"From the cradle bars comes a beckoning voice..." ~Siouxsie and the Banshees
|Hannah Chapman returned from summer camp broken.
She was withdrawn, spending most of her time alone in her room. Her mother Audra was so concerned, she called a therapist. When she called them, the camp director couldn't give her much of an explanation for the sudden change in her daughter's personality. "She seemed fine while she was here!" she chirped cheerfully through the phone.
"Maybe she was molested while she was there?" She confided in Hannah's stepfather as she tossed and turned in bed late one night "Something's definitely wrong." He grunted and rolled over.
Hannah's stepfather, Jeff, had always felt uncomfortable around Hannah. He told her mother before they married that he "didn't do kids very well." Audra was sure that would change with time.
He felt even more uncomfortable around the little girl upon her return from camp. She seemed surreptitious, and downright creepy. He couldn't shake the feeling that she was quietly watching him, studying his habits. When he brought this up to Audra, she dismissed it. "You just don't understand kids," she told him "you're being paranoid."
The truth was he did suspect she had been molested while she was at that camp, he just didn't want to say anything. He knew if the girl told her shrink she'd been abused, he'd be suspect number one.
It didn't take long after Hannah came home for strange things to start happening.
The distinct sounds of scuttling through the walls accompanied by what they could only surmise were the cries of an animal of some sort kept them up at night. They called an exterminator, he found no trace of animals in the crawlspaces or the attic.
Hannah began wandering the house in her sleep. When Audra went to get a glass of water and looked out of the kitchen window to see Hannah standing in the middle of the backyard one night, she knew things were getting out of control. She ran outside, calling her name. Hannah stood completely still in the moonless night, staring into the woods behind the house. She made low growling noises from deep in her throat.
Her therapist said sleepwalking was a common occurrence in people who have experienced traumatic situations. She prescribed a sedative for the girl to keep her in her bed at night.
During this time Jeff was having sleep problems of his own. He was having terrifying dreams, one in particular was recurring.
In this dream, he woke to the sound of scratching within the walls of his room. "Stupid exterminator," he said aloud. "He's coming back for free this time."
He realized Audra wasn't next to him in bed. He called out to her. "I'm out here Jeff, in the bath. Why don't you come join me?" Jeff sprang from the bed but before he could take two steps the bedroom door closed silently, slowly. It's shadow drew long figures across his bedroom walls.
He knew something was there, but the form in the dark was unrecognizable. He could make out a small, sloping head with what looked like a huge lower jaw. The whole animal was very thin. It's limbs looked so crooked and unnatural in the shadow, it was difficult to tell if it was squatting on two or on four legs.
When it stood upright the motion was slow, yet jerky. At the end of what he could only assume were arms was a set of ridiculously long, curved claws.
The shadow now stood between him and the closed door. He froze with fear. It revealed more and more of itself to him as it moved silently across his bedroom toward the bed.
A sliver from the street light outside cut through the darkness near the foot of his bed. He sensed whispers of movement. Before he could brace himself, it's face was inches from his own, caught in the shard of yellow light.
All Jeff could register before he woke were the eyes and the teeth. It's eyes were milky golf ball sized marbles bulging from black sockets. It panted into his face, darting a forked tongue to gather the air around it. It's mouth was open enough for Jeff to see the multiple rows of jagged daggers filling a mouth that practically wrapped around it's whole head.
When he woke completely he was sitting up in his bed, sweat pouring from his forehead. His heart leapt from his chest. It felt like lightening surged up his throat, trapping the scream trying to escape his lungs. He gasped for air.
His hand darted to the space next to him where Audra slept. "What's wrong?" she asked groggily. "Did you have a bad dream?"
"Yeah, it was nothing," he told her. If she had been awake enough to see him in this state she would have known it was not nothing.
"Jesus, Jeff, you're not a child," he thought, "pull yourself together." He was almost ashamed to be so terrified.
Not long after the dream, Jeff woke one morning to find a disemboweled cat in his closet. Entrails and brains were flung everywhere like a visceral Jackson Pollock painting. Flies had already begun to gather and maggots dropped from it's flesh into Jeff's expensive Italian leather shoes.
