The Child Market

📅 Published on July 9, 2021

“The Child Market”

Written by Kyle Harrison
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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It started with a call from a friend, Luke.

“Rob, are you awake?” he asked in a panic as I groggily searched for my glasses.

“I am now,” I remarked dryly as I checked the time.  Three fucking thirty in the morning.  “This had better be good,” I said as I sat up and listened to his ramble.

“I know, I know.  You can bite my head off later.  Look, I’m in some deep shit,” he responded.

His voice sounded frantic, like he had just killed someone.  I soon learned I wasn’t that far off with my guess.

“You remember Dhia?  Met her in George Town a few weeks back at the art festival.  Anyway, we been hooking up since then and…” his voice trailed off.

Even in a half-woke state of mind, I knew what he was implying.

“You got her pregnant, didn’t you?” I said since he was too slow to spit it out.

“I did, Rob.  Fuck, I did.  She did the test an hour ago!  Jesus, what do I do?” he asked.

I sighed and rubbed my forehead tiredly.  “How the hell should I know?  What did she say?  Have you told anyone else yet?  If the dean finds out, you’ll be a dead man,” I told him.

“No…no, she’s asleep in the other room.  But I’m freaking out here, dude.  I can’t have a kid now!  We’ve been here nearly two years.  I’ve done too much to go home now, and if I report it…”  Again, he didn’t seem to have the strength to finish his words.

“You’ll lose your scholarship and be on the next flight home so fast your head will spin.  That’s $50,000 down the drain,” I remarked.

“That’s why I called you.  I figured you could talk to her,” Luke responded.

“And say what?” I gritted my teeth.  I could already tell where this conversation was going.

“I don’t know!  You and Jenny worked things out last year when we were in Prague!  Work your magic, man!” he sputtered.

I clenched the phone, wishing I could reach through it and strangle my friend.  He didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

But then no one really did.

“That was different,” was the only response I felt he deserved.

“Come on, Rob…you know the language better than any of us.  Man…I don’t know who else to turn to.”

I felt sorry for him.  Luke didn’t come from money, so I knew that if he did lose this, it would be the end.

We had signed up as foreign exchange students together over three years back, choosing four different countries to study abroad in the field of astronomy and agricultural engineering.

Our stay here in Malaysia had been extended only due to bad weather, so the dean had given us some time to recoup.

For two guys thousands of miles away from any American girls, that meant clubbing and flirting with any Asian cutie who dared look our way.

I had probably hooked up with three or four myself since we settled here on the island of Perang.

But unlike Luke, I tried to be sensible, always wore protection, and rarely ever slept with a chick twice.

Luke, on the other hand, always thought with his heart instead of his head until it was too late.

I used to be like that with Jenny, I thought as I turned over and stared out the window toward the beach.  The gentle rhythm of the waves reminded me of her.

Our secret rendezvous always at the Vltava River, sneaking into old churches to make out and joking about bolts of lightning splitting the spires apart to render divine judgment.

Dwelling on it brought back old wounds. so I jumped out of bed and took some sleeping pills.

I would need to be on the top of my game if I hoped to help Luke and Dhia at all.

Especially if I wanted to convince my friend not to repeat the same mistakes I did.

* * * * * *

Mornings on the island are something to witness.  There is no such thing as laziness here; the entire city seems to come alive as soon as the sun is up.  Sometimes even earlier.

It’s a short ten-block walk to where I know Luke is staying, but I first stop at the Chowrasta market and grab myself some breakfast.

Despite being rooted in Tamil culture, the place actually has a variety of foods and if there is one thing the locals know, it’s that we Americans like to eat.

So I grab a bowl of koay teow th’ng, my personal favorite and wash it down with a glass of teh tarik.  I sometimes flirt with the mixer that makes the beverage, but this particular morning my mind is fixed on what I’m going to say to Luke and his girl.

Somehow or another, my eyes fixate on a sculpture not far from my booth, two stony faces looking back at me.

The pair are identical save for a few key details: One is holding rocks and the other fruit, and the one hefting the rocks is unhappy.

“Which one are you?” a voice asks, breaking me from my concentration.

It’s an older Malaysian woman, dressed in little more than rags.  Her face was covered in warts, and her smile crooked and contemptuous of me as a foreigner.  But her question intrigues me.

