Ehren Nightbell glares at Heike, a twenty-something redheaded tomboy he had chosen from an expanse of sunny blonde nanny applicants months ago.
He loved how her cheeks, rosy and dusted with fine sandy bits, glowed when he first met her, and her joyful brown eyes that vanished every time she laughed. Ehren needed a tough nanny to deter the pests attracted to his daughter Elodie, and other nannies couldn’t handle the responsibility.
He hired Heike on the spot.
In time, Ehren realized pests didn’t exist with the new nanny around, providing him more leisure time with Elodie, and the chance to breathe easier.
When leisure time turned to idle time, his attention fell on Heike intimately and hadn’t wavered since.
Home from his board meeting, Ehren watches Heike turn the sleeve of her cherry colored cardigan as she struggles to maintain eye contact.
“Elodie fell asleep. I remember I laid her down. It was a little after ten, before me and you—um. Anyway, after we finished, you had left for your board meeting. I went to check on her, and…” she groans. “I’m the worst nanny ever. I’m sorry Ehren!”
“It’ll be alright. Just listen to me, Heike. Calm down, okay?” They sit on the bed. His hand slides across her jean thigh, silencing her shaky leg. “Tell me everything.”
Heike nods. “Yesterday, I heard a voice. It told me, when daylight plunges, we begin. After her bath, when warm milk digested within, her soft breaths will end…”
“FUCK!” Ehren roars, soaring from the bed. His fist eats the nursery wall.
Heike shuffles on the couch, uneasy.
A list of enemies ran through Ehren’s head, among them Heike, for withholding information.
“Yesterday. You knew about this yesterday?! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I f-forgot. I didn’t remember hearing the voice!”
“How could you forget? We were together all day… You could’ve told me! Damnit. I should’ve been here tonight. I shouldn’t have gone to that stupid emergency board meeting.”
“It’s my fault. I wasn’t strong enough to fight it off. When we’re together, I lose myself with you. My strength drains, everything changes and I’m weak… I could’ve saved Elodie if we didn’t—”
“Yeah, of course,” he snaps, pacing the room with slow, deep breaths. “Just keep going,” he leans into the wall, slowly banging his head against it.
“When I went to check on her, it came. These… hands held my shoulders… pressing me down—they were so strong, like they were keeping me away from Elodie!” Heike cries, pacing the room. Her hands clench the crib where a pacifier and empty bottle of milk remain.
“What did it look like?” Ehren asks.
“It was this thing in the moonlight—this shadowy woman standing beside the crib. She kissed Elodie! I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry…”
“It kissed her—? No… NO!”
“I saw it… her lean in, I heard it, this wet smack…” Heike wipes her cardigan sleeve across her nose. Streams of gooey snot seep into the fine-knit viscose blend.
Seething with suspicion, Ehren fights the urge to console her.
“I knew I shouldn’t have left you with Elodie. This was a mistake, everything!” He taps his gold class ring against the crib nervously, but keeps a level head despite his rising anger. “What did the woman look like?”
“Shadowy gray skin, long, smoke-like hair. I couldn’t see too much.” Ehren’s eyes narrow. Heike bites her lip and looks aside. “When the hands released me, Elodie was gone!”
The room grows dark…
Heike hides behind Ehren, pressing her body against his as the closet door cracks.
They stop breathing.
A thin slice of gold light pours out, crawling towards their feet. Fed-up, Ehren breaks from Heike’s grip and opens the closet door wide.
A squishy whale night sits on the floor inside.
Normally operated by hand, they watch as the toy changes colors on its own, flickering between hues of red, yellow, green, blue.
Red, red, yellow, green, blue.
Red, red, red, yellow, green, blue… black.
Red, black… red, red, red, red, red, red…
Ehren growls and kicks the light with his foot. “It was her, wasn’t it?”
“I don’t… I’m not sure, maybe…” she shivers, hugging herself.
The lights turn on.
Ehren runs past Heike, following a babbling sound to the crib.
“Elodie!? What the—? She’s here!” he grips the crib. “Thank goodness!” He holds the little chunk in front of him, examining her for injuries. There’s none. He hugs her tight, taking in every bit of her soft, powdered scent. She babbles happily.
