Author's note: Special thanks to NaturesTemper for giving this story a read. He did a damn fine job injecting the emotion I was looking for into the story and it's worth a listen.

"The Cuckoo Conundrum" by EmpyrealInvective (Narrated by NaturesTemper)

"The Cuckoo Conundrum" by EmpyrealInvective (Narrated by NaturesTemper)

Let me be perfectly blunt here. I am going to ask you a question at the end of all of this. It is a difficult question to answer, but I wouldn’t be asking you all this if it was something that I could easily answer myself. I need you to answer me. I honestly don’t know what to do. Before I get ahead of myself, let me give you the whole story.

After college, I moved away from home. I moved over twenty hours away to another state, over a thousand miles away from my closest family member. I didn’t do this because my relationship with my family was in any way strained. It was quite the opposite actually. They have been nothing, but supportive and caring of my decisions and choices. I think the reasons behind my decision for the change in scenery were because I really wanted to feel independent. I’m not proud to admit it, but living so close to my family, I felt coddled. I wanted to accomplish something that I felt wasn’t handed to me on a silver platter. It was with that foolish thought that I packed up all my things and left.

The first few years went by without much problem. I found a nice cheap apartment and a well-paying job. I kept in contact with my family and settled into my life. It wasn’t until the milestones in their lives started rolling around that I began to feel isolated. My brother graduated from college and I couldn’t attend because I was working. My mother and father celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary and I wasn’t able to congratulate them at a celebratory dinner because I was thousands of miles away. I think the real final straw that proved too much for the camel’s back was my sister’s pregnancy and the birth of my nephew.

I was working when I got the text. I don’t think it was the fact that I got the good news a few hours later than most. I think it was the fact that I received a text and not a call. It felt, impersonal. It was like uploading some life news onto Facebook as opposed to calling someone and letting them know personally. For the first time, I really felt left out and excluded from the family. This was the moment where I truly began to wonder if I had made the right choice in deciding to move so far away from my family.

One of the gifts my sister received during her baby shower was a baby monitor we all chipped in on. It was top of the line. The thing even had a webcam built into it. With the correct password you could get a live feed of the nursery. I wasn’t a big fan of the concept, but my sister was extremely enthused about the prospect of being able to share these moments with our family and friends. Within the first couple of weeks of the baby's birth, the password had been circulated to all of our family and close friends.

I never really used the password to look at the live feed for the first couple of months. My sister inundated us with enough cute photos, videos, and stories that I didn’t feel like it was necessary. Some part of me still saw the concept of putting a streaming feed from the webcam on the Internet as slightly distressing. I didn’t really like the idea of looking in on my sister and husband trying to calm their fussy baby in the middle of the night and I liked the idea less that someone else might stumble across the feed and be looking into their home without their permission. To me it felt like some sort of violation of their privacy.

Like I said, for the first few months, I didn’t use the webcam feature of the baby monitor. It wasn’t until I started to have a rough patch at work that I began to get more pensive about my life choices up to that point. I also started to have some pretty severe bouts of insomnia. After a couple of weeks of tossing and turning for hours on end, I relented and went to see a doctor. The doctor ran a few tests, but came up with no real reasonable explanation. I slowly found myself becoming a night owl due to my inability to sleep. It was around this time that I started checking in on the live feed.

At first, I tried to use my sleepless nights trying to be productive. I read books, watched classic movies, and did other things that I typically couldn’t find the time for in my day-to-day life. After a few weeks, I had read the books and seen the movies I had wanted to and now had very little to do. At three or four in the morning, you’d be surprised how little there is to do. All of my friends had gone to bed and there was no one to talk to. It was during these bouts of insomnia that I began checking out the feed.

This may seem like an odd thing to say, but watching something so small and precious sleeping so contently really can set your mind at ease. The problems I was facing at work and my sense of isolation from my family began to drift away as I watched that little bundle sleeping so peacefully. It became a staple of my late nights when I was up and couldn’t sleep. I would listen to music, read a little, and check in on my nephew. A few times I even managed to drift off in front of the computer while watching the webcam feed.

