The office of Dr. Gideon Anguis wasn’t particularly like any medical facility Lily had ever been in. The posh waiting room had reeked of decadence the full ten seconds that Lily had been in it, and not a single person wore scrubs. Even now, as Dr. Anguis sat behind his big oak desk, staring at her through Coke-bottle glasses, his thinning gray hair slicked back, she wouldn’t have pegged this place as a Doctor’s office. There were no signs of needles or tongue depressors, or even a scale.
It might have been a psychiatrist’s office or something (Mrs. Darling had said he was an OBGYN, hadn’t she?) but there weren’t any of the expected books that you get to see on T.V. and movies. There wasn’t even a proper bookshelf in the room, just a coffee table with The Divine Comedy, The Art of the Deal, and Eat, Pray Love, stacked on top of each other. Beyond his Harvard Medical Degree posted proudly on the wall behind him, there wasn’t a single indicator that Dr. Anguis was a doctor of, well, anything. He looked more like a some kind of used car salesman with those snakeskin boots of his.
Next to her, Mrs. Darling sat in the expensive leather-backed chair, her long blonde hair done up in a bun and her skin only beginning to show the slightest wrinkles. But there was a certain tiredness, a world weariness, in her eyes. Her hands were folded in her lap. She was a slightly older woman, but not THAT old. Probably too old to have a baby, though. That’s what brought Lily here.
“So, Lily, I’m sure you have a lot of questions?”
“So you want me to have your baby?” Lily was greeted with a smug staccato hum from the doctor, and a polite but thin smile from the woman who’d lured her into this office. Lily waited for a moment, but they didn’t add anything further. “I’m sorry?”
The other woman shook her head slowly and smiled, an uncomfortable chuckle bubbling up from her throat and coming up short against pursed lips. “I don’t think I was clear. I don’t want you to carry my baby. I want you to be my surrogate.”
“I feel like we’re saying the same thing…?” Through her consternation, Lily couldn’t help but add that last questioning lilt.
Doctor Anguis adjusted his glasses and leaned forward. “Not quite. Not anymore. The meaning of the term has been inverted within the medical community. There’s a pamphlet,” he added, then looked to Mrs. Darling. “Didn’t you give her the pamphlet?” Back to Lily, “You read the pamphlet, didn’t you?”
Lily had, in fact, been given a pamphlet. But it was full of so much medical mumbo-jumbo that it looked like it was copied and pasted directly out of a medical journal. There had been absolutely no pictures or diagrams, and the most that Lily could make out of it was that it had some kind of auxiliary health benefit for babies with disabilities or something…though how you’d know whether a baby was disabled before it was born (and be able to do anything about it) was beyond her.
Had Lily’s parents had their way, she would have been in a position to understand all of it. Had Lily’s parents had their way, she’d be miserable, but not in a position to where carrying a stranger’s baby inside of her made good financial sense.
The younger woman frowned and tried to remember the term Dr. Anguis had used from the last math course she’d bothered to take. “Inverted. Opposite? You don’t want me to carry your baby?”
“You’d be carried,” Mrs. Darling replied. Lily looked across to the doctor and back to the older woman, then around the room to look for the hidden camera for the inevitable prank reveal. That couldn’t be possible.
“Carried?” Lily asked. “As in me,” she pointed to herself, “inside you?” She indicated Mrs. Darling.
The other two nodded quietly. “Um…I don’t know if you two know this,” Lily said. “ I’m kind of tiny, but I’m nowhere near baby size.” She felt ridiculous just saying it loud. “I’m not a doctor, but I’m not going to fit in…” she pointed at Mrs. Darling’s lap, “there!”
Dr. Anguis leaned forward. “It’s not a true pregnancy,” he said, his tone very professorial, “however, it is a remarkable simulation of the symbiotic relationship between mother and unborn child.”
“Who would want that?”
“People who can’t otherwise have biological children.” As the doctor said this, Mrs. Darling looked away and did her best to hide her blush.
The three of them just sat there, letting the silence stretch out. If this was a prank, both of her pranksters were keeping a straight face. Finally, it was Lily’s will that broke and her curiosity that won out. “How would I even get…” she pointed to Mrs. Darling’s lap again.
The good doctor took his cue. “Oh, you won’t be going IN that way. Not directly. There’s a surgical procedure involved. You would be anesthetized and put in a synthetic womb that would be surgically grafted onto Mrs. Darling. It was actually pioneered in China as a way to undo certain congenital birth defects, give a little extra time in the oven so to speak.” China? Was that why they thought she’d go along with this? Lily wasn’t Chinese, she was Vietnemese, and third generation American. “You’d basically be on life support for twelve weeks.”
TWELVE WEEKS! Every bit of sense that was left to Lily screamed out to her to run for her life from the room. These were crazy people who wanted to do human-centipede level of crazy to her, and in their fucked up Frankenstein schematic, she was the middle piece. “Why in the hell would you want to do that?”
Her would-be benefactor pivoted in her chair and looked Lily in the eye. “Lily, I can’t have children. Even if you were to be my surrogate in the old-fashioned way, you’d have nothing to carry. I’m barren.” She paused for a moment to let that sink in. “But I need this, Lily. I’ve always wanted to be a mother. And when you responded to the ad and I got a look at you, I just knew you’d be perfect for me.”
“You could just adopt…”
“Adoption isn’t the same. I wouldn’t feel like a mother. It’s not the same unless you carry the child yourself.”
“I’m not a kid.” Lily sounded more defensive than she felt. Or maybe she didn’t.
Dr. Anguis adjusted his glasses again. A nervous habit. “That’s one of the benefits, actually, for both of you.”
“I have my needs,” Mrs. Darling explained. “And I have the money to make them a reality. And as much as I want to- need to- be a mother, I know I’d be a horrible one. I’d be great with a baby, but anything older than pre-school and I’d lose interest.”
“So buy a little dog.”
“An animal can’t satisfy that need in me.” But Lily could. Darling didn’t need to say it for implication to be there. “Let me carry you. Let me nurture you. If only just for a little while. And then we can go our separate ways. It will be like I adopted you and we skipped right past college graduation.”
So she knew why this crazy, and apparently very, very rich woman and her quack doctor wanted to do it. “What’s in it for me?”
“There are some interesting medical benefits,” the older man offered. “For example, your blood type would change. Life expectancy has been known to increase. Heightened immune system. There are some documented cases of changes in eye color due to post re-birth.”
Mrs. Darling must have seen the shudder snake up Lily’s spine. “Legally, you’d be a different person. Even more so than if I’d just adopted you. That means all of your debt would just disappear.” Damnit. That was tempting. Art history degrees didn’t pay for themselves.
