“Man is born passionate of body, but with an innate though secret tendency to the love of good in his main-spring of mind. But God help us all! It is at present a sad jar of atoms.”
— George Gordon Noel Byron
“Raspberry tea?” Leaves swirled inside my cup.
Lot nodded. “Judith said it’s okay. Right?”
“Yep. It’s a good source of minerals. She should keep drinking it now that the baby’s come. It’ll help with milk production.” Steam curled up and away into nothing as I raised the cup for a sip.
Lot settled opposite me at the round, white table. “Don’t burn your tongue, Rachel.”
“Too late,” I said as I lowered the cup and sucked air over my stinging nerves. “Ow. I always do that.”
“Yeah, you do.” He shook his head and stirred the tea in his cup, his gaze straying to the bedroom door. Beyond it Judith slept with their newborn son, Matthew.
We were silent then. The wall clock ticked and indistinct voices carried through the kitchen window. I glanced up through the skylight at a blue sky softened by wispy clouds. No ship. Good. It was a relief to not have the view spoiled by metal and weapons and fear.
The pressure of small cat paws against my leg drew my attention back to Earth. “Hello, Meowzer.” The gray tabby responded with a plea for love. I scratched the top of his head and smiled as he pushed his furry face against my fingers. “I’m sorry, kitty cat, there’s no room for you in my lap. It’s just too full of baby right now.”
Lot’s chair scraped, and I looked up as he stood. The warmth was gone from his voice as he said, “I’ll check on Judith and Matthew, then I’ll walk you home.”
“I— Yeah. All right.” I shied away from the hardness that had so quickly veiled his expression. He went to the bedroom, and the tabby skittered beneath the table as I maneuvered out of my chair. Judith and I had been in a race to give birth; she’d won. I looked down at my dress. The brown, threadbare fabric pulled tight across my swollen belly and was stained with amniotic fluid. I’d spent the last two days helping my closest friend give birth to her second surviving child.
Lot emerged from the bedroom as I gathered my wrap and my brown leather medical bag. “You don’t need to come with me,” I said. “Go get Mark while Judith and the baby are resting.”
“It’s no trouble.”
“Cyrus won’t—” I looked away as Lot’s gaze became a glare. “I don’t need a chaperone,” I said instead as I opened the front door. “Tell Judith I’ll come back tomorrow.”
He followed me to the porch. “Rachel.” There was no friendship in the way he said my name.
I paused, but didn’t face my dead husband, Joshua’s, best friend. “What?”
Now I turned. “You don’t need to thank me, Lot.” He looked past me as I added, “I’d never turn my back on anyone who needed help.” I didn’t wait for a response as I stepped off the porch and waddled toward The Cross, the public gathering area of our penal colony, Suffer. The baby’s head was low in my pelvis. My back ached and my ankles were stiff and swollen. I wanted a bath and a bed and to forget Lot’s cold, quiet disapproval.
I’d thought I’d beat Judith to delivery after a month of Braxton-Hicks contractions, but my girl was stubborn. I rubbed my belly and sighed. Momma would’ve said I got the perfect child for me. “Should I name you Mule?” Maybe that’s why she’d refused to be born; she had no name.
At first I hadn’t wanted to admit that I was pregnant. Then I’d been too afraid of what would happen when everyone realized that I was. Then Joshua’s death had left me too sad and desperate to want to name a baby that wasn’t his. But there was no point to it. No point to avoiding the inevitable. No point to being sad or resentful. This baby hadn’t made herself. “No, I’m kidding, baby girl.” I patted my stomach. At least she had a middle name — Ellenore, like my momma. “How about Josephine? Joey for short.” Joseph was my father. “Josephine Ellenore Pryne. That’s nice, right?”
The murmur of the voices I’d heard from the kitchen had become the rumble of a crowd. Ahead was an open dirt square where Main Street met Hub Road — The Cross. Why were so many people there? It was mid-morning; they should’ve been working or studying.
Honorius and Luis emerged from the group and strode toward me, their expressions grim and their gazes locked on me.
