Description: The stories in this collection are primarily mystery, science fiction, soft horror/dark fantasy, and cross-genre pieces. Most of the stories are down-to-earth ones set in today’s world (particularly the mysteries), or begin that way and take a speculative turn into the possible. With the exception of one fantasy mystery, the rest of the stories are set in the near future or in space.
Below are a few sample stories from this collection. “Baby Jesus” is a mystery story that was originally published in the Jan.-Feb. 2006 issue of Calliope (Jan.-Feb. issue) and “Code 13 B” is a science fiction story that was originally published in the March 2012 issue of The Fifth Dimension.
It was the kind of thing that happens in ghettoes. That’s what everybody said; that and “This kind of thing just doesn’t happen here.” It shouldn’t happen anywhere, if you ask me, and when it happened in our little Iowa town (pop. 218), we just didn’t know what the hell to do.
It started out this way: Reggie Pederson, my neighbor, was putting up Christmas lights just before dawn on the day after Thanksgiving. But I had fixed him. I had started at midnight, and as soon as I saw him outside, I flipped the switch and voila! My house lit up like a Christmas tree in heat. He paused, and even in the twilight of impending dawn, I could see Reggie’s mouth drop open. Then he started muttering to himself. He was probably cursing me, but I couldn’t quite make it out.
I had my normal lights, of course. Tiny white and green ones were hanging from the gutters like flashing neon icicles, flickering blue and red patterns were scattered through the hedges by the curb, a steady kaleidoscope of colors clothed the railing around the deck, and a three-foot-tall Santa stood by my door to bid everyone welcome. Rudolph and the other reindeer (along with three elves I named Pixel, Nixie, and Rocko) held the roof down. My driveway was candy-cane lane. All of this was normal, expected. In my house, I had a little tree with tinsel, ornaments, and a few lights; Christmas cards taped on door frames, window frames, and mantle; and a small plate of Oreo cookies (Me, bake? Ha!). I really don’t have much of the so-called “Christmas Spirit,” but I can’t stand Reggie having one up on me. And that was why I had added the Nativity scene to my Christmas ensemble.
I put it to the left—pardon me, on the south side of the house, the one closest to the Pederson’s. There really wasn’t anywhere else to put it; my yard’s not that big, and I had to have it where Reggie could see it when I turned on the lights. I bought it at an internet auction and had it delivered to my sister’s place so he couldn’t suspect anything. I’d brought it home in my 1999 indigo blue metallic Isuzu Hombre after Thanksgiving dinner (my sister’s a good cook), and left it there until after Reggie’s lights had gone off. So, when I flipped the switch, the first thing Reggie saw was the Nativity scene: Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, an Angel, a sheep, a dog, and a donkey all looking in at Baby Jesus nestled in straw under a wooden canopy. It took a long time to set it up with only a flashlight to help me, but I’d gotten it done. It looked pretty fair, all things considered, and filled up a good chunk of my lawn. The hollow statues are about half life-sized, and the paint had held up nicely during the shipping. There were a few chips, here and there, but they weren’t noticeable until you got close. Reggie’s look was precious, and, before he turned back to his own decorating, I took a quick picture for posterity. Or it would have been if my flash had gone off. A Kodak moment if ever there was one, and it came out a blurry gray blob. I showed it to Reggie, anyway, so I could gloat and say, with a straight face, “Remember this?”
This was the day after Thanksgiving, before it happened. We don’t really know when it happened though, because, like most of the people in town, I left my Christmas decorations up until New Year’s Day. That was when the shit hit the fan, so to speak, because it was on New Year’s Day that I started taking mine down. I’d already boxed up the lights from the gutters, hedges, and deck when I turned to the Nativity scene. I carried Joseph, Mary, and the Wise Men into the garage and had just taken down the canopy when I noticed it. There was snow on the ground (it was cold, too; almost zero), and the color was all wrong. Baby Jesus, as far as I could remember, hadn’t been wrapped in a pale blue blanket or wearing a topaz stocking cap with a cute little yarn ball on top of it. The one I’d put there was painted white with a beatific halo. So, when I bent over for a better look, I didn’t see my statue of Baby Jesus. Instead, there was a dead baby in the manger, one that wasn’t part of the package I’d bought on-line. Someone had tossed a baby away in my Nativity scene.