“But I wouldn’t really be a baby, right?” Lily asked. “Like, this fake pregnancy-”
The doctor sat up a little straighter. “It’s abbreviated, but it’s very real, miss.”
“This abbreviated pregnancy. It’s not going to have any long term side effects, is it? I’m still going to be me?”
A warm, comforting, (dared Lily think it?), motherly hand was on her shoulder. “Of course you’d still be you. You’d just be you with some benefits. And no debt.”
“No brain damage?”
“It wouldn’t be legal if there were.”
“I’m not going to turn into a baby or anything right? I’m not going to have to, like, go through potty training again or anything afterwards, am I?”
The other two laughed as if what Lily had said was somehow ridiculous and precious at the same time. “Absolutely not,” Dr. Anguis replied. “Absolutely not.” It was silly, but Lily needed to hear that.
She looked from one to the other, then back again. “And it’s temporary?”
“Pregnancy, by its very nature, is a temporary state.”
“Just twelve weeks?”
Mrs. Darling smiled. She was already glowing. “Twelve. Wonderful. Weeks. It will be quite a bonding experience. Spiritual, even.”
As Lily had said to herself when she first declared her major: “Fuck it. I’m in.”
Lily could have sworn she saw tears in the rich stranger’s eyes. They wouldn’t be strangers for much longer, though. Very soon, they’d be closer and more intimate than Lily had ever consciously decided to be with someone.
Dr. Anguis slid a pack of papers across his desk. “I’ve already taken the liberty to highlight the areas you’ll need to sign, and initial where appropriate.”
So she did.
Most people wouldn’t think that the latest miracle in modern medical technology would be located in Florida. Lily was among those people. With the exception of perhaps Miami, there was very little of allure of cultural significance in that penis-shaped backwater of a state. It was a land of tourist traps, swamps, and retirement centers; all the worst parts of California, Louisiana, and Arizona rolled up into one. As she was shown around the Ponce de Leon Rebirthing Institute, Lily couldn’t help but appreciate- in a dadaist sort of way- how the facility had elements of all three.
Located in the middle of a swamp, murky and overgrown save for the roughly paved roads, the Institute was in about as much of a backwater location as one could find. There weren’t even road signs to indicate where they were headed or where they’d been. Only Mrs. Darling’s personal chauffeur had seemed to know the way, and Lily hadn’t been able to see any signs of a mailing address. She suspected the place would be impossible to find even with a GPS.
The only way this place could have been more hidden, out of the way, or closed off was if the perimeter had been surrounded by an electric fence. But such a fence would have brought more attention to it, letting a passerby or lost traveler know that SOMETHING was worth protecting. “It’s remote,” Mrs. Darling explained, “because the ladies here want privacy, not because we have anything to hide.”
As it was, to all outward appearances, the Ponce de Leon Rebirthing Institute seemed like a well maintained, if ordinary, building out in the middle of nowhere. Its clean, one-story, white facade and the large sign outside the building made it seem something like a medical facility- which Lily supposed it was. But a medical facility for what? With a name like “Rebirthing Institute” it very well could have been anything from one of those tacky spas that promised to shrink away a person’s fat or a cult front promising a “new you” if only you’d undergo the latest treatment and pay just a little bit more money.
Now that she was inside the place, Lily was developing the opinion that she was closer to the mark than she would have guessed. Unlike Dr. Anguis’s office, the interior actually resembled a medical facility. A pristine marble floor in the lobby gave way to off-lime green linoleum tiles once they were past a pair of double doors.
Nurse’s stations were dotted with medical personnel in sunshine yellow scrubs, all busily typing away, looking at charts, or readying medications. All of them, however, took the time to greet, engage with, or otherwise acknowledge her patron’s presence as they went through the winding corridors.
“Hello, Mrs. Darling, I hope you’re well today.”
“Good morning Mrs. Darling. Good to see you back.”
“Mrs. Darling! So wonderful to see you! Will you be staying for lunch?”
None of them addressed Lily directly. It was always Mrs. Darling this, and Mrs. Darling that. Not that Lily particularly wanted to talk to any of the medical staff, but in a strange way she felt invisible. Less than. Like an accessory.
The majority of the doors they went by were closed; the occupants’ name and chart left hanging in a drop box next to the frame. “Most of the Expectants prefer to lounge outside in the courtyard,“ Mrs. Darling explained. The few rooms with open doors were still obscured by medical curtains, with only the faintest murmurs- either television or a private lamaze session- escaping into the hallway.
“Courtyard?” Lily asked.
A wry, knowing smile came across Mrs. Darling’s lips. “Of course, dear. You didn’t think the two of us would be cooped up in some stuffy old hospital for three months did you?” Their pace quickened. The doors were moving by them faster and faster. “Yes, we sleep in those rooms, but we’re going to be in the lap of luxury.” Lily was starting to have trouble keeping up. Mrs. Darling’s longer legs were widening the gap between them with every step.
Lily was only vaguely aware that she’d started to hold the older woman’s hand in an effort to keep pace.
“Oops! Not in there.” They found themselves in front of a set of double doors, kept shut by an electronic lock. Not unusual, considering this was effectively a hospital, but the pastel hues of pinks and blues on the doors clashed with the drab beige of the rest of the interior. “Sorry, Lily dear. Wrong turn.”
As she was led away, Lily craned her neck back over her shoulder to read the sign that hung over the door. It read: “Implantation and Delivery”. A shiver ran its finger down her spine. She wasn’t supposed to go through those doors. Not yet. But if she wanted the money, if she wanted the debt forgiveness, if she wanted in on this scheme, she would.
Pale fluorescent light gave way to bright sunshine and the smell of a freshly manicured lawn. Lily blinked, first as a natural reaction to the sunlight, then as a psychological reaction to what it held.
The “courtyard,” as Mrs. Darling had called it, appeared to be at least the size of a football field, a lavish lawn dotted with lawn chairs and servants carrying around hors d’oeuvres and champagne flutes. Lily hadn’t seen this place from the outside, but the four surrounding walls indicated that they were still very much inside the Institute’s perimeter. By some miracle of architecture, the space appeared to be bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. From some unseen speaker, bland classical piano piped in, giving the place a sense of drowsy peace.
The pleasant songs of chirping birds mingled with the piano and the gentle clink of glasses, though Lily saw no birds. Probably just another soundtrack, then.
None of that is what made Lily blink in disbelief, however. A few golf carts and this place would have been right at home in a typical country club. Interesting, given the circumstances, but not surreal. What really threw Lily off was the occupants.
