeps into my soul, the skin on my arm ripples with an unforgiving chill. Around me, this cozy office feels dimmer, the space narrowing in. I turn my attention back to Father Perez, but now his eyes have hardened, his shoulders squared.
“You need to leave now,” he declares. “As far as anyone is concerned, you never got that number from me.”
No reluctance. As soon as I get Jonah into his car seat, I drop into the driver’s side and yank out my cell phone. Markus jumps into the passenger seat, staring at me as I wait for an answer. After three rings, I hear a soft spoken woman, and immediately tell her my tale of woe.
“Bring the child to me,” she replies and gives the address.
Within minutes, I’m in a new part of town, a place I never would have expected. Large, landscaped yards. New cars, many gas guzzlers for those who never fret about the price at the station. Four-story paradises on every property.
As I pull up to a home that could have swallowed up my house three times over, I immediately feel so out of my depth. These are pretty people with pretty lives. My life is anything but.
“It’ll be okay,” Markus comments as we exit the car.
Slowly, I nod, and as I’m removing Jonah from his seat, a woman appears at the door. She’s dressed in leggings and a blouse, her auburn hair gathered into a simple ponytail, the look of a woman ready to have a PTA meeting in her living room. Beaming a smile, she gestures for us to come right on in.
We do just that, passing her children—both elementary school ages—while they sit quietly in the living room, playing on individual iPads, and I can’t help but feel a touch of the green-eyed monster as my child screams in my arms.
“How much will this cost?” I ask Mother Gabrielle as she escorts us down the hall.
“Does it look like my husband and I need your money?” she replies and gestures to her house. “I only take from those who can afford it. I give to those who cannot. I assume you fall into the latter category, yes?”
Gratitude and insult make a strange mixture in my insides, but I simply bob my head in acknowledgement. We reach the end of a hallway, and the woman opens a door for us. We enter, and the aura of the place abruptly changes.
“Sit,” Mother Gabrielle instructs as she takes a place on a large mat on the floor, motioning for Markus and I position ourselves opposite.
Silently, I do as asked, my gaze dancing around the room. Candles are lit on several small mismatched tables surrounding us. But the walls, the ceiling…they’re nothing except mirrors. Even the floor underneath the mat. If there had been windows, they were well-covered, and in the dim-lit room, we are shadows of ourselves on reflection, silhouettes of the people we had been in the outside world.
“Give him to me,” Mother Gabrielle stretches out her hands.
With trembling arms, I release Jonah to her care. Eyes on my son, the woman rocks him, saying soft words as he screams wildly in her arms. I watch as she strokes the tuft of hair at the top of his head, as she stares intently at his face. Then she becomes still, like the dead type of still. Jonah continues bawling, but she never reacts. Her face becomes lifeless, an expression that’s replicated all around us.
“What is going on?” Markus says as he leans closer to my right ear.
“I don’t know,” I manage to get out, my pulse hammering into every vein. The candles offer a flicker of the image before me, and as I gawk at this woman holding my precious boy, the real version of her appears normal, but in the mirrors, her face starts to become…distorted. Warped. As though I’m looking at her reflection through a wine glass, a figure that almost appears like a person, but my brain is telling me…no.
Minutes go by. The woman’s reflected faces continue to morph, becoming elongated, waxed versions that are melting, losing everything that made they seem remotely human. Around us, her visage consumes every angle, falling into an abyss of darkness, a thousand of her as she holds a thousand little Jonah’s.
Her eyes dip to her cheeks, pupils consuming her irises to a solid black, her lips lengthening—at the sight, I feel my throat constrict, my body as stiff as a plank of wood as I behold this thing clutching my baby.
Witch, the word rampages through my brain.
As if on their own, my arms snap out, but Markus clasps a hand to my right shoulder, forcing me back to the mat. I spin my gaze to him; his expression says it all, however. This is my last chance to save my son.
I grit my teeth, listening to Jonah as he pleads for me to rescue him…and then somewhere within the infinite images of this inhuman woman, I spot something in my peripherals, something else in the mirrors.
A shadow. A shadow hanging on top of Jonah.
I reel my eyes back to my baby, but by then, it’s gone. Mother Gabrielle blinks. Her head lifts and somehow, all her reflected features appear normal again. She turns to me.
“You can take him back now,” she says and extends her hands with Jonah in them. Exhaling as if I’d been holding my breath for a year, I retrieve my baby.
“Do you know what’s wrong with him?” Markus asks before I can.
Mother Gabrielle nods.
“Is he possessed?” I beg to know, but she shakes her head.
“He’s not possessed,” she replies. “He’s dying.”
The bottom falls out of my stomach. “No. You’re wrong—”
Mother Gabrielle lifts a hand for silence. Reluctantly, I shut my mouth.
