Huge thanks to the ladies over at 2 Girls on a Bench. Without them I would never have gotten the idea for this story.
Cold, unnaturally blue goop plopped down on top of the small hill of her stomach. Margaret shot an exasperated look at the perky blonde thing slathering her belly in the gel. Why couldn’t she remember to warm it up? Every visit Brenda promised and the next time around it was just as cold, if not colder. Goosebumps crawled across the exposed expanse of her stomach, not that the nurse noticed. She was so scatterbrained. If the building were to flood she’d admire the waves as they lapped at her legs.
“It’s cold,” Margaret said in hopes of reminding the girl that she was a human being with nerve endings; nerve endings that did not enjoy being doused in cold blue crap.
“I’m so sorry, Ms. Sanders!” Her hands flew towards a stack of cloths on a nearby tray table. “Stupid me, I forgot how sensitive you were.”
Sensitive. Margaret ground her teeth at the word. She waved the girl off before she could mop up the gel that’d already begun to warm up to body temperature. “It’s fine. Really.”
“Dimitri is right outside. He’s been waiting for you to come in. Today’s the big day, huh?” Brenda gave a sad smile.
“If everything goes well…” Anxiety cut the next thought off. She’d been down this road before only for it to lead to pain and heartbreak. This was Margaret’s last chance at starting a family. They all knew it. Pity lay thick in the air of the clinic. It coated her tongue in a sickening sour taste.
This time around it would be different. She’d gone to great pains to ensure it would be different.
The door swished open from its hidey-hole behind the curtain wall. A smiling face peeked around the edge of the white curtain. “Are we decent?”
“She finally got her hand out of my crotch, if that’s what you are asking.” Margaret snorted. Too many people had touched her down below in the last ten years. Sex was no longer pleasurable. On the rare occasion a man reached for her she had flashbacks to clinic visits and hours spent alone in hospital rooms.
The nurse brought a hand up to hide her amusement. She left the room as quick as her feet could carry her. Outside Margaret heard peals of laughter. Brenda wasn’t all there, but at least she had a sense of humor.
“Margaret…” Doc Dimitri chided as he wheeled the cart with the ultrasound equipment closer.
“Don’t start in on me. I’m trying not to crawl out of my skin today. She’s just too much to tolerate right now.” She shifted on the narrow exam table, trying to stretch her sore back.
“Brenda has been nothing but nice to you. Good nurses are hard to come by these days. If you keep picking on her she might leave. So will you.” His brown eyes locked on hers and she knew he was serious about sending her elsewhere.
Terror seized Margaret. Inside her chest her heart simply stopped beating for a few seconds. Dimitri and the staff at the clinic had been with her for the last ten years. His knowledge and encouragement were the only things keeping her set on the path to becoming a mother. The idea of trusting another doctor when she knew for certain this was the one child she’d bring into the world made her want to vomit.
“I’ll play nice.”
“Good, that is all I ask. She’s an excellent nurse, you know this,” he reminded.
“I’m sorry. The hormones seem to be worse this time around. Think that’s a good sign?”
“It might be. Lets see what you have cooking.” The doctor looked down at her and gave a reassuring smile. His hands went about the automatic business of laying the tip of the ultrasound wand in the blue goop and smearing it around. It felt like a giant was finger-painting her belly.
Another surge of anxiety bit off any smart-ass comment Margaret could think of. For the first time she would know the sex of a child she carried. All of the others were lost to her before this point. Her little bargain ensured this child would stick around for the whole show. It was well worth the price to see her flesh and blood brought into the world.
Doc Dimitri moved the wand through the thick gel and stared at the small television screen perched atop the cart. Dark eyebrows drew together. Margaret’s heart sped up, pounding against her ribs to try and escape. The wand made another sweep through the gel before stopping. The doctor narrowed his eyes at the fuzzy images on the screen.
She wanted to scream at him to say something. Her heart moved up to her throat. A billion scenarios of impending bad news played through her head, most of which she’d heard before. By the time Dimitri looked her way again, Margaret was covered in a fine layer of sweat. Fingernails dug into the thin pad on the exam table. The stress of waiting to know not only the sex of her child, but if it lived at all was going to give her a heart attack.
“Well?” Her voice broke under the strain of trying not to scream.
