Gray walls, gray floors, gray food.
Mashed potatoes were not supposed to be gray.
Veronica swallowed her vitamins and poked at the wilted peas with her fork. “No wonder we’re having so many pills shoved down our throats. There’s nothingnutritional in these meals.”
She had been so petite before, no more than five feet tall and probably under a hundred pounds. Now she was visibly along in her pregnancy and exhausted. Part lack of makeup and part being trapped as a piece of flesh that scientists poked at for the last several months had drained her, and everyone else.
I reached into my pocket and handed her a chocolate bar. “Here, V. Something to keep your emotions up. I picked it up last time I was allowed into town.”
Veronica turned it over in her hands before shaking her head and looking over at another table. “No, no… I think… Rosie.” Her eyes landed on one of the girls and a lump filled my throat.
Rosie looked much better than she did a few days ago, although the clean white bandages on her arms from her attempted suicide were the only thing that wasn’t gray in this damn military base. Gray building, gray uniforms of nurses and scientists. Nothing but gray.
I nodded. “… Right.” I took it back. “I doubt a candy bar will improve everything.”
“Well it’s better than nothing!” Veronica snapped before she took a deep breath and her eyes squeezed shut. I could see tears on her eyelashes. She breathed back out and opened her eyes. “… We’re going to die here at this rate, Dawn.”
No more ‘Nurse Bradley’ or ‘Miss Bradley’. I hadn’t been called that since we got here.
I chewed my bottom lip and sighed. “I know. This place is draining the life out of all of us.” I stood up. “Veronica, make a list.”
Veronica raised an eyebrow.
“A list for what?”
I was already walking out of the dining area.
“A list of things to make this place less shitty.”
In the office several minutes later, Dr. McCray was frowning. “No. Absolutely not.”
I crossed my arms. No longer did the doctor’s resting bitch face faze me. “These girls are so depressed they barely get out of bed. it’s the same thing day in and out, they go in for tests in the morning, have lunch, more tests in the afternoon- hell, whatever bastards you’re making them carry to term aren’t going to make it if they all slit their own wrists! Do you know how many of these girls are talking suicide as the way out? Do you!?” I got up and walked behind McCray’s desk. “Do you even care?”
McCray’s lips made a firm line. “No one else will even attempt an abortion after what happened to the one who tried.”
“You don’t even remember her name, do you?” I still remember that Lori was wearing some sort of summer breeze perfume when I gave her that last hug the day we said good bye.
“But-” He took a deep breath and surrendered. “I will approve for you, and I mean just you, to go into town tomorrow and pick up some frivolities to distract the girls. Your budget is no more than a hundred and twenty five dollars.”
I took a deep breath and forced a smile. “… Fine. Thank you, Dr. McCray. One more thing?”
The vein by the doctor’s eye twitched. “What.”
“Let the girls cook their own damn food. Because whoever you have assigned to kitchen deserves to be shot.”
Seconds later I was shoved out of the office by the not so pleased doctor.
It wasn’t like I disliked the man, oh no. He was a goddamn idiot and I loathed him. Entirely. Loathed him.
Nevertheless, with the money he gave me the next day I took it upon myself to brighten up the place.
“Veronica, Raquel, start pushing the tables so they form a circle. Alice, start hanging up the streamers.” I tossed her a roll and Alice grinned. I turned to the girls who had started wandering into the room out of curiosity. I grinned.
“Anyone have an iPod?”
Within an hour, the dining area was transformed into a baby shower.
Pink and blue streamers hung from the walls, and a few of the girls were throwing balloons back and forth and laughing. With some help from a guard who I was quite sure had a crush on me I had the sound system playing some bouncy pop.
And I was running in and out of the kitchen after banishing the normal cook and was trying to do what I could to make a decent lunch.
Alice was giggling as she ran into the kitchen after me. “Rosie’s laughing, Dawn! She’s actually laughing! I think it’s helping!” It wasn’t just Rosie that was better, Alice had some color in her cheeks.
I smiled and checked on the vegetable soup. “That’s amazing. Thanks, Alice, for your help.”
