The call came in at 7:51PM, as expected.

“Rachel? It’s Mom.” Rachel always thought it was odd that her mother thought her own daughter wouldn’t recognize her on the telephone.

“Hey, Mom.”

“Well, he’s dead.”

Rachel paused for a moment, not really knowing what to say, or what to feel, so she said what she thought she should. “It’s good it’s over now,” knowing as she spoke there was never going to be an “over.” Her mother waited to speak for a second, and Rachel could hear the sounds of people in the background, talking and moving about.

“Everyone here was very nice and helpful. I’m going to get a ride back to the hotel and head home in the morning. I’ll call you when I get in.”

“OK, Mom. Hang in there. Be safe.” “Be safe,” was what her mother often said to her, but of course it was never just a toss away line at the end of a conversation.

“Alright, honey. Just wanted to let you know. Bye bye.”

“Bye, Mom.”

Rachel clicked the phone off and set it on her desk, where she had been reading a new manuscript that one of the senior editors was all excited about. She took off her glasses and set them down next to the phone, the desk lamp glowing with a warm, honey-gold light that glinted off the lenses.

Joseph Carl Edwards was dead at last. She ticked off emotions, trying to find one that fit. Happy? No. Satisfied? No. Sad? No. Angry? No. None of them were right. Numb, flat, indifferent? Was there anything left to feel? Joseph Carl Edwards had been a part of every day of Rachel’s life, and now he would be zipped in a bag, lifted into a hearse, taken to the crematorium, his body burnt to ashes, his matter changed into useless dust. Without him, without what he did, Rachel reflected, she probably wouldn’t even exist. There was no place to put that emotion, and no name for it.

All tied up, finished, nothing more to the story now. There were no more years of lawyers or cops or courts or anguished phone calls or reporters. There wasn’t anything left to extract, or to do.

“Toddler Abducted From North Shelton Home”

“Police Call For Volunteers In Search For Missing Child”

“Body Of Child Found In Field Confirmed To Be Emily Markowsky”

“Suspect Arrested In Sexual Assault And Murder Of Local Toddler”

“Edwards Found Guilty; Jury Recommends Death Penalty”

The ghost of her sister defined everything. Rachel only knew her through the newspaper headlines, kept in a box in her parents’ bedroom closet, photographs of a dark-haired baby with a wide smile and pink cheeks. As the years passed, her mother was able to talk about her, the little baby things she did, when she walked, her first words, what foods she liked and didn’t like, and that she loved dogs.

Everyone had encouraged her mother and father to have another child, a new baby to help take away some of the horror, something positive, to make the two of them a family again, to try to not let a monster take everything away. They tried really hard to smile and be happy for her benefit, Rachel thought, they tried as best they could. They loved her, they did. But there was never a day when Emily wasn’t there, or the weight of what had happened.

Her father never said much about it or about anything, and held Rachel sometimes too lightly and sometimes too tightly. He died when Rachel was 11. Even though he was barely in his 40s, no one seemed surprised. At his funeral, every time someone bent down to her and said, “He’s with your sister now in Heaven, they will take care of each other,” Rachel wanted to kick something. She nodded and said nothing instead.

Dead dead dead dead dead dead dead. Emily is dead, Dad is dead, Joseph Carl Edwards is dead. Rachel didn’t want to go with her mother to watch the lethal injection process. She felt like even that was giving him too much from her. But she understood. Her mother had never given up, through all the legal mess and frustrations and appeals and technicality screw-ups. She wanted him gone. Not locked up – gone. She needed to know she had done something, had some kind of control. No monster was going to outlast her. Rachel wondered if she would do the same, if she had a child and something awful happened to it. But she wasn’t going to have any kids.

The manuscript she was reading was another vampire romance novel. It would get published and it would sell well; escapism is always more popular in hard economic times. She switched off the desk lamp and went into the kitchen, hungry for a bowl of cereal. Her mom was going to be OK, Rachel knew, and wouldn’t have any problems sleeping that night at the Comfort Inn near the prison.

The TV news in the morning would be the usual capital punishment debate again, which Rachel would not watch. She would instead get up, get dressed, stuff the manuscript back in her laptop bag, grab a coffee and a bagel at the café on the corner, and walk uptown to work, watching her own warm breath form bursts of tiny white clouds in the crackling winter air, safely dodging the ghosts and monsters on the way.