Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Short Story: Kaylie’s Smile

Okay, here it is. The darkest, grimmest, most unforgiving, relentless and nastiest little piece of tale I ever conceived of and gave birth to. This tale is cold and bleak, chilling even. It is my one and only professional sale to date. I love it and abhor it all at the same time. In fact, I think it’s my favorite. What else would you expect from a truly twisted mind. Enjoy - if you can - smile even, if you dare. Go ahead and emote - it’s good for you.

Kaylie's Smile
by Paul Darcy

On Kaylie’s first birthday, she turned three months and one day old.

Kaylie belonged to proud parents who brought her home from the hospital two days after she was born. They were filled with love and joy, beaming with the glow of new parenthood. That same day they also brought home a stasis containment module designed for single infants up to twelve kilograms.

Weeks earlier, they renovated a bedroom for Kaylie. It shone with new paint and was complete with a crib, stuffed animals, toys, and colorful murals hanging from the walls. It was a perfect setting for a little baby girl. They placed the stasis containment module across from her crib. It looked innocuous, covered with a brightly patched blanket. The module was meant to be used for emergencies or when parents were unable to look after an infant for short periods of time. It was never intended as a baby sitter and the instruction manual warned against leaving a child in the containment module for more than twenty-four hours.

Before leaving the hospital, the new parents were counseled on the module’s proper use. They had nodded with understanding and agreement. But, with a newborn in the house anything explained to them might as well have been written on lavatory tissue.

Still, they had the best of intentions.

The first time Kaylie’s parents used the stasis containment module was at two o’clock in the morning, three days after little Kaylie became a permanent member of their household. Both of them were exhausted, in desperate need of sleep. The module sat right beside the crib, offering peace and quiet. Kaylie’s father had an important meeting the next day and needed to be fully rested. And so little Kaylie, all three and a half kilograms of screaming joy, was placed in the stasis module, the device closed and turned on. Instant tranquility descended on the house. Looking at Kaylie’s open mouth made both parents feel a certain amount of guilt and concern, but they were extremely fatigued. After several minutes of convincing themselves that she would be all right in the module, they went back to bed and fell asleep.

In the morning, Kaylie’s father went to work well rested and Kaylie’s mother took the child out of the module. She still felt guilty, but certainly better rested and much more able to handle the infant’s urgent, but non-life threatening cries. And so Kaylie’s third day of life was somewhat different than the first two, though she was far too young to notice what was right and what was wrong.

Two weeks later, the stasis containment module was used again. Kaylie’s father had earned a huge promotion at work and the family had to relocate to a different city by the end of the month. An impromptu party was held for him at his workplace and he and Kaylie’s mother could not find a baby sitter for the evening. They decided to use the module. After all, the party would only last a couple of hours. When they returned home that evening, tipsy and tired, they decided to leave Kaylie in the module until the morning when they would both be better able to look after her.

In the remaining weeks leading up to moving day, the containment module was employed many more times. How many times Kaylie’s parents could not recall, but there was always some urgent errand to attend to. Between selling the house and finding a new one, arranging movers, packing special items, and canceling utilities, Kaylie’s parents were pressed for time. The list of tasks seemed endless and Kaylie’s mom needed quiet time at home to sort out the details. Kaylie’s father was seldom around. He was busy traveling to and from his new job location and training his replacement. During all of this hustle and bustle, Kaylie’s doctor took seriously ill and retired. Kaylie’s parents would need to find a new one for her, after they had moved and were settled, and had more time.

Once Kaylie’s parents moved into their new home they used the containment module again, and often. What with the unpacking, scouting out the new town, planning new activities and finding new friends, little time was left to attend to Kaylie, so she spent most of her time in her room in suspended animation, questioning blue eyes staring into timelessness.

Kaylie’s parents were not neglectful of Kaylie in the beginning, but they slowly introduced bad habits into their lives. The diaper change could wait until the show was over. Feeding could wait until the afternoon. It wasn’t convenient to play with her. They were tired. They went for walks and out to restaurants. They saw many plays. They even went to Barbados. It was only for a week. This became the routine for Kaylie’s parents and as they spent more time away from home enjoying and enriching their lives, little Kaylie spent more time in the module.

On Kaylie’s fifth birthday, she turned four months and six days old.

Kaylie’s dad’s new job, a high profile executive position, kept him away from home almost all of the time, traveling around the world influencing people and increasing revenues. Kaylie’s mom started a part time job which became a full time position very soon after. This led to more prominent positions with longer and longer hours. Kaylie spent almost all of her time in the module now and her parents spent almost all of their time getting ahead in the world. If ever asked if they had any children, Kaylie’s parents would avoid answering, and those asking would drop the subject politely.

Kaylie’s bedroom eventually became a home office. Her toys and crib and all the other necessities of infancy found their way to the attic. Kaylie herself, suspended in time, joined her things in the attic not long after. Those visiting Kaylie’s parents’ house never knew that she existed. And so time slipped away while Kaylie’s parents made great strides in the business and social world.

On Kaylie’s fortieth birthday, she turned six months old.

Kaylie’s father retired and so did Kaylie’s mother. Their careers had been very successful. They had acquired every material thing they could have ever wanted, seen everything they wanted to see, and fulfilled every possible wish. The question of Kaylie had not come up seriously for years, and now that they were both old and retired they were less sure of what to do. Could they raise her now in their retirement as they had promised themselves? They would sleep on it and talk about it in the morning.

Kaylie’s father died of a heart attack when he was ninety-eight. Kaylie’s mother lasted ten years longer, living in the same house. She was so infirm during her last years that she could hardly take care of herself. But she sometimes struggled up to the attic to look at her daughter, like she were a picture and not a real person, her only daughter.

When Kaylie’s mother died, Kaylie was left alone in the attic with her things, smiling at some long forgotten pleasure she had experienced years ago. Some of her skin had changed color. Some of her hair had turned to dust. Some of the blue had washed from her eyes.

The bank sold the house to a couple soon after foreclosure. They found Kaylie when they cleaned the attic and immediately called the police. They weren’t sure what she was. Kaylie’s discovery made the front pages of many papers, her little smile using up countless gallons of printing ink. Kaylie, for a brief time, was known throughout the world. The world, for a brief time, was horrified.

How could such a thing happen?

At the city’s best hospital Kaylie was scheduled for release from the stasis containment module. No living creature had ever been contained for such an extensive period of time. And so, at the designated hour, the module was opened. Kaylie’s smile quickly transformed into a screaming rictus of pain, and then she was quiet.

On Kaylie’s eightieth birthday, she died. She was six months and fourteen days old.

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