“Your son is not sick,” the woman goes on. “He’s not possessed. The issue is…he’s not your son.”
My jaw drops. Beside me, Markus lets out a gasp that’s loud enough to hear over Jonah’s sobs.
“His name is Ryan,” Mother Gabrielle explains. “I don’t know the exact age, but if I were to guess, he’s about twenty-five years old. And there’s a deep-seeded darkness around him. I think someone has hurt him. I think someone tried to kill him.”
“What are you saying?” Markus leans forwards. “This doesn’t even—”
“Your son is a reincarnated soul,” Mother Gabrielle tells us. “Ryan was injured, and his heart stopped. His brain was dying and his spirit left his body. His old life was supposed to end that day and he was to become your son—but medical intervention brought him back to his previous body. And now…now he’s trapped between the two. Between his past life and this new one.” She motions her head to Jonah.
My eyes ease downwards, as I gape at the child before me, at someone who I had named, who I had carried for nine months…Ryan. No, he’s Jonah now. My Jonah.
“That’s why he can’t stop screaming,” Mother Gabrielle explains. “He’s forever dying, forever trapped between two lives, between a body that’s in pain and a body he doesn’t know.”
This is crazy. Pure insanity from start-to-finish. I almost laugh, but as I hear my baby’s screams, I can only hold him tighter.
“Will he die?” Markus asks.
Mother Gabrielle sighs. “It depends on the two of you.”
I look up. “What do you mean?”
She tilts her head as if the answer is obvious. “He’s trapped. He’s between a new life with you, one where he loses everything he knows and loves—or the past life, where he’s injured but he’s managed to hold on. I think there’s someone there, a woman—perhaps a wife or lover—who he’s attached to, who he wants to see again. But his body is hurt and unable to heal without his spirit. If he can get back to his old self, then there’s a chance he can recover and finish the rest of his previous life. Which is what he wants.”
I avert my gaze, the woman’s words sickening me.
“What are we supposed to do?” Markus asks the question I don’t want answered.
Mother Gabrielle responds regardless. “You have a choice. Ride this out. Let him scream in agony until his voice fails him. Let him half-starve and hope that he survives long enough for his previous body—for Ryan to die. Then, he will become Jonah, your child, and he will eventually forget everything and everyone he once knew. Or…”
She allows the last word to remain stagnant in the air. But I know—as I fix my eyes to Jonah—I know what she means, what she refuses to say into the silence.
Kill my baby. Kill Jonah, so Ryan can live.
As soon as I realize what Mother Gabrielle is proposing, I jump to my feet and bolt out of her house with Jonah in tow. Markus shouts my name as I hear him running to catch up. The woman’s two children flinch as we rush past, with Mother Gabrielle yelling in the background:
“His name is Ryan! He’s not your son—he’s your prisoner!”
“Don’t listen to her,” Markus says as we escape to my car. I toss the keys to Markus as I make a mad dash for the passenger seat. He gets in, starts the ignition and burns rubber in reverse. Down the driveway. Onto the suburban street. Tires squealing. Jonah screams while I clutch the car door to keep myself steady.
As we speed away, I bring Jonah to my chest, his little face in the nook between my neck and shoulder, and I cry along with him.
He’s my Jonah, my baby. Fuck you, you crazy condemned witch. You don’t know us—you don’t get to play God!
On the drive, no words are spoken. Within twenty minutes, we pull up to my home; I’ve never been so happy to see that junky house-on-wheels in my life.
“She was crazy,” Markus finally says and turns to me. “I’m sorry. It was my idea—”
“You couldn’t have known,” I reply. “And, despite it all, just the fact you care enough about me and Jonah—”
“Always,” he says and reaches out his right hand, giving my left one a squeeze.
I lean over just slightly. He does the same, and then his lips touch mine. It only lasts a second, but I like it. As he pulls away, I realize I want more but I don’t chance saying it. Not with everything going on with Jonah—he’s in danger now more than ever.
So as I exit the car with my baby in my arms, as his cries carry into the wind, fear freezes over any warmth I feel for Markus, Mother Gabrielle’s voice ricocheting through my skull:
“He’s not your son.”
For another two weeks, I continue my quest to save Jonah. I go back to the regular doctors, and some do try to help. More tests are done, but nothing shows, and they are at as much as a loss as me. But others…they think I’m a hypochondriac now, throwing referrals to psychologists in a clear attempt to deflect their responsibilities to others.
Jonah’s voice starts to fail him, that once loud device dwindled to shrieks and whimpers. His feedings become more infrequent—I’m trying, I really am. But he will no longer latch. I attempt formula and get an equal response. Then one night, Jonah’s cries begin to ease, the panic fading, and for an eyeblink of time, I think that he might actually be Ryan and maybe his former life is passing, and he’s ready to start anew.
