The Girl That Barked
by Peggy Gerber
“Honey, stop the car!” Holly shouted. “I hear a baby crying.”
Danny dutifully pulled over, even though he hadn’t heard a thing. He was really worried about his wife. While they were both suffering from broken hearts after making the decision to stop pursuing fertility treatments, Holly was really taking it hard. They had embarked on this road trip in order to clear their minds, and begin the healing process.
Holly stepped out of the car, sinking into the sand of the California desert, and followed the sound. She screamed, “Danny, help me find where that crying is coming from.”
Danny pleaded, “Honey, please get back in the car. I think you’re imagining it.”
“No,” shouted Holly, “It is not my imagination. I hear a baby crying.” Holly began racing through the hot desert, zigzagging backward and forward, furiously trying to locate where the cries were coming from. Danny watched in desperation, sure his wife was having some sort of breakdown.
And then, there she was. Hidden in the shade of a tall cactus was a brand-new baby girl, tiny and perfect, wrapped up in a pink blanket. A note was pinned to it which read, Dear Holly, please take care of my baby girl. I choose you. The note was signed, Jasmine, and just as they finished reading it, it burst into flames, the burnt particles gently floating to the ground.
Trembling in disbelief, Danny asked, “What just happened?”
With a brilliant smile spreading across her face, Holly answered, “Our prayers were answered.”
Dumbfounded, all Danny could think to say was, “Uh, we don’t even have a car seat.”
Holly looked the nearest Walmart up online, and they bought all the supplies they would need to travel with a baby. When they returned home, they told the family that Holly had been pregnant all along but was too nervous to tell anybody.
They named the baby Mikaela, and right from the start, they knew there was something different about her. She was a fussy baby, and Holly spent hours each day bouncing her, pacing back and forth, singing lullaby after lullaby, trying anything to soothe her. Each night, Holly would drop into bed exhausted but sometimes as she was drifting off, she would swear she heard barking.
Mikaela hit the terrible twos with a vengeance; almost anything could incite a tantrum. Shortly after her second birthday, as Holly was trying to soothe a particularly bad tantrum, she realized she was embracing a dog. Holly began shaking so badly she almost dropped Mikaela. She didn’t know what to do. Her precious baby girl had transformed into a tiny, snarling dog. In shock, Holly began to gently pet her, and by the time Danny arrived home, Mikaela had transformed back into a toddler. Holly was sure Danny wouldn’t believe what had transpired, but he did.
He said, “I was expecting something weird to happen one day.”
Danny spent the entire night scouring the internet, and by morning he knew: Mikaela was a Djinn.
Danny then searched the dark web, and found the name of a shaman who professed to be an expert on Djinn. Holly called and pleaded for an immediate appointment. Then they all got in the car, and drove the hour to meet him.
Dr. Hakim confirmed the diagnosis. Mikaela was indeed a Djinn. He asked about Mikaela’s temperament, explaining that there are both good and bad Djinn. Based on her difficult infancy and toddlerhood, he declared her to be a bad Djinn.
Holly bellowed, “No!” She said, “Dr. Hakim, you are clearly a fraud because my Mikaela is good.” She stormed out clutching Mikaela in her arms and pulling Danny by the neck of his shirt.
Over the next few years, Holly devoted herself to helping Mikaela deal with her temper. That seemed to be the key factor in preventing her from transforming. It was an arduous process, and Holly poured her heart and soul into it. Nobody was going to tell her that her little girl was bad. Holly became an expert at predicting Mikaela’s moods, and when she detected a foul one coming on, she would say “Kalee, let’s sing some songs together.” Singing really soothed her, and as Mikaela grew older, Holly taught her breathing exercises and meditation. By the time Mikaela was six years old, she could fully control her transformations. As soon as she felt a fit coming on, she would practice her deep breathing until she was relaxed.
That’s not to say Mikaela never transformed. Sometimes, when Mikaela didn’t get her way, she would transform into a dog, and sit in the corner and growl. She knew her parents hated it, and did it to irritate them.
When Mikaela turned seven, Holly enrolled her at the local elementary school, confident she was ready. For the first few months, everything went smoothly. Mikaela excelled at math and science, and earned excellent grades. She also made her first real friend, a girl named Sara. One day, Mikaela heard the class bully calling Sara fat. She became enraged, and bit the bully in the leg so hard he needed stitches. Mikaela was so proud of herself, saying “Mommy, I didn’t even transform.”
Mikaela was suspended for the rest of the year, and the doctors could not figure out why the boy’s wounds looked like a dog bite.
On her twelfth birthday, Mikaela woke up with a smile. The smell of blueberry pancakes had wafted up to her room, and she raced downstairs, excited for both pancakes and presents. Mikaela had been campaigning for weeks for an iPhone, and as she opened her last gift, her face fell. She hadn’t gotten one. She told her parents, “I’m protesting. I am going to transform into a dog and stay that way until I get that phone.”
Holly was not going to let herself be bullied by her daughter. She said, “Okay, Kalee, you know it is Saturday, the day I visit Grandma at the nursing home, and today you are coming with me.” She put a leash on Mikaela, and dragged her out of the house. Too stubborn to transform back, Mikaela let her mother lead the way.
When they arrived at the nursing home, they went straight to the Alzheimer’s ward, where Holly’s mother lived. Holly said, “Mom, I have a special surprise for you today. I brought our dog.”
Holly’s mom, who was usually agitated and combative, calmed down right away, and said, “Kaylee, is that you?”
They spent a wonderful afternoon together, and Mikaela discovered she had a special gift for easing the emotional pain of others.
Over the years, Mikaela volunteered in her grandmother’s nursing home as well as a home for autistic children, sometimes as herself and sometimes as her alter ego. When she graduated college as a psychiatric nurse, nobody was prouder than Holly, who was grateful every day for the gift of Mikaela.
On the night of Mikaela’s graduation, Holly had a vivid dream. A beautiful woman came to her and said, “Thank you for taking care of Mikaela, and always believing in her.”
Holly whispered back, “Thanks for choosing me.”
Peggy Gerber is a poet and short story writer from New Jersey who can’t resist entering Umair’s micro fiction contests. Her stories and poems have appeared in many publications including Potato Soup Journal, Daily Science Fiction, Terror House Magazine, 101words.org, and many others.