As usual, Richard Salinger couldn’t find his house key.
He fumbled with the items in his back pocket, finally grabbing ahold of the key ring. He sifted the keys through his fingers, trying to find the worn silver one with four teeth.
As he stood there, squinting in the dim porch light, he envisioned a night just like any other. His wife would come out of the kitchen to meet him, take his coat, and close the door behind him. She would smile and say, “Hello, darling, how was work?”
He would reply, “Just fine,” exhausted but glad to be home again. She would kiss him on the cheek and say, “The children are upstairs,” before disappearing into the kitchen again.
He would walk upstairs, reveling in the childishly happy anticipation of seeing his children again. Then there they would be, two little bodies huddled together on the rug, giggling as they pieced together a toy train track or read a storybook.
Upon hearing his footsteps, they would stand up and run to him, Calvin wide-eyed with excitement, Caroline sucking on the ear of her teddy bear.
Salinger would laugh. His love for them was greater than any emotion he'd ever experienced, but he didn’t think he could ever love them as much as Caroline loved her bear.
Salinger finally found the silver four-toothed key, and slipped it into the lock, jiggling it until it caught and the door swung open. The house was not at all cozy and warm like he’d expected; the hallway light was on, but the rest of the house was dark and cold.
A pale circle of floor was illuminated by the single, dim light. There was something resting in the center of the light.
It was a sheet of paper, hastily ripped from the notepad that hung on the refrigerator.
A sour taste in his mouth, he bent down and picked the paper up.
sorry i’m so sorry but he’s making me do this
It couldn't be.
He hoped with all his might that they were safe. Maybe they had simply run out of milk, and had gone on a quick trip to the store.
Maybe his wife had had a migraine, and needed to stay in a dark, quiet room for some time. She’d been having headaches more and more often recently, he thought.
But the note confirmed his worst suspicions. His family was nowhere to be found.
Salinger marched to the telephone and called the police.
The empty warehouse was the first place he told them to look. His wife had worried about it a lot recently, saying it wasn’t good to have an empty place in their neighborhood. She had complained that gangs or “other bad things” might start forming around it.
The officers entered the warehouse cautiously, and Salinger followed closely behind. The light from their flashlights quickly dissipated in the cold, musty gloom, and all he could see was cobwebs and dust.
“But where are they?” he whispered, looking around. The words echoed throughout the warehouse with the despair and emptiness that fills an unfulfilled promise.
Salinger stepped in something wet, and immediately shone the light at the floor near his feet. He realized with a shock that it was blood. There was something else on the concrete, but he couldn’t quite make out its shape.
Upon getting closer, his stomach lurched. The matted fur of its ears was stained a deep crimson, the color of fresh blood. It had been ripped apart at the seams rather violently; cotton stuffing spilled out on the floor around it. It was Caroline’s teddy bear.
Then the police started yelling.
Salinger looked up.
And there she stood, dress hanging limply from her thin frame. The knife in her hand was dripping with blood.
A scream escaped Salinger’s throat, guttural and raw from horror.
The smile on her face was merely a reminder of what it once was; a quickly fading memory of carefree days and happier times.
He needed help, but there was only silence. The police had somehow vanished.
His mind was numb from fear. His heart pounded irregularly.
“Who is he?” Salinger whispered. “What has he done to you? Where are the children?”
“Oh, hello, darling,” she said, her gaze shifting toward him. “He lives inside my head, you know- and he talks to me sometimes. In fact, he’s talking to me right now.”
Her voice was quiet and revealed no emotion, but there was a creepy, malicious smile on her face, a smile Salinger had never seen before. It was growing wider by the second, which he didn’t like one bit.
“Let’s go somewhere, have a little chat, shall we?” she said. The bloodstained hem of her dress dragged on the concrete as her footsteps faded into the gloom.
Then, from her direction, Salinger heard:
“Come on, darling. The children are upstairs.”