“Crap. We musta missed a community announcement, baby girl. I wonder what’s up.” Missing a gathering would mean unwanted attention from Elder Cyrus, and I’d had more than my fair share of that.
“Rachel, you need to come to The Cross,” Honorius said as both men reached me. He was Suffer’s butcher and he had the wiry, muscular arms of a man who wielded a sharp knife and a meat cleaver daily.
The community’s plumber, Luis had constructed the ozone generator that purified Suffer’s water. That, alone, had saved more lives than my modest medical skills ever would. He gave me a tight smile and asked, “How’s Judith?”
“She’s fine. Lot named the baby, Matthew.” I joined them and permitted Honorius to carry my bag as we entered The Cross. “What did I miss? I really want to go home for a bath and a nap. I hope this is quick.”
“The Elders have summoned the community,” Luis answered.
The crowd parted to create a path directing our little group toward the scaffold, a wooden platform that dominated the area. All the familiar faces of people I’d known, healed, and helped for the past five years turned away or hardened to me, like Lot had when I’d mentioned my unborn baby.
Honorious swung my bag up to the edge of the fifteen-foot stage. “Let me help you up,” he said as he gestured toward the stairs.
I looked up and saw Suffer’s three Elders. I’d known this day would come. I knew what they wanted. I was to explain how I’d come to be pregnant while my husband had been away. I was to explain why Joshua had returned and killed himself. I was to beg for mercy and forgiveness for sins I hadn’t committed. I was to be a nice, quiet scape goat, not a bleating, angry troublemaker.
Elder Cyrus faced me, and he was too close. “I can stop this, Rachel.” Elder Cyrus always came too close. “Consent to my desires, and I will turn their sympathies in your favor.” I swallowed and stared past his shoulder to avoid his watery, green gaze. Below the wide, wooden platform, the community had gathered to point, mutter, and condemn me. He slid his spidery fingers down my arm and away. “Your choice.” He moved to speak with Elder Jonas and Elder Mary as they crossed the scaffold.
Choice? When did I ever have a choice? I looked from face to face in the crowd. Isaac and Rebecca, my neighbors, avoided my gaze. They knew. They’d seen Cyrus coming and going from my house for months. They couldn’t have missed me begging him to stop and crying afterward. I took in all the other familiar faces. There were twisted mouths and furrowed brows.
Do you want me to cry? I won’t. I cried for Joshua. No one held me. All of you looked right through me, like I was empty or invisible. I bit my tongue until it hurt, and then I kept biting. You can’t have my tears.
Beyond the assembly, a slow shadow was swallowing the neat little houses of our community—an Ohnenrai ship. It orbited overhead, its hulk casting a massive pall that darkened miles of terrain and hid the blue sky. I looked up. Spires and towers bristled from the ship’s surface. I’d always wondered what they were for. Communication? Destruction? Both.
I was on the scaffold to have the small remainder of my dignity and security stripped away. Just like the Ohnenrai had stripped Earth of its self-governance, its cities, and so many of its people. I squinted at the ship. Everything had gone to hell because of them. How could I be afraid of the people standing below me when there was something so much more terrifying and powerful above?
Mary came to my side, and I met her gaze. Her mouth was pinched, and her brow was wrinkled. Worry. The only female on the Elders Council glanced down at my swollen belly, and her expression deepened.
Shit. I swallowed a lump. Try as I might to block it, I was afraid.
The clamor of the crowd dulled to a murmur as Elder Cyrus crossed the fifteen-foot scaffold. He stopped behind me, and I leaned toward Mary. The murmur dissipated like rain as Elder Jonas strode to the center of the platform and stopped in front of me, facing the crowd. Birdsong from the fields beyond Suffer’s compound filled the moment of silence as the elder raised his arms to gather attention. Then all things natural were censored as Jonas said, “Rachel Elizabeth Pryne, you stand upon this scaffold accused of two crimes. Adultery. And manslaughter.”
