Read Part One – Awakening
Four Years Ago…
There was a perfect family that lived in the house on the corner lot. The Stephensons. The wife was young and beautiful, with a tiny waist and a huge shiny smile, adorned with a gorgeous wedding ring that always glinted in the sun. The husband was handsome and broad-shouldered. He liked to swoop his wife in the air in the front yard and swing her in his arms as though she were weightless. Her musical laughter could be heard throughout the neighborhood. People always stopped and smiled. Zadie and Robert, they thought to themselves enviously, what a couple! Their son, Noah, was their pride and joy. So young, but such ambition! And so smart. Gorgeous, just like his father with his mother’s bright smile.
It was a placid Saturday afternoon. Zadie was lying on a lounger in the backyard, sipping lemon water as she read Town and Country. Her lips left a perfect red stain on the straw. Robert and Noah were playing catch. Noah had to perfect his spiral if he wanted to make varsity in the fall.
“Noah!” Zadie called across the yard. “Did you finish your chores?”
“All of them?” Zadie pressed. Noah sighed heavily, and he and his father exchanged a knowing smile. Women, they both seemed to be thinking as they smiled at each other.
“No, mom. I’ll do my last one.”
“Thank you, dear.”
Noah dropped the football on the brilliant green grass and ran inside. He prepared a quick lunch, a sandwich, fruit and lemonade, and arranged the items on a tray, then grabbed the key from the desk in the front hallway. He ran down the back stairs to the basement, then unlocked another door. A heavy, dark door, that opened with a loud creak. There was a girl sitting against a bare mattress pressed against the far wall. She was sickly and pale, but strangely beautiful, in an alien, other-worldly sort of way. Her belly swelled in front of her. There was an angry, red laceration on her cheek, evidence of her last escape attempt, crawling through a broken basement window. The shattered glass tore at her skin. Noah set the plate in front of her in silence and turned to leave.
“Noah?” She whispered.
He turned, reluctantly. It hurt to look at her. “Yeah, Grace?”
“Do you think I can come out today?”
“I’m not sure, Grace. I’ll ask Mom and Dad.”
Noah’s shoulders drooped as he locked the door behind him. He’d stopped asking long ago. Their answer had always been no.
He needn’t have worried. It was the screaming that undid them. The horrid, chilling, blood-curdling cries of suffering. A passerby, just someone on an evening stroll with their dog, heard the sounds and called the police.
Robert swore that the screaming wasn’t coming from their home, that it must be someone next door, someone outside, but the officers were persistent. They followed the noise, down the dark hallway and the dark steps, through the cobwebbed door, the sounds getting louder and louder. They banged down the door, and there she was. Or there they were. There was Grace, Robert’s and Zadie’s oldest child. Lying on a blood-soaked mattress, holding a very small newborn infant.
Robert was taken away immediately. Grace and the baby to the hospital. Zadie and Noah to the police station for questioning. Zadie, an adept liar, made up an elaborate story of torture and abuse at the hands of her husband, rendering her too fearful to rescue her poor, defenseless daughter from the hands of her monstrous husband. Noah refused to talk to the police, but quickly moved across the country to live with relatives. He never spoke to his parents again.
Grace was sent to a facility for long-term treatment. Robert was convicted of false imprisonment, rape, and a host of other perversions, sentenced to decades behind bars. That left Zadie. And the baby, a girl. Named Elly. Zadie, again, an adept liar, used her skills of persuasion to gain custody. When the social worker placed her in her arms, the baby cooed.
“I’m going to get things right with you, I promise,” she told her.
Read Part 3 – Elly