Kiera and Freddie stood in their front doorway, bodies intertwined for warmth, amazed that it was finally happening. The small car came to a stop in their driveway and the door opened. The couple knew that all of the final approvals were complete but had no idea until two days before when their new daughter was coming home for the first time. When Kiera received the call she was excited, but nervous since her husband was due for a business trip at the end of the week which would leave her to parent the child alone at the very start. Ms. Alice of Alice’s Angels Adoption Agency bumbled out of the car, spilling some papers unto the ground, then hastily gathering them up again before opening the back door and allowing Gentry to place one then two small boots on the pavement. Kiera could hardly hold back the tears as the girl ran toward her, her red puffer coat covering a corduroy dress of the same color. “Mommy” She yelled. Kiera hugged the girl, picking her up and swinging her around. Freddie pulled his wife and new daughter close as Kiera’s shoulders heaved and dropped with her sobs.
Over the next hour, Kiera showed her daughter around her new home and introduced her to Pinky, a pet hamster they had purchased especially for Gentry. In love with Pinky at once she could hardly keep herself from the little animal or from Doc, the family’s golden retriever. Kiera and Freddie then hosted Alice for tea and cake and they talked for an hour before Ms. Alice finally announced her departure, “I really should get going and allow you all some time to spend with Gentry, especially since you will be away for a couple of days soon, Freddie. I want to give you as much time to spend with your family this week as possible.”
“We could not be happier, Alice.” Kiera whispered as she walked the woman to the door.
“Don’t thank me. It’s what I do.” The woman said as she barreled toward her vehicle. With a quick wave she ducked in through the car door and was soon out of sight.
That night as Kiera tucked her daughter into bed for the first time, she read her a story. “Can I play with Pinky?” a sleepy Gentry asked. “Not anymore tonight, sweetie. You are tired. We can play with him in the morning.” Kiera turned off the lamp leaving the glow of the night light to cast ominous shapes on the walls.
Morning seemed to come earlier than usual with Gentry’s excessive knocking on her parents’ bedroom door. “Mommy, daddy! Can I play with Pinky?” She was asking. Kiera and Freddie looked at one another before he smiled, “So this is what being a parent is like, huh?”
Kiera adjusted the thermostat to warm the chilly house before she came up the stairs and made her way to Gentry’s room. She crossed the room to take Pinky’s cage off of the high dresser and placed it on the floor. “Pinky.” Kiera said trying to rouse the little rodent. “Perhaps he’s still sleeping. Pinky?” She called again as she swished her fingers through the dressings. She felt a cold, hard mound. Kiera jumped, pulling her finger back. Shaking the dressings away revealed Pinky’s stiff body.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Gentry asked.
“Nothing, I just don’t think that Pinky is doing too well this morning. I’m going to have daddy look at him, ok? Wash your face and come down for breakfast.”
Freddie seemed somewhat relieved, “He was a rodent, and they die all the time. I’m kind of glad he’s gone, those things are nasty. She can play with Doc.”
“I guess. Can you get rid of him?” Kiera asked before going into the bathroom and closing the door behind her.
“Sure thing.” Her husband said, disappearing with the cage.
It was Gentry’s first night in their home and her animal had died. It was Kiera’s second day having a child and she was now going to have to explain life’s biggest catch…death.
“Can I play with Pinky?” Gentry asked again over her eggs.
Kiera looked nervously over her coffee cup to her husband then back to Gentry. “I’m sorry, honey, but you can’t.”
“Why not?” She wanted to know.
“Because Pinky is…dead.” She finally said.
Gentry looked bewildered then spoke again.
“So?” Gentry asked again, her brown eyes completely blank.
Kiera stopped short and turned to face the girl.
Freddie quickly cut in. “Because when something dies, it has to be buried. It goes away.”
“Oh.” Gentry said, returning quickly to her breakfast.
All that day Kiera kept an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach that could be traced back to the breakfast conversation, but her husband was convinced that it was not strange, nothing more than a child’s simple reaction to a complex concept. Kiera wasn’t convinced, but she would not put up a fight. Still she wished that Freddie didn’t have to leave for his business trip the following day. The next morning as Kiera started to wake Gentry, the girl popped up almost as if she hadn’t been sleeping at all, “Can I play with Doc? Huh, momma? Can I?”
Instantly a dread crept up in the new mother. Doc was a good dog, but during the night Kiera would usually hear him bark at least once or twice, but she realized that the night before he had been exceptionally quiet. Scrambling down the stairs, Kiera called for her dog, “DOC!”
Freddie emerged from the bedroom. “You can’t find Doc? Did you let him in last night?”
“Of course, I let him in.” she snapped. They both searched the house but no Doc. In the backyard Kiera noticed that the gate was flapping open, “Doc” she called as she crossed the yard. Her husband was close behind her. She closed the gate and then turned back to the house and that was when she saw something brown on the side of the air conditioning unit. “Doc.” Kiera called nervously as she ran up and touched her dog’s rigid body. His head was a mess of wounds and gashes. “Jesus.” Freddie said, pulling his sobbing wife away from the animal into the house, passing Gentry who watched with a dull expression.
That evening Kiera lay in bed, sipping tea. The television was on and her eyes were trained on it, but she wasn’t watching.
“I really wish that I didn’t have to go, but my mother is coming in the morning to stay until I return, ok.” Freddie informed her. “I made sure to lock the gate so that whatever came out of those woods and attacked Doc can’t get back in.”
Kiera’s eyes darted toward her husband. “The woods…” She said.
“Sure, what else could it have been?” He asked. Kiera’s eyes rolled up into her head.
Before leaving for the airport, Freddie put his daughter to bed and Kiera was so exhausted from the emotional stress, she was sleeping no later than he was gone. Something in the dark house woke Kiera in the middle of the night. The hallway light flicked on and she heard massive footsteps crashing down the hall until the shadow stood right outside of her door.
“Mommy, can we play?” A deep, guttural voice asked.
Jean Nicole Rivers