When I first saw I was getting a call from an unknown number, I thought it was another sales call. I only answered it on the off chance it was from my friend Irma, I knew she’d gotten a new phone number.
It was quiet except for someone breathing on the other end. I frowned but tried again. “Hello, is someone there? Or is this another robot telling me I’ve won a cruise?”
I heard a quiet laugh, followed by a sob.
I nearly fainted. I did actually drop to the floor, phone nearly slipping from my fingers as an almost familiar voice echoed in my ears. My chest tightened as I looked up at the mantle, where all Kendra’s photos were lined up. A happier twelve year old you couldn’t have found, minus those last few months before her disappearance.
I swallowed before lifting back up my phone. “Is… is this a joke?” I asked.
The girl on the other end cleared her throat. “It’s uh, not. It’s not a joke. I’m Kendra. If you need proof, ummmm… remember when we went to go see that magician, and he called me up on stage? I was like six at the time. He pulled streamers from my pockets and all I wanted to do was pet the bunny. When he made it disappear in the pile of streamers I started bawling my eyes out. You had to drag me off stage and console me with ice cream afterwards. I had strawberry, you had cookies and cream. I love that day.”
I was shaking. I couldn’t believe it. “Kendra… you’re okay? You’re… where have you been?! It’s been eight years, I thought… I thought you were-”
“I’m okay. Mostly.” Kendra sighed and I could hear her fiddle with her phone. “I think I can send a picture, did you get it? I took it last night.”
My phone vibrated and I looked at the picture I received.
A good half of her face was hidden by her hoodie, but I could tell it was Kendra. She was holding up a peace sign with her free hand and I could see a smile.
I couldn’t believe it. It was Kendra.
I managed to get off the ground and have a seat in my living chair. “How… what have you even been doing? Did you run away or were you taken?” Waking up that morning to see my daughter was gone was the worst morning of my entire life.
“I ran away. Ended up in California, somehow.” Kendra laughed again. “You wouldn’t believe what kind of shit I’ve been up to. Pardon my language. But my god, I’ve wanted to come back for so long. I just didn’t know how, you know?”
“You’re always welcome home,” I said. “Are… are you coming home now?”
“Just waiting for the bus to take me that last leg. I actually should be back tonight. You haven’t moved, have you?”
I couldn’t stop myself from sobbing. I was still trying to absorb that my daughter was alive. “No. Your dad wanted to, but I couldn’t. Just in case you ever came back… what have you been even doing?”
“Oh, that’s a story.” I heard Kendra shuffle on the other end. “I’ll give you the full story when I’m back, but I can give you some of the highlights now? I still got like, an hour until my bus gets here. I hate waiting, but I figured talking with you might help. Lucky I still remember your phone number.”
“I made you memorize it for a reason, baby girl.” I wiped away the tears and suddenly my soul felt lighter than it had in years. “Tell me everything. I want to hear it all.”
And she did. She talked about how she managed to get settled in with a nice couple in California who let her stay as long as she did chores and looked after their kid. When she turned fifteen, she got her GED and began traveling. She’d been all over the states. She’d fallen in love, had her heart broken, she’d slept everywhere from street corners to five star hotel rooms- apparently it was a gift from ‘a really hot old guy with really weird kinks’- she’d waited tables, she’d picked pockets, she’d find temp work when she chose to settle down, but she hadn’t really settled. Not ever.
She was half way through a story about the time she’d shared a hotel room with two prostitutes and their guard dog when she cut off. “Shit! Bus is here, I gotta get going. I’ll be home around six.”
“Should I have dinner ready? I think I still have the ingredients for your favorite.” Honey garlic chicken and rice. She could’ve eaten that for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
“Nah, I think I’ll eat on the way. See you soon! I love you, mom!”
She hung up and for several minutes, I sat alone in silence.
Then I got up and began cleaning the house. I turned on the Beach Boys as I dusted off all the surfaces, did all the dishes. I hadn’t felt this free in so long. I only paused for a moment before I headed into Kendra’s bedroom.
I hadn’t gone in there since the day she ran away. Nothing had changed- bed was still unmade, an empty fish tank sat on her desk collecting dust. I pushed up my sleeves and got to work. Sheets were thrown into the wash, the fish tank was cleaned out. I was planning on remaking the bed when I heard the door open behind me.
“Dear? What are you doing in Kendra’s room?”
I’d completely forgotten to call Greg. I spun around to see my husband, one of his eyebrows raised as he looked around the room. I laughed and wiped away another tear. “I got a call today. From Kendra,” I said.
Greg’s face went white. “What are you talking about?” He said.
“She’s alive, Greg!” I laughed and shook her head. “I just wanted to get the house ready, I’ll get dinner started in an hour-”
“Kendra’s not coming home, Lauren. She’s gone, you know that.”
