Prompt Day #74: Work with the following quotation by Susan Sonntag: “Cancer is a demonic pregnancy.”
The Nine Month Parasite
The sperm cells swam vigorously towards the egg that sat pulsating in the narrow tunnel. As they neared the thing, instinct stopped them. Something wasn’t right, this egg should not be fertilized. They turned around and began a journey they would never finish back the way they came. The fastest and fittest sperm were well on their way but the slower ones struggled against the sweeping cilia gently carrying them towards the mutant egg. The egg itself grew with the pulsations and rolled itself towards the sperm. The last sperm’s tail brushed against the egg cell causing an explosion of growth and the egg swallowed the sperm cell whole.
“I’m pregnant.” Natalie announced pale faced, clutching the home test in her hand.
“What? How is that possible? The doctor said we couldn’t.” Pete said astonished. She held the test out to him. Little good that would do, he had no idea how those things worked. He stared at it.
“Two lines means positive.” She said, reading his thoughts.
“I guess you better call the doctor.” It was all he could think of to say. They’d wanted a baby for so long. They’d tried everything, even IVF, but nothing had worked.
The embryo burrowed into the uterine wall, dissolving cell walls, making room for itself. Tendrils of its own cells meanwhile, embedded themselves deeper in to the host’s flesh, tapping into the blood supply and siphoning it greedily. Devouring nutrients and oxygen, leaving little for the host to make do with.
“You alright in there?” Pete asked through the closed bathroom door.
“Yaaarrrkk. Ugh, yes. I’m….yark…fine.” Natalie called back to him
“You gonna make it to the appointment?” He asked trying hard not to sound naggy. He hated to see her going through this, although he knew she was so happy to be pregnant, she probably looked at it as simple assurance that there was indeed a life growing inside her.
“Uhuh, just have to brush my teeth” She answered.
“The ultrasound looks good. The baby measures 6 weeks and 3 days and has a heartbeat. I only see one baby.” The doctor narrated as she moved the ultrasound probe around. And then, as if to herself she said “no reason for the quant.”
“What was that, Doc?” Pete asked. Natalie was so tired and weak from the vomiting she’d been doing, she didn’t even seem aware of what was happening.
“Oh, nothing really. It’s just that when I ordered the confirmatory blood test on Natalie, her pregnancy hormone came back much higher than I would have expected. That can sometimes be seen with twins or something called a molar pregnancy. But I don’t see any signs of either of those things. Sometimes the number is just a lot higher than we expect and we don’t know why.” She said smiling. She took the probe out and patted Natalie’s leg. “Everything is fine. Just try to take your vitamins and use the nausea meds I prescribed for you. And get plenty of rest. I’ll see you back in a month.” She said and left the room.
The fetus, like the egg from which it spawned, grew quickly. It needed more blood, more nutrients, more, more, more. It was hungry. It sent out more cellular tendrils beyond the uterus, deep into the host’s abdominal cavity. They anchored themselves on the bowels, the aorta and the spine.
“You’ve lost weight. How’s your nausea? Still bad? Are you eating at all?” The doctor asked Natalie clearly concerned. Pete looked over at his wife. She’d lost at least fifteen pounds, her eyes were darker and sunken. He could see her cheekbones. He was so worried about her. She never wanted to eat, she did though, forced herself because she said the baby needed it.
“I’m less nauseated. I am eating more now. It’s getting better.” Natalie answered in a flat voice. Pete was honestly beginning to wonder if maybe she couldn’t get pregnant because her body couldn’t handle it. This whole thing seemed to be killing her.
“Hey, Doc, is this all normal? I mean, she’s lost a lot of weight and she is so listless anymore. I’m worried about her.” Pete interrupted.
“Well, I wouldn’t say it’s normal, but it isn’t pathological either. It’s called hyperemesis gravidarum. She should start feeling better within the next couple weeks I would think.” She said.
