The room was comfortable to the point of discomfort. There were children’s drawings all over the back wall, behind the mahogany desk, and a leather couch against the adjoining wall, and the air conditioning was not too cold for Karen, nor too hot; its neutrality perfectly matched the late Spring weather. There was a large poster of a kitten hanging from a branch, with the words “Hang On” beneath it. The kitten did not look inspirational. It looked desperate. On the opposite wall was a poster of a sunrise over the ocean where pillars of rock jutted up from the waves. The wallpaper within the office was light green with tendrils of flowers racing around one another in arabesques.
Karen did not like the room. It unnerved her, though she did not know why. The smiling face of the older woman behind the desk disturbed her even more. The woman’s voluminous blonde hair and endless smile reminded Karen of a televangelist. The woman wore no crucifix, but the gleam of her eyes ratified a religious conviction that equaled her words.
“We aren’t meant to understand life,” she said, “or God’s plan. Sometimes we just have to be humble and accept our lot with grace.”
“I want an abortion,” Karen said, frankly. “I was raped.”
Most people had the decency to blink their eyes in shock when Karen told them this, or to drop their eyes in deference; especially when they were trying to convince her not to have an abortion. It had been difficult enough to find an abortion clinic in Mississippi, everyone directing her on a wild goose chase, and it seemed like this clinic wasn’t an abortion clinic at all. It was a scam. But the scam was as enigmatic as the woman’s perpetual smile.
“Oh Karen, that is a horrible thing to live through,” the older woman said. “I am so sorry.”
“He was not human,” Karen said, her voice tremulous. No matter how many times she told people this, she could not steady her voice. “He was a monster.”
“I do not doubt it,” the older woman said. “But you cannot blame the child for the sins of the father. The child is an innocent. The father is to blame.”
“Don’t call it a ‘child’,” Karen said. “And don’t call that monster its ‘father’. They’re both monsters. I know it.”
The woman had no badge on her blouse; no name plaque on her door or her impressive desk. Was she an actual doctor? The nurse at the sign-in desk had said that she was, but was she a nurse? No one gave Karen any names, though they gladly took hers, and that bothered her, too. She felt like she had been ambushed, even though she had walked in through the door. She was too conflicted right now to challenge the woman on her credentials, even as the woman said everything that Karen thought an abortion doctor would not say. The woman’s manner, and the whole room, seemed to be arranged to put her at ease, and that made Karen all the more paranoid and uneasy.
“I have dealt with many young women in a similar situation, Karen,” the woman said. “Girls who were given what they thought they did not want. And do you know what all of them did? They kept their babies. It was hard for them…at first. I will not sugarcoat it for you. It is hard having a baby, especially in circumstances as…unfortunate as yours. But they all learned how precious their baby’s life was, and how birthing that baby also birthed a new world alongside that new life. The mothers experienced a rebirth themselves as well. Their selfish youth was transformed into the dazzling selflessness of maternity. Their babies made them stronger. Their babies made them happier. And they did not have to live the rest of their lives regretting that decision.”
“I will regret not having the abortion for the rest of my life,” Karen said, becoming angry and defensive. She felt like the woman was attacking her. She felt like the woman thought she should be grateful for the attack as well. It was like being assaulted all over again, her back on the wet, dirty pavement and a horrible presence pressing down upon her, imbuing her with its malevolent seed. “I don’t want this thing!”
The woman behind the desk kept smiling, but she also drew in a deep, irritated breath through her nose. Karen could hear it in the ensuing silence. She could also hear the ocean, or something like the ocean; the lapping of waves and the splashing of water. But the ocean was over a hundred miles away. Perhaps, she thought, it was just the throbbing of her own blood in her ears. Karen did not feel well.
When the woman spoke again, it was with a steady voice so tightly lipped and exact that it could have chiseled words into stone, or scars into a human heart.
“You can have an abortion well into the third trimester,” the woman said. “So you have plenty of time to make up your mind on this decision. And you should take all of the time you need. A single birth can change the world. This is not a decision to make in haste.”
“But it is my decision,” Karen said meekly, feeling as if she somehow lost an argument.
“It is, Karen,” the woman said, in a tone not unlike her mother’s. “Which is why we want you to make the best decision possible. It may seem like the end of the world for you, but it could be the beginning of a new life for you…and for everyone.”
The woman stood up from her chair and walked around her desk, her hand raised toward Karen. Karen rose, reluctantly, and followed the woman. The woman escorted Karen out of the office and down a soothingly lit hallway lined with more drawings scrawled by children. The two women stopped at a door that opened into a room where a tall nurse waited. An ultra sound machine was against the wall—intimidating with its prophetic powers—and a bed was spread beside it. The nurse directed Karen to lay down, speaking in soft-throated grunts. Whether the nurse was male or female, Karen could not discern. The nurse was barrel-bodied and wore scrubs that masked gender. The nurse was large. Its hair was capped and its mouth was masked.
With some effort, Karen laid down on the bed. This room, too, was covered with drawings done by children. There was a single poster on the wall next to the door. It displayed a mother cradling a baby against her chest, the baby’s forehead nestled into the mother’s neck and her chin. Both were smiling brightly. The room’s one and only window opened onto a playground. She did not recall seeing an elementary school next door; but she had been so focused on this building, as her only hope, that her tunnel vision had ignored everything else. Maybe it was a private elementary school— Catholic perhaps. There wasa statue of a shrouded figure looming near the merry-go-round. The face was obscured, and the hands were open-palmed in a gesture of welcome. There were no children there, but she could see ruts in the sandpit where children had been playing.
