I wrote this whilst pregnant with my son... don't jump to any conclusions ;)
The woman flicked through the Baby Names book listlessly. Only a couple of months to go, and she still couldn’t find a name that ‘spoke’ to her. All the names she liked were either too common—Joshua, Connor, Noah, Oliver—or had silly meanings—Cameron, Thomas, Rudy. She had some names picked out for girls, naturally. And the doctors were forever telling her that they couldn’t tell, and she might have a girl, in which case, she’d have 3 or 4 good options already picked out. But it was no use.
Whether or not the doctors knew, she did. She was having a boy. And none, none of the names she liked, would do.
Sighing, she rolled over, sluggish in the early summer heat, and decided to have a nap. She was still thinking about how hot it was, and how much sleep pregnant women seemed to need, when she slipped into the dream.
She was sitting by a lake, trailing her fingers lazily in the still-cool water. The lake wouldn’t really warm up for another couple of weeks, she thought to herself, but the sun was bright enough, the air hot enough, to tempt a few brave souls to go swimming. Not her. Not this early in the season.
And not him either, she thought humourlessly, as she saw what appeared to be a boy of about 10, being hurled towards the lake by a group of kids only a year or two older than he. He didn’t want to swim, his peers were tormenting him, not playing with him; she could see that in his face. Still, it wouldn’t hurt him to be thrown in, not really. It happened all the time, at camps like this one. When summer camps were opened early, to catch the local school kids during spring break, some poor kid always got thrown into the still-cold water.
No, it wouldn’t hurt him. Hadn’t hurt her, she reflected sourly, and it had happened more than once, when she was at that gawky pre-adolescent stage.
Whereas now, she thought, smiling smugly, she was at a very un-gawky adolescent stage. She might just strip down to her underwear, leap in, and save the boy. It would be worth it, to see the gawky pre-adolescent boys marvel at her already-brown skin (it always looked tanned, she was almost a quarter Cherokee) her long, pitch-black hair (it had gotten her into more trouble than her skin, as a child) and her tall, leanly muscled, but still very curvaceous young body (she’d been startled but ecstatic, the summer before, to realise she could have a flat stomach and breasts).
She waited until the boy had actually been thrown in, to the cheers and laughter of the other kids. Then, stripping off to her matching red-and-white striped underwear and bra set, she paused just long enough to glance over her shoulder and roll her eyes at the now-staring boys. Then she dove into the lake, catching her breath momentarily at the sharp chill of the water, and swam towards her would-be rescuee.
She’d been going to camps like these for years, ever since her parents got divorced and everybody had to work too much to look after her when school was out. She had half a dozen certificates in at least as many outdoorsy areas—swimming, hiking, fishing, horse-back riding, tennis, the list went on—and she had a couple in other summer-campy areas as well—pottery, acoustic guitar, first aid.
It was the last which became relevant as soon as she dragged the skinny blonde boy onto the dock.
“He’s not breathing,” she said blankly, horrified to understand the reason pulling him along in the water had been so easy. He was out cold, offering no resistance, and in the water had obviously been a fraction of his actual weight. Which wasn’t much anyway, now that she was looking at him.
Her training, however amateurish it had been, kicked in at nearly the same second. Before she’d had another conscious thought, she’d found his pulse (fairly steady, if weak) and angled his head back, to allow her to better administer mouth-to-mouth. She barked out an order, sharply enough to have the terrified children running for an adult, a camp counsellor, the camp nurse. They scattered in different directions, and when the all came back, only minutes later, she was still hard at work. But the boy was blue, and already colder than the water she’d pulled him from.
Sitting up on the couch, heart pounding, the woman was unsurprised to find herself in tears. She reached for the remote, telling herself that she’d be wrong, praying to a God she barely believed in to please, please let her be wrong this time, but the tears only flowed faster and harder when she got the international news station up on the screen.
His name was Brandon, she thought dully, watching the report. And it had been an asthma attack, brought on by anxiety, which had sealed off his windpipe and made her efforts at rescue-breathing a complete failure. Looking at the screen, she saw the story was just breaking—it had never been aired before. And it had only happened Tuesday, and today was only Thursday.
Her weepy, hormonal eyes still dripping tears, she lumbered to the bathroom. Heartbroken or not, she had to pee, and if she wet the couch she’d only have to clean it up. The thought made her cry a little harder, but only a little. She didn’t have the energy to really sob. She barely had the energy (or the reach) to wipe, when she was done emptying her bladder.
She might have started crying again, this time over her swollen belly and her general fatigue, but as she was washing her hands, she happened to look into the mirror.
