This week’s top horror story submission comes our way courtesy of a very talented, very descriptive author who knows how to approach the controversial and remind us all exactly why it’s controversial. Jeff Jacobson is the man to take the spotlight for week one. Afterbirth is a stomach turning tale that’s going to leave new parents (like myself!) wriggling in discomfort. Gross, you say? Definitely. Something horror fans are going to cherish? For sure.
Read on, 3,500 twisted words await!
By Jeff Jacobson
Marie’s insides squirmed as she tried to ignore the harsh whiskey that smelled like sweetened formaldehyde on Dr. Johnson’s breath. Excess saliva kept seeping into her mouth. She was used to the nausea, but lately the tips of her fingers had been going numb at times, and she worried that maybe her heart wasn’t pumping hard enough. It didn’t matter though. The sickness didn’t matter, the numbness didn’t matter, the pain didn’t matter. The only thing that did matter was her promise.
She had promised her sister that she would take care of it, no matter what.
Dr. Johnson, tall and angular, as if he was built of knobby sticks instead of flesh and bones, eased his long limbs into the creaking wooden chair behind his desk. He wouldn’t meet her eyes. His office was cluttered; books covered the walls from floor to ceiling and papers covered his desk. The clock read 1:28 A.M.
Marie sat quietly, a fourteen-year-old girl with a pinched, nervous face, her jaw set tight and determined. She held her backpack self-consciously on her lap, as if for protection. A light jacket covered her thick sweatshirt, and her long black hair was pulled back into an efficient ponytail.
Johnson turned on a small desk lamp. The light reflected off the dull wood and illuminated the room with a warm glow. He swallowed. “Did anyone see you?”
Marie shook her head.
“They’re at a church retreat. After the funeral… they said they needed to find out why God was angry with them. Won’t be back for another two days. At least.”
“Good, good.” The doctor stopped himself from sounding pleased. He fumbled in his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Mind if I smoke?”
Marie watched him with a flat, hard stare for a moment, then shook her head again. “It’s not like I’m worried about its health.”
Johnson’s hand started to shake. To hide it, he opened the top drawer and grabbed a tiny ashtray. After a few seconds of silence, he trusted himself to place a cigarette in his mouth and light it. He took a deep drag and exhaled through his nostrils. “I know we talked about this before, and I don’t know what you’ve heard around school—I mean, you know what small towns are like, and I just wanted to repeat the fact that if this gets out…”
“Good, good.” He paused. “I was very sorry to hear about your sister.”
Marie’s hands clenched the sides of her chair and she prayed that nothing showed on her face. The image of her sister’s high school senior portrait floated in the cigarette smoke. Four days ago, the same picture had been placed on the slick, shiny top of the coffin. The funeral director had kept the casket firmly shut.
Johnson continued in a mechanical tone, “It was a real tragedy. So senseless, someone that young—“
“Please. I’d rather not…”
“Of course, of course. Sorry.” Johnson took his glasses off and furiously cleaned them with his tie. He didn’t want to look at her. “Now, uh, about my fee.”
“Here.” Marie placed an envelope on the desk. The doctor glanced inside. He thumbed quickly through the bills, trying to count the money casually. Finally, he slipped the envelope into a bottom drawer and locked it. Then he met Marie’s eyes.
“I just want to explain a few things, then we’ll get started. Now… I don’t know what you’re expecting, but it won’t be pleasant.” He ran a liver spotted hand through his gray hair. “It’s going to be rather uncomfortable, and… well—after, afterwards, it’s going to hurt. There’s just no getting around that. So, to help you out, I’ll be giving you a drug called Fentanyl. Just a light sedation, help calm you down. Any problem with needles?”
Marie clutched her backpack tightly and whispered, “No.”
“Fine, fine. Then, I’ll need to insert the speculum, dilate your cervix—“
“Please, I don’t want to know. Do whatever you have to do. I just want to get this over with.”
“Of course, of course. I understand.” Johnson took one last drag from his cigarette and slowly extinguished it in the tiny ashtray, rolling it almost gently between his thumb and forefinger. Without looking at her, he said quietly, “Let’s get it over with, then.”
They rose to their feet at the same time. Marie opened the door and backed out into the narrow hallway. She waited for Johnson, then followed him as he moved wearily down the dark corridor. They passed the nurse’s office and several other unmarked doors. At the end of the hall, Johnson unlocked a thick, metal door.