Hungry, Oh so hungry. Like a rodent, the fetus begins to scratch against the muscular walls of the uterus, digging deeper and then through first the bag of water it floats in and then the organ that has fed it and protected it thus far. The tendrils, like a spider’s web, span out through the host attaching to every organ, vessel and nerve, pulling life-giving proteins and minerals out and sending them along the network back to the fetus, entering where a human child’s umbilical cord would normally attach. No, this is no normal child, formed from the natural interactions of egg and sperm. This child created itself, a simple error of cellular metabolism, this child calls itself Cancer, for it is indeed a demonic growth eating away at the host little by little.
“Oh my God, what are you doing?” Pete shrieked. He’d just arrived home early from work. He found Natalie, wearing only a tee shirt (my god, she is just skin and bones. She looks like one of those Ethiopian kids they’re always asking for money to feed) squatting on the kitchen floor. She had the body of what looked like a cat in her hands, its intestines hung out of a ragged hole in its stomach. Blood and who knows what other bodily fluids ran down Natalie’s chin. Her hair looked like it hadn’t been combed in days. Perhaps it hadn’t. This was the first Pete had seen her out of bed in the last month or so. Was she doing this during the day while he was at work? He’d managed to get out early today by skipping a retirement party they were having for his immediate boss. Natalie looked up at him, her eyes glowing green for a split second before fading back to her usual grey color. (No, I did not just see that. It was a trick of the light. There must be a good explanation for this.)
“Pete. I…I don’t know what I’m doing, I…this cat, it was hit by a car…I heard it and I went out and brought it in…I tried to give it CPR.” She started crying then. Pete was horrified. The thing was clearly dead. Its middle was torn out of it. What would make her think she could resuscitate it? He stepped towards her cautiously, as if she was the wild animal she looked like.
“Oh, Honey. It’s dead. Can’t you see? I’m sorry. Let me take it. Why don’t you go clean up and lie down. Take a bath maybe.” He held his hand out to take the body away. She growled and bit him. He felt her teeth first break through his flesh and then the bone of his hand. He screamed. She scrambled across the floor on all fours. She huddled in the corner staring at him.
He grabbed a towel and did his best to wrap his hand in it then he grabbed his phone and clumsily dialed 911 (of course she’d bite my right hand.).
“It’s called pica” Natalie’s doctor said as she watched Pete’s hand get stitched and then casted. Natalie had been admitted to the OB ward for the night. “She’s actually quite malnourished; we’re replacing everything we can. I have seen pregnant women eat dirt, clay, chalk, even alcohol swabs and cotton balls. It’s not unusual for them to crave very rare meat as well. I think her nutrient levels just got so low, she was operating purely on instinct when she bit you.” The doctor said, leaning on the door jam.
“Well, she was with it enough to make up some story about the cat getting hit and then she tried to save it. It was obvious what she was doing. I’m telling you something isn’t right. Have you checked on the baby?” Pete asked
“We were able to hear the baby’s heartbeat. We haven’t done an ultrasound yet as our first priority is to stabilize Natalie.” The doctor said. “The heartbeat is strong, the baby is fine, Mr. Nichols. We need to get Natalie feeling better…and you of course. I’m sure she didn’t mean to hurt you.”
The fetus stretched its legs out. It had so much more room outside of the uterus. It glanced down at the used and now discarded organ. He had tapped into its blood supply weeks ago, the opening in the top where he had clawed his way through was necrotic and grey. The rotting flesh gave off a sweet aroma which made him hungry. A new thread snaked out from his middle and bore through the host’s vertebrae and into the spinal cord. It writhed its way up into the virgin grey matter and sent an electrical telegraph asking for something sweet.
“She’s been eating trash, Doc. This isn’t normal. She’ll be sitting and talking to me like normal and then she almost goes into a trance and gets up and leaves. The first time I thought she was going to the bathroom but I found her in the garage, with the trash bag torn open. She was eating spoiled food. I saw maggots on it. I gagged, I had to run out or I would have puked on my shoes. I found road kill in her car. She has been driving around picking it up and eating it. This can’t continue. I’ve been thinking maybe she could be admitted for the rest of the pregnancy?” Pete was desperate. He couldn’t bear to see her like this. More specifically, he was disgusted by her. He couldn’t even look her in the eyes anymore. She was so thin and gaunt. Her hair dry and brittle and it never looked brushed. Her teeth were never brushed either. In fact, she’d lost three teeth so far. The doctor kept assuring him this was all normal for pregnancy, but it simply couldn’t be this bad. Who could stand to be around a pregnant woman like that?