“Excuse me?  What do you mean?” I reply back in her native tongue.  This seems to surprise her, as many Americans don’t bother to learn the dialect here.  Perang has at least seven major languages, but her garments told me she was likely born here and preferred Hokkien.

“Laborer…or trader?” the old woman said, gesturing toward the iron rod motif with a bony finger.

“Perhaps both?” I told her, realizing that in my current circumstances, that might be applicable.

“Impossible.  One cannot be both.  Either servant or master,” she said back.

I don’t know why, but the way she spoke seemed harsh and critical, and it irritated me.  What did she know about my life or the choices I made?  I stood up and left a tip, nodding toward the crone and started down the street.

“It is better for you to decide now, my child…before the decision is made for you,” she said in a thick English accent just as I was exiting the marketplace.

I turned to look back, but she had immersed herself in the crowd.  Then I looked back up at the stone caricature, one smiling…the other angry.  Had their expressions switched?

Ignoring it, I whipped out my phone and texted Luke telling him to meet me in his hotel lobby.

Already there was his response.

“Dhia is up in the room.  She has been scared and upset all night,” he told me as I got inside.

“I would be too if you knocked me up,” I joked.  But it didn’t seem like the time for that, especially since I needed him to level with me.

“I’m going to go up and talk to her.  I want you to stay here until I get back.  No need to make this any worse than it needs to be,” I told him.

“What are you going to say?” Luke muttered.

“I’ll tell her what she needs to do.”

He nodded, trying not to pass out from anxiety as I rushed over to the elevator and pressed for the fourth floor.

Somewhere I read that number is considered bad luck on the islands, but then, I was never one to believe in superstition.

There are far worse evils we cause ourselves without any help from ghosts, I thought grimly as I rapped on the door.

Dhia answered it wearing her nightgown but looking disheveled and tired.  I had only hung out with her a few times, but by the look on her face, something told me she had guessed why I was there.

“Luke tell you?” she asked in broken English, letting me into the room.

“Yeah, he did.  How are you feeling?” I muttered as I glanced about the small dorm that my friend was leasing.  It looked like Dhia had trashed the place a little during the initial shock.

“Never mind,” I added as I sat down on the couch and watched her pace the room.

“Luke say…you been through before?” she asked, gently rubbing her belly and muttering, “You father?”

“I was…but what happened with me shouldn’t really matter.  This is you.  Your body.  What are you thinking, Dhia?” I whispered back.

“Tell me about baby.  Then I tell you what I am…thinking,” she said, slowing down to carefully enunciate words.

I sighed.  I had prepared myself to tell this story, but it was never easy.

“There isn’t much to say.  We didn’t plan to have a child…and we both agreed we weren’t ready.  So, it was agreed to terminate the pregnancy,” I answered, giving her the shortest version possible.  But of course, she had questions.

“You mean you…what is word?  Go to pasaran kanak-kanak?” Dhia asked.

I didn’t know the phrases she used, but the look of horror on her face told me she at least understood how my story had unfolded.

“Yes.  It was mutual.  But it ended our relationship.  And it shouldn’t affect your choice,” I told her.

The Malaysian woman became silent, thinking over what I had just said.  I couldn’t tell by her expression whether she was silently judging me or considering the option for herself.  It was never an easy choice to make.

“Like I said…I want you to feel comfortable.  Whatever you decide, I can convince Luke to be on board with it,” I told her.  I knew that my buddy was probably hoping that it would be the opposite, that I would come up her and tell his girl to abort the baby.  In fact, that was all but confirmed a moment later when he did burst into the room, eager to find out what Dhia had decided.

The two looked at each other wordlessly, both of their expressions a mixture of frustration, confusion, and anxiety.  Not the type of faces anyone should wear when bringing a child into the world, I thought.  They weren’t ready.  But then, who ever was?

“I…I want to keep,” Dhia said finally.

Luke looked aghast.

“No!  No, you can’t!  Rob tell her!” then he froze and flared at me accusingly.

“Wait.  What the fuck did you tell her?”  He had his hands on my shirt now, pulling me toward him.

“Get your hands off me, man!” I said, pushing him away.  “I told her exactly the truth about me and Jenny.”

Dhia looked confused and frightened by our sudden heated argument.