“You’ve failed to keep the pests away.” He turns to Heike. “The main thing I hired you to do!”
Her eyes swell with tears.
“But—But Ehren, I—”
“NOW!” he seethes.
She flees the nursery.
Ehren sweeps a gentle hand across Elodie’s wispy brown hair, kissing her warm forehead. Her lavender eyes focus on him, bright and glowing.
He smiles, and the room dims.
“You went too far this time,” Ehren whispers into the night. “Show yourself, Victoria.”
“How did you know?” She hisses, still unseen. “I returned for her blanket…”
Cold wetness marks the back of his neck. Cringing, he steps aside.
“Whenever Elodie’s eyes glow, it’s because you’re around,” he pauses, wiping ooze from his neck. He struggles to see Victoria in the darkness. “That’s the third nanny I’ve lost. I liked her…” he frowns, peeking out the nursery window. Heike’s truck is gone. “Where did you take Elodie?”
A blanket floats out of the crib. He rips it down and throws it back in.
“Here and there. She misses me. I only wish to spend time with her. She needs a mother. You can’t deny me that, not after I kissed her. Besides, without Elodie, you’ll have more time for toys.”
“You’re incapable of being a mother, you know this. And Heike isn’t a toy, you don’t know her.”
“I know you. If I hadn’t chosen you years ago, you wouldn’t have been as successful in life as you are now. I made you a man. And I made myself a mother. Well, I thought I did. You took that from me.”
“I didn’t take Elodie. You left her here minutes after she was born! You abandoned her! You can’t claim her like some hat in a lost and found.”
Icy hands wrap around Ehren’s waist from behind, diving southbound. He yanks himself away.
“You wanted me then. You want me now,” Victoria says.
“I want someone else. It was never you.”
“Liesss…” A juicy, forked tongue flicks his ear. “I’m more to you than that, Ehren Nightbell.”
“You’re a SUCCUBUS, YOU’RE NOTHING!”
Clouds of moonlight haze and dusky gloom fill the room. Within the clouds, a gray woman absent of distinguishing facial features surfaces. Her waist length, smoke-like hair hangs over her nude breasts. She wears a jade-colored serpent with glowing rubies for eyes around her slim waist. It hovers in front of Ehren, then curls around Elodie, lifting her from his grasp and into Victoria’s embrace.
Ehren grabs Victoria’s arm. “Don’t do this. You didn’t even want her! My family loves Elodie. I love Elodie. Don’t take her away…”
“I changed my mind. Human women do that, it’s a thing. I’m half-human myself, so why can’t I?” she shrugs. “I already kissed her, Ehren. Her fate’s sealed.”
He yanks her lanky, raw arm harder. “I could’ve killed you long ago, but I didn’t. We could’ve worked things out. We still can—”
He was desperate, hopeless. He’d marry the creature to avoid losing his darling baby girl.
“It’s too late. I can no longer deny her. I’m sorry Ehren, she must go to sleep in this world. Her meaning is elsewhere.”
Ehren watched the serpent retrieve the blanket, draping it over Elodie.
They plunge into a flurry of black shadows and Victoria’s cackling laughter. When the lights come back on, Ehren finds Elodie’s pacifier where her mother stood. He sobs and holds it close, still warm and masked with baby drool.
Two Days Later
An intoxicating scent of pine in the apothecary sizzles Heike’s nostrils while she browses. If the air were edible, she’d take a generous bite. Lately, all she did was eat in her grief.
If the self-loathing continued, she’d return to class five pounds heavier. Heike wished she’d find a new guy or two as a distraction, and a third covert choice kept for when tired of the others.
It didn’t matter.
Ehren was the only one meant for her. As much as she tried to forget him, she couldn’t.
Victoria returned that night as Heike had worried, and authorities were investigating as announced on the news, but no one had results.
“Miss? The store’s closing in fifteen.” A friendly associate waves from the back. She’s standing on a tall ladder stocking boxes on top shelves.
Heike waves and lowers her baseball cap, desperate to hide her puffy, heartbroken face as much as possible. “Yes, thank you. I won’t be too long.”
