Trent closed the door and set his brief case down on the console table. He tossed his keys at the wooden bowl like always, but this time they hit the rim and tumbled to the floor, taking the artisan bowl with them. The Aboriginal keepsake from his honeymoon in Australia cracked against the entryway’s stone flooring.
“God Damnit.” He said, cursing, fanning the fires of his already considerable frustration.
Poor Beth’ll be so disappointed! And, wait until she hears that I have to cancel our family backyard camp out. Worst week ever, he thought, grinding his teeth.
For the last five days, Trent’s boss had chastised him in front of his peers over the most menial issues. Issues that were recently considered required procedures. To make matters worse, deadlines were rapidly approaching and his clients weren’t cooperating—another working weekend away from his kids.
As he bent down to pick up the fallen items, his throbbing headache plumed into a full-blown migraine. With flashing light spotting his vision, he staggered and, losing balance, missed the key ring on his first attempt. He paused on one knee, the pain stabbing through his temples cutting deeper, burning hotter. Trent gritted his teeth and weathered the storm. After the intensity spiked, the pain dropped away just as fast.
He paused, processing a few deep breaths—one of them a big sigh of relief—before moving on. He picked up the bowl and keys and climbed to his feet.
A shriek shattered the air.
Arctic spiders of fear crawled up his spine and nested at the base of his skull. His body moved fluid and fast. He dropped the items onto the table as his legs propelled him down the hall.
Trent burst into the room. He found his wife, Beth, kneeling at the edge of the tub, tears rolling down her flushed cheeks, while their two-year-old daughter floated, pale and lifeless in the bath.
“Ahh—” Trent uttered and lunged forward to pull their girl from the water. He wrapped a hand around the toddler’s neck, checking for a pulse.
“Put her down,” his wife moaned, holding out a trembling hand. Crying had made her look like a tragic clown with smeared mascara lines. Her lips quivered. She opened her mouth to speak again, but the thick emotion bubbling in her throat cut it short, “I—”
Zack, their four-year-old, sat at the other end of the bathtub, wailing. His plump face turning more red with each outcry.
“What happened?” Trent asked. He stared at Beth through a haze of forming tears, his mouth hanging open.
She didn’t respond.
“Beth, what happened?!”
“I… I couldn’t stop myself,” she said, mumbling as if trying to explain it to herself.
“Wha— You did this?” Trent squinted at her. He couldn’t have heard her correctly! No, it had to be an accident.
He looked down at the little girl in his arms, cold, limp, peaceful. The sweet, clean smell of baby shampoo still strong on her wet hair. Anguish swelled in Trent’s sinuses, spreading—gaining ground with hot needled claws—and threatening to burst out of him. He bit hard on his trembling lower lip and managed to keep it all contained, for now.
Gently placing the little corpse on the floor, he swaddled the girl in a towel and kissed her forehead. Then in a green blur, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1.
“I had to do it,” Beth said with a voice made eerie by its sudden serenity.
Trent, already providing details to the operator, turned to look at his wife.
His body went numb and the phone slid from his fingers, hitting the hard tile in a tiny explosion of plastic and glass. It was more the expression on her upturned face than her words that stalled his brain.
Beth was smiling at him. Smiling!
Through her lunatic grin, a litany of prayers spewed forth in an impossible array of voices. Their harsh consonants ricocheted off the walls, adding sharp edges to the bombardment on Trent’s sanity.
His legs buckled and he dropped to his knees.
Eye to eye with his troubled wife, he watched in disbelief as her grin contorted with the rest of her face into a mask of pure rage. Her skin seemed to prune and wither before him, and her eyes clouded over like a steamed mirror. She spat and cursed at him.
“Your blood is cursed,” she shouted. “Your spawn must die!”
“Die! Die! Die!”
“Beth.” Trent, gently holding her head, pleaded with her. “Honey, come back to me. You’re sick, having a…a spell or something. We’ll get you some help.”
The woman’s virulent expression fell away at once, leaving a pale, terrified shell in its place. “I don’t know what’s happening. That wasn’t me. I wasn’t in control.”
“We’ll find the problem and get it treated.”
“Oh, God!” she sobbed. “My little girl is dead. Our baby’s gone!”
“Let’s just take care of Zack, and wait for—”
Beth shrieked and bent over, clutching at her head as if something was gnawing on her brain. She shifted back to the venomous woman ruined by hate-etched lines and the milky eyes of morgue residents.
“Beth!” Trent shouted, shaking her by the shoulders.
She blinked and the demonic change left as quickly as it came.
“Trent, it’s going to happen again,” she said, her posture slumping between his grip. She sat for a moment, victimized and deflated before a realization took over. She jolted forward, clutched at his work shirt.
“You have to stop me!”
“What?” He said, startled. “Help is on the way.”
“No, stop me before I do it again. You’re not safe, Zack’s not safe.”
“The police will—”
Beth twitched, corroding again into an evil form. She jerked away from Trent, grabbed the boy, both of them screaming—one in terror, the other in hate—and forced the child under water.
