*Trigger Warning* Disturbing subject matter (pregnancy)

The spotlight drew enough attention without flashing lights to alarm folks. They were going forty in a sixty-five zone and people passed the cruiser like it had a flat in the Indy 500. The brake lights and screeching tires when people realized they’d bombed past the fuzz provided Deputy Blake and Deputy Taylor with needed entertainment.

They’d made two passes for each side of the old highway and no girl with black hair, mid-twenties, or teens, depending on the caller, had turned up. Taylor turned off the spotlight and held his hands over the heater vent.

“The calls were probably kids distracting us so they can play Vin Diesel up Mill Road,” Blake muttered.  

Taylor nodded and rolled up the window.

“Let’s head that way so nobody dies.”

Blake steered wide to flip around on a dirt road. He stomped the brake at the flash of pale arm with dark hair appeared in the headlights. Taylor braced on the dash with his mouth hanging open as the figure zipped into the trees.

“Holy shit. Tell dispatch, it’s Bride of the Rake.”

Blake flipped on the flashing lights, pulling forward with his flashlight hanging out the window. He feared she was more prey than predator when he saw footprints with toes.   

Feet rustled through the dry underbrush. They swept their flashlights toward the sound with Blake covering his sidearm in case Taylor had a point. The rustling stopped. Blake shuffled closer and saw long, skinny fingers disappear behind an old elm. He raised his flashlight to blind her if she made a run at them. Taylor lowered his beam and raised a flared hand.

“Hon, we’re with the Sheriff’s Department. We just want to make sure you’re safe. Come on out.”

Taylor’s voice was more soothing than some hostage negotiators. It drew out a trembling toothpick of a girl. Her stringy hair had seen a day or so without a brush. Her shirt was dirt streaked over jeans caked in dried mud that reeked like pig shit. Blake wrapped it around her anyway. Taylor coaxed a name and address out of her on the way to the hospital.

Her clothes were the only evidence to bag. Dr. Clemons agreed the mud was livestock waste and not human sewage. They were a normal fit for her tiny body. He noted it didn’t appear she’d been underfed for an extended time despite her bony appearance. They sat in the waiting area; Taylor typing the report on the laptop while Blake quietly dictated the drugs she tested negative for. She had no injuries except cuts on her feet. Dr. Otis, an OB/GYN was called in. She reported no signs of an assault. Physically, the girl was fine.

Dr. Clemons had a psychiatry PhD, but was board certified for internal medicine. He signed off on a seventy-two-hour hold without making them wait two hours for a real psychiatric consult in these parts. His preliminary assessment was she was very confused. Blake looked back through his notes and couldn’t refute that opinion.

She had no identification but called herself Cora Isaacs. Harry and Evie Isaacs lived at the address she gave. Blake knew their two sons, but no girls. He knew no girl in town he’d pick out as their daughter. Her unfazed nod confirmed the birthdate she gave made her five years old. She said Lake Erie sucked her shoes off but didn’t think she’d walked eight hundred miles. She said she left home to see Homer Simpson’s couch at the museum. She hadn’t been to a hog farm but had seen a fuzzy hog at a fairy’s house. Mentally fine was dubious.

Taylor stopped typing and jerked his chin toward the ER entrance. Judah Isaacs leaned over the admissions desk wearing green scrubs and a stethoscope around his neck. Evie announced it all over town when Judah was accepted to med school. He appeared to have finished without fanfare. The clerk gave Blake and Taylor a fleeting glance. Judah waited a few seconds before giving them a nonchalant eyeball. Taylor was zipping the laptop bag as Judah approached the waiting area. He greeted them with a lopsided smile and scrunched nose of confusion.

“Who is Cora Isaacs? I know this sounds callous, but she’s an ace shy of a royal flush.”

Taylor’s narrowed eyes studied young Dr. Isaacs’ face.

“Is that a medical opinion?”

Judah’s smile dropped to an acerbic curl of his lip.

“Learning disabled. She insists she’s five, but physically she’s more like sixteen. I don’t know what else I can tell you without a court order. I can say she is not my sister.”

Dr. Clemons came out of the triage area. He nodded to Judah and the deputies, then headed to the elevator without a word. Judah’s nonplussed sigh said he didn’t appreciate being left to deal with them. Blake was satisfied with Dr. Isaacs showing them to Cora’s room. Her psychiatric profile was bumped down his priority list. Judah Isaacs’ savvy sneer put him at number one.

Cora’s expression was indifferent when Taylor and Blake came in. Her reaction to Judah wasn’t any stronger. Taylor rolled the doctor’s stool to the bedside and plopped down with his notebook in hand. Cora didn’t seem put off, but his opinion of Dr. Isaacs was subtle as an ox. Judah pulled the blanket over her legs. Blake observed his long slim fingers tucking the blanket around her waist before sitting next to her. Blake noted Judah’s indignant eyebrows glaring at him, but also that he posed for comparison without being asked or ordered to.

