How We Found You
They Never Found the Bodies
Kate looks up from her holoscreen and blinks hard. How long has she been online? She only meant to look up a recipe for a quick dinner but has fallen into a rabbit hole quilled with xlinks. The open tab leaves all nipping for attention. Animated 4DHD in hypercolour floating before her – or as Seth calls it: Rainbow Crack.
The twins are far too quiet. They must be getting up to something. Defacing the walls with chocolate glitter? Baking their Lego cake in the real oven? Kate sighs, rubs her eyes and lets her warm hands rest on her neck. She pictures the multicoloured plastic blocks sagging through the metal grid. Caramelised Lego lava. She hopes the smell of burning plastic is a figment of her synaesthesia.
“Silver?” she calls. “Mally?”
Part of her wants to pretend she doesn’t notice the quiet. Peace is difficult to come by when you’re the single mother of four-year-old twins. Well, not quite a single mother, and not quite twins. Not quite four years old yet, either, but this is how life is: a series of not-quites and half-broken dreams.
The silence hovers around her like a fresh white cloud (Bleached Bliss).
She unclips her feet from the pedals and climbs off her cycling desk. The holo leaves wink out, making the silence seem somehow louder. She calls again. “Silver?”
Maybe they’re watching something with their earbuttons in. She checks the games room. An animated film is playing silently on the cinewall, but no eyes are watching it. The bedroom floor is an obstacle course of discarded toys and clothes. She picks up Alba, Silver’s cuddle-bunny, and lays it gently on her pillow. The HappyHammox are empty, although Mally’s is swinging slightly, as if someone has just brushed past it. Kate stops its motion with her hand.
There is a mewling from the corner. She spins around and dread tingles in her stomach. Another sad cry escapes from a heap of teddies and trucks. Kate tip-toes over to the wailing pile and picks her way through it, discovering a Bébébot of Silver’s. Registering that its been picked up, the playbot stops crying and blinks at her.
“Mama,” it says. “Mama.”
The infant’s silicone limbs are warm to the touch. Its lips open and close, looking for its pacifier. Kate has never liked the soft robotics doll. It’s not the toy’s fault; something in her is just revolted by its similarity. Uncanny valley, they call it, when a robot bears a resemblance too striking for comfort.
“Mama,” it says again then roots for something to suck.
Kate turns the doll around, unbuttons the cotton onesie and lifts up the fabric to reveal the switch on its back. A shot of yellow adrenaline spikes her blood. It’s already off.
Kate almost drops the thing. She toggles the switch on and off again, turns the doll around. It blinks at her.
Faulty wiring. Her heart is hammering. She takes a step and cobalt stars rip into her foot, and looks down to see that she’s stood on a toy Volanter. Curses crowd her head and she shakes them away.
She calls louder now, in a voice that’s not quite hers. “Silver?”
At least we’re in a high-rise. A nice safe apartment instead of a house on a road that can coax the kids away with the promise of adventure. Then again, scores of other people live in the block, and in her experience, people are far more dangerous than roads.
Kate hurries to the front door, checks the locks. Seth promised her that his new Safeguard, state-of-the-art security system is “bullet-proof” but she made him install some old-fashioned locks just in case. She doesn’t trust a retina scanner. Tech is wonderful until it stops working. She won’t settle for anything less than an old-school door chain, a deadbolt and panic hardware. Her synaesthesia interprets the sounds of the mechanisms locking as reassuring blocks of grey stacked on top of each other. Click, click, click. Not that it helps her sleep at night.
“Kids? Where are you?”
She scans the lounge, the kitchen, the study, the kids’ bathroom.
“Don’t panic,” she says, but the shooting neon yellow is back.
She checks Seth’s room, her bedroom, her bathroom. The shower door is closed. Did she close it? Is there something behind the frosted glass? A shadow? Her breath catches, heart-in-throat. Kate reaches for the retraction button, but hesitates. Her outstretched fingers tremble.
They never found the bodies.
Shut up. Just shut up.
She could fetch her gun from the safe in her bedroom cupboard but decides against it. Kate presses the retraction button and the superglass partition slides into the wall to reveal an empty cubicle of porcelain tiles.
A spray of relief that the shower is intruder-free. Terror that the twins aren’t in it.
Interwoven with the ribbons of fear is the scent of almond soap. Bad thoughts swarm Kate’s brain. She tries to keep them out but there are too many of them – in her head and in her throat, threatening to cut off her oxygen.
It’s happened again, the voices in her head say. Just like you knew it would.
The cold mist of fear rustles on her skin.
They’re gone. They’ve been taken.
• JT Lawrence •
Author / Playwright / Bookdealer