A smile broke through the concentration on the doctor’s face. He tapped a cluster of little lines belonging to one of the larger blurs on the screen. “It’s a girl.”
Hazel eyes blinked up at the man while the brain behind them tried to comprehend the words coming out of his mouth. “Come again?”
“The fetus is a perfectly healthy little girl.” Doc Dimitri spoke slowly and tapped the screen again so she could see for herself.
It had worked. The ritual had worked. Margaret was beside herself with happiness.
“There’s nothing at all wrong with her?” She leaned in towards the screen and tried her best to make sense of the images on the screen. “Can I see her face?”
The wand made yet another sweep across the gentle swelling of her stomach. When it stopped she gasped. Looking at them from the screen was the face of her child. A perfect little girl. It was everything she’d wanted and more. Tears burned the back of her eyes and spilled down her cheeks.
“Thank you,” Margaret choked out while looking for a tissue.
A tissue flapped in front of her face, startling her for a moment until she realized what it was. Quickly she cleaned up. Mascara stained the tissue in thick blotchy lines.
“I want to keep a close eye on you. Brenda will set up appointments for once a week just to be careful. We’re not taking any chances with this little girl.” The doctor wiped off the goop with one of the cloths and tugged her tank top down over her belly.
Margaret all but skipped out the clinic doors. The small black day planner clasped to her chest bulged with papers and pamphlets about her appointments and what to expect as the baby grew. Joy sang through her veins. It was all so perfect. She would finally become the mother she’d dreamed of.
Joyful days turned to weeks of god-awful anticipation. The appointments at the clinic showed nothing but good signs. Margaret’s bundle of joy was growing healthy and, as she liked to think, happy. In the evenings while she sat to devour mommy how-to books, the baby listened to Mozart via specialty headphones strapped to her belly.
It was perfect. Except for one small detail.
In all honestly the dreams wouldn’t be an issue for Margaret. Her over active imagination loved to flourish in her dreams. It was a big, blank playground for her mind to wander in while her body recovered from the stresses of carrying a child. Vivid dreams were normal. She enjoyed walking through their misty wonders every night.
Nightmares about the pact she made in order to conceive her child were a different matter altogether. They were not lies created by her subconscious. They were real memories summoned simply to torment her.
The dream started the same as the day it’d happened. Body sore from the latest miscarriage, Margaret hiked through the woods surrounding her hometown searching for a perfectly shaped circle of trees. Branches that hadn’t felt the passing of humans in at least a decade caught at her hair, trying to hold her back from her destination. Impatiently, she tore them free from the trees and moved forward. This was the only way to get what she wanted. Nature was not going to hold her back. Not this time.
Hours passed in a blur as her body wove between tree, bush and rock. A gigantic boulder blocked the barely visible deer path she followed, sending her to walk unguided through the shadowy forest. Margaret continued on trusting the weight of her need to guide her safely. Desperation was a power all its own if one knew how to tap into it.
Flickering light up ahead signaled the end of the long journey. That had to be the place. No sane human would wander this far into the forest. The trees were so dense she was forced to turn sideways to slip between some of them. If she were ten pounds heavier, she would have had to circle the grove until she found an opening wide enough to permit her passing.
Clear of the trees, she gave one last look back the way she’d come. The flickering firelight made it look as though the trees moved together to block a hasty exit. Fear tickled up her throat, making her laugh nervously. Stupid eyes playing tricks, that was all it was. Trees could not move on their own.
Margaret turned back towards the center of the grove. Three small fires blazed in the center. Their light ate up the darkness threatening to engulf the space, keeping the lingering dark at bay. She was thankful for the illumination and shoved her small flashlight in her pocket.
Flames danced and twirled in their sunken pits. Their hypnotic ballet was the only movement inside the circle of trees. Somehow it felt both wrong and right. Shouldn’t someone be here to listen to her pleas?
“If you insist, Margaret.”
Behind the furthest-most fire stood a man. The flames leaned left at an unnatural angle, giving a clear view of him. Golden hair gleamed in the firelight. When he turned to admire the flames she caught a glimpse of the long, intricate braid snaking down his back. The white tips of the braid blended in with his perfectly cut white suit. A gold tie put a nice little bow on the package. For the epitome of evil, he was scrumptious.