That’s when I realize Jonah isn’t breathing.
With my limp baby in my arms, I scramble to find my cell phone between the sofa cushions. I jam in my password and then 9-1-1.
“Help me!” I scream at the female dispatcher over the phone as she tries to ask questions.
She instructs me how to give an infant CPR, and within five minutes, loud sirens race down my street. My living room is bathed in crimson lights. Then two burly men charge into my home and snatch my baby from my arms.
I have enough sense to grab my cell and purse before hustling out the door and into the back of the ambulance. That’s when my life transforms into a nonstop barrage of sterile walls, white coats, and accusations.
They manage to get Jonah’s heart started, but he’s put into the ICU. They say he’s in a coma, with his body unmoving, a ventilator doing the work for him. An IV drip is started, delivering fluids and nutrients I’d desperately tried to offer but could not provide. But the nurses still give puzzling looks…as my comatose son’s eyes refuse to close. The baby blues gape upwards, as if staring at something monstrous, something that no one can save him from, not even me—his mother. His protector.
The hospital accuses me of child abuse. They bring down the wrath of social workers, psychiatrists, and lawyers, all pointing their figurative pitch forks in my direction. Jonah is malnourished. He’s underweight. Even with all their piercing ridicule, however, they admit that his ailments still aren’t enough to explain why he’s on the brink of death. Sickly, yes, but comatose? Their precious tests confirm he shouldn’t be in this severe a state—not as though that fact stops the mob.
It’s Markus who comes to my rescue. He shouts at anyone who wags an accusing finger my way, insisting I had taken Jonah to anyone and everyone with an MD behind their name to get answers. Father Perez corroborates our story, and all of a sudden, it’s the doctors who appear just as neglectful as anything I might have or have not done.
The accusations stop after that.
I don’t care about any of it. As long as I can stay with my baby, I don’t give a shit what they say or how they feel, not anymore.
Another week drags by, and Jonah is still not waking. I sit beside him, seeing his little body has grown some since they inserted a feeding tube a day after admission, but he still won’t wake. His eyelids have been taped shut, and the doctors are talking about putting in a tracheostomy tube for long-term care.
As the days go by, Mother Gabrielle’s words grow louder and louder in my head. She knew it would come to this, the only person to believe my child to be in danger, to take this seriously. Is she right about it all? About Ryan?
Shifting my legs in the visitor chair scooted up to Jonah’s bedside, I reach over and gently peel the tape from his eyes. The lids snap open and a coldness grips my spine. I lean forward so he can see my face.
“You’re my baby, Jonah,” I whisper and a sob catches in my throat. “I love you more than anything. I’ve loved you since the moment you became mine—you’re my reason for living. If what Mother Gabrielle says is true…” I hesitate, and two tears stream down my cheeks. “I won’t let you go…Ryan.”
Something stirs. Jonah’s body stiffens; his pupils dilate.
At the sight, I peer at his face, at those pale cheeks, and say again, “Ryan.”
His body jerks. His eyes widen more. He recognizes it—he recognizes the name.
And then, as I stare at him as he gawks upwards, I see a change. His irises—they’re darkening, the soft blue morphing into a hazel brown. Then the reflection of me gives way, disappearing off his pupils, replaced with other figures, other lights. Another room. The place and people in another life—in Ryan’s life.
“No!” I shout. Panting, I grab his face, my hand squeezing his cheeks as fury heats my insides. “You’re my son! You’re Jonah, not Ryan! You belong to me!”
“What’s going on?” Markus’ voice interrupts my rage.
Releasing Jonah, I spin my head to the entrance of the room. He’s standing there with a vase of flowers, his jaw half-hanging from his face.
Another set of tears roll down my cheeks, the heat of them feeling almost like boiling water. “He’s mine!” I scream. “Not Ryan! Never Ryan!”
Jonah’s body jerks at that; Markus notices. Shifting his eyes from me to Jonah, he sets the flowers down and approaches the baby. He inspects his little features.
“Ryan?” Markus whispers and I freeze, gazing onwards.
Again, the baby blue’s darken into a hazel brown.
“Oh, my God…” the words escape Markus’ mouth.
In a burst of anger, I shove him away from Jonah.
“Mother Gabrielle was right,” he says and then turns to me. “He—he is Ryan.”
I shake my head. “Don’t say that. Don’t ever say—”
“He—he has another life,” Markus declares with a quiver to his words. “Out there, somewhere, with people who love him, who want to see him survive.”
My vision flips between Jonah and Markus, and I feel it, as my heart turns to stone. “Get out,” I tell Markus.
