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I’m scared out of my mind. I don’t know what to do.

I was an only child. Not that my parents didn’t try to have a large family. They actually had three children before me. Two boys and a girl. Unfortunately, all three of them died in their infancy, before I was born. My mother used to think I was blessed. She called me “Fortunata”, which means lucky.

I don’t think luck had anything to do with it.

I was born in 1977 in a hospital in Indianapolis. A few months earlier and I would have been born in New York. You see, my father had just taken a new job teaching at IUPUI, and he and my mother moved out there while she was six months pregnant. I think it was because of this that I survived.

Four years ago, we lost our daughter, Madeline, the same way my parents lost my two brothers and sister. I’ll never forget the morning I woke up and realized it was not to the sound of her crying from the bassinet at the end of our bed. I crawled over the blankets to peek at her. For a while, I thought she was just sleeping peacefully. Then, I realized her chest wasn’t rising and falling… she wasn’t breathing.

It’s called SIDS: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. There’s rarely an explanation found for it. I was inconsolable; I wouldn’t eat, I wouldn’t sleep. I was hospitalized briefly with severe depression and had to be fed through a tube. The only thing that helped me through it was my mother. She stopped by every day, talked to me, held my hand, showed me old photos from when I was little.

After I recovered, I went and stayed with her for a couple weeks. That was when I found the other photo album my mother kept. In it were photos of her and my father, young and happy, playing with babies that weren’t me. I realized that the photos were of my siblings. My father loved to take photos, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he’d taken some of them when they were alive. There was my oldest brother, Marcus, being propped up in just a diaper in my mother’s lap. I had never seen him before. There was my sister, Gretchen, in my father’s arms as he held her up in the driveway of their old house. There was my other brother, Darren, who had survived the longest, sitting up on his own in the neatly trimmed grass of their front yard.

Then, I noticed something. In the photo of Darren, there was a man in the background. It was difficult to make out much detail of him, the graininess of the photo was so bad, but I could see he had his hands up and it looked like he was cupping them to his mouth like he was calling out or something. I had this strange feeling of deja-vu when I spotted him. Flipping back a page in the album, I looked closer at the photo of my mother holding my sister in the driveway. There, in the background, was the same man. Okay, I couldn’t be sure it was the same guy, but my gut told me it was him. He was wearing closer, standing at the edge of the driveway, wearing a dark business suit. I couldn’t make out his face because he had his hands up in front of it, like he was covering it. I thought for a second he was calling out again, but looking closer, it was clear that his hands were covering his face. I thought maybe he didn’t want his face in the photo.

I took the album to my mother. She cried a little, looking at the photos. Apparently, she had kept it stored away for a number of years and had gotten it out again after Madeline passed away.

“Who is that man?” I asked her, pointing to the figure in the photo of Gretchen.

My mother put on her glasses and looked closely at the photo.

“I don’t know,” she said, “maybe Mr. Yates from next door. No, Mr. Yates was a postal worker. He never wore a fancy suit like that.” She squinted. “I’m afraid I don’t know who that is.”

“I was just curious.” I admitted.

Two years later, I gave birth to a baby boy. We named him Frances, after his grandfather on my husband’s side. He had beautiful, curly, brown hair and big dimples on his cheeks whenever he smiled. Having him brought the light back into my world. I was walking on cloud nine, as they say. My husband was so proud to be a father again, and of a boy this time, that he practically slept with his camera. He was constantly taking photos and emailing them to his parents.

One day, while Franky was sleeping, I sat down at my husband’s laptop and started looking through the great many photos he had taken. He had everything sorted, a folder for each month, each photo marked by date and time. I opened the first folder and smiled and flipped through the hundreds of images. Franky and me at the hospital, Franky in his little hospital bassinet, Me holding Franky in front of our house, one I had taken of my husband by the river, standing in front of the baby carriage with the clear form of little Franky in it.

Across the river stood a man in a black business suit with his hands over his face.

When I saw him, I felt all the blood drain out of my head. I got dizzy and confused. That couldn’t be the same man in my mother’s photos… could it? It was ridiculous to think so, right? But there was the man, his face covered, just like in Gretchen’s photo. I clicked on to look at more photos, but my hands trembled on the mouse. I didn’t understand why it bothered me either. It was just a man in a photo. The next photo was also by the river. The man wasn’t in it. I breathed a little easier and went back to looking at the photos. But now I realized I was looking at them much closer, scanning them for anything out of the ordinary.

