The Darkest Day.
Sophie sang a little song as she folded the Bounce softener scented tee shirts and shorts Hannah wore to stay cool on these awful hot Louisiana afternoons. She enjoyed doing this for her granddaughter, not relegating it to the household help.
Hannah hadn’t made a peep in the last half hour, even though naptime should be over by now. It was after five o’clock, already pretty dark. Hannah was always up before it got dark.
With all the viruses circulating, it would not be much of a birthday celebration if Hannah got sick now.
There was that two-year old from Leesburg who supposedly got sick and died the next day, that was about six months ago. The facts weren’t very clear. There were other ominous notices for children Hannah’s age. The Catholics had the mass of angels. Sad. She made it a point not to read all that stuff. The press never made things clear anyway. Seemed to Sophie the board of health should’ve given more information or warnings on what to do to avoid such horrible things from happening. Why all those angel masses? But no, they covered their butts to avoid lawsuits. She wiped her forehead and pushed her fallen blonde curl back where it belonged.
Putting the wicker basket down on the smooth bottom step of the gold colored staircase freed Sophie’s arms as she headed for the nursery. Down the brightly lit hallway to the west side of the main floor she went. Hannah’s room was tucked away where she wouldn’t be awakened by the front door’s activity. Vendors insisted on using that door and not the appointed side door.
She already anticipated the smile on Mandy Rose’s face when she came home and got a look at Hannah’s chubby little body decked out in the cream and navy blue outfit Sophie’d bought during yesterday’s shopping trip.
This wonderful old Greek mansion was alive again. Bubbling with musical little girl giggles. Who knew life could be so good. Sophie was thrilled when Mandy Rose wanted to live here with Hannah. Sophie never asked a lot of questions about Hannah’s birth. If Mandy wanted to talk, she would.
Still surprised she didn’t hear gurgling sounds or movement noises coming from Hannah’s nursery, with shoulders drawn up to her ears, Sophie pushed the red-nosed clown’s face that was painted on the nursery door. She pushed hard. It opened to quiet.
Dark thoughts charged in as she noticed a breeze wafting in from the gaping window that already had a moon-lit glow. Her mouth went dry. Her pupils shrank to adjust to the dusk-gathering room.
An electric shock rocketed through her body and her heart galloped at an alarming speed.
Something struck a wrong note about the arrangement of the mint green coverlet in the crib. Hannah could never have pushed it into that high lumpy pile. After a wheezy gasp, Sophie bounded into the room, her feet stomping with the sound of dread.
A high-pitched banshee cry escaped her parched lips. “Hannaaah!!”
Sophie bent over the wooden rail of Hannah’s crib, half entered the interior’s cloud of sweet baby scent. She choked on regurgitated coffee, swiped at her mouth with her pink polished fingernail tips then straightened up like a jack in the box.
Two giant leaps to the open window revealed only part of the cruel unfolding story. A wicked story.
The screen was slit in a big circle, the oversized mouth of a killer shark.
The sky had clouded over in the darkened sky as though no sun had ever existed on this day. Demonic darkness covered the lush banana magnolia bushes below. The cloying fragrance, which only this morning was welcomed, now suffocated, drowning every iota of oxygen in the late afternoon air.
Those bushes had been disturbed. Evil lurked there. Vile unforgivable evil.
Sophie, now crying, banged open the closet door, grabbed whatever her hands touched and without fear searched the interior. Next, she lay on the floor, looked under the crib. Ridiculous. Then behind the dresser where the painted clowns on the drawers now looked murderous. No more proof was needed. Hannah was gone. Someone took her. Oh my sweet Jesus. Who took our baby?
She didn’t call for Almadine. It was her afternoon off.
Springing open and clamping shut her fists, bloodying her palms, Sophie used the wall for balance as she stumbled down the long corridor, no stops to slow her labored breathing, leaving bloody streaks on the pale walls. She charged straight ahead into the huge front room. She had to call the police. Had to do it now.
She was wheezing asthmatically, her vision wavy and watery as she headed for the telephone. She reached for the handset, barely able to see clearly when the front door opened.
Sophie’s senses were on alert, her throat swollen. The sound of the opening front door made her breath catch and caused her to bend over in a convulsed coughing fit. She pressed her hands to her chest as croupy barky sounds escaped from her. The belt on her casual cotton dress threatened to choke off any air still getting into her now severely challenged airways.
Mandy Rose flew into the house. “Mama, Mama, what’s wrong? What’s happened? Are you sick? Is it your asthma? You want your inhaler?”
Sophie shook her head no. She still couldn’t talk.
Mandy Rose dropped her pocketbook and let her backpack fall off her shoulders. She bolted to her mother’s side, tried to clap her on the back in case something was lodged in her throat. She’d never seen her mother this distraught.
Sophie pushed Mandy’s hand away like shooing a bothersome fly. A red-faced breathless Sophie finally managed to say, “I’m okay. It’s Hannah. It’s Hannah. She’s gone. Taken. Stolen. We have to call the police right now.”
“What? Ma, what do you mean… taken? What does that mean? Where is she? She’s not in her crib?”
“No, I’m trying to tell you. No, I was just in her room. The window’s open. The screen’s cut. She’s gone! I don’t know what to do. Yes, yes I do. We have to call the police. Right now.”
Mandy’s pretty face turned white as flour, scrunched up and tears overflowed from her startled green eyes.
Her fingers were now cold and numb, corpse hands. She made it to the phone and tried to make the call but was having difficulty holding the receiver.
Sophie yanked the phone away from Mandy. “Here, let me call. Police! This is an emergency. Someone’s taken my granddaughter!”
The police were there in less than fifteen minutes. They were all business. There were four officers, all men and all in uniform, except one man who wore a brown suit that matched his mop of light brown hair. Their official attire lent an air of authenticity to the horrible truth. It seemed even more real now. Like a television show.
Hannah was gone.