“Mr. Nichols, Pete, we simply can’t admit her for the next fourteen weeks. I am going to put an order in for a visiting nurse to start coming twice a week. When she visits, she’ll give Natalie an IV infusion of vitamins and nutrients. I think that will help.
It would help. Someone else could take on the burden for him and twice a week, Pete had a feeling he would be working really late.
There wasn’t much left inside for the fetus to eat. It had eaten away at most of the hosts internal organs. The only thing keeping the body alive were the millions of connections that remained between the two. The parasitic infant needed a little more time before it would be ready, therefore it needed to keep the host alive. In the beginning, when it was still quite small and powerless, the host and the other would attempt to interact with it. He remembered their voices. Sometimes a cadence of reading stories, sometimes signing songs. It was annoying but it was something. He wondered if he could interact with the host through the grey matter. He smiled and sent a large mass of wriggling organic cords into the hosts brain where the spread out, tapping into all the large sensory nerves and motor neurons.
The last few weeks had been peacefully uneventful. Pete was beginning to believe the worst was behind them. Perhaps the doctor was right. All Natalie needed was the boost from the IV infusions. While her weight and appearance had not improved, there had been no more trances or garbage eating. The visiting nurse had signed Natalie up for Meals on Wheels, ensuring that Natalie herself didn’t need to prepare the food.
Pete decided that without the carcass attacks and spoiled food, she was more pathetic than disgusting; a thing to be pitied rather than hated. He planned a picnic in the local park, hoping the fresh air would do her good. She was quiet during the drive. She stared straight ahead. Pete tried several times to initiate a conversation with her but she said nothing. She followed him obediently to a grassy spot in the shade of a large oak where he laid a blanket down and helped her to the ground.
“I’m going to destroy you” She said mechanically.
“What?” he asked, swearing he’d misheard.
“What?” She said in her usual voice.
“I will destroy you and everything you love.” She repeated herself with elaboration.
“Natalie! Stop it. It’s been nice lately. You need to try to be normal. This pregnancy has been a strain on you, I’m so sorry but you have to control yourself.”
“Don’t hurt him. I love him and I love you.” She said, her chin quivered, tears streamed down her face.
“I love you too, Nat, but I don’t know how to fix this anymore. I’m just so tired. I don’t know how you’re going on.” Natalie stood up then and looked past him. He turned but there was nothing there.
“Please don’t do that. I know this hasn’t been easy, I’m doing my best.” She said, putting her hand out to something he couldn’t see. He kept quiet and watched her. She wasn’t hearing him anyways.
“But only because Pete gets so upset about it. I’ll make her leave. She won’t come back, I’ll make sure of it. But don’t be mad at him. He’s only worried about both of us.” She said
“Ok, people are looking at you. This was a bad idea. Let’s go home. We’ll have a picnic on the floor there.” Pete said getting up as well. She shoved him, her eyes black with rage. He fell backwards and she was on top of him before he could regain his balance. Her hands around his neck. She began to speak, but the voice wasn’t hers.
“I have used her and when I am through with her, I will discard her like the trash she fed on and then you. I will destroy you, I will destroy everything you love.” She growled.
“You already have” He said and kneed her in the stomach. He knew who was talking to him and he wanted nothing to do with the evil little thing that was eating away at the physical body of his wife and the emotional bond they shared as well. He wanted to kill it, realized that he’d felt this way almost from the start. How could he love something that was killing Natalie slowly, robbing her of all control? He felt something give when his knee made contact with her belly and she fell back screaming. A young couple came running over. The woman dropped down on her knees to Natalie.
“Is she in labor?” She asked. Clearly no one had seen what had happened.
“I don’t know, she just fell over and started screaming” Pete lied
“I’ll call 911” the young man said. Natalie was still screaming. Blood was pooling beneath her knees.
