The Baby- a story from Nightmares of the Strange

Since there is going to be a considerable delay in the whole collection Nightmares of the Strange being posted for Kindle, I am going to post individual stories from it on The Zomblog for a limited time so I can get the finished pieces out there. Few of them are zombie related, but they’ll only be up here for a bit so I think it’ll be okay… Edited by Louise Bohmer.

The Baby 

The cover of NOTS features a scene from "The Baby." Art by Robert Elrod.

“I’m so excited,” Charlotte said as she rubbed her expanding stomach. “Everything is going so well. My mother’s pregnancies were so difficult. I guess I got lucky!”

“Does this mean we’ll have a couple more someday?” Greg asked.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” She laughed. “I liked having siblings, so maybe we will.”

Gregory smiled lovingly at his wife and leaned in to kiss her cheek. “I love you, Charlotte.”

She grinned and kissed him. “I love you, too.”

Since the first time they said “I love you” they’d been saying it every day. Greg never tired of it. It was even more special now that they were going to have a baby.

They dated for a year before Greg proposed to her. She was the one for him. He knew it. Their baby was conceived on their honeymoon. Though they didn’t intend to start a family this early, neither Greg or Charlotte minded.

When she told him she was pregnant Greg was joyful. He wasn’t sure why the back of his neck felt prickly and his palms got cold. He was happy. Greg wrote of the reaction as early jitters.

Nothing more.

***
Three months

Charlotte’s proclamation of a lucky pregnancy was premature, as she was only two months along when she made it. As her third month came around, her morning sickness grew overwhelming and her moods equally distressing.

When she came back from the bathroom she always told Greg, “It’ll all be worth it. We will love this baby.”

She reassured herself so much that she didn’t worry, but Greg did. He noticed mannerisms developing she did not have before. New habits—like her need to pluck single hairs out at a time—worried him. The excessive vomiting worried him, too.

In spite of her optimism and partial denial, Charlotte’s situation grew worse and peculiar. On the balcony of their apartment, crows gathered on the railing, peering through the window at her whenever she walked by. Greg pretended not to notice, especially when the birds cawed every time she touched her stomach, in an attempt to appear normal and strong for Charlotte, but he didn’t think it made a difference.

Greg caught himself feeling upset at her optimism. He was jealous she could ignore the strange pregnancy symptoms. The crows. The hair pulling. Then again, maybe he was overreacting. The guys at work had ample horror stories of their wives’ behavior while with child. So far Charlotte’s was a walk in the park compared to those.

So Greg came home from work early every day to be with her and ignored her odd behavior just as she did. At first she appreciated his effort to be with her, but now Greg could tell she was irritated each time he walked through the door.

***
Four months 

“Beef, get beef! New York strip,” Charlotte reminded Gregory for the fifth time that morning. “I need the iron.”

He forced himself to grin as he reviewed Charlotte’s list once more. He didn’t know much about food cravings, but the things she wanted were very strange. Cow liver, tongue, and eyes were the first three. He’d heard of pickles and ice cream or donuts.

“Okay, honey.” Greg moved to hug her before he left, but she shouldered him off and returned to the bedroom. She didn’t hide her hand as it came up and plucked a strand of blonde hair and returned it to her pocket.

Frowning all the way, he went to the store.

The supermarket referred Greg to a local butcher in town since they didn’t carry tongue or liver. When Greg put in his request the man behind the counter laughed.

“I don’t want to come to dinner at your place if this is what you’re having!”

Greg’s face reddened in embarrassment. This wasn’t the first time someone commented on his purchases but he still wasn’t used to it.

I shouldn’t have to get used to it, he thought as he drove home. No one should.

***
Five months 

Greg wasn’t allowed to go into the master bedroom closet. Charlotte wouldn’t let him, and he wasn’t sure why. At first he guessed she was reorganizing and didn’t want him to mix things up, but then she threw all his clothes and shoes on the bedroom floor.  She wasn’t just nesting.

Then there was the matter of her stomach. Charlotte wouldn’t let him touch it, and even when he glanced at it she would fly into a holy rage.

Collectively, her bizarre behavior worried him. He wished his parents were alive so he could speak to them about Charlotte, but the only relative he had was an uncle in Ohio who he wasn’t in contact with. Greg didn’t feel comfortable discussing the matter with his co-workers or their friends, and so was left alone in his misery.

Though they decided early on that they would go to the doctor’s appointments together, Charlotte claimed she had to schedule them earlier, when Greg was at work. He never received a doctor’s bill, didn’t see any new prenatal vitamins, which only fed his growing suspicions.

Greg went as far as calling the office to ask if she had been in, but the receptionist explained that would breach doctor-patient confidentiality. He was irritated and snapped at her, but apologized afterwards. Greg didn’t have a mean bone in his body; she was doing her job and he couldn’t be mad at her for it. Maybe Charlotte’s attitude was rubbing off on him. He hoped not.

What was he to do? Confused and unsure, Greg continued going to work, hoping that his wife was just going through a strange phase in her pregnancy. But deep inside he knew she wasn’t.

***
Six months 

It was not a phase. Charlotte’s condition grew worse. She rejected any form of communication or interaction with him, acknowledging him with grunts and screeches.

