2002, Arizona, U.S.A.

Her swollen belly jutted out into the dry air of the military base home they’d given her to stay in. The offer had been too good to be true and for nine months she kept waiting for a catch.

But it had proven to be easy money – money that would get her off the streets and away from the pimps and johns she’d known.

Imagine someone paying you a $100,000 just to get pregnant, she thought. A quarter million for a live birth and a government pension to boot. She smiled wide just thinking about her strange and wonderful luck.

They’ll get their healthy baby, I’ll see to that. The thing growing inside her was her ticket out. They only asked that she stay in their housing, take her vitamins, don’t tell anyone about anything, and never see it. Easy conditions to keep. Who am I going to tell, my pimp? No way, I’m taking the money and run.

During the long months of waddling around her military apartment, occasionally she thought about why they were willing to pay so much for a baby. Sometimes, especially when she felt it kick, she even worried that somehow what she was doing was wrong – that the life growing inside her was in danger.

A few times she even considered bolting with the life inside her. She’d lived on the streets since she was thirteen. She knew two very useful skills – how to survive and how to disappear.

But her ideas about running were short-lived. Each day she was escorted with an armed guard to her daily prenatal appointment. Were the guards guarding her? And if so, from what? Or were they there to make sure she didn’t run away with their package?

The vision of the money she’d get for a healthy birth kept her compliant.  That quarter million kept her content to carry the baby inside her hospitable womb.

She hoped the thing inside her was ready to get out soon. The Arizona summer was unbearable, even when she wasn’t pregnant. She was so hot she felt like her eyeballs were sweating. The dry wind that lashed her on the short walk to her daily doctor’s appointment felt like the tongue of Satan licking precious moisture from her body.

As she stood looking out the kitchen window of her apartment at the hot, blue wide-open sky, she was suddenly wracked with a terrible pain. She had been told that labor pains could be sharp, but she wasn’t prepared to feel like someone had split her open like a gutted fish.

Another shooting pain took her to her knees on the hard tile where she found herself sitting in a pool of hot, sticky liquid. Her water had broken. But there was blood too – lots and lots of blood. No one had told her about the blood.

She crawled to the counter and grabbed her cell phone. She pushed the pre-set number that called the doctor. It was picked up after only one ring. All she could get out was, “It’s coming!” between her screams of pain.

Within a few minutes a paramedic crew arrived. They swept her up onto a gurney, wrapped a blood pressure cuff around her upper arm and got an IV started all while moving her quickly out of her apartment and into the hot desert sun.

As the oppressive desert heat beat down on her, she felt a sharp pain as a needle was pushed roughly into her arm. She looked up and saw that the paramedics wore surgical masks over their nose and mouth, only their eyes visible. As she looked into the brown eyes of the man who had pushed a needle into her arm, she began to feel drowsy. They’re drugging me. Before she slipped away into the black dreamless place that was like a small death, she heard chopper blades and then felt the sensation of her body rising into the air. Then all went black.

There was no way of knowing how long she’d been away or even where she was. She heard the clanking of metal and the sound of a heart rate monitor machine. Her eyes fluttered open, and through the slits of her barely open eyes she saw a hazy image of doctors with their toothpaste-green hats and masks over their faces. Doctors all around her. How many doctors does it take to deliver one baby?

They weren’t looking at her – not her face anyway. All eyes were trained on her abdomen which she couldn’t see because it was draped off from her view. She wanted to speak – to ask how the baby was. “Is it healthy?” she wanted to ask, partly because she was genuinely concerned about the little being that had shared her body for nine months but also because she knew that a healthy baby meant more money.

When she tried to speak, her mouth and throat were so dry she couldn’t form words. Her rasping caught the attention of one of the doctors who said, “She’s waking. Push more Brevital, stat.”

Within seconds she felt herself slip down again, down into the blackness. Before she left reality she heard a sound – a sound never heard before by human ears. The near silence of the operating room was suddenly filled with the blood curdling screech of the thing the doctors had just pulled from her womb.

She didn’t have to see the thing to know it wasn’t normal. No normal baby makes that unearthly sound.

I’m glad that its out of me, was the last thought she had before the darkness took her down to the place where she could forget.

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