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Science Fiction Speculative Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

Emilyn stared at the harsh green light glinting on the silver cuffs around her wrists. She knew that people sat on the other side of the mirror studying her, but what was there to see? A defeated and broken person, guilty but not of what they accused her of? One thing was for certain: she didn’t belong here.

In more ways than one.

The door opened. A tall, skinny man and a dark, stocky woman walked in, sitting across the table from her. The man consulted a file, then closed it and dropped it on the table in front of him. “Emilyn Miano?”

“That’s me,” she mumbled.

“I’m Sheriff Nazzary. I’m sure you remember Detective Sollomon?”

Detective Sollomon nodded. “We’ve met.”

“I don’t understand,” Emilyn said.

“I understand that you waived your right to an attorney, so let’s talk.” Sheriff Nazzary sat a recorder in the middle of the white table. “Do you want something before we start the interview? Coffee or water?”

“No,” Emilyn said. “I don’t understand. How could I kill a child that I don’t have?”

Detective Sollomon opened the file. “You deny that the body a construction crew found buried behind your home is that of your son, Gavin Miano?”

“I don’t know who they found buried behind my home, but it couldn’t be my son,” Emilyn said. “I had an abortion a year ago. How could I kill a child I never had?”

~*~

“Do you ever hear from Kieran?” Rayla asked.

Emilyn stared at her wine glass, trying to ignore the happy chatter in the restaurant around them. “No.”

“So that’s it?” Rayla asked. “He just packed up and left?”

“You know things were never the same after it happened,” Emilyn took a drink from her wine. “We could have been parents three months ago. Maybe that’s it.”

“You think the ghost of the child you didn’t have caused Kieran to leave?”

“Something spooked him,” Emilyn looked around again, seeing nothing but happy couples and families. The few singles at the bar chatted happily as random news and sports channels streamed on the TV screens over the bar. “All I know is that I’m thirty with nothing to show for it. Mediocre job, no man, and no family. So much for my life plan.” Emilyn raised her glass. “Here’s to adulthood. I’m an epic failure.”

“Look at it as an opportunity to start over. Find your authenticity and live your truth.”

Emilyn raised her wine glass for another drink. “It’s not like I have a choice.” She paused as her eye caught one of the news screens over the bar, showing a newscast about an infant’s body found by a construction crew. “That’s behind my apartment complex.”

Rayla turned to the screen. “You didn’t get the news alert? They’re clearing to build a new housing development and found the body of a murdered infant.”

Emilyn shuddered. “How?”

“They use backhoes and other large machinery to clear those lots,” Rayla said.

“No, I mean how did the child get murdered?” Emilyn asked. “That’s horrible. Who would do that?”

Rayla perked up. “Maybe that crime show you like so much will cover this. Wouldn’t it be a hoot to be interviewed for it? Interested neighbors solve the mystery. We could make quite a team, and I’ll bet we’d look great on camera.”

Emilyn reached for her wine glass and noticed something dark under her nails. She gently wiped them to pull away gritty dirt. Stifling a gasp, she picked up her wine glass with a shaky hand. “I’m not sure about that.”

~*~

“What do you think?” Sheriff Nazzary asked.

Detective Sollomon shrugged as she stared at the pale woman through the glass of the one-way mirror in the interrogation room. “She’s either lying or schizophrenic. She claims she had an abortion, but we have a birth certificate from the hospital for Galen Mealor with her listed as the mother.”

“She wouldn’t have consented to a DNA test or releasing her medical records if she were lying,” Sheriff Nazzary said. “She does have several symptoms of schizophrenia. She’s listless, she doesn’t exhibit much emotion, and she’s disheveled. The only time she expressed any emotion was to claim that she didn’t have a son.”

“Who’s the child’s father?” Detective Sollomon asked.

Sheriff Nazzary opened the file. “The birth certificate lists Kieran Kollner as the father.”

“Where is he? I didn’t see anything in the incident reports about the father being notified or interviewed.”

“That’s because we can’t find him,” Detective Sollomon said. “There is no Kieran Kollner listed anywhere in the state. We’re consulting national databases, but so far there have been no hits.”

Detective Sollomon sighed. “Maybe the name is an alias? He could have been hiding a double life from Emilyn. I think it’s prudent to consider the possibility that the father killed the child and fled.”