Lounging in lawn chairs like beached whales, wrapped in loose fitting moo-moos, bathrobes, and hospital gowns, were the so-called “expectants” that the Institute hosted. The guests. The clients. The high rollers.
From a distance, Lily might have thought they were just ordinary pregnant women, ready to pop. But as Mrs. Darling led her closer, Lily knew the difference. Their bellies were all unnaturally distended, bulging like tumors. These women weren’t pregnant. They simply had something…someone…inside them.
From her reclining lawn chair, one such woman wearing a pink cotton bathrobe waved them over. “Melissa! Darling! Over here!” Following Mrs. Darling’s lead, Lily trotted over to a woman lounging on the lawn.
Up close, the woman seemed even more alien to Lily. The proportions were all wrong. The limbs were too skinny, the hair was too blonde, and the skin around her face somehow seemed unusually taut. Having another human being stuffed inside her was far from the only surgery that she’d had done.
Even though the woman’s voice was high and nasally, Lily couldn’t help but compare her to a certain slug-like alien that hated Jedi. “Melissa, so good to see you back!”
“Lovely to be here, Jolene!” The two women exchanged faux cheek kisses.
The slug, “Jolene,” moved her gaze to Lily and gave a lazy smile. “And who do we have here?” She gestured to Lily before taking a sip of orange juice from a glass. It might have been the plastic surgery, but the lady’s smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.
Lily extended her hand. “Hi, I’m-”
“She’s my surrogate.” Mrs. Darling interrupted.
“Oh really?” Jolene’s bulbous belly moved out of time with her as she hoisted herself up to her feet. Lily stood stock still as the middle aged slug looked her up and down, measuring her, judging her like a slab of filet mignon. “You did very well, Melissa,” she said, talking over Lily’s shoulder. Then she addressed Lily directly. “Would you like to feel, dear? See what it’s like from the outside?”
She parted her robe as if she were a model on a game show. Compared to her, the oversized spare tire on her belly might have been the size of a brand new car, but Lily wanted to do anything but “Oooh ‘’ or “Ahhh” at it. Out there in the Central Florida sunlight, Lily could see this artificial womb for what it was: a patchwork gut, a Frankenstein’s quilt of not-quite-matching and off color flesh tones, all stitched together. “I don’t know about the inside,” Jolene said, “but the outside is all composite leftovers from liposuction, tummy tucks, and reconstructive surgery.”
“It’s not quite as glamorous as an au naturale pregnancy,” Mrs. Darling explained. “But when all is said and done; no stretch marks.” Mouth agape, Lily could only stare. “Go on, have a feel.”
Lily’s hand was on the woman’s belly, guided there by Mrs. Darling, before she had a chance to refuse. Her palm pressed down on human flesh with all the give and consistency of a waterbed. “Whoah!”
“What? Did she kick?”
“No it’s just-” Lily felt a sudden pressure from the other side of the bloated belly. Something was pressing back. “SHE KICKED!” Lily’s hand couldn’t get away fast enough.
The “expectant” mother just smiled. “Won’t be long now,” she caressed her stomach as one might a lover, “not long at all. Then again, she does get a little wiggly after morning mimosas. So it could just be that.”
Mrs. Darling’s friend just smiled. “What? It’s not as if she’s going to develop anymore than she is, and Dr. Anguis has us on so many different bits of vitamins, snake oil, and experimental whosa-whatsits, that a little bit of booze won’t hurt anything.” It made a certain kind of sense to Lily. It’s not as if there was a REAL baby in there. “And with all she’s doing for me, the least I can do is make her stay a little more fun while it lasts.”
“So,” Lily asked. “If you drink, she drinks? Are you really um…THAT connected?”
Jolene sat back down with a harumph. “Absolutely. This is my first and last pregnancy, but it really nails all the details. You wouldn’t believe how often I have to pee. Makes me think that I should be the one in dia-”
“Jolene,” Mrs. Darling interrupted. “I’ve never asked, but I was wondering. Who, exactly, IS your surrogate?”
Lily hadn’t thought of that. “Who’s…” she hesitated. It might have been some trick of the light, a cloud passing in front of the sun, but she thought she saw more shifting beneath the pastel pink bathrobe. “…In there?”
The pregnant woman took another sip of mimosa. “Tiffany.”
Mrs. Darling gasped in surprise. “Your step daughter?”
That same smile returned to Jolene’s face. “When I first met her, there was definitely a rift between us. I wasn’t her real mom. You know how it goes.” She took another sip. “Now? We’re closer than ever. I get to be her Mommy for real this time.”
“How long have you known your step daughter?”
Jolene put a finger to her lips. “Hmm…by the time she’s reborn it’ll be close to a year.”
“Let’s go meet some of the other mothers-to-be, Lily.” Lily wasn’t sure whether Mrs. Darling was leading her away or following her. Just then, Lily didn’t much care.
But, no matter which guest they talked to, it was always the same: Lily was all but invisible until they found out she was going to be Mrs. Darling’s Surrogate. The conversation inevitably turned to who exactly was being re-born, and no matter what, Lily didn’t like the answer.
“It’s my boyfriend. We’re both very excited about our new lives.”
“It’s my wife. She was misgendered at birth. Not this time, though.”
“I’m not sure. I took a random volunteer. I’m not even finding out the sex until the birth. I want it to be a surprise!”
And despite what Dr. Anguis had said, none of it seemed to be for medical reasons, save perhaps for insanity. All of these women just wanted to have a baby, and the only babies they could find happened to be adults.
When they were finally far enough away from the cult-like gaze of pseudo-pregnant women, Lily began to voice her concerns. “Mrs. Darling, I’m beginning to worry…”
“Oh, there’s nothing to worry about.” Mrs. Darling grabbed Lily’s hand, stroking it reassuringly. “Those women are all crazy. It must be the hormones. It won’t be like that for us, though. I promise.”
“Yeah, I don’t know about-”
“What I do know about is the documents you signed.” Mrs. Darling glared at Lily. “I’ve been looking for someone like you for so long. Let’s not get wrapped up in the particulars and get a case of cold feet. It’s much too late for that.”
“Here,” Mrs. Darling said, taking a glass filled with orange liquid off of a passing tray. “Have a mimosa”.
It was late that night when Lily snuck out of the “guest suite,” Mrs. Darling snoring softly in the bed beside her. Lily couldn’t sleep, and it wasn’t just the low rumbling of laundry machines next door. The “guest suite” was well decorated and accommodating enough, but its placement deep in the bowels of the Institute gave off the impression that it was all but an afterthought. That told Lily that even though “surrogates” and their patrons were allowed here, they weren’t exactly welcome, and the people being implanted into artificial wombs didn’t often stay the night, at least not while on the outside of someone else.
