The Birthday (The Divorce)
“No, officers, it was her birthday today.”
“Alright, sir… How old was she turning?”
“Five. No, six. She was turning six.”
The police man jotted something down.
“She was with you when you came into the mall?”
“Where is she now?”
“I called you because I don’t know where she is. She’s disappeared.”
“So, you don’t know where she is?”
“No, Godammit, I don’t know where she is.”
“Do you have any idea where she might be?”
The man stood up, knocking his food-court plastic chair over backwards. “No, but if I start looking for her now, I’ll be done by the time you get off your ass.”
He set the chair back up and took off down the hallway towards the escalators, dodging large groups of people.
“What’s that all about?” The cop’s partner asked him.
“Dunno. Let’s go get something to eat.”
“You ready, sweetie? You can pick out anything you want from any of the stores for your birthday.”
Emma didn’t look up.
“You can pick out two things.”
She sat, facing forwards in their Jeep. Anderson fastened her seatbelt for her. He furrowed his brow, frowning. She was always so alive when she was at her mother’s house. It puzzled him as to why she was so catatonic around him. Especially on her birthday; if she knew how hard he had fought for custody today, would she show appreciation?
“And we can have pizza!”
She didn’t flinch. Probably not.
Anderson climbed into the front of the Jeep, fumbling around with the keys in the ignition. He dropped them, bent over and pretended to hit his head on the dashboard. Emma smiled, but Anderson frowned again. Was she smiling because he did something funny or because she was glad he had hurt himself?
“The world may never know,” he sighed to himself, pulling out of the driveway.
Amber stood in the doorway and watched the Jeep pull away, coffee mug in hand.
“Some things you can’t fix with money,” she had told him.
And off the Jeep drove towards the three tiered mall, Anderson intent on buying his daughter the best present she had ever gotten.
It was almost comical. Anderson was running down the “up” escalator, shifting from left to right side every few feet to avoid valuable mall shoppers. Frustrated and four feet from the ground, Anderson vaulted over the rail, knocking a woman over. The contents of her bag spilled, but Anderson was busy running to the “Hello Cat-Cat” store to notice.
Emma liked Hello Cat-Cat, right?
Anderson shrugged the doubt off as he entered the store. Stores like these bugged all adults as a rule; they were brightly lit and migraine inducing with the amount of shiny-white backpacks that were thrown all over the wall. A display of Kareokie Frog Purses and a CD rack full of J-pop, then the counter.
“Sir, please go to the back of the line.”
“This is important.”
The worker smirked. “If this was so important, why don’t you go to the police?”
It was dark. Emma wasn’t sure where she was. She had walked out of the Hello Cat-Cat store with her father, heading towards the escalator so they could get –
- lunch but she remembered holding his hand on the escalator, happy with a new Hello Cat-Cat backpack and having her hand slip out of his, but he didn’t notice. She remembered being pulled down the escalator and to a door, but it was disorienting. She was still in the mall, she knew that much.
But it was still dark. She heard faint singing coming from outside of her room.
“And if I die before I wake… I pray the lord my soul to take…”
Emma shuddered. The voice was light, airy and disembodied, coming through the far wall. She didn’t want to cry, but if it kept up, she couldn’t help it.
“Our father… Who art in heaven…”
Emma bit her lip and closed her eyes, although that didn’t help. It was so dark in the room that the only reason she could tell her eyes were closed was the feeling of the muscles moving, not a singular change in the light.
She wished the singing would stop.
“Did you see my daughter in here? I bought her a back-pack.”
“I’m sorry, sir, we see lots of fathers and daughters in here.”
“Do you have a camera in here or anything, where I could see if… I can’t find her.”
“I’m sorry sir, there are no cameras in here.”
Frustrated, Anderson turned around and screamed, “Shoplift all you want, there are no cameras! Isn’t it fantastic?” The panic rose in his voice. He turned, staring the clerk in the eye, and ran out of the store back to the escalator.
