I’ve been Beth’s closest friend since we were toddlers. All throughout elementary, middle, and high school, we were inseparable. It was only after we went to separate colleges that we spent any significant amount of time apart. For me, it was borderline devastating. It wasn’t the loneliness that bothered me most. It was how Beth, in the very week she began attending school, found a boyfriend who replaced me as the most important person in her life.
We still spoke on the phone with relative frequency during the first couple weeks of school. The frequency diminished, though, as Beth dedicated more and more of her side of the conversation to gush about her love for Luke, the boyfriend. Without ever meeting him, I knew he was using her. And I was right. After a month, Beth was tossed aside and Luke was never seen again. Gradually, the conversations between Beth and me resumed their pre-Luke frequency, but I could tell something was dreadfully wrong. It was only during our Christmas vacation that Beth confessed why she wouldn’t be returning to school the next semester.
Beth was pregnant. She insisted she was on the pill and Luke had worn a condom every time, but her claims didn’t matter much. The pregnancy tests were positive and a visit to Planned Parenthood confirmed what the tests already told her. Somehow, in a terrible move motivated by fear, Beth told her parents. They responded by revoking their promise to pay her tuition and insisted that she move back at the end of the semester or she’d never be welcome in their home again.
We’re both from a small town in Florida. Our families are religious, but Beth’s parents are fanatics. The idea of a pregnant daughter infuriated and terrified them. In their flailing and hysterical confusion, they determined the best course of action would be to send her to a religious order where she could have the baby, give it up for adoption, and devote her life to the church. If the whole situation were on a television show, I would have found it almost funny; a parody of the most exaggerated customs of the irredeemably religious. But this was real. And Beth was going to suffer because of them.
I’d carefully brought up the idea of abortion. It was not a possibility. Beth was 17 at the time and Florida law required the consent of at least one parent to make the procedure legal. We knew her parents might react violently to even the suggestion of abortion, so we couldn’t approach them. On Christmas Eve, after we’d discussed her options for hours upon hours in hushed voices in my parents’ living room, Beth asked the question: “Do you think you can do it?”
I began shaking. As soon as I mentioned the abortion idea, I was terrified she’d ask me to conduct the procedure if all other options fell through. And the worst part was I knew I’d do it if she asked. I couldn’t let her be imprisoned by her parents’ church and be forced to devote herself to a group for whom she felt nothing but fear and contempt.
After we parted ways for the night, I locked myself in my bedroom and looked for videos of the procedure. I felt intense nausea and sympathetic pain as I watched all the necessary steps – the brutal things I’d have to do to my best friend. Gradual dilation. Violent evacuation. No anesthesia, no support. Nothing except the futile comfort I’d try to provide; comfort from the same person who was inflicting the pain. I hadn’t touched Beth yet and I already felt like a torturer.
I called her early the following week afternoon and tried to explain what I’d have to do. I was explicit as possible; part of me hoped the details would frighten her and she’d abandon the idea all together. But that wasn’t an option – not for either of us. She needed to be free from the situation that would condemn her to a life of pious imprisonment, and I couldn’t live with myself if I were to change her mind. I’d be just as bad as her parents.
At the end of the conversation, our plan was in place. It was less a plan than it was mutual resignation; two terrified and desperate people with minds made up to go through with something unavoidable. The next day, I’d collect the implements I’d need. The day after, we’d go through with it.
I purchased an assortment of smooth, wooden dowels of varying widths. I shuddered when I touched the widest one. Next, I went to the drugstore and bought a few packs of condoms. I recognized the cashier from high school and tried to ignore her stare of disgust and disapproval. At another store, I bought more innocuous-looking items: gauze, cotton, peroxide, and painkillers. The painkillers were purchased almost as a joke; I knew they’d be all but useless. I couldn’t stop thinking about the width of that last dowel.
The day after, I met Beth where we’d agreed would be the least likely spot where we’d be interrupted, and, most importantly, where she could feel free to yell if she felt the need. No one came to that part of the city anymore. It was an old industrial park that’d been abandoned decades ago. Not even the local teenagers or homeless bothered to venture into those warehouses anymore. Half of them had caved-in roofs and the other half were plagued by rats and other unpleasant conditions that made visits not worth anyone’s while. For Beth and me, though, it was the only conceivable spot. It was cold, filthy, and a little scary. These were the lengths to which we’d been driven.
We didn’t talk much in the time leading up to the procedure. There wasn’t really anything we could say. I prepared the makeshift tools to the best of my ability and Beth used her phone to watch the same, terrifying video I used a couple nights back to learn what I needed to do. She was shaking slightly. The trembling only increased when she removed her pants and wrapped a blanket around her waist.