“I didn’t see you there.” She put a hand over her chest, certain he could see the pounding of her heart through her shirt.
The man tilted his head to the side like a bird and studied her. Black eyes bore into hers. Margaret felt a presence rifle through her brain, searching for some piece of information. The touch wasn’t intimate or thrilling. It was cold, calculated. Much like the ER doctors when they hoisted her legs into the stirrups to check if she’d lost the baby.
“Ahh, I see.” A smile pulled at his lips. He came past the fire to stand in the midst of the triangle the pits made.
“You see what?” Margaret frowned and walked forward, pulled by the need to grasp what was happening. Somehow the entire situation slipped out of her control. She summoned him, yet there he was running the show.
“Don’t play naïve, child. You know who I am, what I can do. There should be no surprise that I will take control of our bargain to see it done my way.” His pleasant smile stayed put.
“I’m sorry I don’t normally…”
“Summon Lucifer to the mortal realm in hopes that he will fuck you stupid and leave you with child?”
Blood drained from Margaret’s face. He could not be expecting her to sleep with him in the middle of the woods. Dirt had no business being any where near her privates. Neither did he. She’d been under the assumption that he would say some stupid incantation in Latin, wave his hands, and send her away happily pregnant.
“We’re not going to…” she stammered.
“No, we are not. Hate to break it to you, little mouse. I like my partners a lot harder and hairier than you.” Lucifer chuckled.
“Oh… Oh! Of course you of all people would bat for the other team. So how are we going to do this then?” Margaret stopped just inside the triangle laid out by the fire pits.
“Arts and crafts.” Lucifer said.
He folded his tall body to sit on the dirt. Margaret cringed at the idea of putting that flawless white suit on the ground. However, she was in no position to chastise the lord of darkness about taking proper care of his clothing.
Standing there in the flickering firelight, Margaret watched as Lucifer dug his hands down into the rich, unpolluted soil. He spat on the dirt to wet it and began to mold and shape it into something she couldn’t quite distinguish. More spitting and careful sculpting kept her attention glued to the man, who looked for all the world like a child playing with Play-Doh.
“How long will this take?” Her watch sat at twelve-thirteen. The second hand was frozen. There was no way to tell how long she’d watched the spitting and shaping routine Lucifer seemed totally caught up in.
“Not long now,” he announced.
Lucifer stood upright. Not a single grain of dirt clung to the pristine white suit. In his large hands sat a tiny clay doll. Cradling it carefully, he walked to each fire pit and ran the precious cargo through the hungry flames. Orange tongues lapped against the figurine. The dark soil lightened and dried, much like a pot thrown in a kiln.
Margaret released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding when he came back to face her in the center of the triangle.
Lucifer passed the doll to his left hand. With the right he pulled a small stone box from his pocket. The grey surface sparkled like stars caught in the early morning light.
“What is that for?” Margaret eyed the box warily.
“Your soul.” A small knife appeared next to the box. “Cut your left palm and let the blood flow into the urn.”
This was the price to pay, Margaret reminded herself as she reached for the stone blade. The sharp knife bit into her palm. She lifted the lid to the urn and tilted her hand to pour the blood pooled in her palm inside. As soon as it was filled the lid wrenched from her fingers, clamping down on its mate tightly.
Lucifer gave a nod of approval. He tucked the urn back into his pocket. The knife vanished back to wherever it’d come from. Margaret pressed her hand against her hip to stop the bleeding, making a note to throw that pair of pants away when she got home.
“Now you may see your child.” He brought the doll forward.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered. Leaning in, she studied the details he’d worked into the clay. “Can I take it with me?”
“Of course you can.” Lucifer gave a smile that was more a baring of sharpened teeth.
In a flash he lashed out with the doll in his right hand. The meaty fist punched into her abdomen. Skin tore under the immense pressure. Margaret screamed. The darkness waiting at the edge of the light ate the sound in greedy gulps. Blood and globs of fatty tissue leaked out past Lucifer’s clenched fist. It ran down her thighs, soaked into her shoes and the earth below.
“She is within you now. Enjoy the time you have with her. Your soul will be forever mine the moment your heart ceases to beat, Margaret Sanders.”
