I wake to the sound of crying. It’s soft, coming from elsewhere in the house. I look at Ivan. He’s still asleep, his face relaxed. I’m glad the crying hasn’t woken him— Ivan is a real grump when he gets woken up.
Carefully, I work my way out from under the tangle of covers, gently release Ivan’s leg from mine, and get up. I check the clock. 3:33.
Stepping out into the hall, I close the door gently behind me. It’s dark, gray and shadow mixing into a murky background of unknown. At the end of the hall, the nursery door is open, the nightlight spilling out into the hall. I can hear the crying better now.
I rub the sleep from my eyes as I walk down the hall. Looking up, I see a shadow fleet across the nursery door. I stop walking, focusing on watching, listening. I see no more movement. The only other noise I hear is the baby crying.
You’re just tired. I continue down the hall, slower now, more cautious.
There it is again. I’m sure of it this time, it was definitely a shadow.
I’m only a foot away from the nursery door. Stopping again, I hold my breath, hoping to be able to hear something other than the baby crying. Nothing.
But I know I saw it that time. There has to be somebody in there.
Breathing again, I take another step.
The crying stops.
The house is still and utterly silent. I can’t hear anything but my own heartbeat, going far faster than it should at this hour. There is not an intake of breath, not the softest rustle of covers, not even a mouse padding the floor. It’s silent, more than silent, like the house itself is waiting for something.
Bracing myself, I turn quickly into the open doorway.
The room is empty, save for the cradle in the middle. The walls are a blank white, the window drapes pulled shut. There is not a single painting, not a mirror, not even a scratch on the wall. Even the outlets are empty, except for the nightlight in the opposite corner. But the cradle, and what’s inside it, is enough to stop me in my tracks.
I forget about the shadow, about any fear I may have had about a stranger in the house. I even forget briefly how to breathe, and when I regain the knowledge, the air tastes bitter and metallic. Fighting the urge to vomit, I stare at the thing in the middle of the room, not able to scream or cry or even move, stunned into stillness.
In the crib sits a mass— that’s the best way I can describe it. It is dark red, and appears to be made of something resembling meat. It doesn’t move, just sits there, a small blob emanating an air of violence.
Extending out from the center of the thing are what seem like arms, five of them, all latched on to the sides of the crib. They are long and sinewy, the same dark red color as the body, and they do not have fingers. Rather, each comes to an end in a point sharper than any knife in my kitchen, sticking right through the wood of the crib.
Blood begins to drip from the end of the thing’s appendages, pooling onto the floor below. A voice booms, having no discernable source but seeming to come from all around. “Repent,” it growls, its deep tone ringing in my ears as I stand frozen. Finally, my stupor lifts, and I do the only thing I can think of.
Not a small, timid scream, but a blood curdling thing, guttural, coming from deep in my body. It fills the air and reverberates through the house, ringing in my ears. As the sound begins to fade, I hear Ivan rushing out of the bedroom door.
“Nico! What’s going on?”
I don’t reply. His footsteps pound down the hall, racing toward me. I stay facing forward, watching the monstrosity in the crib, the pool of blood that continues to grow on the floor.
Ivan is behind me now. I can hear his breath, ragged and short. “Babe? What’s going on?”
He spins me around until I’m staring into his eyes.
The words seem to be stuck in my throat, almost impossible to get out, so I don’t try. I crumple into him, letting his arms tighten around me. His embrace comforts me, and my heart begins to slow. But I remember the baby, and try to speak with a renewed sense of urgency.
“The… baby… blood,” I manage to choke out.
I look into his eyes, seeing fear that matches mine.
“In the crib. I think it took the baby— It said repent— I don’t know what it is— What is that supposed to mean?”
Ivan stares at me for a long moment, not speaking. When he finally does reply, his voice is soft and gentle. “Nico,” he says slowly, “we don’t have a crib. And we certainly don’t have a baby.”
My terror grows even stronger. I spin around again, facing the room.
A desk against the far wall, littered with pens. Bookshelves full of fiction and reference books. A cluttered table in the center, covered with loose papers and candy wrappers. No crib. No baby. No blood.
“We don’t have a baby,” I whisper, before falling to my knees and vomiting on the carpet.