Karen saw all of this briefly, then stared resolutely at the ceiling.
“Lift your shirt, Karen,” the older woman said.
Karen’s pregnancy was strongly pronounced beneath her shirt and it took some effort to roll her shirt up and over the swell. Her belly reminded her of an apricot, swollen and round and colored darkly peach-and-red, but it felt like it was rotten within with ruin in its pulp. There were nights when she dreamed of terrible things and, when she awoke, she went downstairs, into her mother’s kitchen, and held a fillet knife, tempted to thrust it into her belly. Her mother told her that pregnancy did strange things to women’s minds, both during and after delivery. She reassured her that the hormones could make a madwoman out of the most austerely prim and proper lady. But Karen doubted her mother ever wanted to take a knife to her while she was in her womb. Then again, Karen was not conceived from rape, either. Neither of her parents ever mentioned that abominable aspect of Karen’s pregnancy.
Sometimes Karen wondered if her parents believed her story. Karen had always been a choir girl, though her saintly behavior was never enough for her father. Most of her friends had lost their virginity in their early teens, whereas Karen had waited and saved herself for her future husband. The ugly irony of her situation made it infinitely worse. And the fact that her parents did not believe her, after so many years of strict celibacy, made her want to scream obscenities at them until her throat bled. But she was still the choir daughter they had wanted, even if they no longer believed she was, and so she kept to that straight and narrow path of silence and obedience.
Except in this: she wanted an abortion. They told her they would disown her if she had the creature in her womb aborted, saying it was a sin against God, but she knew she could not take care of it. She knew it was a monster, just like its disseminator.
The police never caught her rapist. They said they were trying, but they didn’t have many leads. Karen could not help much either, giving scant details. She did not remember much, except inescapable horror. She could not remember anything about him except violation. She remembered walking home from her community college. She was exhausted from working morning shifts at McDonald’s and then going to night classes. She did not see the shadow lurch out of the corner until it was too late. It was as if her mind had gone far away when he grabbed her and dragged her into an alley in the middle of the night. When she thought of it at all, she could only remember something crawling all over her; a terrifying chaos of impressions that clambered over her mind and body and soul, ravaging her unto desolation, bereft of her own humanity.
The nurse rubbed the warm jelly over Karen’s stomach. For some reason, the slime made her panic, briefly, as if it reminded her of something she did not want to remember. But this passed. The nurse pressed the transducer against Karen’s belly, and the ultra sound screen bloomed with an image.
“There’s your baby, Karen!” the older woman said excitedly. She smiled widely, her teeth bright white and gleaming as fulgurously as her eyes. She leaned over, then, and spoke to Karen’s stomach while pointing at the ultra sound screen. “Say hello to mommy! Say, ‘I love you, mommy!’”
As disturbed as Karen felt about the woman’s words and behavior, she was more disturbed by the image on the ultra sound screen. It was not what she could see that disturbed her, but what she could not see. She saw the white and black pixels all churned together in the basic outline of her womb, but she could not see the baby.
Fetus, she told herself. Not baby.
She stared at it for some time, unable to make heads or tails of it. Literally, she could not discern in its anatomy what was the tail and what was the head. The fetus looked wrong. It did not register in human shape, but was an amorphous thing resistant to a prominent morphological totality.
“It is going to be a beautiful child!” the woman exclaimed, still grinning like a holy roller having seen the face of God.
“It doesn’t look like a fetus at all,” Karen said. She tried to sit up, but the sexless nurse kept the transducer pressed hard into her belly.
“I don’t want to look at it!” Karen said, feeling highly alarmed. “It…it’s not a child! It’s a monster! Just like…just like the monster that forced it inside me!”
Karen pushed the nurse’s hand away—and the painfully probing phallic transducer. She stood up from the bed as quickly, almost tottering over with the unwieldy weight of her womb, and then hurried out of the room, down the hallway. She stopped halfway down the hall, her eye alighting on something her brain had ignored before. The children’s drawings on the wall. She stared at them for several seconds, and realized she could not see any of the drawings. She knew they were all drawings drawn by children, but their details were formless in her head; erased upon sight. Recognition of what they were— their essential meaning—succeeded, but recognition of the particular features failed. It was all crawling chaos in her mind. She told herself that the stress was upsetting her faculties. She told herself she was having a mental breakdown. Sobbing, she fled out of the clinic and went home, wanting to lay down and sleep the day, and the world, away.
The woman returned to her office. A man waited there, wearing unremarkable clothes that moved at unnatural places, even as he stood perfectly still. His outline looked human, but there was something amiss in his features. His face was as a mask in its eyes and mouth and nose, and his bearing was unnaturally stiff, as if his limbs were not made to maintain an upright position.
“She is too far along for an abortion,” the woman said. “The child will be brought to full term, just like the others.”
The man said something with his tongue, but it was not intelligible English, or any other language. It sounded more like the splashing of ropey things dragging along a shoreline’s tides.
“Yes, Master,” she said. “Your children will be glorious to behold before the end. How sad that these ungrateful vessels should be granted the honor of bearing them for you.”
The creature’s voice rolled and splashed like the waves.
The woman’s smile finally ceased, and her whole body shuddered. She was glad she was beyond her prime; beyond her breeding years. She was glad she was infertile and would never have to make that choice herself. She was glad that she had the religious conviction to hate the women that came in here, week after week, otherwise she might have felt sorry for them. And how would that have pleased her lord, Nyarlathotep?