At first, I couldn’t believe it. Then I got angry because it was my Nativity scene that got violated. Then I got cold as hell because I’d stood still too long. That was when I went inside and called the Sheriff. Then I called the fire department. Then I called the news. Maybe I shouldn’t have called the news, but my neighbors would have done it, anyway, and the money from the hotline would come in handy. Christmas isn’t cheap, and neither is an ex-wife. Besides, the fire department showed up first. Or, more precisely, the volunteers pulled up one at a time or in pairs until all ten were milling around wondering what to do and telling each other not to touch anything. Mike Tavers, who had arrived first, had called them all on his cell phone. Then he called the Highway Patrol. Then the news. They told him they were already on their way (the news people, that is), and he was a bit disappointed that he wouldn’t get the $500 for the tip.
Jim Norberg, a burly guy with a good heart, was crying when he started asking me questions. That was bizarre. I never thought of him, an all-conference halfback in high school, as the crying type, but the tears oozed from his hazel eyes, trickled down his pudgy cheeks, and formed tiny icicles that dangled from his salt-and-pepper moustache. I guess the numbness wore off faster on him than it did on us, and he needed to do something. I was too busy being queasy to cry. Sick to my stomach, as the saying goes. His voice caught, and he had to clear it twice, before he got his first question out. No, I told him, I didn’t recognize it. No, I don’t know who could have done it. Yes, lots of people came to look at my lights (I made the “must see” list of Christmas lights for the fourth time, by the way). No, I don’t remember seeing anybody taking a closer look at the Nativity scene. But it must have happened before it snowed (Dec. 18th) because there hadn’t been any footprints in the snow when I started taking down the Nativity scene. I would have noticed them. Oh, you might want to talk to Reggie about it. He got woken up by a car driving off a few weeks ago, so maybe he can help pin down the date.
Then the Sheriff showed up. He asked me the same questions, and I gave him the same answers. I also told him I hadn’t smelled anything unusual, but it had been below freezing most of the time and the canopy gives lots of shade. He wanted me to show him what the Nativity scene looked like before I started taking it down, so I said, “Wouldn’t it be better to leave the crime scene as it is?”
Crime scene, not the kind of thing you want to say about your own back yard—or side yard, for that matter. That was when he took out the yellow tape with bold black letters saying—POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS—over and over again. When he started cordoning off my front door, we got in an argument. That’s when he said I couldn’t be ruled out as a suspect, and I almost hit him. I told you I was angry. But he relented, and I went inside, fuming.
Then the Highway Patrol showed up, and I answered the questions again. When I asked if they ever compared notes, she laughed and said they would, later. In the meantime, did I know who the baby’s parents were… ?
By this time, there were so many cop cars that the whole street looked like Christmas had returned for an encore. People—firemen, highway patrol officers, sheriff and deputies, and nosy neighbors—were coming and going as if they owned the place. My place. It was into this bedlam that the news reporter came and started asking questions. The same ones. Only, this time, the reporter also asked “How does it feel to find a dead baby in your Nativity scene?” Those were his exact words (I have a copy of the interview tape), and that’s when I got arrested. I shouldn’t have hit him, I know, but he did ask me how it felt, so I showed him. He wasn’t very understanding. The money from reporting the news covered the fine for assault and battery and most of the court costs, so I figured we were even.
Well, the various investigators investigated, asked questions, and tromped all over my lawn for most of the day. I was glad I didn’t have a coffee pot (I never touch the stuff), and by the time they left, I wished I didn’t have a bathroom either. I do have a mop, though, and had to use it several times to clean up the melting, dirty snow. In the end, they left, took the baby, took the Nativity scene, and hauled me off to jail. (It’s difficult to sweet-talk a reporter before you slug him; you try it after you’ve given him a black eye!)
It was while I was in the cell waiting for my court hearing (it was a holiday, remember?) and watching TV that the news came on. The reporter had a nice shiner and told the world about “Baby Jesus,” the name they had given it instead of “Baby Doe.” He never once mentioned how he got the black eye, but I couldn’t keep from laughing when they were showing the footage of my interview and cut it off just before I slugged him. He finished the segment with “When I asked him how it felt, he said he was angry, very angry.” His eye twitched a bit as he said it. Or maybe I just thought it did.
