Fiction: 3 a.m. Orphan by Sean M. Thompson

 

Sean M. Thompson

 

My friend tells me this story. You’ve probably got a friend like her, or him. The type of friend you can’t remember meeting. One of your best friends, which strikes you as odd. You think you’d remember meeting such a good acquaintance.

After a lovely meal and a few drinks, we sit in my living room. And this great friend declares they’ll tell me a story. A story that will make me question reality. I laugh, as I’m sure you would have laughed; being a little drunk, as I was, as you might have been. You would be relaxed, as I was relaxed. This good pal of mine has such a way about them, such a skill with performance.

My friend begins by saying a number of years ago there is a poor orphan girl from a poor part of the country. You probably know exactly what part of the country. You might even live in a place like it. A place where the roads are old and broken. Where the center of town is filled with closed businesses, and cheap restaurants that will probably close in a year. A place fallen on hard times, which does not appear to be bouncing back in the foreseeable future.

 

This orphan girl, my friend tells me, no one’s sure of who her parents were, or who his parents are.

 

My friend can’t seem to recall if the orphan child was a boy, or a girl. And, ultimately it doesn’t affect the story one way or the other, so my friend tells me it doesn’t need to be known. I agree. You would have agreed to, finding yourself drawn into the tale with every look, every word they uttered.

The story goes the local fire station got a knock on its door. The chief awakens, groggy as a fire chief often is, most people not planning their house fires at a convenient time of night. The chief opens the door to the fire station, my friend says, and then this friend grows still. And I wait, anxious for him to keep going.

Or maybe for her to keep going. I can’t seem to recall.

When the fire chief opens the door, my friend explains, there on the steps is a baby, wrapped in a stained yellow blanket, in a dirty old wicker basket. Naturally, the fire chief calls the police station in town. He’s a good Samaritan, and wants to find the parents. My friend explains the police ask around, but no one in town has seen anything. Whether this is true or not is, of course, not a thing the authorities can rightly discern; not without evidence.

The firehouse has a camera attached to the building, for security purposes. Stands to reason. Yet, when the police and the fire chief check the footage from the camera they find themselves perplexed. Because in the footage one second there is no baby on the front steps, and the next there is.

The police take the camera to a local tech guru, and after careful inspection the techie lets them know nothing is wrong with the camera. The police and the fire chief don’t believe this techie. There has to be something wrong with the camera. Babies don’t just appear from thin air. But the tech expert assures them there is nothing wrong with the camera. Best this tech expert can tell the police and the chief is maybe, and this is a big maybe, there was a freak glitch and the camera malfunctioned for just long enough to miss whoever left the baby.

Frustrated, the authorities go to another technical expert to analyze the camera, and the footage. Again, they’re told there’s nothing wrong with the security camera, and the footage isn’t doctored in any way.

Now, my friend tells me this chief is a kind man, and has a wife who is well liked in town. His wife volunteers at the local animal shelter, organizes fundraisers for cancer charities. You probably would smile seeing her. Only thing is, the chief’s wife is not able to get pregnant, and she has always wanted to have children. It clearly breaks her heart she can’t conceive.

Except, maybe I’ve got it turned around. Maybe the fire chief was a woman, the wife in the story, and maybe it was her husband who volunteered, and the husband was the one who was infertile. Perhaps I am remembering this information wrong. It doesn’t really matter who was what, because the reason my friend tells me these details is to inform me the couple decides to adopt the abandoned child.

Now, my friend tells me the child grows up, and everyone loves him. Or … maybe it was a her.

 

How strange, to not remember a detail like that.

 

Either way, he or she is well liked. They do well in school. They volunteer just like their parents, help the town in any way they can. This child is considered an important member of the community, though I’m not sure what that even means, as I suspect I’ve never been one. You probably know a child just like them.

But there’s one weird thing about this abandoned child, adopted by this loving couple. My friend tells me this kid gets up every night at three in the morning. Same time the kid was left on the front steps of the firehouse as a baby. The child sleepwalks out onto the front steps of their parent’s house. You probably know someone who sleepwalks. You might not even know you know them. After all, it’s not like you can know every intimate detail of every passing person.

My friend tells me, the kid just sits, for hours at a time. They don’t do a single thing.

The parents try everything. They take the child to see a psychiatrist from the city, take them to see a psychologist. The child takes medication, does hypnosis therapy, talk therapy, physical therapy, any type of relevant therapy you can possibly think of. This family tries, over and over again, to get their child help so they’ll stop sleepwalking.