“No!” Trent cried out. He clutched at her, but an unexpected strength pulsed through her sylphlike body as if she was cemented in place. He pulled and pleaded, but she continued to drown their son.
“Stop! Please!” he begged, tugging feebly at her arms as tears dripped from his stubbled chin.
She laughed—cackling like a fairytale witch.
Unable to pull his child to safety or break his wife’s hold, Trent did the only thing he could. He locked his arms around her neck and started to squeeze.
“Don’t make me do this!” he said, sobbing in her ear.
The monster controlling his true love, his soul mate, only laughed again.
“Beth. You have to stop. You’re killing him!” Trent shouted amid the frothy sounds of thrashing water.
Her expression changed enough for Trent to sense his wife in there. Despite the continued physical struggle, Beth’s voice rang out. “Do it. Stop me. Save our child.”
“Do it!” she screamed in a banshee’s wail that echoed painfully in the small room.
With one quick jerk, he pivoted and snapped her neck. She collapsed to the cold tile floor. Trent moved fast, pulling the boy out of the tub and laying him out on the mat.
Sirens howled in the distance.
The boy wasn’t breathing. There was no heartbeat.
Trent began CPR.
A moment later the Police rushed in the front door and down the hall toward them, guns drawn.
“Back away from the child, now!” The lead officer yelled.
Without stopping, Trent responded. “He’s dying, I’m trying to—”
The gunshot was deafening.
Trent was thrown backward, his head slamming against the hard porcelain tub as he fell. The hole in his shoulder burned with an intense fire that sent rivulets of electric pain throughout his chest.
The cops rushed in and forced his wrists into handcuffs. Trent lifted his head to plead for help in resuscitating his son but paused, noticing Zack was conscious, coughing and crying as an EMT tended to him.
His boy was going to be okay.
A sigh of relief filled his lungs but died there—it clung, burning, unreleased, as the sights Trent now witnessed struck a chord of confusion and utter disruption within.
His son was clothed and dry. How could that be? Was this an illusion? Were his eyes betraying him?
It all seeming like a bad dream, but the pain was real. The cold steel of the handcuffs was real. The carpet, not title, beneath him felt real. Things were suddenly different from what he previously knew. His reality had shifted. Maybe the pain had cleared his head, sharpening his attention like a splash of ice water to the face.
His son was not a child pulled from bath water, dripping and cold. The boy looked flushed in the face and was still wearing his school clothes. And yet, Trent could distinctly remember the feel of his child’s clammy skin when he began CPR.
What’s going on? Trent wondered amid the torrent of confusion. His mind whirled and he struggled against the urge to vomit. Two conflicting streams of memories battled for dominance. As each quivering breath cycled through him, his mind stabilized with one set of memories taking hold as the vivid truth. Trent relived the moments, seeing them for the first time, as they cycled past his mind’s eye.
He hadn’t been working at chest compressions to save Zack’s life a moment ago. He’d worked to take the boy’s life—squeezing it out of him with an unforgiving grip around his little neck. But, why? He couldn’t believe it, but he saw that it happened. He could recall the way his son’s little hands feebly gripped at his as he clenched harder and harder. And the haunting sight of Zack’s bulging eyes looking back at him in terror and confusion and pain. How are these memories possible?
Why would he try to kill his only remaining son after his wife had… Beth! Her body lay on the floor at a distinctly different angle than her head—the bulging skin of her neck already blooming with blotches of purple.
Trent searched for the memory of breaking her neck to save one child after she’d already drowned the other, but the vision that surfaced told a different tale. There was no splashing of bath water. No smells of baby soap and laundered towels. He watched as his wife pleaded with him, begging for him to stop, that they’ll get help, and to please put their daughter down. Trent searched the room with wide, frantic eyes until he found the little bundle on the floor.
The toddler was not swaddled in a towel as he expected. She was fully dressed and completely dry like her brother. Her face flushed in a familiar shade of purple. She lay motionless on the sky blue carpet of the nursery, not the white shag rug of their bathroom.
Realization ripped through him without mercy.
“Oh, God.” Trent mumbled and turned his head. The room spun beneath him. The heavy oak crib loomed over him and his dead family like a massive tombstone. The pain of Trent’s injuries were made imperceptible by his emotional agony.
“Beth wasn’t… it was me. I killed—” Trent’s lamentation was cut off by a violent stomach upheaval as nausea overwhelmed him.
An officer bent down next to Trent and picked up an object encased in pink plastic. He held the undamaged cell phone to his ear. His voice was flat and somber when he spoke. “This is Officer James. The situation is now under control.”
He paused, listening to a voice on the other end. Then, “No, Ma’am. We were too late for the others.”
The policeman looked down at Trent. The cuffed man was now slamming his head on the floor and chanting, “Sick in the head. Sick in the head. Sick in the head.”
Frowning, the officer added, “Looks like he snapped.”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2013 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.