Serial Saturday: Parasites by R. Minter, Part 1
Parasites: Part One
Eleven sacs. Eleven tiny crescents with eleven tiny heartbeats. A staccato rhythm beat in Leila’s chest, nearly as frantic as the pulses coming from the ultrasound machine.
This couldn’t be happening. She was still in bed, still asleep, dreaming the impossible. She had to be.
The technician, a short, stout woman with dirty blonde hair, shot her a sideways glance. “Um… give me just a moment, Ms. Roberts.” The picture on the ultrasound screen shifted to a hazy gray cone as she withdrew the probe and rushed out the door.
Leila’s stomach clenched. Sweat broke out across her body, bringing with it an almost unbearable itch and desperate need to vomit.
She shot up, burying her face in the barf bag clenched in her hands. Bitter liquid flowed out, leaving in its wake a burning in her throat and nose. She spit, grimaced, gulped air. None of it made sense. She’d only come to the clinic because of the stupid idea she’d woken up with. The pregnancy test had to be wrong, the ultrasound… definitely wrong, on more than one level.
A sharp knock at the door heralded the return of the technician, this time flanked by a taller woman.
“Hello Ms. Roberts. I’m Dr. Stetson,” the tall doctor said.
Leila frowned. She was getting sick of hearing her last name this morning. “Hello.”
Dr. Stetson sat down on the stool near Leila’s feet and put a hand on her arm. Leila fought the urge to pull away.
“I’m going to take a look, if you don’t mind.”
She minded. Leila had come to the clinic on paranoia, waited nearly an hour to strip and lay out on an ice cold exam table so a strange woman could prod her and tell her the impossible. At the same time, she needed someone to tell her this all had been a huge mistake. User error. Sorry your technician is new and can’t read ultrasounds or count. If getting that answer meant another stranger prodding her, so be it.
Leila forced a half-smile, which felt about as natural as walking upside down. “Sure, go ahead.”
Dr. Stetson gave her a final pat, then scooted toward Leila’s feet. A few uncomfortable moments later, the ultrasound screen lit up with dark ovals.
The doctor, unlike the technician, counted silently. Her eyes narrowed. Her other hand came up, moving across the screen as she counted again.
A twist of the probe made Leila want to kick her, and one oval grew larger, revealing the gray crescent within. More twists, more shapes. Leila gritted her teeth as her stomach turned again.
The probe retreated just in time.
The technician, who had until this point been wringing her hands by the door, jumped as Leila vomited. “I’ll go get you another bag.”
Dr. Stetson watched the technician leave, then turned to Leila.
Finally, she’d get the truth, and she could go back to her life.
“Ms. Roberts, there’s no easy way to say this. Not only are you about seven weeks pregnant, you have eleven implanted embryos.”
Dr. Stetson continued, saying something about never seeing so many before, but the words barely registered. Ice solidified in Leila’s veins, clashing with the inferno on her skin. Her pulse pounded in her ears, faster and faster. The room spun.
She couldn’t be pregnant with one baby, let alone eleven. She was careful. This didn’t happen if you were careful.
Leila stared at the piece of paper in her hand the entire bus ride home. Dozens of bodies pressed in. Sardines in a can, not unlike what was happening in her uterus. Nausea settled in at the thought. The medicine the doctor gave her kept her from spewing all over the three businessmen, one businesswoman, and two teens in cut-off jeans packed in front of her. Just barely. Leila’s face flushed as the room tilted.
She focused harder on the paper, on the hand-written scribble at the bottom of the page.
Room available at 4pm tomorrow. Emergency d&c.
Leila had never wanted kids. She took great lengths to keep it that way, yet the thought of doctors digging around her innards made her skin prickle almost as much as the parasites busy sucking her dry.
The bus screeched to a halt in front of an apartment building. Leila stood, moved toward the door, and half the bus occupants moved with her. People closed in, rubbed against her exposed arms, legs, back. Electricity shot from her head to her toes. Bodies crushing in, constricting her lungs until she couldn’t breathe.
Her voice came out weak, drowned in the racket of dozens of people trying to be the first off the bus.
She pushed the person in front of her. They shifted slightly, not even bothering to look. Leila changed targets, elbowing the guy beside her in the ribs and wedging herself into the little space he made as he reeled back with a glare.
Crimson ran down his face. He yelped, his hand shooting to his nose where blood ran like a faucet. Leila’s eyes went wide, but she didn’t wait to apologize.
The sides of the bus squeezed in until she swore she heard her bones pop. She fought her way to the front as the shuffling of feet turned to yells of anger and surprise, not stopping until the smell of urine in the stairwell gave way to the smell of black roses blooming on her balcony. The smell of cinnamon pot-pourri joined the flowers as she opened her apartment door. It nearly knocked her off her feet, but the familiarity of it washed some of the heat in her skin away.
Leila slammed the door behind her as she spun, throwing the bolt in case anyone from the bus decided to complain in person. She lay her head against the cool wood, her arms trembling at her sides.
She was so tired.
Her grasp on wakefulness fled with the last bits of adrenaline. She stumbled to her bed, welcoming the oblivion of sleep.
Feeble cries surrounded her. Babies. Her babies. Leila searched for them through inky-black. She walked, ran, until her lungs ached and her legs gave way. As she hit the ground, infantile wails turned to rumbling growls. Low at first, then louder and louder. Something skittered in the darkness.
Leila strained to see it as a hiss echoed. A lunge from her left followed by the copper scent of blood. The black flashed to red. A small creature crouched. Under it, another lay, with bare, thin arms splayed out.
A sickening crunch, and a squeal. The top creature looked back at Leila. Wet flesh hung from jagged teeth, out of place on its babyish face. Large rheumy eyes sat in its bald head. It smiled.
A shudder passed through Leila. She looked away, toward the creature still splayed underneath the other. Her stomach dropped. A gaping hole replaced where its chest should have been, hazy eyes staring blankly up. A gray heart sat still in a pool of flesh and blood.
Leila tried to run, scream. Her body refused to respond. The victor gurgled, leaning its head back to allow the piece of flesh in its mouth to slide down its gullet with a slurp.
The growls returned, ricocheting from all around.
From the red rose bulbous shapes, stretching, straining against a thin membrane which covered the floor.
A part of the membrane tore, then another, and another. Nine more razor-teethed creatures crawled from the holes, hunched over with limbs askew. Nine gazes locked onto Leila. A hiss from a creature to her left as it lunged for the one next to it.
Chaos erupted. The creatures tore into each other. Screams, screeches, ripping, crunching. Blood splattered until it dripped down Leila’s skin, filling her nose with acrid, bitter tones.
She clenched her eyes shut, the only part of her body still under her control. She focused on the sound of her breath, ragged and rapid. Anything to block out the noises.
Silence. A skitter.
Leila kept her eyes shut.
A coo. A touch on her leg which reverberated up like an electric shock, forcing her eyes open.
A single creature stood at her feet, surrounded by the flesh of the others. Blue, black, brown, pink, red. An obscene rainbow settling on a never-ending background.
The lone survivor cooed once more, a sound which should have brought the desire to protect, yet only brought revulsion. It rubbed its blood-slicked hand across her calf and grinned.