There was something wrong with this place, and neither the mimosas nor the mild sedatives she was offered could stop her racing heart. Mrs. Darling, on the other hand, had been drinking champagne like it was water and had popped a handful of Ambien as if the drugs were candy.
Lily had been given the “official” grand tour of the Institute after her venture into the courtyard, and she had been assured that everything was temporary. That the rich, bougie women of this place wouldn’t even have stretch marks after carrying around their hundred-plus pound babies. That everything was going to be fine.
Lily would spend approximately three months in the biological equivalent of a sensory deprivation tank, and then her debts would be wiped clean and she could start anew. Just like that.
Tomorrow, she’d be implanted. According to the itinerary Mrs. Darling had presented to her at dinner, she’d walk past the blue and pink doors just after breakfast, hop into Mrs. Darling, and then be fed pseudo-intrauterine mimosas by lunch. She’d wait it out for three months, likely sleeping most of the time, give Mrs. Darling a little thrill whenever she stretched a little bit, and then be cut out, cleaned up and sent on her merry way.
It was easy. Simple. So easy and so simple, that Lily simply couldn’t wrap her brain around it. Something was very, very wrong about this place. It wasn’t just that most of the “mothers” seemed drunk off their asses, or that the grass was too well maintained, or that the place was too clean, or that the staff was WAY too cheery to be working in a circus sideshow factory such as this.
This was Florida, Land of Amusement Parks: fake exteriors, booze-induced happiness, and overpriced hotels were the law of the land. How else could anybody live in this penis-shaped swamp? That’s not what bothered her. What bothered Lily was the sheer number of people using this place. In the courtyard alone, she had counted close to thirty oversized, unnaturally pregnant women. There had to have been at least a half a dozen more in their rooms watching television, or practicing their breathing.
As she and Mrs. Darling had been escorted to their guest room, another stranger was being wheeled out, her breathing rapid, her face grimacing, but her eyes sparkling with ecstasy. “Looks like her water broke.” Mrs. Darling told Lily. “She’s lucky. Most of us have to be surgically induced as well as implanted.”
Thirty women carrying full grown adults inside of them, pretending to be pregnant; for some reason, Lily could believe that. But that also meant that there were thirty full grown men or women who were convinced to take the plunge on the inside. And even though she would be joining those same ranks tomorrow, the thought of so many people being at least as desperate, or pressured, or crazy as her didn’t sit well.
Numbers didn’t lie. One was a publicity stunt. Two was an experiment. Three was a prank. Four was a con game. Thirty? Thirty was a cult.
There had been more than thirty. All along the halls of the Ponce de Leon Rebirthing Institute were pictures. Between any two doors in this medical labyrinth were framed pictures; photographs of success stories. Pictures of rich middle aged women with round tumors hanging over their waistlines, smiling and surrounded by their rich middle aged friends. Pictures of women considered too old to conceive holding up and posing with pink XXL t-shirts; the words “IT’S A GIRL!” clearly sewn into them.
This place had seen more than thirty women in its time. More than a hundred. Maybe more than two hundred. Lily had given up counting on their way back from dinner.
It had been going on for a while, too. If the dates on the frames could be believed, the Ponce de Leon Rebirthing Institute had existed in its current state for at least the last seven years.
Pictures upon pictures of the ladies rich, desperate, and deluded to allow their bodies to be invaded by a stranger so that they could say that they’d given birth to someone littered the halls. Yet there were no pictures of the surrogates. There was no evidence of anyone who allowed themselves to be “reborn.” No “before” pictures. No “after” pictures. As far as the evidence was concerned, the surrogates didn’t exist.
It was stupid, Lily knew, but it was stuck in her craw and she just couldn’t get it out. So many questions and no acceptable answers. Heck, why weren’t there any counselors or psychological aid? Lily was going to be in complete isolation for three months. Shouldn’t she have undergone counseling or some kind of psychological evaluation? Shouldn’t the women who wanted to lug other women around in their abdomen be given counseling? The closest thing to psychological help given here was drugs and alcohol.
Something was being obfuscated here. Something was being hidden, and Lily was going to find out what.
From the dark of the guest suite, Lily opened up the door, squinting into the hallway. This place had the culture of a cult, but just like a hospital- or a prison- the lights in the hallways stayed on at all times. Bored and tired-looking orderlies and nurses manned the nursing station. She had to wait for her eyes to adjust to the light, breathing quick shallow breaths.
The suite was too close to the nearest station. A light in the doorway wouldn’t be noticed, or it would be written off as a patient wanting a bit of light and nothing more. But Lily was a crap sneak and an even more crap liar, and she knew it. She’d need more than a little good luck to be anything more than a nervous insomniac tonight.
As it turns out, at least a little good luck was coming to her. Over Mrs. Darling’s snoring and the thrum-humming of washing machines next door, Lily was able to make out the soft and urgent droning of an alarm.
“It’s Mrs. Johnson,” a woman in pink said, pointing to a switchboard.
A man in blue scrubs groaned. “Again?”
“It’s probably just another false labor.”
“Aren’t they all?’ Both of them had a good laugh at that. There was something oddly comforting about watching the staff act like actual human beings when none of the drunken beached whales were around. Humanizing or not, Lily knew the opportunity when she saw it.
Clumsily sliding with her back against the wall in a kind of manic crab walk, Lily slipped out into the hallway. The nurses in their pinks and blues were too busy laughing or attending a pseudo-pregnant woman to notice her.
The young woman managed to get as far as the laundry room before tripping over her own feet and landing painfully on her tailbone. She had to dig her nails into her hips, biting her lower lip and exhaling through her nose in order to not swear in pain and draw attention to herself.
She’d gotten a total of ten feet out of her room, and was now holed up in a completely different, equally useless room. Great. “What now,” she wondered. “There’s gotta be a better way.”
An industrial dryer buzzed, giving her that better way. Opening the hatch and leaning in, Lily tore into a sea of white cotton. Bedsheets? No, not bedsheets. Most everything, save the walls, had been color coded in pastel pinks and blues, even the tablecloths. Even the bedsheets.
To Lily’s great relief, however, it seemed that at least one thing was not entirely color-coded.
Pure white scrubs. Bundles and bundles of them.
She hadn’t seen a single staff member in these colors all day.
How odd indeed.
The sound of nearby voices cut off Lily’s thoughts. “One of the machines is done.”
“I switched it out last time.”
“Fine, I’ll do it!” The sound of footsteps closed in with the voice. Lily panicked and did the only thing she could think of.
