Unraveled

The room is dark. She has put away her daughter’s toys. The mobile she bought just four months ago lies tangled in a corner. For the past two months Maddie hasn’t stopped crying for more than an hour at a time. The pediatrician assured Silvia that everything was fine, that Maddie would grow out of it. She hadn’t. Silvia watches as Maddie’s eyes start to close. She will nod off any minute now. As long as the ghost standing at the foot of her crib keeps talking.

A week ago, Silvia saw him standing in the door to Maddie’s nursery, a gaunt figure with restless, sunken eyes. He stepped over the threshold and approached the crib, unfazed by Maddie’s shattering cries. The light from the hall filtered through his thin frame, bending at odd angles on the floor. Silvia tried to scream, but the sound died in her throat. She felt an uncanny absence hollowing out every ordinary thing in the room. The nightlight flickered and faded. The music from Maddie’s sleep bunny stuttered to a stop. The figure leaned over the crib and began to whisper. Her daughter stared up into his eyes, hiccupped once, and stopped crying. As he talked, her eyes grew heavy. Finally, she slept. When the ghost finished whispering, he disappeared.

Silvia wept from relief.

Now Silvia waits every night, exhausted from Maddie’s tears, terrified to leave her side. She wants to tell the ghost that he can stop. That she is enough. That a silver thread binds her to her daughter, thrumming, even in the darkness. Tonight, she sits as close to the crib as she can bear. She dares to stand, to step closer. His whispers are more urgent now, as if his time here were short. When he turns to her, his eyes open a door to everything Silvia has ever feared. A voice whispers in her ear: “I died alone. And screaming.” She feels herself falling, feels the silver thread tying her to Maddie begin to fray. She reaches out into the darkness, helpless against its unraveling. Then the silver thread snaps. And her heart breaks.

Today Maddie is as good as gold. When Silvia’s friends visit, they congratulate her. The hardest days are behind you, they tell her. But to each other they say how cold Maddie’s eyes seem, and how her cheeks are just a bit sunken.

When they leave, Silvia picks up her daughter and holds her close. She goes to the nursery and sets the sleep bunny to play Maddie’s favorite songs. When Silvia puts her down, Maddie looks up at her with a stranger’s eyes. Silvia settles herself in the chair by the crib. She closes her eyes and on the edge of sleep she hears it: Maddie’s cries, there, at the border between worlds. She reaches out and touches a single silver thread, frayed, but bright. And in the quiet of the night, she begins the long slow work of calling her daughter home.

Copyright Bonnie Burns, 2020. All rights reserved.

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Hello!

This story appeared first in the annual Halloween podcast of Alone in a Room With Invisible People. (October 31, 2020). You can find it at 38:11.

And be sure to check out other stories in the Halloween October 2020 Storytime Blog Hop:

The Witch at the End of the Road by Katharina Gerlach
Unwelcome Visitors by Bill Bush
Holiday Guest by Sabrina Rosen
Home by Barbara Lund
Missing Parts by Jemma Weir
A Perfect Match by V. S. Stark
The Glistening Bat by Karen Lynn
II-The Priestess by Raven O’Fiernan
The Old Ways by Nic Steven
Halloween Pest by Elizabeth McCleary
Tales From the Pumpkin Patch by Marilyn Flower
Immortality by Juneta Key