13 comments

Submitted on 07/31/2020

Categories: Mystery

Ring. 

Ring. 

The sound of the phone on the wall pierces the silence of the morning with dagger-like precision. Anastasia Malone and her husband, Connor Malone, stare at it, then at each other. Neither wants to make the move to answer. Their breakfast plates sit in front of them, half-eaten. A crinkled newspaper flashes the date in black-and-white: July 23, 1990. 

Anastasia makes the first move. She inches through the kitchen, watched intently by her husband. 

Ring. 

Ring. 

Her fingers close around the plastic. As they meet, she takes a deep breath. 

Ring. 

“Hello?” Her hands are shaky, pressing the phone hard against her face.

Mommy? Mommy….Is that - is it you?” The voice belongs to a teenage girl. It’s weak, almost sickly, sounding. 

“Stop calling this house.” Anastasia whispers - her words have a steel edge. She slams the phone and turns to face her husband.

“We change it every week. How do they keep getting this number?,” she asks, wrinkling her forehead. 

“I don’t know honey,” he begins, “I really just…. I don’t know.”

“Connor, do you think -” Anastasia’s sentence ends before it can begin. 

No, ” he asserts. 

“But this time -” 

That wasn’t her.” 

With that, Connor leaves the kitchen, not bothering to clear his plate, and takes to the bedroom to ready himself for work. Anastasia turns back to the phone and disconnects it from the wall, sobbing quietly as the cord falls to the floor in a perfect loop. She pulls out the small calendar from drawer beside the refrigerator. Today marks exactly fifteen years since their daughter’s disappearance. 

In the other room, hidden from his wife, Connor wipes a tear from his cheek. Though he knows better than anyone, that the girl who called his house wasn’t his missing daughter, the shreds of hope still scratch at his heart like an ill-fitted sweater. The sound of his daughter’s laughter still echoes in the house in crescendos, vibrating the swollen knot of hatred curled in his belly. 

The pair say their goodbyes in a series of awkward hugs and misplaced kisses in the doorway. As the door clicks into place, Anastasia sinks to the floor against it and swallows. Unable to contain herself, she crawls to the kitchen, plugs the phone back into the wall - desperate to hear it ring once again - and tries to remember the events of the day her world changed. 


*********************************************************


Lucy Malone was two years old when she went missing. Most believe she wandered out of the back door while Anastasia was folding clothes in another room, through the yard, and onto the sidewalk, where she was presumably taken. There was scattered speculation of foul play due to the cut phone line - no evidence was ever found to support that theory. After chasing a few false leads, the case surrounding the missing girl went cold, and she became a tragic town memory, living on in the form of grainy milk box photographs updated every five years to show the estimated effects of time. 

Anastasia can’t remember anything about the day her daughter disappeared, aside from the afternoon bath they shared. Sometimes she can feel the silhouette of a memory buried deep beneath the surface, but it slips from her hands like sand if she concentrates too hard. The last thing she remembers is the smile on her daughter’s face while they blew bubbles with soap in the bathroom, and the sweet smell of her hair as she leaned down to give her a kiss. 


**********************************************************


Ring. 

Ring. 

Anastasia wanted a call to come, but the sound still shakes her spine. 

Ring. 

Ring. 

Dragging her fingers through her hair, she clenches her jaw as the sound echoes. 

Ring. 

Ring. 

She’s forgivably torn between answering and not answering.

Ring. 

Ring. 

Silence settles into the air. Her body relaxes against the wall, her fingers drop from her hair, and the lump in her throat breaks into pieces. 

Life didn’t look this way before her daughter’s disappearance. Time began to slow down after Lucy was taken, and, somewhere along the way, it finally stopped. It wasn’t abrupt. There were no screeching brakes or sparks flying off of the tracks. She and her husband weren’t thrown from their seats mid-conversation. No, time began to solidify the way clay hardens. Day by day, hour by hour, things stopped changing. Routine became contract, and deviation was a capital offense.


************************************************************


At his desk, Connor stares blankly into the wall. Everyone in the office knows what the day means, but no one offers condolences or comfort - pleasantries were discarded years ago. Instead, they whisper. He used to care - he’d even try to eavesdrop or read lips - but it doesn’t matter anymore. They all say the same things: how could he forgive his wife, how could he “give up” on finding his daughter, how could he continue coming to work knowing she was missing, how could he stay in this town. 

