Edition 31: My Son the Afterbirth by Craig Stewart
Travis is deeply unsatisfied with what his life with Doug has become, and yet Doug is increasingly insistent on becoming a family. This deeply disturbing piece is a finalist from the 2016 Story Quest Contest. – SY
He walked in the door that day with a handful of tulips and a grin to match. They were my favourite flowers and he knew it. He wanted something. That schoolboy mischief living behind his smile was no coincidence.
I put my trashy romance novel to rest and rose from the squishy comfort of the love seat to greet him and receive his offering. I took them, smelled them and planted them into a vase, all the while keeping my trepidation safely tucked away where he couldn’t see.
“Thanks, they’re great,” I assured him. “Is there a reason for your sweetness today?”
He was still a little out of breath and smelled hot from his bike ride home. I liked that. I liked that a lot.
Before he answered me, he brought his lips to mine for a quick meet and greet. They met and then parted, but not before a few of his laboured breaths titillated my lips and neck. I liked that too.
“You’re reason enough.” Doug was certainly a romantic man, the kind of man who would earnestly tilt his head and swoon over a mass-produced card from the dollar store about the healing power of kindness.
I, on the other hand, was not that kind of man. Not that I didn’t have my own weaknesses, sentimentality just wasn’t one of them.
“So, you carefully balanced an array of tulips on your handlebars, dodging traffic all across town, just for little old me and nothing more?” I allowed for a little skepticism to seep through.
“Yes sir! That’s right,” Doug replied slipping off his spring coat and sneakers.
“There’s no agenda in the gesture?”
“They’re just for me for being me. Right?”
“That’s it, babe.”
“So you’re not going to bring something up that I’ve repeatedly and explicitly forbid you from ever bringing up again? You’re not planning on upsetting me?” I asked this all while nodding and smiling, waiting for the trap to fall.
“Travis.” His use of my name was a clear sign of danger ahead. “I have some news.”
“No.” I was abrupt.
“No. I won’t hear it no matter how many flowers you offer.”
“But, I have news. You can’t just refuse news.”
“I can. Observe, I’m doing it right now.” With that, I pivoted and walked away. I had told him last week that we weren’t going to discuss his delusion any further and if he tried to bring it up, well, I did exactly what I said I’d do. I ignored him.
Once my anger had carried me into the kitchen, I cursed myself for having already put away all the clean dishes. The counters were already wiped, the wood table already greased, the tiled floor already mopped. I had no practical reason for being in the room. Damn my efficiency.
Why couldn’t I have stormed upstairs where there was laundry to busy me? Then again, could I really be blamed? What else was I to do with my time other than tend to the house? I remembered when I wasn’t such a homebody, but that memory had become corroded from years of cleaning products.
“Are you angry?” Doug asked innocently enough. He had smoothed out his voice, probably afraid he might ignite me again. It didn’t really make a difference—I was already ablaze.
“I’m disappointed more than anything.”
“I don’t mean to upset you, babe.”
“Fuck that. If you didn’t want to upset me, you wouldn’t keep bringing it up.”
“I’m sorry. But I can’t stop wanting it.”
He stepped toward me and added a gentle touch to compliment his gentle tone. His large hands eased into the sleeves of my t-shirt and held my shoulders. The contact was intoxicatingly tender. I had weaknesses. I certainly did.
“Why?” I asked.
“’Cause I need us to be a family,” Doug whispered next to my ear.
“We are a family. We love each other, so we’re a family. What else is there?”
“Fuck, Doug. We can’t keep circling around this. I feel like I’m stuck in a vortex with you. We just keep repeating ourselves, over and over, and we get nowhere.”
“This is different.”
“Why? What’s different? So far, it feels like the same old shit to me.”
“It’s different cause of the news I have, if you let me say it.”
As much as I hated to admit it, there was something fresh in the way he spoke. It intrigued me. The optimism in his face reminded me of when he was younger—when we were younger and everything was different.
Through the years we had both faded into our respective roles. He started making enough money for both of us with his flooring business, so I quit my serving job. If I knew then that giving up my dream of being a greasy spoon waiter would gradually mutate me into a 1950s housewife, I never would have signed in blood. But, there I stood in the kitchen, fretting about silverware and babies.
“You want to use a surrogate?” I asked.
“No. Not that. It wouldn’t be real.”
