Sondra uttered curses under her breath as she fiddled with the key chain in the dark hallway. She’d locked the door to Ashley’s room after catching her red-handed trying to leave the house in the middle of the night. Her little girl was the adventurous type, but she wasn’t allowed to go outside, especially in the middle of the night, without her mommy. She thanked her lucky stars she’s set the top chain into place. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have caught Ashley dragging the chair across the living room. Sondra was furious but instead of screaming and yelling at her daughter, she simply ushered her back into her bedroom and locked her in for the night.
Sondra’s migraines were progressively getting worse. Normal medicine wasn’t working anymore. The nose bleeds and the loss of time were getting worse too. She considered going to a doctor but quickly dismissed the idea from her mind. Doctors were no good hoodlums with fancy degrees who only made the problem worse. Dan had always told her she needed to go see one. Fuck Dan.
She unlocked the door and peeked inside. Ashley was curled up into a ball and snuggling with the stuffed monkey she’d gotten from the county fair.
Dan won it, she remembered. A foul taste filled her mouth. The thought of her dead beat husband brought on a new wave of pain from the back of her skull and to right behind her eyelids.
Until death do us part, she thought callously. The phrase enraged her. She never deserved the abandonment. It wasn’t her fault. She almost started to cry then pushed the thoughts from her mind. She didn’t want to wake Ashley. The poor girl hadn’t been sleeping.
Sondra approached the bed, walking slowly and carefully. She smiled at her little angel and ran her fingers through Ashely’s hair. The girl stirred restlessly and adjusted her position. Sondra’s heart melted at the sight of her little angel until the stench of urine and feces assaulted her nose. Sondra tossed the comforter off the sleep girl and gasped when she saw the bed covered in human excrement.
“What have you done!” Sondra screamed. Ashley’s eyes shot open. She jumped out of the bed and retreated into the corner wide eyed with terror. She trembled as tears streamed down her pale greasy face. Her long blonde hair was wild and in knots making the child appear savage.
“What have you done!” Sondra screamed again and yanked the filth covered sheet from the bed. She pegged Ashley with the sheet.
“I want my mommy!” Ashley screeched throwing the sheet to the floor and attempting to run out of the corner. Sondra grabbed the child and wrapped her arms around her in a hug.
“I’m your mommy,” Sondra whispered into Ashley’s ear.
“No, you aren’t!” Ashley shouted back and struggled to escape Sondra’ grasp.
“Stop saying that! You sound like your father!”
Sondra grabbed a handful of her daughter’s hair and dragged her down the hallway into the bathroom. The young girl screamed and slapped but there was little strength left in her to fight.
Sondra ran the water and filled the bath tub. She attempted to undress the child but Ashley wouldn’t allow it.
Fed up with the whole debacle, Sondra picked her up and placed her into the tub with her clothes on. Ashley screamed the second her feet entered the water.
“It’s too hot!” Ashley pleaded and fought to get out.
“Too dirty…you’re too dirty,” Sondra repeated as she pushed her back into the water. Sondra turned the water onto the cold setting and let it fill. Ashley stopped struggling once the water cooled down and quieted. She sobbed and resigned herself to her shower.
The pressure in Sondra’s head intensified with all the struggle. It felt like her eyes would eject from her skull at any moment.
A sense of familiarity overcame her. She couldn’t get a grasp on her thoughts as to why. Was it déjà vu? She closed her eyes and placed her head onto the side of the tub. The porcelain felt cool against the skin of her forehead. She closed her eyes to clear her thoughts. The headache subsided a bit. The pressure lessened.
Then Ashley hit her with the shampoo bottle.
It bounced off Sondra’s skull pressing her head against the hard surface. The bottle tumbled out of Ashley’s hands and splashed as it hit the water. A lightning bolt of pain crackled across Sondra’s head. A popping noise filled her eyes and ringing filled her ears. It drowned out the sound of the water coming down from the tub. It muted Ashley’s cries. A trickle of blood dripped out of her nose. Her vision went red. Searing hot, white pain jolted her out of her stupor and into a frenzy.