I can’t tell you when I first saw the thing. I think it was after about a month of dealing with my inability to sleep. It was a night like any other. I got off work, watched some movie on the TV and turned on the feed. It must have been an hour or so later when I was drifting off that I saw it. The baby was sleeping soundly. The webcam was placed at the head of the cradle so you could see inside the cradle and a little bit of the wall. There was no sound on the webcam, but the baby shifted slightly as if something had disturbed his sleep. It was only there for a split second. Long enough to register, but short enough to be passed off as a trick of the eyes. I could have sworn that I saw a head poke up and look through the bars of the cradle before dropping below the line of sight of the camera.

It was only for half a second and I was in the midst of drifting off when that happened. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and focused on the screen for the next ten minutes, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever I had seen before, but nothing happened or came into view other than the sleeping child. I scanned the screen for a couple more minutes, unsure of what I had seen. I chalked it all up to a trick of the mind and went to bed.

By the time I woke up the next morning, I was certain that what I had thought I’d seen was nothing more than my sleep-deprived brain messing with me after a long day. I went about my day like usual. I ate something small, went to work, and came home late. I am fairly certain that the stress I was experiencing at work was what contributed to my inability to sleep at night. I signed on to the webcam and watched the feed. I thought for a moment about what I had thought I had seen last night, but I brushed it off. I didn’t think about what I had seen that night until about a week later when it made a re-appearance.

I had been out drinking with some friends from work. We drank a little more than we should have, but luckily the bar was within walking distance of my place. I drunkenly stumbled home and sat down in front of my computer. I wasn’t ready for bed yet, frankly the idea of laying in my bed and feeling the world shift and tilt around me wasn’t a very appealing prospect. I checked my email and without putting much thought into it, I signed into the baby monitor feed. It was then that I caught my first true sight of the thing.

The camera flicked on just as it was crawling across the wall opposite the babies’ crib. It was a small ashen colored thing. Its limbs were spindly and terminated in a weird mass of follicles, which it used to adhere to the wall. It moved slow as if wary not to make any sounds. It was about three feet long and its skin, if you could call it that, looked smooth, but on its torso it had bumpy, ribbed protrusions. I think the most eloquent way I can describe it is that the thing looked like something that would creep around in one of H.R. Giger’s wet dreams.

I immediately panicked and called my sister. There was something in the baby's room. I watched on the screen as the thing swiveled its head in the direction of my sister’s room. It must have heard what I could not from the feed, the cell phone ringing. It skittered across the wall and vanished off screen. My sister groggily answered her phone, nonplussed about being woken up once the baby had been successfully put to bed.

She immediately knew I was drunk by the slurring of my words and was about to hang up when she caught my words, “Something is in the baby’s room!” I heard her shaking her husband up and sending him down to check. I had her hand him the phone before he went to check. I watched as the door creaked open on the webcam feed. I told him to look around the wall or possibly under the crib. He checked, but found no trace of anything. When I asked him if there was anything near the foot of the crib, he shrugged and told me that there was a vent, but seemed hesitant to believe that there could be anything there.

My brother-in-law put my sister back on the line who now seemed aggravated at having been woken up so late at night. I lied and told her that I was certain I had seen a rat crawling near the crib. I had to lie to her. If I told her the truth, she would think I had gone off my rocker. She agreed to find some way to seal off the vent just in case there was a rodent. I spent the rest of the night watching the baby sleep. The thing didn’t make another appearance that night.

I decided that my only recourse was to catch the thing in the act and get some photographic evidence. That was the only way I could get them to believe me and possibly get my nephew to safety. As it was the weekend, I had a little more freedom in my schedule. I slept during the day and stayed up at night so I could monitor the baby. I kept my phone right next to me and my fingers were on the keyboard so I could take a screenshot the instant that thing made an appearance.

I spent a few nights watching the baby monitor without any strange occurrences. The weekend passed by and I took a day off work so I could stay vigilant. The thing didn’t show up that night either. I took the next day off, much to my boss’s chagrin. I saw nothing that night either. When I called again to take another day off to sleep, my boss fired me. It didn’t matter, I would catch that thing and keep my nephew safe.

I started to doubt my sanity after a few more nights. Had I really seen something or was I having some sort of mental breakdown? Was I coming apart at the seams? I didn’t spend a lot of time doubting myself before the fiend made its final appearance. To be honest, I wish I could have spent the rest of my life doubting my sanity as opposed to having my sanity reaffirmed by the grotesque re-appearance of that fiend.

