I wrap her tiny body in my arms. A snot bubble around her nose bursts as she sneezes gently into my sleeve. I bundle her up in her sleeper and place her in her crib. She fusses when I set her down, but within a few minutes, she relaxes into a slow, rhythmic breathing.
Standing over the crib, I smile. It’s been a long day filled with baby boogies, watery eyes, and sick crying. I haven’t been able to calm her all day, but these quiet moments where I can just watch my beautiful baby girl are worth it. The butterflies in my heart beat their wings enthusiastically as I think about my sweet love. My Zoey.
I lean over and give her one final kiss before retreating to bed. She smells of innocence. I breathe it in deeply, holding onto this moment as long as possible.
As my lips part from Zoey’s warm skin, I raise my eyes, completely in a mommy daze, and think I see something lurking in the darkened corner by the crib. It stares at Zoey.
Startled, I fall backward, but catch myself before falling on my back. When I look back up, the thing is gone.
Instinctively, I rush back to Zoey’s crib and look down on her. She sleeps, undisturbed.
It looked like the silhouette of a woman. But that’s impossible. The house is locked up. And no one was here when I turned on the lights to change Zoey’s diaper.
I stare into the blackness beyond the crib. On the wall hangs a cartoonish picture of a tiny bird. Nothing else.
I’m tired. I just imagined it.
Shaking my head in an attempt to clear it, I take one last look at Zoey, blow her a kiss, and whisper, “I love you, My Zoey.”
I examine the area behind her crib, and once I’m assured there is nothing and no one there, I walk back to my room and get ready for bed.
As I brush my teeth, I hear a bang, followed by the sound of something rolling on the wood floor.
I tense up.
It sounds like it came from the other side of the hall.
I throw my toothbrush down and scramble to Zoey’s room.
A light spits out of the crack between the floor and the door.
It’s too bright to be her night light.
My pulse pounds in my ears. It’s hard to hear anything else, but I forget my own fear and throw the door open.
I need to get to Zoey.
Zoey stands in her crib. Her back facing me. Not a sound.
As I run to her, my foot smashes into something hard and I fall down. A small plastic ball rolls around in front of me.
I could have sworn I just put that away in her closet.
As I have this thought, my eyes slowly wander up the side of the wall toward the direction Zoey is facing.
A woman floats in the air, illuminating the room.
Her dark night gown flows as though there’s a breeze in the house. Her long, straight hair is swept to one side, revealing a darkened smudge on her temple.
She stares at Zoey. Lingering in the middle distance, untethered to the earth. Completely quiet.
Until she turns her attention on me. That’s when she shrieks. Her mouth hangs open like a pit leading nowhere.
The sound is wrenching. It makes every hair on my body stand up. Goosebumps explode off my skin.
Within an instant, she is levitating an inch from my face. The shrieking has stopped, but this new silence is not pleasant. It penetrates, invades my soul. I feel like my insides are screaming.
Her head sways back and forth as she eyes me. In life, she may have been beautiful, but she’s been twisted into something grotesque. The smudge on her temple drips with phantom blood, landing on her hollow cheek.
And the eyes, the ones now studying me, are like two fresh wounds from a knife, barely slits on her skin.
“She is mine. My Zoey,” she says in a hushed tone.
My eyes dart past this thing and stare at Zoey.
My baby girl faces us now and smiles. Her hands reaching out toward this woman.
I lose it!
“She’s mine! Leave us alone!” I scream.
The woman doesn’t flinch.
“My Zoey,” she caws.
Mustering my courage, I run through this specter, cradle Zoey in my arms, and fly through the bedroom door.
“It’s okay, Zoey. We’ll be okay,” I say as we run.
But where should we go?
I descend the stairs and burst through the kitchen door. Frantically, I search the counter for my keys.
I hear a noise behind me, but I don’t look. I know she’s coming.
I carry Zoey in my arms as I make my way into the garage. There’s no time to put her in a car seat, so I gently place her on the floor of the passenger seat.
Her wails increase along with my panic.
I ignite the engine and push the garage door opener at the same time.
It sloths its way up. Slower than I could have ever imagined.
Come on, come on.
A voice screeches in front of me. I know I shouldn’t look, but I can’t help it.
My eyes meet those eye slits of the woman. They seem to rip open, exposing shiny black marble eyes. Her eyes bulge larger and larger as she screams.
Without looking to see whether the door is open yet, I throw the car in reverse and shoot out of the garage.
The passenger side mirror breaks off as I clip the side of the door frame.
The woman chases us through the air.
As I enter the street, I punch the car into drive and speed away from the house.
20, 40, 60 miles per hour.
I zip through the small suburban neighborhood.
The woman somehow keeps up with us as I maneuver us away as quickly as possible.
Finally, I get to a main highway and turn sharply onto the road, barely missing a pick-up truck in the lane next to me. The driver blares his horn.
My eyes scan the rearview mirror. I don’t see anyone behind us, but I don’t take my foot off the gas.
I know I shouldn’t be driving like this, but I have to get us away. As I drive, Zoey cries on the floor next to me.
“Everything’s okay, baby. Don’t cry. We will be okay.”
She looks at me and screams some more.
I begin to cry too. I just want her to be safe and happy, but I’m failing.
I look again in the mirror and twist my head in all directions.
The woman seems to be gone.
But will she be back? Will she come for Zoey?
I won’t let her have her!
I keep driving until my eyes are sore from exhaustion. Zoey is asleep again, her face matted with streaks of tears and snot.
I pull into a small motel and park in the entrance.
I lean over and give Zoey a big kiss on her cheek. Then I head into the office to see whether they have any vacancies. It’s only then that I realize I don’t have my wallet or my phone.
Panicking, I try to think of a solution. Then an option pops in my head.
So, I get back into my car and park around the back of the building. It’s dark and quiet. I walk around to the trunk and pop it open. The light on the door illuminates the space.
The woman stares back at me! Blood matted on her skull, just like the ghost. But her eyes are not the tiny slits of the specter. They’re much more humanlike, yet lifeless.
Her purse sits next to her body.
Picking it up, I find cash and pocket it. Then out of curiosity, I rifle through her purse. I find a small picture secured in front of a credit card. Pulling it out, I stare at it and smile. I tear it in half, throwing the half with the woman’s face back into the trunk. The little girl’s face in my hand smiles back at me with trusting eyes.