Sheriff Nazzary sighed. “Emilyn said the father left three months ago. Galen Mealor was three months old. That means Kieran Kollner left when the child was born. I suppose that is a theory to consider. Maybe we should ask her about suspicious behavior preceding his disappearance.”

“She clearly doesn’t like talking about the father,” Detective Sollomon said. “I doubt she’d cover for him, especially since she’s the one looking at a potential murder charge.”

“What about other people she knows? Other family members, friends, coworkers, or neighbors?”

Detective Sollomon shook her head. “We can’t find any family. Emilyn claims she moved here from out of state to go to college, and never went home after graduating. The construction site is in the woods behind some individual lots on a secondary street. There are lots of trees out there, so there’s no clear line of sight between houses. The neighbors we talked to remember a woman and a child living there, but nobody ever talked to them. Same with employers. She worked for an accountant downtown, but everybody claims she kept to herself. She wasn’t close to anybody.”

“What about daycare or pediatricians?”

Detective Solomon shook her head. “Gavin wasn’t registered in any daycare in town, and so far we haven’t found medical records at any pediatrician offices.”

Sheriff Nazzary slammed the folder on the table. “How can somebody live out of sight of society in the twenty-first century? It doesn’t make sense! We have a dead child that nobody reported missing, that nobody knows, and the mother denies having. This is bizarre!”

“At least she agreed to the DNA test and releasing her medical records,” Detective Solomon said. “I guess we have to wait for those and the autopsy to figure this out.”

~*~

What have I done?

Emilyn sat up in her bed, sweating. The nightmare again. The bright light, sterile room, screaming, and blood.

Did I scream?

They said she did, but she didn’t remember. All she remembered were vague shadows of lying on a table, mechanically putting on her clothes, riding home with Kieran, and collapsing in her bed. The procedure was on a Thursday and she took Friday off for “personal leave,” so she had a long weekend to recover. The sun rose and set. Her alarm clock went off on Monday morning. She got up, dressed, and went about another day. The start of a new week. Life went on.

At least the nightmares were less frequent. This was the first one in a few days. No doubt, that newscast during her birthday dinner was to blame.

Emily looked at her clock, which read 5:55 a.m. She might as well get up. She stretched and rose from her bed, but her feet didn’t take her to the bathroom. Instead, she kept going, out of the bedroom door, the hallway, the apartment door, and into the woods behind her apartment complex.

What am I doing?

She stumbled through the woods, pulling her ankles through twigs and vines. Grey light crept into the sky as she approached the clearing, outlining the shadows of the heavy work equipment. She stabilized as she came through the clearing to the area roped off with yellow caution tape. She ducked under the tape and stood at the edge of the hole.

A baby’s cry rang through the air.

“No!” Emilyn screamed, holding her hands against her ears. What was she doing? She didn’t belong here!

The sky overhead went dark again, the stars growing into large orbs that condensed into a single, white globe above her.

It will all be over soon.

Emilyn collapsed on the ground, staring at the grey sky.

“Ma’am! What are you doing? You can’t be here!”

“I think she passed out. Is she bleeding? Ma’am, are you hurt?”

“They took him away from me,” Emilyn said weakly.

Two men in hard hats bent over her. “Ma’am, what happened?”

“She’s bleeding. Was she raped?”

“I don’t know. Somebody call an ambulance!”

The light faded around the kindly faces. Emilyn reached up. “My boy,” she said and passed out.

~*~

“This is the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in my entire career, and that’s saying a lot,” Coroner Gravis said later that afternoon in Sheriff Nazzary’s office.

“What do you have?” Sheriff Nazzary asked.

“Where should I start?”

“The beginning for us was the body,” Detective Sollomon said. “Start there.”

“There’s no discernable cause of death,” Coroner Gravis said.

“What do you mean no discernable cause of death?” Sheriff Nazzary said.

“It means that pending toxicology, I have to report it as undetermined. There was nothing wrong with that child. No wounds, no disease, no trauma, nothing that should have caused Gavin Mealor to be deceased. It’s as if he was never alive. I only age him at three months based on the birth certificate because developmentally, he looks like a newborn. If toxicology comes out clean, then I can’t give you a cause of death.”

Sheriff Nazzary swore under his breath. “That’s unfortunate.”

“There’s more. The DNA proves Emilyn Mealor is his mother, but her medical records indicate that she never gave birth.”

“What?” Detective Sollomon asked. “She’s the mother, but didn’t give birth? How is that possible?”