A few days later, after I’d paid my fine and done “time served,” I saw a news update. The baby was dead before it was put in the manger and had been healthy when it died. A few days after that, the name of the parents were released, but they weren’t charged with anything. Apparently, they hadn’t committed any crime other than “improper disposal of a corpse.” There wasn’t any abuse or murder at all—not that I was disappointed, exactly, since it ended a lot of speculation for the town gossips. The baby had just died one night in its sleep—the doctors call it “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome”—and the parents had been mortified. Worse, they didn’t have money for a funeral, and when they were driving by and saw the Nativity scene in my yard, they hoped I would have enough Christmas Spirit to help them out. So they had left their baby and taken the statue with them. The father said they left a note, too, but I never found one. Maybe it blew away when it snowed.
When the police picked them up, the mother was rocking my statue back and forth, a bottle held to its mouth, murmuring lullabies.
No, I didn’t want to press charges—as long as I got the statue back.
Somebody with more Christmas Spirit (and more money!) than me paid for Baby Jesus’ funeral. (His real name was Kirk McDougal, but I’ll always think of him as Baby Jesus.) The mother received psychiatric treatment at the state’s expense. And me? I conceded Christmas to Reggie and auctioned off all my Christmas decorations on the internet. I made a bundle on the notorious Nativity scene, especially the Baby Jesus. Some people will collect anything.
© 2006 by Calliope., all rights reserved.
Mitchell Howard sighed, punched the remote’s off button, and rubbed his eyes. Thunder crackled, and a spasm of fear shuddered through his body, a fear so thick, so sudden, that he couldn’t move. An image—distant, cold, impartial—passed before his mind’s eye as he sat, transfixed, his grip on the remote so tight that it seemed his white-knuckled fingers had suddenly become magnetized.
Lightning flashed upon his blue-tinged face, the whites of his dilated eyes, and the trembling, breathless lips. Two seconds later, the thunder crashed through his soul like a hammer shattering a thousand crystal chandeliers, their pieces falling in disarray and confusion in the pit of his stomach. Lightning, thunder, lightning, thunder—Mitchell gasped, his lungs aching from the constriction of his diaphragm and the need for oxygen. He shuddered, his eyes focused, and he gasped several times. His frantic eyes darted about the room, piercing every corner, every crack, every fiber of the carpet, looking for the half-remembered memory…
* * * * *
“Hey, Mom!” Mitch called from the front porch, his changing voice squawking with excitement. “Storm’s comin’!” He opened the door and stepped onto the front stoop, gazing up at the deep gray clouds roiling toward the farm.
“Storm?” his mother said, coming up behind him. “The weather man never said nothin’ about no storm. What’s got into you, boy?” Leaning over his twelve-year old shoulder, she squinted through cataracts at the sky. “Well, I’ll be,” she said, shaking her head. “Ain’t never seen no storm like that.”
“Cool, huh Ma?” Mitch said, pointing at the single, long, fast-moving bank of clouds. “Awful dark, though,” he added, his childish excitement curtailed by a rare moment of maturity. “It looks like a bad one.”
His mother’s nostrils flared as she took a deep, reflective breath, and then she shook her head. “Don’t smell like no rain. You best go tell your Pa.”
Mitch took a step outside, still glancing at the cloud bank—it was much closer—and froze in place. “Ma?” he said, pointing at the cloud, “What’s that?”
His mother, squinted, clicked her tongue, and brushed past her son. “Get in the basement,” she ordered, not looking back. “Tornado!” she yelled, her deep, booming voice echoing across the farm like a call to supper. Mitch watched her stocky form running across the yard, waving toward the field where his father was plowing, yelling, “Tornado!” at the top of her voice.