“Eh, like V said, we gotta stick together right?” Alice took a sip from the ladle and tossed her hair back. “Let’s keep the decorations up until the babies get here. This place is so bland without them. And thank you, Dawn… for sticking with us.”
I wrapped Alice in a warm hug. I swear the girls were always ice cold to the touch now. Hugs were always welcome.
I walked out with the giant soup pot a few minutes later.
Rosie waved from where she was dabbing away at a nosebleed. Another problem with this damned place- the air was so dry, nosebleeds were a daily occurrence. “Hello Miss Dawn! Is the soup ready?”
“Sure is!” I sat the pot down on the table. “Grab a bowl, everyone, before it gets cold!”
Veronica stood up, clasping her hands together. “Oh, Dawn, you’re the reason we’re lasting through this… I just…” The girl burst into sobs and the waterworks started around the room.
Ah, pregnant girls. I laughed quietly and walked over, pulling a tissue from my pocket to wipe off her face. “There there, Veronica, it’s okay. What kind of school nurse would I be if…”
I trailed off and froze.
Veronica’s tears weren’t clear. They were orange. Rusty orange.
I’d pulled her away from the group and took her out before anyone noticed the bloody tears, thank god. Of course while she was being examined by one of the doctors in the exam room more girls came in with the same symptom. Alice was the worst. Her eyes were overflowing with thick, deep red blood as she stumbled into the room. I screamed and ran to her side, fearing that when I took a better look her eyes would be gone.
Alice held up her hand. “It’s… it’s okay! I can see, nothing hurts, I’m kinda just bleeding out of my fucking eyeballs.” She glared at McCray, her lips pulling back into a snarl. “It’s his fault! It’s the drugs he’s shoving down our throats. If my son is dying because you can’t just let us go-”
“Shut up!” He snapped, finally turning to look at Alice. He hardly seemed bothered by the blood dripping from her eyes down to her chin. “You’re all fine, there’s nothing physically wrong with you, and the fetuses are fine.”
Alice stomped her foot and I started wiping off her face, trying not to gag as another glob of blood spurted from the corner of her left eye. “They’re not ‘fetuses’ you numbskull! They’re our babies!” She hissed.
The girls joined in glowering at McCray, a room of hatred aimed at this doctor. Catherine, the girl he was examining at the moment, shoved him away. McCray nearly landed on his ass. “I don’t want him examining me anymore! He’s creeping me out! Pervert!” She shouted.
McCray turned his nasty gaze at me. “A word, Miss Bradley.”
We met out in the hall.
McCray groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. “There’s something not natural going on here,” He began.
“We got that when everyone started getting pregnant. Is that all you’ve learned by keeping them here?” I snapped.
“That’s not just it, Dawn!”
“Miss Bradley to you.”
McCray ran his hand through his thinning hair. He’d lost quite a bit since he’d gotten here. “I am serious! Have you not noticed that quite literally every girl in this building hates me?”
Seriously? “Are you that stupid? It’s your fault they’re here in the first place!”
“That is not true and you know that, that was my superior’s choice!” McCray took a deep breath. “… Don’t you find it strange at all? I barely can walk in the room before all of them are staring at me. It’s more than just hatred! It’s instinct!”
I scoffed. “Listen, I am fully accepting that these girls are experiencing something that’s not normal, but instinct to hate you? That just seems like common sense.”
“You can’t see it.” McCray shook his head. “If I knew the safe way to terminate the pregnancies, I would. And whatever is inside of them knows that.” With that said, he turned and walked away.
I headed back into the exam room. Nothing was wrong with the girls, or their babies, but damn if McCray’s paranoia didn’t get to me a little.
I let it slip to the back of my mind when Alice asked for help getting the blood stains out of her shirt.
I didn’t think it was weird at all, that the girls became a pack together. They had to stick together. They had nothing else.
The only reason it was amped up was because of the conditions they were under. That was it.
My new life marched on. I was now a psychologist and midwife along with being a nurse.
I had to rush Alice into the exam room the next week when another crying fit brought up the blood tears… and also bleeding from her ears and gums. Again, nothing was wrong with her baby. There was just so much blood.
