By Gratia Serpento
The Robinsons were good and kind people who never had anything terribly terrible happen to them. Aside from the disappearance of their thirteen-year-old daughter, which had happened over seven years ago, nothing ever happened to them. They lived their suburban lives, with Mr. Robinson as a veterinarian and Mrs. Robinson as a lawyer, with as much joy as they could, with two yorkies and a beautiful white picket fence.
As they did every July 31st, they sat underneath their yard’s willow tree, with a bunch of photos surrounding them, hands clasped in each other’s laps. July 31st was the day their daughter went missing, and every year since, without fail, they sat around the willow tree, a memorial just for them.
“I miss her,” Mrs. Robinson said, her voice loud and weepy. “It doesn’t get any easier.”
“I know, Beth, I know,” Mr. Robinson said, his voice matching the tone and volume of his wife. They stared at a baby picture of their daughter, the face round and small and full of unfiltered joy. They sighed.
Mrs. Robinsons cell phone rang, vibrating in her pocket. She huffed, glaring at her pocket for a moment. “I swear, my boss will be the death of me. I asked her not to call me today, of all days.”
“The case not going well?” Mr. Robinson asked.
“The man is guiltier than a box of chocolates,” Mrs. Robinson said, digging her phone out so she could turn it off, the ringer still blaring. “I’ll be shocked if we don’t lose the case—John.”
“Hm?” Mr. Robinson craned his head and stared down at his wife’s phone. “What is—how?”
The number on the phone was one they hadn’t seen in seven years. One that hadn’t been used in just as long. The Minnesota number flashed across the screen, along with the name Amanda and a picture of their daughter.
“Should I answer?”
“I, yes, Beth, answer!”
Mrs. Robinson swiped the green icon, and put the phone on speaker. “He-Hello?”
“Mom!” A chirpy voice pitched from the speaker. It was older, almost lower, than the last time they had heard it, but it was no doubt the Robinson’s daughter. “Why haven’t you called me, it’s been forever?! And you ditched on our Sunday plans! Who even are you anymore?” She laughed, as if she found the whole thing more amusing than alarming.
“A-amanda?” Mrs. Robinson said and her husband choked.
“Who else would it be?” You could hear the eye roll over the phone. “So, can we reschedule or what?”
“Honey?” Mr. Robinson said, voice heavy.
“Oh, hey Pops!” Amanda said. “It’s been a while since I last saw you, too! Are you guys hiding from me or something? What is up with that?”
“I don’t understand,” Mrs. Robinson said, her voice quiet and low. “How are you calling me?”
“Well, see, I have a phone, so I just input your phone number and clicked dial, it’s not rocket science!” Amanda said. “No, seriously, did I do something wrong? You guys are acting weird, and I haven’t heard from you since…shit, I don’t even know.”
“Language,” the words fell subconsciously from Mrs. Robinson’s lips.
“Sorry, sorry.” The Robinson child didn’t sound very sorry. “Did I do anything wrong? Am I forgetting something?”
“What year is it?” Mr. Robinson asked slowly.
“What year is it?” Mr. Robinson asked slowly.
“What a dumb question. 2022, of course. You guys aren’t going senile on me already, right? Thought I had a few years.”
“Where are you?” Mr. Robinson asked.
“Jackson’s Pier, you know, where I’ve lived and worked for the past year and a half?” Amanda hesitated, her voice dripping with confusion. “No, seriously, what is wrong?”
“Nothing!” Mrs. Robinson said brightly. “We’re just…we didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. Just tired, cranky, and confused. I’ll call you later, hmm? Reschedule and all that. Sound good?”
“If you’re sure nothing’s wrong,” Amanda said slowly. “Maybe I should drive out to you this time, alright?”
“You can drive?” Mr. Robinson whispered.
“Says the man who got me my first car! That I still have, despite all the warning Mom gave me,” the daughter laughed. “Okay, well, call me when you get the chance. Love ya both!”
“Love you,” The Robinson parents said weakly. The phone clicked, Amanda hanging up first.
“She’s alive? Does she remember nothing?” Mr. Robinson asked. “How does that even happen?”
Mrs. Robinson fixed a sharp glare towards her husband, but her voice was quiet, soft and cold. “You better hope she doesn’t remember!” She sighed and rubbed her eyes, skin pale. “Jackson’s Pier…that’s where you dumped her?”
“I used Jeff’s boat and pushed her far downstream.” The husband nodded. “There’s no work within a forty mile radius of that place, just open lands and water. And I never gave her a car.”
“Nor I warnings! I didn’t make Sunday plans with her!” The wife stared at the phone in her hands. “How is she still alive? What does she remember?”
“You sure she was dead?” Mr. Robinson ran a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair.
“As sure as I am you’re alive,” Mrs. Robinson nodded. “Her eyes were empty, John. You saw them.”
“But how is she alive now?” Mr. Robinson asked. “It’s been seven years, how did she come back? Why did she come back? What sick twist of fate is this?” He cast a peculiar look up to the twisted willow branches. His daughter’s favorite tree. “Who is doing this to us?”
Mrs. Robinson followed his gaze. “Perhaps it’s karma. We didn’t try to kill her after all.”
Bio: Gratia Serpento loves writing from the deepest darks into the brightest lights. She’s had works published with Poor Yorick, The Yard: Crime Blog, Wild Greens Magazine, Crystal Crush Magazine, The Graveyard Zine, Meditating Cat Zine, Pile Press, among others. She currently lives in Oregon with her family, who send her weird looks every time a horror story gets published. Find her on Instagram, @poet_serpento).
Her stories on The Yard: Crime Blog include “Loraine” and “The Canary, The Shadow and The Knife”