I forced a smile. “Listen, I know it was Kendra. We were on the phone for an hour, she even sent me a selfie, see?” I pulled my phone from my pocket and offered it to Greg.
He took it and I saw his eyes widen before he sneered. “This is a joke. A sick joke. Someone’s making fun of you,” He lifted back up the phone, “This could be anyone. It’s been eight years! What took her so long to call? I can tell you why- because it’s not Kendra.”
My high from earlier crashed. “I was on the phone with her. I’m not an idiot, it was her-”
“I’ll show you.” Greg hit the call button and turned the phone on speaker. “Whoever this is, I’m going to fucking kill them.”
“Greg!” I tried taking my phone back but he waved me off.
The phone rung twice before Kendra answered. “Yeah, mom? Something come up?” She asked. I could hear the sounds of the bus in the background.
Greg’s face had gone from white to a startling shade of red. “Whoever you are, you’re going to stop, right now. Or we’re going to go to the police and-”
Kendra’s laughter cut him off, this time they came out harsh and cutting. “Oh, hi, daddy. Damn, I hoped I would beat you home. Make it a big ole surprise. Tell me, daddy dearest, why were you so eager to move? Why you’re so certain I’m dead? Oh wait… is it because you fucking murdered me, daddy?”
Greg went dead silent. I stared at my husband. “What is she talking about?” I asked.
“I wanted to wait until I was home, but I guess this story can’t wait.” She sighed. “You know, when most people have kids who are depressed, you’re supposed to support them. Ask what’s wrong. I mean, mom tried, but you never did. You got pissed when I stopped turning in work. You called me lazy, you said I was embarrassing you. You told me I was going to be worthless.”
I shook my head. “Is this the truth? Greg! Please, say something.”
He shook his head. “She’s lying, she’s just trying to-”
“Remember the time I was found crying in the library? You were called to school, and you threatened me that if I interrupted your work day again with this ‘bullshit’ you were going to beat me black and blue. I was so scared, I couldn’t tell mom. That’s why I tried to run away. But you tried to stop me…” Kendra sighed. “I’m sending you another picture. Take a good long look at me now.”
I shook but I waited for that picture to pop up.
Now Kendra’s face was entirely revealed and I wanted to vomit. No doubt it was Kendra now, but everything looked so wrong. Her skin was almost a pale green, one eye that soft brown of long ago but the other was like a bright red marble. But the worst part was her left cheek- it looked like it rotted clean off, revealing discolored bone and tooth. I could see her molars all the way to the back.
“You beat me to death, daddy. You finally lost it and you beat me to death, right in the backyard. You panicked. You called a truck driving friend of yours, and he agreed to throw me in the back and take my body all the way to Cali. He threw me in a ditch and considered the job done. A little girl’s body, across the country. All alone. But I was found, daddy. Your friend didn’t hide me well enough.”
Kendra paused to catch her breath. “Their names were Sabrina and Eleanor. They found my body, and they brought me back. I was so scared, so confused, but they were kind to me. They helped me remember my life before, helped me function like a normal person… mostly. There’s still some kinks in the system, but that’s what happens when you’re rotting in the back of a semi truck for a few days before being resurrected.”
“This can’t be real,” Greg finally managed to stutter out. “This can’t be real.”
“Oh, but it is. You wanna know why it took me so long to come back?” Kendra giggled again, the sound making my skin crawl. “It’s because I was still scared of you. Yup. I was scared to face you. Maybe I blamed myself a bit for what happened. Maybe if I tried harder? But no. I’ve finally accepted it wasn’t my fault. It was all you. You killed me. I needed help and you fucking killed me.”
“It… it was an accident…”
That’s all Greg got out before all I saw was red. I grabbed the lamp off of Kendra’s desk, Greg spun around just in time to have it collide with his head. The lamp shattered and Greg dropped to the ground, the phone landing among the glass fragments.
“Mom!? Mom, are you okay?!”
I picked up the phone. “… I broke a lamp over your father’s head,” I said.
“Jesus Christ, mom, did you kill him!?”
I knelt down next to my husband’s limp body. “He’s still breathing, so no.”
Kendra whistled. “Good, because I call dibs. Just throw him in the basement till I get there, bus is pulling into town now. I’ll be home in about half an hour. I love you!” She hung up and I was alone with my unconscious husband.
All these years, I thought I’d been the only one he took out his temper on. He’d never used his fists. Just his words. But those words were fantastic at making me feel like a monster. Like it’d been my fault our daughter was gone.
Kendra’s going to be here any minute now. Greg is locked in the basement, I’ve heard him beg to be let out.
But he’s staying there so he doesn’t miss our daughter coming home.