Authors: Sean Costello
Nodding, Steve started toward the phone on the desk, hesitating only slightly when Mandy made a dull lowing sound, doing her best to stifle another agonized howl.
Steve picked up the receiver and Mandy said, “That’s right, sweetheart. It’s on speed dial. Just hit number one.” She glanced at Sanj, still standing there with his mouth open, then looked again at Steve. “Go ahead, honey. Hit number one.”
Steve pressed the number with a tiny finger, brought the receiver to his ear and said, “It’s not working.”
Quietly, Sanj said, “I cut the line.”
“You what?” Mandy said, and thought she saw a trace of guilt in the man’s slack expression.
“The radio, too.”
hole. Then you have to take me to the hospital.
Sanj said, “I’m afraid I can’t do that,” and Mandy rolled her head and uttered a banshee wail, this fresh contraction wringing her out like a giant’s crushing hands. In her agony she thought,
NO. They’re too close together, it’s coming too fast...
Steve padded to her side and took her hand, the poor kid tracking barefoot through the puddle of amniotic fluid that surrounded her. And watching her son do that, imagining the courage it must have taken for her tiny little man to
that, caused something to snap almost audibly in her brain.
And in that moment, in spite of her suffering, Mandy Stokes was just about as pissed off as she had ever been.
“Listen,” she said to Sanj, “whoever the
you are. My son was born very quickly, and it feels like this one’s going to do the same—”
Mandy closed her eyes and screamed again, feeling the tiny bones in her son’s hand grind together in the force of her grip, feeling her insides on the verge of bursting. When she opened her eyes they were fixed on Sanj, still standing motionless ten feet away with the gun aimed at the floor now, an expression of utter bewilderment on his face.
“Wanna see something, fucker?” she said and hiked her dress up to her chin, bending to grab a quick, confirming peek before exposing herself to a now bug-eyed Sanj.
Recoiling, Sanj said, “What
Mandy said, “It’s the baby’s
, you idiot,” before letting her soggy night dress slop back into place. “Oh...it’s
ing...you have to take me to the
Steve was sobbing now and Mandy relaxed her grip on his hand, whispering to him not to worry, this was all normal, knowing that the boy knew there was exactly nothing normal about any of this but saying it anyway. She wanted to weep right along with him.
She saw Sanj glance at the door now, as if he’d like nothing better than to flee, and she wished that he would just
that he would. Their nearest neighbor was a quarter mile up the road, Steve could dress himself and run over there, the little guy could really
...run over there and get them to call an ambulance...
But the crazy bastard didn’t leave. Instead—surprising Mandy as another contraction wrung her out, this one bringing swarms of tiny blacks dots into the edges of her vision, signaling a black out—he holstered his weapon, threw the cushions off the sofa bed that stood next to the storage room and hauled the bed open.
Now he was marching toward her, reaching out to guide her to the bed, and Mandy shrieked, “Don’t—
me,” and the man stopped short, raising his hands as if it were Mandy holding the gun instead of him.
Sanj said, “Alright, but please, lie down over here.”
Mandy tried to take a step, Steve doing his best to take some of her weight, but when she let go of the desk a fresh swirl of dizziness rose up in her, followed abruptly by another contraction—they were almost continuous now, one unbroken attempt by her body to turn her inside out—and she reached out to Sanj, saying, “Help me, you prick,” and Sanj lifted her up as if she were weightless and carried her to the bed, setting her gently on her back.
Immediately Mandy came up on her elbows and wailed, bearing down involuntarily now, the sensation of impending expulsion overpowering and exquisitely painful. Sweat ran off her in rivulets and her breathing wasn’t breathing at all but a series of hastily snatched gasps that made her feel like she was drowning in thin air.
Steve sat next to her in stoic silence, wrapping his hand around her wrist, holding on tight, not knowing what else to do.
Sanj scooped a couple of pillows off the floor and stuffed them between Mandy and the back of the sofa bed and Mandy braced herself against them, bringing her knees up and bearing down for all she was worth. “Oh, God, it’s coming....
