April 26th, 2023
There's Something in the House
by Thomas Kent West
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai podcast.
She really wanted a glass of wine. It had been almost nine months since she’d had even a taste of alcohol; not that she’d been dependent before, but there was something unbeatable about a glass of pinot noir after a long day, relaxing in the bath with some Fleetwood Mac. And, recently, all her days seemed long: her stomach was bloated, her skin sagged, her feet hurt constantly. She realized, only too late, that there was something innately horrifying about being pregnant. Alongside the miracle of it all, of course.
She lit some candles, put on some music and lowered herself, carefully, into a bath, sans-wine. Everything seemed like a chore now that she was in her third trimester, even something as simple as getting in the bath. One slip, she knew, and she’d put the baby in danger. She had nightmares about it; slipping and falling on her stomach, the baby popping like an abscess, spurting all over the floor...
She shook her head, as if the motion would physically shake the intrusive thought out of her. Instead, she took a bottle of lotion from the shelf and rubbed her stomach where it peaked above the water. The stretch marks were getting worse, scarlet lines that looked like claws dragging over the baby. She applied the lavender lotion, caressing her child gently, humming along with the music.
When the water had turned uncomfortably tepid, she slowly, carefully worked her slippery body from the bath. Careful, careful, she thought. The anxiety nearly dizzied her. She stepped onto the wet tile and reached for a towel.
In the mirror, she saw a man behind her, masked in shadow. He was just a form, a reflection. The candlelight revealed a twisted, wicked smile.
She screamed, and as she turned, the wet floor beneath her gave way. She plummeted downwards, belly-first, towards the cold tile, and knew that it was all over. She was going to lose her baby, just as she had her two other babies before. No! She can't lose another, a voice screamed inside her, not after she’d made it so far. She threw her hands before her, trying to break the fall.
Someone caught her. Strong arms, familiar arms, and pulled her upwards. She breathed heavily, pushed wet hair from her eyes, and looked into the face of her husband.
“Woah, woah!” he said, smiling sheepishly. His face had returned to normal; there was no hint of a wicked grin, no wreath of shadow. She caught her breath, then slapped him in the chest.
“You could have killed me! The baby!” she said. For a moment she was truly furious. Then she looked at his big brown eyes, still crinkled with laughter. There was the man she’d married: full of joy and mischief. How long had it been since Ben had pulled a prank on her? College? Highschool?
His face dropped, suddenly becoming serious. And there was the man he’d become: always serious. “I’m so sorry – are you alright?” he said, his hand moving instinctually to her belly. “I just wanted to surprise you.”
“I’m… fine,” she said, forcing a smile. “I’m glad you’re home.”
“You know you shouldn’t take baths when I’m not here,” Ben said, face stern but loving.
“I know,” Beth said.
Later that night, she lay in bed. Ben was in his office, working; even after coming home from a week-long sales trip to Chicago, he had work to do. She missed the nights they’d spend in bed together, talking about everything or nothing at all. She missed the smell of him on her. It was in these moments of lacking that she despised the baby, despised what it was doing to her body. Would he be with her in bed if she weren’t pregnant? Touching her, feeling her slender body? For a brief, shameful moment, she wished the baby would just go away.
That’s when Ben walked into the room. Instantly, she knew something was wrong. For one thing, he wasn’t wearing the clothes he had been wearing a few minutes ago. He was wearing an old college t-shirt, one she thought he’d thrown out years ago. That, and he came through the door from the hallway, not the one that led to Ben’s office. And he was smiling. Grinning like a madman. He was handsome as ever, in that college t-shirt and jeans. For a moment, she wondered if her wish had come true; maybe that little grin meant he was about to crawl into bed with her. She smiled.
“I thought you had to work?” she said.
Ben said nothing. He laughed; it was a strange laugh, high and childish.
She patted the bed next to her; maybe he’d hit their store of weed before bed. “Come on big guy, come cuddle up.”
Ben cocked his head, then laughed again. Suddenly, the laugh made her uneasy.“Ben, are you okay? Have you been smoking-“
Then he ran. He nearly skipped out of the room, vanishing into the darkness. She called after him, wondering what the hell had gotten into him. Then, from the other bedroom door – the one that led to Ben’s office – Ben reappeared. This time, he was wearing the same clothes as he was when he got home: a rumpled button down and loose tie.
“You changed,” she said.
“What?” he asked, annoyed.
“You changed your clothes,” she said.
“No… look, why were you calling my name?” he asked, exasperated.
She looked to the other door, where Ben had just run towards the basement. “How did you get back to the office?”
“What are you talking about?” Ben asked.
“You were just here. In your old college t-shirt. You were smiling, and, and, laughing, and then you ran down towards the basement. How did you have time to change your clothes?”
Ben waved his hand. “Look, I don’t have time for this. I have a report due tomorrow. Have you been drinking, Beth?” he asked, “you know you can’t drink with the baby.”
“No, no, I…. I saw….” She said. Ben looked at her, sighed, and left.
