“Mom?” It was Nathan’s voice. Clear as the morning church bells whose echoes hung, even now, in the cold winter air. “I have a surprise for you.”
He didn’t sound like he’d aged a moment since we’d last spoken almost ten years ago.
Which made sense because he’d been dead for all that time. For nearly as long as he’d been alive.
I stood, dumb, my fingers cramping around my cellphone. The cellphone I didn’t have–the phone number I didn’t have–when last I’d heard Nate’s voice. So how could he know it to call, I wondered stupidly. How did he know the right number to dial with his cold dead hands?
No obvious explanation presented itself.
When he’d been warm and alive I’d found reasonable explanations for all sorts of things–the stolen things, the broken things, the way other children avoided him but watched him out of the corners of their eyes. I’d told myself the little fires were just childish mischief, the missing pets a coincidence. I’d even explained away how he looked at baby Maggie with sly curiosity rather than love, and how stiffly he held himself in my arms when I hugged him good night…
Until the day I saw his hands, fingernails dirty, curled around Maggie’s throat and my explanations crumbled like a tower of building blocks scattered by a temper tantrum.
It was an accident–I didn’t mean for it to happen. But it did.
There was no good to be gleaned from confessing and no one was home to see–no one but baby Maggie and she was far, far too young to remember or tell.
I drove Nate to the river and slipped his limp body into its cold embrace.
I moved quickly and was back home before you could say lickety-split. And then I set off the alarm, calling the neighbourhood parents and then Officer Keith. “Have you seen Nate? He went out to play after lunch. I’m getting worried…”
“Good news, Mom,” Nate said. His voice echoing unnaturally through the phone. “I’ll be home for Christmas. Can’t wait to see you and Maggie again.”
This story previously appeared on Rhonda Parrish.
Edited by Marie Ginga