“She has a large mass in her brain, Mr. Nichols. And it appears to have metastasized throughout her abdomen. We’ve managed to stop her bleeding. She seems to have had a small placental abruption. The baby’s heartbeat is fine. We are giving her a transfusion of two units of blood, because she has so little reserve. But I’m afraid that explains many of her symptoms. We can’t do all the testing we’d like because of the fetus, but by the looks of the tumor, the neurologist believes it is inoperable. I’m so very sorry.” Natalie’s doctor said. She appeared to be truly sorry, she’d taken on Natalie’s pale complexion. Pete felt sorry for her.
“Can’t you just take the baby out and start some kind of treatment?” Pete asked.
“That is the other thing we need to discuss, Mr. Nichols. It appears that the pregnancy is a very rare type of ectopic, meaning it has grown outside the uterus. Most ectopics occur in the fallopian tubes and are discovered early and removed, if they are not, the tube eventually ruptures and it becomes a life or death emergency. Your wife’s pregnancy is growing in the abdominal cavity.” She paused. Letting the information sink in.
“Ok, even more reason to get it out.” Pete said, having no qualms about delivering the baby premature. He didn’t care what happened to the little parasite. He wanted his wife back.
“Well, you see, when an ectopic like this occurs, the placenta attaches to whatever it can to maintain adequate blood supply to the baby. We think, and this would be a first as far as we know, but we think that the placenta sent out multiple small accessory lobes which attached themselves to a variety of your wife’s organs. In the process of the excessive cellular division that occurred in order to do this, some of the cells became cancerous and that, we think is where the metastasis originated.”
“So…get…it…the…fuck…out…of…her” Pete said, enunciating each word clearly and succinctly.
“Mr. Nichols, the point is, we can’t. If we tried, she would bleed out immediately and the baby may not survive either. We need to talk to her and explain this situation. She needs to be a part of this decision. If we wait a few more week, the baby will be term and have the best chance for survival. I don’t think it will make her situation much worse. We would leave the placenta inside her, attached. And then begin high dose chemotherapy.” The doctor took a deep breath and sighed
“No. No. You get that little fucker out of her now. Let him die for all I care. He is killing her. I don’t want anything to do with him.” Pete said through gritted teeth.
“The decision is ultimately hers, Mr. Nichols. I appreciate your feelings on the subject, but I’ll have to speak with her first.” She turned and left.
It was time. The shell he was living in had nothing more to offer him. She was kept sedated, he couldn’t even entertain himself. It was time to leave and take as many souls with him as he could. He reached out with a clawed hand and began to pluck and then cleave each individual tendril that connected him to the host. Once all the attachments were separated, he would claw his way out just as he had early on inside the uterus.
Natalie had been sedated for some time. No one could be sure if she was feeling pain or not, but her trances (her absence seizures was what the neurologist had called them) were getting worse as were her hallucinations. These agitated her and so, after some consideration, Pete agreed to the sedation. After the incident in the park, she had come to long enough to listen to the doctor’s findings and options. She of course, wanted to wait. She said she knew she wouldn’t survive this but she wanted to give the baby a fighting chance. She begged Pete to understand. He didn’t but he didn’t want their last interactions to be arguing and fighting. He gave in.
She turned 37 weeks the day before and the repeated her MRI, the tumor had not changed in size, so the decision to wait another week was made. Pete simply nodded and signed the papers they sat in front of him. Now, he sat, as he did every day from 4-8pm beside her bed, listening to the beeping of the monitors and the faster beating of the baby’s heart—loud and strong.
Suddenly, Natalie sat up, her eyes opened wide. She looked at Pete.
“It’s time” She said before her eyes rolled back in her head and she began to seize. Before he could hit the nurse call button, alarms began to go off. Medical personnel in a variety of scrubs and white coats came bursting in. Natalie’s doctor came in behind them. She looked at each of the monitors as the nurse injected something into Natalie’s IV.
“Call the code.” The doctor said and then looked around, finding Pete’s eyes among the many people in the room. “We need to get the baby out now, Mr. Nichols. That means a cesarean section. You can come back as long as you do not interfere. She may not make it, do you understand?” Pete nodded. Someone shoved a pair of scrubs at him and he changed quickly.