The closet dilemma escaladed. A foul stench of rot seeped from underneath the door. It lingered at bedtime and in the mornings, nauseating him. She spent most of her time in there when he was home. Greg was sure she locked herself away while he was at work, too.

Greg grew increasingly disturbed by the changes in his wife. This was not normal. She was not normal. And there was no way that smell was sanitary. His feelings toward Charlotte leaned toward the negative as of late, but his concern for their baby never wavered.

If Charlotte was doing something to jeopardize its health, he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself–or her.

Three months until Charlotte was due, yet he had no idea if he was having a son or a daughter. He simply didn’t know what to do.

For months Greg denied that anything was wrong. He pretended her behavior was due to an extremely unique pregnancy, but he couldn’t anymore. Charlotte was mentally sick. Whether it was hormones or genetics, Greg didn’t care. She was jeopardizing the safety of their baby. Something had to be done.

***
Seven months 

Her hair was gone.

Greg was on the verge of tears every time he walked into their home. He didn’t know what to expect anymore. Only a few days prior, the neighbor stopped him in the hallway, asking if Charlotte was all right.

“Why?” he asked, strained and nervous. “What happened?”

“We hear strange noises while you’re away. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the TV or your wife, but I’d be concerned if I were you.”

Their encounter confirmed what Greg had already decided, that something beyond the realm of normal was happening. He told the neighbor there was no need to be concerned, that she was just having a hard time.

That could’ve been Greg’s chance to reach out for help, but he didn’t. Whatever the problem with her was, it was his responsibility to handle it. She was sick, but she was still his wife.

The food list became almost impossible to fill. Charlotte requested full rabbits and chickens with their skins intact. She wanted quarts of cow blood and strange herbs he’d never heard of. When he could find them, he left them outside the closet, knowing they’d be gone the next day. When he couldn’t find them, he feared the repercussions.

Yet how could he deny her what she wanted? There were so many new age concepts on pregnancy, natural remedies on the internet and in books, who was Greg to question what she was doing?

Greg was justifying, but he didn’t know what to do. Seeking medical would enrage Charlotte if she even came from the closet to see a doctor. He couldn’t communicate with her so they couldn’t talk things out. All he could do was continue feeding her until he came up with a plan.

He hadn’t seen his wife in four days. At some point her hair-picking habit escaladed. Now, her hair was gone—only patches left where scalp showed through. It was hideous and unbearable. The woman he once loved was gone. Replaced with some type of monster.

Greg didn’t even bother to ask why. He wasn’t sure he cared anymore.

***
Eight months 

Greg feared the next month. He had been given three weeks off work, which he’d been anticipating seven months ago, but now he dreaded it. How could he stand being around her and the smell?

The smell–it was intolerable! Greg no longer slept in the bedroom, but far away on the living room couch where a shred of normalcy remained. If he shut the curtains the crows couldn’t see in and ruin his false sense of security.

 He wasn’t sure Charlotte remembered how to speak. The customary shopping lists now contained little more than incoherent scribbles and smears of—well, he didn’t want to think about it. On the off chance he spotted her crawling from the closet to get food, she squealed at him and shimmied backward into her den.

That’s what it was, too–a den. A hideous den, harboring ghastly sights he pretended did not exist.

Greg realized a plan wasn’t going to magically pop up in his head. His denial was thick, but he had a moment of clarity when he realized the mess with Charlotte went too far. If he took action months ago, even if it was refusing to purchase bizarre foods, the situation wouldn’t have gone this far.

But it did. And he had to fix it.

***
Nine months 

Enough was enough. Greg was going into the closet and he wasn’t leaving until he got answers. Charlotte was due next week, for heaven’s sake! They should be at the hospital making sure everything was alright with their child.

Making sure their baby was okay was the highest priority, but Charlotte’s own physical and mental health was a concern, too. Greg hadn’t seen her in days and could only imagine how terrible she looked.

But the first step was to go into the closet. He would take Charlotte to the hospital even if he had to drag her out kicking and screaming.

He stood outside the closet for the greater part of twenty minutes, listening intently for any sounds. All he heard were faint cooing noises and a soft humming. Since there were no screams or grunts, he figured it was safe enough to go in.

“Charlotte, I’m coming in.”

It wasn’t a closet anymore. A bare bulb hanging from the ceiling revealed sticky walls, dripping with dark slime. The floor was soft under his feet, covered with animal fur. In the back corner, a nest made of blonde hair and white feathers sat empty.

Charlotte sat in the middle of it all, in a pile of rotten meat and feces, cradling a bundle in her arms. Rocking back and forth, she looked up at Greg and smiled.

“Here,” she whispered. “Here it is.”

Mouth agape, he moved forward and leaned over his emaciated wife. In her arms was their child–a soft little thing. Its scales were cerulean blue, its eyes ruby red. As he drew near, the creature hissed, claws flexing out and retracting.

Dropping to his knees, he smiled as he reached out to touch its head. “It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful, and I love it.”

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About Eloise J. Knapp

Eloise J. Knapp hails from Seattle and never complains about the rain. She works in the videogame industry by day and is a post-apocalyptic horror author by night. Knapp's work includes The Undead Situation trilogy, ANAMNESIS, and the Anisakis Nova series. When not writing you'll find her hiking the Pacific Northwest.
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