Sanj was standing at the foot of the bed now, and when in the frenzy of her labor Mandy peeled her dress off her belly and revealed her privates to him again, he abruptly averted his gaze.
“Please stop doing that,” he said, and Mandy said, “You didn’t want to take me to the hospital, motherfucker, you better get used to it, because this is happening
She cuffed a clump of wet hair out of her eyes and said to her son, “Sorry, sweetheart, Mommy’ll put a bunch of quarters in the swearing jar—” and screamed again. “Call me an ambulance, you bastard. Call me a fucking AMBULANCE.”
And abruptly Sanj was moving—Mandy could almost see a light going on inside his head—and she watched him dart toward the desk, watched him maneuver the computer mouse then begin hammering at the keyboard, his body blocking her view of the screen. He clicked the mouse a few more times, then adjusted the volume of the speakers to full.
When he got out of the way Mandy could see a full-screen YouTube video starting to play, a brief flourish of funky music followed by a yellow cartoon taxi zooming onto the screen, a bold red title superimposing itself over the scene: HOW TO DELIVER A BABY IN AN EMERGENCY.
God help me
, and growled as she bore down with everything she had. She felt herself lapsing into a kind of exhausted trance, the immense stress of this strange man waving a gun in her face, the dread of losing her new baby right here in the business office, the dazed silence of her terrified son, all of it receding as if in a mist, still there, still tangible, but with none of the sharp edges. Even the pain seemed far away, as if she were recalling it now rather than living it.
And it was through this blessed fog that she heard a female narrator begin a voice-over in an oddly cheerful tone...
“How to deliver a baby in an emergency.”
Mandy focused on the video as the scene cut to a cartoon woman lying propped on her elbows in the back seat of the taxi, the narrator crooning,
“You can see the baby’s head, but there is no doctor in sight.”
The scene switched to the cab driver looking into the back seat in bug-eyed alarm, the narrator saying,
“First, calm down. Then follow these instructions.”
A title appeared over the cabbie’s face: YOU WILL NEED, and beneath it a list began to appear, each item articulated by the narrator.
“You will need: Sheets. Towels or clean clothes...”
Mandy felt a new kind of pain now, an impaling agony that jerked her out of the fog and rose to a pitch beyond her ability to bear it, and for a short time everything went gloriously, mercifully black.
Marshall Cranston had been out in his yard, waiting for his wife’s pug-nosed Pekingese to evacuate it’s bowels, when the helicopter angled in for a landing on Windy Lake, not a quarter mile from where he stood. The lake itself was shaped like a jumbo shrimp, its eye a tiny island that supported just a single dwelling, the converted cottage he and the old lady had been living in since 1945, right after he got back from WWII with a heart-shaped chunk of shrapnel in his calf and three fingers missing from his left hand. He’d been a fighter pilot, shot down over the South Pacific, but had never lost his love of aircraft, all kinds of them. He had shelves of books about them, went to every airshow he could, and every once in a while the Stokes lad at the foot of the lake brought him up in one of his bush planes and let him take the controls.
And even though he’d just turned eighty-nine—but felt fifty—he was still sharp enough to realize that you didn’t land a goddam rescue chopper on the ice in this kind of weather and then just sit there, silent and dark. There was some kind of shit going on over there and he meant to find out what it was.
When he told his wife Myrtle he was going to hike over to investigate, she insisted he take that yappy little shit factory along for the exercise. Before he left he grabbed his big Maglite flashlight, excellent for close quarters combat if it came to that, and dug his old .45 caliber service pistol out of its case and stuffed it fully loaded down the back of his pants, gangsta style.
The thing was, he was almost certain he’d heard small caliber gunfire before the chopper went dark, distinct little
on the crisp night air.
Now, here he was in his snowshoes with the damned dog straining against its rhinestone-studded leash, creeping around the tail of the helicopter with the Maglite in one hand and his pistol in the other. He could see that the big side door was wide open, snow blowing into it’s dark maw, but there were no signs of life.