Fear’s chill gripped my chest. They’re accusing me of causing Joshua’s death?
“Do you wish to be tried by the Elders Council or by your community?”
How can they say that? How can they lie this way? Cyrus’s breath warmed my ear, and my hands curled into fists. I couldn’t stand his smell—like mothballs and dirt and self-righteousness. My skin wanted to crawl away from him, even if it meant abandoning my body to escape. Pretty soon my mind would follow. Consenting to be with him—my predator—was no choice.
“Rachel Pryne. Do you wish to be tried by the Elders Council or by your community?”
I sucked a deep breath as I looked at Jonas’s back. The Council was a losing battle. Only Mary would take my side, but that would leave a two-thirds majority, and I’d still be screwed. My gaze swept the crowd. Eyes darted away from mine, faces turned down, arms folded. But I’d always had friends among them. If Isaac and Rebecca would speak for me, I’d have a chance. If Judith’s testimony of finding me bruised and bloody, of witnessing my flashbacks was heard, they’d understand. “I’ll let the people of Suffer decide my innocence.”
Jonas nodded and, finally, turned to look at me. “Then let us begin.”
Cold fear tightened its grip and spread up my spine. “Now? But Judith isn’t here. I need her to testify for me.”
“I’m sorry,” Mary said. “You’ll have to name others in her place, Rachel.”
I turned to her. “But she knows more than anyone else, Mary. It has to be Judith. Can’t this wait a day?”
“No. A death has occurred, and the community deserves to understand why, and how, and who is responsible.” Elder Cyrus caught my shoulder, but I jerked away from his hold.
“Don’t you fucking touch me. This is all your fault!” I was spinning out of control and didn’t care to stop.
Gasps and protests from the crowd became a backdrop to Elder Jonas’s thundering command. “Enough, woman! You will control your language when you stand upon the scaffold. This is God’s courthouse.”
“Please, Elder, we must be patient.” Cyrus, the hypocrite, spoke for me. “She came to us traumatized, and now her husband has died. We know Rachel’s mind is unstable.”
“Rachel, please calm down.” Mary touched my arm. “This isn’t helping your cause.”
I glared at Cyrus wanting to scratch out his ice-green eyes. He was the community’s spiritual leader. Attending his daily sermons was mandatory. But he preached respect while practicing rape. And I’d been his favorite acolyte for the last thirteen months beginning the very day my husband had left Suffer with a group of the community’s men.
Jonas said, “Take care, Elder Mary, that woman stands accused of sending a man off a cliff.”
How could anyone believe I’d killed Joshua? “Look at me! I’m nine months’ pregnant. How could I hurt my husband? Why would I do that?”
Jonas jabbed at my belly, his finger like a weapon. “You violated the sanctity of your marriage. Your husband told Elder Cyrus that he would take his own life rather than face the humiliation of your swelling womb. You may not have been standing beside him, but you certainly were behind his death.”
“Joshua—” I stopped, choked by a lump in my throat. Joshua had returned in the middle of the day a week ago. I’d told him about the rapes. Furious, he’d left to demand justice. He’d ended up at the bottom of Cougar Point Falls. Cyrus was the last person to see him. I pivoted to the crowd. “Rebecca? Isaac?” My voice was shaky, just like my body. “Please speak for me.” She looked at the ground. He folded his arms and shifted from foot to foot.
The baby kicked and stretched. She turned as if wanting to escape. And so did I.
I’d been fourteen when the Ohnenrai, the aliens on the ship orbiting overhead, had killed my parents and dumped me in Suffer. Joshua had stepped forward and claimed me as his wife. He’d been a good man, respectful and honest. Like me, my husband hadn’t embraced the religious fanaticism that Elder Cyrus preached. But neither of us had had a choice of living elsewhere.
The Ohnenrai had devastated Earth, destroyed every government, all means of communication and transportation, and obliterated whole cities. They’d divided the planet into penitentiaries using massive energy walls that marched across continents and even out to sea in some places. They’d dumped one hundred forty-two orphans in a gated compound called Suffer somewhere in the American Pacific Northwest, and then they’d retreated to their ship.
