PAGE FOUR

“After a long, nerve-wracking hour, which the man spent pacing back and forth in front of the bedroom door, wondering if he should call someone to break the door in, their home fell silent.

“In a panic, he found the strength within himself to kick the door down. In the middle of their bed, in their lavender sheets, sat his beautiful wife, cleaner than porcelain, cradling a wriggling bundle in her arms.

“Relief that she was all right momentarily blinded him to the strangeness of the situation. He approached the bed with caution, and she gave him an encouraging smile.

“She held the bundle out to him as he settled in beside her. ‘It’s a girl,’ she said softly. ‘I want to call her Devi.’

“Emotion, like none he’d ever felt, welled up inside of him as he took the tiny bundle in his arms. The child’s face was covered, so he peeled back the blanket wrapped around her and saw a bright, open eye the beautiful color of tanzanite.

“Cotton caught in his throat. His child! He had a daughter! He peeled the rest of the blanket away from her face and horror filled him so completely that he dropped the child to the sheets, eliciting a shrill cry from its lips.

“For that was no baby—it must be a demon!

“The woman immediately reached for the baby and shushed the infant’s tears away. ‘Hush, little one,’ she cooed.

“The man backed himself against the windows. ‘No,’ was all he could utter. ‘No . . .’

“Where there should have been a sweet little round face, there was something bloated and inflamed and . . . wrong. One eye was perfect, but the other drooped. One cheek puffed out grotesquely, and the other caved in as if there was an invisible fist smushed against it. The forehead was uneven, like one side of its face was trying to melt down into its eyes. The nose—if he could call that a nose—was misshapen, bumpy. One nostril twisted up one side and the other flared out. Little pink lips, normal enough, he supposed, were opened in a slanted O as the baby’s shrill cries filled the room. Only the chin and that one eye, the right eye, were left intact.

“Fury inflamed his senses. He pushed himself away from the window and pointed an accusing finger at his young, beautiful bride. ‘What is that beast you hold in your arms? What kind of witchcraft is this?’ His voice thundered over her, causing her to shrink away from him and hold the baby closer to her breasts.

“She slowly eased out of the bed and laid their screaming daughter gently against the pillows. She tucked the small blanket back around the child’s face, shielding the horrible sight from her husband.

“She held her hands up in the air in surrender, her arms shaking in fear. ‘I—I can . . . I can explain,’ she stammered.

“His eyes traveled down the length of her soft, spotless nightshirt. ‘I’ve never believed in evil until this moment,’ he said, his teeth clenched, his voice low with anger.

“The woman’s tanzanite eyes filled with tears. ‘Please, I had nothing. I had to do something.’

“He stepped towards her, blood pumping hard through his veins, his heart slamming against his ribcage. ‘You deceived me. What . . . what are you?’