The OR was cold and sterile. People jostled him around. Pete tried to stay out of the way. Someone grabbed him by the shoulders and sat him down in a chair at the head of the bed. They had managed to stop the seizures and Natalie was lying there calm. He watched numbly as a nurse cleansed Natalie’s belly. He could see the baby beneath it moving, squirming like some grub worm. He didn’t want the thing. If Natalie didn’t survive, and survival was unlikely, he would give the child up for adoption. He could never be a proper father to it anyways. The doctor came in, bumping the door open with her hip, her hands held up in front of her dripping wet. She was handed a towel, she dried them off, and then a different nurse dressed her in the gown and gloves. The doctor approached the table and asked for the knife. She looked over at the anesthetist and then Pete.
“Ready?” She asked them both. They nodded. “Start.” She announced and Pete watched as the knife opened Natalie’s belly.
Before the doctor could put the knife down, a long, spindly fingered hand shot out of Natalie’s belly. Its claws curled around the fingertips. It grabbed the doctor’s arm, the one holding the knife and squeezed. She dropped the knife and let out a scream. The surgical nurse leaned over attempting to pry the hand off the doctor. The other hand shot out and in one fast move, clawed the woman’s eyes out. She screamed and grabbed at her face when the rest of the creature that had spent the last nine months inside his wife, leaped out of her. Its teeth long and jagged bordered a slight muzzle that opened wider than would seem physically possible. It devoured the doctor’s face. Pete stood up, knocking the chair over. The anesthetist had come around behind him to help the surgical nurse, then turned to the doctor.
The doctor’s face was in shreds, an eyeball hanging on a long stock rolled back and forth against her cheek. She had her hands up in front of her face screaming. Pete heard a gasp and a wet sounding splat. The doctor stopped screaming and looked down at herself. Her intestines now hung from a gash across her abdomen, blood splattered around her feet. She died or passed out, Pete had no idea. All he knew for sure was he needed to get out of there. But he didn’t want to leave Natalie. The anesthetist was walking the hunched over surgical nurse out of the OR when the little newborn demon leaped up from beneath the table where Natalie lay, belly opened to the elements. It landed in front of the door and bared its teeth. Pete could see a tail swishing back and forth behind it. He watched helplessly as the thing leaped again onto the chest of the anesthetist and within seconds, it had torn his chest open with its teeth and claws. He fell, the nurse he was escorting with the bloody eye sockets screamed and passed out. The creature lunged for her and ripped out her throat. Blood soared up into the air like a geyser. It hit the small window in the door giving it a grotesque stained glass appearance.
The machines attached to Natalie began to alarm, Pete looked away from the carnage in front of him and saw the flat line indicating a lack of cardiac activity on Natalie’s part. She was gone. He ripped the blue drape away and took her face in his hands. He no longer cared where the little bastard had gone, he was mourning his wife. He leaned down and kissed her on the lips. Her face, serene in death, had taken on the visage of his wife as he had known her. She no longer looked like the dried up shell she’d been when she carried the parasite around for ¾ of a year. He was sobbing, apologizing for not being the husband she’d needed all this time. He never felt the stab of the needle as it was plunged into his neck. He went down fast, the succinylcholine paralyzed his diaphragm. He couldn’t breathe and then there was blackness.
2 Weeks old
The nuns arrived to take the baby, the lone survivor, of the massacre to the orphanage. It was so very sad, the murder/suicide, the oldest nun said to the social worker. All this time, so much attention was paid to the wife, when her husband was losing his mind. Somehow, he’d managed to attack the OR staff right after the baby was born. The assumption was, his wife coded and was pronounced dead and he lost it.
“It was so lucky the poor baby survived; newly born, still wet.”
“The poor thing could have gone hypothermic.”
“But by the grace of God, somehow he had managed to make it.”
“Such a strong, chubby little angle.”
The social worker smiled as the Nuns murmured to each other walking away with the sweet little boy.
“Be sure he doesn’t let his tail show until we are safely out of here. We don’t want any trouble for our little Lord, now do we?” The eldest nun whispered to the one honored to carry him home.