Weeks passed. Her belly grew, and soon her doctor confined her to bedrest. Since no other strange things happened, she convinced herself that it had been a hallucination. Her doctor had insisted that such things were uncommon, but not unheard of, during a pregnancy. He gave her the usual prescription for hysteric pregnant women: rest and relaxation. And so she rested, and relaxed.
One night, she woke to Ben slipping into bed beside her. He’d been working late again – he was always working late – so she’d gotten used to that feeling. Except, usually, he would slip under the covers and turn away. This time, he cozied up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. She tried to remember the last time he’d done that and couldn't.
He smelled clean, like baby powder. She felt safe and warm there, nestled inside him. A little family, Ben and her and the baby, wrapped up like nesting dolls.
She mumbled, “I love you,” and readjusted the covers. Ben didn’t say “I love you,” back. Instead, he laughed.
And that’s when she remembered. In her half-sleep state, she had forgotten.
Ben was on a business trip.
She whipped around, only to see Ben there. And yet, not Ben at all. Something was indescribably wrong about the thing in her bed, its arms wrapped around her, perhaps just a little too long. He wore his college t-shirt and grinned madly. His arm – that arm she was so sure was his – was still wrapped around her stomach, caressing the baby. Almost lovingly.
She screamed, pushing him away in a frenzy. She rolled off the bed and onto the floor, in the last moment curling over her stomach. The baby, she thought, as she landed on her head. Then the world vanished completely.
She awoke in the hospital. Ben sat next to her, looking crumpled and tired. When he saw she was awake he ran to her side and grabbed her hand.
Something – panic? rage? – filled his voice. “What happened?” he asked.
“The baby,” she said, groggily, “is my baby okay?”
Ben nodded, tears stinging his eyes. “He’s gonna be alright,” Ben said, “they did an ultrasound. He’ll be okay. But what happened?”
She stared at him, unable to speak the words. Finally, through tears, she said: “There’s something in the house.”
Ben frowned. “What do you mean? Someone was there? Someone did this to you?”
She shook her head. “You did,” she said. “Or… something that looks like you.”
Ben stared at her, then shook his head. “Beth, you’re not making any sense. Is this what you went to the doctor about? Are you seeing things?”
Beth began to shiver. Then the words came pouring out, over and over. “There’s something in the house, there’s something in the house!”
Ben grabbed her, but she tried to shake him off. She just kept chanting, chanting, as if she were seeing herself from outside her body. There’s something in the house. There’s something in the house. There’s something in the-
“50 cc’s,” the nurse said, injecting something clear and viscous into Beth’s IV. Another nurse held down her arms, strapping her to the bed. Ben backed away, staring at her as though she’d gone crazy.
But she hadn’t gone crazy. She’d seen it. Felt it. Something was in the house. Then the drugs hit her system, and she slipped into a dreamless sleep.
“We can’t keep sedating her,” a woman’s voice said, “not while she’s pregnant.”
“What’s wrong with her, Doctor? She’s never been like this,” Ben said.
“Perinatal psychosis. Rare, but not unheard of. Her pregnancy has caused a psychotic break. The best thing we can do now is induce labor. Get the baby out, and she might return to normal.”
“In this condition? Are you insane? She can’t give birth like this!” Ben said.
“We’ll give her an epidural. If that fails, we’ll move on to a cesarean. If we wait for her to enter labor naturally, that’s more time in which she could hurt herself. Or the baby.”
A pause. Through her closed eyelids, she could imagine Ben thinking, his head in his hands. His voice was as soft as a whisper.
When she woke, the room was empty. She looked around for Ben, her head lolling groggily from side to side. Eventually, a nurse came in, holding a small bundle wrapped in blue.
Her baby. Healthy and whole, crying out into the world.
The nurse leaned down to show Beth her son’s face. Then Ben came in, almost running. He looked from Beth to the baby, and the look of worry was replaced by a soft smile. Their baby was okay.
Ben walked over to the nurse, speechless. His eyes were wide with emotion, almost shocked. He took their baby in his arms and began rocking him back and forth. The nurse smiled at Beth. “I’ll give you two a minute,” she said. Then she left the room, closing the door behind her.
Ben looked down at the baby in his arms. Beth found that tears stung her eyes. “We did it,” she said, “we did it, Ben.”
Ben was still speechless. He stared at the baby in his arms, and his grin grew wider. And wider. And then he began to laugh. A mocking, childish, laugh.
“No,” Beth said, shaking again, “No!”
The creature looked at Beth, then raised a finger to his lips. He shushed her, then ran from the room, taking her baby with him.
"Thomas Kent West is an American speculative fiction writer. He is the winner of Rue Morgue’s ‘Artifacts of Horror’ Contest and the Black Hole Entertainment Short Fiction Prize, and his work has been featured on “The Other Stories” fiction podcast, the Michigan Daily, and elsewhere. You can read more of his work by visiting him on Twitter @ThomasKentWest or at ThomasKentWest.com."
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Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.