Branches scratched at the window and the floorboards creaked.
The woman sighed and got out of bed. She went through the house opening every door, searching every closet, looking under beds. She got the flashlight and searched the cellar and the front porch.
She couldn’t find the baby.
Nearly every night she looked for the baby. People suggested to her that what she was hearing was a cat in heat. She told them, “No. I don’t think so.”
The baby didn’t always cry. Sometimes, she could hear it cooing. Infrequently, the baby giggled in that sweet way that a child of four or five months will do. Peals of laughter like angelic chimes.
Standing in the yard with her flashlight, she watched the October wind blow her nightgown around her legs. It was warm for the season and she rolled up the sleeves of her nightgown. She sat in the Adirondack chair on the porch, straining to try and figure out from what direction the baby’s faint cry was coming.
Robert had left because of the baby. For thirty-two years, he told her it was her subconscious grieving for Julie. “Myra, hun, I think you need to get some help with this.” With that, he turned and walked out the door.
After she retired, she sometimes heard the baby during the day, but that didn’t happen often. She kept the tv turned up too loud.
Robert had been gone for two weeks and three days. She missed him. She thought about his last words.
With the baby still crying, she opened the front door. The baby’s cries were louder in the house.
Fishing around in the closet, she pulled out the phonebook. She wondered how one went about choosing a psychiatrist. She sipped hot tea while perusing the names. She hoped one of them would jump out at her.
The tea was making her hotter and the list of doctors was frustrating her. She returned to the front porch where it was cooler and the baby’s cries were softer. It almost sounded like the child was trying to comfort itself – sobs interspersed with thumb-sucking sounds.
Myra walked down the front steps of the porch into the yard. There was no moon and she had left the flashlight in the kitchen.
She found herself walking down the road to the cemetery. “I should really go back and get the flashlight,” but she forged ahead. It was only a mile or so.
At the cemetery, she quickly made her way to the three little tombstones all lined up in a row. She couldn’t hear the baby crying amongst the ruffling leaves. The wind was picking up, cooling the night and scattering clouds so that a waning moon lit her path.
She thought about that night. She and Robert were preparing to go to sleep. Robert went around checking to see that doors and windows were locked. Myra straightened the kitchen before going upstairs to check on Julie one last time before crawling into bed.
Now that the baby was sleeping through the night, Myra wasn’t as tired, but found it difficult to sleep through the night herself. She still found herself slipping into Julie’s nursery in the middle of the night to gaze at her. She was perfect. A little angel. She never tired of watching the child sleep.
She stood in the doorway, hall light scattering across Julie’s nursery floor. Something seemed wrong. The room was too quiet. Myra went to the crib and pulled the blanket up over Julie’s small body. She was cold to the touch.
Robert found her rocking the baby, wrapping her in a blanket, trying to warm her. Tears streaming down her face, she said, “She’s so cold. If we can just warm her up.” Crying himself, Robert took the baby from her looking for a breath, a pulse, a heartbeat. It was the third child they had lost. The other two had been stillborn. Julie was the only one who had cried.
Myra sat down in front of the graves. They had named the two who had never drawn breath Michael Paul and Lily Jeanne. She traced their names on the small stones. Tears begun to stream down her face. A sound welled up from her inner core, the pain of three dead babies finding voice. She keened.
Bent over with the sobs, she stretched out and lay among the leaves silencing herself. She listened to her own heartbeat, calming. The leaves rustling. The moon softly lighting all she could see. For thirty-two years, she had not cried after that night. She felt the tears stream down the side of her face as she gazed at the moon.
She heard the baby while the warmth seeped from her own body. She closed her eyes. The baby was babbling. The baby was in her arms. She was afraid to open her eyes. Afraid there would be no baby. Trying to draw warmth from the child, she held her close.
The baby struggled against being held too tight. Myra opened her eyes and found herself staring at Julie. Warm and pink.
Myra’s last words were, “There you are. I’ve been looking for you.”
NOTE: This post is part of Eric Douglas’s 2017 Halloween Short Story Collection. Read more here.