Carol Smith should have been drowning. She was drowsily awoken by what could possibly have been screams of agony in a far distance. She was immersed in a constricting environment that entirely consisted of a warm, watery blackness, both cloying and suffocating. An alien world.
Her mind cleared slightly, and as it did, Carol began to sluggishly writhe in panic and discomfort. Wrists were bound securely to her ankles, preventing any real movement of her limbs. She was naked, bent almost double and laying on her side. That much she knew. She tried to make sense of this new world she had awoken in, but deprived of familiar senses of sight, touch, or smell, it was next to impossible. She was breathing through a narrow rubber tube that was fastened, in some fashion, to her mouth. Her nostrils were clamped tight by something. Painfully so, in fact.
She longed to reach up, to relieve the pinching pressure on her nose. However, that was not possible. Carol tried to roll onto her knees, but at age forty-seven, and still feeling abnormally lethargic, her flabby body wasn’t up to the task. She tried to scrunch her face up, but the only information gleaned from that was she could feel copious amounts of some kind of tape covering her lower face. The facial contortions brought Carol an unwelcome gift of acrid salt water that leaked in around the tube and oozed into her mouth, making her gag. This panicked her. She quickly stopped any movement of her face, swallowing the small amount of liquid that had trickled in. The taste was vile, rubber laden; foul on her tongue and burning her throat. Giving that idea up, Carol next tried rocking her head back and forth to estimate the confines she was trapped in. She could feel a crinkling ‘something’ behind her that readily gave with the pressure exerted by the back of her head.
What the hell was it? Some kind of plastic sheeting?
Her senses were returning quickly now. She was shaking of her stupor. The same material that was behind her head was evidently under her body. The situation slowly dawned on her. She was trussed up inside a thick water-filled plastic bag! The only thing that was preventing her from drowning was the rubber tube. Not being able to achieve anything useful, Carol merely lay still, and listened, concentrating on her breathing.
Apart from her whistling breath, all was a cold silence, as if the outside world no longer existed. The universe as Carol had known it had contracted, now solely consisting of the liquid environment she was enclosed in.
As her mind cleared, her panic increased exponentially. Carol fought the feeling of terror, and momentarily gained temporary victory over it. Think, Carol, think. How did you get in here? But no answers came. All was a blank. The last thing she remembered was going to bed.
Then the real horror began. She could feel her rubber lifeline begin to pull taut, drawing her head forward. The motion was a gentle, playful jerk at first. More of the foul salty liquid began to trickle into her mouth as the tube became slightly dislodged. She started to gag again. Then, with a savage yank, the tube was torn completely from her mouth. A sudden shock of the withdrawal of her air supply made Carol take in a deep involuntary gasp. That was a horrible mistake. The pain of the liquid entering her lungs was akin to breathing in molten metal.
Carol instinctively tried to scream in agony, but that action only served to release the remnants of the oxygen that was still in her lungs.
She began to struggle to tear herself out of the plastic membrane, to reach the precious air that she knew must be outside it, but she could get no purchase. Her bound hands scrabbled behind her in an attempt to rip the plastic open and let the water out and the air in. It was useless. The plastic was tough, slippery and unyielding to her desperate fingers. Her head jerked backwards and forwards urgently trying to locate the dislocated tube. Despite her frantic efforts, Carol could not find it. The realization hit her. She was going to die in here. With that harsh knowledge she came to the inevitable conclusion that it was better to get it over with quickly, so as to suffer less.
Her struggles weakened. She willed her brain to take the final step, to force her burning, reluctant lungs to pull in more water. But her body was loath to do it, having experienced the initial agony of what it was like to drown. Come on, Carol, get it over with. A couple of deep breaths and it will all be over.
She steeled herself. One, two, thr….
The universe collapsed around her. Water suddenly gushed from the bag letting in precious air and blinding light.
Carol lay writhing within the wet, clinging plastic, heaving and gagging, convulsing lungs purged out choking salt water in favor of fresh air. It was a while before she could do anything other than lay there, concentrating on pulling life-giving oxygen in and out of her tortured, and burning chest cavity.
“How was that”?