She came to the store for her favorite eucalyptus grapefruit body cream. It always helped settle her nerves. They marked it on sale, sitting beside a translucent crystal bell jar where a smooth whirlwind of obsidian, gray, and glowing violet hues swirled together inside, stretching from top to bottom.
She looks closer, deeper.
“No fucking way dude…”
Heike had seen this oddity before when Elodie slept. Her entire crib would turn into a pitch-black sea of shadows where deep down within the abyss, there was always a small, pulsing violet light, like the one in front of her. It was Elodie’s aura, a pleasant little soul locked away. Why would she be here… like this?
Heike’s face darkened when she saw the sign: Not for sale.
She stares at her vertical-slit pupils in the mirror behind the counter with slow, rising intensity. Her hands grip the counter so hard the glass webs beneath.
“Miss?” the associate asks.
Heike lowers her cap further, then turns around.
“See anything you like? We have a lovely array of pokey succulents and a sale on love potions.”
“Love makes me weak. I’m not interested. Not now, at least, Miss…?”
“Oh. My name is Amy. I’m the owner. Can I help you find something?”
“Oh. I see… Miss Amy. Well, no, everything is not okay. I want this item.”
“The bell jar? Apologies, that’s not for sale.”
Heike grabs Amy’s arm. She recoils, but her grip tightens.
“You’ll never darken his home again, Victoria.”
The apothecary impostor hisses, revealing a thick, crimson forked tongue. It stabs at Heike, but she jumps to the side and grabs Victoria’s neck instead, choking her. She flings the creature over the counter, lunging Victoria into shelves against the wall. Tons of boxes collapse on her, barely missing the bell jar wobbling on the counter from the action.
Heike slowly walks in front of another mirror when a white and black spotted serpent lunges at her from behind. She jerks to the left, but the serpent barrels ahead, smashing into the mirror. It sways backward, revealing its head dipped in inky blood and glass shards. Heike gags at the hot sewage stink of Victoria’s open wounds.
“Not for sale. SHE’S MINE!” The serpent slithers in front of Heike’s face just as her tongue reappears. Heike lunges forward, biting into the serpent’s head and pulls away, revealing black lined fangs. “Thank you for making our transaction so easy,” Heike says, smiling like a Cheshire cat. She bites into her flesh again.
Victoria falls like a loose rope, sprawled across the black-and-white tiled floor, motionless.
“You discovered love makes me weak. That’s why you took Elodie when you did. You knew I could stop you, but waited until I couldn’t. But you can’t chase me away like the other nannies…”
Heike holds the limp serpent high. Her black boot presses down on its lower half, s l o w l y stretching the serpent apart until it snaps in half, like an aged rubber band. After, she lights a match and throws it at the creature, searing its soul in a quiet blaze.
With the body cream bagged, she opens the bell jar. The whirlwind inside slows and leaks out, molding itself into an infant, back into Elodie.
Minutes later, they make it back to Ehren’s house.
“I found her,” Heike said when Ehren answered, hiding her face behind the babbling baby.
“Heike, h-how did you—?” he takes Elodie from her grasp. “Thank you… I—”
“I have my ways. When I’m not enamored with you, it’s why you hired me.” She kicks the ground, unsure if he actually ended her employment.
Ehren kisses Elodie and hands her to his sister, Khiana, who covers the child in a blanket, rushing her inside.
“I killed her,” Heike whispers once they were alone again.
Ehren was quiet for a moment. “I’m not surprised. It’s in your job description. I needed a nanny to handle pests, someone long-term.”
“I don’t want to be a term…” Sighing, she backs away. “I should go.”
“I have class, remember? School starts in three days. I’m moving on campus.”
“At my alma matter.” He smiles. “It’s close to my house.”
“I’m not mad at you… I’m sorry, Heike. I shouldn’t have reacted that way. It wasn’t your fault. I can’t thank you enough for bringing my daughter back home.” He takes her hands in his. “I’ve been thinking… Stay with me? It won’t matter how weak I make you now.” Ehren whispers.
Heike leaps into his arms, pulling each other’s heartstrings with long awaited tongue colliding, deep kisses.