Mitch turned back inside, stopped, and looked at the tornado forming in the cloud, a tornado with a metallic sheen and a high whining pitch, like a radio being tuned. He stopped on the stoop, staring at the spinning metal platter moving toward him, toward the house, toward his mother…
* * * * *
“The National Weather Service has issued a severe thunderstorm warning for—”
Mitchell jammed his finger on the off button and threw the remote across the room with such violence that he forgot, for a moment, the faint image of a childhood long buried. The indescribable fear remained, but he was in control now. Thunder crashed, and he cringed, but, this time, it did not send him into another epileptic fit. “Damn,” he muttered, feeling the distinct warmth of the product of an uncontrollable bowel movement. “God Damn It!” He cursed, moving toward the bathroom. “God Damn epilepsy!” He cursed, his mind going back, back to the first time…
* * * * *
“Mitchell,” a half-familiar voice called from far away.
“What’s that smell?” another voice asked.
“Eeww, he messed himself,” a girl said, a faint image coming into focus.
“Mitchell,” the stern, demanding voice of Mrs. Millstone barked, “can you hear me?”
Mitchell blinked until the faces of his classmates came into focus. They had gathered around in a close circle, some with wide, fearful eyes; some with fingers pinching noses; and some holding back laughter. Someone slapped his face lightly, and he turned to the worried brow and amber eyes of Mrs. Millstone.
“Are you all right?” Mrs. Millstone asked, feeling his forehead. “Do you know what happened?”
Mitchell shook his head beneath the warm, calming pressure of her fingers. “No, Mrs. Millstone,” he replied, automatically.
Sirens were approaching, drawing one of the first grader’s attention. “Hey, cool,” Jimmie Wilkie said, climbing on top of the desk by the window. “An ambulance!” Most of the kids rushed to look out the window, their excited chatter picking up as Mrs. Millstone helped Mitchell sit up.
“There, now,” she said, smiling and brushing the sweaty hair from his brow. “You’ll be all right, now.”
Then, amidst a great deal of excitement, he got his first ride in an ambulance…
* * * * *
Mitchell retrieved the remote and sighed—it was broken. “Christ,” he said, angry with himself for losing his temper. Then, holding the pieces of the casing together, he punched the on-button as best he could.
“… counties, you are advised to take cover immediately. The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning—”
The lights went out, and it was suddenly quite dark, despite being midday. The thunder and lightning stopped, and a dreadful calm settled upon the old farm house. “No,” Mitchell rasped, dropping the pieces of the remote…
* * * * *
Mitchell stared at the tornado, unable to move. His mother’s voice was unrecognizable, its booming quality washing over him like a wave of anxiety. The tornado wasn’t what he had expected—there was a whirling eddy of clouds, but it wasn’t a long, tenuous, violent cone of wind. It was a pie pan. A pretty big pie pan turned upside down, whirling toward him like a Frisbee. It was getting closer and closer, finally hovering just above the roof of the porch.
“Wow,” he said, staring into the black chasm of the pie pan as a series of hubcaps emerged. They weren’t any bigger than normal, and looked a lot like the ones on the old Buick his Grandpa drove. They swarmed around him, past him, toward the field. He watched as they dwindled and disappeared—all but one; it hovered directly over him. Then, it opened, and the honey bees swarmed toward him.
Mitchell knew what bees did: they sting. He’d been stung before, and every time, he’d have to be rushed to the hospital for a shot of epinephrine. He kept a few doses in his room. More was stored in the medicine chest in the bathroom. If he got stung…
He ran inside, the screen door slamming behind him. He ran into the bathroom, slammed and locked the door to keep the bees out. He shoved a towel into the crack under the door, and flung the medicine chest open, scrounging for the shot he knew he would need. Then, he waited, listening for the deadly hum of the honey bees, the distant screams not quite registering…
* * * * *
Mitchell made his way to the hall closet and took out a flash light and bug spray—two cans. He turned the flashlight on, swinging it around like furtive glances, covering the windows, the doors, the floor, the ceiling, the walls—and then he hurried to the bathroom. He shut the door, a queasy feeling of déjà vu creeping over him as he shoved the towel under the door. He wet a washcloth and forced it into the key hole, remembering how he had learned that the bees could fit through it…
* * * * *
Mitchell came to on the floor of the bathroom, his body contorted, his breathing harsh and ragged. All about him, he could hear the buzzing of the bees and see the flashing lights of their eyes. He lay there, the epinephrine lying just out of reach, the bees just beyond the door, humming, humming.
Scratching echoed from the key hole, and a deafening click consumed his awareness—the door was unlocked!
