Growing up, I knew that my family’s arrangement wasn’t normal. As I got older, I even had an inkling that it might be wrong. But it was all I knew, and I won’t let myself feel guilty for not doing anything about it for as long as I did.
I was the only biological child of my mom and dad, I found albums stacked away in a corner of the attic. The beginnings of baby books. A picture of an ultrasound, sometimes even a happy card announcing ‘It’s a boy!’ or ‘It’s a girl!’ in blue and pink lettering. Mine was the only one who had pictures of a squishy faced infant with tangled red hair and fat lil cheeks.
My first sibling arrived when I was about four. I’d made the horrible mistake of asking Santa for a baby brother when I sat on his lap. My mother burst into tears when she heard me and I knew I’d done something horrible. When we got home, mom told daddy about it and he told me to go play in my room while they talked about it. I knew that it wouldn’t be right to ask Santa for that again.
Next week on Christmas Day though, I woke up to hear a baby cry.
I ran downstairs to the Christmas tree only to find nothing there. I was confused until I heard a cry again. I followed the sound to the basement, where the most beautiful sight met my eyes.
My daddy had built a secret room behind the bookcase. My old toys I’d grown out of were scattered on the floor, the crib repainted to look brand new. My mom sat in the rocking chair, smiling so brightly as she cuddled a baby wrapped in blue blankets.
I couldn’t breathe. It felt like a dream as I walked up to them, peering to look at his face. His face was all red from crying and a fat tear rolled down his cheek as bleary blue eyes looked back at me.
I probably almost cried. My dad came up behind me and planted a kiss on the top of my head.
“Merry Christmas, Ella.”
They let me name him Robin. I can’t tell you why I picked that name, maybe watching Batman cartoons with my dad every Saturday morning had an effect on me. But Robin was the biggest secret I had to keep. I couldn’t tell all my friends at school I had a brother. If I told anyone, my dad told me that Robin would have to go away, and I didn’t want Robin to go away.
Every day after kindergarten I’d sneak downstairs and just talk with him. Once he stopped crying all the time he was a real sweetie. I’d cradle him so carefully and talk to him about my day. I was so, so happy. I didn’t think I could be any more happy.
Until I got a baby sister. My mom named her Caroline, I just called her Carol. Carol had thick dark curls and the softest skin. I loved her just as much as I loved Robin.
I got five more siblings over the years. Robin, Carol, Andrew, Andrea, Ivy, Ronnie, and Isaac. So many cute little babies. Ivy had a bit of a colic and Ronnie constantly had ear infections, but they were all little dears… well, except Isaac.
Isaac was the oddball out of the kids. He was the only little sibling that wasn’t a baby when he arrived. I was about eight when we got him. I remember my dad come back super late and hearing him walking into the basement. His shadow looked like he was carrying something and I felt a spark of joy in my chest. I knew this meant I’d have a new brother or sister come morning.
I went into the basement the moment I woke up, expecting to see my mom feeding my new sibling a bottle or for him to be kicking his lil feet while relaxing in his crib. I was shocked when I walked into the nursery and found a little boy my age, with a gag in his mouth and handcuffed to his bed.
Confused, I walked over and peeled off the gag. “Are you okay?” I asked.
The boy immediately screamed, straining against his handcuff as he attempted to struggle free. Judging by the bruises and bleeding around his wrist, he’d already tried this. Instead of trying to help him up, I tackled him, slapping my hand over his mouth. “Shut up! You’re gonna wake up our brothers and sisters!” I hissed.
My new brother responded by biting my hand. Hard.
I wailed as I ran back upstairs to my parents. My dad went downstairs to deal with my brother while my mom took extra good care to wash clean my hand and bandage it up. She explained that Isaac was troubled. It would take him time to adjust to his new home, I just had to work really hard to be a good sister.
But I was never to undo his handcuff and I was never, ever to let myself get too close. He was dangerous.
I did my best to stay out of arm’s length of Isaac. My dad had to build another room to put him in, one that was below the staircase. He wasn’t safe to keep around the babies.
I did try to befriend Isaac. For that first month or two all he’d do is lunge at me and spit or just scream in my face.
When he did start talking, it was the things I didn’t want to hear.
“My name isn’t Isaac, you know.”
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard him speak that first time. He was quiet that day, only giving me a sullen glare. I’d decided to leave when he finally spoke up, his voice raspy from all the screaming he did.
“It’s Kevin.” He turned around to face me. “I want my real mom and dad.”
I shook my head. “But my mom and dad are now yours too,” I said. I was such a selfless child, I figured, being so willing to share my parents.