Rosie’s wounds weren’t healing. They’d be nearly scarred over before they’d open back up and her arms and dress would be soaked with blood. The first time she screamed and dropped her tray as the wounds on her arms just burst open, geysers of red spraying anyone unlucky to be near the area. From then on I made sure her arms stayed bandaged, no matter how closed the scarring was.
Veronica couldn’t keep food down period when the third trimester hit. All nutrition were given via IV but I’d still catch her heaving into the toilet because she’d break into the kitchen to get something into her stomach.
Of course that was the least of her problems.
The nightmares were the worst.
Alice and I shared a room. When I heard her start to scream I jolted awake and ran to her side.
The blood was not a new sight, but it was new when it seemed to ooze from her pores. Sweating blood. Like Jesus Christ the night in the garden. Alice was no Messiah though, tossing back and forth while her stomach noticeably twisted and moved. Babies move in the womb. That is normal. But what chilled me to the bone wa seeing clear hand indents poke from the belly. The monster inside trying to escape before its due date. I grabbed Alice by the shoulders and shook her.
Alice shot awake and I got punched so hard I saw stars.
When I shook off the shock, Alice was standing above me, the blood on her body sticky. “Dawn! Are you okay?”
She hadn’t remembered a thing.
I invested in earplugs, almost requested a transfer to another room. But around three AM, every night, a chorus of screams would start. It wasn’t every girl every time, but it was loud and sounded like pure agony.
Then came June nine.
I was sitting in the small chapel in the military base. None of the girls had ever gone there, which is why I chose that moment to be alone. I bowed my head and prayed for their safety.
Meals were now delivered to their rooms, the girls could hardly get out of bed nowadays. I was surrounded by ghosts who did nothing but bleed and cry. The streamers in the dining area were coming loose and started to collect dust. The balloons were half deflated and sat listlessly at the empty tables.
My girls were dying.
It was Alice. I was amazed she was standing, she looked so huge. She smiled weakly and waddled over to me, sitting down by my side. “I didn’t know you prayed,” She said, quietly laughing.
I laughed too, but I choked back a sob. “I uh, I don’t. Really. My mom was a Catholic. Dad was atheist. I stopped going to church after I was fifteen. After I was raped.” What a strange thing to bring up now. What had happened to me so long ago.
Alice didn’t react. She was probably too tired to. “Heh. Can’t blame you. God, you know what I’m gonna do the moment I’m no longer pregnant?” She didn’t wait for a response. “Get fucking cigarettes and smoke the whole pack. I am so. Tired. I need something to look forward to.”
I shook my head, still quietly laughing. We were tired. We were all so tired. “I’ll go and buy them for you. Not like my money’s going to anything else.”
We sat in silence for several minutes. I stare at carpet, there was a small hole worn in front of me. The kind of worn that happened with someone repeatedly kneeling in this spot. “… Alice? Did you ever find Sterling?”
Alice wrinkled her nose. “Who’s Sterling?”
“The father of your child?” She was tired. She probably barely remembered.
Alice slowly shook her head, her face confusion. “What are you talking about? His father is-”
Her breath caught and her eyes bulged. Her hand grasped her belly and the other grabbed my arm. “Ohgod, Dawn, it hurts…”
Shit. I helped Alice to her feet. “Let’s get you to the examination room.”
You don’t make a pregnant woman ‘hurry’. Alice groaned as we did the fastest pace a pregnant woman can do. “I… I think it’s time for-”
When we crossed the threshold, Alice screamed and became dead weight in my arms.
I heard a splash of liquids and I was overwhelmed with the smell of waste and rot. My vision nearly went black as I struggled to keep my balance. I nearly hurled when I looked down to see what the smell was.
A chunky, yellow slime flecked with red soaked her thighs and calves. Had her water broken? God, it was still coming… Alice’s moans of pain forced me to stay conscious. “Alice, deep breaths, I’m here,” I reassured her as I forced her to keep moving.
“It hurts Dawn. It hurts so much.”
Nothing is worse than seeing a person you love in the most agonizing pain, and you can’t do a damn thing about it.