My parents had trusted the Ohnenrai. As children, they’d been abducted by the aliens, and, as adults, they’d excitedly helped with the first Terran-Ohnenrai contact. But their trust had gotten them betrayed and murdered. I’d trusted Suffer’s elders to keep me safe as the community’s only trained medic. That trust had gotten me raped and pregnant.
I straightened my shoulders and looked from Mary to Jonas to Cyrus. I was sunk. With my hand on my belly, I faced the community, the Children of Divine Suffering. “My husband didn’t commit suicide. He was murdered. I didn’t commit adultery. I was raped. Elder Cyrus did both, and all of you know it. But I guess it’s easier to blame me than him. So pass your bullshit judgment. It doesn’t matter anyway. Nothing’s gonna change.”
The uproar that greeted my accusation of Cyrus had drowned out the rest of my statement. But, like I’d said, it didn’t matter. My words wouldn’t change anyone’s mind, at least not for the better.
Mary seized my arm. I looked down at her, but she said nothing as tears rolled down her cheeks. She knew. Hell, she’d probably only escaped Cyrus’s predation because she was an elder.
“She should be whipped for her crimes!” someone shouted.
“Send her out!”
“We don’t want her here!”
The community’s judgment echoed off the administration building and the neat rows of small houses that met at The Cross. Jonas stepped forward and silenced the crowd. “Rachel Pryne, you have been found guilty in the eyes of this community. And for your crimes, you will be whipped and driven through the gates.”
“Elder Jonas, Children of this community, please reconsider this punishment.” Mary had stepped forward. “Judge her as you wish, but driving her away is certain death for her unborn child.”
Mary’s words sucked the breath out of the crowd.
“Let her stay until the baby is born,” someone said.
“No. We don’t want her child among us.”
Angry voices rose as the Children faced their own conscience.
“I don’t want an innocent baby to die out there.”
“What if the kid is deranged like Rachel? That’s two murderers in our community.”
“No one said she murdered Joshua.”
Elder Cyrus stepped forward and the shouts died down. “There is another matter which comes into this decision, Children. Whether or not Rachel Pryne is deranged, she remains the only trained medic our community has. Aside from her delusions and poor personal judgment, she has been exemplary in performing her medical duties.” He began to pace the front of the platform, and I knew what was happening.
“We cannot condemn an unborn child. Nor do I believe we should condemn a woman whose words and deeds are not a show of anger, but a plea for help.” Elder Cyrus was starting his show. By its end, my fate would be decided according to his wishes.
I closed my eyes. The baby stretched, and I placed my hand over the spot where her small fist pushed outward. Cyrus had made my choice for me. I wasn’t surprised.
“But there is a way, Children. A way we can help this woman, her child, and ourselves. A way we can mitigate those so very human fears of her madness, yet retain her services and counsel her mind and spirit toward health.” His voice had grown quiet as he seduced the congregation to do his will. “Just beyond Suffer’s gates a few houses are still standing. They are small and ramshackle, but they provide shelter. Rachel Pryne will live in one of those. She will join in our worship services. And she will receive the supplies that the Ohnenrai deliver. In trade, she will remain our medic, and her baby will be educated and counseled in the ways of our community and subjected to its laws when the child comes of age.”
I didn’t want anything to do with these people, but how the hell could I survive with a newborn away from a community? No one knew what or who was out there. Everything was ruined. Only desperate people could exist in the wilds, and desperation went hand-in-hand with stupidity. I’d seen that happen between my father and his brother. It’s why my parents were dead.
“Rachel?” Mary was watching me. “Will you accept this compromise? Please. For your baby’s sake.”
I’d never given Joshua a child. We’d tried. I’d conceived only once with him, and the baby had died in utero at six months, like so many other children in Suffer. As the medic, I’d delivered so many dead babies. I met Mary’s gaze. They thought they were offering us a chance. But I knew it was a slow death. Still, I nodded. “Yes.”