He shuffles the papers in front of him, then reaches into the drawer by his knee. Beneath the files, tucked into a space only a trained hand could reach, a half-empty bottle of cheap bourbon meets his fingertips. It’s not what he’s looking for, though - he wants what’s taped to it: a picture of Lucy. His nails gently pry the edges loose, and he pulls it out, placing it on his lap where no one else can see. It’s an old, ripped, picture, taken on Lucy’s first birthday. She’s sitting in a high chair, pieces of cake crumbled across her smiling face, and he is standing beside her with a matching grin. The photograph hasn’t aged well, but the memory is sharp as a tack in his mind - it’s the last time they were all happy. 


***********************************************************


The day they married, Anastasia told him she wanted to have a baby. It was a sweet sentiment, placed in his ear amid the chaos of flashing cameras and the bustling crowd - something just for him, no one else. When he heard it, he wanted nothing more than to give her exactly that: a family. He resolved that if she wanted a baby, he would do anything in his power to make it happen, as soon as possible; an insurmountably harder task than he could have imagined. 

His wife, despite being young and healthy, was deemed barren by every doctor in a fifty-mile radius. She was crushed. Years of trying and failing aged them both in the way only heartbreak can. Anastasia’s posture curved inward. His chest caved. Worry lines and frown lines began etching into spaces meant for landmarks of laughter and happiness. With every “negative” test, another week of nonstop tears would ensue. They must’ve cried oceans by the time it was all said and done.

Then, by pure chance, his wife became pregnant, and the joy radiating from her rounding belly was enough to rewind time. As the months passed, both he and his wife seemed to age in reverse. Happiness has that power. By the time she gave birth, Anastasia looked younger than the day they met, and Connor seemed to have grown a few inches taller.

The first few months were hard, understandably so, but, as each milestone came and went, he knew they were basking in the glow of a miracle. The strings tying the three of them together became ropes tethered to anchors - they were bound. Like the roots of a tree, tangled and stretching in all directions, they were growing into each other. They were a family. 

The picture in his lap serves as the last remaining piece of evidence to that fact. There are no pictures after Lucy’s first birthday. Something changed in Anastasia shortly after the camera flashed that day; a light went out. His beautiful, goddess of a wife and mother became a disease. She expired and curdled like old milk, and all the goodness drained from her overnight. The woman in bed beside him the next morning smelled sour and rotten.

All of the things he loved about her - her many smiles, her musical laughter, her strength, her omniscient joy - shed from her like peeling skin, and in its place, a stranger sprung from the ashes. Someone cruel, someone bitter, someone unworthy, and Anastasia never returned.


************************************************************

Ring. 

Ring. 

Anastasia is lying in bed, running her fingers over a picture she retrieved from its hiding place: the loose floorboard under the bed. It’s the last picture taken of her family. Lucy is perched in the middle, birthday cake smeared across her face; Connor is standing to her side, grinning ear-to-ear at the person behind the camera, with his arm stretched behind the highchair; She is crouched beside her daughter, looking into her smiling face, holding her husband’s hand. 

Ring. 

Ring. 

She turns over, tucking the picture under the pillow, and closes her eyes. 


************************************************************


Connor hears the phone on his desk quietly chime. Absentmindedly, he puts it to his ear, still staring at the picture in his lap, and says, 

“Hello, Connor Malone speaking.”

Daddy?” The voice sends chills down his spine. She sounds sweet, innocent. 

“Who is this?” He wants the question to sound menacing, but he sounds scared, instead. 

Daddy… Daddy please - please help me. I’m so cold. Why am I here, Daddy? Why did you -” 


Connor gently sets the phone down and excuses himself from his desk. As he walks to the restroom, his ashen face elicits a few concerned glances from his co-workers, but no questions. His hands push the door open, and he ducks into a stall as it closes behind him. The numbness spreads from his feet to his neck in a prickling sensation. Once it reaches his eyes, his body turns into cotton, and he leans against the cold wall beside him, unaware of the tears dripping from his chin.


************************************************************


Walking into the still-decorated nursery, Anastasia hears the ghost of her daughter stirring in the crib. She looks into the empty blankets, and, overcome with frustration, starts tearing them apart, searching for her baby. After she finishes, her chest is heaving, her lungs are drained of air, and the fabric around her feet feels like shackles. 


************************************************************


Connor takes a deep breath and tries to compose himself. He walks to the sink, turns on the water, pumps soap into his hands, and lathers them. The iridescent bubbles climbing through his fingers bring back painful memories, but he shakes them aside. The rush of the water hums in his ears, drowning out the sound of his labored breaths.


*********************************************************


Ring.

Anastasia grabs the phone the moment it begins to shake. 

“Hello?” she says, feigning confidence. 

Mommy? Is that -” 

She slams it down, panting. Beads of sweat glisten against her brow. 

Ring. 

“Hello?” 

Mom-” 

Slam. 

Ring. 

Hello?”

Mommy, please -” 

Slam. 