Mitchell lay still, unable to move, his body shaken, cold, and almost beyond his control. He could smell it, the familiar stench that always followed his seizures. He could feel the numbness and fatigue of muscles gone crazy. He could move, again, but time seemed so slow, so unnecessary.
The bees. That’s why he was in the bathroom, because of the bees. They were going to sting him and he needed his epinephrine. He rolled over, slowly, with great effort and little care, his weakened hand moving toward the shot. The door opened, slowly, the bees…
* * * * *
The phone rang, drowning out the thunder, the lightning, the memories. Mitchell frowned. Should he leave the bathroom? It was the safest place in the house, if the tornado struck.
The phone rang, again, tempting him to deny the danger of the tornado. But, what if it hit while he was in the living room, surrounded by all those windows?
The phone rang a third time, and he moved toward the door, his hand hesitating on the handle, squeezing it.
The phone rang, again, and, with a furious gesture, he flung the door outward.
* * * * *
The door opened, slowly, bumping up against his leg. A shaft of light streamed in, striking the wall and moving down, into his eyes.
“Don’t hurt me,” Mitchell muttered, “please, don’t hurt me,” he muttered again.
“Son?” his mother’s voice called as a hand grazed his calf. “Son, are you all right?”
“Ma?” Mitchell croaked, his voice barely audible.
“Are you hurt, boy?” she asked, her hand gripping his leg as the light found his eyes. He flinched as she moved forward, up his leg, his torso, finally settling on his forehead. “Dear me,” she said. “You must have had a seizure.”
Mitchell stiffened, the hand on his forehead was cold, too cold. The light left his eyes as his mother set the flashlight on the toilet seat. Then she turned toward him, and in the glow of the light, he could see her eyes shining with an intensity that should have been covered by a thick, white sheet. As she knelt forward, he screamed.
“It’s all right, son,” she said, smiling, kneeling down to kiss him on the cheek. “You’ll be fine, soon,” she said, opening her mouth by his ear. The distant hum of bees fell upon his ears like the pale stench of morning breath. “You’ll be just fine,” she said as something small, moist, and sticky fell from her tongue, landing on his cheek.
* * * * *
The door flew open and Mitchell stepped out of the bathroom. The calm was over—rain pelted the windows, lightning flashed and thunder rattled the old farmhouse windows in their frames. The phone rang. He reached out, his hands trembling, and quickly thrust the receiver to his ear.
“Hello?” he said, his voice harsh, rapid, tense. “Hello?” he repeated.
“Son?” his mother said, “are you all right, dear?”
“Yes, mother,” Mitchell said, his voice hollow. “I’m fine.”
“Well,” she said, tonelessly, “I know how you feel about storms.”
“Yes, mother,” Mitchell replied, his voice empty of emotion. “I don’t like them.”
“No, you don’t,” she replied, hanging up.
Mitchell hung up the phone, sat down, and closed his eyes. The storm, still raging outside, left him, and he was enveloped in a warm, soothing hum that drowned out everything, including his thoughts. Something moved within him, just under his skin, but he never noticed, never cared. Something else moved. And something else. Soon, his arms and legs were swarming with motion, just under the skin, and his body rose, of its own accord, and walked toward the door, toward the storm.
Lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and wind-driven rain rhythmically slashed at the windows. His body opened the door against the wind, letting the cold spring rain pelt him.
Hovering just above the porch was a very large pie pan…
© 2014, all rights reserved.
Code 13 B
The Granger Bee tumbled through space like a dead leaf caught in the currents of a river. Its trajectory had been—and continued to be—a low earth orbit, unless it ran full tilt into the Pacific Ocean before it pulled up. According to The Scavenger II navigation computer, whatever it would do would happen in three days, four hours, and sixteen minutes.
“Jonah?” Captain Jasmine Gray said with a twisted sense of optimistic sadness.
“No response to queries, Ma’am,” Lieutenant Jonah Tway replied.
“Life signs?” Captain Gray continued. A part of her always hoped there would be, but when a ship did a ballet dance like that…
“Negative, Ma’am. It appears to be a derelict.”
Captain Gray sighed. “Very well,” she said, “Match her speed, trajectory, and rotational vectors.” The Scavenger II began to twist in a rhythmic fashion, and Captain Gray fought back the instinctive twinge of queasiness.