I was struggling to stay awake. It was around 4:00 in the morning when the fiend appeared. I watched in shock as its slender, spider-esque limb came into view through the bars of the baby cradle. It hoisted itself onto the rim of the cradle and stared at the sleeping form of my nephew. I was unable to look away from it. Its face was similar to a human’s, but it was lacking a nose and appeared more tapered. My macabre fascination was broken the second it skittered down into the cradle with my nephew.

I grabbed my cell phone and frantically looked up my sister’s number. I selected call and looked back up at the screen. Now it was poised over my nephew like a spider waiting to descend on something caught in its web. The phone was ringing. Its appendages worked and worried at its chest. The membrane tore and sloughed off, exposing a pulsating mass underneath. Why wasn’t she answering? I saw something in the fiend’s chest worming and writhing its way free. Just before it dropped down onto my nephew, I realized why my sister wasn’t answering. She had muted her phone so she could get a full night’s sleep.

The worm freed itself from the fiend’s chest cavity and dropped onto my nephew’s chest. He awoke and started to squall, but it was too late. The larval mass had been looking for an opening and it had found it. My nephew screamed and shrieked as the worm worked its way into his mouth and slid down his esophagus. The fiend looked up and for a split second, its eyes met with mine through the webcam and in that singular moment, I had never felt so impotent in my life.

I could only watch as it skittered away and left my nephew writhing and struggling against the conquering worm. The thing vanished off the screen just as the door to the bedroom opened. My sister appeared in the room. She had heard the crying and had come to check on the baby. I watched as she lifted it out of its crib and held it to her. I couldn’t hear her but I knew that she was singing to it. I could only watch as she tried to calm it down.

I had failed my nephew. I couldn’t save him from that thing. It had implanted something into him. I didn’t know what that worm-like thing was and I doubt I want to know. In the heat of the moment, I had failed to take a screenshot and capture photographic evidence of that thing. I had failed my sister. I was unable to protect her against that thing. I had failed.

After losing my job, I had no other choice, but to move back close to my family. My dad pulled some strings and got me some work. I managed to live with some friends for a while before getting my own place. A few months passed and I slipped back into denial. It was much easier to deny what had happened than confronting it. It took some time, but eventually I was able to allocate that horrible night into the darkest chambers of my mind. I convinced myself that I had had a mental breakdown, hallucinated, and lost my job. A few weeks passed by and the lie I told myself eventually became the truth. To me at least.

My nephew continues to grow. He’s two years old. He appears to be perfectly healthy. He’s adorable. In the moments that I was unable to convince myself that I had been hallucinating that night, I took solace in knowing that at least that larval looking thing hadn’t had any negative effects on him. I used past tense there, because that is no longer true.

It all came to a head when my sister dropped off my nephew with me for a couple of hours while she went to relax and have a bit of a spa day. I was bouncing him on my knee and making faces at him while he giggled. It was then while we were face to face that it happened. He blinked and a nictitating membrane slid across his eye. The almost amphibian, horrendous haw drew across his eye and I could have sworn that I saw something sliding and displacing the skin around his chest. It looked like he had a snake slithering around under his skin, burrowing around in his flesh.

I have spent the past few hours typing this and the whole time, I can only think of the Common Cuckoo. You see, the Common Cuckoo rarely raises its own. It instead opts to slip into another bird’s nest and lay its egg. Once it hatches, the infant cuckoo knocks its surrogate brothers and sisters out of the nest and the unsuspecting surrogate parents are left to feed and sustain the invading imposter. I can now only think of how that thing has in a sense laid its egg and left my sister and her husband to take care of its progeny.

Now onto the question I need to ask you. I have spent the past couple of hours thinking about what to do with the changeling. It is not my sister’s child, not anymore. It is not my nephew; it is the thing that has killed my nephew. It is the thing that will grow up to implant and kill other people's children. Jesus, I can’t believe I’m typing this. I have to kill it. Don't I? I can’t let it reach maturity and propagate more of its fiendish ilk. Who knows how many of these creatures are out there doing this atrocious thing to other families? Imitating the lives they have stolen to sustain themselves.

Now onto the question that I have to ask you, am I crazy? This can't be real. There is no way something like this can happen. Please tell me I have snapped, please tell me that all of this is a product of my demented mind and that I have completely lost it. Please tell me I don’t have to do what I am thinking of doing with this pillow that is right next to me. Please tell me I don't have to smother my nephew. Please tell me, what the hell do I do? Please.

Written by EmpyrealInvective
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