************************************************************


At dinner that night, Anastasia is quiet, but her eyes are shouting to her husband for attention. Real attention. She wants to be comforted, held, assured. She is thirsty, but the man sitting across from her is an empty well. Their marriage is an empty well. 

Connor, relishing the white noise of the house creaking and the cars passing and the night swarming, fights the urge to talk to his wife. To tell her about his day and the phone call. To ask her how she’s feeling. Those conversations stopped years ago. Now, despite the desire to connect to the woman across from him, he pulls farther away. 


************************************************************


“Do you miss her?” 

The question coming from the other side of the bed is tender. Connor shifts against the sheets.

“Of course,” he rumbles. 

“I wish I could remember what happened. Maybe, if I could -” Anastasia rolls over to face her husband’s back.

“Stop,” he asserts, “Not tonight.” 

“But maybe if we saw someone new - someone better. There’s a new practice a few towns over -” 

“I said stop.” 

“Connor, I want our daughter to be alive. I want her here with us. I want to remember,” she pleads, “Don’t you want that for me? Don’t you want her to be alive?” 

“Not tonight, Anastasia. Just… not tonight.” 

You don’t even care,” she hisses, climbing out of bed and grabbing her pillow. 


Connor clenches his eyes together as the door slams. Turning over onto his back, he finds a picture in the empty space where his wife was lying - the picture from Lucy’s first birthday, intact. He hasn’t seen the whole picture in over a decade. His eyes rest on his wife, frozen in time, and he feels his lip tremble. 

“I remember,” he murmurs, “I remember everything. And you don’t deserve to know what you did. I hope the guilt swallows you.” 


************************************************************


On July 23, 1975, Connor Malone came home on his lunch break from work. He hoped a surprise, midday rendezvous with his wife and daughter would be the “pick-me-up” they all needed. 

Stepping into the kitchen, he could see the remains of what must’ve been a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich scattered across the floor and smeared into the highchair tray. He laughed to himself at Lucy’s messiness, and called upstairs to his wife. 

“Honey,” he mused, “I’m home!” 

“We’re upstairs, taking a bath,” she replied, softly. 

He raced up the steps, eager to plant kisses on their faces, and made his way down the hall, toward the bathroom. 

The floor was wet and squished under his feet as he got closer, but he paid it no mind. He assumed the bath had turned into a splash fight. Tip-toeing, he carefully rounded the corner of the doorframe, throwing his hands into the air and yelling, “Surprise!” 

The scene before his eyes made him drop to his knees. 


Nestled in the tub, his wife was stretched out with her shoulders grazing the sides and her head tilted back. She pressed a finger to her lips and said, “Shhh, she’s sleeping,” and proceeded to point to the baby girl resting on her chest. Bubbles surrounded them both and spilled onto the floor like slime, but he could see his daughter’s face through the holes. Her eyes were closed and her lips were pursed. The water lapped against her chin as his wife shifted, but she didn’t move. 

He crawled closer, slipping on the slick tile floor - she still didn’t budge. Beginning to panic, he reached into the tub. His wife swatted his hands away.

"Leave her alone!” she shouted, “She’s napping!” 

“Anastasia,” he shakily began, “Anastasia, is she breathing?” 

“Of course she is!” his wife insisted, closing her eyes again, “She’s fine.” 

The water was ice cold as his fingers sank into it. His daughter’s skin was clammy. As he turned her over, he saw a purplish bruise on her forehead. Her lips were blue. 

“What did you do!” he shouted, pulling his daughter onto the floor and trying to push the water out of her tiny chest, “What did you do to Lucy?” 

“Hmmm?” his wife purred, “What do you mean?” 

Ignoring her, Connor wrapped the limp body in towels and began to furiously rub. His wife didn’t open her eyes. 

“She’s not breathing!” he yelled, “Ana, I think she’s dead! We have to call an ambulance!” 

“Whatever you say,” she mumbled, waving her hand in his direction.

Terrified, he raced downstairs to the phone, squeezing his daughter against his chest. The cord had been cut. 

“Wake up baby,” he coaxed, “Please wake up.” 

He carried her to his car and rushed to the hospital. The baby in the passenger seat jostled, but she didn’t make a sound. 

In the driveway of the emergency room, Connor realized that if he took his dead daughter inside, his wife would go to jail.

Everyone would know she had killed Lucy. He began to tremble. 

Paralyzed by fear, he put the car in reverse, drove to the outskirts of town, and grabbed the bundle in his arms. 

“Hush little baby, don’t say a word,” he cried into her hair, “Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.” 

In the backseat, the shovel he had borrowed from his father to dig out the flowerbeds in the backyard caught his eye. 