"It's probably what we've been hearing scratching in the walls. It was injured by some animal and crawled into the house to hide and die. You know this neighborhood is full of feral cats leaving carnage everywhere," Audra offered pensively.
Jeff threw a tantrum, wildly gesticulating as he yelled at her. "That doesn't explain why there were guts all over my clothes. I think Hannah's fucking with me because she hates me." Audra rolled her eyes irritably. She began to speak when he cut her off. "I'm serious! She's sick Audra, we may need to start thinking about sending her somewhere where she can get real help."
Audra slapped him as hard as she could and strode from the closet, leaving him to clean up the mess.
A day or two later the family dog went missing. "He probably ran away because Hannah's freaking him out too," Jeff laughed at his own joke. It was around this time Audra began contemplating divorce.
Summer came and went with little progress in bringing Hannah out of her shell. Her therapist said going back to school might help her to re-establish some semblance of normalcy.
One afternoon after she got home from school, Hannah's mother asked her to clean out her gerbil's cage. "It's been a while, he'll probably appreciate fresh bedding," she said cheerfully.
"Yeah, that, and you can smell the nasty thing down the hall!" Jeff contributed, jogging on his treadmill across the room. Audra shot him a dirty look. Hannah said nothing. She smiled at Jeff, it was painfully artificial. "Like a mask," Jeff reflected silently.
Hannah ascended the stairs slowly to her room. Jeff glanced up at the girl. Her eyes were still fixed on him, that plastic smile still on her face. Jeff shivered in spite of himself.
After his run, Jeff went upstairs to shower. He passed Hannah's room on the way to the bathroom. He heard whispers and giggling from the other side of the door.
"Hannah, who are you talking to?" He rapped on the door with the back of his hand. "What are you doing?"
He turned the knob and swung open the door. Standing next to the gerbil's cage was Hannah. Dangling from it's tail between Hannah's delicate fingers was the squeaking gerbil. Hannah turned her head toward Jeff, and tilted her chin upwards. She lowered the animal into her abnormally large mouth, chewing as it thrashed to attempt escape. Jeff heard the crunch of it's bones, it's squeals of pain. Within a matter of seconds, she had consumed the whole animal. Blood dripped from her chin and down the front of her favorite unicorn t-shirt.
Jeff couldn't make any noise, nor could he turn to run. He had no idea what was standing in front of him. He knew it looked like a little girl, but it most certainly wasn't human. Her eyes were empty. They looked like milky, golf ball sized marbles. Warm, stinking piss cascaded down his legs into his running shoes as he realized it was her he had seen in his nightmare.
Footsteps echoed on the stairs behind him. His head snapped sideways with panic.
"Jeff, are you done showering yet? I need to start the laundry," called Hannah's mother as she ascended.
Jeff could only stammer out some random noises. His mouth hung open, his mind went numb. Hannah's mother reached the top of the stairs.
"What's going on?" she asked "Is something wrong? Did Hannah get the cage cleaned out?"
As she approached the bedroom Jeff screeched, "SHE ATE IT!! I don't know what the fuck she is, but she isn't human! GET AWAY!"
Audra rushed past him for the bedroom door. They grappled for a moment, and Jeff uttered a frustrated cry. When he looked from Audra to the girl, he stopped dead.
Hannah stood crying. "I'm scared, mommy!" There was no blood on her face. No blood on her favorite unicorn t-shirt. Jeff was stupefied.
"JEFF, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!? GET AWAY FROM HER!!" Audra screamed, shoving him out of the bedroom. As he fought back to get to the girl, the shoving match travelled into the hall, toward the stairs. Hannah's mother stumbled backward, her foot catching the rug. She plummeted down the stairs.
"AUDRA! NO!" Jeff screamed as he raced down the staircase after her. She was conscious, but her leg lay at a sickening angle beneath her.
He dialed 911 frantically, shouting the address and sobbing into the phone as he explained what happened to his wife. He was so caught up in the trauma of the moment that he hadn't noticed Hannah crouching at the base of the stairs next to her injured mother. She was sobbing uncontrollably, stroking her mother's brow. "I love you, Mom! Please, please be ok, please!!!" she cried.