Sound. A woman’s voice from somewhere in the harsh brightness.
“Enjoying the birthing experience, Carol? Oh, of course, you can’t talk, can you? Sorry. Let me help you out with that.” Her mysterious captor evidently knew her.
Echoing footsteps across a hard floor. The room must be large and empty. Carol could sense someone bending close to her. Her eyes had still not adjusted to the light. A sudden tearing sensation across her face as tape was ripped away from delicate skin around nose and mouth, the pain causing Carol to cry out.
“Ah, dear Carol…the newborn’s cry. A little premature, isn’t it, though? You’re not even born yet! But what am I saying! I can’t teach you anything about delivering babies, can I? After all, you’re the expert on that process. I’m the amateur. Don’t worry though, I’m a quick study.”
It was a moment before Carol Smith summoned up the courage and gasping energy to reply to her tormentor. “Who are you, why are you doing this to me? What have I ever done to you?” Carol began to sob. A hand reached down, smoothed at her hair. Comforting, revolting. Carol tried to jerk her head away, but as she did, the hair was gripped tightly and she was pulled back.
“In time Carol. Be patient. Isn’t that what you tell all new mothers? Be patient, Carol. Like I’ve had to be.”
Her hair was released from its tugging entangled grasp, and her head slumped painfully back to the hard, cold, unyielding floor.
“Second stage now. Time for labor, I think.”
Strong hands pulled at Carol’s wet body, grasping at her, rolling her over. Carol thought about fighting back, to struggle, but in the end, that was all it was, a thought. What she actually did was cooperate with a heavy frozen awareness. A worn nylon rope was passed under her. Rough fibers dug in to her water softened flesh. Then the line was pulled tight, friction digging it into the skin further, as it was tied tightly around. Carol was terrified. What was this madwoman doing to her? The birthing experience? She obviously knew who Carol was, and that she was a midwife. All further speculation was stopped suddenly, as Carol heard the humming whine of an electric motor beginning somewhere in front of her within the large room. She could also feel its powerful vibration through the floor she was laying on. The rope began to slowly tighten across her ribs, sliding up across her wet flesh till it finally lodged under her ample breasts, forcing them up into her neck. As the cord tightened still further, it started to constrict Carol’s breath, causing her chest wall to close in against her straining lungs. Gasping for breath once more, gurgling out in pain, Carol was slowly winched across the abrasive concrete floor that she was laying on. The irregular concrete surface gouged and scoured her skin. It seemed to Carol that she had only gone a few feet, when the dragging stopped. Her wheezing, pain filled body came to a halt. The tension released slightly on the line, and she was able to breathe a little easier.
The woman’s voice again. Mocking, cruel.
“Don’t you remember Carol? Birth is pain. That’s what you told me. And you were so right. I know all about pain – that was thanks to you and Dr. Ramah. You were good teachers. Now I’m going to return the lesson, Carol. The student, you’ll find, has become the teacher. I’m going to teach you about pain. You’re in my world now.”
Carol turned her head away. Hands again on her body now. Rubbing; sensual movements that caressed her bruised, scraped skin. Applying something repulsive that smelt strongly of rancid animal fat. Carol’s stomach heaved at the stench, she wanted to vomit.
“Vernix, Carol, Vernix! Let’s get it as right as we can. These little details are so important, aren’t they?”
Vernix…that was the thick white oily substance that covered a baby when it was born. What was this madwoman doing to her? The hateful, terrifying voice continued.
“Of course, Carol, as good a teacher as you are, details slip by you sometimes don’t they? The devil’s in the details.”
Carol started to sob again. “What are you doing to me…please tell me who you are…”
Instantly a face was pressed against hers, too close to see the features of it. Warm breath was on her cheek, strong arms slipped under her, pulling her up, cuddling Carol with a chilling mockery of a mother’s love, rocking her slowly. “Don’t cry my baby, don’t cry…hush now. I’m here.”
This frightened Carol more than anything that had gone before. She stopped crying immediately, abject fear silencing her. The woman began to softly sing to her:
“Hush little baby,
don’t say a word,
Momma’s going to buy you a mocking bird….”
