By Ed Kratz
Ben Mathews stood alone in the secret room beneath the basement and thought, we’re ready. We can do this now.
Collars hung from hooks at two corners. He tugged the collars. Yes. They’ll hold.
His wife, Karen, had gone to stay with her sister to recover from her latest miscarriage.
How many nights had they whispered in the dark, discussing plans and names and the thrill of having a child that they would raise in their own ancient beliefs?
Then Karen lost the baby. Ben remembered how hard she squeezed his hand in the emergency room. Her grief pierced his heart when their doctor told them she could not risk having another child.
“No. No,” Karen had banged on the doctor’s desk. “No.”
Ben agreed with their doctor. He wanted children, but he wanted a healthy wife, more.
They knew no agency would choose them to adopt.
Then their friend Karl, a heavily tattooed hulk of a man, said, “There is something you can do.”
He whispered, though they were all alone at Ben and Karen’s house.
“Something we can do?” Karen said, and Ben saw a light in her eyes that had been gone since they’d lost their last baby. He saw hope.
Karl told them and left them with the warning to tell no one.
Who would believe them if they did?
They discussed it. Before Karen left, she told Ben she thought she might be ready. They’d take a great risk. But they’d been told there would be a great reward.
“We want this,” she had said.
“And the danger?” Ben put arms around her.
“We’ll be safe. You’ll build that secret room while I’m gone.”
Ben smiled. He liked to have a task. “I’ll make it secure. They won’t get out.”
“Yes,” Karen said. “But I want it clean and comfortable. I don’t want them to suffer.”
“Nothing but the best,” Ben said, and he laughed.
As soon as the taxi dropped her off, Ben opened the trap door to the secret room and walked before Karen down the ladder.
They stood in silence, taking in the chains, the pens covered with thick bear rugs.
“But Ben, there’s two.”
“It’s two or none. That’s the deal.”
“Can we handle two?”
“Do you want this?” Ben said. “Really want this?”
“Yes.” She walked to each bear rug and rubbed it like a pet. “Soft. I’ll bet it’s warm. This is nice. I mean, we’ll do what we have to. But we’re not monsters.”
‘Of course, we’re not monsters. We just have to do this. So you’re ready?”
When Karen nodded ‘yes,’ Ben pulled out a cell phone. It would dial only one number. He’d been instructed to destroy it when he answered yes or no.
He dialed, and said “Yes.” He furrowed his brows as he did when he was serious and told Karen, “They’ll be here in ten minutes. Please meet them at the door and bring them down.”
“We can’t fool around with this.”
“Two,” Karen said, and went up.
Ten minutes later, Karen came down the ladder followed by a portly middle-aged man and a tall, raven-haired young woman. The man wore a blue business suit with a yellow tie, the woman a trendy pants suit. They each carried clipboards.
“Honey, this is Mr. Gordon and Ms. Reece.”
Mr. Gordon went to one corner. Ms. Reece walked to the other. They grunted and braced themselves against the floor and pulled the chains.
“Well done,” Ms. Reece said.
“They’ll hold,” Mr. Gordon said.
Ms. Reece and Mr. Gordon paced about the room like building inspectors, making notes and checks on their sheets as they went.
“I like the soundproofing material on the walls and ceiling,” Ms. Reece said.
“Yes. Shows you’ve thought this out,” Mr. Gordon added. He waved the clipboard he’d been taking notes on. “You might wonder why we use paper.”
“I can guess,” Ben said.
“Yes,” Ms. Reece said. “Cell phones, computers. Nothing electronic is secure. Once we’re done and the process starts, everything will be shredded and burned. No records. Are you sure you’re ready for two?”
“We’re ready,” Karen said. “We do have so much love to give.”
“And they are so hated and hunted by all. Yes. We’ll take them,” Ben said.
Mr. Gordon said, “Delightful. Lord knows it’s rough getting one orphan werewolf adopted, let alone two. We have a pair of lovely siblings that will be so happy to be together.”