September 28, 2018
No matter what food we gave her, she wouldn’t eat. We tried everything. Fruit, cereals, meat, vegetables. I got Doctor Brooks and the nurses to bring her some chocolate and candies, but — no matter how appealing we thought any of it might be to the child — she would always just scowl and turn her head away from it. Her mother screamed at me, pleaded for me to figure something out, blamed me for not trying hard enough. But what could I do? Even I.V. became useless. You can’t feed nutrients into a bloodstream when there’s no pulse.
I wasn’t to blame anyway. There was nothing anyone could do about it.
It was our pastor, Nathan McNitt, who thought we should ask for God’s help, in the church, with as many people as we could gather, so He would surely hear. “He’s got to do something,” Nate told me, and you could hear the desperation in his voice, the fear, and the pity. “He’s the only one who can do anything about this, Christ’s sake. Or we’ve got everything all wrong. All this time, and everything all wrong.”
A lot of people from the hospital joined the pastor. Lots of elderly folk from town, too. But they never came back. None of them. They left me with a little girl who wouldn’t eat, whose body was cold as an undercroft no matter how many blankets I wrapped her in. During the day she just lay in bed, still and silent as a bisque doll. If she did wake during the night, I never saw it — but I know she at least moved; in the morning she’d be in a different position and those blankets would be all rumpled around her. And while she still looked like a little girl, calling her such was gradually becoming mere analogy. Her skin was just as white as milk. No air escaped her nostrils. Her fingernails were much too long, horribly yellowed, and hard as ivory.
And she would not eat.
After a while I could barely stand to look at her anymore. And in the end I couldn’t think of what to do except leave her too. Her mother protested and beat her fists against me and clawed at my clothes, but in the end she didn’t want to be with her either; she just wanted to feel better about having to let her go, to have the impossible weight of the blame rest on someone else’s head.
At Nate’s recommendation I put a Mother Mary Medal around her neck. Then a good bolt-lock was installed on the door. For a while we had security keep sentry from outside, from on a chair across the hallway. Occasionally, he’d report sounds of skittering and scraping coming from beyond that door. But that was it. Never the shuffling footfalls of a child. Never a little girl’s cries for Mom. Never anything during the day.
Then late last night I saw her. I was out in the back smoking because I couldn’t sleep. She came, drifting out of the dark shadows of the copse of pines like a ghost. She was pale as the full moon above us staring down like a vapid eye. Her matted hair streamed all around her in a wild gust of wind. The hem of her hospital gown fluttered above her bare, dirt-encrusted feet. But she still seemed like the most beautiful little girl I’d ever seen. And … and I longed for her. I longed to hold her and have her hold me back just one more time, like before. To tell her that everything would be okay. To look at that necklace around her neck with hope instead of doom.
She looked up at me and grinned. And when she did, I felt my longing turn to horror terrifying as the grave, hard and white as bleached bone. Even in the dimness I could see the sullen glare in her eyes. They were less human than a snake’s, red as mountain holly just before a winter storm. And … when she grinned … when she grinned I could see how long her teeth had become.
I squeezed my eyelids shut and turned away. I knew that if I looked too long the bearings of my mind would loosen completely.
“Daddy,” she called. Her voice danced through the chill air like the soft tinklings of a silver wind chime. “Daddy, I miss you. Daddy, why’d you leave me all alone?”
I opened my mouth to say something. Anything. I wanted to say that there was nothing I could do. That there was no science or medicine or prayers that could help her now. That there was no possible way she could have left her room, and that she just could not be here. But there were simply no words. What would have been the point? It was worse than insanity.
Mustering all my strength, I rushed inside as I brayed and sobbed. I clumsily locked the doors and windows, and turned out all the lights. And even though I refused to look at her again … I knew. I knew she was still standing out there, looking inside, looking for Daddy. Just as I know, even as I write this, that she is still outside, still standing in the shadow of that copse of pines, and that her eyes will always gleam in the dead of night like a dreaming devil’s.
She’s not my daughter anymore. She’s a dead thing now, somehow brought back to life to roam during the bleakest hours. She is a little girl who, no matter what food I gave her, wouldn’t eat. A little girl who owns a heart that no longer beats. A little girl who is waiting outside my home, baring her fangs, and smiling.
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