by Gloria Carnevale
Mama couldn’t afford to be careless this time. She needed to move them, and quickly. She had found the ultimate setting. There were small cabins scattered throughout the property, most hidden by tall pines. A building alongside of the creek was perfect for meetings and meals. But it was the abandoned infirmary, complete with an operating theatre, which convinced her. It was a pity that Monkey and Pug wouldn’t be joining them, for they had begun to show signs of maturing, and Mama couldn’t have that. Besides, she was certain that there would be some who had been left behind here, and Mama could give them life.
Yes, it was perfect. She’d move them here today.
* * *
Pug shifted under Monkey’s weight. Monkey had been sleeping with her mouth open and Pug had slipped out during the night. They had been sleeping in an abandoned pool every evening since they had been left behind.
Monkey had cried uncontrollably when Mama left. Having known no other “mother,” she relied on Mama for everything.
Mama had tried to fix Monkey’s defect, to no avail. She didn’t have the right tools, the right anesthesia, nor the right knowledge. She had seen these birth defects before, and was hard-pressed to figure out what to do.
Mama herself had been abandoned, although that had been so many years ago that she vaguely remembered it. Her “adopted” father had been a physician of sorts; his life’s work was hidden from the outside world, which he found to be best under the circumstances.
He took Mama in and began a series of experiments on her that were meant to heal her affliction. He succeeded to an extent — on the outside she looked as normal as the next person. Two eyes, a nose and a mouth, arms, legs, torso… what else did one need? Mama’s hair was sparse around her head, and in some places it stood up in tufts. All in all, he felt that he had done a fine job making her presentable on the outside.
There was that one difficulty with getting the child inside of her to cooperate. Try as he would, he couldn’t figure out how to destroy it without destroying Mama.
* * *
Mama’s stomach was transparent as cellophane, and one could see directly into her. This is where the creature resided.
The creature required nothing more than to be left alone. It didn’t seem to need food, and it never grew. Yet it was there, silent, eyes watching all of the time, looking back and forth at the doctor’s every move.
Mama seemed nonplussed by it all, and went about her life as the doctor’s assistant as if the creature wasn’t there. But it was, and once Mama reached puberty, there were no more “experiments” to be done. The thin wails of the creature were too much for either Mama or the doctor to bear, so he decided to just let it alone. Oh, he had tried, and he had the scars to prove it. At one time he had tried going through Mama’s delicate parts to reach the creature and had his hand bitten with such force that he lost a finger. He had had to talk Mama through sewing it back on for him.
No, he wouldn’t be trying that again any time soon. If Mama was okay with it, then so was he. Besides, he had many defective beings with which he could practice and operate on. And he so loved his work. He gave new life to those who were afflicted and discarded, and allowed them to live with him on the property, far away from curious eyes.
Monkey was one such creature for whom the doctor had taken a liking.
She was diminutive — everything about her was perfectly formed in miniature. Her only affliction was Pug, that demonic snake that resided in monkey’s mouth.
The doctor couldn’t get within an inch of Monkey’s face without that god-awful snake slithering out and trying to bite him. Once he had grabbed it by the neck and tried to pull it out of her, but it somehow twisted itself around and bit him in the face. It took fifty-nine stitches to close the gaping wound that it left, not to mention the fact that he had to drink its antidotal venom to survive. He shuddered remembering.
As she got older, Mama became his assistant in all manner of surgeries because after all, these creatures needed constant attention as they had many medical issues that went along with their problems.
Mama enjoyed her work with the doctor, and trying out new techniques as they discovered them, always by trial and error.
She had an idea about operating on Monkey to rid her once and for all of the snake, but first she would need to run it by her mentor. If her hunch was correct, then it would only be a matter of time before every one’s afflictions would be resolved, even her own, although she didn’t mind that which lived within her. Quite the contrary, it was some comfort to know that she was never alone.
* * *
Mama surveyed the property on this fine morning of discovery. The doctor had told her stories of the great virus and how they had come to live in the rural outskirts of the city.
It had begun on the other side of the world, making its way across Europe and the oceans until it came to America, leaving death, destruction, and financial ruin. When the government decided to place everyone on house arrest within the next twenty-four hours, Mama’s grandparents had packed up their belongings and moved their family north to their summer camp, where they lived off the land far away from the deadly virus.