“There, Captain!” Ensign Lev Latovski said. “It looks like a meteorite strike.”
“Yes,” Captain Gray said, “It definitely collided with something.” There was a hole in the hull—a relatively small one, but even small holes could be disastrous in space, especially when it opened up the bridge like this one had.
“Captain,” Lieutenant Tway said, “We’ve received confirmation from Space Central. They lost contact with the Granger Bee two weeks ago. Shall I report that we found it?”
Captain Gray shook her head. “Not yet. Let’s find out if there are any survivors, first. You and Lev suit up and check it out.”
“Yes Ma’am,” they replied in unison.
After they had left the bridge and were replaced, Captain Gray nudged the intercom button and said, “Michelle?”
“Prepare for departure on a salvage mission.”
“Yes, Ma’am, preparations are already underway.”
A few minutes later, Lieutenant Tway’s voice came through the ship intercom. “Captain?”
“You can scratch the salvage plans.”
Captain Gray frowned, “Survivors?”
“No, Captain,” Lieutenant Tway said. “They’re all dead; the ship’s life support system was damaged in the collision.”
Captain Gray’s frown deepened. “Jonah, if there are no survivors, what is to stop us from claiming salvage rights?”
“Um,” Jonah hesitated. “Code 13 B.”
Captain Gray’s eyebrows twitched upward as she repeated, “Code 13 B?”
“Yes, Ma’am. This is a Commission matter. Of course, we’ll have to tow it in…”
At cost, Captain Gray finished for him. “Why?” she said, pressing her fingertips to her lips. “Mister Tway, there hasn’t been a violation of Code 13 B in over fifty years, not since the death penalty was attached to it. I don’t know of any spacefarers who are stupid enough to take a risk like that these days.”
“Nevertheless,” Lieutenant Tway said, “the destruction of the ship was not due to a meteorite. The ship struck a diaper, and it has identitags attached to it.”
Captain Gray stared forward for a long moment, then said, “All right, Lieutenant, can you stabilize it?”
“I believe so, Ma’am. It will take a few minutes.”
“Very well. How many bodies?”
Seven dead, she thought. That should never have happened. “Bring their names, secure the bodies, and seal the ship when you finish. Cut its engines and we’ll tow it in with grapples. I’ll contact Space Central and alert Commission to the situation. Make it snappy—we wouldn’t want to disturb the evidence any more than we already have.”
“Captain?” Ensign Liza Lauderman asked after Captain Gray finished her report.
“What’s Code 13 B?”
Captain Gray turned toward the youngest member of her crew. “Don’t they teach it at the academies anymore?”
The ensign shook her head. “No, Ma’am.”
“Code 13 B,” Captain Gray said, “is the law prohibiting littering in space. Since the debris continues to move at the rate in which it is expelled from the ship, it becomes a space hazard with the potential to do what happened to the Granger Bee. Even soft debris is dangerous, since it freezes immediately. Now that the reclamation units are mandatory on all space faring vessels, whatever refuse is made is recycled. Now, there’s no need to clutter up space with garbage. Hence, the punishment is severe for those who violate it.”
“Oh,” Ensign Lauderman said, turning to stare at the crippled derelict slowly tumbling over on the view screen.
© 2012, all rights reserved.
David Jaeger eased his 2015 Toyota Prius into the first available spot near the entrance of The Intrepid Catholic Clinic, put it in park, and shut off the engine. His wife, head bowed, hands folded, moved her lips in silent prayer, and he respectfully lowered his head and waited. At length, she took a deep breath and they both quietly said, “Amen.”
He opened his door, got out—it was a warm, sunny morning—and walked around the front of the car to open her door for her. She smiled, eased her long legs through the open door, ducked, pried herself out—with his help—and unfolded herself. Once outside, she stretched, smiled down at her husband, and said, “Thank you, dear.” She resembled a warped wooden matchstick—tall, slender, topped off with brilliant red hair that shone like flame where the sunlight ignited it—cloaked in a loose-fitting sky blue blouse and navy blue slacks. The slight bulge in her midsection was barely noticeable, except to those who knew her well. The crucifix, small and unobtrusive, glittered as it settled on her chest, just between her modest breasts. She glanced at her watch, licked her lips, and said, “We’re a bit early.”