As Honorius and Luis escorted me from the scaffold, my former friends and neighbors turned their backs. The people whose broken bones I’d mended, whose children I’d delivered, whose ailments I’d healed, now refused to look at me. I’d become an uncomfortable reminder to be borne out of necessity.
I was marched to the twelve-foot-high chain link fence that surrounded Suffer. The gates groaned as they were pulled open, and then I was escorted through. Before he released me, Luis leaned close and said, “Follow the dirt path to the right up into the forest. About a mile along, you’ll find an abandoned hunter’s cabin. There’s a good well in the yard. We’ll bring some provisions.”
“Thank you.” My answer was lost to the clank of the gate catch.
“Rachel,” Cyrus said. “Is this your choice?”
I straightened my shoulders and set off the way Luis had advised.
As I walked beneath the creaking trees, I looked up for the Ohnenrai ship. It no longer floated directly overhead, but it would be back. It always returned. At night its jewel-toned lights replaced the stars as it blocked the heavens from view.
My parents had told me that the Ohnenrai had come to our planet for help, and that they’d been driven from their home world. They were humanoid, dark skinned, and looked very much like us, but taller and broader. They had black bones, two hearts, and blue blood. When I was young, I’d thought they were beautiful and fascinating. But most of Earth’s populace had found them terrifying. Now I tried not to think about them at all.
The Ohnenrai presence had polarized families, neighbors, and nations. Terrorist attacks had broken out, coordinated and disruptive. The Ohnenrai had stepped into the fight, ostensibly to save us from ourselves. But their idea of salvation had been devastating as their orbital bombs obliterated entire cities in a long, horrible heartbeat. By some estimates, ninety-eight percent of Earth’s populace had died. Among them was my entire family. My parents’ deaths were made all the more painful by the fact that they’d welcomed and worked side-by-side with the aliens.
My stomach grumbled, and I veered off the path to slump against a tree. The elders had let me keep my brown leather medical bag. I dug in it and found some almonds and an apple. I always carried food. Always. There was cheese and bread in there, too, but I’d need that later. Until I could set some snares and get out to the old orchards, I’d have to stretch my few provisions. I ate the almonds, but stared at the apple; there was no way I could choke it down around the lump in my throat. I took a swig of milk from my canteen, and returned it and the apple to my bag.
Then I stared at nothing, and that nothing began to blur as tears spilled down my cheeks, and my bravery crumpled. Covering my face with my hands, I cried, hard. “What am I going to do?” Who was I asking? Certainly not God; clearly, he didn’t give a shit. I cried until I was empty—of tears, of terror, of ideas, of anything. Just empty.
After a few moments of nothingness, the baby stretched and turned. It was a strange pressure, this person pushing outward from inside me, straining my seams. My back hurt, and I was tired. Tired from helping Judith. Tired from being pregnant. Tired from trying to keep my sanity in check as I endured Cyrus. Tired from trying to keep my emotions in check as I faced Joshua’s death. But the baby goaded me to get on with our journey. I sighed, pushed up to my feet, and kept walking.
The path I followed led to a creek. The creek joined a river fed by the thunderous Cougar Point Falls. I could keep going. Why not climb up to the falls? Why not join Joshua at the bottom? As if reading my thoughts, the baby gave me one, two, three hard kicks. I rubbed my stomach. “I know. You’re right.” Then I shook my head. “My parents didn’t give up, even when the people they trusted turned against them.” I picked up a thick, old maple branch from among the wild violets and ferns and stripped it as best I could to make a walking stick. “We can’t let the bastards beat us.”
All around the forest sounds echoed—woodpeckers knocking holes in dead trees; chickadees, sparrows, and juncos protesting the presence of a black crested blue jay; the creak of towering pines and maples; the whoosh of wind teasing their leaves. Sunlight filtered through the dense forest canopy to spill a dappled green glow across my path. Squirrels chided each other as they scratched and scrambled around gray and brown tree trunks. I inhaled the sharp tang of pine needles, the musky odor of mildewed leaves, and the sweetness of the forest. “This is our cathedral, baby girl. This is where we’ll find God, not in the bombastic Bible thumping of a hypocrite and the bleating of his terrified flock.”