“I asked you for help!  Not to stab me in the back!” Luke said, running his fingers through his hair.

“Look.  Dhia is a grown woman.  It’s time you start acting like a grown man!” I shouted back.

I turned to look at her realizing she was on the verge of tears.

“You…no want children?” Dhia asked him.  Her hurt tone seemed to soften Luke’s indignation.

“No, sweetie, no, it’s not that at all,” he went over to her and took her hands gently in his.

“I just…I don’t want kids now.  I’m not even thirty yet.  I don’t have anything.  What sort of father would I be?” Luke mumbled.

Dhia seemed confused by his English, so I quickly translated what I could and sighed, “This was a mistake for me to come.  I’m sorry, Luke.”

He ignored me, gently playing with his girlfriend’s hair near to her earlobe and said, “Wait.  Rob, I need you to translate something to her.”

I sighed again.  “Sure.”

“Tell her…this scholarship is my whole future on the line.  My everything.  My only shot.  Tell her that.”

I shortened the message, disgusted with myself that I was convincing her to even listen to Luke’s selfishness.  I hated being the middleman.

Dhia shed a few tears and then nodded weakly.

“I will do it.”

I was stunned.  Luke seemed thrilled.

In her native tongue, she said something again about the kanak-kanak then said, “I know where we go.”

“When?” Luke asked, and I glared at him.  “Hold up a minute.  Dhia, are you sure this is what you want?”

“Of course she is!  She just said she was!”

“Luke, shut it,” I growled.

Dhia nodded and said simply.  “No father.  No family.  No family, no love.”

I could feel the resignation in her words.  It was faint, but it was there.

I didn’t have any rebuttal for her, so she went to the other room to get changed.  Then I glared at my friend, disappointed with his devil-may-care attitude.

Just then, Luke’s smartphone buzzed to life and interrupted us.  He went to grab it and frowned as he read whatever message he got.

“What is it?” I asked.

“From the dean.  To the whole class.  We’re leaving on the next flight for Singapore tomorrow…maybe even tonight!” he said, turning to me frantically.

“I have to pack.  I have to get my papers done for finals!” Luke said.

“What have you been doing the past few weeks?” I turned toward Dhia, who was just returning wearing casual wear, realizing the unfortunate remark I was making toward her.

“I have to do this now, or I’ll flunk!” Luke told us both.  He was pushing responsibility toward me as usual.

“Fine.  I’ll take Dhia.  You get my stuff and yours packed for tonight.  Deal?” I snarled.

He didn’t even make a counteroffer.  I huffed and told Dhia what was happening as we left the room.  I was afraid if I stayed any longer, I might smash Luke’s smug face into the wall.

I realized as we rode down the elevator to the streets of Georgetown that he wasn’t really my friend after all.  Our whole relationship seemed built on favors we did for one another.  I resolved this one would be my last.

Besides, I reasoned, I wasn’t doing this for him anyway.

I glanced toward Dhia, realizing that her entire body seemed to be shaking like a leaf as we moved through the streets toward the old square.

“Hey…listen to me.  You can still change your mind,” I told her.

She didn’t bother responding; instead, she moved toward the cramped streets, the poorer settlements that stuck out in the lower quarter like a sore thumb.

As we walked on, something about the area seemed to give an air of menace.  It felt claustrophobic and dangerous.  Dark and sinister.  And I knew that if I was experiencing this, there was no telling what Dhia was going through.

But still, she pressed onward.  Beggars and impoverished crowded us on all sides, dilapidated buildings blocking out the sun.

And then, at last, she stopped in front of a four-story near the riverfront.

On the side of the building in white paint was the Malaysian phrase she had used earlier and below it the English equivalent.  Reading the translation made my throat very dry.

Kanak-kanak.  Child.  pasaran.  Market.

The Child Market.

Dhia viewed the act of abortion the same as selling her child, I realized.

She stepped through one of the drab hanging curtains with me not far behind.

Nothing about the place even came close to being professional or even sanitary.  The walls were a bland and drab white, the stone floor covered in droppings and dust.  A teenage girl, probably only five years younger than us.

Dhia didn’t hesitate to grab the ledger and sign; then, we sat together in uncomfortable silence as we waited for our turn.