“I don’t know what you mean when you say that. You want a kid, but you don’t want to use a surrogate and you don’t want to adopt. What do you want?”
“I want a child that’s part of both of us. Born from us, from the love we have. I want what every other normal couple has.”
“Well, we can’t. We can’t make a child, Doug. We could have nothing but sex for a week, a month, a year, and we still wouldn’t make a baby. That’s gay sex 101. Please, just accept that. Unless you want to leave me for someone who can bear your brood, I don’t know what else to say. And frankly, I’m tired of having this conversation.”
Before I could escape from the room, Doug caught me by the arm.
“What if it was possible?” he asked. “What if we could make a baby that was as much a part of me as it was a part of you? What would you say then?”
“I would say keep dreaming doctor Frankenstein.”
“But you would want it, wouldn’t you?” His blue eyes wavered genuinely beneath his troubled brow. Yet still, I could not bring myself to answer such a preposterous question.
So I posed a question of my own, “Just me, Doug. Am I not enough?”
Either he couldn’t answer, or I didn’t stick around long enough. Either way, the question lingered.
Our silk sheets felt like wet dirt that night and were trying to suffocate me. Sleep was not an option.
I dug my way out of them and allowed my wanting hand to glide over to the other side of the bed. To my disappointment, my fingers found no bare skin to tickle. Doug was in the bathroom.
My thoughts filled the gaping shadows that stretched across the ceiling. It wasn’t entirely Doug’s fault I was dissatisfied with how my life had turned. After all, it was my choice to stick around and play homemaker. And if I’m being honest, for a while I even liked it. Sadly, that was no longer the case. Doug had a vision of a cheery family with a picket fence, but what he got was a boyfriend. We could have been a family, a great family, if only he let go of his Sunday afternoon fantasy.
Through the dark patterns above me, however, there were still slashes of light visible. Though I had never been a fan of children—pathetic, selfish little things as they were—I would have given him exactly what he wanted if I could, for that was love.
Shoot me in the head; I did love him.
Then the noises began.
Horrible, sickly gurgles spilled out from the edges of the bathroom door. The sloppy heaving was so severe, I couldn’t tell at first which end it was coming out of. Perhaps both. It sounded as though Doug was retching his very stomach. I could almost see the pink sack bubble up from between his lips and slap against the floor.
No wonder. He had eaten twice his normal portions at dinner that evening. Poor thing had brought it on himself.
The morning was merciless. It found my sleeping form contorted in an almost impossible shape. Following my restless nights, I often awoke in a tight weave. I tie myself in a knot to put an end to the tossing and turning.
Well, as soon as I crawled out of bed, I felt an ache from every twist my body had settled on. I was not as dexterous as I once was.
Doug was still missing in action. Normally the house was empty by the time I got up, but today was Saturday. Doug didn’t usually work on Saturdays.
The bathroom door where Doug had been hurling was still closed. I knocked. There was no answer.
A brief but powerful moment of terror sank through my body. Maybe Doug was hurt? Maybe he needed my help last night and I just closed my eyes.
I threw open the door as if I expected there to be resistance on the other side.
The bathroom was empty. Empty, but not clean. The glowing white of our bowl shaped sink was besmirched by a thick smear of red that drooled all the way passed the countertop and down to the floor. I saw chunky remnants in the blood as if some flesh had been shed. It reminded me of an experimental film I had seen which included repetitive flashing images of a woman’s afterbirth. The woman also happened to have been the filmmaker. I didn’t like the film. I didn’t like this either.
“Doug!” I yelled.
Waiting for a reply was agony and impatience got the better of me.
“Doug! Are you okay?”
I left the bathroom when I noticed faint red stains on the carpet. They led me downstairs to the main floor of the house.
If Doug was hurt and I did nothing, I would never have forgiven myself. Why didn’t I just ask him if he needed help? Why didn’t I say something?
“Doug, if you can answer me, please answer me!” I was approaching panic.
Then, from the kitchen came a subdued reply, “Shhhhhh,” it demanded.
“Travis, please keep it down.” It was Doug’s voice. I started to breathe again.
“Are you okay?” I asked at a slightly lower decibel.
“I’m great. Why don’t you join me in here?”
I entered the kitchen where everything looked pretty much normal, except for Doug who was crouched next to some cupboards.
He waved me over.
