“You’re not pregnant.”
The doctor’s words shattered the look of joy that had been on Sally’s face, and Derek relaxed back into his chair, releasing the tension he had been experiencing ever since his girlfriend of almost two years had claimed to be pregnant. He knew that was impossible — they always used protection, after all, and she wouldn’t even have a missed cycle for another two weeks if she were pregnant anyway, so he had been dubious of her claims. The doctor had just confirmed his doubts, and he’d have to have a long talk with Sally about —
“However, the ultrasound did detect an… unusual mass growing in your upper abdomen,” the doctor said, “and the technician noted an unusual scar on your stomach. May I…?”
“Oh, yes, of course,” Sally nodded, pulling up her shirt over her stomach. As the doctor knelt and examined her skin, Derek realized that her belly did appear to protrude just a bit more than it had the week prior.
“Hmm.” The doctor focused on an area just above and to the left of her belly button. Derek leaned in and observed a puckered, red scar about the size of a quarter. That was new from last week too.
“Sally, what happened when you were at your grandfather’s cabin last weekend?” Derek asked.
His girlfriend grew thoughtful. “Well, on Saturday night I went out and watched the meteor shower. It was gorgeous, and some of them came so close you could hear them pop when they finally burned out. Then… well, it’s funny, but I don’t remember anything else until Sunday night, packing my things to come back to town Monday.”
Derek and the doctor exchanged a look. “It… may be a parasitic infestation of some sort,” the doctor finally said. “I’m going to consult with some of my colleagues who specialize in the field, and in the meantime I’d like you to check in to the hospital here.” The doctor left to collect paperwork for Sally to fill out.
“Are you doing okay?” Derek asked Sally, but she didn’t answer. She just kept staring at the ultrasound photo the doctor had handed her, caressing the indistinct mass.
“My baby,” she whispered. Derek felt a chill run down his spine.
When Derek came to visit her in the hospital the next day, he was taken aback at the strange woman wearing a black suit in Sally’s room, and even more shocked by the size Sally’s belly had ballooned. “Hello,” he said to the strange woman. “Who might you be?”
The woman withdrew a wallet from one pocket and flashed a badge. “Dr. Walters, CDC,” she said. “I was informed about this case last night and hopped on the quickest flight here I could secure. My bosses are highly interested in your girlfriend’s case.”
Derek walked next to Sally, who was whispering sweetly to her belly, and grabbed her hand protectively. “Why? What’s wrong with her?”
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Sally protested, pulling away from Derek’s hand in annoyance.
“Well, according to the best doctors on Earth, your girlfriend doesn’t have a parasite. Or at least, not any parasite known to be on the planet Earth.”
Derek’s eyes slid down to Sally, cooing over her growth, and back up to Walters. “What, like an alien?” She nodded. “Um… not that I would agree with it, but why wouldn’t you take her to Area 51 or something? And wouldn’t this be a job for the CIA anyhow?”
Walters rolled her eyes. “Area 51 is one of the most well-known military bases on the planet; if the government had any alien artifacts, it would be a lot cheaper and more secure to just stick them into a public storage unit in Scranton, Pennsylvania. And the CIA? It spends most of its budget on server farms and AI subroutines scouring the Internet for the next terror attack. It’s government policy that the CDC takes the lead of any potential alien encounter, since interstellar microbes are the only alien threat we could really manage effectively anyway.”
Derek nodded slowly. It was an awful lot to take in. “Okay… so how do we proceed? Do we terminate it?”
Sally shot a look of horror at him, curling her hands around her stomach protectively. “It’s my body, it’s my choice!” she demanded. “If you love me, you’ll respect that!”
Walters pursed her lips. “Your girlfriend is correct: we cannot perform any medical procedure on her without her consent. Besides which, the entity’s pattern of growth has left it… entangled with several of her internal organs, so any such procedure would endanger her health regardless.”
Derek moved around the bed towards Dr. Walters and leaned in to whisper. “Doesn’t that mean it could be brainwashing her, though? She might not be in her right mind.”