Nothing works. Tying the kid to the bed doesn’t work because the child somehow undoes the knots in their sleep, and besides it seems a little barbaric, even if it is in the child’s best interest. Locking the door doesn’t work, because the child somehow picks the locks. My friend asks me if I’ve ever heard of anyone able to pick a lock in their sleep?

 

I admit I’ve never heard of a person able to pick a lock in their sleep. You probably haven’t heard of anyone who can either.

 

Now, my friend tells me, this couple needs to sleep. It’s been years of one or the other having to check on the child at three in the morning. The lack of sleep is taking its toll on them. It would probably take its toll on you too.

The couple start to fight. The fights turned vicious. They throw things in the house at each other: vases, chairs, silverware, plates. And my friend tells me it only got worse as the kid gets closer to eighteen. The couple hit each other. It’s one of those rare cases where they’re both to blame: there isn’t one person who’s the main aggressor. They each seem to take turns, swapping the role of primary abuser.

The violence gets rougher. The couple put each other into the hospital with broken bones, and internal bleeding. Soon their bodies are covered in scars and bruises all the time. It’s like this couple has had some kind of collective psychotic break, my friend tells me. Their friends hardly recognize them anymore, and not just because of their injuries. They seem like entirely different people. Mean, and violent, a far cry from the people they used to be, that people knew them as.

The child feels terrible. He or she can’t control their sleepwalking, but they know it’s making their parents fight. So, finally, one night after so many years of being tied to the bed and somehow untying the knots to escape, of picking locks and failed medications and all the rest the kid decides enough is enough. The child isn’t going to sleep as much as possible.

The child barely sleeps. He or she takes cat naps during the day, and stays up all night drinking coffee. They buy stimulants from the drugstore, legal ones. They take herbal supplements. They do everything they can to stay awake for as long as they can.

The parents stop fighting. They’re finally able to get some sleep.

 

Only, the child starts to notice just about three a.m. every night strange things begin to happen.

 

The battery on their computer loses power after being fully charged. The lock to their bedroom door unlocks itself. When they ask their parents if they unlocked their door, each replies in turn they haven’t.

The child is terrified, my friend explains. The events keep getting more pronounced with each day as they near their eighteenth birthday. Until finally the day before their birthday when the child goes missing.

The parents are heartbroken. They have a number of security cameras set up inside and outside the house. But when they check the footage all they can see is their child walking through the house with their eyes shut. When the front door opens in the footage, and they switch to the outside cameras, there’s nothing. The child is just gone.

Now, my friend tells me, this becomes local news. They send out search parties with cops and volunteers. They find nothing in the woods. Or, perhaps they lived around the desert. Either way, it’s the same deal, the authorities and volunteers find nothing.

The police have no leads. No real evidence to go off of save for a few seconds of security camera footage, and this simply shows a child sleepwalking in their own home.

My friend tells me all this, then stops. I ask my friend to go on, to get to the rest of the story. They tell me there is no rest of the story. That’s it. I tell my friend there has to be more! My friend says there isn’t. Finally, they admit, there is a bit more to tell. I’m so glad. You would have been glad too.

The missing child becomes a local legend bored teenagers tell each other when they’re off doing what teenagers do. The child becomes this cold case the police department tells each new officer who got sworn in. And, though in poor taste, the town even works the mysterious disappearance into their tourism pamphlet. You have to remember this town isn’t very affluent, they need all the money they can get. The legend helps the town. They have enough tourists the town manages to prosper.

At this point my friend says they have to hit the road. I follow behind as they make their way to the front door. I thank them for coming. They say it’s no problem at all.

When my friend walks through the front door of my house they disappear. Or … perhaps he or she was never here to begin with. Perhaps I’ve been talking to myself this whole time. Just sitting here in my house telling this story to an empty room.

 

You probably know a person just like me. You might even be friends with someone like me. The type of friend you don’t remember meeting.

 

The type of friend that tells you a very vague scary story one night. A story which you brush off as an urban legend. Nothing more than a tale to get children to go to bed on time and not talk to strangers.

The type of story that will seem very important in a matter of hours when a knock on the door wakes you at three in the morning.

 

 

Sean M. Thompson is a writer from Massachusetts. He loves horror and anything weird. You can find him on twitter @spookyseanT and his website seanmthompsonfiction.com

 

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