I saw him again in a photo of me with Franky, standing on a corner in Cambridge. Across the street, a crowd of people were waiting for a crosswalk signal. In the middle of them stood the man in the black business suit, his face obscured by his hands. I continued on to the next photo. And the next. And the next. Fifteen photos later, I froze.

It was a photo of me wearing a wrap with Franky snuggled up against my chest. Franky had a big, toothless smile on his face. Behind us was a large, glass shop window. In the reflection of the window, I saw my husband, bent over with the camera obscuring his face. Directly behind him was a blurry form of the man in the dark suit. His hands were up to his face, but they were opened outward, like in the photo of my brother Darren. I remembered that day, and I ran my memory of it through my mind numerous times while staring at the blurred reflection of the man. *There wasn’t anyone behind my husband when that photo was taken*. I would have remembered a man directly behind my husband.

I tried to use some photo editing software to sharpen and clear up the man’s reflection, but it didn’t do any good. His face was obscured by shadow and the way the glass reflected. I just couldn’t make out his face. All the same, I was scared then. Why was this man in our photos?

I closed the photos and the folders and went back a couple directories on my husband’s laptop. He had another folder marked with Madeline’s name. Inside, there was only one folder. Just one for the few weeks she was with us. I started going through the photos he had of her. They weren’t as many, so it didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for. In a photo taken during her second week home, my husband had taken a photo of me asleep on the couch with the baby on my chest. Beyond the couch, through the front window, there on our porch stood the man in thee black suit. His hands were over his face, as usual. He was standing right in our picture window, clear as day. I could count the buttons on his jacket. I knew that if my husband had seen him, he would have gone and talked to the man, and then told me about it. He hadn’t. He hadn’t told me because he hadn’t seen him. A week later, Madeline was dead.

I called my mother in a panic.

“Mom, that man in the photos…”

“What man, dear?”

“The one I pointed out to you, in the photo with Gretchen. The man with his face covered.”

She paused. I could tell she was trying to remember that far back. My mother’s memory has gotten bad over the years.

“Oh yes, Mr. Whats-his-face. What about him?”

“He’s in photos David took.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Photos of me with Madeline, me with Franky… he’s in our photos, mama!”

“I’m sure it’s just somebody else, hon.”

She was right. How could it be the same man? How could any of them be the same man? It didn’t make any sense! I thought maybe I was going out of my mind. I was going to go back and look at the photos again, but Franky started crying. I was so relieved to hear him crying, I went and fed him and forgot about the photos for the rest of the day.

That night, I woke up to go to the bathroom. I crept past the bassinet and peeked inside. Franky was asleep, and for a moment I held my breath, reliving the morning I found Madeline. I saw his swaddle rising and falling in the faint glow of the nightlight and breathed a sigh of relief.

When I came back from the bathroom, I crept past the bassinet again and heard Franky stir. Looking in, I saw that his eyes were open and he was looking up at me. I smiled at him. The binky popped out of his mouth and he smiled back up at me. Reaching in and picking up the binky, I started to offer it to him, when I froze. I had the horrible sense that there was someone looking over my shoulder. I stared at Franky’s smiling face while my blood drained away again, and realized with horror that he wasn’t smiling at me… he was smiling past me.

“Peek-a-boo.” came a whisper in my ear directly over my shoulder. The voice was deep and hollow and I saw Franky’s expression change from a smile to wide-eyed surprise. At the same time, my vision drained as quickly as the blood from my head and everything went black. I felt a throbbing pain in my head, which was later attributed to me striking it against the edge of the bassinet as I fainted.

I awoke to my husband shaking me. It was morning and I was in a heap at the end of the bed with an egg on my temple the size of a grapefruit. Franky was in his bassinet, dead. Just like Madeline. Just like my brothers and my sister. The ambulance were on their way, but I knew it was useless. And I knew then that this was not simply crib death. Something far more sinister and terrifying has been tormenting my family for years. First my parents, and now me. Who knows how far back this goes? What is it? This demon dressed like a man? Why is it so obsessed with my family?

And what do I do about it? I just got back from the doctor on Friday…

I’m six weeks pregnant.


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