The day his daughter was born was the day the dread started.
He’d spent her first two days in a flurry of responsibility and visitations, the freedom of youth officially extinguished, but the enormity of his burden became clearer once he brought her home. Suddenly, every sharp corner became a potential death blow, every moment of silence a sign of suffocation. When he looked down at her innocent pink face, all he could see were the many ways he might someday fail her.
Nights were the worst. He would lay awake, eyes focused on the open bedroom door, straining to hear any hint of sound from the open door of the nursery. He could not sleep. The small patch of carpet between them, separated by the width of the upstairs bathroom, felt infinite and cold. He tossed and turned, unable to calm his paranoia, irritating his very tired wife in the process.
He purchased the monitor from the electronics department of a high-end baby store. It was by far the most expensive model, with video capabilities and Wi-fi monitoring from multiple devices. He looked down at the shiny packaging in his hands, the large photo of the baby slumbering peacefully without a care in the world.
For the first time in days, he allowed himself a sigh of relief.
Installation was a breeze. The camera unit was wireless, and clung to the nursery wall without the need for drilling. A few quick keystrokes on the iPad, and the system was up and running. While his daughter was being fed downstairs, he quickly tested the setup with his daughter’s stuffed green alligator. Its button eyes stared up at him quizzically from his palm as he adjusted the settings via smartphone.
With a flick of the light switch, the camera entered night vision mode. Except for a slight red glow from the power light on the unit’s base, the room was perfectly black. The alligator maintained his gaze, its rumpled green velour now a sickly light grey. Aside from a bit of static around the edges of the picture, everything worked perfectly. He closed the nursery door that night, and then his own, secure in the knowledge that he’d be able to monitor any anomalies from the comfort of his bed.
He could not sleep. The sound of the white noise machine through the monitor’s speaker drowned out any sound of breathing the microphone might’ve picked up. How could he be sure she was okay? The lure of the LCD handset was too powerful. With a touch, it sprung to life, revealing the grainy image of his daughter, tiny in the expanse of her crib, sleeping as peacefully as the baby from the package. Satisfied, he replaced the unit.
But was she BREATHING?
Again, he snatched and activated the handset, zooming the camera as far as it would go. He leaned closer to the screen, focusing on her chest, studying the pixelated Rorschach for any sign of movement. His eyes strained and watered as the pale light burned into them, leaving behind floating afterimages when he finally blinked. He put the monitor back on the night stand and rolled over, his back to the white plastic unit. He rubbed his tired eyes.
He still could not sleep.
That ghostly image of his daughter was stuck in his brain, pale and staticky and wrong. He remembered the dark, blurred edges of the frame looming over her insignificant form. Before he could stop himself, he imagined two large, gloved hands entering from off-frame, moving slowly towards her. He tried to drive the image from his mind, but couldn’t. Those terrible, silent hands, so close to his innocent daughter, ready to lift her from her crib and commit unspeakable acts under the glowing crimson eye of the camera…
He checked the monitor. Once his eyes re-adjusted to the brightness of the screen, he saw his daughter, exactly as he’d left her, lounging peacefully on the animal-printed sheets, her tiny legs still bent outward in a frog-like position. He felt the sweat dripping down the back of his neck, and realized he’d been holding his breath. He felt silly, there, in the middle of the night, worried for no reason. He shut off the monitor again, replaced it to the night stand, and rolled over in bed to finally sleep.
He awoke, bolt upright in bed, to a burst of light and static from the monitor. He paused, briefly, attempting to regain his bearings in the dark and silent room. He grabbed the monitor from the nightstand and activated it, but nothing happened. Had the fuse blown? Had the unit gotten unplugged somehow? He reached blindly around the floor, searching for a loose cord, but lost his balance. He tumbled to the hardwood floor, knocking over the lamp, the night stand, and the baby monitor itself.
The baby started to cry. His wife awoke.
“Sorry–-” he offered feebly, not able to adequately explain the terror that had led him to his current predicament.
“Dammit, Jerry,” his wife snapped, already out the door to calm her upset child.
The next morning, he set to work troubleshooting the unit. The guide booklet included in the package was no help, and the company website offered little additional info. After Googling the unit’s model number with a few different search terms, he came across a black bulletin board featuring the same photo from the cover of the box. Eagerly, he began clicking through posts, searching for someone else who had encountered the same problem.
What he found, instead, were photos. Photos of children in their cribs. His stomach dropped as he realized what he was seeing: newborns and toddlers, daytime and nighttime, sleeping and awake. Screengrabs of parents, hunched over the railing, calming their colicky babies. Looping GIFs of infants alone in bed, just breathing. And the comments underneath, in seemingly endless supply. People pretending to be the babies pictured. Others pretending to be their mommies, daddies, babysitters and caretakers.
He clicked the latest update.
His blood ran cold when he saw the blurry grey image of a stuffed alligator staring directly into the camera. Underneath, his eyes fixated on the simple blue hyperlink which taunted him: VIEW LIVE FEED.