I had flashbacks to Prague, thinking of the clinic Jenny and I had gone to.  It had been far nicer than this, but the cold aloofness of the staff felt the same.  Maybe it was the universe’s way of telling people that unless you were here for the right reasons, something bad would happen?

I wasn’t quite sure what the right reasons to rob a child of their life might be, but I knew that it was a woman’s right to decide whether or not a fetus was considered alive.  I found a little comfort that Dhia was not far along, so the chances of the baby feeling anything were slim.  This was the way it should be rather than a drawn-out process that would end in grief and bitter feelings.

The teen receptionist told us to come back to one of the rooms, silently gesturing for Dhia to sit on the exam table.

“Thank you.  Being here,” she told me.  All I did was make an uncomfortable smile.  But it faded away when the door opened, and a familiar old crone showed herself.  It was the old hag from that morning.  I could have recognized her a mile away.

As she entered the room and set aside her cane, she cackled and gestured for me to stand aside.

“So, you came to make trade?” she asked Dhia although her eyes were on me.

Luke’s girl answered affirmatively, and she placed her ear on Dhia’s belly, listening.

“I can hear a heartbeat.  You are farther along than you realize,” the aged doctor declared.  I felt my own heart drop with the news.

“We should call the whole thing off,” I told Dhia.

“There is no need to worry.  Her child will be safe, even after death,” the crone said solemnly.

I didn’t know what that meant, but I squeezed Dhia’s hand, hoping she would see reason.  I didn’t want her to deal with the same thing that Jenny had.

“I will be alright,” she reassured me.

That was the end of the discussion.  The doctor made another short cackle and prepped for the surgery.

“I won’t leave you,” I told her.  I hadn’t been there for Jenny; I had been a coward at the last minute.  But this time, it felt necessary for me to stay.

Something about all of this was growing more and more tense by the second.

“Such courage.  You would have made a fine father,” the crone said as she gathered her tools, the long mandibles and shears that she would use to pry out Dhia’s infant as though it were a cancerous tumor.

But the way she said it was what disturbed me the most.  Did she know of my previous experience?  It didn’t seem possible.  But then, many things about this felt wrong.

“What did you mean when you said earlier you would protect the child…even after death?” I asked.

“It is our way.  Children have spirits within them even before birth…those that cannot make it into our world…must find other ways of surviving the cruel realities of life.  All we do is help those lost souls find a new owner,” she said simply as her techs held Dhia down and motioned for shackles to be placed on her arms and her legs to be put in stirrups.

“Aren’t you going to…sedate her?” I asked nervously as the surgical team got ready.  Dhia’s eyes were widening in confusion, and she started to mouth words I didn’t understand.

“It is better for the waking to take place with both the laborer and the trader fully aware,” the doctor told me, pressing her cold hands on my shoulders.  They made me feel frozen in place as she finished tightening the straps.

“That sounds like some kind of black magic or something,” I said, my hands feeling clammy.

She smiled as my friend’s pupils grew wider and darker, making another cackle.  “Precisely.”

The doctor raised her scalpel up to make the first incision, and I tried to move and stop her.  Then I realized I couldn’t.  My body was paralyzed somehow.  Had it been the old woman’s touch?

I think I must have screamed, but there was no one there to listen.  Just like it had been with Jenny when I left her, now I was the one to witness the consequences of selfishness firsthand.  They made the cut straight along the lower portion of Dhia’s belly.  Now my scream joined hers.  Her fists clenched in pain and shock as her water broke and slithered out of her womb.

Another cut, tissue and bone cracking as they used the mandibles to break apart her body, and amid the sinew and blood, the old hag cackled.

Her visage resembled that of a witch now, her skin withered and decayed.  A living demon here bringing forth another of its kind into our world.

And I, the cooperative party that had led sheep to the slaughter.

The mandibles pressed open, the long umbilical cord of the fetus cascading to the dirty floor below to reveal the unformed infant.  Its skin was as dry and rotted as the hag, its eyes not even there.  Its mouth opened to reveal jagged teeth and a forked tongue, hissing in complaint as the team worked tirelessly to free it from its prenatal prison.