Isaac just shook his head. “No. I don’t want them. I want mine. Your dad came into my bedroom and stole me.”
“You’re a liar.” I stuck my tongue out at him. “I hate you.”
Isaac shrugged. “Just ask him. I bet he killed my mommy and daddy so they wouldn’t look for me, either,” He said.
I stormed out, slamming his door a bit hard. But what Isaac said got to me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even when my dad came to tuck me in and kiss me goodnight. I even almost asked him. But I couldn’t make myself face the truth.
I barely got any sleep for a week. Every time I closed my eyes all I saw was Isaac, all alone under the stairs. Thinking about his real mom and dad.
I still didn’t do anything until I overheard my mom and dad talking about getting rid of Isaac.
It was late, probably close to midnight. I still couldn’t sleep so I was going to my parent’s room to ask for something to drink when I heard them talking.
“I told you, Isaac is too old. He’s too far gone. We can’t help him,” I heard my mom.
“Give it some more time, we can still help him!” My dad sounded so desperate, so… so sad.
“I’m sorry. But this was your rule, and breaking it was never going to end well. I’ll… I’ll take care of it myself tomorrow. Take Ella out while I handle Isaac. We’ll just tell her he ran away.”
Even at my young age I knew something really bad was going to happen to Isaac. And even if I hated him, I couldn’t let that happen.
I found the key to the handcuffs, ran into the basement and ripped open the door. Isaac, no, Kevin jolted up in bed. “What’s wrong?” He asked.
I didn’t say anything, I just slid the key into the lock and freed him. Kevin gaped as he pulled his hand free. “… But why?” He asked.
“We need to go to the cops. Come on, hurry!”
I took Kevin’s hand and we snuck out the back. I held onto his hand when we ran down the street, and I kept holding on when we finally came across a cop car. Of course, seeing these tiny tykes at that time of night got his attention.
I told him everything. About the children behind the bookcase, what I heard my mother plotting. All of it.
My life was turned upside down after that. All these children my parents had taken. Just little babies that were taken from their cribs in the middle of the night, the parents awaking to find their child was gone.
Kevin was right, he was the only one whose parents had been killed. Their throats had been cut open. My dad claimed that by the time he’d gotten there Kevin’s parents were already dead, but that really didn’t hold up in court. My mom swallowed a bottle of pills before she could be tried and my dad was sentenced to life in prison.
The last time I saw him, he just patted my shoulder and told me it wasn’t my fault how this all turned out.
He hung himself that night in his jail cell.
Now I was an orphan just like Kevin.
I went into the system, which was just as shitty as it sounds. I’ve literally done everything from sleeping on the floor to showering with my clothes on because I didn’t feel safe. I bounced from house to house until a great aunt crawled out of the woodwork to save me. She really didn’t do much other than clothe and feed me but that’s all I needed. By then I was fourteen, I could basically take care of myself.
The last thing she did for me was make sure I got my childhood home back. I know it’s fucked up, considering what went down there, but my heart ached whenever I passed it. No one ever bought it. The yard was unkempt, windows gathered dust and paint began to peel. But my aunt, penny pincher that she was her whole life, had saved enough to give me all I needed to scoop it off the market.
I’ve spent the last month cleaning up the place. It’s actually starting to look like a home, and it was only two nights ago that I stumbled across those old albums I told you about.
There was another one though, for all the kids my parents abducted. It was hidden behind a fake panel in the wall, I only found it because I accidentally kicked the damn thing. I contemplated just leaving it there. A part of my past I didn’t need to dig up.
But I went through it anyway… and there was so much I actually didn’t remember.
I didn’t remember that Robin’s eyes glowed ultraviolet in the dark. I didn’t remember that Andrew and Andrea never slept. I didn’t remember how Carol sprouted a mouth full of needle like teeth and had leathery wings jutting from her back. I didn’t remember that Ivy had patches of pale blue scales breaking up her otherwise dark skin. I didn’t remember that Ronnie’s ears came to a slender point and that he had a second set of near transparent eyelids. Kevin seemed normal, maybe, but now I’m not so sure. When I think of his hands, I remember how each fingertip ended in a sharp, bone claw.
I’ve not slept since then. I’ve stayed up to research those kids, my little brothers and sisters. In the news footage they looked normal enough… almost. If you squint you could almost see Ivy’s scales or Ronnie’s ears not looking right. But then you blink and they just look like normal little kids.
I’ve dug up their fates. They all went back to their families. But all their families are now all dead and have been for a while. Ivy’s family drowned, that much I confirmed. I think Ronnie’s dad just never woke up. The others I’m still researching.
And Kevin? His foster parents had their throats cut out one night. He’s never been seen since.