“Come here,” he said with a smile. He didn’t look sick, only disheveled.
“I saw the blood. What happened upstairs?”
“Oh right, I guess that would seem a little odd.”
“I thought you were hurt.”
“Like I cut myself shaving?” Doug chuckled modestly.
“I’m serious,” I interjected, “I really thought something awful happened. And why are we still whispering?”
“Cause we don’t want to wake him.”
“Him? Him who?”
“Come here. I’ll show you.”
Though he seemed out of his mind like some kind of fanatical street person, I knelt by his side anyway. You could say it was because I was concerned for him, but I blame curiosity.
His hand wrapped around the edge of the cupboard below the sink where we kept the pots and pans. He burrowed his eyes into mine before he opened it.
“Travis, you have to promise me you’ll stay calm, alright? Will you promise me that?”
I nodded, knowing fully well such a promise was impossible.
“Good,” he continued, “Cause I don’t want you to freak out. Just stay calm and I’ll explain everything.”
“Did you buy a puppy?” I asked.
Before I had a chance to press any further, he began to open the cupboard. The hinges turned at an excruciating pace. Things were not revealed all at once, but rather, one little tease at a time.
The pots all seemed to be accounted for. Indeed, nothing was out of place.
I noticed the edge of one of our bathroom towels hanging over the side the largest pot. I leaned in to see where the towel led.
The rest of the blue cloth was bunched into the bottom of the pot, creating a bed for the creature that slumbered inside.
At first, I thought I was looking at a hairless Chihuahua of some kind. No, not hairless. Skinless. Its thin flesh was almost translucent. It curled into itself like a snake would with its emaciated arms bent around its soft skull.
What the fuck had he done?
I pulled away from the cupboard too shocked to scream. Too shocked to do much of anything.
What the fuck had Doug done!
“Okay, remember your promise? You said you wouldn’t freak out,” Doug said calmly, gently closing the cupboard.
“What the fuck did you do?” There was no difference between my thoughts and my speech at that moment.
“Alright, I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you earlier. I admit I should have. But, I was afraid you’d tell me not to do it.”
“Do what? What did you do? What is that thing?”
“That’s Roy. He’s just sleeping. I think last night tuckered him out.”
“That thing is alive?”
“Of course he is. He’s going to be our son.”
My mind frantically sorted through thoughts to try to make sense of what Doug had said. Had he lost his mind? Did he steal a half formed fetus from the hospital or something? Was I now living with Norman Bates but in reverse?
“Travis, I can see you’re having a hard time with this. So, if you’d let me, I’d like to start from the beginning.”
“Yes. I think you should, Doug. I think that sounds like an excellent plan. Tell me. Tell me why there’s some kind of little monster living under our sink.”
“First, he isn’t a monster. He’s Roy. And second, I think we should move into the other room before we continue. I don’t want to wake him.”
After ten minutes of sitting alone on the love seat, Doug joined me with some hot tea.
“You know how much I’ve wanted a child,” Doug began.
“Yes, I’m aware.” My shaking hand made ripples in the mug.
“I found this organization. They’re really cutting edge. They started small by growing human organs, you know, for people who might need them. Things like new lungs, new hearts, new livers, that sort of thing. Anyway, they developed this technique that actually allows them to grow a full person. If they can grow the parts, why not the whole thing, right?”
“You’re talking about cloning.”
“No, not really. See, the unique thing about their technique is that it takes two hosts to complete the cycle. And at the end of the cycle, you get a perfectly natural, perfectly healthy little baby. Do you get what I’m saying?”
“They’re giving us the ability to make a baby, Travis, a baby that’s born from our bodies. Our blood. It’ll be part of both of us.”
“That thing is not a baby.”
“Roy is only through stage one. That involved me. He just has to go through stage two to complete his cycle. Once that happens, he’ll be just the same as any baby you see at the playground, or rolling by in a stroller.”
“What’s the name of this organization?”
“You wouldn’t know them.”
“It’s illegal, isn’t it?”
“What do you think? New procedures are always taboo. People don’t like it when you try to fix nature.” Doug looked away from me with this comment.
“So you think we need fixing? You think we’re unnatural?” I retorted.
“Of course I don’t think that. Anyway, that’s not the point.” Doug took a long breath before he continued, “Travis, I started this process without your knowledge. I accept responsibility for that and I’m sorry. But now I’m asking you to finish it.”