It was simply marked, “SURGERY.”
Johnson flipped a switch near the door and bright, fluorescent lights flickered to life overhead. They cast a harsh, sizzling white light over the surgery room. The floor and walls were covered in green tiles. Marie couldn’t help but notice the metal drain set in the middle of the floor. A stainless steel operating table waited above the drain. Shiny metal cabinets and machines on wheels were pushed against the walls. The air in the room seemed to be steeped in bleach and Marie took shallow breaths through her mouth.
Johnson handed her a white hospital gown, saying, “You can change in my office, if you’d like.”
She took the white cloth bundle without saying anything and walked back down the hall. When she returned, Johnson was wearing a lab coat with a plastic cover over his thinning hair. He patted the surgical table. “Have a seat and we’ll get started.”
Marie walked barefoot over the cool tiles to the small stool in front of the table. She kept the gown closed in back with one hand and stepped onto the stool. As she sat down, she could feel the freezing metal through the thin cotton. Johnson wheeled what looked like a steel coat rack over to the table. A transparent plastic bag full of clear fluid hung from one of the hooks and a narrow tube extended from the bottom of the bag. He inserted the end of the tube into a modified syringe. He looped the tube over the hook, and went over to the counter.
“Sorry it’s a little cold in here,” Johnson said. “The heat is shut off automatically at night.” He returned with a cotton swab and a bottle of rubbing alcohol. Setting the bottle on the table, he pulled a canvas cuff off the wall. He wrapped the cuff around Marie’s upper right arm and fastened it with velcro. A rubber squeeze ball dangled from the cuff and Johnson used this to inflate the cuff tightly around Marie’s arm. He lightly tapped her forearm and found the vein. He quickly slipped the earpieces of his stethoscope into his ears and checked her blood pressure. Satisfied, he ripped the velcro apart, pulling the cuff away. He placed the cotton pad over the bottle opening and turned the bottle upside down briefly, soaking the cotton swab with the pungent liquid. Then he wiped down the middle part of Marie’s arm.
The needle slid in easily.
Marie turned away and studied the clock. 1:37. A screech of metal made her jerk her head around. She saw Johnson positioning one of the gleaming stirrups into place above the table. He tried to give her a comforting smile but it never reached his eyes. Marie swallowed, realizing for the first time just how high that stirrup was. She started to breathe faster.
“Maybe if you lie down you’ll feel a little more comfortable,” Johnson said and tried to pull the other stirrup into place as quietly as possible. The metal still gave a protesting, grinding sound.
Marie shut her eyes and lay back against the cold metal table. She kept her thighs pressed tightly together as she moved. Her stomach was beginning to roll uneasily again. She could hear Johnson moving about the room, rolling various pieces of equipment closer to the table. When she heard him standing above her, she opened her eyes and stared up into the brilliant glare of a large round light that the doctor was positioning over her legs. She closed her eyes once again and wished that the drug now dripping into her arm would move throughout her body faster. Her breathing got faster and more ragged.
When Johnson spoke again, he was somewhere very close. His voice was soft, soothing. “Okay, just take it easy. Concentrate on your breathing. Take slow, deep breaths. Everything is going to be fine, okay? Just fine. That’s it, slow and easy.”
Marie forced herself to hold her breath for several seconds and found she could only hear her heart beating. Not the ticking clock, not the buzzing fluorescent lights, nothing. Just the slow, steady thumping in her ears. The sound calmed her, and she felt her body begin to relax. She exhaled, slow and easy. After several seconds, her heart rate began to slow as well. From behind her closed eyelids, the room did not seem as bright.
“Good, good. You’re doing fine. Now, I’m going to move your feet into the stirrups. It’ll be okay. Everything will be just fine.”
The table wasn’t as cold anymore. Marie felt a vague sensation of her legs being gently pulled apart. Her left leg was lifted up to rest in a shallow, smooth groove of metal. Like the table, the metal wasn’t cold. Her right leg followed, going into its place. She suddenly had a rushed, panicked sensation of being peeled open and exposed. Her heart started pounding. Then the feeling passed and she slipped back into the soft warmth of the table. She could hear Johnson speaking, but his words got lost and confused. She rested, knowing it was almost over. She wasn’t afraid anymore.
Then, before the doctor got closer, something moved inside of her.
