For the second round, we had three days to write 2000 words. I’m in Heat 1:
Subject: Accidental baby swap
Character: A car salesman
I had trouble with this one. I could think of a lot of different scenarios for “on purpose” baby swaps, but accidental? And horror isn’t something I do, but I was excited to try it.
Warning: Strong language and disturbing subject
SYNOPSIS: A scorned man whose wife left him with their baby struggles with his inner demons.
“Gary, that guy is back, the one who wants the turbo V8. He only wants to talk to you.”
I glance at my watch and sigh.
“No can do. It’s two minutes after six already. The fucking daycare charges me ten bucks a minute after six. Tell him to come back tomorrow.”
“He’s leaving on a business trip. He won’t be back. Get your ass down here and close the sale.”
I rub my temples. I’m gonna need that commission just to pay the late fees I’m racking up talking about it. If only that bitch Sarah hadn’t left. Now I’m stuck with a child I never wanted, and I can’t even do my job…
“I can’t. You take it. Tell him my mom died.”
“Gotta go.” I click off my phone and cock back my arm, ready to throw the piece of shit in the street. A sudden gust of wind plasters my coat to my chest and thighs, and I shiver against the bitter sting. My arm falls to my side. Better just get the kid and go home.
Flakes of snow swirl about my head as I reach the door. I open it, and Maggie is standing there, her foot tapping impatiently, Emily swaddled and bundled and burritoed in her arms.
“You’re late again,” she says, handing me the baby and our over-stuffed diaper bag.
“Yeah,” I say, struggling to juggle the bag up on my shoulder without dropping the kid. “If I don’t make a living, you don’t get paid.”
“Maybe you need a nanny,” she says. “The storm’s already coming in, and I have an hour drive home. You’re not the only one, Gary.”
I could apologize, but what’s the point? Both of us need to get on the road.
“Bill me,” I say, shoving my way out into the storm.
The gentle snowfall has turned into a blizzard by the time I pull up to the house. I don’t even bother with the diaper bag—I just pull Emily from her carrier and hustle us both inside.
Lights. Heat. By the time I’ve got them on, Em has worked herself up into a slobbering frenzy, sucking on her little fists and trying to shove them down her throat.
I lay Em down on the couch and head to the kitchen. Something reeks. Maybe it’s the week-old Chinese food growing a beard on the counter. Maybe it’s the three unwashed bottles of half-downed formula souring in the sink. Probably it’s the freshly dead mouse I spy under the cabinets.
I toe the mouse. Christ, I so don’t need this. Sarah should be doing the fucking dishes. Sarah should be buying traps. Hell, if Sarah were here all day, like she’s supposed to be, the mouse wouldn’t have been so bold as to make an appearance.
Em’s screams pierce the air. Sarah should be shoving a tit in her mouth, is what Sarah should be doing.
I find a rinsed-out one in the dishwasher. I brush a cockroach off the faucet and fill the bottle to the brim.
None in the cabinets. None on the counter. An empty (I thought) can in the garbage yields about half a scoop. I dump it in the bottle and shake.
Em is crying so loud she’s hiccoughing. Her thrashing has loosened her blankets, and her tiny little shirt has ridden up to expose her stomach. I can see her heart beating in her belly.
Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.
“Stop crying!” I scream. “Stop the fucking crying. I can’t take this!”
Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.
I cock back my arm. Then my phone rings.
My arm falls to my side.
“Gary? It’s Mag…I did a…thing…have the Thomps…aby…Emil…fine…”
“You’re breaking up, Maggie. What the hell do you want?”
“I gave you…baby!…have the…son’s baby! They have…mily!”
“Wait, what? Something about Emily?”
“…have the Thompson’s…aby!”
I blink. “I have the Thompson’s baby?”
I stare down at the baby wailing on my couch. “Look, I can’t hear you, and I don’t know if you can hear me, but if I have the Thompson’s baby and they have Emily, I’m gonna sue you six ways to Sunday, you incompetent bitch!” I wander over to the window and stare out at the front yard. I can barely make out the outline of my car in the driveway.
“They wan…change…tonight. They want…”
“I don’t care what they want. There’s no way anyone’s going out in this storm. Call me tomorrow and we’ll figure it out.” I click off.
I cock back my arm. And I hurl the phone against the wall. Nothing good has ever come from that fucking phone.
“I’m gone, Gary,” Sarah said two weeks ago, calling me at work like the coward I always knew she was. “And you can have Emily. I can’t raise her knowing she’s yours.”
“You fucking whore,” I spat into the phone, startling the customers nearest me. “She’s not mine and we both know it. Go on and go. We’re better off. No one needs a slut for a mother.”
Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.
I stare down at the baby flailing on the couch, and my left hand is shaking the bottle for all it’s worth. I can’t seem to stop it.
“Are you Emily?”
The baby chokes on a sob and has a coughing fit. She looks familiar, like a TV show I saw as a kid. I recognize her. This is my kid, the whore spawn. What the hell was Maggie babbling about?
“You’re gonna shut up or I’m gonna make you.” I lean over her and shove the bottle in her mouth.