Walters shook her head. “I’ve already considered that possibility. Her EEG shows no abnormal activity, and blood work indicates no unusual or unidentifiable chemicals, save for hormones produced by a pregnant woman.”
A nurse came in and set a bowl of soup down in front of Sally. “Here you go, dear.”
Sally’s eyes went wide with anger as she looked down at the soup — vegetable, by the look of it. “I said I wanted MEAT!” Abruptly, she grabbed the nurse’s arm and bit a sizable chunk out of it, chewing with pleasure as the nurse screamed and ran out of the room.
Derek gave Walters a skeptical look. “Still think she’s in her right mind?”
Derek bought a gun.
He knew that it would be a matter of days, if not hours, before Sally’s stomach would burst open and unleash a nightmare on the city, or perhaps even the entire world. Sally’s doctor and that government agent were apparently too stupid to realize the true danger they were all in, so it fell on Derek. Killing Sally would hurt like nothing else he could think of, but as far as he was concerned Sally was already gone anyway.
He pulled into the parking spot at the hospital and looked around. There were a lot fewer cars present in the parking lot than there usually were, and that made him nervous. He shook off his worries and started thinking of ways he could sneak his gun past the metal detector inside the hospital.
He needn’t have worried (about the metal detector, at any rate). The guard who was usually stationed at the entrance was absent, as were the half dozen or so people on average who waited in the lobby to check in or out of the hospital. Only the receptionist remained, and she looked straight at him and smiled. “Hello, Derek,” she greeted with a smile. “Sally is waiting for you.” She turned back to her computer monitor.
Derek could not remember ever telling her his name. As he pushed the elevator call button, he glanced back — from this angle, he could see that the computer screen was black, powered off entirely. Yet she still stared at it. All at once Derek wanted to run back out of the lobby, hop in his car, and drive for the horizon, but he swallowed the panic and stepped on the elevator. He had to see this through to the end.
Sally’s floor was just as bereft of activity as the parking lot and lobby had been. A sole nurse was sitting at the nurse’s station — again, staring at a blank monitor. “Sally is waiting for you,” she said with a smile. Derek shuddered and pressed on. Glancing into the rooms leading up to Sally’s, he kept seeing the same things: empty beds, unhooked monitors, IV needles discarded, meals uneaten. It reminded Derek of the stories of Mayan families abandoning their homes mid-dinner centuries ago.
He reached his hand into his pocket and grabbed the gun’s grip for comfort before walking into Sally’s room. She was standing in front of the window, broken restraints dangling from her wrists. She turned, and gave Derek a wide smile. “Derek, it’s so good to see you,” she beamed. She gestured to her stomach, now flat once more. “I’m a mother. Many, many times over.”
“Sally, where is everybody? Why are the only people in this hospital staring at blank monitors?”
Sally shook her head, an amused look on her face. “They’re not focused on the monitors, Derek. We’re talking. We’re all just so, so excited — this will change everything.”
He glanced around the room. “Dr. Walters?”
She turned and looked back out the window. “She’s already on a flight back to Atlanta. All the patients left — they’ll never need medical treatment again. Neither will I. They’re all going home to share the joyous occasion.” She turned back to Derek, and if anything her smile had gotten bigger. “I’m going to be a grandmother, you see. And Derek, I want to share my gift with you.”
Sally’s gaze shifted behind Derek, and he swiveled around. It was crawling towards him on the ceiling: its golf ball-sized body consisted of a shimmering dark pink substance, something like a cross between pudding and gelatin. Its limbs were skinny black tendrils, their wobbly movement reminding him of strands of spaghetti. The thought of it touching him — burrowing inside him — caused panic to shoot through his guts, and without hesitating he whipped out his gun and fired. The thing fell to the ground with a wet plop.
He turned back to Sally, whose serene look had been replaced with one of fury. “MY BABY!” she shrieked. Her hand shot forward, and more of those black spaghetti tendrils shot out of her palm, whipping the gun out of his hand and looping around his arms in a motion faster than his eye could track. “You know, Derek, you never did respect my right to choose,” she said mournfully, before raising her other hand and sending out more tendrils.