When I was ready to start, I did my best to hide the feelings which threatened to pour out of me in a torrent of sobs and pathetic bleating. Beth needed me to stay in control. She wasn’t crying, and she was the one who’d have to endure this indignity. I admired her composure. As I was preparing to insert the first dowel, Beth’s phone rang.
“Oh my God,” she whispered, and jumped to her feet. Wrapping the blanket around her waist again, she paced back and forth while talking in a hushed voice. She was crying. I prayed it wasn’t her parents. They were so, so good at emotional manipulation.
Beth hung up and headed back to me. It wasn’t her parents. For the first time in months, it was Luke. He was on his way to Florida. He wanted to see her and take her away and they could raise their baby together. When Beth told me this past part, she whispered so quietly I needed her to repeat it. In a voice equally hushed but contained a haunted aspect I’ve never heard from her before, she said again: “I never told him I was pregnant.”
The chill I felt had nothing to do with the coldness of the dilapidated warehouse. Beth resumed her position and set her jaw. Her look of fear had changed to something wholly different. She was determined. “Do it,” she instructed. “Now.”
An hour went by as Beth exhibited a strength I never knew she had. She whimpered and winced, but not once did she cry out. I felt intense nausea as I inserted the progressively-wider dowels, having to stop more than once to look away from the bloody blanket underneath her and tried my best to disassociate from the situation for a minute or two. “This isn’t me,” I tried to convince myself. I wouldn’t do something like this. When the waves of nausea passed and I’d calmed down as best I could, I kept going.
The widest dowel was in place. Beth had removed the condom from of the previously-used dilators and had the wooden rod clenched between her teeth. I didn’t know if it was doing her any good, but she hadn’t cried out. Tears flowed from both of us as I removed the last one and took the thin forceps from the jar of rubbing alcohol where they’d been soaking. Before the instrument could touch Beth, a crash echoed through the cavernous warehouse. It was the door we’d been unable to unlock. We’d used the broken window to climb in. But it was undoubtedly the door we’d heard, and from across the football field-sized building, we saw a person striding toward us.
Beth again jumped to her feet, this time yelping when she moved. She scrambled to wrap the blanket around her as the figure moved toward us. “No,” sighed Beth, as she finally recognized who it was. “Luke,” she breathed at me. I’d already figured it out. The closer he came, the more frightened I grew. He was massive. At least 6’6”. And muscular. He moved with the heavy, effortless grace of a of a silverback gorilla. The sunlight coming in through the holes in the roof flashed off his pale skin as he got nearer.
I tried to stand in front of Beth as Luke barreled toward her, but I was pushed away and landed hard on the filthy floor. He reached Beth, who’d huddled against the wall. Luke grasped her shirt in his enormous right hand and lifted her from the ground. Beth flailed and landed weak, futile kicks on his body. Luke stared into her eyes for a moment, then he looked around at the bloodstained instruments on the towel next to where I’d sat.
“No,” Luke hissed into Beth’s face as she hung limply from his grasp, not bothering to fight him anymore. I tried rushing at him, but again he pushed me away and I fell hard on the floor.
“No,” he repeated. “You don’t get to do that. I need him.”
As the words left his mouth, something happened. Luke left arm, which had hung at his side, began to twitch. His hand deformed. Sharp cracks rang out as the shape changed. His fingers elongated and moved with a dextrous articulation I can only associate with tentacles or tendrils. When the fingers were nearly twice their original length, he moved his hand between her naked thighs.
“Give him to me,” Luke growled. For the first time, Beth screamed. I watched helplessly as she tried to clamp her legs together, only to have them wrenched apart by the impossibly strong thumb and pinky of Luke’s reshaped hand. The middle three digits pushed upward as Beth’s scream rose a full octave.
“Mine,” Luke whispered, as he slowly withdrew the fingers. Clasped delicately between them was a red lump no bigger than a lemon. It writhed his his grasp. Its shape was vaguely fetal with a distinct head and body, but the rest was alien. Tiny arms and legs split over and over, fanning out like progressively-thinner cilia. They gripped Luke’s fingers.
Luke dropped Beth to the floor. I heard her ankle snap when she landed and she cried out and grasped the injury as she stared up at the creatures in front of her.
The fetus-thing crawled up Luke’s hand and arm, leaving a trail of slime as it went. It nestled in the crook of his arm and remained there. I could’ve sworn I heard it coo with contentment.
Luke looked at both of us. “Tell whoever you want,” he said with bemusement. “Let them laugh at you.”
He turned, and as he walked away and I scrambled over to help Beth, he turned to face us again. “In a year, they’ll wish they took you seriously. Everyone will.”