“Please save my baby!” Clara Brockman cried, running into the emergency room with her unresponsive and limp daughter in her arms.
Nurses sprang into action as they took the child she held from her. They placed her daughter onto a bed in a room.
One nurse looked at her. “What is your daughter’s name?”
Clara sobbed as she looked at her blood-soaked daughter. “Josephine,” she finally answered. “Her name is Josephine. She’s eight.”
“What happened?” the nurse asked, suddenly examining Josephine’s wounds.
“She was on her bike in the street,” Clara answered. “A car hit her.”
Clara remembered the car hitting Josephine and running to find her daughter crushed under the car’s wheels.
“Please! Save her!”
The nurse looked at another nurse then back at her. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Your daughter is dead.”
“No!” Clara cried, sobbing. “No! Please! No!”
She tried to run over to her daughter, but the nurse held her back.
“Ma’am! We need you to come with us.”
“No!” Clara cried out between sobs, fighting to break free.
“Mommy?” a small voice interrupted.
Clara and the nurses stopped trying to fight each other and looked to the bed the child had been placed on.
Josephine sat up on the bed, smiling. “Mommy, please don’t cry. I’m not hurt.”
“Baby!” Clara sobbed, running over to hug her daughter.
She was so caught up in hugging her daughter that she failed to notice the lifeless body of Josephine Brockman that was still lying on the bed.
Clara moved away from the child and held Josephine’s face in both hands. “I thought you were dead.”
Josephine smiled. “I was dead, Mommy. But then they let me come back.”
Clara nodded. “Of course they did. They know how much I need you.”
The little girl squeezed her mother’s hand, smiling. Then she climbed off the bed and walked with her mother out of the hospital.
Clara looked over at her daughter and smiled. Her daughter happily swung on the swing in their backyard. “Ready for lunch?” she called through the window.
Josephine looked up at her, smiled, then nodded. She got off of the swing and trotted over to the porch.
Clara moved away from the kitchen window and walked to the patio door which led to the backyard. She pat her daughter’s head as the girl came up the steps and inside the house. She watched as Josephine took her place at the table in the kitchen. She walked into the kitchen and retrieved the two glass plates containing their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from the counter, then smiled as she turned to carry them to the table.
She froze, nearly losing her grip of the plates.
Josephine sat the table, talking animatedly at the empty chair across from her. There was no one sitting in the chair, but she acted as though there was. She even laughed at something funny.
Josephine turned to smile at her. “Mommy, come and meet my new friend.”
Clara cautiously stepped forward. She noted the empty chair then looked at her daughter again. “Your…friend?”
Josephine nodded. “His name is Arthur and he’s the one who came back with me.”
Clara shook her head in confusion, walking to the table and placing the plates down. “Back from where?”
“Back from the pit, Mommy,” Josephine replied matter-of-factly. “That’s where I went after the car hit me. Arthur helped me to come back, and now he’s going to bring his friends back with him, too.”
Clara tried to tell herself that this was an “imaginary friend” phase that her daughter must be going through, but she had a strong feeling this particular friend she was talking about wasn’t imaginary.
“Really?” she asked, trying to sound interested.
Josephine nodded. “All we have to do is go find them. They will be our friends forever.”
“Yes, dear,” Clara said, smiling and trying to hide the fear in her voice.
She looked down at her sandwich, no longer feeling hungry.
Josephine didn’t appear to be hungry, either. In fact, Clara realized, as she looked at her daughter with growing trepidation, Josephine rarely ate ever since coming home from the hospital.
Clara had always chalked her daughter’s lack of appetite up to the trauma she had just survived, but now maybe there was another reason. Josephine never had any nightmares about the accident and acted like she was her old self again. But something told Clara that she wasn’t.
“I’m not very hungry, Mommy,” Josephine said now, pulling Clara out of her thoughts. “I’m going to go into my room to play with Arthur.” Her smile broadened. “Our friends are waiting for us.”
“I would like to play, too,” Clara said, suddenly feeling a sense of protection for her daughter. “Can I come?”
Josephine looked at the empty chair then to her mother. “Arthur says it’s okay.”
She stood from the chair and watched as Josephine stood and walked around the table to the empty chair. Josephine smiled at her invisible friend then moved back and reached her hand out. She clasped an invisible hand then Clara followed behind as they walked to the child’s room.
Clara’s eyes widened in alarm as they neared her daughter’s bedroom door. Smoke filtered through the bottom of the door and a powerful sensation of heat hit her as they stood in front of it.
She felt some tugging at her shirt and looked down to see Josephine’s curious blue eyes looking up at her.
“Are you ready to die, Mommy?” she asked. “Arthur says you have to die if you want to play with us.”
Before Clara could respond, a searing pain hit her chest. She gasped, clasping at her chest. The pain raced through her. She cried out before everything went dark. Her lifeless body fell to the floor.
When her eyes opened again, she saw her baby girl’s face looking down at her, smiling.
“Come on, Mommy,” Josephine said. “It’s time to play.”
Clara slowly got to her feet and turned to smile down at her daughter. She looked to her left to see the demonic boy, who must be Arthur, smiling up at her.
She took the hands of both children and the door to the room opened. Beyond, Clara could see a world of smoke, fire and jagged rocks in the distance. Bolts of lightning flashed in random areas across the red sky and rocky ground with pits of fire in scattered places lay before them.
Together, they walked through the doorway that served as a portal to this hellish dimension, the ground burning their feet as they walked along the landscape, happy to be together forever.
© Dawn Colclasure