“Oh!” the male nurse, clad in baby blue, said. “I didn’t realize someone was already in here.”
“Just folding up the whites,” Lily said from behind her hastily grabbed face mask. Out of time and options, Lily had managed to slip into a baggy set of pure white scrubs and a face mask. Half a second before he’d crossed the threshold, Lily had reached back into the dryer and pulled out a cotton white shirt and pretended to fold it. It was amazing what one could do when properly motivated by fear and fueled by adrenaline.
The man looked pleasantly surprised and slightly relieved. Clearly, he was getting out of a chore that he’d rather not do. “Oh…” he said. “I was about to do it.” He looked back over his should and turned slightly, waiting for only the slightest chance to get out.
Her body threatening to start shaking with nerves, Lily blindly reached into the steaming drum and pulled out another piece of laundry. “Just had some downtime,” she lied. She hoped that the facemask made her look less guilty. Time to double down. “I wouldn’t refuse the help if you’ve got the time.”
Lily could see the man’s Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. “Uh, Mrs. Johnson is a real handful tonight. If it’s all the same to you…” he looked back over his shoulder. “I could really use a break. And the whites are more your guys’ thing. I handle them when they’re in, you handle them when they’re out, right?”
“Fine…” Lily rolled her eyes. “I’ve got this.” The man was already turning on his heel before she’d finished the sentence. Maybe she wasn’t as crap a liar as she thought.
She looked down and finished what she was folding. As it turned out, there were bed sheets that weren’t either pink or blue. A whole bunch of them, in fact, mixed in the dryer with the pure white scrubs. Nervously, more out of habit than anything else, Lily finished folding the sheet and sat it down on a nearby table.
How odd, Lily thought, that there should be a large safety pin in it.
After counting to thirty, which was just long enough to make sure that her “coworker” had well and truly gone on to his break but not long enough for anyone to check up on her if they became suspicious, Lily darted out and hung a left, away from the nearest nurse’s station, and did her best to act like she belonged.
Just be cool. Just be cool. That was the key to it. If she acted like she belonged here and walked like she knew where she was going, no one would stop to question her, no matter how many questions were racing through her grey matter.
Where was she going? She knew the destination. The “implantation and delivery” area was the only place where Lily had been shooed away from during the tour. If there was anything to be hidden, it would be in behind those powder pink and baby blue doors. The destination was easy. The route was another matter.
Without Mrs. Darling to hold her hand and drag her along, the inside of this place was positively labyrinthine. Had this been a real hospital, there would be well posted signs with arrows showing the way to go, or a directory. Had this been a real hospital, Lily wouldn’t have been afraid to ask or even make eye contact with one of the nurses at the two stations she passed while sneaking. Had this been a real hospital, Lily wouldn’t have felt the need to disguise herself or snoop around at all.
This wasn’t a real hospital though.
Left from the wrong turn.
Lily was back in front of the twin mechanical doors. Only one problem: There was no visible way to open them. Just like a real hospital, the mechanical doors could not be pulled or pushed open. Just like a real hospital, there was a phone that one picked up to be buzzed in from the other side. Just like a real hospital, there was a camera at the archway, watching anyone who came too close.
She could try her hand at lying again, and hope that anyone guarding the “Implantation and Delivery” ward was just as tired and bored as the staff near the “guest suite”. Maybe, just maybe, she could have a bit of that devil’s own tongue twice in one night.
As it turned out, Lily wouldn’t need the devil’s tongue, because his luck was with her. The pink and blue doors whirred open, and Lily did her best to speed walk over the threshold without looking like she was running. “Go-go-go-go-go-go-go” she hissed to herself. Reflexively, she looked back over her shoulder to make sure she hadn’t been seen, right before smacking face first into another human being and collapsing onto her tailbone.
Damnit! If the doors were opening, clearly that meant that someone was exiting from the other side. Why hadn’t she thought of that! That’s how real hospitals worked!
“Ow! Fuck!” Sprawled out in front of her was a rather well endowed nurse in all white scrubs, just like Lily’s, cursing. Lily could only sit there dumbly as the busty woman sat back up off the floor, absentmindedly rubbing her nipples. “Watch where you’re going!” Even swearing, the woman’s voice rose barely above a whisper.
The two made eye contact. Lily dared not look away, afraid that it would make her look all the more guilty. Lily stood and offered her hand. “I am so sorry,” she said. “I was just trying to sneak…I mean trying to get in before the doors closed, and I bumped into you.”
Still massaging her chest, the woman took Lily’s hand. “Meh. It happens.” She lowered her arm, and Lily saw a patch of scarlet blossoming on the woman’s right breast.
Her throat went dry. “Um…did I do that to you?”
The nurse in white looked down at her breast and saw the blood. “Mrs. Willis in room 1017,” she said as if that would explain anything. “Lady doesn’t want to take the supplements? That’s fine. That’s part of the job. It’s why we get paid the big bucks. But that little shit is a biter.”
“Oh…her…” Lily said and rolled her eyes, pretending to understand when in fact, she didn’t.
“You’ve had her?”
Crap! “No, but I’ve heard stories. Word gets around quick.”
“Yeah it does.” She seemed to take Lily in for a minute. “Just hope she doesn’t call for you.” A single, almost accusatory finger indicated Lily’s considerably smaller breasts. “I don’t know if you could handle it.” Lily didn’t know what to say to that. “No offense.”
“Best of luck to ya. This is the end of my shift.” With that, she pressed a big silver button against the wall, re-opening the mechanical doors, before hurriedly walking out of sight.
This time, Lily didn’t look back. Forward was the only option. At the very least, she reassured herself, the way out was easier than the way in.
The hallway inside the “Implantation and Delivery” area seemed very much like the outside: long stretches of otherwise bland doorways lining the hall, their doors shut and their lights off. Just like each door in the main wing of the Institute, the name of the occupant was written in dry erase marker, “Mrs. Watson, Mrs. Crick, Mrs. Franklin,” and so on.
Recovery rooms for the mothers, Lily guessed. Artificial womb or not, having a full-grown person cut out of someone would surely be a major stress on the body. Though, a naggingly fearful part of her weighed in, that would mean there should also be recovery areas for the people who’d just spent three months inside. The naive, hopeful part of Lily gave the place the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the surrogates were being cared for elsewhere…
That’s when Lily noticed another difference. Actual clipboards and charts were hanging neatly by each door, so that a physician or aide, or a suitably nosy passerby, might be able to glance at medical information.
Carefully, she skimmed through the first page of one patient’s information. It was labeled “Mrs. Marston.” In blue ink, little details were filled out about the woman behind the door. Lily was no med student, but she could make out the gist of it: weight, blood pressure, vital signs, medications and the like. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary, she supposed.