“What does that mean?”
“I need you to help Roy through stage two. Without you, he won’t last a week.”
I had to fight the urge to toss my steaming mug into Doug’s face. He was forcing my hand and seemed to have very little remorse for doing it.
“What was stage one?” I asked pointedly.
“Each stage is different.”
“That’s not what I asked, Doug. I asked what stage one was.”
Again his eyes relocated to another spot in the room. He seemed focused on the peach curtains as if afraid they might try to strangle him.
“Three weeks ago I started taking a series of injections into my abdomen. That began Roy’s life. He grew inside me. Then, last night, he was ready to come out.”
“Yeah,” he shrugged, “Roy came out. That’s all.”
“Jesus Christ Doug! What were you thinking?” I shot up from the seat. The mug fell from my hands, but neither of us noticed.
“I was thinking that I might have the life I dreamed of since I was ten.”
“This is insane!”
“Why? What’s so insane about it? It’s unconventional, but Roy grew in my body the way any baby does.”
“Our bodies weren’t meant to grow life!”
“Our bodies weren’t meant to do a lot of the things we do. We’re both men for Christ’s sake!”
Doug had always retained a bit of internalized homophobia, but I always forgave him for it cause I knew it came from his father. Not this time. This was too far.
“I’ve had enough of this self-loathing shit! I’m not going to let that thing come near me. Period.” I stomped up the stairs.
“He needs you!”
“Let the fucker shrivel and die. You can join him for all I care.”
I slammed the bedroom door so hard I thought I cracked the wall.
Two days passed and Doug hadn’t dared to come and talk to me. I had taken the bedroom and he had taken the kitchen with his precious Roy.
The creature sickened me, but how Doug obsessed over it sickened me even more. It was like cancer eating away at us, and the only cure was to carve it out.
There came a knock at the door. I didn’t answer. A second knock came.
“Travis, I know you’re still angry with me. I’m heading off to work now. Roy is downstairs. When I get home, maybe we can talk.” Doug waited for my reply then added, “I love you.” He waited again.
Once I was sure he had left the house, I bounded out of bed and ran downstairs.
In the kitchen, I found the largest knife I could and headed straight for the cupboard under the sink. Each step tightened my grip.
I tossed the doors open and pulled out the pot where Roy resided. I had to be quick about it for fear I might lose my nerve. With the blade of the knife resting against the creature’s scrawny neck, I took a moment to consider. Doug would be furious with me, that was true, but it was the only way I could think of to be rid of this horror and bring Doug back to me. And I wanted him back.
Shoot me in the head; I still loved him.
Roy whimpered in his silver cradle. His tiny body trembled as thin breaths sustained what I could only assume was an agonizing existence.
My hands protested what my mind demanded. I couldn’t slaughter this pitiful creature. Such viciousness just wasn’t in my nature. But, I thought if I distanced myself from the act, perhaps by the time my hands had figured out what my mind had plotted, it would be too late.
I found the appropriate lid for Roy’s pot and sealed him inside. I placed the pot onto the front burner of the stove and clicked the dial to High.
In a matter of minutes, the lid began to pop as the creature inside writhed against the heat. I had to hold the lid closed. It was surprisingly easy.
Then, Roy began to cry. The sound wasn’t quite that of a baby, but I still recognized it, even sympathized with it. It was calling for help. The kind of sound a piglet might make if it knew what was coming.
My hands instinctively took over. They tossed the lid aside and without even a hint of revulsion, picked up the hysterical creature and rested it against my chest. It seemed to be soothed almost instantly.
It was then I realized I was only wearing a bathrobe. The creature’s warm flesh felt curiously soft against mine, almost familiar. Its weak hand, which was about the size of a cat’s paw, rested against the base of my neck. This spot on my body was a particular favourite of Doug’s. Most of his kisses found a home there. Did it somehow know?
As I held Roy against me, I could understand why this little life was so important to Doug. It brought him joy, comfort and purpose. Though to me it was still just a creature, to Doug it was much, much more.
Maybe I had acted harshly.
Roy shivered again.
“It’s okay,” I said, “You’re safe now.”
I stood in our modest backyard watching the sun bleed through the sky as the day came to an end.
Right on time, I heard the patio door slide open as Doug stepped onto the grass to meet me. I chose not to turn around.