All went well for a time. As summer neared, her grandfather fished the streams with his sons, planted vegetables, and shot what they could for winter meat.
As far as her grandmother was concerned, it was an idyllic life-temporarily. The only oddity were the amount of woodland creatures who would seek shelter in and around their cabin. What with her grandfather and the boys using rifles daily, one would have thought that they would stay far away, but no, it appeared that they actually seemed to enjoy the company of humans, and it was not uncommon to find a woodchuck or a snake curled up alongside of you come morning.
And there were others, too. Some families who had their camps along the creek came seeking shelter form the cities and the virulent situation.
As the years passed there became a new problem to cope with. Several women were giving birth to children with fantastic afflictions of quite an unordinary sort.
Mama’s grandmother was the midwife for the small community which had begun to grow. When her own daughter gave birth, she was there to attend, but was horror-stricken to find that the birthed infant had an infant-looking creature inside of her, inside of her stomach.
At first, her grandmother thought that it was twins, which can sometimes happen, and looked for a way to puncture the skin to release the creature, to no avail. Her daughter cried out to see her child, but her mother whisked it away, mumbling something about it not breathing.
Her grandmother wasted no time in bringing them both to the “doctor” to see what could be done.
“It’s the devil’s doing, for sure. Kill them both, and I’ll say that the baby died before it was born.”
The doctor had a bit of the macabre in him with a healthy dose of crazy, so he promised to do what was asked of him, and promptly took the child and her internal creature to his lab.
Mama thrived under the doctor’s care, and so did her creature. By now, many of the women who had fled as youngsters with their families were of adult age and giving birth to all sorts of anomalies.
Take, for example, the woman who had given birth to a little boy, who had arms similar to the front legs of a frog, with an enlarged throat and bulging eyes. His back was covered in a green-slimy patina, while his belly was bloated and white. He couldn’t speak, but made sounds that were not unlike a frog’s ribbit.
All of the infants born had afflictions, most of them were appendages of insects, amphibians, mammals, and birds which resided in the woods.
Mama had been the first child born with an affliction, and the doctor passed it off as a defect, but as other women gave birth, there was not one who birthed a single child without something attached to it, either externally or internally.
Generally speaking, the women were traumatized at these revelations, and more than happy to hand them over to Mama, as she became the new midwife for the colony.
Mama wasted no time in bringing them to the doctor’s “lab” for experiments and treatments. What the doctor was discovering as more afflicted were brought to him, was that their “afflictions” were rapidly growing tenacious – more than ever before.
The end result of their tenacity was the demise of the doctor.
One cool evening, Mama was summoned to assist in the birth of a young girl of fifteen, who had become pregnant by the toad boy. Although Mama had tried to hand out birth control to all of the girls, this one getting pregnant only solidified Mama’s beliefs that human birth control didn’t work on… non-humans. So there she was, this young girl, writhing around on the bed with her eyes glazed over, screaming for mercy, for unconsciousness, anything, to take away her agony.
Mama didn’t want to put her hand inside of the girl for fear of disturbing whatever was in there, so she called for the doctor, who, due to his lust for the bizarre and grotesque, was only too happy to comply.
There was no time for him to don a glove, so he put his hand up into her, and felt around.
She ceased her screams, and went limp.
The doctor continued to feel around and probe, forcing his hand further up until he was in to his elbow.
Perplexed, he asked Mama if she was really pregnant, because he didn’t feel anything at all in there.
“Of course she is, keep feeling around. The girl was swollen with something.”
He continued his exploring, and then took his arm and hand out of her.
“Nothing. I’m not sure what is going on.”
In that moment, both of them looked at his arm, which was covered with spiders, all biting him instantaneously. They were recluse spiders, the deadliest of all.
The doctor fell hard upon the floor, as the spiders scattered.
Mama wasted no time in getting her charges moved. She had long suspected that the animals were the ones doing the impregnating, but she never had discussed it with the doctor. Too late now.
She sighed as she left Pug and Monkey. She had wanted to run her thoughts about them past the doctor as well, but never mind. If they were as strong as she was suspecting the creatures were becoming, then they’d be fine on their own.
