Three cars pull into the gravel parking lot. I climb out of one and see my parents, my children and my husband climbing out of the others. Without waiting for them, I walk in and find a table. Moments later my husband sits next to me. We wait while my parents make their way over and sit at the table behind us. The distance and refusal to sit at our table should give me a clue, but I turn, straddling the chair to face them.
“We went to the counseling like you asked,” my dad starts off. “That was weeks ago and this is the first we’ve seen of you since.”
There is hurt in his expression and tone, and a clear question as to why. I begin to answer, but notice I don’t see my children. Puzzled, I ask my dad where they are.
“In the car,” he tells me, his voice matter of fact and annoyed by the change of subject. It’s a cloudy, cool day out so I’m not worried about the discomfort of my son and daughter. Rather, at just three and one years old respectively, I’m furious my parents left them alone. They must be scared, I think, why did I let my parents bring them in their car.
“They’re fine!” my dad yells to my back as I walk toward the door.
“No!” I shout back. Not ‘no’ as in they are not okay, but ‘no’ as in his behavior is not okay. “You’re overreacting,” he shouts as the door slams behind me. I disagree.
I go to the car, but it’s empty. Fear grips at me, cold iron around my heart. I yell for them, but get no answer and scan my surroundings. Around the restaurant are four other buildings. One for administration, two for loading and unloading of warehouse supplies and the fourth, a rundown warehouse building with broken windows and collapsing siding.
After checking the three others with no luck, I enter the rundown building. Inside I find forklifts and other warehouse vehicles being stored on a dirty concrete floor. The building is divided into several large spaces, but I don’t see my kids.
I yell out to myself in frustrated fear, “Where are my kids!?”
Then to my relief, I hear my daughter. She lets out a cry and says, “I want you! I want mommy!” in chocked sobs. It’s the same thing she says when she has trouble falling asleep at night and I smile, looking toward the noise. There, coming out of a door I hadn’t even noticed because of the plywood leaning against it, she emerges.
I pick her up. We duck under the plywood into the room she’d come out of, hoping to find her brother. I haven’t heard him yet, and feel nervous that he didn’t come out with her. Inside, she wiggles to get down and moves toward the middle where a square, roughly five feet in diameter, has been cut out of the floor. It is filled with dry, loose sand. A shovel sits at the edge.
Visible just above the surface of that sand, I see hair; the top of my son’s head. He is buried and I realize my daughter, though standing by the hole now, has a fine layer of sand from head to toe as well as if she’d just gotten done playing all day at the beach. Of course, she hasn’t. She’d been buried with her brother, and she’d crawled out, I realize, both impressed and scared. Why didn’t my son? He’s older by two years. If she was able to, he should have been able to climb out as well.
Furry and terror consume me. Who put them in here? I move toward my son to pull him out…
…And the dream fades.
I wake and lie in my bed for what seems like an hour. The dream was so disturbing, I just can’t fall back to sleep. My daughter lays between me and my husband and I hug her reassuringly, but still I am restless. Then my son comes in to lay down with us. There’s not enough room for all four of us in the queen-size bed, so I tuck pillows around my daughter, let my husband know I’m headed to the children’s room and go lay down with my son in his bed. Perhaps because I have now verified the safety of both of my children, I am finally able to fall asleep again.
I’m at the restaurant again, but I don’t have my son or daughter now and I’m frantic, panicked. I have to get back to them. I walk out, scan the buildings in the parking lot and spot the broken down building where I’d found them earlier. I don’t know how my son is doing and can’t find my daughter again. I feel sick, but walk determinedly toward the building and order the warehouse man by my side to let me in, to take me to that room.
“You’re too late,” he tells me. “They poured concrete over that whole while you were gone.”
…Gone to get the police, I realize, though I can’t remember why I left without my son and daughter. Maybe I couldn’t get my son out and went for help, but why’d I leave my daughter? Did someone stop me from taking her? I just can’t remember, but they must have. I wouldn’t have left her. I wouldn’t have left either of them.
Concrete. My stomach turns to ice imaging it being poured over the sand. I can’t think about it, though my body is shaking with fear. Beside me, a police officer orders the man for a second time to let us in. The warehouse man shrugs and unlocks the rickety door.
I walk straight to the room I’d found my children in earlier and see the slab of concrete – which despite what the man has told me – has been laid over the hole, not poured in. I continue to shake in helplessness as the cop and warehouse man lift the slab. How long have my son been buried? Is my daughter buried again, with him? How much time has passed? Are they scared? Hurt? Alive? I feel sick.
Under the slab is the same sand I’d seen earlier, but I don’t see the hair this time. Just a layer of sand and no shovel. I push the men out of the way and plunge my hands down into the sand. It is easy to move through clear up to my shoulders, not at all compact and my arms brush both my son and daughter. I pull them out in one swift motion and stand; my son cradled in my left arm, my daughter in my right.
Without pausing to think, I turn my head and give a breath to my son with mouth to mouth and then realize he is breathing and asleep. Overwhelming relief fills me and my knees threaten to buckle. I turn my head toward my daughter, give her a breath. Like my son she breaths, eyes closed and sleeps. They are fine. Remarkable unharmed. I wasn’t too late.
Holding them, I sink to the ground in tears.
When I can stand, the police officer guides me to the restaurant where he and his team began interrogations with every worker in the area, determined to know who ordered the horrendous deed.
But I realize with a sickening certainty, I already know. I look around, but they aren’t in the restaurant and I shiver. Their absence confirms my suspicions. My parents were behind it. They are sicker than I realized… My family is not safe.