Cora’s hair was ruler straight. Judah’s was several shades lighter and wavy. Her ears laid closer to her head. His lips were fuller than Cora’s thin smile. They both had deep-set, hooded, brown as iced tea steeped too long in the sun color eyes.

Cora answered Taylor’s questions without looking to Judah for the answers. From her age on up to fairies, her story didn’t sway. Blake could only shrug. Judah was scratching his head just as often. Taylor used his comforting voice like she was really a five-year-old.

“They have Homer’s couch at the museum,” Cora said, with her head shrinking shyly into her shoulders.

Judah’s eyes sparked with recognition.

“The Simpsons display at the Smithsonian? That’s in Washington D.C., Cora. You would have to walk a thousand miles to get there.”

Cora’s lips hovered open. She put on a pout with shoulders slacking with disappointment.

“I just wanted to see if it was real.”

Blake couldn’t say how far away the Great Lakes were. Cora’s world had hauntingly distorted scale. Her answers called up images of girl-in-a-box cases that made Blake shiver. Judah was on the clock with no need to be there. Tending to the health concerns of a girl secretly raised in the attic or basement could have sparked Judah’s interest in medicine. It was possible Evie got suspiciously knocked up and Harry had reason to keep that hushed. Though, Evie had worked at the county treasurer’s office since the boys were little. Hiding a pregnancy from her husband, the boys, and an office full of women seemed flimsy. There were no outward giveaways like a cleft chin prove to prove Cora was related. There was no evidence being locked in a secret dungeon in the Isaacs home caused her pallor, gauntness, and mental state. Her information was foggy, outlandish, or made no sense. Picking Harry as her father and giving the address from rote was hard to write off as random. Blake asked to be shown to a restroom to relieve his sudden urge to hear Cora’s story without Judah hovering at her side.

“The fairies had one fuzzy hog?” Taylor asked with a skeptical chin drop. “It wasn’t a farm with a bunch of ‘em?”

“Just one,” Cora said. “They had a bunch of wheels for their wagon.”

Blake let the leading question slide given the reliability of the answer. Judah was

“You gonna call your folks?” Blake asked.

Judah leaned against the wall outside the bathroom with a defensive wrinkle carving his forehead.

“Do you expect me not to?

Blake propped himself on the door jamb, eyeing Judah for height and body type comparison. He dropped his head to the side with a well-practiced, unblinking stare.

“You think your mom may have had some male bonding or your dad have a lady friend?”

Judah’s expression darkened. Blake pushed back the tunnel forming in his view of the case. Pissed off wasn’t proof.

“Swab my cheek for a two for one genetic profile.” He glanced at the nurse’s station for eavesdroppers. “Results aren’t instant. I can’t rule my family out as creepers in piss or dump time. Look for other leads because that girl is not my sister.”

Gawking at the countryside for whatever could be mistaken for Lake Erie was more a straw than a lead. Taylor’s confidence a skewed reality was masked in Cora’s fantasy world sagged the wider their search area grew. Blake speculated she was given the Issacs’ address and abandoned by someone aware she was vulnerable to suggestion. She could be telling them exactly where she lost her shoes. Taylor suddenly snapped to attention and tapped his window repeating ‘go back.’ Blake turned back to see what he was hyped about.

Wagon wheels of ranging size decorated the fence surrounding the meticulously groomed yard. An old Newfoundland laying on the front porch barely lifted an ear as they drove in. The raised porch gave them a better view of the yard. Blake was mid knock when Taylor pointed out the tiny, pebble paved walk leading to a wee door at the base of an oak. Blake wrote a note on the back of a card when nobody answered. Taylor answered a phone call while Blake balanced the card in the door wreath. Taylor spoke loud enough the fairies may have overheard Judah Isaacs wanted to meet up and talk. Blake crouched by the dog to give him ear scritches and ask if he’d noticed any pigs or kids around the fairy house recently. The dog lifted his head, swinging the shiny bone hanging from his collar that read ‘Boss Hog.’  Blake took his card back before heading for the car.

Blake had never met a witness in a parking lot before. Taylor bet there was a deep conspiracy surrounding Cora Isaacs. Blake bet on a deep family embarrassment. Judah held the steering wheel of his parked car like they were doing ninety with failing brakes.

“This sounds bizarre, but I think Clemons is covering up some sort of plot.”

Blake wasn’t going to let Taylor claim victory without more proof. Judah took an envelope from under his seat. The smug grin in the rearview mirror was hard to miss. Judah raked his fingers through his hair.

Blake examined copies of forms with Taylor’s breath on his ear. Clemons signed two different authorization forms for Cora’s transfer to the state psychiatric hospital. It was sad, but Blake didn’t see the problem.

“I called the state hospital for a time they were coming for her. Their clerk said they hadn’t heard of Cora. I emailed the forms. Her response has me worried Cora is about to disappear.”

 The admissions clerk emailed about Cora’s social security number not matching her name and birthdate. She was a minor without a guardian. Her insurance information was false. Blake looked back at the second transfer authorization. The second email requested court documentation assigning guardianship to Leann Otis.