He nodded and took her hand in his. “I know,” he said. “We’ll have to wait.” Beside her, he looked short and fat, even though he was nearly six feet tall and was well within his BMI scale. He had carefully manicured collar-length, feathered brown hair and wore a sleek black business suit—expensive but not outlandish—that screamed middle management. “Well,” he added, stepping onto the curb, “we may as well go in.” She nodded, falling in beside him, their strides melding into a long-familiar rhythm. He paused with his hand on the door handle, and looked into her troubled brown eyes. “Whatever the results,” he said quietly. “Whatever the results, God will see us through.”
“I know,” she said, forcing a smile. “But,” she said, her lower lip quivering, “what if it’s positive?”
“We’ve been through that a hundred times,” he said, somewhat impatiently. “We’ll deal with that when—if—the time comes.”
There was a gentle push on the door from inside, and they separated to allow the couple coming out to pass between them. It was an Hispanic couple. He was standing a bit away from her, his eyes ahead of him, ignoring both of them as he passed. His wife, slower, more deliberate, eyes downcast, lifted her gaze—her eyes were puffy and red—and half-smiled. “Excuse us,” she said politely, then lowered her gaze again.
They gazed after the couple for a moment, then their hands instinctively linked as he caught the door and held it open. Once inside, he exhaled slowly, deliberately, and they crossed the short distance to the receptionist’s desk. Jesus looked kindly down at them from above the receptionist desk, and he surreptitiously crossed himself.
“May I help you?” the receptionist asked from behind the counter. She was young, still in the trainee habit, with a dimpled smile and innocent blue eyes.
“We have an appointment,” he said. “The Jaegers. They have the results,” he added, unnecessarily.
The receptionist smiled—kindly, like Jesus—and turned her attention to the computer screen just below the counter edge. “Yes,” she said. “You’re Dr. Richards’ 2:00 p.m. appointment.” She made a few keystrokes. “You’re a bit early,” she added. “It will be a few minutes.”
“That’s all right,” his wife said.
“You can wait in there,” she said gesturing to an open area to the left. There were several love seats, artfully arranged to allow a modicum of privacy amid the congestion of the waiting room. Small tables stood between pairs of them, and on each table were two copies of the Bible. Reproductive prints of the Last Supper, the Creation of Adam, and a pieta hung from three of the walls, while the fourth was a large plate-glass window. There were two couples sitting together, quietly talking or praying.
“Thank you,” David said, ushering his wife into one of the open love seats. It was a comfortable seat, well-cushioned, forgiving, intimate. They waited in silence, each entertaining their own thoughts, their eyes examining the contours of the tile floor.
“Mr. and Mrs. Jaeger,” a voice intruded upon them. She was an elderly woman, probably near retirement, a bit frumpy, little makeup. A white smock—pristine at a distance, but as she neared, the remnants of an old coffee stain shaped like a crooked, bleeding comma came into focus; her name tag—RITA—was a bit tilted in her vain attempt to cover the bulk of the stain.
Mr. Jaeger kept his eyes sternly focused on his wife’s white knuckles smothering his hand.
“Yes?” his wife asked, lifting her gaze to meet Rita’s indiscernible hazel eyes, somewhat magnified by Rita’s thick glasses.
“Dr. Richards will see you now,” Rita said, her voice a deep alto. “If you will come this way,” she said, turning authoritatively.
Mrs. Jaeger, the muscles of her jaws twitching, was the first to stand, dragging her husband’s arm with her. A moment later, he forced himself to stand, and they followed Rita down a corridor. It was a familiar corridor, the one they had been escorted down when they had come in for the amniocentesis. Several doors were closed, some had tiny blue lights on them while others had green or red. They had expected to be ushered into one of the ones with a green light, but Rita led them around the end of the corridor and down a second hallway. They turned, again, at the end of that hallway, and into a dead end. It was fairly short, with two doors on either side. Three of the doors were open with green lights; the other was closed with a red light on.
Rita led them to the last door on the right, opposite the closed door, and gestured them in.
