Sandra limped through the dark neighbourhood, jumping at every rustle and creak. Her feet were bare and she shivered in her short, blue gown as the harmattan breeze danced around her body. Eyes wide, she kept glancing around, clutching the burden in her arms as unfamiliar buildings loomed over her in the darkness. She had avoided the bright streets, filled with robot-police and eco-friendly smart cars. Usually she would be out there with other rich teenagers, club-hopping and trying experimental drugs, but her life had taken a strange turn. She had been walking for hours and had no idea where she was.
She had to get this over with. Quickly.
She hurried past a dumpster and then stopped, retracing her steps. Unseen things chittered and fled, and her skin crawled at the thought of rats. She stood before the red dumpster and stared into its grime-caked interior. Why not? She thought. Garbage in, garbage out. A wild chuckle tried to escape from her throat but she swallowed it.
Don’t do it, a voice whispered. It was the odd, sibilant sound she had gotten used to hearing for nine months. The voice that had driven her crazy. She closed her eyes tight as it slid into her head, wrapping its coils around her brain. If you do it, you will cry your eyes out…
“Go to hell, monster.” Sandra said shakily, then threw her two-day old baby into the dumpster.
She ran. She didn’t look back.
When the girl left, the silence followed her. The night slowly came alive again, and things scurried about in the dark, squeaking and gnawing.
The baby lay in the dumpster, a crumpled bundle of cloth on a load of refuse. After a small shocked gasp at the roughness of its landing, it had made no sound, instinct seeming to tell it to be still. The sounds of the night filled its under-developed senses as it blinked and rolled half-open eyes, following the wispy clouds formed by its warm breath as they rose into the cold night.
A thumb crept into its mouth. It made a small sound of contentment.
A rat heard. It crept near, drawn to the warmth of the swaddled bundle making the strange sucking noise. It rose on its hind-limbs, nose twitching, trying to identify a scent. Was it edible?
The baby moved restlessly and the rat retreated a few steps, then slowly returned. It inched closer… closer still…
The baby jerked as it felt a sharp nip on its elbow. The sensation overtook its senses and it whimpered. It had never felt such pain before. All it had known before now was hunger, sometimes heat or cold, and the discomfort of being touched roughly; but this was unprecedented. It lay still, unsure how to react.
The rat took another tentative bite.
The baby opened its mouth and wailed. The sound pierced the night and the other things scurrying in the darkness stopped moving. The wail was an odd one. It was distorted and it was not full of fear. It was angry. It was strange.
The baby’s lips drew back as it ground its toothless gums together in rage. Beside it, the rat that had bitten the child rose a few feet into the air, eyes bulging as it jerked in pain its little brain could not explain. The rodent felt something rummaging in its mind for a moment, and then… SNAP!
The hairy body fell with a thud and lay still, neck limp.
The baby returned its thumb to its mouth.
When it was discovered the next morning by an eco-robot rummaging in the dumpster for discarded plastics, the baby was asleep, the body of the dead rat lying close by. No other night creatures had come near it. They had learnt their lesson.
Apparently, curiousity could also kill a rat.
“You look good today, dear. Better than I’ve seen you look in weeks.” The woman sitting in the hover-chair said.
Sandra smiled at her mother from the bed where she was lying. The padded wall opposite her glowed with moving images from a silenced holomovie, and her hospital gown fluttered in the breeze coming from the air vents set in the high ceiling of the dimly-lit private room. Sandra caressed the small swell of her belly. Her body was slowly recovering from the trauma of childbirth, but her mind still had a long way to go.
“A lot has happened since you were admitted here.” Her mother prattled on. The older woman had a permanent furrow etched into her brow, and when she smiled, it didn’t reach her eyes. Sandra knew that furrow was her fault, but things would get better. They had to.
“The Nigerian Space Authority is going to launch another ship soon, did you hear? Everyone is optimistic that this one won’t crash…”
Sandra’s insides curdled.
“Mother. I wish you wouldn’t talk about that.” she snapped.
Her mother fell silent, but the damage was already done. Sandra could feel her stomach churn as she remembered that day, ten months ago, when she and her boyfriend had been the first to find the wreck of the ship which had fallen from the sky and crashed near their favourite make-out spot. Like any other pair of seventeen-year-olds in the 22nd century, they had activated their selfie drones and began to take pictures with the blackened and twisted wreck. Then they found the bodies.
The three astronauts were still buckled to their seats, broken and bleeding through their silver suits, faces twisted in terror. In the weeks after, Sandra would dream about those faces during the media frenzy that followed. And when she had discovered she was pregnant two months later, she was convinced the downed spacecraft and those frozen expressions had something to do with it.
What had the astronauts seen before they died? How did they die? Did the ship come down with something in it? Some alien intelligence? When she touched the crashed spaceship, had it somehow planted an inhuman seed in her?
Her boyfriend denied the pregnancy, of course. He couldn’t be the father.
Sandra was a virgin.
“Sweetheart, I know you think your father and i are still angry.” Her mother was saying, eyes earnest, the furrow in her brow getting deeper. “Just know I’ve forgiven you. I don’t care if you don’t want to tell us who got you pregnant or where you took your baby…. just get better, so I can take you home. A psych ward is no place for you.”
The girl allowed her mother to wrap her in a warm embrace, but she felt no regret. For months, she had listened to the alien seed in her belly whisper things to her as it grew larger. Horrible things. Threats about how it would kill her and everyone she loved.
She began to doubt her sanity. Was she just imagining things? Did she have sex and forget? Was it just an innocent baby in her stomach?
When the baby was born, it didn’t cry. She cradled it in her trembling arms when it suckled her for the first time, eyes closed in pleasure. It was a healthy, handsome boy, with a full head of hair and no blemish. When a nurse took the baby away from her after its first feeding, it stared at her over the woman’s shoulder, eyes gleaming. Then it smiled, widely, and threw a thought in her direction.
Your milk is delicious. I wonder how your meat will taste.
That was when she knew she was not crazy. That was when she knew she had to kill it.
“Things will be okay now, I promise.” Her mother cooed, rocking Sandra gently. “You will go back to school and I will raise him as mine…”
Sandra froze. Wait, what?
She pushed her mother away, and gripped the woman’s shoulders. “What do you mean, raise him? He’s gone.” She shook the woman. “Right? He’s gone!”
Fright and confusion filled her mother’s face. “Yes, he… he was. But we found him… Sandra, are you okay?”
No, I am not. Sandra thought wildly as the door of the room opened and her father stepped in, cradling her son. None of us will be okay.
The baby turned its head and their eyes met and held. Hello, mummy. Sandra gasped as she immediately felt burning tears begin to slide down her cheeks. The tears burned like acid and she bucked and twisted, screaming and clawing at her face, trying to yank out her eyes. Oh God, the pain, anything to stop the pain!
Her hands were wet and she knew her tears were bloody when her mother began to scream too.
Over the noise of people running into the room, over her struggles as they tried to restrain her, she heard that sibilant whisper fill her mind again, full of glee and evil intentions.
I promised you would cry your eyes out, didn’t I?
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