It was still alive.
She could feel it inside her. It was moving again, twisting and
writhing in her belly.
She'd hoped it would die.
Hoped. And prayed. Since the moment she first felt it inside her,
she'd fallen to her knees, begging God to deliver her from the evil
within her --- desperate prayers that continued through long days
and longer nights. Sleep never came, for she dared not ever let
down her guard, not ever relax her vigilance against the evil even
for a few seconds of blessed release from the terror. Lying awake
on dank sheets, listening to the whine of insects beyond the
window, how many times had she gotten up from her bed in the
meanest hours to stand at the window, gazing out into the black
abyss, wondering if she shouldn't open the screen and let the
Once, she slashed through the mesh with ragged nails, ripping the
screen to shreds, tearing open her nightgown as if to a lover,
presenting her tortured body to the horde of tiny creatures that
spewed forth from the night to settle on her skin in a thick and
pulsating scum: clinging to her with piercing barbs; miring in the
oily sweat that oozed from her; pricking with stinging needles.
Producing a thrill of pain as she willed them to suck out her
blood, and along with it, the evil that pervaded her every
But the vileness within her had prevailed, as even against her own
will she swept the insects away, slammed the window shut, and stood
beneath a scalding shower for hours in a vain attempt to cleanse
herself of the poisons.
She had returned to the bed, cursing herself and the man who lay
beside her, but most of all cursing the disease that ruled
Truly, that was what it was: an illness cast upon her in
retribution for sins so vile that she had repressed even their
faintest memory, leaving only the corruption inside, the monstrous
horror that was metastasizing through her, consuming a little more
of her every day.
"Dear God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"
The words --- the cry of anguish that should have shattered the
very air --- dribbled from her lips like the mewling of a baby, a
pitiful, weak sound, but enough to drive the life within her wild.
It sent her screaming and stumbling from the house, where her
balance deserted her and she dropped to her knees, skinning them on
the harsh paving of the driveway. Moaning, she sprawled out, and
for the tiniest moment of ecstasy thought she might be dying. Then
the fury within her eased, and after a while her ragged panting
mellowed into a rhythmic breath. Deliverance was not yet at hand.
She struggled back to her feet and stood staring at the
She had thought it beautiful once, with its high-peaked roof and
many gables, the broad veranda that wrapped around it with the
fullness of a petticoated skirt, the shutters and gingerbread that
decorated its face like the millinery of an age gone by. Now,
though, she saw the fancywork for what it was: a veil that only
barely covered the wickedness that lay within; a mask peeling back
to reveal the slatternly face of a whore.
A whore like me.
The words rose unbidden from the depths of her subconscious, in a
The evil within her tested its strength, and the woman's body
She staggered forward, driven by pain. At the foot of the steps
leading to the veranda --- and the cavernous rooms beyond --- she
The certain knowledge that something was different, had changed in
the seconds since she'd fled outside, made her turn away.
It's behind the house.
As if under the power of an unseen force, the woman slowly groped
her way around to the back of the house. The sun, close to its
zenith now, beat down on her, making her skin tingle and burn in an
angry, itching rash that spread scarlet from her belly across her
torso, down her arms and legs, like claws scraping at her from the
inside, pushing to tear free from the confines of her body.
Then she saw it.
Her hands rose reflexively to her face as if to blot out the vision
before her, or even to tear her eyes from her head. Then they
dropped away, and she gazed unblinking at the specter beneath the
ancient magnolia tree that spread its limbs over the area beyond
It was the man.
The man she had married.
The man who had brought her to this house.
The man who had delivered the disease upon her.
The man who had lain unconscious beside her as she'd prayed for a
salvation she knew would never come.
Now he was gone, his body, stripped naked of even the tiniest shred
of clothing, hung from the lowest branch of the tree, a thick
hempen rope knotted tightly around his neck.
His head hung at an unnatural angle, and his lifeless eyes were
fixed upon her with a gaze that chilled the remnants of her
The knife with which he'd slit open his own belly was still
clutched in the stiffened fingers of his right hand, and his
entrails lay in a bloody tangle below his dangling feet.
A swarm of flies had already settled on his disemboweled corpse;
soon their eggs would hatch, releasing millions of maggots to feast
He had found his escape.
He had left her alone.
Alone with the disease.
Nearly doubled over by a spasm of terror and revulsion, the woman
turned away and lurched toward the shelter of the house.
Muttered words, unintelligible even to herself, tumbled from her
lips. By the time she escaped the brilliant noon sun, her entire
body was trembling.
Got to hide.
Hide from him.
Hide from it.
The corruption inside leaped to life again and, no longer aware of
where she was or what she was doing, she obeyed the dictates of the
A door opened before her, and she stumbled, then fell, plunging
into the shadowy darkness, feeling blackness surround her,
welcoming the release of death.
Her body slammed against the coldness of the cellar floor. She lay
still. Against her will, her heart once more began to beat, her
lungs to breathe.
And now the final agony --- the agony she had always known would
It arrived as a point of white heat deep within, which spread and
burned as it raced through her, igniting every nerve in her body
into a fiery torment that sent a scream boiling up from her throat,
instantly followed by a stream of vomit.
Every muscle in her body cramped. Limbs thrashing, hands and feet
lashing out as if at some unseen tormentor, she was engulfed by the
"NOOOooo ..." The single cry of anguish burst from her, then
trailed off into hopeless silence.
For a long time she lay unmoving, as the fire withdrew, leaving at
last an absence of pain. A blank emptiness where the disease had
She pulled herself up and gazed at the tiny thing that lay between
Still covered with bloody tissue, the baby stretched its tiny arms,
as if reaching toward her.