I’d been climbing steadily, following a path that was hardly more than a meandering line where the horsetails grew low and sparse. As I rounded a wide curve, the path straightened, and I saw a decaying structure in a small clearing among the trees. I swerved from the trail to get a closer look.
It was a cabin with a somewhat fenced yard and flaking white paint. The fence was missing entire sections of boards and was losing a war with blackberry vines. A green gate was off its hinges and laying in the weedy yard. The front door stood wide and the front window had been replaced with plywood.
I crept up the rotting porch steps and peered into the house. From the amassed leaves, trash, and bird poop, I figured the cabin had been abandoned long ago. I went inside. “What a shit hole. And what the hell stinks?” The putrid smell of death wafted through the room; probably an injured animal had crawled beneath the house to die or had gotten trapped. “I’ll have to find that and bury it.”
Dim light came through a dirty window in the tiny kitchen at one end of the room. It illuminated a cast iron stove and a sink. The opposite end of the cabin held a fireplace. A doorless doorway led to a small room. I stopped and listened as I entered. The stench was stronger here, and I’d heard a whine. There was nothing for a moment, then another whine and a yip. A door led to a small bathroom.
There were puppies in the bathtub. Old enough to be off their mother’s milk, but not old enough to survive without her, three were dead. But two—a black one and a brindle—had turned to cannibalism to stay alive.
All the fear I’d worked so hard to swallow came rushing back up. I reached the front porch before puking over the rickety railing. “Oh, fuck.” That’s what survival outside Suffer’s gates looked like. I wanted to escape Cyrus. But the farther I moved away from the community the more I’d encounter desperation, madness, and death. A woman alone would struggle to survive that. One with a newborn? Impossible.
“I’m trapped. I’m so fucking trapped, and Cyrus knows it. All he did was make me more vulnerable.” I couldn’t cry anymore, those tears had been spent. All I had was the cold, sinking dread that I’d been eating for months. It filled my gut and made it hard to breathe. But this dose was a thousand times more suffocating than the dread I’d felt when facing Joshua after he’d returned. Watching the joy on his face twist to anger, then guilt, and then rage as I said, “Cyrus raped me,” to his unspoken questions. This dread threatened to fill me until I burst. And I knew that if I did, I’d be beyond repair.
Once again, the baby inside me, the baby I was so certain was a girl, turned and stretched. She pushed outward against me and paused at her apex, as if awaiting my touch. I placed my hand against that spot and gently pushed back. Against the odds, this child existed. She was created from pain and had brought sorrow, but something told me that suffering wasn’t her legacy. She was like a grain of sand on an oyster’s flesh. A violation that could grow into something rare and beautiful, if I let her.
Feral instinct driving them, the starving, flea-bitten mongrels growled and bared their teeth when I returned to the bathroom. But sharing my milk-soaked bread bought me two new friends and time to remove and bury their dead siblings. Taking a bucket I’d spied in the yard, I fetched drinking water for the dogs from the creek that ran below the back of the house. I bathed them, much to their discontent, and let them explore the cabin with me.
One cupboard hid a cast iron pan and two large pots. Another held blue plastic plates, mismatched cups, and four canisters of dried beans. A root cellar had been dug out beneath another cupboard. It was empty, but inspired me to search for other hidden treasures.
A few creaky boards in the bedroom floor yielded to my pocketknife and rewarded me with the greatest prize of all—a black sawed-off shotgun and two and a half boxes of shells wrapped in plastic trash bags and a green wool blanket. “Jackpot.” Maybe I could survive. If nothing else, I could put a hole in Cyrus. “If only.” Killing the elder would only unleash a witch-hunt upon me; the Sufferns clung to their madman like he was salvation itself. Why else would they tolerate him?
I began a mental list of things I’d need in addition to food:
Firewood and kindling (I had matches in my bag.)