He brought his firearm to bear and called out—“Anybody there?”—and was startled when a chorus of beseeching groans rose from inside.
“Knew it,” he said and tramped to the doorway, switching the flashlight on now, its shifting beam picking out four faces in there, two of them skull-eyed and pale, the other two smiling at him through strips of duct tape. He could see that all four of them had been cable-tied by the wrists to a long metal handrail. And there was a burnt, electrical smell coming from the cockpit on thin wisps of smoke. From here it looked like someone had shot the instrument panel all to hell.
Marshall lifted the shivering dog into the body of the aircraft then sat on the doorstep to remove his snowshoes. “Hang on, fellas,” he told the crew. “I’ll have you outa there in a jiffy.”
When Mandy came to there was a bed sheet tented across her knees, and she tucked it down between her legs to see Sanj seated on a bar stool at the foot of the sofa bed with bright yellow dishwashing gloves on his hands, a breathing mask from Tom’s workshop on his face and the Blood Bath butcher’s apron she’d given Tom last Halloween over his clothing. The front of the apron was crisscrossed with finger smears of fake blood, which, under the circumstances, didn’t seem quite so funny anymore.
Mandy was immersed in that merciful fog again and, for the moment at least, it seemed that her contractions had either slackened or ceased. Her belly was still huge, so she knew she hadn’t delivered.
She was trying to summon the energy to ask Sanj where Steve was when the little guy came scuffing into the room from the main house, his fuzzy Ninja Turtles slippers on his feet now, and plunked her sewing scissors onto the collapsible tray Sanj had set up next to the bed. On the tray already were a basin of soapy water, a small stack of clean face towels and a new pair of brown shoelaces, still kinked from the package they’d come in.
She said, “How long was I out?” and Sanj said, “Not long.”
Now he was saying, “Okay, Mandy, I want you to push,” and Mandy giggled and told him how ridiculous he looked. Everything still seemed so surreal, the product of too much alcohol, maybe, and she was puzzled when she saw the man nod at Steve like they were old pals, then saw Steve scoot over to the computer and rest his hand on the mouse. What were they—?
Then the fog lifted like a sprung blind and the pain was back, full throttle and chromium bright, and Mandy screamed, really
this time, it felt like she was being impaled from the inside, and in the seething distance she heard Sanj say, “Okay, kid, hit play,” and now that tinny soundtrack was in her head again, like Fisher Price music played on a toy xylophone, and the narrator was saying,
“Once the baby’s head emerges, tell the mother to stop pushing,”
and Sanj shouted, “Stop pushing! Stop pushing!” and on the tail end of a roar from bearing down so forcefully Mandy said,
“There’s nothing wrong with my HEARING!”
And now, into a lull, a sweet, merciful lull, came the narrator’s cheery voice again...
“Step six. Gently cradle the baby’s head, then prepare to catch.”
In his stealthy little Ninja way, Steve appeared at her side, took her sweaty hand in his own and began gently patting it.
Over the top of the tented sheet Mandy watched Sanj avert his eyes, then reach under the sheet with both hands.
“After the shoulders slip out one at a time—”
A final, brief contraction seized her now, and as it passed Mandy let out a sigh of release. This was followed by some wet squishy sounds and the strangely gratifying sight of Sanj dry heaving into his paper mask.
“—the rest of the body will quickly follow.”
There was a moment of tense silence as Sanj withdrew his arms from under the sheet, which was crimson now with real blood,
blood, and Mandy tucked the sheet down tight against her crotch so she could see more clearly what was going on.
Sanj stood, lifting her newborn boy into the light.
The infant was limp and blue, not breathing.
Steve said, “Is he okay?” and Mandy said, “
“Step Seven. Clear the baby’s air passages by gently drying its nose and mouth with a soft clean towel.”
Sanj grabbed a towel from the tray and began drying the baby’s face with it. When that failed he flipped the infant onto its chest and began vigorously drying its back.
But the child remained flaccid.
In a panic Mandy tried to get off the bed, but she just didn’t have the strength. All she could manage was a desperate chorus: “Do something...please, do something...”