All throughout life, students are told to figure out how to get a healthy balance between work, school and social life. No one told me it would be harder as an adult. Work, fun and family. Those three often bump into one another, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try to connect them as much as I can.
Work gets boring as a Disaster Recovery Service manager. Sitting in a closet-sized room is enough to spark some claustrophobic effects on the brain, but add in the intense blue screen lights that are the only source of light, and now you have the formula for a classic computer nerd. Beside my main screen is a picture of the light of my life, my baby girl Stefanie. Looking at it doesn’t fill me with warmth anymore though, not since last week.
The day was as any other. I went to work after dropping Stefanie off at daycare, drove twenty minutes to Betterment Corp. and said hello to Derek at the desk. I never get calls when working, not from outside sources. Maybe that was why I was shocked to hear the unfamiliar tune. The wheels on my swivel chair screeched as I grabbed the phone handle and held it up to my ear.
“Hello, Betterment Corporation. This is Disaster Recovery.” no response. The connection must be bad in this room because the call was completely silent, I hung up and rolled back to my table. If someone needs me, surely they’ll call again. They did.
“Hello?” I waited for a response, this time I knew it couldn’t have been a bad connection. “Disaster Recovery?” The soft hush of slow, low breathing was barely audible over the electric buzz surrounding me. “I can hear you breathing. I’m very busy, please do not call back unless you need Disaster Recovery assistance.”
You would think the pranksters would stop it there. When I returned from break, I had six voicemails! I wasted fifteen minutes listening to them all. Why did I waste my time? Something felt odd about these calls. Each voicemail held no content. Just soft breathing and a sound resembling pebbles crumbling. All but the last. I swear I heard some laughing.
Very faint, high pitched laughing and a piglet’s deranged squeals? Children are messed up.
I turned on music and tried pushing the pranks out of my mind until another call came my way. I ripped the phone from the table, “I swear to God if you kids don’t stop messing with me, I will call the police.”
“I’m sorry daddy,” The sound of my dear princess made my anger soften.
“Baby no,” I consoled. “I thought you were someone else. Did you get back from daycare alright?”
“And what are you doing now?”
“Playing with my new friend.”
“Friend? You know you shouldn’t have people over without me there.”
“No daddy, he is a friend of yours
too!His name is Gula.” I chuckled.
Stefanie is always making new imaginary friends.
“Anyways daddy, I’ll see you soon. Gula said you ignored him, so I should call to get your attention.” and the line ended.
What a silly girl, I thought to myself. And for the rest of the work night until about 9 p.m. I was able to smile, remembering my daughters I love you’s.
As I was clocking out, I waved to Derek and he passed my car keys to me. Soon I was on my way home.
Home is a small and efficient place. At this hour, Stefanie would be asleep and the house silent. Pulling into the driveway, I waited for the tracking lights to kick in. A last warning to Stefanie that if she wasn’t in bed, she can pretend to be.
My light heart dropped heavy as I pushed the key into the door knob and it effortlessly swung open without a turn of the handle.
All the lights were off. Snuggled underneath her blankets was my little princess, right on the futon couch.
“…Princess?” I whispered.
Kneeling beside her, she didn’t flinch at my touch. Concerned, I drew back the blanket. Immediately, my hand dropped the sheet and automatically drew to cover my mouth as a sickening feeling arose.
A limp pig was laying in my daughter’s place. The stench of death blew through the air as a door creaked.
Looking up, I grabbed the closest weapon-like object and readied myself. Turning the corner, I kicked open the restroom door. The nightlight was plugged in and my baby girl was sitting on the bath mat.
“Daddy!” she hugged me, as energetic as ever. “I thought you weren’t going to come! Gula was wrong.”
I looked at her, her eyes were kind, her smile warm.
“Princess… who’s Gula?” she looked passed my shoulder before meeting my gaze.
“Daddy, he is right there.” I glanced behind me to see nothing but the small stoned model my late wife’s brother gave us. A gargoyle meant for protection. Old myths, legends. “Daddy.”
I looked back to her. “He isn’t happy with you. Says you keep leaving me alone for too long. It’s not fair.”
Turning on every light I could, we walked passed the statue and into the living room. Stefanie brought the trash can from the kitchen and stuffed the rotting pig and blankets into it. “I told him you like pigs in a blanket.”
I didn’t sleep that night. As Stefanie rested on my lap, I sat in the hall. Staring at the statue.
Since then, when my phone rings at work, I have Derek answer first. If it’s my daughter, I go home and take my daily breaks.
Which reminds me, it’s ringing. I have to go.
Angelique Inchierca can be contacted at