Something to close the gaps in the roof
“This is the cabin I told her about.” Voices carried to me, deep baritone voices. I peered through the gap in the front door where a peephole had once lived and spied Lot and Luis leading a goat. “Rachel?” The men carried packs on their backs and even the goat was loaded down with bundles.
I opened the door at the call and stepped onto the porch. “I’m here.”
Lot and Luis came into the yard. They’d brought food—dried fruit and meat, beans, and bread. There were seeds, bedding and towels, a flint and candles, and an oil lamp. The goat was from Elder Mary, and Luis set to work on freeing the rusted well pump to provide me with running water.
Despite their generosity, I didn’t miss the way Lot avoided my gaze as he shuffled around the house.
“You can’t look me in the eye? I thought we were friends,” I said.
“I’m helping you, aren’t I, Rachel?”
“Because you want to or because Judith is making you?”
“Does it matter?” Now he did meet my gaze, and his eyes were cold. “Joshua was my best friend. A brother, almost. You betrayed him, Rachel. Joshua loved you.”
I wanted to tell him to take his help and go right the fuck to hell. But I wasn’t stupid. I needed his skills to make the cabin habitable. “For what little it’s worth to you, Lot Jones, Joshua died knowing that I didn’t betray him. Judith believes me. Why won’t you?”
“Women always believe women. Men know better.”
My anger at that idiocy was almost too great to hold back. I turned away from his stupid certainty and watched the goat’s tail waggle as she happily munched the blackberry brambles like they were candy.
After the men had left, with Luis promising to return and replace the worst of the rusty pipes, I sat on the rickety wood porch steps with the sleeping hound pups crowding my lap. Lot had said he could scrounge up some hydrogen batteries and rewire the house. He’d also bring a small refrigerator. I’d put the goat in the empty bedroom. It wasn’t ideal, but I didn’t want to lose her to predators before I could construct a shelter and reinforce the fence.
The lowering sun filled the yard with long, dark shadows, and the Ohnenrai ship was back. “Jesus Christ, I can’t believe I have something in common with you.” I peered at it through the trees, trying to make out details on its hull, but the evening was too dark. “You’re outcasts. And so am I.” The puppies gave little, squeaky yawns as I pushed up from the steps. I glanced at the ship once more. “Yeah, well, don’t go thinking this makes us buddies or something. I don’t put much faith in friendship these days.”
I plopped the puppies into a crate of rags beside the hearth. The fireplace was sound, and it was easy to set a good fire with all the dead leaves I’d found in the house. Earlier, I’d put a pot of water up to boil on the stove. I waddled into the kitchen to add beans, but was stopped by a contraction that started high in my abdomen and rolled downward into my pelvis. I gripped the counter and ticked off the seconds through my teeth. I reached sixty-eight, and then my muscles relaxed. “Holy shit, that was strong.”
I moved the pot off the stove, then stopped, wondering if I should spread a blanket and towels. Another contraction answered that question and so did the fluid gushing down my legs as my water broke. When the cramps eased, I stared at the puddle on the floor and laughed until I was crying. But my laughter was cut short by another stronger contraction.
Finally, I could straighten, and I was surprised by my composure. I dropped some rags on the puddle and began setting out towels, a clean blanket, and everything else I’d need to welcome the next stage of my life. I may not know how to survive in the wild, but I know how to birth a baby. My way was clear.
Want to read more of Rachel’s story? Are you wondering why the Ohnenrai betrayed her parents and imprisoned Earth? Want to meet Pearl and the puppies? Then check out Girl Under Glass, the first novel in the Ohnenrai series. Available now at Amazon.
Copyright © 2012, Monica Enderle Pierce
Editorial: Jim Thomsen
Cover Design: Scott Pierce
Cover Photography: Ric Colgan, ByteStudio Photography
Cover Model: Jessica Valentine
eBook Production: Monica Enderle Pierce
All rights are reserved to the author. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. The author and publisher do not have any control over third party websites or their content.