It wasn’t the typical doctor’s office room. There were no examination tables covered in a white sheet and plastic, no sink, no cupboards or drawers, no gadgets of any sort. There was a small table with a few chairs around it. A few pamphlets were neatly arranged on the table—almost obsessively so. An inverted five gallon water bottle with little paper cups waited just inside the doorway. It still had that antiseptic smell that pervades clinics. “Dr. Richards will be in to see you shortly,” Rita said, turning on the blue light and slowly shutting the door.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Jaeger said, her voice quavering in her ears, a bit too high-pitched, a bit too grating. She smiled, until the door was shut, then leaned into her husband. He squeezed her shoulder, gently, the gesture saying much more than the “I know,” he whispered a few moments later. He repeated it, again, more for himself, this time.
After a long moment, they separated and moved to sit at the table. Mr. Jaeger looked at the pamphlets, read a few titles, and quickly turned them over. His wife clutched her crucifix and sat quickly down.
“What if it’s positive,” she said plaintively, her fingertip nudging one of the overturned pamphlets.
“God willing,” he said quietly, “It won’t be.”
She lowered her gaze and repeated, barely audible, “But what if it is?”
He sighed. “We’ve gone over it a thousand times,” he said.
“I know, but… What if our baby has it?” She looked up, her eyes troubled, hopeful, uncertain, scared, pleading—the same wild concoction of emotions that had plagued them since the day of the test.
He frowned. “Well,” he said after a few moments, glancing down at the pamphlets. “We’ll have to decide that when we have to decide that.”
“I wish we never did that damned test,” she blurted, biting her lip.
He nodded, slowly. “I know,” he said. She had been reluctant from the start, but he had told her that it would be better to know, and he repeated it. “At least we’ll know.” He reached out and took her hand gently between his. “Regardless of what it is, we’ll know what we’ll have to do.”
They sat in silence, their forehead leaning against each other. After what seemed like an eternity, the door handle turned, startling them. It opened, slowly, and Dr. Richards entered, closing it softly behind her.
“Good afternoon,” Dr. Richards began, leaning against the door.
They nodded, and David said, “Hello Dr. Richards.”
“We have the results,” she began, leaning against the closed door. Dr. Richards was short, about five two, brunette, dressed in a white smock that did little to tarnish her voluptuous figure. She held a clipboard against her chest, her arms folded defensively around it, and her brows furrowed. “Are you sure you want to know them?” She asked.
Mrs. Jaeger gulped, turned pale, slid her hand from between her husband’s and guided it slowly to her crucifix, rolling it gently between her fingertips.
He cringed, his fingers following her hand for a moment before falling flat on the table.
Mr. Jaeger nodded, slowly, deliberately. “Yes,” he added, bracing himself.
Dr. Richards nodded. “Mrs. Jaeger?”
Mrs. Jaeger gulped, her hand dropping from her crucifix to settling gently, protectively on her abdomen. She took a deep breath and squawked a feeble, “yes.”
“All right, then,” Dr. Richards said. “The test results are positive.” She paused, then her voice softened and she added, unnecessarily, “He will be gay.”
Mrs. Jaeger sobbed, her hands moving up to her mouth as she attempted to retain some composure. “No,” she said behind her clenched, crumpled fingers. “It has to be wrong.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Jaeger,” Dr. Richards replied, “but the test is 100 percent accurate. He has the combination of genes that has been conclusively linked to homosexuality. Everyone with this combination of genes is gay.”
Mr. Jaeger nodded, blinking rapidly, and rasped, “Thank you doctor,” he said. “May we have a few moments?”
“Of course,” Dr. Richards said, turning and opening the door. Before closing it, she switched the light to red and said, “I’ll be back in a few minutes to discuss your options.” The door slid shut quietly behind her.
“Oh Davy, he’s gay. Our baby’s gay.” She sobbed.
“Options,” he directed his anger toward the door. “What options?” he barked. “Abortion? That’s murder. A gay son? That’s an abomination. How do we choose between them?” A few moments passed, then, as the tears began to flow, he repeated, “How do we choose?”
Several more seconds passed before Mrs. Jaeger, tears streaming down her cheeks, said, “Because,” she gulped, reaching for the nearest pamphlet with a shaky hand and turning it slowly over. The title was, My Baby’s Gay: Now What?
She took a deep breath and finished, “Because we must.”
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