May 2: “The Monitor” by Tara Laskowski

Happy Tuesday, Story366! Coming at you today with a book that was actually released today, Bystanders by Tara Laskowski, out from the Santa Fe Writers Project. Tara is a friend and colleague of mine, as she’s the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly, where she took three of my shorts for publication, but now is my boss, as I (along with the Karen) serve as Interviews Editor of that publication. I’ve also published a piece of hers in Mid-American Review—before any of my SLQ pieces—so I’ve been somewhat of a fan of her work before really knowing her. Happy publication day, Tara! Instead of getting spanked, you get Story366ed.

One bad thing about getting these done so late in the day—it’s 11 p.m. here in Missouri—is that not as many people are crawling around FB and Twitter to see the posts as they would be if I posted at 9 a.m., like I had for the first three months of this project. But this being the last week of classes, a literal eleventh-hour post is more than acceptable. An other reason why I wish I wasn’t posting so late is because Laskowski’s story for today, “The Monitor,” is a ghost story, bordering on horror story, and I’m alone and it’s dark outside and I think I just heard a noise and if I don’t finish this post, please call the police and send them to my house. So, yeah, I wish I was doing this in the daytime, at a crowded restaurant, while shouldering a bazooka.

“The Monitor” is about a baby monitor, an EVIL baby monitor, it would seem. A mom-to-be, Myra, our protagonist, wants a baby monitor really badly, and right before she gives birth to little Eva, an aunt sends it to her. Once Eva comes along and she sets it up, it’s a blessing, as Eva is a fussy, colicky, crying baby, and, well, every little bit helps (neither of my sons were colicky and I still barely made it through with the normal level of cries).

Myra’s husband Corey often sleeps alone  in their bed, Myra in the spare room so he can stretch out, sleep soundly for work, Myra getting up constantly for Eva, the dim glow of the monitor a distraction. One night, Myra wakes, peeks over at the monitor, and instead of Eva, Myra sees a little boy, in a different room, a different bed. Her baby has been replaced! Terror! Actually, no, the signal of her monitor has crossed frequencies with the neighbors’ monitor across the street, Myra soon deduces. She’s  read about this happening—it’s not even uncommon. She’s watching the neighbor’s kid. Of course, though, she still runs into Eva’s room to check on her. Eva’s fine. Myra jostles the monitor and Eva reappears. Oh, technology! How you almost kill our babies!

The frequency-crossing happens quite often, annoying Myra at first, but then Myra starts seeing a little boy in the neighbor baby’s room at night. At first, the little boy just peeks in on the little neighbor baby, and Myra assumes this is an older brother. But wait! The neighbors don’t have any other kids. They do, however, have family staying with them, and there must be a kid, a little boy who gets up at night to pee and checks on the baby when he does. What a sweetie.

Only, Myra finds out from the neighbor (Elly) that their guests have left, and they never had a little boy even when they were there. Huh, Myra thinks. Horrifying.

Wait, what was that noise?

There’s a reason why Myra is seeing a little boy, we find out, but encounter a couple of red herrings to throw us off. The last couple of pages, however, Laskowski really amps up the terror, as a new and even worse revelation comes to light, taking a really creepy horror concept and intensifying it, exponentially. It’s a perfect ending to a really well written, nerve-shaking thriller.

And it seems like this is something Tara Laskowski does. All three of the stories I read from Bystanders dealt with ghosts in some way. I don’t remember the MAR story being scary, not particularly, but that story’s not in this book. Bystanders is this writer’s book of literary thriller and ghost stories, and it’s a damn good one. Since I loved all three of the stories I’ve read so far and I love Tara (despite her being an April-Foolin’ punk-ass), I plan to find out. When it’s light out.

Tara Laskowski