“By the same witchcraft that made Gavin Melaor dead, I imagine,” Coroner Gravis said. “I reviewed all of the medical records. The DNA matches, but her physicals showed that she never gave birth. The hospital where Galen was born was hit with a virus that corrupted a lot of patient files, and he was one of them. We got the birth certificate, but not much more has been recovered or restored. None of the OB/GYN offices list her as a patient.” He leaned back. “I have no idea how a woman can carry a child for nine months with no apparent prenatal care, only vague records of a birth, and no follow-up visits with doctors for three months.” He sighed. “Then again, he doesn’t seem three months. That’s a newborn in my morgue, or what’s supposed to be a newborn.”

“Surrogate mother perhaps?” Sheriff Nazzary asked.

“Possibly, but Emilyn Mealor claims that she had an abortion a year ago,” Coroner Gravis said. “Of course, she denies that any documentation was kept. It would help if Kieran Kollner were here, but he doesn’t exist either. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s as if Emilyn Mealor wandered in from a parallel universe and Galen Mealor is a phantom of both worlds.”

Sheriff Nazzary leaned back. “Perhaps they are.”

~*~

“Emilyn?”

Emilyn huddled in the corner of the room, hugging her knees to her chest in the thin hospital gown.

Kieran knelt next to her. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have told you to do it. We should have been more careful. Or we should have just had him. Who knows? It might have worked out fine.”

A tear ran down Emilyn’s cheek. “It’s too broken to fix.”

“That’s not true.”

“It is! I’m not right, Kieran. I haven’t been since it happened.” She raised her hands in front of her to study them. “I’m a murderer.”

Kieran stood. “I’m sorry, Emilyn. I tried, but I can’t do this. It was your decision too, and you have to find your way. I can’t be bound by this any longer. Life moves on. That’s what this was all about. I’m sorry if you can’t move on, but I can’t stay in this place anymore. I have to go. The future is waiting, and I want to live it to the fullest.” He stood and walked out of the room.

Emilyn watched him go, tears streaming down her face.  Why try to stop him? The ultimate decision was hers. She should have known that in the end, this would be her burden to bear alone.

~*~

The cell door creaked open.

“You’re free to go,” Detective Sollomon said.

Emilyn stood on shaky legs. “I’m not guilty?”

“That’s not for me to say,” Detective Sollomon said. “We don’t have enough evidence to hold you.”

Emilyn nodded and walked out of the cell.

“Take care of yourself.”

Emilyn turned to study the stern guard who, for a moment, seemed to soften. “I’ve been living in parallel worlds based on a decision I made a year ago. I have to accept my decision and let go of the path not taken.”

Detective Sollomon smiled. “All women live parallel lives between expectation and reality. It can tear you apart. We only reconcile it by finding our truth.”

Emilyn nodded. “I know my truth. I have to forgive myself, accept my decision, and move on. Thank you, Detective Sollomon. No offence, but I hope I never see you again.”

Detective Sollomon smiled. “Go live your truth.”

Emily collected her things and stepped outside. The sun shone bright in the clear blue sky, filled with truth and mercies on this first day of life in her world.

July 26, 2022 22:02

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5 comments

Brad Heald
03:00 Sep 09, 2022

Thank you for a great story.

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T.S.A. Maiven
02:50 Aug 18, 2022

Great story. Read it a few times I enjoyed it that much!

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Lily Finch
16:27 Aug 11, 2022

Hi, Sherri, this is a parallel universe of what I would assume couples might feel if they lost a baby or in your version took care of a baby they didn't want any longer and then their mind played tricks on them but in another universe of guilt over the feelings afterward. Very clever. Great read. Thank you, LF6

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Manu Jankus
05:19 Aug 03, 2022

''A phantom of both worlds''. An impressive take on the subject, an entrancing story. Living in such parallel lives can become exhausting, and even fatal at times, as your story demonstrates.

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Michał Przywara
21:50 Aug 01, 2022

That's an interesting take on the prompt! Some events in our lives are so dramatic, so impactful, that they break us. We get stuck between what happened and what could have been, and abortion/giving birth can be such an event. In this story, it seems to have much more of an impact, to the point that it affects other people. The manifestation of Emily's pain and struggle is strong. Considering what she's initially accused of - murdering a child she didn't even have - there's some supernatural horror elements here. Doubly so, given that she ...

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