Into the Shadows Part 1

3 min read

On the hot Los Angeles, California night Paula was born, nothing went right. It took her mother, a young Latina with sleeve tattoos and a mohawk, an hour to get to the hospital and another to get into the maternity ward. Everything was backed up, and the temperature was steaming hot as one of the generators kept blowing. Add that to the fact that this was not the newest or the best hospital, the nurses and the doctor exchanged knowing looks. This was going to be a rough night.

The mother went into labor at twelve o’clock sharp. The ward intercom emitted a distorted sounding voice. “Could be just some kid fiddling around with a ham radio,” assuaged the doctor. Immediately, all of the babies next door began bawling their eyes out and the power went out for a minute or two, during which the doctor took out an electric lantern just in case the power went out again.

The rest of the evening was even worse. The mother’s screams were more like bestial howls mixed with the feral sounds of something dying from its mere interaction with our world. Her green and blue eyes rolled back into her head as the baby crowned, and with a horrible, distorted scream, her baby was born, and the mother promptly flatlined.

The mother had a fake ID and was probably in the country illegally. Her only identification was a tattoo that said Renata, which could have just as well been a lover, next to a curious looking seal or mark of some kind that made the nurse practitioner, Luz, grab her oversized, wooden cross.

As for the baby, she was already smiling and oblivious to the mayhem around her. She had her mother’s green and blue eyes, and her deep brown skin. Something about the baby’s trust was beautiful to Luz, though shot through with a sense of danger somehow.

As it turns out, there was also a number at the back of “Renata’s” wallet. Luz had to see this through. She dialed on her cell phone, and found it was Renata’s parents, who were grieved but not surprised. They said they would answer for the body, which was a strange way of putting it. Sergio and Emilia came promptly, though something about the whole situation seemed rushed. Her parents named her Paula, after her maternal grandmother back in Brazil.

But, as it turned out, they wouldn’t take Paula. They used every excuse; they’re approaching old age, they didn’t owe their daughter anything after the way she had turned out… pretty heartless shit really. No wonder Renata ended up where she did. Outrageous, thought Luz, but she merely touched her cross and said nothing, pushing down the urge to smack both of them, until an idea struck in her mind.

“If you won’t care for her, I would like to extend an offer to adopt,” Luz said, standing up, as if driven by an unseen energy.

“You are too young, you don’t know what you’re saying-” Emilia began.

“I’m more than I look like. I’m going to live with my sister, Cecelia, in Upstate New York a month from now.” She swaddled Paula in a hospital blanket, who began to yawn and rub her eyes. “I can sign them myself, but don’t think you won’t be paying support. My family has a good abogado.”

Don Sergio took off his hat, and nodded to Luz, extending his hand. “May we all live to regret this,” he said as Luz gave him a bone crushing handshake and her most winning smile. She crushed Dona Emilia’s hand and smiled inwardly as the older woman said, “Madre de Dios!”

After a brief discussion, the old couple pressed the button on the elevator with their backs to her. When they were gone she spat into the garbage pail. The doctor, getting ready to change shifts, wagged his finger at her as she rolled her eyes at him.

When it was her turn to shut the lights off, she brought Paula to a temporary bed in the neonatal care unit. Luz gave Paula some formula, and prayed over the baby with her eyes closed. She didn’t see, directly across from her, a doppelgänger, wearing a version of her cross upside down and speaking her prayers backwards.

Written by Octohat

Born in the USA to a Nicaraguan and Jewish family, Gabriel Zalkin is a painter and illustrator with a practice in his hometown of Woodridge New York. He earned an undergraduate degree from the State University of New Paltz in January of 2019, and is also a fiction writer.

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