He put his hand on the railing and felt her holding his hand. She had been with him here. Where the hell did she go?
“Should I call Amber?”
Amber hung up the phone, and sighed. Either he was joking or he wasn’t. He did tend to err on the side of caution when it came to their daughter. For all she knew, Emma could have been missing for five minutes. And Anderson wouldn’t call back if he had found Emma, he would wait and bring her home, calling out “Surprise!” in the driveway.
He sounded serious, but he always did. That was Anderson. Flat faced, balding from stress and absolutely humor-less.
There was a knock at the door. Amber stood from the couch and made her way down the hallway to the front door. She answered it, sticking her head outside looking for anyone. There was no package, no car, no person.
So she was quite shocked when she was violently pulled from the interior of her house towards the street. Before she slammed against the pavement, she frowned, wondering-
“What the hell is going on here!” Anderson called out in the food court. “Has no one seen my daughter? Emma! EMMA!?”
People stared. Either they were too scared to say anything, or he was losing it.
His feet were pulled from under him as he was dragged through the food-court, past the escalator, and down the dark hallway. As the doors in front of him opened, he caught a glance of Amber, sitting behind a desk.
A door opened. Light poured in, slowly. And a tiny little man with grubby hands stepped inside. He was naked, his deformed body covered with thin white hair. His skin was quite dark, making the hair stand out. His left shoulder stuck out at an odd angle, looking dislocated. He held his right hand out, missing three fingers, to Emma.
“Hello, Emma… You need to come with usssssss…” he hissed.
Emma didn’t say anything. She un-shouldered her backpack and swung it at the tiny thing, knocking it to the ground. She kicked it once and ran for the door.
The hallway only went in one direction. Torches lined the dirt walls, casting just enough light to see what was around the corner.
The whip cracked over Anderson’s back once… Twice… Three times. After four, his adrenaline was pumping so strong he thought that his back might break the whip. It stopped hurting after the sixth lash, but that was because Anderson was no longer conscious or responding to pain.
They had handed Amber the whip in the darkness and told her to lash out in front of her. She had no idea that Anderson was held against the wall in front of her. They told her to give this one ten lashes and she would feel better.
After the fourth lash, Anderson had cried something out.
Amber had stopped for a second, listening to the ragged breathing.
It was her ex-husband. The ex-husband that had lost her (their, our) daughter. She gripped the whip tightly and swung again, harder this time.
After the tenth, she relaxed, her teeth no longer smashed together. She looked down and was surprised to see that she was wearing nothing. Her breasts had begun to sag so much that they had almost reached the floor, her body wrinkling at an incredible rate. She closed her eyes and dropped the whip. When she opened them again, her breasts were back again.
She sighed, relieved, and they began to drop.
This time, it hurt.
Anderson woke up in a room, behind a desk with one of the detectives staring at him.
“Did you kidnap your daughter?”
“She’s my daughter,” his back was on fire, “How could I kidnap her?”
There was a gun in his hand. Two shots. Both the cops were dead.
Down the hall. Where was it? Where is this place? This isn’t the mall anymore…
Out of one room, into a cave.
This wasn’t the police station, either.
Something fell from the ceiling, landing squarely on his back. It wrapped itself around him, clawing at his chest. He screamed out in pain.
“Stop moving and this will hurt less,” the thing called into his ear.
Anderson stopped squirming, feeling the thing dig into his chest.
“Carry me,” it said.
Anderson rose to his feet. The gun was gone from his hand, replaced with a torch.
“Carry you where?”
“I’ll tell you when we get close. Just walk.”
The thing on the back pressed down on him, forcing him over.
“Christ, how much do you weigh?”
“That,” the creature began, “Depends entirely upon you.”
Amber had closed her eyes, hoping the pain would stop. She awoke in an empty room that extended as far as she could see. She looked down. A white bra covered her breasts.
A sigh of relief. She had never been happier to wear a bra.
From the end of the room, a doppelganger ran to her.
“Let me take her out today. It’s her birthday! Let me take her out.”