The witch took off her gloves, placing her hands on the dark and malformed head of the creature and gently pried it loose from Dhia.  All the while, my friend’s screams infected my mind, my body powerless to stop it as they turned toward me, the unborn evil in their hands.  The witch held the demon toward me as though making an offering and then chanted a magic spell I did not understand.

The room around me grew black and cold.  The infant was placed in my arms, but I had no will of my own.  Suddenly I was somewhere else.  I could see Jenny experiencing this same harsh surgery in Prague a year ago.  And the child that now had been given up was joining the ranks of the unholy as well.

I remember crying.  I couldn’t help but grit my teeth at the disgusting truth of what I had done to the woman I loved.

Why hadn’t I insisted we keep the child?  There had been nothing to keep us from becoming a family except fear.

The malicious creature that slowly intertwined its finger with mine, which I cradled, was the embodiment of that.  The very epitome of all the wickedness that selfish men like me do to women around the world.

Jenny had trusted me to make that choice the same way Dhia had.  Even Luke in his naïveté thinking because I had once knocked a girl up, I knew anything at all about the sanctity of life.

But I didn’t.  This dark and hollow monster was a reminder of that.  The evil toyol gnawed at me, ripping at bits of my skin.  Its body hardly there anymore, still clinging to the spirit world; it was crawling inside my body, infecting me with its hellish madness.

I tried to fight it, tried to call out to Jenny or Dhia or even the witch that had cursed me with these secrets.  But instead, all I found was I was holding nothing but soot and dried blood in a matter of seconds.

And the creature, the proof of this curse, was now inside me forever.

As the room reverted to normal, I saw Dhia was dead on the table, the shock and exhaustion of the inhuman procedure proving too much for her to handle.

Then the witch smiled down at my contorted face as if she knew all too well what pain I was experiencing.

“You know now what you must do,” she said.

I stood up, my hands shaking.

I did know.

I stumbled through the streets of George Town, likely looking like a mad man.  Covered in blood and other grime, many of the locals gave me a wide berth.

It was Luke that found me.  Somehow, I had made it back to the square where I first met the old witch that morning.

I’m not for sure how long I had been there, staring up at the sculpture.  But his amazement at my appearance told me that it had not been a dream.  Dhia was gone.  The ritual the witch had performed was real.  I now had a job to do.

“Rob.  Talk to me!  We have to go!  The plane is about to board,” he said, snapping me back to reality as he hailed a cab.

“I’m not going to Singapore,” I told him.  For once in his life, he didn’t question it.  He was too concerned for my sanity, I guess.

But I didn’t care about that at all.  All that mattered was going home.

When I got to the terminal, I told the dean everything.  All the lies, the secrets that Jenny and I had hidden for over a year.

“I know,” was all that he told me.  “The burden you have been doing for so long, I think I can see its passing on to someone else now.” He was gesturing toward Luke.

Was he right?  Would my friend ever actually learn the responsibility of something like this?  I wasn’t sure.  I only cared about making it to Jenny.

The flight home was long.  The dark oceans reminded me of the surgery.  When I closed my eyes, all I saw was the hellbeast I knew raged inside me now.

But finally, I made it.  A gentle rain crashed down on JFK as I gathered my bags.  Jenny was there waiting for me, the university having told her I was resigning from the program.

“What have you done, Rob? What have you done?” she asked as she held me.

The demon grew stronger inside. Desperate to be set free. My mission was nearly over.

“Please…please, can you ever forgive me?” I asked her.

She touched my cheek and kissed it. “I’m here, aren’t I?” she responded.

From behind her, I heard a laugh. A little girl I had never seen except maybe in my dreams splashed through the puddles and ran up to me, slinging her arms around my shoulders.

“Daddy!  Is it really you?  Are you back?” she asked as she kissed my neck.

In my mind’s eye, I saw myself walk out on Jenny two years ago when she had changed her mind. When I refused to be a man, to be a father and made her go at it alone.

I saw Luke, facing a harsher reality when he knew that he was alone because of his selfishness. The demon that had infected me paling in comparison to the destruction of such decisions.

And then I smiled and ran my fingers through my daughter’s hair, the creature that had been sold to me out of guilt quieting down inside my mind.  If I became the laborer I was meant to be, I could find joy again.  It felt like the trade I was supposed to make.

“Yeah, pumpkin.  I’m back.”

Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Kyle Harrison
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Kyle Harrison

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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