This story was published in Volume 2, Issue 4 of Thing Magazine back in June 2017. They are gone unfortunately.
Tiny Black Fingers
by DL Shirey
The baby slumped on my shoulder, noiseless except rapid breathing. Tiny black fingers slipped around my neck, a grasp of desperation, pulling at my pale skin. His name was Sam and his grip relaxed slightly when I stroked the hair on his head. He finally realized the man who pulled him from his hiding place was not the one who abused him.
There was a snapshot with Sam’s name on it, so I knew what to call him. It was pinned to a corked board with pictures of three other unfortunates, who each had a row of photos depicting a progression of damage. Those three were gone and the man who abused them had fled. Only Sam remained, and if his solitary photograph was any indication, he hadn’t been there long. Thank God.
He was so little. Still, Sam had an instinct to fight. When I found him, he clawed and screamed to defend his refuge under the bottom shelf of a storage closet. Luckily, I had on heavy work gloves. I’d been cleaning up rubble in the filthy, abandoned workroom when I first heard his whimper. What I thought would be a dog turned out to be Sam.
“Hey, you,” I said gently, but my voice got no response. My first attempt to retrieve him only drove Sam deeper into the corner. Then I noticed the shelf under which he was hiding was stacked with heavy rubber gloves and helmets with face shields. These, I thought, might scare Sam, so I removed my own hard hat and peeled off my work gloves. I lay down on the dirty floor so Sam could see my face and extended one bare hand. His fearful panting slowed to a breathless whine as if he wanted to trust a stranger, but was too frightened to move.
I pulled myself up and sat against the opposite wall, humming a lullaby that once soothed my own son. Sam slowly emerged, peeking and cowering twice before crawling out. He was dusty but unhurt. My legs were stretched out on the floor and I didn’t move until he touched the cuff of my jeans. I reached out my hand and Sam crawled into my arms.
His diaper was wet when I patted his bottom, but I knew that was the least of his discomfort. Only when I carried Sam out of the workroom, past the empty animal cages, did the chimp lift his head and smile.