Pain ripped through Margaret’s midsection, yanking her from the dream and back to consciousness. White-hot shards of agony licked outward from her womb. A scream echoed through the confines of her small apartment. One filled with pain and heartache. This time it was supposed to be different!
Only six weeks out from her due date, Margaret thought she was safe. The baby, Page, was healthy. She was a tad on the large side for how many weeks yet to go, but not so much that Doc Dimitri was worried. Why was this happening?
“You promised!” she cried out, an image of Lucifer in his blazing white glory held firm in her mind.
“He promised you a healthy offspring, you ungrateful cow. It was your fault for failing to ask what form the spawn would come in,” a strange feminine voice snarled.
Another hot lash of pain ripped at her womb. Margaret fell from the bed in a tangle of sheets. She yanked the fabric from her head and searched the room. No one was there.
“Father would never pass the chance to send one of his children to live amongst men. It’s so much easier to corrupt them this way.” The unseen intruder giggled.
“Who the hell are you? Where the hell are you?” Margaret used the side of the bed to crawl up off the cold wood floor.
“It’s not nice to talk like that. Oh and Mozart sucks.”
“What? No…” She glanced down at her bulging stomach in horror.
The reality of her situation sunk in slowly as Margaret tried to think past the pain threatening to tear her apart. Lucifer tricked her into becoming an incubator for his demonic child. She should have known. The bargain had gone too smoothly. He fed on her desperation and she allowed him to.
Motherhood blinded her to the evil laying a babe in her womb.
“I will not allow you to come into the world.” she ground out past a renewed attack on her insides.
“Too late for that.” The demon giggled again, her laugh piercing Margaret’s mind.
Using the side of the bed as a crutch, Margaret stumbled towards her nightstand. It took three tries to get her trembling hand to grasp the small knob on the drawer. Half the contents inside spewed onto the floor and rolled under the bed. She didn’t care so long as the one thing she sought was still in the drawer.
Silver flashed through the early morning light coming from the bedroom windows. A desperate laugh shook Margaret head to toe as she grasped the hilt of the knife with both hands and turned it towards her stomach. She said a silent prayer asking God to forgive her weakness. There was no hope that he listened to her, but she felt she had to say something.
“Rot in hell.” With a snarl, Margaret brought the knife down into her writhing stomach. The demon inside shrieked and stopped moving. Blood gushed out of the serrated wound, coating her hands. The knife handle slipped from her slick grasp and hung there in her flesh.
Slowly Margaret eased herself onto the floor. Her back rested against the bed while she tried to breathe past the agony threatening to make her vomit.
Relief tried to make an appearance in her mind, but could not overcome the anguish of losing not only her child but possibly her life in the process. At least she had the peace of knowing that she’d taken the evil with her to the grave.
“A cold comfort.” Margaret’s voice was as weak as she felt.
Movement within her womb jolted Margaret from the cold, fuzzy place her mind had begun to drift off to. With a loud clatter the knife fell to the floor. New, more severe pain made her scream again, sure that this was the end.
She looked down at her blood-drenched stomach. There was another flopping, wrenching movement that stirred the flesh around the knife wound. She reached for the sheet under her legs to press against the gash.
Just as her fingers brushed the soft fabric something burst from the incision. A small, clawed hand waved in the air. Bloody chunks of flesh dripped from its mottled skin. The hand turned, patted along the ragged edges of the wound. It finished the exploration and retreated. Within seconds another hand emerged with the first and they began to worry at the wound, working it bigger and bigger while Margaret sat, helpless to stop it.
Grey light ate at her vision until all she saw was a pair of tiny hands tearing at her flesh. Claws ripped into her numb skin. They dug furiously. Giddy, eager noises leaked out past the busy arms. The demon worked tirelessly to escape her fleshy, wet prison.
A gush of hot, pink fluid poured onto Margaret’s lap. The demon gave a shout of triumph and ripped the gaping hole in her abdomen wider. Pressing both hands on either side of the hole, it began to pull out of her.
Bloody strands of blonde hair concealed the demon’s face. The tiny head gave a shake, splattering something thick on Margaret’s cheek. Finally Page’s face came into view.
Margaret had a fleeting thought that she was as beautiful as hoped. The tiny demon laughed, flashing two rows of jagged teeth.
Then the world became nothing but all-consuming darkness.
“Told you it was too late, mother.”