The face that stared back at her was so startled, her tears just stopped. Finally waking up fully, she realised that the dream she’d had, had been just that; a dream. She hadn’t been the girl by the lake; she was a grown woman, if barely, and the news story had said the camp was in Alabama. She’d never been within a hundred miles of Alabama. And she was . . . looking at her reflection, she saw her skin, usually so pale it was almost translucent, usually beautiful, now just pasty and sickly. Saw her hair, faintly, barely wavy, a little duller than its usual shining chestnut. Saw her eyes, the closest colour to true grey eyes she’d ever seen, unless she wore green, and then they picked up a hint of yellow around the pupil. She wasn’t a quarter Cherokee. She only had a vague idea what that was. And she’d never been an outdoorsy type. She could swim, but not well enough to save someone from drowning, and she hadn’t the first idea of how to perform . . . what had she thought of it as? Rescue-breathing?
Stumbling over her own feet, which were so tight with excess fluid she could barely move them, she made her way back to the couch. She lay down, feet propped on a couple of pillows, and waited for her mother to come by and check on her. While she waited, she was forced to contemplate the dream.
It hadn’t been the first. She was sure it wouldn’t be the last. Every night, for the past few nights, she’d woken up at some point between dusk and dawn, heart thumping frantically, as she relived horrific memories she was sure had actually happened. She’d been avoiding the news channels since Monday; she’d only turned the news on today, because it had been a child. She’d had to know.
Why, though? Why was she learning first-hand, finding out, experiencing things that had never happened to her? What was this, this, this latent psychic ability doing, blossoming inside her mind, even as her baby blossomed inside her womb? She didn’t want it. The psychic gift, not the baby. She wanted him, however much trouble he was going to be. Otherwise, she’d have just gotten rid of him, wouldn’t she?
But that was too awful to contemplate. Shoving every other concern to the back of her mind, she went back to her naming book. Tried to concentrate on finding something to call the child growing inside her. Even carefully regulating her thoughts, she found herself suspiciously drawn to the names of biblical prophets, names she dimly remembered from the Sunday Schools she had attended until she’d become a rebellious teenager (and hadn’t that worked out well for her, she thought sarcastically, eyeing the mound of her belly). Still, there were some perks, she allowed, giggling quietly as she contemplated naming her baby Nahum, Hezekiah, Ezekiel. Bet he’d love her then, wouldn’t he? Hee hee.
Her mother was pleased to find her in a moderately cheerful mood, when she came over. She was less pleased by her daughter’s light-hearted forays into the arena of biblical naming, but she had to agree, a hint of a smile tugging her lips, that no, Obadiah was maybe not the best name she could choose. Habakkuk should probably stay off the list as well, she added, surprising her daughter into a chuckle.
Neither woman got into the reason why she was suddenly so interested in biblical names. She’d always liked Hebrew names, of course—being raised in church, they’d been some of the earliest names she’d heard—but she was a little unsettled to realise she was actually considering some of the lesser-known, less modern-sounding Hebrew names, in deference to her burgeoning psychic talent. Climbing into bed that night, she gave a start, as she wondered for the first time whether her new skill had something to do with the baby.
Just before she drifted off to sleep, she could have sworn she felt something like a nod, coming from the direction of her womb.
When she sank into the dream, she was almost prepared. Almost. When she found herself standing on a cold concrete floor, in the semi-darkness of what she somehow knew was the man-next-door’s basement, it was less of a surprise than it had been so far.
What got her this time, was her age. Looking down at her feet, they were chubby—chubby like a pregnant woman’s, maybe, but half the length. Maybe not even. Lifting her small, still pudgy hands to her eyes, she realised she was young. Young, so young. 5? 6?
But of course, she knew her own age. She was 5, 5 years old, and she’d had a party only the week before, and she was starting proper school in September, and her sister Meg would have to walk with her now because her mam said so and even her big brothers agreed that you didn’t argue with their mam, especially when she put her foot down about something, and so if Meg didn’t like it, that was, as her mam would’ve said, her own tough luck.
But this. She looked around nervously, chewing her bottom lip. This was probably a kind of tough luck, too. And when she heard the man on the basement stairs, and saw that he did not have a puppy in his arms at all, only a drink of something that the childish part of her still hoped might be the promised strawberry milk, she knew he was a liar and that the biggest lie he had told was when he said he wasn’t going to hurt her, and her little mouth trembled and big, fat tears started to roll down her cheeks.
And he smiled. And he came over to her, handing her the glass, and then he was undoing his dressing gown, and taking out something she’d never seen before, and he was reaching over to her, touching her in a place that no one was ever supposed to, and she was choking on the taste of the strawberry milk and he was telling her to drink it and be a good girl but this wasn’t good, it was bad, and she knew it and she wanted her mammy right now but she was too afraid to tell him so and the tears just kept coming and when he started to, was he going to put that thing inside of her, in that place? her little mind snapped, just for a second, and just for a second she didn’t know who she was or what was happening or what it meant.
