Initially my brain had put down the familiar pattern of taps to nothing but sheer coincidence. But as I rested my head closer to my wife's chest and listened carefully for the kicks, I realised that the rhythmic thump was unmistakable. Somehow, by some trick of fate, the unborn child was communicating. Making sure not to disturb my wife, I pulled out my laptop to translate the message.
Every beat, every kick, made my skin crawl as I desperately punched them into the translator, glancing at my wife every spare second to make sure I wasn't in some state of sleep induced delirium. My mind was suddenly reminded of an old film - a favourite of my dad's. Alien, it was called. I recalled with a paroxysm of anxiety how the aliens in it had opted for the brutal method of bursting through the chests of humans in order to be birthed. The memory did not rest well in my mind as I placed a comforting hand on my wife's cheek. She stirred lightly in her sleep, muttering something under her breath, blissfully unaware of the unfolding message.
The next thumps completed the first word of the communication.
Free, it read.
What could that have meant? I pressed my head closer to the child, desperate to hear the rest. Quickly, the next word was formed to complete a sentence. The two simple words sat on the box of the translator, the entire screen gravitating around the weight they bore.
I lurched forward, feeling some bile rise to the base of my throat. The kicking had ceased now, and at this point I was left to mellow in my scattered, frantic thoughts. Free me? I didn't know what to think of it, I didn't know what to do. As if detecting my conflict, as soon as I rested my head on my pillow to let the message fade to the recesses of my mind, the kicking started up again. Stronger, more aggressive this time. As if imposing something. The word it formed was simple, yet menacing in its own right.
A command. My head snapped back to my sleeping wife as I heard her stomach churn - no, growl - like a wounded animal. I heard her moan, and she once more tussled in her sleep, pulling on the bedsheets.
I pressed myself up against her, the beating once more gone, and closed my eyes, my arms wrapped around her to quell her tumultuous sleep. Unable to sleep myself, I stroked her hair tenderly, trying to settle her down. Eventually, the dark coils of sleep dragged me to their depths, and I fell into a deep, unrestful slumber
That night I dreamed of drifting in an endless, intangible void. I had no form to guide me, and no destination in sight, yet I gravitated to something indiscernible amongst the nothingness. Drawn like a planet in the sun's orbit.
"Come to me, and birth me a son, my surrogate. Bring me a beast, that may free me from this cage of dreams. Bring me a child, that I may call my own." An ancient, dispassionate tone rung out in my head, breaking the blissful silence. I realised it was its call I was following.
At its beckoning I drifted upwards, up a tunnel of space that I realised was split into two paths, one of which I was following. Resting at the end was a bloated sphere, and at its centre a teeming and glowing orb, composed entirely of what seemed to be flesh and meat. The void seemed to have a border here, expanding outwards in a curve reminiscent of an engorged stomach. At its core, of course, was the child it was cultivating.
"My child," the voice called, deific and commanding. I realised it was not addressing me. It seemed too distant, too filled with longing. What was I to it, other than another passing life-form in an endless cosmic cycle, after all? "Soon you shall be bequeathed unto me by the mortal woman, and I shall be awoken from this eternal slumber. From this land of dreams. Eternity has not ever yielded me such joy."
A fierce tide began to flow from the reaches of the void, slamming down against me and pushing me back down the path I'd ascended. I unceremoniously careened through the entire tunnel, erupting out of the other end.
Suddenly, I woke with a start, my hair matted to my head from sweat and my heart thumping against my chest. I turned to my wife beside me, and realised her heart was no longer beating, her soft breath no longer sounding.
As my vision cleared, I saw blood staining the sheets of the bed, cascading freely onto the floor like a river. All coming from my wife. I reached over to her, clutching her body as I looked down at her chest.
Where her bulging belly had once been was a hole, torn outwards and mangled as if something had burrowed from her very core. Viscera and sanguine stained the sheets, my attention only snapping away from the sickening sight at the sound of something churning below the bed. In a state of shell-shock, barely able to process an emotional response, I sat in awe, still holding onto my deceased wife as a sludgy, ethereal tendril slid out from under the bed, covered in fresh blood. It was purple and like the tentacle of a squid, except it was lined with eyes as opposed to suckers, each fixated directly on me. It tilted, as if curious, before drawing closer to my face, pulling more of its form out from underneath. Except, I saw nothing. I only heard the rustling of sheets and the squelch of its movements as it drew itself out, the rest of its body completely invisible to my eyes.
And then, once more from the depths of the bed, I heard another noise. A far more sobering, familiar one.
The sound of a baby crying.