She flipped to the next page over. Behind the initial readout of Mrs. Marston’s vitals- in black and white with the kind of sterile crispness that only comes from a copy machine- were a completely different set of documents.
Weight: 108 lbs.
Max Allowable Cognitive Progression: 10 months
Nutrition: Formula. Some Solids (Baby Teeth)
Notes: Heavy Wetter. Cloth diapers only per mother’s request”
Formula? Crawling??? Diapers?! If Lily hadn’t known any better, she would have assumed that these were instructions for an actual infant.
But no. That was crazy. That couldn’t be right. Lily went a door over, picked up another clipboard and flipped to the second page.
Weight: 98 lbs
Max Allowable Cognitive Progression: 12 months
Nutrition: Solids (Teeth)
Notes: May require booster shot.”
Booster shot? Crawling?
Yet another read:
Weight: 130 lbs
Max Allowable Cognitive Progression: 6 Months
Nutrition: Breastmilk (Some teeth)
Notes: Wet Nurse required”
Underneath the crisp black and white copy, scribbled in blue ink, with sloppy jagged handwriting was the word, “TEETHING”. A darkening brown stain, like drying blood, smudged the very bottom of the paper.
Placing the clipboard back, a nasty buzzing, feeling like flies and gnats chewing on the inside of her temples, filled Lily’s head. Formula. Breastfeeding. Crawling. No teeth. Maximum allowable cognition. Diapers.
The buzzing became so loud that to Lily it was audible. She not only felt it, but heard it, too! Only she wasn’t hearing the buzzing of nerves in her ears, her paranoia made perceptible. It was a soft, dampened murmur, like distant screaming. Tracing one hand along the far wall, she followed the sound, a mewling discordant thing, crying out but not crying.
Her hand streaked across clear glass…and then she found the source of the noise.
Behind the glass, laying in cots too big for any actual infant was everything Lily had been dreading. People, all of them in their twenties by the looks of it, swaddled like infants. Milling around them, women in white scrubs, just like Lily’s, shushed and comforted and cooed them in the dim nursery light.
To the far left, a pale emaciated figure laid in a giant incubator. A tanning lamp bringing color to skin that had been locked away in total darkness for a quarter of a year; a feeding tube shoved up her nose and snaking down into her stomach pumping nutrients, a thick swollen diaper taped around her waist.
Had it been just that one “baby” in the incubator, however, Lily could have lied to herself. But the other dozen or so surrogates dispelled any illusions she might have had.
One girl was having her diaper- not a medical garment, but a scaled up replica of something an actual baby might wear- changed. If she minded, as she suckled on the gigantic pink pacifier with her eyes closed, she gave no indication.
There was a boy (at least she guessed it was a boy, based on the powder blue blankets he was cocooned in) who was left toothless and drooling as he gummed and guzzled on a baby bottle filled with a milky-looking substance.
A girl with dark black hair poking out from beneath her pink knit cap nursed on the teat of another grown woman clad in white.
And worst of all, Lily could see the names on each cot, labeling their occupants as clearly as it had their “mothers’” rooms, including but not limited to “Baby Marston,” “Baby Anderson,” and “Baby Willis.”
“I’m not going to have to, like, go through potty training again or anything afterwards, am I?” Lily remembered asking that fateful day when she’d signed the papers.
“Absolutely not,” she’d been promised. “Absolutely not.”
Technically, if she was never taken out of diapers, she’d never have to go through potty training again.
“Pregnancy, by its very nature is a temporary state,” she’d been told. Pregnancy was temporary. Everything else wasn’t.
This. This is what had been planned for her all along.
A heavy hand landed on her shoulder. Instinctively, Lily whipped around, her fist striking out like an agitated snake, only to be caught, deflected, and pushed aside as if it were made of lint. In front of her, staring at her through Coke-bottle glasses was a decidedly non-plussed Dr. Anguis, his thinning head of hair shining with a thick snake-oil sheen.
The breath went out of Lily as she was slammed against the viewing glass. Behind her, the muffled mewling of infants stirring from their sleep, crying out for their mothers, began to rise up like an alarm siren.
They were so much like infants, Lily realized: the confusion, the desperation, the impotent anger. The lack of coordination over their own vocal chords. Exactly like how actual newborns acted and sounded. Only these cries were much, much deeper, because the bodies they came from were much, much older.
A windy, crackling, whimpering cry came out of Lily’s throat, as she struggled for air, the doctor’s forearm was pressed tightly against her throat. Her brain swimming and her body acting on autopilot, Lily began to fight.
She couldn’t scream. But she could kick. She could scratch at his face. She could drool and spit. She could piss herself in an attempt to discourage, disgust, or otherwise throw her attacker off his game.
It didn’t work. Lily might as well have been intangible, a figment of his imagination for all that her attacker reacted to her defenses. Scratches landed, but they did not draw blood. Kicks to the groin and knees landed and felt like striking a lead statue. Lily felt like she might have bruises on her shins, feet, and knees, but the older man didn’t so much as flinch. Spit dripped from the lenses of his glasses, but he seemed to just look right past them. After all of that, the puddle of piss forming at their feet was barely an inconvenience.
He didn’t so much as press harder against her throat, and he easily could have. He just held her there, thrashing as she wore herself down. It wasn’t even a full minute before her choked-off wailing and screaming was indistinguishable from the mindless, diapered adults crying in the background behind her.
Calmly, as if pinning her to the wall was no particular exertion whatsoever, Dr. Anguis reached past Lily and pressed an intercom on the wall. “Yes doctor?” a voice droned from the speaker.
“Lucy, wake the implantation staff.” he said. “We’re going to have to start a few hours early.”
Lily was fifteen minutes in. She was naked, strapped down to an operating table, her arms and legs restrained in padded cuffs. She could struggle. She could scream. She could cry. But she couldn’t do much else. Hypothetically, she could pee, but she’d already emptied that tank.
A surgical assistant clad in pastel blue scrubs wiped her down and cleaned the remnants of her own piss off of the inside of her legs. “Heh…usually the wipe downs come after the re-birth”, he chuckled from behind his surgical mask. Lily didn’t laugh. “I’m only kidding. Safety is our number one concern. That means ensuring zero contaminants.”
“Safety?” Lily said. “Safety? How is any of this safe?!”