“I let Clemons know about the paperwork issue. Lisa in admissions gave me this. I had Mom check with the court clerk and none of that has been filed. Nobody at the courthouse has heard of Cora. The state hospital staff wouldn’t know Dr. Otis is Clemons’ wife. Lisa didn’t shred this because she knew it was weird.”  

Blake flipped through he papers. It would be easy to prove Judge Hanson’s signature was a forgery. The reason to search the Otis-Clemons house was Pat Wells. He was district court clerk until he dropped dead last year. Though he seemed to have notarized Leann Otis’ signature on Saturday. Blake could talk Judge Hanson into adding secret rooms and size two jeans to a warrant for the notary stamp.

Nobody ever took a search warrant with a smile. Dr. Leann Otis read the warrant like it was a thoughtful birthday card. She invited Blake and Taylor to talk in the dining room while the others searched the house. They pulled out chairs to sit. Dr. Otis pulled her chair off the rug. She rolled it to the table leg with a couple of kicks. The panel was cut with surgical precision to match the seams in the floorboards. She flipped the latch with the point of her shoe.

“If you wanted to make a couple calls, now would be the time,” Taylor advised.

She rested the door against the table with her chin held high.

“This will be cleared up when you see our accomplishment. We are going to help so many.”

Blake radioed their location before following her down the steps. The room below was what they expected to find. Cora’s world was a tv, bed, and shelf of DVDs of every available season of The Simpsons. There was no computer so how she discovered the rest was unclear.

There was another door in the back of the room. Dr. Otis took a key from her pocket. Clunks, hisses, and beeps sounded as she walked inside. Blake let Taylor hang back and went in first.

A respirator hissed, pumping air into the shell of a person lying in the bed. A heart bypass machine clunked, circulating blood for a heart that couldn’t. A monitor beeped under a capsule shaped tank encased in black cloth. The hair stood up on Blake’s neck. Dr. Otis looked proudly at whatever she thought she’d achieved.

“Some women are desperate for a child and can’t carry a baby to term or even get pregnant. Too many get pregnant without meaning it. I help every patient whatever their needs.”

A tube connected the artificially functioning corpse to the tank. Blake saw the wires coming out of the top that connected to the beeping monitor. He heard the footsteps above but was too overwhelmed by what he was seeing to move. Taylor radioed the other deputies to keep people out of the scene.

“Some women are too young or too old for a child. What breaks my heart is the hopeful who need only a few more weeks their bodies can’t give. Cora’s mother could physically carry her to term but had her own reasons not to. She probably doesn’t know how she’s helped the hopeful. With Cora, we took the age of viability from 27 weeks to 22.”  

Blake looked around the macabre biology lab ready to put Otis in cuffs. If he understood right, Cora was freely given and never the victim of a kidnapping. Raising her next to this felt more criminal than locking her out of the light of day. Dr. Otis caressed the hair of the woman on the bed. Her loving gaze turned his marrow to ice as he imagined an unexpected pregnancy transplanted to the undead body with the hope of outsmarting nature.

“We moved Claire in after her first stroke. Her second was the day before a young lady was to terminate at twenty weeks. The machines are old, but they keep Claire the ideal host. Mother didn’t know the difference between human and wood ash.”

Barbs rolled in Blake’s guts with acid coating his tongue. His mind fogged as Leann explained grafting her sister’s veins and arteries to an umbilical cord. Injecting her with the proper levels of HGH, IGH-2 and other strings of letters were lost as his mind stopped at using her dead sister for her experiment.

“We changed the levels of growth hormone and Cora was developed to term at 29 weeks. We were excited to see if she would make it that long. We didn’t anticipate the extreme the factors would continue to speed her growth. We learned from that impatience. Cora will understand she is forever a success in our hearts.”   

Blake’s mind was shocked back to life when Otis lifted the cloth. It wasn’t some substitute heart. A developing fetus floated inside the hazy, gelatinous pockets of the artificial amniotic sac. It twitched and kicked to escape the light. She dropped the cloth to put it back in the dark.

“Charlie is growing at the normal rate. Incubators will be replaced with artificial gestation. The hopeful who leave the maternity ward in despair today will leave with fully developed, healthy babies someday soon. We know now we can’t rush it.”

Taylor turned and walked out. Deputy Blake’s eyes were fixed on the cloth. He didn’t know what he could charge Otis with. He didn’t know if she would face prison or an ethics board. He backed slowly to the door to find out who knew if they should call the state troopers, the FBI, or alert the Pentagon about this situation. He couldn’t remember what was on the warrant to begin with. Blake took in the box Cora had been packed in and folded like he’d taken a gut jab. The last item was jeans for a skinny five-year-old a doctor mistook for sixteen.

Taylor started with the state police. Blake hadn’t noticed his phone ring but dialed his voicemail out of routine; not because he was prepared to deal with anything. He held the phone to his ear and listened to the quivering words left by Judah Isaacs.      

“I don’t know how to make sense of this. The test says there’s a 98.9% chance Cora’s my sister.”

October 29, 2021 01:56

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.