She spits the nipple out. She’s too worked up to know what’s good for her.
“Shut up and take it!” I scream. I hold the nipple in her mouth, and formula runs out the tip and pools on her tongue. She chokes on it, thrashing, and it dribbles over her chin and into the folds of her neck.
“God damn it!” I grab her chin and hold her mouth closed around the nipple. Her eyes widen. Her chest hitches. Her scrunched-up face starts to turn red.
I scream at her. “Drink the fucking bottle!”
Her tiny legs thrust out, stiff, and her face goes from red to purple. I scream again, rip the bottle from her mouth, and hurl it at the wall. Em chokes and coughs. I sink to the floor beside her.
“What the hell am I doing?” I say to the room. “I’m living in squalor. I haven’t gotten laid in almost a month. I missed that fucking commission tonight.” I turn to the baby whimpering beside me. “It’s all your fault.”
I climb to my knees and shove my nose in her face. “If you weren’t here, Sarah would still be around, you know that?”
I reach out a hand and rub it across the wispy hairs on Emily’s head. “Everyone tells me how cute you are, but they’ve never seen this side of you.” I pat her cheek, and she cries out, turning her head away from me. I grab her chin and force her to look at me. “Scream again, and I’ll do it. I dare you.”
The baby cries out, trying to pull her head from my grasp, but I dig my fingers into her flesh. “What’s wrong, baby girl? Did I scare you? Are you hungry? Do you need a new diaper?” I grip her neck and lift her from the couch. “You have to ask nicely.” She screams again, starting another full-on crying jag, and I shake her. “You have to ask nicely!”
I let her drop to the couch, and she lets out a high-pitched wail. An animal in pain recognizes another, and I grin. “Got your attention now, do I?”
Sarah can’t just walk away like this. She can’t just hang up on me, ME, like I’m some nobody? Oh no, it’s not ending like this. This is not the way it will end…
I find my phone underneath the end table and examine it. Looks good. Those fucking things are indestructible.
Sarah just called me, I know she’s home, I know she’s there even if she doesn’t pick up. I call back the last number that called me and wait. Come on, Sarah, I know you’re there.
“I’m not doing this, I am not fucking doing this, Sarah. You have to come back. You have to take her. Emily won’t stop crying and I know it’s ‘cuz she needs you. She needs her mother. I need her mother.”
“Gary? What’s…oing on?”
I fling myself on the couch. “I can’t live without you. I can’t take it. I’ll do whatever it takes, Sarah, whatever. I just need you back. Please. Em is crying and I can’t stop her. I need you.”
“Gar…I’m not…arah. This is…aggie. Gary…alm down.”
“I can’t hear you, Sarah. I guess it’s the storm, or maybe it’s the baby crying, or…wait. She’s stopped. I think you did it. She’s stopped crying. Look, I’ll call you tomorrow. I know you can’t go out in the storm anyway. Just…if the storm clears, come see us. Please. We’ll be right here waiting.
“Okay, Sarah. Of course. I’ll be here, and I’ll make it right. You’ll see. We’ll make it right.”
I hang up the phone and sigh. I hear nothing but the tick of a clock and the wind beating the branches of the maple tree against the house. No more screams. Emily finally fell asleep.
I close my eyes. Sarah will be here soon.
I wake in the dark to insistent knocks on the door. Who’s crazy enough to go out on a night like tonight?
I bound up and open the door. Strangers stare at me.
“Are you Gary Elms?” the man says. “I’m Tad Thompson, from the daycare? Somehow there was a mix-up with our children.”
“I’ve got Emily all safe and sound for you,” the woman says, holding out a bundle of blankets. “How’s Kate doing?”
I glare at them and ignore the bundle. “There must be some mistake. I’ve got Emily right here. You must have gotten your kid mixed up with someone else.”
They exchange a perplexed glance. “I’ve volunteered at the daycare before, and I know all the children…Gary, this is Emily. This baby, right here, is Emily. Where’s Kate?”
“Emily, not Kate, is sleeping, and it took a damn long time to make that happen, so I’d appreciate you keeping your voice down.”
“Stay here,” the guy says under his breath, and he takes a step toward me. “Mr. Elms, I don’t know what you’re playing at, but you have our child in your home, and I intend to get her. We can do this peacefully, or we can call the police. Your choice.”
“You’re not taking my daughter,” I say.
“No, we’re taking our daughter. Now. Choose.”
“Let me see your baby,” I say.
The woman opens the blankets around the baby’s head, and I lean forward to get a good luck. Huh. Her eyes…I know those eyes.
“Sarah,” I whisper.
I grab the baby from her. “Sarah, you said you’d come! You promised me you’d come! How could you leave? How?”
I cock back my arm. I hurl the lying, traitorous bitch into the street.
A woman screams.
A man runs past me into the house. I follow him in.
“Where is she?” he says.
“On the couch.”
“I don’t see her. Where? Oh my God…” He pulls the limp baby from between the cushions, cradling her to his chest. “Oh my God, what did you do?”
I wander out to the yard. A woman is sobbing in the street, but I don’t know her.
I sit in the snow and wait for Sarah.