“After your re-birth you’ll be well taken care of,” a new voice said. Lily looked up from her legs and at a nurse who’d just entered the room. “Dr. Anguis wouldn’t have allowed Mrs. Darling to be your Mommy if she wasn’t a good candidate for pre- and post-rebirth care.” The nurse’s scrubs were pastel pink. Lily couldn’t see the woman’s mouth from behind the matching surgical mask, but her eyes were smiling. What a strange world she’d allowed herself to be trapped in: Where some people’s smiles didn’t reach their eyes, and others had eyes that did all the smiling for them. “Hi there. I’m Lucy. I’m here to help you get through this and onto the next stage of your development.”
Lily felt a sharp pin prick jab into the left side of her neck. “Ow!” Then the right. “What was that?!”
“That’s the only pain you’ll be feeling today,” the nurse said, eyes grinning. “Actually, that’s the only pain you’ll be feeling for approximately three months.”
“So that’s it?” Lily asked. “You’re putting me under?”
“Not at all,” the nurse said. “That was just a nerve blocker. You’re going to be awake and aware for the entire procedure. You have every right to know what’s happening to you.”
The poor girl could already feel her arms and legs start to go numb. Her struggles against the cuffs were lessening more, becoming wiggles and jiggles. Paralysis was starting to set in. “What if I don’t want to know?”
“Oh, you’ll want to know.” The surgical assistant said as he finished scrubbing Lily down. “They always do.”
Lily looked down her legs to the assistant and threw him a glare that would have murdered him had it been able.
“Eyes on me, dear.” Lily looked back up to the nurse. “We’ve already inserted catheters into your jugular and carotid artery. We’re pumping out your blood. The anesthetic we’re giving you contains an oxygen rich solution, so you’ll suffer no side effects. Over the course of your incubation, your new Mommy’s blood will infuse with your own circulatory system until it adapts. Then you’ll register as a whole new blood type; a whole new person.”
“It’s actually been found to cure sickle cell anemia,” the surgical assistant volunteered.
Lily ground her teeth together. “Neat. What part turns me into a circus sideshow?”
“That’s something that only we do here, sweetie. We invented this process.” The nurse’s voice was dripping with saccharine, honey-flavored venom. “The additional medical uses are a happy little side effect, aren’t they?”
A shudder rattled through Lily. “I’m scared.”
“Hold my hand?”
“Of course, dear.”
Even though she could barely feel it, the presence of her hand was oddly comforting.
Thirty minutes in, Dr. Anguis arrived, accompanied by the rest of his surgical team. All but he were cloaked in the same pastel pinks and baby blues- nursery colors- that the rest of the staff and bloated surgically-expecting mothers wore.
Not the good doctor, though. His were dark green, and had a strange almost leather sheen about them, like reptile skin. Snake skin. His formerly dull, foggy eyes took on an almost unblinking reptilian quality through the thick magnifying lenses of his glasses. “Everything prepped and ready to go?”
“Then let’s begin.”
Surgeons and their machines closed in around her. “You’re going to feel a slight tingling around your fingers,” Dr. Anguis said. “Nothing to be worried about.” A short metal rod, the tip of it glowing red, started to poke and prod at her fingertips.
A warmth around the soles of her feet alerted to her to multiple invaders, multiple sources of scarring. The sound of sizzling and the scent of burning flesh filled her nostrils. They were burning off her fingerprints; erasing her identity.
Through his Coke-bottled lenses, Dr. Anguis squinted at her legs, paying careful attention to her Achilles tendons. “I’m pretty sure Mrs. Darling wants a crawler. Scalpel.”
“Don’t mind them.” Lily looked away from herself and back up to the nurse. Even underneath the surgical mask, Lily could tell that she was still smiling. “They’re just doing their jobs. Talk to me.”
“Anything you want.”
Forty-five minutes in, and the medical staff had started to take an intense interest in Lily’s stomach.
She couldn’t see past her wrists thanks to the cuffs, but she knew that her fingerprints were now gone. This is what they had really meant when they’d told her she’d legally be a new person. It wasn’t a loophole or technicality. It was a cover up for human trafficking.
“You’re going to feel some minor discomfort in your abdomen. No need for concern.” A buzzing, drilling noise rang into the air. True enough, Lily felt discomfort, but no pain. A minor cramp; like holding in a fart, but nothing more intense.
“I wanted to be an artist,” Lily said. “But I just didn’t have the knack for it.”
“That’s a shame,” the nurse agreed, wiping the sweat from Lily’s forehead. “Even if you’re not good at something, you can still take joy from it. It can still give your life meaning. It could have been a hobby.”
“I majored in art history. I thought that if I couldn’t create art, I could still learn and teach people about it. Like a curator at a museum, or a professor at a college.”
“It really sounds like art was a passion of yours.”
“My parents didn’t approve. They said there was no future in it. They cut me off. That’s why I got into debt. That’s why I came here.”
“They should have supported you.”
The drilling noise stopped, and Lily flinched as she felt the slightest tickling sensation, an itch she couldn’t scratch, right around her belly button. “I guess they were right.”
“None of that matters anymore.”
“They wanted me to go into medical school. Or at least nursing school.”
“You would have been a fantastic nurse.”
“I could have been a nurse here. I could have been doing your job.”
“That is a funny thought, isn’t it?” The nurse’s eyes were still smiling. Smiling while condemning her. Mocking her.
“I hate you.”
“I want you all to burn in Hell.”
“We’re going to have to stop talking now.”
A little over an hour in.
The surgeons had finished slowly pushing tubes into her guts and were now closing in on her face. A neck brace was being fastened so that Lily couldn’t turn her head, and a padded cuff was being pulled taut across her forehead just in case.
“Don’t leave!” Even as she yelped out the words, gloved fingers were pulling at her cheeks and lips, inserting hooks and guards and shields into her mouth. Her jaw was being forced open, her tongue blocked and restrained.
A quick squirt from a little hose and a slight burning sensation in the back of her throat, and Lily couldn’t even scream. Even in that short glimpse, she had seen enough pink empty mouths in that funhouse mirror of a maternity ward to know what was happening next.
“I’m still right here. But we’re going to have to stop talking. The doctors need to get into your mouth.” The nurse was kind enough to start squeezing Lily’s hand again.
“You’re going to feel a tugging sensation around your gums. This is all perfectly normal. Don’t worry.”
Lily couldn’t even feel it as her teeth were being removed. She could only hear the metallic clinking as one by one, teeth were dropped into a metal tray. “Not a single cavity,” one of the surgeons praised. “You took really good care of these.”
Out of the periphery of her vision Lily managed to catch sight of one of her molars, dripping sickly pink syrupy liquid. The oxygen rich solution they’d filled her body up with was so pink it was almost neon, like radioactive Pepto-Bismol. She wasn’t even bleeding blood anymore.