“Travis, I’ve been thinking about how unfair I’ve been,” he began, “I’m sorry for how hard I pushed you. This has to be a decision we both make. I can’t force you. I want you to know that I understand your anger. I’d be angry too if…”
“What’s stage two?” I interrupted.
“What’s the second stage Roy needs to become human?”
“He has to attach to you.”
“What does that mean specifically?”
“To be honest babe, I’m not completely sure. It’s a new process, like I said.”
“But, he’ll die if I don’t?”
“And you want him to live.”
“Yes, very much.”
The decision came to me suddenly, though I wasn’t really sure from where. It felt like the right choice, so why was it so hard to say?
“Again, I don’t want to pressure you,” Doug blabbered on. “You have to make up your own mind. So don’t rush it. Take your time and we can discuss…”
“I’ll do it.” There it was.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Doug. I said I’d do it. Tonight.”
“Right after supper. I made mushroom chicken.”
I finally turned to meet his flabbergasted face. I placed a kiss on it and went inside.
After a hearty meal of which I partook twice my usual serving as Doug had requested, all three of us headed upstairs.
The lights were dimmed to emulate the comforting glow of a flame. The bed was pristine, every wrinkle had been banished.
The air chilled my body as I disrobed. Goosebumps rose over every inch of my naked skin. Doug saw this and immediately warmed me. He was tender that way.
I leaned back on the bed, delivering onto it its first of many impurities.
Doug unbuttoned his shirt and then slipped out of his pants and underwear.
I stared at him. I stared at his body and was reminded of the handsome gentleman I served breakfast to twelve years ago. When he was finished his meal, he asked me when my shift was over. I ignored him. He left without another word, but there, written on the back of his receipt was his name, his number and the hope he would get a chance to see me again.
Now here we were, trying to make a baby. Who would have guessed?
He crawled on top of me, pressing his body to mine the way I liked. Of course, he also kissed the base of my neck. It had been so long since we enjoyed each other. I was electric.
Then he pulled away and placed Roy’s pot between my legs. The metal was cold on my thighs.
“Are you ready?” Doug asked.
I nodded, afraid that if I spoke, he’d be able to tell just how unready I really was.
Roy was lifted out of the pot. He looked like a newborn pup, his eyes and mouth closed tight.
My presence excited him and he came to life in Doug’s hands. Suddenly, Roy’s oversized eyelids opened wide, yet revealed no eyes beneath. Just two slurping craters that seemed focused on me. His mouth was the same, a toothless cavern of pulsing flesh.
“What’s he doing?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
Tendrils protruded from Roy’s orifices like flapping blood vessels. They sprayed from his face, tumbling over themselves as they hungrily approached my skin.
At first, they licked at my body like wisps of tissue paper. I dare say the experience was almost pleasurable. They entwined with my own tendril and slipped into places not even Doug had gone.
Then they took hold.
The digging began on my right leg as they pushed their way into my calf muscle and behind my knee. A hundred needles began drilling through the layers of my body, mining for bone. They weren’t gentle—they were ravenous.
The bed felt wet.
My quivering hands confirmed what I feared. It was indeed wet, steeped in my blood.
I didn’t dare look, but when I placed my hand against my leg, it felt like I had been dragged through a shredder. I eased into the pain as the tendrils ate me away, sucking in whatever there was to suck.
They became thicker, like worms. And they carved out new trails all they way up to my nipples. I felt them snaking through my intestines and into my stomach. They hugged my lungs, constricting them, forcing me to take rapid, short breathes. Finally, they found my heart and explored all the secret caverns within.
My eyes begged for help. Doug saw everything, my carnage, and my desperation. He stepped toward me, that man, that man from the restaurant.
He rested his arm across my chest. I didn’t bother pushing against him. I didn’t need to. I knew he wouldn’t let me up. We were both too deeply in love. I loved him, and he loved his family.
Before I drained to nothing, I heard Roy start to cry. This time, he sounded just like a baby.
I was so proud.
Craig Stewart is a Canadian author and filmmaker who learned how to count from the rhyme, “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.” He’s a creator and connoisseur of everything horror; never afraid to delve into the dark. His written works include short stories, as well as the upcoming release of his first novel, Worship Me, published by Hellbound Books. He has also written and directed several short horror films that have enjoyed screenings across North America.