All he saw was a terrified little girl who wanted her mother more than anything in the world. He started to think he needed a shrink, too.
The doctors said Audra would need multiple surgeries for her shattered leg. She would stay in the hospital for at least a week throughout her surgeries.
The police interviewed Jeff. He knew they suspected domestic violence. He was positive Hannah would tell them he tried to murder her mother, but when DCS interviewed her, she told them it was an accident. She sobbed and told them she wanted her mommy and daddy. The caseworker looked dubious, but released them both to go home.
From this point, Jeff had plummeted over the edge of no return.
He didn't sleep at night, keeping all the lights on in the house at all times. He installed motion sensing cameras inside and out. He spent most of his time locked in the bedroom, only leaving the room to put food out on the kitchen counter for Hannah to fix herself, mostly peanut butter sandwiches or instant mac and cheese she could put in the microwave. He locked himself in his room while she ate in the kitchen.
Eventually, Audra returned home. She told Jeff she wanted a divorce. He set himself up in the guest bedroom until he could find a place, installing his cameras to cover the window and door. "He's lost his damn mind," Audra told her friends.
During this time Hannah seemed to begin to return to her old social self. She played with friends, did well in school, and was in good spirits for the first time in months.
The day before Jeff was to move out and into some shitty apartment across town, he sat at the kitchen table with a beer and a shot of Jameson. Hannah and Audra had gone out. Jeff was glad to be alone. He knew that little girl wasn't a little girl, no matter how good her act, he had seen her for what she really was.
He stumbled to the bathroom to take a leak.
"Mr. Chapman? Are you home? I need to talk to you, it's urgent."
Was that Hannah's shrink? How the hell did she get in here?
"I'm in the bathroom, be out in a second."
She wasn't there when he came out. "Where are you?" he called.
"I'm upstairs, there's something up here in Hannah's room I think you should see."
Jeff Chapman was woozy from the beer and whiskey he'd been tossing back all afternoon, maybe just a bit too woozy. He suddenly didn't feel so good.
Whatever happened to Hannah's valium?
He got to the top of the stairs and heard the sound of rifling through drawers. He pushed open the door.
Shock consumed him as the monster rushed at him with a shrill laugh. Curved claws closed around his throat. Once again, he found himself within inches of it's horrible face. It's milky orbs stared blankly as it's forked tongue reached impossibly far to flicker against his lips.
"There may be something wrong with Hannah," it said with a grin, in it's perfect therapist's voice.
Audra and Hannah returned to find Jeff at the bottom of the stairs. They called 911, but it was too late. Official cause of death was cardiac arrest, he had fallen down the stairs in the middle of a heart attack. Funeral arrangements would be made, affairs would be put in order. Time heals all.
About a year after Jeff's death, Audra woke to banging on her front door.
"Mrs. Chapman! My name is detective Ross, I need to speak with you please!"
She hobbled downstairs as best she could still in her nightgown. She was surprised to see Hannah already up watching cartoons. She had a bowl of cereal in her lap.
Audra answered the door to the solemn expression of detective Ross. He flashed his badge. "May I speak with you?"
Audra moved aside so he could enter the living room. When he saw the little girl on the couch watching cartoons and eating her cereal, the color drained from his face.
Audra ushered him to the kitchen table. She offered him coffee as she poured some for herself. "No thanks." He was only halfway replying to her. His other half was keeping an eye on the living room sofa.
Detective Ross explained to Audra Chapman that the partial remains of a little girl had been recovered by a fisherman in Lake Widgeewagan approximately three months ago. They dragged the lake, found the rest of the girl's remains, and sent them to the county coroner's lab for analysis. There had been no missing person's cases filed in the area for years, so they named her Jane Doe. They estimated she was about 8 years old, 4'5'' tall. Slight build, she probably weighed somewhere between 45 and 55 pounds. After putting out a request, they managed to obtain dental records matching her's. The dentist remembered the little girl. Her name was Hannah Chapman.
Detective Ross and Audra Chapman both looked at the little girl eating her cereal and watching her cartoons. She looked up at them with her sweet face and flashed her best toothy smile.