The police have long stormed out of my clinic, and a mother has just finished giving birth in chains on a cot in this small gray cell of a room. She lies crying, unable to look at her stillborn fetus, its body darkened by the abortive agent given three days ago. I pick up the fetus and cradle its fragile form to my chest, soiling the pristine white of my doctor’s gown with newborn blood as I walk out into the dim hall, making my way toward the door with my precious cargo. The nurses at the desk give a quick knowing glance before resuming their paperwork; they have seen me do this before, and they do not stop me. They know I cannot bear children of my own; it is my great personal tragedy. Each abortion mandated by the Party hurts me deeply, yet I must comply for the sake of my own life, and end the lives of all Second Children. But what I do after each abortion is for me, and me alone.
I carry the fetus outside into the chilled November air. Tall, yellowed weeds dance in the wind behind the clinic, hiding the graves where the Second Children lie. I’m supposed to dispose of their bodies in other ways, but I cannot. No human deserves this cold-hearted cruelty.
A shovel leans against the crumbling brick wall of the clinic. I rest the fetus on the earth, pick up my shovel with red-stained hands, and begin to dig. The ghosts of the Second Children come forward, stepping through the weeds as I work. They have grown since I last saw them; their hunger makes them strong. Their black hair is longer now; it glints in the sun. Their eyes are deep brown, like the mud that swaddles them in the grave. They watch, pressing in closer, wishing I could feed them, but my breasts have no milk. I am not your mother, I tell them, yet in some ways I am: it is I who brought them into the spirit world, naked and bruised.
You have another brother, I say to appease them, pointing to the fetus. They nod with sad longing as I finish the grave and lay him inside, cradling his head gently as though he were alive, as though he were my own son. I kneel beside him, rocks prickling my knees as I say a quiet prayer. The ghosts crowd in and kneel too, holding hands in a ring around us. This touches me deeply, and I’m unable to control my emotions. A tear drips down past my chin and into the earth, anointing the fetus with a barren woman’s agony.
I cover the grave with soil and stand up as a nurse from the clinic appears at my back. She asks a question, but I do not respond. Instead, I begin to walk away, down the alley, into the street, and down the road, followed by the ghosts. The nurse calls after me, her voice shrill as she asks where I’m going, but I do not stop.
I reach the center of town, where people begin to whisper. They can see the blood on my gown and hands, though not the hungry ghost children that walk beside me, curious. Where are we going? the children ask.
You will see, I tell them. You will see.
They accept this and we walk until we are beyond the town, and reach the river at the edge of abandoned fields. The river is deep and wide, and rushes past with a fury. The children pull back, letting go of my hands. We are afraid of the river. We have been told it leads to the underworld, the City of Souls. If we go there, we can never come back.
Stay here, I tell them.
They shiver on the bank as the sun lowers in the sky, watching as I wade in from the edge. Icy water curls around my ankles, beginning its seduction. I tread further, the current tugging at my limbs, threatening to take me. I press onward until the water hits my thighs, and I can no longer fight the flow. I give in to the river, letting it drag me forward, my body tumbling below the surface, rolling in the cold and the murk. My lungs swell to bursting as I’m swept away. I am certain I am dying.
Soon, my consciousness peels away from my body, and I no longer need to breathe.
I can swim against the tide, and do so with ease until I’m close to where I first entered the river. As my head crests the surface, the ghost children howl, their faces streaked with mud and anguish. My feet grasp the river bottom and I walk toward the bank, water dripping from my hair and gown as I emerge. I, too, am a spirit, and no longer marred by blood.
I can be your mother now, I say, stepping onto the bank.
The children rush forward, greeting me with trembling bodies, wrapping their arms around my legs and waist. I stroke their hair, feeling its silk beneath my fingers, and we stand like this until they no longer quiver. The sun has dipped below the horizon, and a new moon has risen, a sliver of light in the dark. I motion for us to walk, and we grasp each other’s hands, taking our first steps as a family through the abandoned fields, back toward the town to collect the souls of more children.
G.G. Silverman lives just north of Seattle with her husband and dog. When she’s not writing, she spends her free time tramping through the woods of the Pacific Northwest, and training with her compound bow because #TheZombieApocalypse. To learn more about G.G., please visit her website at www.ggsilverman.com