“Ten year old Lucy Lowes was taken today at Shaggy Lake National Park, police are asking that anybody with information come forward… The disappearance of nine-year-old Gemini Holland from her home shocked officials… Just one year after Gemini Holland vanished, eight-year-old Rachel Romano disappears… Officials are beginning to suspect that the 1990 to 1992 missing children cases somehow relate… The anniversary of three little girls’ disappearances also marks the abduction of another… Jasmine Stroud taken from her schoolyard at approximately two p.m… Police are naming the kidnapper ‘The Countdown Killer' and are warning families to keep close their loved ones… Six-year-old Claire Hull was stolen from her family… Vanished without a trace… Criminal investigators are saying the mysterious kidnappings may possibly be related to a religious cult... Breanna Eve, described as a bubbly, likable five year old girl… It’s a series of abductions seemingly related to which year it is… Courtney Neves is the latest victim of 'The Countdown Killer'… Three-year-old Maya Lang is missing… Advising parents to keep their toddlers close this Fall as the anniversary of the taken girls comes around the corner… Hailey Stone, just two years old, never had a chance…Girls have officially been presumed dead... the most recent victim, Ava Cardeaux, a one-year-old child who went missing in a 'split second', say her parents… Expecting that this will be his last kidnapping, county officials are saying that the threat level of ‘The Countdown Killer’ has declined… And I’m just wondering, who is he going to target next? Maybe he’ll start taking young boys… I don’t agree that this is the end… He’s worked too long, and too hard to give up on his reign... I advise parents to still be on lookout… I think it really is over… because, what is he going to take next? A foetus?...”
”Turn that off, James.” Mallory wasn’t amused. As a soon-to-be mother, she was at risk for the next abduction. Pregnant women, newborn babies and those looking to terminate a pregnancy were all given a red flag as 2000 crept around the corner. She was already tormented by the thought of motherhood, and now had reason to believe she would be the victim of a kidnapping by a serial-murderer. Needless to say, James had been doing most of the running-around lately. It seemed that every channel on television, every signpost in town, and every supermarket bulletin board had something to do with the Countdown Killer. She was seven days away from her due date and a constant reminder of his threat was the last thing she needed.
”I’m sorry, hon.” James flicked off the television and leaned back to hold his wife closely. “Gabriella isn’t going to be taken from us. I promise you this. Nothing can take our baby girl from us." James' voice had a calming tone that always brought Mallory to ease. She nestled her head under his arm and wrapped herself around him.
"You know.. the eeriest part of it is that there was never a trace. Nobody ever saw this person. Heard him. That's what gets me so nervous. He's invisible..."
As Mallory spoke, unwanted ears listened from outside the open window of hers and James' home. Croutched beneath the pane, inching his way towards the patio doors that opened on to the den.
"I know. I can't deny that this guy, or girl, or whomever.. they seem to be way under the radar. However, that is not going to be something that intimidates me, Mallory. You.. this baby.. our family.. Hell, even Bruno!" Their family dog, sitting loyaly in his kennel eating his dinnertime kibble, let out an affectionate bark. "You are the most important things in this world to me. I won't let anybody take that away."
Slowly, the door was opened. The intruder knew well enough that it was never latched and crept his way inside. The couch on which Mallory and Jame's lay faced opposite the door, allowing him to seat himself discreetly behind their backs. He was ready to pounce, like a lion on an unsuspecting zebra, feeding on the tall grass of the Savannah.
"I love you, James."
He brought himself up carefully... Bruno noticed him rising before the couple, responding with a playful growl. The man let out a scream.
"BOO! I'M THE COUNTDOWN KILLER!"
James and Mallory lept to their feet instantly, hearts pounding inside of their chests and pulses rising to heights that were definitely not healthy for a pregnant woman. James punched his brother's shoulder and jumped the couch to give him a tackling hug. In walked the rest of James' family, laughing hysterically.
"Come on, guys!" James chuckled, hugging his mother, father, grandmother and sister. They were coming to stay for the week while Mallory was nearing her due date. However, their trip was about to be cut short.
"My... My water broke..." Her mumble wasn't heard over the volumous reunion of her husbands family. "James... My..." She had lost her breath - and apparently been forced in to labour - when Eddie jumped out from behind the couch. He had always had an arrogant, malicious sense of humour.
"Hey, James. Looks like Mal's pissed herself." Eddie pointed and laughed, bringing the room to silence briefly. His laugh faded and he tried to cover it with a cough. The entire family was giving him an unappreciative stare. Suddenly, hysteria. His mother smacked him on the ear. "Enough with the hitting!"
"You damn fool, you've spooked her in to labour a week early!" Mallory was now being held by Patricia, her sister-in-law. She was telling her to breathe deeply and coaxing her out to the car. James and his mother rushed to get together a bag of supplies for the hospital, while everyone else got in to another car and made their way to meet them - of course, also stopping for dinner on the way due to it now being cancelled.
After four hours of tiring labour, Mallory gave birth to beautiful, brown-eyed baby Gabriella Joslyn Moore.
"Because of your early labour, brought on by... non-natural causes..." Once again, all eyes in the room were disapprovingly glaring at Eddie. "... we think it's best for yourself and Gabriella to spend today and tonight at the hospital."
"Oh, good lord. She's a new mother, not a cancer patient. There's no need to keep her here. I home-birthed all three of my children, was back out on the fields twenty minutes after birth. And I got two perfect, healthy babies." Josie held Patricia and James in either arm and smiled her warm, southern smile.
"Two?!" Eddie chimed in. There's that glare again.
The doctor turned to the two nurses in the room with an uneasy expression on his face. He was with-holding something. Something he wished he didn't have to say. Something nobody wanted to hear.
"Mallory..." He pushed the round, black stool beside her hospital bed and sat closely to her. His voice was sincere and concerned. "Today... is the anniversarry. You gave birth to your daughter at midnight sharp. We really do wish you would stay." He spoke quietly enough that only Mallory and James, standing tight to her side and holding her hands, could hear. The couple looked at one another, sudden fear filling them from head to toe. A shake of the head noted their approval and the doctor left the room to register Mallory for another night.
After her in-laws had left back to the house, three bodyguards were assigned to Mallory's floor. One in front of her room and one on either end where an elevator and staircase could be found. They were armed and padded heavily. Blackwater had only one hospital and today, Mallory was the only to birth a child. She was the sole woman in this hospital at risk. All because Eddie had scared her in to labour. Despite the morning light creeping in through the large hospital windows, she laid her head back and began to sleep. James stood overtop of Gabriella's basinet, staring gleefully down at his beautiful baby girl. Every now and again she would coo or squeeze her hands together and make a silly face, making his eyes glisten with proud and loving tears. There was no way anybody was taking her away. Anybody.