This is a very disturbing story. Seriously, it involves baby mutilation. Not my usual romance.
But the full story won honorable mention in the horror category of the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest.
In Emilia’s dream, someone in a tower holds a baby. A brand new white baby. Painfully blue eyes look up with complete trust. He knows he will not fall. He’s weak, new, and undoubtedly male, but he’s safe and so pale.
The hands, which look so dark and brown against that new white flesh, tickle the baby’s ankle. The baby laughs. The big hand wraps around a tiny fat ankle and bends the chubby pink leg behind the baby’s back. He fusses. Blue eyes squint. He whines tiny and cute. The hand twists, folding the fat unformed bulb that will become the baby’s knee. Twists too far. The baby arches, curls, tries to pull his foot away from his back. He blurts annoyed squalls. Farther still. The baby cries.
Farther. New bone cracks.
The baby screams.
A knife glints against the baby’s breast and a bright bubble of blood appears over the new heart.
Emilia wakes, startled but soundless. She’s in the backseat of her grandfather’s car, head tipped back on the rich leather. It’s a North American car imported to Chile by a cargo freighter as Grandfather would remind her proudly. Her heart thuds in her ears and she looks around. Her father dozes beside her, her mother stares forward in the front seat, looking at the darkness of the Chilean countryside. Grandfather drives, she can see his soft brown hands on the wheel. Everyone in the car ought to hear the pulsing of her heart, but no one does.
She wants to tell her nightmare, to hear comforting words, but even at nearly nine she will not allow herself that weakness. Her right hand still makes a tight fist, thinking it holds a knife. Her left arm still curls as if cradling a new baby – her cousin, Vicente, she knows when she’s awake.
To shake the dream, Emilia stretches her arms and leans forward to thrust her head between her grandfather and her mother. She smells strong coffee and catches the glow of her mother’s Blackberry in her pocket.
Mother puts her hand on Emilia’s head and strokes her braided hair. Says nothing.
Grandfather whispers without taking his hands from the wheel. “Is that my curious little snake?”
Emilia smiles and hisses at him.
“Go to sleep, Lia.” Mother glances over her shoulder at Emilia’s father. There’s no judgment, merely observation. Around Grandfather, Mother always looks at Papi the way a woman might watch over a bird with a broken wing in a household of cats. “Lean on Papi.”
Emilia shakes her head and looks out the window. “I’m awake. Is this the place of gulls, yet?”
“No.” Grandfather points to the window on his left. “We have to go into those mountains for that.”
Emilia presses her face to the car window and stares out into the darkness.
The Chilean countryside is vastly different than her city home in Santiago. There is an eerie absence of life. No noise and no people. Nothing living that does not understand the dark and hiding. No light except the stars and the moon and in the distance the dark mass of mountains and snow rolling along the sky. She always thought the sky was black, the blackest black, but now she knows the only true darkness in the world is those mountains.
“Is that where the copper mines are, grandfather?”
Her mother speaks without patience. “Yes, and you know that. Be still and—”
“It is. The oldest and greatest of the Vidal family mines.” Grandfather interrupts his daughter. “The one you’ll inherit.”
Mother says nothing, watching Grandfather. The look of a sparrow watching an old hawk, waiting for him to dive and eat her young.
Grandfather doesn’t notice or, rather, he notices but is not bothered enough to let it interrupt him. “You’ll see it tomorrow. My grandfather burrowed into the earth and found the richest deposit of ore in all of Chile. He never mined half of it, because he was clever.”
“Copper dries up.” Emilia nods. “But people always want a bigger better roof over their heads.”
“Good girl.” Grandfather and Mother both say. All three of them smile but do not laugh.
The road jostles the American car and Papi snorts and groggily blinks awake. Mother turns and smiles, but Emilia frowns. It’s better when he’s asleep. She regrets thinking this because it’s unkind and Papi is nothing but kindness.
Papi gives her a goofy smile and tugs her hair, as if she is not nearly nine. His voice is large and laughing, “Hey, pretty girl. Still awake?”
There had been something special when it was only Grandfather, Mother, and herself in the stillness and the dark. Papi could not tolerate the stillness.
“No, Papi, I’m dreaming.” She points out the window. “I’m a snake swimming in the mountains.”
Grandfather, Mother, and Papi all laugh at this. Not because it’s funny, Emilia knows. Papi laughs because his daughter has said something silly in her serious way. Grandfather and Mother laugh so that Papi is not alone in his amusement.
Then Papi tickles her and Emilia is the one laughing alone, joyful. The darkness of the mountains, the knife in her dreams vanish into the warmth of her father’s big brown fingers.