She patted her stomach, and her creature moved. Mama had never really acknowledged her affliction as she was always busy with the doctor and his work.
She felt a wetness and looked down.
Her skin was leaking fluid as immediate pains shot up to her chest. The fluid became a flood, and within seconds a whoosh of water gushed from her and her creature slipped out.
Mama dropped to her knees, and then rolled into the grass. It was over.
* * *
Some people in town believed the house was haunted.
It had been a vacation spot for city folk, much like a B&B of today, but its last stint as a boarding house had taken its toll. It stood up on a hill, the shingles on the octagonal roof green with moss and sliding downward like a sinking vessel.
In the front yard, vestiges of large ceramic planters and a lily pond remained. At one time the facades of the planters had angels and cherubs in raised relief, but wings and eyes had broken off giving them an eerie, lost look, as if they were waiting for something to take them to their final resting place.
There was a lone concrete bench made for two strategically placed facing west, so one could see the sun set over Illinois Mountain.
Towards the back of the house there remained an Olympic-size pool, void of water, leaves swirling along the bottom to the beat of the wind, as if they were trying to escape down the pool’s drain. Several lounges and chairs were scattered around the edge of the pool, the canvas straps of the seat webbing blowing against the metal frames. To the left of the pool stood a concession stand, the ghost of an old coca-cola cooler and a built-in can opener standing still. To the right of the pool were ancient bath houses, and as the wind whispered through them, one could imagine hearing shower water and wet towels.
During snow-covered winter afternoons, neighborhood children would ride toboggans down the hill, laughing and making snowballs to throw into the pool. But now, October, the only sound one could hear on an afternoon when the shadows drew long was the wind blowing through the empty house shell.
Parents warned their children not to go there at this time of year. “Hunters,” they’d say, “it’s not safe now. Wait until the season is over.” But the children knew better. Stories travel and linger in a small town, and most of them remain.
They had heard about Lilly, the proprietress of the boarding house. That kind of story is the type that does linger and becomes larger than life, or death.
Lilly had inherited the house from her parents who had kept it as a summer sojourn. Since Lilly was single and had no intention of partnering up, she kept the nine guest rooms neat and well-appointed by periodically rearranging the furniture and accessories according to her moods.
It was on one such mission that she discovered the dumbwaiter inside of one of the closets. Curious, she pulled the ropes down and what came up was to haunt her rest of her life.
He, or she, Lilly had never reconciled the gender, sat on the base of the dumbwaiter, its face shining and cherubic, eyes glistening violet, and smiling widely. Its straight hair was growing in tufts of black. Its age was indefinable and it bore no marks of abuse or malnourishment. Lilly’s eyes locked with his. Her fascination grew as their eyes continued to explore one another, yet remain immobile. Suddenly, its round arms began to move away from its sides, and upward towards Lilly. As it put its outstretched arms towards her in a gesture that said “pick me up,” Lilly took two steps back. The dumbwaiter fell towards the basement from whence it had come.
Every day of her life thereafter, Lilly was to second guess what would have happened if only she had reached out to it. She knew one thing for certain: nothing would ever be the same.
* * *
About the Author
Gloria Carnvevale’s writing has been a massage for her soul since she was a teenager. She supposes that the Hudson River has a lot to do with her craft, as she walks the river trails to form ideas and characters in her fictional works. She is the author of The Pork Chop in the Window (The Round House Press, 2014), “Epiphany of Maturity” (Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, Vol.3, Southeast Missouri State University Press, 2014), and has had both non-fiction and fiction included in WvW Anthology, (Soul Garden Press, 2015), In Celebration of Sisters (Trisha Faye, 2017), In Celebration of Mothers (Trisha Faye, 2016), Mothers of Angels (2019), Chicken Soup for the Soul: Believe in Miracles (2020), What But the Music Anthology (Gelles-Cole, 2020).
Her page on FB is The Pork Chop in the Window where she periodically posts a Vlog. She is an active member of the Wallkill Valley Writers (WvW) in New Paltz, NY, an affiliation of the Amherst Writers and Artists.
“Mama’s Nursery” is a departure from the genres in which she writes. She credits the COVID Pandemic for enhancing her nightmares.