She seized Ashley by the hair and slammed her head into the side of the tub, knocking her unconscious. She slumped down into the water and did not move. Sondra gasped and trembled at the realization of what she’d done. She lifted Ashley out of the water and sat her up. She shook the girl and called her name trying to wake her up.
The phone rang but Sondra ignored it.
“Ashley, wake up! Wake up!” Sondra yelled at the girl. Ashley was out cold. The phone continued to ring. It wouldn’t stop. The sound of the ringing phone was like a jackhammer punching into her cranium. Sondra walked out of the bathroom and answered the phone.
“Sondra,” the voice on the end of the line said.
It was Dan.
“Dan?” she asked.
“I’m thinking steak and potatoes tonight for dinner,” Dan stated. It had been twenty years since he’d walked out the door and never returned.
“I made chicken with pasta,” Sondra replied dumbfounded.
“Put it away and make me steak and potatoes,” Dan commanded.
“When are you coming home?” Sondra asked.
“Normal time. I better get my steak,” Dan replied and then the line went dead.
Sondra found herself staring at the call timer, not realizing how long she’d been standing there with the phone to her ear after Dan had hung up on her. The busy tone blared into her ears. She hung up the phone and decided she needed to get some rest.
She saw the bathroom light was on and went down the hall to turn it off. She went to flip the switch and saw an arm hanging out of her bathtub. Her body went cold. She darted inside and discovered a young blonde girl face down in the water.
In a panic, she scooped her from the water and wrapped her in a towel. She tried to resuscitate the child, found there was nothing she could do, and stopped. She cried for the mysterious child in her bathtub and then her thoughts went to her own daughter.
“Where is Ashley?” she thought. She ran from the bathroom into Ashley’s bedroom and found the room was in shambles. The room stank of feces and urine. A threadbare stuffed monkey with missing eyes faced her. A filthy sheet laid in the corner. Ashley wasn’t there.
Dan…Dan, must have taken her!She scrambled back down the hall to her phone again and dialed his number. A machine told her the number wasn’t in service anymore. This certainly wasn’t true. This was another one of his tricks to avoid her. She dialed the number three more times and the machine repeated the message. Sondra slammed the phone onto the receiver in frustration and then lifted it to her ear again ready to dial.
“Sondra,” Dan said as she placed the phone against her ear.
“Where the Hell is she you son of a bitch?” Sondra demanded.
“Sondra, did you make the steak?” Dan asked ignoring her.
“Where the fuck is my daughter?”
“I’ll take that as a no,” he replied.
“Tell me where she is, damn it!”
“Sondra, calm down. You’ve done it again, haven’t you?” Dan asked.
“Done what? You put this girl here! Why would you think you could trick me? This isn’t my little girl! Give her back”
“You stupid bitch, check the basement, and take your little girl with you,” Dan directed.
The phone clicked off. The line went dead and the sound of the busy tone filled the home. She slammed it on the cradle, went into the bathroom, and picked up the girl from the floor. Blood dripped from a wound on her head. A trail of it went from the bathroom to the basement door.
Sondra opened the door and went down the creaking stairs. She placed the child on the floor and pulled on the chain affixed to the light switch in the basement. Four small mounds came into view in the corner of the basement. A fifth larger mound lay furthest from where Sondra stood.
Sondra cried out in terror.
“You know what you need to do,” Dan’s voice spoke from the largest mound. A familiarity overcame Sondra once more but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. She followed her instinct and got to work.
Sondra pulled a dirty shovel from inside the closet. She plunged the shovel into the dirt next to the other mounds and got to work.
As the sun rose in the morning, Sondra finished packing the dirt atop the freshest mound. She closed the curtains of the bedroom and put her head on the pillow. Her head wasn’t hurting anymore. In fact, she was excited to bring Ashley to the park later on in the day.
Her little girl always loved going to the park.