She looked past the tea and to the red lights of the digital clock on the nightstand. At a quarter past two in the morning, Darren had been missing for close to sixteen hours.The police almost left without even taking notice of the small trail of blood down the stairs. She had searched the basement for hours before and after the police left.
"Where did you see him last?" officer Thompson said after they arrived. He was armed with a notepad and pencil, his gun resting lazily on his hip.
"I saw him here. He went into the basement," she recalled between sobs. "He went down, about two minutes later I went to check and he wasn't there. The door was shut. He never came out."
"Mrs. Stansason, where did he go after he left the basement?" he sighed and looked down at his notepad as if it were a magic eight-ball with all the answers.
"What aren't you hearing? He never left, that's what I'm saying to you!" Lucy felt the heat rise into her face just recalling the nonchalance they tossed her way like left over scraps. "He went down, he never came back up."
"Tr to look at it from our point of view," the female cop said. Lucy couldn't remember her last name and she didn't really care. "He isn't down there, so he must have come out. The basement window is bolted and too high for him anyway. This door is the only way out and you said you watched it the whole time after he closed it." She looked at Lucy with darting, dark, eyes. "So, Mrs. Stansason, where did he go?"
The conversation circled the drain of futility like that for hours with a few condescending questions like, "Are you on medication?" and "have you been drinking?" thrown into the mix just for agonizing fun.
Lucy rolled over and looked at the ceiling, the wooden blades whirled in a hypnotic rhythm of vapid promises. Streaks of moonlight threw themselves across the foot of her bed. She imagined Darren on the streets alone or worse kidnapped with some sick predator. The fan continued its hum. She tucked her feet under her as she rolled to her side and brought her pillow into her arms where Darren had rested as a small child. Her feet bit at her, protesting from the miles she walked around the neighborhood asking questions. Some of those who answered their doors expressed their sympathy, some looked on her tear-streaked face and darting eyes with a mixture of worry and disinterest, and still others judged her motherhood with open contempt. She closed her eyes, shutting it all out until she could clearly picture Darren's bright smile and even brighter eyes.
The metal chain on the fan swayed back and forth, chiming every so often and allowing its voice to be added to the harmonizing blades gliding above the bed. Her eyelids drooped as anvils attached to them. The fan suddenly sounded like gentle waves lapping at the shore whispering her son's name.
Darren isn't asleep! He could be hurt!
Lucy snapped her eyes open. She expected to see the fan and the moonlight and the red clock and her tea-mug, but what she saw instead stopped her heart and sucked the air straight out of her lungs. She blinked her eyes and it was gone, or it drifted to the side, but each time she tried to focus, the translucent form had shifted and moved again. But she knew her son in any form and through any haze of sleep.
"Darren," she mumbled.
"Are you safe? Tell me you're safe." She felt the sleep flying from her mind but her body felt drugged and slow to react. Her voiced sounded like a mouth stuffed with cotton.
Safe? Yes, I think so. I don't feel pain mother.
"What happened? Where are you?" Her heart rate accelerated and she felt it slamming against the top of her chest, but still she could not move.
I don't know. I think someone came for me. But...no I mustn't say, he'll get mad and then he'll hurt me!
"Who will hurt you baby? Tell me, tell me Darren!" She wiggled her fingers and felt her body jerk as if she had fallen. Her eyes fluttered and Darren faded and the moonlight returned.
No mom! I can't. Oh no! He's coming! He's coming!
Lucy sat up in the bed, breaking free of her paralysis. Her eyes snapped open but her son, or the dream of her son, was gone. She looked around the room allowing her heart a moment to slow down. She lay back on the bed. "It was all a dream," she said to the dark room around her.
No one answered. The silence beat against her ears like drums. Silent base echoed, followed gradually by a scuffling snare. Then a thud.
Lucy sat back up and looked out of her bedroom door to the long hallway that reach like a black tendril towards the kitchen. At first she didn't see anything, only heard the small scuffling. Then step by step, she saw him. His shadow seemed darker, cutting across the dark hallway in a twelve foot silhouette that snaked across the floor. Lucy stood up and took a tentative step towards him. He came closer and then she ran to him, arms outstretched.
She slid to him on her knees, the carpet immediately burning her flesh as she fell before him and lifted his little body into her arms. He smelled musty and his blue bed clothes were tattered. Tears poured in rivers of liquid salt down her cheeks. She squeezed him so hard she heard the air leave him and then she relaxed her grip and put him to the ground and back on his feet.
She could barely make out his features but she brushed the hair away from his face and away from a gash over his eye. "My baby, my baby, my baby!" His arms fell at his sides and she smoothed the wrinkles in his pajama sleeves and looked at him.
Before he said a word, she knew.
"I'm not your son Mrs. Stansason."
She knew he wasn't. She knew her son in any form.
And then she screamed.