“No, Anderson, she wants to spend her birthday at home.”
“Did you ask her that? Let me talk to her.”
Another rose from the back of the room, loping quickly towards Amber. She reached down and pushed herself off the ground, facing the two Andersons.
“Can I take her out for her birthday, Amber? Please? You don’t have to be such a bitch about it.”
“I’m not being a bitch.”
A third cornered her.
“I can dance like this all night,” Anderson three called out.
He had said that on their honeymoon. It had been cute then, but now it just seemed inappropriate and out of place.
“No. You can’t take her.”
The three forced her to the ground. She closed her eyes, anticipating what exactly was about to happen.
She was right. Innumerous doppelgangers ran to join in.
She had no choice.
Emma reached the furthest room, throwing the door open. She heard the small deformed man behind her, gaining.
There were stairs in this room, three sets. It looked to her like an auditorium, but it actually more closely resembled a teaching theatre. The floor was entirely dirt.
There was a man in the front, staring into nothing, watching over the residents of this room. His eyes were stitched shut, his hands stitched together. The stitching in his eyes was red from blood and infection. He nervously toyed with his hands, gasping, trying to pull them apart to no avail. For every stitch he could pull out, another would take its place.
He resigned himself to a stool, looking at the ceiling and gasping for air. His skin so dirty, streaked brown. He was pathetic in the corner, damned to watch over…
The children. They toiled behind counters, covered in mire and filth, absentmindedly-scribbling things down on long pieces of paper. Their faces stained with dirt, but a solitary red dot standing out on each of them above anything else.
Emma ran down the stairs, looking at the chalk-board at the end.
The door at the top opened. Emma threw herself to the ground, covering herself in dirt, tearing her dress and smearing her face with mud. She jumped over one of the counters, grabbed a quill, and watched the thing descend the stairs. She pretended to write like the rest of the children in the room.
The young boy next to her looked up.
“She’s right here, William.”
Anderson stepped outside and into the glass room, frowning. The thing on his back had gotten lighter. The room was constructed entirely of glass, save for the floor which looked like metal grating. Anderson stared down trying to see what exactly was under him, but couldn’t.
A door on the other side of the room opened. Amber was thrown in, bruised and bloody. Anderson ran over, smiling.
“What happened to you?”
“Right in here, young miss,” the creature said holding the door open. She stepped inside, looking around. The only source of light was coming from the ceiling, which was made of grating. She could see people moving up there. The ceiling of the room above her was a mirror. Emma could almost clearly see the people in the above room.
Anderson and Amber.
Emma had different names for them, though.
“You happened to me, Anderson! YOU DID!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb, Anderson.”
There was a sword on the ground. Where did it come from?
She stabbed it into his stomach. Anderson groaned.
Any guilt he felt about leaving her was absolved with this action. The thing on his back fell off. When Anderson turned and looked at it, he frowned. It was just a rock with chains on it.
He picked up the chain and swung the rock against his wives skull.
Hadn’t he felt guilty for another reason? What was it…
The blood poured onto Emma, but only one drop stained her. A solitary red mark on her forehead.
“Good, good,” the creature said, “Now come back into the other room. All you have to do is make a list. Make a list of things that make you happy. Make it realistic. And if any of them come true, you can leave here.”
Emma sat down and pulled a quill out, sitting next to the boy that had sold her to the monster. He looked over and smiled now.
“Things to Make Me Happy-“
She began her list.
It was her birthday today, she thought, climbing out of bed.
She could hear the voices coming from downstairs.
“Come on, Amber! Let me take her out for her birthday!”
“She’d rather spend it at home with her mother, Anderson. She’s told me before.”
“Get off of it, Amber. She loves me, let me take her to the mall for her birthday!”
Emma lay back down in bed. It wasn’t time to get up.
In the glass room, Amber and Anderson sat across from each other, glaring. Neither was mortally wounded, for in here, you cannot die.
Both of them reached for their most powerful weapon and both pulled out the same thing.