Essie Sing is all independence and drive. The only thing that she loves as much as her ambitions is her husband, Sanjay. But when she unexpectedly discovers she's pregnant, their beautiful love story slips into a terrifying ghost story.
As Essie's pregnancy changes her body, an old hurt awakens. Generations of her family have been affected by a curse that robs daughters of their fathers. Now as Essie is confined to bed rest, her husband is acting strange. Drowning in isolation, Essie has no idea that she's not nearly as alone as she thinks she is…
Will the last pieces of Essie's carefully curated life vanish like all the mothers before her? Or will she do the impossible to save the man she loves? This chilling tale is a slow burn that will ignite your fear, and we're so excited to include it in our December/January Creepy Crate!
Read on for an excerpt of No Child of Mine, then subscribe to Creepy Crate for your chance to receive a copy!
Essie hung a white frame in the middle of an empty wall and collapsed next to her husband, avoiding the stacks of half-opened boxes that littered what would become their living room. The frame held a matchbook from a restaurant Essie and Sanjay had visited in Venice on their honeymoon. Even though it was more than four years old, it had never lived outside a box. The dinner was a long, leisurely affair with countless bottles of wine and the most divine food Essie had ever tasted. It was their last night in Italy, but the allure of calling Sanjay her “husband” had yet to wear off. They had spent the evening talking about buying a house—not this house specifically but an old house they could renovate on the weekends.
Essie gifted the framed matchbook to Sanjay on their first wedding anniversary. He had refused to hang it in the little apartment they shared. “We’ll save it for that house we talked about. It’ll be the first thing we hang on the walls,” he promised her.
Even though the house was already full of their belongings, boxes cluttering every room, it hadn’t felt official until this frame was hanging on the wall. It looked strange in the middle the empty room. It would have to come down before long, when the room was painted and the floors redone, but for now, it served as an official declaration that this place was theirs.
When she closed her eyes, she could imagine the room decades earlier, the wallpaper bright and crisp, and the room swirling with laughing guests. She leaned against Sanjay and stole a swallow of beer from the bottle in his hand. He kissed her temple. “You have dirt in your hair,” he said. His mouth was close enough to her ear that she could feel its low, familiar rumble in her spine.
She let her head fall back against him. “I have dirt everywhere. I feel gross, and I stink.” He laughed and buried his face in her shoulder. She relaxed into him, his body more familiar than her own. The line between the two of them felt blurry, as if over the years the paint had bled, and now it was impossible to tell where she began and he ended.
The house echoed. Most of their things hadn’t made the move with them. Their last place, a little basement apartment, had been filled with mismatched furniture that fell apart before they could even finish putting it together. Sanjay had wanted to wait to buy real furniture until they bought a place of their own. It had sounded like a great idea at the time, but it meant that they were the proud owners of a very empty house. Despite the emptiness of these rooms, with their voices bouncing off the scratched wooden floors, it already felt like home to Essie.
Sanjay leaned into Essie’s ear again. His voice rose barely above a whisper as he pointed toward the big front window with its rippled glass, distorting the tree in the front yard into something from a fairy tale. “I think we should do built-ins around the window. And then…” He moved his hand to point to the other wall, and she shifted her body to follow without thinking. She could do this blind, follow him. “I think we should add a grand mantelpiece. Something that makes sense with the house’s style but also feels a little more modern.” He gestured toward the hulking fireplace that loomed on the other side of the room. The central section was in good shape. The green tiles were still intact, although quite dirty, but the surround and mantel were in disrepair. The wood had been painted countless times over the decades, and Sanjay didn’t think it was salvageable.
Essie had a strange fondness for the peeling paint with its corners chipped off here and there to reveal layers of former families underneath. It wasn’t something she’d usually gravitate toward. Typically, she wanted pristine lines and completed to-do lists, but here, in her new home with her husband, she would allow her world to take on some unfinished edges. She liked the idea of Sanjay and her adding their layer, their time in this house the next chapter in an ongoing story.
Sanjay had a vision for this place, and she trusted him. She would have opinions on the details—the paint colors, the furniture, the curtains—but easily drifted along to whatever new version he imagined. Her eyes slipped closed as he continued to talk about his plans for the main floor. She was still listening, but she knew these plans by heart. He had been telling her about them, making sketches and showing her pictures, since they had seen this place weeks ago. He had known immediately that it was their house. Sanjay had begun to almost drool the minute he saw the original hardwood and the central staircase and, of course, that grand fireplace. Essie had known the moment she saw his face that it was going to be theirs. She hadn’t thought she would care too much about the house. She just wanted three bedrooms and a yard, but even she had gotten swept up in the magic of this place.
The moment they had gotten the keys, Essie saw herself five years from now, with a glass of wine in hand, sitting at the kitchen counter while Sanjay cooked, jazz playing from some hidden speaker. She imagined herself poring over papers in the room that would be her office, the window shaded by an old oak tree, massive wooden bookcases behind her. Essie didn’t believe in fate, but there was something about this house that felt right. It felt like their home.