Alice laid on the delivery table, pale as a ghost with drops of red seeping from her pores. Once the goo stopped coming, it was blood. A lot of blood.
I wiped off her forehead and prepared myself for the long haul.
Dr. McCray entered the room and Alice freaked out. “Get him out of here! Get him out!” She shouted, struggling to sit up. I forced her back down and gave him a look.
“Sorry, it’s me or no one. How is she?”
I decided he was better than no one by just a smidge. “She’s bleeding, it’s everywhere. I’m type O, I can donate if needed-”
“Thank you, Miss Bradley, we have blood on hand but that could still be useful.” Even if he did interrupt me, that look of gratefulness across his face was appreciated.
Hour three and nothing had changed. Alice’s screams could be heard through the entire base.
Hour six into labor and McCray called off the drugs. It was making her worse.
Hour ten she starting crying blood again and calling for her mother. I held her hand and was secretly glad that her mother wasn’t actually here. No mother would want to see this.
Hour twelve and Alice could only whimper. The fourth blood transfusion was given to her and Dr. McCray told me to get ready to donate myself.
Hour thirteen, Alice drifted into unconsciousness.
Hour fifteen and Alice died.
I screamed and grabbed Alice’s arm when the heart monitor went flat. “Alice! Alice!” I shook the girl, almost hoping for her to suddenly wake and punch me across the face.
“Miss Bradley!” McCray pulled me back and shook his head. “Alice said that if anything were to happen you would be the guardian of the child. We will need to operate to save him. I’m going to need your help, Dawn, pull it together!”
I started sobbing and collapsed on the floor. I think I told him to go to hell. I could barely think, much less perform a c-section on a dead girl that was my friend.
… Beep. Beep. Beep.
Thirteen minutes after hour fifteen, Alice came back to life.
Her face completely bloodless, Alice sat up and gripped the bars on the side of her bed. I gasped and shook.
Alice looked down at me. Her lips stuck out so starkly from her skin.
“… You have to catch him, Dawn. Please.”
Forty one minutes after Alice had been dead, she gave birth to her son.
He fell into my arms and started to bawl.
Alice gasped and fell back, chest barely rising. “… Dawn?”
“I’m here, I’m here- Hey!”
McCray had taken the baby from my hands before I got a good look at him. He mouthed ‘distract her’ before he took him to the side. I took by her side and grasped her ice cold hand. “I’m here, Alice. It’s okay, he’s okay.”
Alice smiled weakly. “… I think I can go for that smoke now,” She said.
I laughed and shook my head. I would absolutely get her that smoke.
Alice turned and saw Dr. McCray was examining her son in the other side the room. I noticed his face had gone almost as pale as Alice’s. Alice’s eyes narrowed.
“Let me have him, McCray.” Her voice was laced with venom.
McCray ignored her, I saw his throat bob up and down nervously. From this distance, I could see there was some form of marking on the baby’s throat, but he was squawking loud enough to show his breathing was not hindered.
“McCray, give me my son.”
No response, again.
Alice growled before she made her way to her feet, stumbling from her bed. I ran to her side with a gasp. “Alice! You have to lay down, you’re going to fall and hurt yourself!”
“Give me my baby!”
McCray turned and Alice put her fingers right through his right eye.
The doctor screeched and dropped to the ground as Alice dug into his eye socket, pulling back before she carefully took the child off the examination table and walked back to the bed, laying down and smiling ever so sweetly.
“I’m naming him Absalom. Isn’t he perfect?”
The guards bursting into the room with their guns raised and running to McCray’s side as he moaned on the ground faded to white noise as Alice offered me her son to hold… and I took him.
Around his neck were strangulation scars, thick and inflamed. His chest had three puckered scars. Other than that he seemed a little normal.
Until he opened his eyes.
The pupils and iris were jet black, and did not reflect the blaring examination lights above. Like black holes.
I swaddled Absalom and put him back in Alice’s arms, and she cooed and kissed her son’s head like any mother.
Stunned, without any words, I left the delivery room.