The former art student winced as another surgeon came at her face with a whirring circular device in his hand, almost like a miniature floor buffer. “Just a tiny bit longer. Almost done with this part. ” There was no pain; only a tiny scratching feeling, rather like someone else brushing her few remaining teeth as they were whittled down to rounded nubs. “You’re doing great.”
It was the nurse who started massaging her gums, pressing fresh gauze up against the insides of her mouth. “We’re going to give these a little bit to heal before we move on.”
Almost eighty minutes in.
The hooks, guards, and other torturous restraints had been removed, but Lily still couldn’t vibrate her vocal chords. Despite herself, Lily ran her tongue all around in her mouth once it was free. Almost completely smooth, less than a handful of teeth left in her mouth, and those little bumps barely counted.
The world went blurry as Lily began to cry. Eyes still smiling, the nurse wiped Lily’s tears away. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “You won’t need that many teeth anyway. And you’ll still get to eat some solids when your Mommy decides to spoon feed you.”
“That reminds me,” Dr. Anguis said. Lily saw, more than felt the needle pierce the inside of her eye. “Tear ducts paralyzed.” Now she couldn’t even cry.
Just like a newborn.
A new strap was pulled across her chest, gluing her to the table “Okay. Turn her.”
The room went a little sideways, and Lily had no choice but to look at the operating room’s wall as the table was tilted to the left. There was a slight scraping and groaning noise as the table she was on lost its back, leaving her all but dangling on the frame like a fly in a spider’s web.
“You’re going to feel some pressure around your spine. This is to be expected.” A popping crunch erupted from behind her. Lily felt no pain, but would have screamed from shock and surprise. Except she couldn’t scream.
Dr. Anguis looked at her and turned his head to the side. “Blink if you can still hear me.”
Dr. Anguis looked past Lily and to whichever surgeon had been responsible for the crunching sound. “Good. Clean break.” Giant eyes through Coke-bottle glasses stared unblinking at her, displaying all the sincerity of a sociopath. “Believe it or not,” he told her, “you’re going to be more flexible than some contortionists. Great for sucking on toes.”
“You’re being very brave,” the nurse whispered. “I’m very proud of you.”
More tickling and pinching came along her back. “This will make sure that your back heals properly. Everything is going according to plan. ” She was about to be stuffed into another human being, and yet all of this medical equipment was being first inserted and stuffed into her. Maybe it was all the drugs being pumped into her system, or maybe this was her mind desperately trying to make sense of the trauma she was enduring, but Lily couldn’t help but wonder if this is what the middle bird of a turducken felt like.
The ceiling came back into view as Lily was tilted back over to the operating table. “Ball her up.” Dr. Anguis ordered. Then he deigned to look back down to Lily. “If you feel any pain, just shut your eyes. Nurse Lucy will inform me.”
Straps were undone. Braces were removed. Piece by piece Lily was freed. But she didn’t move. She couldn’t. The most she could do was watch from inside her own head as her body was folded in on itself, like an old ragdoll or worn out pillow. She was being lifted and carried over to some kind of tank.
Sturdy beige walls were replaced by flesh colored flaps, like an insecure tent; a subtle but crucial difference. A sinking sensation overtook Lily as she was lowered in, a mummy being put into her tomb. From up above her, the nurse, her damnable eyes still smirking. “Just look at me, dear. Just look at me. I’m still here.”
Lily tried to summon up courage, or fury, or at least anger at the surgeons, but all she felt was fear. She slammed her eyes shut, signalling that something was wrong.
Make it stop! Make it stop! PLEASE! she begged from behind her eyelids.
No signal or call to stop came.
When she opened her eyes, the nurse was gone. The ceiling was gone. The flesh colored sack she’d been placed in had been drawn up at the top, a canvas bag sewn shut, with only the myriad of twisting tubes poking out of her belly spiraling up to the top and outside to fresh air.
“We’re going to be filling your womb up.” Dr. Anguis’s voice was muffled, like an old radio, but she could understand him. “Don’t worry. Just continue to breathe normally. Everything is fine.”
She wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but Lily became acutely aware of a warm, wet, viscous fluid. It was filling up the sac.
And it was rising.
And Lily couldn’t move.
Breathing normally was a lot easier said than done.
The level of the liquid continued rising as Lily’s breaths became shorter and shorter, fear giving way to full grown panic.
She was going to drown.
They’d mutilated her.
They’d burned her fingerprints off.
They’d crippled her legs.
They’d pumped her stomach and her blood.
They’d broken her back and paralyzed her.
They’d taken her goddamn teeth so that she couldn’t even be identified by dental records.
And now they were drowning her in a sack like a litter of unwanted kittens.
Now the people outside the artificial womb were talking to each other as if Lily wasn’t even in the room with them. Their faint voices and snippets of conversation still decipherable as the water level raised to cover her ears.
“What’d you think of the game last night?”
“Are there any good movies out? Me and the missus are in desperate need for a date night.”
“Don’t even get me started. It felt like the ref was on the other team’s side.”
“Movie’s a minimum. Forget a fancy dinner, even Portabello’s is booked solid with reservations.”
“No kidding, right? If they’d just made that ONE pass before the end, we could have gone into overtime.”
“Since when is Portabello’s taking reservations?”
“Yeah we could have. Maybe we’ll make the playoffs next ye-.”
And then Lily was alone; gray sludgy liquid up to her ears, turning the already muffled conversation into incomprehensible mumbles. It rose past her lips. Her eyes slammed shut, unwilling to let the quicksilver concoction get into her eyes. For a few precious seconds, she inhaled through her nose.
Her nose went under with the rest of her.
She held her breath. Every survival instinct in her told her to hold out for as long as possible. Breathe normally? Humans didn’t breathe at all when liquid was involved. Her knees were the last things to be submerged.
She held and held and held. Her chest ached and heaved. Her head throbbed. Her body screamed at her for oxygen. She couldn’t move her body, though. She couldn’t kick or thrash, as the last bits of air bubbled up through her nose. All she could do is breathe in, and let the muck fill her lungs.
The world got very bright for a second. And very quiet. Peaceful, even. She was dying. Lily knew it. You couldn’t be “reborn” without dying.
Let’s die, Lily thought. Let’s go to sleep and never wake up.
Outside the bag, Dr. Anguis saw the tiniest bubbles float up to the very top. “And we’re done with this part. Let’s prep the mother for surgery.”
“Shall I wake her?”
“Nah,” Dr. Anguis waved off. “She doesn’t need to be conscious for this. If anything, she’ll like waking up pregnant.”
“Oh, a ‘Mary’?”
“Not a virgin, but yeah. How long till she’s ready?”
“Okay. Good. I’m going on break.”