Sanjay shifted next to her, his neck cracking as he stretched his arms over his head. “I’m getting too old for this,” he said. “Makes me wish we had kept our old couch.”
“We both know that our couch wasn’t much more comfortable than this floor,” Essie said as she stood. “Do you want to take the first shower? I’ll wait for the food.”
She helped pull him up off the floor. “Or,” he said, draping his arms around her neck as he stood at his full height, a few inches taller than her. “We could share the shower.”
“And who would pay for the Thai food? It should be here soon.”
“We’ll tape an envelope to the door.”
“Do you know which box the tape or envelopes are in? Go shower,” Essie said with a smile, flicking his arm. Sanjay kissed her quickly before trotting up the stairs. She listened as her husband’s footsteps echoed across the bare floors into their bedroom and waited for the sound of the water turning on.
Wind swirled in through an open window, bringing with it the promise of an evening rainstorm and raising goose bumps on her sweat-dampened arms. The house made noises, creaks and whispers. She wasn’t yet familiar with which noises were benign and which sounds that echoed against the peeling walls were more sinister.
The house felt quieter that night after we returned from Ana’s wedding. Not that it had any real reason to feel quieter, this place had never been her home. It felt as if someone had snuck up behind me and cupped their hands over my ears. Perhaps it was less of a silence and more of a hollowness; it echoed.
My sisters were chasing each other around the house, their shoes clattering against the floor while my mother threatened to send them out into the barn if they didn’t settle down. My father chuckled from the other side of the room, where he crouched in front of the fireplace, stoking the flames to beat back the chill that had settled in as soon as the sun had begun to set. Summer was ending. He would need to begin the process of harvesting our small crop of vegetables. My mother would begin making the jams just as she did every autumn. It would be the first autumn Ana and I wouldn’t be helping. She would be missing from our corner of the table, where we had sat every year, our hands sticky with juice as we helped my mother pit cherries.
On a typical night, I would have been out there with them, rolling my eyes at my sisters while I worked on embroidery in front of the fire. Tonight, I went to the room I shared with Lucy and Rose and closed the door. I did not light a candle, even though the sun was already setting and the room was dim. It felt good to wallow in the dark.
I had cried on the way home, as I walked with my mother. My sisters ran ahead of us, dipping their fingers in the tall grasses on the side of the road. They whispered to each other, imagining they were visiting a world far from ours. On another night, maybe I would have joined them, spinning stories of faeries and magic, but after tonight it felt too childish. So I walked between my parents, feeling more achingly grown than I had before.
My parents talked about the wedding, but I walked in silence, mourning my loss and Ana’s. My mother reached over and tugged on one of my braids. “Your wedding will be next,” she said. She must have mistaken my silence and frowns for jealousy. Her words were meant to soothe my sour disposition, but instead they felt like sharp reminder of a future I did not want to consider. I was crying before she had finished the last word.
“Izzy,” my mother cooed, wrapping an arm around my waist and tucking me against her side. “She’s not too far. I’m sure you will see her all the time.” I continued crying. My mother couldn’t understand what I had lost in that church. It was more than just the loss of Ana’s companionship, although I would miss that dearly. My life was inextricably twisted up in Ana’s. Our friendship was not meant to keep us entertained as children and then abandoned once we were old enough to get married and have families of our own. It wasn’t the precursor to our real lives; it was the meat of my life, the marrow. And maybe more than that, I didn’t want to be married. The thought of marriage frightened me. I didn’t want to be given away, to belong to a stranger.
By the time we arrived home, I had stopped crying, but they let me disappear into my room without saying a word. I stared out the window toward her house and watched as the night swept over the world, slowly leeching the color out of things, as everything faded to black. It was impossible to know if I was looking at her window without the light of her candle flickering against the glass. But I think my eyes had long since memorized the way.
Usually, I would have lit a candle as soon as the evening grew too dim to illuminate the papers in front of me, but I sat in the darkness for a long time, as the muffled sounds of my family carried in through my door. There was something about the deep, impenetrable shadows that made me feel less alone in my hopelessness.
Today was your wedding. Tonight, you are a wife. I’ve heard the words of marriage vows before, but today they felt different as they echoed off the wooden pews. Usually, they feel like the beginning of something new. Today they felt like an ending.
My sisters and their friends were giggling all evening and whispering about what you were doing on your wedding night. I don’t think they really know what they are talking about. All I know for sure is that I miss you.
I should be grateful your new home is only a short walk away, but I miss seeing your face in the window across from mine. I miss hearing you teasing your little sisters; your voice carried to me on the wind. It won’t ever be quite the same.
Ana, your wedding has made me even more terrified for my own. I do not want to be married to some strange man. I do not want to cook and clean the house for a stranger. I do not want him to pet my hair and call me his beauty. I do not want to share his bed. I will miss my sisters. I will miss my bed and my room that looks over your house. Even though it isn’t yours anymore.