All the girls were out of their rooms, lining the hallways. Their eyes were fastened on me, not with hatred but with… acceptance. Like what was going to happen was accepted.
The next night I snuck into where Alice was resting.
She wasn’t asleep, she had Absalom in her arms. She looked up and smiled, a far too innocent expression for someone who I had seen take out a man’s eye.
I gulped and stepped closer. “Alice? Something’s happening tonight, isn’t it?”
Alice looked down back at her son. “He’s asleep now,” She said, kissing his forehead before stretching out her arms.
“Go. I promise no one will stop you. The enemy was dealt with. And I don’t want my baby caught in the way. I love him so much, and you are his godmother… so you will take him, right?”
Her voice was raspy from the hours she’d spent screaming. But she didn’t seem bothered. She was at peace.
I took him slowly, glancing at her nervously. “Alice… who is his father?”
Alice laughed quietly and shook her head. “Absalom has his eyes,” she responded, and nothing more. She fell asleep, looking like Snow White with rose red lips and dark hair.
I clutched Absalom to my chest.
I didn’t stop in my room to pick anything up. I didn’t even stop for my shoes, I found a pair of slippers in the hall and slipped those on. I don’t know where the guards were, but I smelled blood and knew I didn’t want to find out.
I ran from the building and past the swinging gates, trying not to think of the implications of them being open.
I ran until I found a bus station, and borrowed an old woman’s cellphone to call my mom for the first time in five years. She picked me up an hour later and I told her that Absalom was the son of one my old students.
That night Absalom slept on my chest, while I was in the bed I slept in as a teen.
The next morning I came down to mix up the formula while my mother watched TV. She looked at me and smiled brightly. “Dawn! Oh man, am I glad you weren’t on the road last night. There was a fire at the nearby military base!”
“Oh?” I felt my heart sink.
She nodded and gestured to the TV, which pictured the burning inferno. “They’re saying right now that because of all the secret things in there it’ll never stop burning! Sounds like a portal to hell!”
Absalom started to cry and my mother immediately turned on her maternal instincts, asking to hold him while I put together a bottle.
A few weeks later I had moved out of my mom’s house and into a new apartment. I claimed Absalom as my own son, and no one thought to guess twice.
Other than his appearance, Absalom was the most normal baby I had ever met. He peed on me when he was exposed to cold air too long, he ate normal amounts, and he loved baths. His hair grew in thick and curly, the auburn of his mother’s. He laughed and always reached for me when I came into his room.
Oh god, did I love him as much as I loved Alice. I knew something was wrong with him every time, something that made no sense, but I loved this little baby boy.
We were out shopping when we ran into Bridget.
“So, we have plenty of formula… let’s pick up a new teething ring. I think the last one was shoddy, it broke in half…” I trailed off as Absalom squealed and laughed. “What are you laughing at, baby boy?”
Absalom reached his tiny hands out and I turned.
I barely recognized Bridget, from the prissy blonde who wore calf length, second hand skirts and sweaters to… this.
Her face was drained of all color, her lips painted ruby red and wearing a dress that would’ve had to cost over a hundred dollars. Her nails were manicured, her hair professionally done, she looked like a model… a model pushing a lacy pink stroller and so caught in her thoughts she didn’t notice me.
She picked up a baby bottle and showed it to the child in the stroller. “What you think, baby? Is this one good?”
I didn’t see the man approach her, but he was suddenly there, with an eerily white smile and his arms around her waist. “I think it’s perfect.” He kissed her cheek. “How about we go out for lunch, pet?”
“That would be lovely, dear.”
He looked up and I couldn’t breathe.
This certainly wasn’t a douchebag college boy who had taken advantage of a passed out highschool girl. This man was around his late thirties, with fashionably grayed temples and thick black hair, and wore a suit that would cost more than what I would make in a year at my old job at the school.
His eyes flicked up at me and that smile on his face turned dark.
His soulless eyes reflected no light.
I don’t know how long I stood there, but when my awareness returned Bridget and the father of her child were gone. But I knew something had happened.
On the way out, I grabbed a pregnancy test.
I’m too scared to look at the results now.