Without a second thought, he carried his daughter, still wrapped in wet towels, into the woods with the shovel perched over his shoulder.

He walked as far as his weak knees would take him, dug a hole down to the devil himself, and buried Lucy Malone. 

Still in shock, he drove back to his house, where he found his wife folding clothes in the laundry room downstairs, whistling a song. She was fully dressed and seemed genuinely surprised to see him. 

“Connor!” she swooned, “What are you doing home so early? I don’t have anything made for lunch. Lucy made a mess. I just gave her a bath. She should be playing in her room.” 

Connor stood in front of her, eyes wide, and said, “You don’t remember?” 

“Remember what?” she asked, calling up the stairs, “Lucy! Come out! Daddy is home!” 

“You don’t remember what happened?” he asked against, his blood thickening. 

“Honey,” she said, ignoring his question, “Let me go get her. She’ll be so excited to see you.” 


He watched as his wife climbed the steps, calling for their dead daughter with each thud of her foot, and felt his heart drop. 

Anastasia screamed upon entering the empty nursery. She began to run down the hall, shouting for Lucy, growing more and more panicked. 

“Connor!” she cried, “I can’t find Lucy! I can’t - I can’t find Lucy!” 

He stood still as a statue as she raced past him and into the kitchen. 

She grabbed the useless phone and tried to dial 9/11 before realizing the cord had been cut. 

“Connor! Connor, we have to do something! I don’t know what’s going on! I think someone took her!” 

Anastasia ran into the street, screaming their daughter’s name at the top of her lungs, and Connor vomited into the sink.


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13 comments

Cricketer Amogh
12:57 Aug 24, 2020

It's a wonderful story! Please read my latest story The Secret Organisation { Part 2 }

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Sahitthian 🤗
06:52 Sep 22, 2020

It’s a wonderful story.Mysterious story.Great job keep it up.I loved this story.Keep writing. Would you mind to read my story “The dragon warrior part 2?”

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Chrissy Lemon
08:06 Aug 31, 2020

I love this soo much! Pure talent right here

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Deborah Angevin
23:30 Aug 24, 2020

Wonderfully written, Najwa! The suspense that you built throughout the story to the ending... wow! P.S: would you mind checking my recent story out, "Yellow Light"? Thank you :D

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Jesna Anna s.
11:37 Aug 24, 2020

Excellent story Najwa! Keep writing!

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Christopher G
16:57 Aug 16, 2020

What a well-developed story! The characters are immensely dimensional and the build-up to the end is carefully crafted with contoured precision to elicit the audiences' anticipation!

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Paula Martinek
22:43 Aug 08, 2020

Great story and really good at building suspense. And I liked the line he cried into her hair hush little baby don't say a word...

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Jacob Flematti
16:01 Aug 06, 2020

This a good story; I believe you have talent and skill in writing. The story is a bit obscure but that can also work in its favor. It doesn't exactly follow the prompt but it's also similar to it. Responding to your comment, it does have a tell-tale heart vibe to it, though I only got that because you mentioned it. I'm not a fan of that story or Poe's work to be honest. The phone ringing and the mysterious girl on the other end don't make sense but neither does the beating heart of the murdered man in the other tale. I wouldn't say that your...

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A.r. Eakle
14:01 Aug 04, 2020

The use of such dark imagery and pacing really built the suspense! I love that you slowly start incorporating that Connor knows more than he shows. That really, really built the conflict between him and Anastasia. And the way you have him stop at the hospital threw me off, I was not expecting that. I think my favorite line is, “dug a hole down to the devil himself.” What a dark tale. It leaves so much unanswered for Anastasia, and her trip into madness. Beautiful piece!!

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Khadija S.
09:59 Aug 01, 2020

Wow! What a terrifying take on the prompt. I have to ask, did Anastasia have schizophrenia? Was it some type of repressed post- partum induced madness? Either way, this is chillingly a work of art!

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Najwa Zandlo
12:32 Aug 01, 2020

I was honestly trying to go for a more Tell-Tale Heart vibe with the ringing phone and lingering guilt that both Connor and Anastasia feel after she kills her daughter in a moment of madness and he covers up her crime in a moment of fear. But, I don’t know if it came across that way 😂

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Khadija S.
12:54 Aug 01, 2020

It did! They both definitely shared the trait of giving out horror induced shivers!

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Joey Carroll
20:31 Jul 31, 2020

Such a twist. I fell into this story. All the turns. The great imagery. The sorrow. The grief. Dismayed at the final realization imparted on the reader of the truth. For a moment, I hated Conner for what he said to his wife. Najwa led my emotions on a roller coaster with a breathtaking finale.

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