* * *
Johnson held Marie’s wrist with his forefinger over the vein and watched the clock. The ticking seemed very loud in the still room. Her pulse was steady. He checked her face; her eyes were still closed. Her chest and young breasts rose and fell almost imperceptibly. He gently returned her limp arm back onto the table, next to her torso. The Ketamine mixed into the Fentanyl had done its job; Marie would be asleep for another two hours.
He moved to the end of the table, between her awkwardly raised legs, and collapsed onto a low stool on wheels. He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. With his other hand, he reached into his lab coat pocket and grabbed a slim metal flask. He replaced his glasses and unscrewed the cap of the flask and drank deeply. He swallowed the burning liquid and exhaled, long and slow. The flask went back into the pocket and he wiped the moisture away from the edges of his mouth with his thumb and forefinger. It was time. He stood somewhat unsteadily and sent the little stool rolling away.
Marie’s toenails were painted a bright shade of peach. Underneath the gown she wore nothing but a T-shirt and a thin gold cross on a slim chain at her throat. Johnson pulled on a pair of surgical rubber gloves, snapping the thin rubber against his wrists. He clasped his fingers together to get the gloves to fit snugly and went to work.
First, he slipped the smooth, closed bills of a metal speculum up into her delicate folds of tender flesh and slowly squeezed the handles together, forcing the bills apart until he heard a click, locking the speculum open. Then he grabbed the suction curette, a hollow tube with a loop shaped steel knife on the end. The other end of the tube was attached to a small, nondescript machine that provided the powerful suction. Johnson readjusted his light blue mask. The curved blade caught the glare from the overhead light and sent spots flaring up into his glasses.
He gently worked the rounded tip of the knife into Marie, slowly pushing up into her uterus. The clear plastic bag that hung from the tube brushed up against the edge of the table as Johnson moved the knife further inside. Working blind, using only the sensations of resistance, the doctor carefully moved the knife inside the uterus, cleanly slicing through the unwanted tissue.
With his left hand, he reached down and turned the machine on. It hummed quietly to itself. Johnson increased the suction. Blood splattered across the inside of the plastic bag. A tiny chunk of flesh followed, dropping into the bag with a soft wet sound. Then another. And another. He continued moving the knife gently inside in slow, deliberate circular motions and tried to ignore the familiar awkwardness that was creeping into his fingers from the alcohol.
The machine’s pitch grew higher.
Johnson frowned. The machine was supposed to be more than twenty-seven times more powerful as an ordinary vacuum cleaner. Marie was only in her first trimester; the tissue was soft, so there shouldn’t be any problem with the suction. He tried moving the knife experimentally, wondering if he had brushed up against the uterus wall. Whatever was wrong, it wasn’t his hands. He gripped the knife handle tighter. The machine’s whine became more pronounced, strained. He checked the plastic bag.
Nothing was coming out of the tube.
He lifted the bag higher. There wasn’t nearly enough inside to show him that he had gotten all of the parts. Still holding the bag in his left hand, he rechecked the machine. He decreased the suction, then turned it back up as high as it would go. The whine increased. The machine started to vibrate slightly.
He felt something move in the bag.
Johnson let go of the slick plastic instantly, giving a little cry of shock. The bag swung down from the tube and flopped lifelessly to the table. He bent closer but saw nothing unusual. The bag, coated with blood on the inside, lay still. Although highly unlikely, it was possible the top of the tube had become clogged with something. He gently pulled on the knife.
It wouldn’t move.
Johnson’s eyes widened. He pulled harder. The knife remained anchored in place. Then it moved by itself, twisting in his hand like something alive. The suction changed tone again and began to bear down. More blood and flecks of flesh were spat into the bag. It began to swell, filling rapidly. The doctor swallowed, forcing his hands to be steady. He clenched the knife handle and pulled. Still nothing. The knife might as well have been set in concrete. The bag continued growing. He pulled harder, putting his back into the effort. With his left hand, he braced himself against the table and grunted, pulling on the tube as hard as he could.
The plastic bag burst like an overfilled water balloon.
Blood exploded into Johnson’s face and chest. The knife suddenly was released, and he tumbled back over the suction machine. His head cracked against the floor and his glasses went skittering away across the tiles. The machine’s whine subsided into a normal humming sound. Johnson tried to blink the blood out of his eyes.
