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LJ Idol Exhibit B: Week 4: Shadow Children

It was midnight on Friday when they heard the question.

"Mom, dad?" Sophia's tiny voice threaded its way into the kitchen where her parents stood. Margaret turned around, a serving platter in her hand.

"What is it, Sophie? You know we've got work to do before the party tomorrow night." She smiled, but it was thin-lipped and wan, and she was just sure everyone would know something was the matter. Her husband, David, draped a supportive arm around his wife and pulled her tightly to his side.

"What's up, baby?" he asked the air around him, though it could have been a question for wife or daughter. They heard Sophia's padded footsteps ambling down the hallway, and she poked her head around the door jamb before the rest of her body entered the kitchen behind her.

"I had a bad dream." She said, picking at a piece of cotton fluff on her pajamas. David frowned sympathetically and gave his wife a squeeze, walking over to Sophia and kneeling on her level.

"That's okay!" he said brightly, taking her hand. "Lots of little girls have bad dreams, sometimes dreams are mean when you're three. Let's get you a cup of water and we'll go back to bed, okay?" Sophia shook her head resolutely, her blonde curls bouncing up and down around her face.

"No!" she said. She jerked her hand out of her father's palm and turned to face her mother. Margaret paled, and went back to scrubbing her serving platter. "Mama?" Sophia asked, shuffling over toward the sink. Margaret sighed and plopped the serving tray down in the soapy water, wiping her hands off on a dish towel resting on the countertop.

"Yes, Sophia Angela?" Her tone was no-nonsense, but this didn't seem to affect Sophia at all.

"Are you sure there's a baby in here?" Sophia turned to her mother and reached up, reverently patting the swell of her belly. "I had a bad dream that the baby was going to never come out!" Her father chuckled, good-natured as always, which hid Margaret's gasp.

"Oh, Soph. You know the baby will come out! It just feels like it won't because he has been in there for eight months! You are almost four now, and when you turn four, the baby will come out. You will have a sister or brother in September, isn't that great?" David walked back to his daughter and scooped her up. "Come on now, let's go to bed." Sophia frowned.

"Okay," she said warily. "but I want to use my fish cup." David reached into the cabinet for the cup and carried his daughter upstairs, tucked neatly into the crook of his arm. Margaret could hear them reciting nursery rhymes all the way up the stairs.

She sat the dish towel on the countertop, feeling as if she'd been stabbed. She had too much to do for the baby shower, too much to do entirely. With shaking hands, Margaret opened the ubiquitous junk drawer and riffled through its contents, pulling out an envelope from its recesses. She extracted the most recent sonogram photo, showcasing her and David's healthy, blossoming son, due August 19th.

"A son," Margaret said to herself, tracing her hands over her stomach. "Why, lord? Why a son?" She had told David that they had never told her the gender, never given her a sonogram past the point of gender identification. "I only get one a trimester!" she'd exclaimed, laughing gleefully over the phone that afternoon. "Don't you want a surprise this September, sweetheart?" David had agreed sweetly, damn him, and Margaret had come home, stuffed the sonogram photograph into a drawer and wept into a tea towel while her daughter splashed in the kiddie pool outside.

A postcard was clipped to the bulletin board on the wall of the kitchen, where appointment reminder cards and calendars and the family photographs were kept. A tiny postcard, really, in the scheme of things. But the text, formatted in a bold, blood-red, said all that would ever need to be said on the subject. A postcard just like all the other ones sent out each year, since the Great Shortage of 2042, but so important to anyone trying to start a family these days.

"This year's cull will take place in August. Any sons born in August will be given over to the authorities immediately. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter."

David would never know until it was too late, and Margaret fervently hoped Sophia would forget she was ever meant to be anything but an only child.
  • Current Mood: distressed distressed
Oh wow. This does seem different from what I've read in the other weeks from you but I really like it. I think I got the gist of why they have to give up their son and it's terrible. :(
I was worried it would come off a bit half-baked - I wanted it to be a bit fuzzy, but not too fuzzy?
Scary ending! *shudder*

Excellent writing as usual. I love how your characters are so realistic.
Were I the mom, I'd ask about a c-section in July. Pretty sure the doc would understand. If not, there's always cohosh.
It IS dark, but it explains why Margaret seems so perpetually uptight throughout the story.

I'll bet she'd love to hang on through August and have the baby come late, but the worry makes that less likely.: (
What a twist at the end. I like how there wasn't really a clue about the dystopian society they were living in until the very end. Everything seemed so normal. Maybe Sophia's dream will be prophetic and the baby won't be born until September.
I'd have liked a little bit more of why just one gender just one month, but it was a very good story, with a very unexpected twist at the end :)
Ohsnap, didn't see that one coming! Mega props here! I started reading this and was just like "oh gag, yet another sentimental entry about pregnancy and parenthood"...but NOPE. Awesome twist indeed!
How awful. :( In my head, they figure out a way to escape and everyone lives happily ever after. ;)
This is amazing — it's just quite self-contained enough that it stands on its own, but still leaves so much room for interpretation and for wondering what happens next. Wonderful, and terribly sad.