And in the second that the little girl forgot her identity, the woman dreaming of her remembered hers, and she understood. This was the reason for the gift. This was what she was meant to do with her new ability. This was why she had been chosen. Without understanding how, the woman simply slid over, and let it happen.
The little girl’s eyes changed first—they had been a pale, clear blue, and now they went grey, no, silver, with a ring of lightning-yellow around the pupils. If the man had been looking at her face, he would have been frightened. As it was, his first clue that something was wrong was when the girl shoved him off her, just before he could do the thing he had brought her to his basement to do; then as he watched, petrified, she seemed to grow before him, becoming a woman, not tall, no, but nearly twice the height of the child, nearly his own height, and pale and shining like the sun, her eyes completely yellow now, her hair streaming behind her like molten bronze, and when he saw the golden light that spilled forward, out of her womb, out of the very place he’d been about to hurt, to damage, to wound forever, he knew what it meant for him.
Like all cowards when they meet their end, he began to scream, a thin, shrieking wail nearly as high as the girl’s would have been, when her mind returned to her. When the light came for him, tangled itself around his vocal cords, cutting off his screams first, and then moving lower, hesitating just long enough to feed its own pleasure, then filling his lungs with the liquid gold that forced out all the air, and illuminated his face so that for the first and last time in his life, he looked beautiful . . . while all that happened, he tried to scream, tried to make a sound by forcing air out of his lungs, then he tried to drag air back in, but it was too late. He was dead, finished, and the woman had disappeared before the girl came back to herself. The girl; whose name was Sinead, and whose pretty strawberry-blonde curls and guileless blue eyes and every inch of baby-pale skin would be unmarked, uninjured, the next morning when she was found, asleep, as far away from the body of the man as she could get, the last of the strawberry milk drained before she slept. The man would be found dead, his heart apparently giving out due to any one of his severely clogged arteries, most likely the result of a lifetime of eating fish fingers and chips and pizza and cola and strawberry milk, the food of his captives, and a pretty woman doctor would carefully ascertain, without hurting the girl at all, that however much Sinead had been frightened or interfered with, she had not been penetrated, and there would be no physical scars to add to the emotional. Which, one could hope, would be relatively minor.
It wasn’t enough. The woman jerked out of sleep, knowing that she had to wait until morning to see it on the news, knowing there was no way to find the girl, to get her safely home before dawn came.
“She needs her mother now!” the woman snapped out, frustrated, “And it’s not enough, I didn’t get there in time, he touched her, she’ll be scarred forever unless she’s the luckiest girl alive, which I think is unlikely considering what we’ve just seen…” Her mouth went dry as she heard? felt? an amused acquiescence. Not a voice, more like . . . like a pat on the shoulder, when you’ve done something difficult. It felt like . . . it felt like understanding, acceptance, agreement. An acknowledgement that we were, indeed, a ‘we’.
Turning her eyes to her swollen belly, she saw that it was still glowing, if faintly. In the darkness of her bedroom, she could see the illumination caused by her own eyes, which were glowing with the same light, like a cat’s. Not a domestic cat, she thought, warming to the idea. A jungle cat. A hunter. A predator.
And again, there was that gently amused, gently guiding, acquiescence. In that moment, she understood that all she had to do was decide, and she could do it again. Thrilled, crazed, drunk on power and righteous fury, she stood on her bed, threw her head back, and let the golden fire blaze from her womb.
And in that instant, she knew. She knew what his name was, knew it as if he had whispered it in her ear. She whispered it back to him, gently, as gently as he’d spoken to her—for all his power, for all his glory, he was her baby boy.
“My baby,” she whispered. “My avenging angel.”
Sinead McConnaugh barely got a mention on the morning news, and only as a sideline for another, much stranger story. The story of how 56 men and 11 women, no connection between more than a dozen of them aside from the fact that they lived in the same county as Sinead, had dropped dead more or less simultaneously in the wee hours of the morning, made international headlines. It made headlines again, weeks later, when it was released that in all cases, the deceased had been convicted paedophiles, rapists of under-age teens, or had home computers filled with thousands, in some cases tens of thousands, of images of child pornography.
Watching from her bed, cradling her newborn tenderly, the July newscast was no news to the woman. It was no news to the being she knew as her son, either.
“And Azazel taught men to make swords and knives and shields and breastplates; and made known to them the metals [of the earth] and the art of working them . . . seest what Azazel hath done, who hath . . . revealed the eternal secrets which were in heaven, which men were striving to learn” 1 Enoch 2:8, Ethiopic Bible, partial quote.