“I—” he tries. “I—I’m sorry. But he’s—”
“Get out!” I scream again and point to the door. “And never come back.”
Markus’ mouth closes with a noticeable click. Chin raised, he takes a step backwards. Then another. He’s waiting, waiting to see if I change my mind, but no. He wants me to let my child die—to hell with him. To hell with everyone!
Slowly, Markus turns, his face lost to a sea of dreadlocks. He walks out of the room, out of my life, and I turn back to Jonah. “I won’t let you go,” I tell him as I see his eyes—those hazel brown things—stare at the ceiling. “You understand that? You’ll be on life support forever, if that’s what it takes. You’re mine now—so just accept it!”
My baby gazes never shifts, but the stare isn’t one of a child. The eyes have hardened, the look of hatred cast upon his face. He hates me. Yes, I see that now. But it won’t always be that way, not after he’s mine completely.
“Let go,” I demand through gritted teeth. “Or be trapped forever…Ryan.”
Unblinking, he keeps his vision set, a look of pure spite and loathing, and my blood ices at the sight. But defeat is there as well. He knows, deep down—he knows I won’t let him go. I hold my stare to him and then a shadow crosses his face.
“Carla…” the name is whispered as my baby tries to move his mouth, but it’s not the voice of an infant. It’s the voice of a man, sounding as if it came from Jonah…but not.
Then the shadow eases down, fading as it crosses in front of him. There’s silence. I wait, dreading more, to hear that voice again. Instead, I catch a whimper, and focus back on Jonah. My baby’s face squints up and turns red. His little arms and legs are jerking—he’s trying to cry. Not scream, just cry. Like a normal baby.
The hazel brown is gone, replaced again with pale blue.
My breaths stutter in my chest. Ryan is gone. He’s Jonah now. The way it was always meant to be.
As my baby squirms with his feeding tube and ventilator, I press the call button. Within a minute, nurses hurry into the room, their faces masked with shock and delight. My baby, my little Jonah, is awake. And he’s mine.
Several days go by. Jonah and I are finally back home, and for the first time, we’re able to have a normal life. I’m looking for a new job and have already filed papers for Matthew (that soul-sucking creep) to pay his weight in child support. Jonah has been put to bed and the trailer home is quiet. I can even hear the crickets outside; I’ve always hated those loud chirping things, but I love them now.
Sitting on the sofa, I type on my laptop, hunting down want ads. On the cushions beside me, my cell phone. I glance at it from time-to-time, wondering about Markus, how he’s doing, where he is. He hasn’t called or texted since our fight, and the truth is, I don’t want him to. No matter how much I had loved him, I can’t forgive him for what he wanted me to do. To let my own child die…what mother would allow such things?
Nonetheless, as I sink back into the sofa, I start to replay the entire situation in my head, from the moment I realized something was seriously wrong with my baby to my last encounter with “Ryan” at the hospital. Staring at a face I didn’t recognize, those hazel brown eyes ablaze with hatred.
“Carla…” the name resounds through my brain, as it has since it was first uttered.
Curiosity pokes my ribcage and I lean forward, placing my hands on the laptop’s keyboard. Maybe it’s silly, but…I type the names “Ryan” and “Carla,” into Google and press enter.
I didn’t expect anything—maybe a few Facebook recommendations or some random girl named “Carla Ryan.” As I stare at the search results, my heart dives into my stomach, the air trapped in my lungs.
Ryan Thomas Hallock, age twenty-six, died the same day as Jonah had awoken in the ICU. He was shot four times across his torso…by Carla Thurza. His latest victim. He had stalked her for months before the kidnapping. Before he chained her in his basement, assaulting her, beating her, until the day she managed to get his gun and then shot him into a coma.
But she hadn’t been his lone victim, simply the only one to survive.
Ryan Thomas Hallock, police had finally identified, had been murdering women across the West coast since the age of sixteen. At least twelve they knew about, probably more.
A natural born serial killer.
I read some of the articles, the endless quotes of family members and former classmates from kindergarten and up, saying how Ryan had always been awkward. Never fit in. Never belonged. Showed signs of psychopathy all his life. How he tortured animals as a kid—ripping off rabbits’ ears, stabbing squirrels in his backyard. Decapitating cats. A few dogs in their neighborhood had gone missing.
Everyone knew he was evil from the start.
Slowly, I close the laptop and walk towards Jonah’s bedroom. He’s sleeping in his crib, his little music box playing a lullaby in the corner. I lean down, watching his tiny chest contracting and expanding with every breath he takes.
“It’s all right, little one. Carla can’t hurt you anymore. Mommy is here. Mommy loves you, no matter what. You’re mine now. That’s all that matters.”
Credit: Erin J. David
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