I straightened my skirt, smoothed my hair, and walked into the bedroom. “Guess what today is!” I said, excitedly.
“It’s July 20th.” I held the necklace, wrapped in red paper and a pretty pink bow, behind my back.
My heart sank.
“It’s our anniversary, Mia.”
“Oh, I forgot!”
I slipped the gift back into my pocket, and sat down on the bed. The memory loss was minor – at first. Forgetting to buy bread at the grocery store, missing a doctor’s appointment, that kind of thing. But then it was getting lost on our street, forgetting what house was ours… then coming out to her family, all over again…
I shook the thoughts from my head, and snuggled up to her. “Do you want to watch some TV?”
“Sure,” she replied, smiling back at me.
The symptoms started when she got pregnant. The doctors insisted it was just a coincidence, but I disagreed. She never wanted to be the one to carry our baby – but I had been too stubborn, too selfish to give in. And now I was paying the price.
“Hey, do you want to feel the baby kick?” she said, excitedly.
My heart sank, again. “Mia, don’t you remember?” I reached for her hand. “Two months ago…” The red in the toilet. The rush to the doctor. The impromptu funeral we held, within the cold walls of a hospital room.
“Come on, it’ll cheer you up!” she said. And before I could stop her, she grabbed my hand, and pushed it against her belly.
And against the palm of my hand –
Something poked back.
My face paled. My heart began to pound.
“We have to go to the doctor, now.” I jumped out of the bed, and stumbled to the door.
“Amy! What are you talking about?!”
She followed me as I ran down the stairs. “I’ll explain on the way,” I said, yanking my jacket off its hook.
But I didn’t.
Dr. Ambrose paced into the room, and handed her a small strip of paper. “I want you to hold this stick, Mia, and tell me what you see.”
“I see one line,” she said, squinting. “But, Dr. Ambrose, why am I here? Is the baby okay?”
“What you’re holding is a pregnancy test,” he said in his soft, calming voice. “Two lines means pregnant; one line means not pregnant.”
“You’re making me hold someone else’s pregnancy test?! Ew –”
“That’s your pregnancy test.” He sat on the edge of the bed, and took off his glasses. “Mia, you miscarried two months ago. I know this must be hard to hear, but –”
The doctor paled.
“I feel him kicking,” she said. “See for yourself!” She lowered the blanket across her belly, and grinned.
Our eyes widened.
The skin of her stomach stretched and extruded, as if something small and pointed were pressing against it. Dr. Ambrose extended a shaking hand. “I feel it,” was all he could choke out.
Mia smiled. “Dr. Ebberly did a great job, didn’t she? What a strong, healthy baby!”
“The doctor who did the artificial insemination,” I said.
He jumped off the bed. “I’ll – I’ll be right back.”
He came back a few minutes later, his face white enough to match his coat. “This is going to sound very strange,” he said, in almost a whisper. “But there is no Dr. Ebberly practicing medicine in this state. Or this country.”
Mia’s belly convulsed again.
This time, she didn’t smile.
Dr. Ambrose walked over to the table and picked up a small box attached to a probe. “This is a fetal doppler,” he said, extending the probe towards her. “We’re just going to listen for the heartbeat, okay?”
Mia nodded, her eyes locked on mine.
I smiled back.
The probe touched her belly. And, after a few minutes of poking the prodding, a steady heartbeat filled the room.
Bm-bmp. Bm-bmp. Bm-bmp.
Dr. Ambrose sighed in relief; a smile flickered across Mia’s face. Hope coursed through me – could it be? Our baby, alive and well?
A terrible, grating sound erupted from the monitor.
Dr. Ambrose dropped the probe. It bounced off the bed, and clacked onto the floor.
Then he ran to the door. “Mandy! Get in here!”
“What was that?” Mia asked, turning to me.
“Just the heartbeat.”
“But it sounded like scratching. Like when Pebbles sharpens her –”
“I didn’t hear it,” I lied.
An ultrasound technician rushed in, rolling a heavy piece of equipment across the tile floor.
“They’re just going to take a quick peek, okay, Mia?” I said. But I could hear the quiver in my voice, and she looked back at me with fearful eyes.
“Is the baby okay?”
I no longer had the strength to explain, once again, that we had miscarried. So I simply said: “Yes.”
She smiled at me – a warm, beautiful smile – and my heart sank.
“This is going to feel cold, okay, honey?” the technician said. She squirted jelly onto her abdomen, and then applied the probe.
