It was absolutely hell on fucking earth.
Bobby was first. Lil Bobby, not even six months old but I had never watched a baby who smiled more. Stolen right out of his crib during the night, mom came in to feed him and the crib was empty. Cops were called, the estranged father taken in for questioning. Meanwhile everyone looked the other way- we live in that kind of town, where unwed mothers on welfare aren’t cared about and a fatherless child not spoken of except over a glass of wine and hushed whispers.
It was when the Hukk twins disappeared two days later when things really started to get crazy.
The Hukk twins weren’t like Bobby. Kellie and Kenneth were born with the silver spoon between their lips, they’d even modeled for small time magazines. The three year old children were perfect dolls, and everyone loved them. So when their bed was empty, oh boy, did things get hot. Little Bobby was all but forgotten, and no one remotely thought the two cases were connected.
It started happening every night after that. Susan, or as I liked to call her, Sue Boo. She was barely a year old. Anastasia, a five year old with two missing front teeth. She loved to sing at church. Darwin, followed the next night by his older brother Devon. Gilbert, sweet baby Gill. Lola. Josiah. I could go on.
For the first time in probably US history, my small town made national news. Kids vanishing by the dozens, stolen from their beds. The schools were shut down, people ran from town with their kids, never to come back. Police were everywhere. No one trusted anyone.
My dad died.
My dad has… had, a criminal record. It was just vandalism, no biggie, but some jerk with a hero complex heard ‘criminal’ and didn’t wait for the end of the story, heading right to dad’s work. It escalated, and I had to answer the door to a policeman delivering the bad news.
And then my little sister was the first one to be snatched in broad daylight.
I was talking with the cops, we heard Gladys scream, and by the time we got to her bedroom- gone. Just gone.
I’d lost my whole family that day.
Reporters were like sharks for a whole week, banging on my door, calling me on the phone. I ended up unplugging the land line but some asshole gave them my cell number. Ended up having to change that too.
Thankfully they fucked off when the first child escaped the fate of being taken.
Lottie Bell. Six years old, a perfect sweetheart, but unfortunately an accident paralyzed her from the waist down. It was probably the reason she was saved.
A six year old can’t exactly stay consistent with their stories but she was the only witness they had. She was scared of the cops though, so they turned to me, oddly enough. Being the favorite babysitter of the town, I knew all the kids. And Lottie loved me.
I brought her favorite peanut butter cookies, poured her a glass of chocolate milk, and within minutes with police outside the room and a recorder running, Lottie got to chattering.
She had woke up to the tiny lights in her room. Tiny winking lights, and then the most beautiful music. It was a flute, the soft warm sound filling the air.
Outside the window was a glowing man. I asked what she meant and all she would say was that he was glowing. Like an angel, except with a red and yellow cape instead of wings.
He beckoned her forward, and Lottie tried to get up. He’d promised her cake and sweets.
“He did? I thought he was playing his music.”
At this moment she was confused and insisted he was playing, but he had promised her that too, and more.
Of course Lottie tried to get out of bed, but fell to the ground in a heap, legs unable to support her so she was forced to crawl.
By the time she got to the window, he was gone, and so were the lights.
She was tested for drugs, but in the end the odder details were chalked up to a child’s wild imagination.
That’s when the kids started coming back though.
It was Bobby first. His mother thought she had lost her marbles when she’d heard him cry from the nursery, or that she was dreaming. But Bobby was there, safe and sound, crying because of a wet diaper and wanting to be nursed.
Kids were returned in groups of two or three after that. Sometimes they wound up in the wrong beds, but a quick switcharound and no one held a grudge. When finally, the last child (Sterling, a three year old with the cutest glasses) was found sucking his thumb at the foot of his parent’s bed, it was the biggest celebration.
I think I’m the only one to notice something’s wrong though.
Oh, Gladys is back… but it’s not her.
She talked like Gladys, loves all of the toys Gladys loved, even brought up things only Gladys would know, but there’s one key difference.
Gladys had green eyes. Not blue.
Can’t prove it, of course. It’s such a small change. Even saw doctors about it, wondering if something was wrong with me, if denial was part of coping with the shock. But little by little, I know that’s not true.
She doesn’t sleep anymore. Doesn’t nap, doesn’t go to bed at all. Doesn’t even pretend like she’s sleeping, she stays up all night playing and singing, in a voice that doesn’t quite sound like hers. I keep finding things that aren’t hers either. Jewelry, silver and gold coins, all stacked in her toy chest. The toys she couldn’t care about were gone within a week of her return. Gladys is like me. She is… was, a packrat.
The way she watches me… she knows I know too. That I know she’s not Gladys. That the glowing man took my Gladys away, and replaced her with one of his own children.
Why would he do that? I don’t know. But I remember reading about these birds once. They’d kick out the eggs in an occupied nest out and lay their own. The mothers, none the wiser, would raise the parasite bird as their own. Completely oblivious to the fact that the baby bird they were raising wasn’t theirs at all.
I’m not a bird though. I know the truth.
And with that truth, I’m afraid that I’ll have the same thing happen to me that happened to Bobby’s mom.
She hung herself. The suicide note had only one sentence on it.
He’s not my son.