As she sang, she deftly manhandled Carol onto what felt like a rough wooden ramp. Loose splinters from it speared into her fleshy thigh, puncturing deeply, but Carol was by now past the point of crying out in discomfort…her body a single throbbing mass of pain from its maltreatment. She wasn’t sure how long she could cope with these physical abuses, or her mind with the mental ones. The singing had stopped now. Carol had been placed with an almost gentle reverence onto the wooden ramp. The hateful whine of the electric motor started up again. The rope tightened, leaving the middle-aged midwife fighting for breath once more. Carol was dragged, inch by agonizing inch up the coarse surface of the ramp.
“Have to help you with this bit, Carol. You do know that word, don’t you? Help?”
Carol said nothing to her captor, partly because she didn’t know what was expected of her in the way of a response and the taught pressure of the line had made speech impossible again. Her tormentor spoke again:
“No, you don’t do you, Carol. At least you didn’t know what the word meant fourteen years ago.”
Fourteen years ago….fourteen years….oh God, no! Carol Smith suddenly found a breathless voice despite the biting rope.
“It was an accident, Barbara, an accident…I tried everything I could, so did Dr. Ramah…really we did, but the baby wouldn’t have survived no matter what the hospital or we did…surely you must know that!”
First came a sniggering, hollow laugh, then: “Is that right, Carol? So that machine that you used didn’t cause my baby’s brain to hemorrhage when you connected it up at the wrong pressure then? And you didn’t apply the forceps too tightly in the first place; pulling so hard that you broke his little pelvis, trying to pull him out? Then you and Dr. Ramah didn’t collude to falsify the medical records that were presented at the inquest to make sure you kept your precious jobs and reputations?”
Silence. Carol could say nothing. The woman moved herself into her line of sight. Carol stared at the face of Barbara Reynolds. Fourteen years of pain and remembrance of that tragic day – the day when her baby had died. Those long years had not been kind to the woman.
“Look Carol, look!” Barbara’s upraised arm indicated behind the prostrate Carol at the top of the ramp. Carol craned her head round with difficulty to see what she was being shown. A rubber tube of narrow diameter, suspended by an intricate spider web network of lines to floor, walls and ceiling. The rope that secured her led into the blackness of the short, narrow tunnel.
“It’s taken me years to plan this, Carol. Years. Don’t you enjoy the irony of it all? The courts wouldn’t punish either of you. The coroner couldn’t either because you both lied or covered yourselves. But I can. You made my poor baby boy suffer; you took his life. Now you are going to suffer. Dr. Ramah didn’t seem to appreciate the irony of it either. He actually went ahead of you a while ago. God, how he screamed at the end. It’s a pity you didn’t see it.”
The screams that Carol had first heard when she awoke.
‘Yes, dear Carol. You’re all nice and greased up, so the first bit will be easy. Sadly though the tube narrows at the other end. Quite considerably, I’m afraid. It’ll be uncomfortable. Painful even, I’m sure. But don’t worry; you will come out the other end eventually. You can be sure of that. I have just the thing to help you along. And you know what that is don’t you?”
Barbara reached down, and from somewhere off the floor she picked up a huge pair of adult sized delivery forceps, the size of large garden shears. The ends were still bloodied, and unlike normal forceps, had wicked barbs on the ends. Pieces of hair and scalp still grotesquely clung to them.
Carol knew what awaited her. Her bladder and bowel cut loose at the same time, as the winch began to pull her towards the tube opening. She gasped out:
“Please, Barbara, for god’s sake don’t do this to me…please don’t!”
But Barbara was oblivious to her pleas or distress. She excitedly skipped to the far end of the monstrous suspended rubber birth canal. “Here we go Carol”, said the ecstatic Barbara, in happy tones of gleeful joy. She danced an animated little gig in eager anticipation of what was to come.
Carol started to howl out in terror of her life.
“Quiet darling, I’m here waiting for you. Can’t you see? Don’t you worry your little head about it.”
Barbara sang softly once more, but her voice still carried over the sound of the winch, the forceps ends clacking together in time to the words:
“Hush little baby,
don’t say a word,
Momma’s going to buy you a mocking bird….”
© Ian M. Faulkner