An image appeared on the screen. Gray lines and curves, sweeping through swaths of black. I leaned forward, trying to make sense of the image, but it was so jumbled –
“There’s the head,” she said.
Mia squealed with delight.
A round object appeared on the screen. It looked, remarkably, like a normal baby’s head from ultrasounds I’d seen online. I breathed a sigh of relief, and squeezed Mia’s hand –
She moved the probe down.
A mess of pointed, sharp lines. Not the natural curves of tiny little arms and legs, not cute miniature hands and feet, not anything that looked remotely human –
“My God,” was all Dr. Ambrose could croak.
And then –
The screen went black.
The technician fiddled with the dial. “That’s so weird,” she said. “It just stopped working. Let me try to – ”
“It’s okay, Mandy. That’s all I needed to see.” Dr. Ambrose began walking to the door, and motioned for me to follow.
The hallway was cold and quiet. The footsteps of patients, the murmur of the nurse’s station, were muffled and distant. I felt – no, hoped – this was all a dream, somehow…
“Mia’s in danger,” he said, sternly.
My heart began to pound. I felt the tears burn my eyes, the hospital spin around me.
“If we act quickly, we can save her,” he said, adjusting his glasses. “We have to remove it, as soon as possible.”
“Remove? You mean kill?”
“Well, yes, it would die in the process.”
I turned to the window. Mia was lying on the bed, one hand on her belly, smiling. And I could hear, through the door, a muffled lullaby…
I felt the tears rolling down my cheeks. “If that’s the only way, Dr. Ambrose. Whatever it takes to save her.”
He nodded, and began down the hallway.
“Wait, Dr. Ambrose!” I called after him. “The ultrasound – have you seen something like that before?”
He didn’t turn around.
“I think we should buy him one of those cute rattles,” Mia said, caressing her belly. “You know, the ones that have the colorful beads inside, and the plastic ends that are good for teething.”
“That sounds great, Mia,” I said. My voice trembled, as I held back a sob. Behind me, I heard Dr. Ambrose open the door.
“And we’ll do –”
Clank, clank, clank.
Mia looked up, as Dr. Ambrose rolled the metal cart across the floor.
“What’s going on?”
“He’s just getting some stuff ready,” I said.
Mia bolted up, with such force that I jumped back. She stared at the tray, and the metal instruments that gleamed on it. “What are you doing?”
“Don’t worry,” he said in his calm, soothing voice. “I’m just going to check on the baby.”
He walked towards her, needle in hand.
“No!” she screamed.
She lunged at him.
I tried to hold her back. But she easily swatted me away, suddenly much stronger than before. She grabbed Dr. Ambrose’s shoulders, and shoved him aside.
He collided with cart. The instruments clattered to the ground. He stumbled up, but slipped and fell back down, his head making a sickening thwack against the floor.
And then she ran.
Down the hallway, faster than I’ve ever seen her go. “Mia!” I screamed, my feet slapping on the linoleum. “Please, come back!”
Two nurses intercepted her. One grabbed her shoulders, trying to pin her against the wall; the other tried to use her body weight to knock Mia off balance. But she shoved them aside, as forcefully as she shoved the doctor, and ran towards the exit.
When I got there, I yanked the door open, and screamed her name.
But there was only darkness.
We found her the next day, on the outskirts of the forest.
She was alive – but bloody, bruised and weak. So back into the hospital we went. Dr. Ambrose wasn’t happy to see us, but even he had to admit the truth: she was in perfect health, and there was no trace of – well, whatever had been inside her.
We returned home that afternoon. As I tucked her into bed, and turned on the TV, I asked: “What happened out there? In the forest?”
“I don’t remember,” she replied.
She may not have remembered her night in the forest, but she remembered everything else – where we lived, what I liked at the grocery store. We even had a little anniversary celebration.
Everything was back to normal.
At least, that’s what I thought until tonight.
At three am, I woke up in an empty bed. The door to our bedroom hung open, and a sliver of golden light shone through. “Mia?” I called.
In response, I heard the rumble of a car’s engine.
I threw on my jacket, ran down the stairs, and opened the front door. The taillights of her car glowed in the darkness, disappearing behind a bend.
And then I did something I’m not proud of –
I jumped in my car, and followed her.
Mia took three rights and a left, taking her down a secluded street that bordered the woods. She pulled over at the curb. I cut the headlights, scooted down in my seat, and watched her.
She stepped out of the car, and walked towards the trees.
Then she lowered something into the grass.
It was a rattle, with multicolored beads, wrapped in a pretty blue bow.