Thick, wet sounds came from inside Marie.
He held up the knife but couldn’t see it. Dropping the knife, he rolled over onto his hands and knees. More liquid noises came from the table. Johnson crawled forward, hands outstretched and waving across the floor. He thought he heard movement above him. A wet, scurrying sound. Something scrabbled across the slick metal surface of the table. Johnson kept crawling forward.
His right hand closed around a lens and he snatched his glasses off the floor. He held the glasses to his face and managed to make out they were coated with blood. More sounds came from the table. Yanking his shirt out of his pants, he used the clean part to wipe away the sticky liquid. Now the sounds were coming from the tiled floor. The cotton simply smeared most of the blood across the lenses, but Johnson managed to clean part of the right side. He frantically slipped the glasses on and looked up at the table and Marie’s blood splattered legs.
Then he began to scream.
* * *
Marie awoke with a gasp of pain. The lower half of her torso felt as if it was on fire. Her legs were still high and spread wide in the stirrups. She felt a warm wetness between her thighs as she struggled to catch her breath. A sour, copper smell invaded her nostrils. The table felt sticky and wet. The bright room swam in front of her eyes. Her stomach rolled sickly.
She gritted her teeth and gingerly pulled one leg, then the other, out of the stirrups. She took several rapid breaths, then slowly managed to push herself up to a sitting position. Her balance swayed for a few seconds and she was afraid that she might pass out. But the dizziness passed and the room took definite shape as her eyes focused. The clock on the far wall read 3:06.
The insides of her thighs were caked with dried blood. The table was covered in reddish brown, sticky blood as well. She leaned forward and saw Dr. Johnson. Some sort of plastic tube was coming out of his open mouth. His eyes were gone. Marie could see past the hollow sockets, into the inside of his skull. It appeared to be empty, vacuumed clean. She swallowed and tried to fight the nausea that was rising within her once again. She had expected something like this, but was unprepared for the reality of staring at Dr. Johnson’s mutilated body.
But it was only fair. And her sister would have wanted this.
Susan had come to see Dr. Johnson seven days ago, four months after her boyfriend’s condom broke. But the procedure had gone horribly wrong. With too much cheap whiskey in his bloodstream, Johnson had slipped and punctured the wall of the uterus. Instead of vacuuming out the fetus, he had unknowingly taken out ragged chunks of her large intestine.
Marie carefully swung her bloody legs over the edge of the table. She didn’t trust herself to stand just yet. So she simply sat there, watching the clock and slipping back into her memories. Susan’s eyes had been boiling with pain as she stumbled through the front door, blood running fiercely down the insides of her legs. But Marie could see something else in her sister’s eyes, something beyond pain. Shame.
A pitiful mewling sound came from under the steel operating table, sounding like a drowning kitten.
Between gasps, Susan had told her younger sister everything. About the abortion, about how Dr. Johnson had mumbled something about the bleeding being normal, and that it would stop within a few hours. But Susan knew that it wasn’t going to stop, and that she would bleed to death on the kitchen floor. Calling an ambulance was out of the question. She didn’t want anyone to find out the truth. The church youth group could never know. So, with Marie’s help, she had hobbled back out to her car and climbed back into the blood soaked front seat. The tracks were only two miles away, and freight trains rolled through the town all night long.
But before Susan left, she had given birth to the mutilated, four month old fetus. She said she realized that God was giving her child a second chance. And she begged Marie to take care of it, no matter what.
So Marie had kept it in the only safe place she knew.
Marie awkwardly slid off the metal table, putting her bare feet on the floor that was awash in cold, sticky blood and bits of meat. Using the table as a support, she slowly bent over to look underneath. A tiny, half-formed eye stared up at her from out of a misshapen infant skull. Marie reached out and gently caressed the bloody form. Tiny fingers curled around her thumb. Partially developed fingernails were emerging from the tips of the little digits.
It gave another cry.
“Shhh, shhh. It’s okay. Mommy’s here. Mommy’s here.” Marie spread her feet wide, and squatted over the fetus. She slowly lowered herself to the floor and felt the crown of the misshapen skull push weakly against the blood soaked opening between her legs. Her baby felt cold as it wormed back into her. But that was okay. She would warm him up. She would warm him and shelter him and protect him and feed him and take care of him, just as she had promised.
Until he was ready to be born again.