“I don’t understand. Why would you wait so long to tell me this?”
I looked over at my mom in disbelief. I often complained as a kid that I must be adopted, but it was an act of rebellion against my parents after a large fight, I never thought it was true. We were sitting across my kitchen table from each other in my small one-bedroom apartment. I had been having strange symptoms over the last week and had asked her if I should go to the doctor during our weekly phone call. Instead of offering me advice or comfort, she asked me to wait until she could come over to talk. I thought it was a strange response given that she lived in the town where I was born, which was over four hours from where I lived now.
Now we were sitting over a cup of tea at the table in my kitchen, the hot cup warming my hands and the smell of peppermint in the air. I listened to my mom announce that she needed to tell me about my adoption.
“I am almost thirty years old now, mom. Why wouldn’t you tell me this, like, 10 years ago at least?”
She looked down at the cup in her hands, clearly uneasy about the conversation that we were having.
“Look, I don’t expect you to understand where I am coming from. Your father didn’t even want me to come and tell you now. He wanted me to leave it alone unless absolutely necessary. We aren’t exactly proud of keeping it from you, but we thought you were better off not knowing about it. If you had a child, you would understand where we were coming from.”
‘Of course, you had to throw in the guilt trip around my not having children yet,’ I thought. Although, she was never one to bug me about that. My friends frequently talked about their parents badgering them constantly about the lack of grandchildren as we neared our thirtieth birthdays. I always thought I was just lucky to have parents that didn’t push their wants and needs on me. Now, as I looked at my mother, her head bent down as she avoided eye contact with me, I was starting to wonder if the details around my adoption were the real reason why they didn’t push so much. What could they be hiding from me all this time, and what did it have to do with my symptoms?
“Okay. What happened? Did you steal me from my real parents or something? You always commented about my looking just like grandma, so how could I be adopted?”
“Okay, so maybe adopted isn’t the right word. I am still your mom, but your dad wasn’t the one that got me pregnant. I still don’t think he fully believes how I got pregnant, but he has stood by me all this time. We didn’t want you to know that he wasn’t really your father.”
Her eyes started to fill with tears, making my gut become twisted as guilt passed over me. I realized I was causing her pain by forcing the details out of her.
“I don’t understand. Who got you pregnant then? Weren’t you already married to dad?”
“Yes,” she said, as she dropped her eyes back to the cup in her hands. “It happened all so fast. I don’t know that I can explain it as well as I should, but I needed to tell you.”
“Mom,” I said softly, reaching my hand across the table to touch hers, “I don’t want to bring up painful memories if that is what is going on. I am just trying to understand. And why did you have to tell me this now?”
At that moment, the pain I had called her about returned. It ripped through my stomach forcing me to curl over in my chair, nearly knocking my tea mug off the table. I felt my mom quickly grab my hand in both of hers while I curled my other arm to cover my stomach.
“I’m so sorry. We should have told you earlier. Unfortunately, I don’t know what’s going on with you now, but you can’t go to the doctor. They can’t find out.”
The pain subsided enough that I could sit back up and look back at her face. That is when I saw the terror in her eyes. I could see how scared she was at that moment.
“What are you talking about? Mom, I’m sorry, but I need to get to the emergency room so that they can figure out what’s wrong. What if I have cancer or something? What does it matter how I was born? How would they find out that I was adopted through an ultrasound or something?”
I tried to stand up, but the panic in her eyes made me stop. I wanted to get to the hospital, but I couldn’t just leave her like this when there was obviously more she wanted to say. I couldn’t decide how much more I was willing to listen to.
“Honey,” she said, as she reached across the table to take my hand again. “You don’t understand. Think about it. Have you ever been to a doctor before?”
I thought back throughout my memories, trying to remember the last time that I went to see a doctor.
“Well, no. I always went to see Uncle John. You always called him a doctor whenever I needed a check-up, although now I realize that he was more of an army nurse, not a real doctor. I don’t really understand why you always took me to him, but I thought it must be a lack of money thing. Don’t worry mom, I have insurance now.”
“Honey, think about it. Do you remember ever being sick? Or needing a doctor other than the odd check-up to make sure that you were growing normally? And your uncle wasn’t an army nurse. He worked for the government as a soldier, but he never went to war. The things he saw were a little hard to explain to you as a child, so we just told you he was a doctor to make it easier.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Why were there so many lies about my childhood?
“So was anything from my childhood true? Why did you and dad feel the need to lie to me all this time?”
I was angry and that seemed to aggravate the pain that I was experiencing, causing it to rip through me again. It was as if the pain was radiating out from the very core of my being. As if something was trying to rip out of me through my belly button.
“Mom, honestly, I need to see a doctor. I can’t sit here and listen to this anymore.”
I tried to stand up to leave the table, planning to walk to the front door. The pain worsened as I tried to move, making me fall to my knees before I could even make it all the way to the entryway to put on my shoes. My mom came to kneel beside me, putting her arms around my shoulders to try and comfort me.
“I’m sorry, baby girl, but I just can’t let you go to the doctor. They can’t know.”
From the curled-over position on my knees, I turned my head over to look into my mother’s eyes, trying to figure out what she was saying. The pain made me unable to speak, so instead only a confused moan escaped from my throat, my lips tightly closed.
“John!” my mom called out.
Now I was really confused. Why was she calling out Uncle John’s name when it was just the two of us in the apartment?
The door crashed open, as John and a second man broke in. The second man was wearing a soldier uniform, while my uncle was dressed in a black suit. I looked back and forth between the two of them and my mom still beside me as they came closer to us. My mom slowly backed away from me, her hands slowly leaving my shoulders.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
My uncle and the other man moved to stand on either side of me. They towered over me as I peered up at them. The serious look on their faces made fear mix with my pain as I began to realize that they weren’t here to help me, but instead keep me from going to the hospital. They leaned down and each placed their arms under mine, hoisting me up to standing. The pain exploded from my core, becoming a white-hot sensation that was radiating out into my chest and into my legs.
“John?” my mom asked, starting to quiver from where she was standing near the table where we had just been talking, my tea mug knocked over and dripping on the floor. “Are you sure this is the only way? We have never had any issues before. Are you sure this won’t just pass?”
“Marcie,” my uncle’s voice was booming beside my left ear. “We always knew this day may come. You are doing the right thing. We will take it from here. Go home. Don’t tell anyone what happened. If anyone asks, say you haven’t talked to your daughter in a few days.”
With that, the soldier and my uncle picked me up so that my feet dragged underneath me, my toes barely touching the ground. I could hear my mom starting to sob behind me as I was walked out of my apartment, away from all my things, including my shoes and jacket that were left in the entryway closet. My uncle always acted aloof, but he never acted so cold and distant as he did in this moment. I looked over at him and realized he was avoiding my gaze, his jaw was set hard and he appeared to be grinding his teeth in an effort to remain emotionless.
The pain continued to rip through me, intensifying with the increased stress that I was under while being dragged from my home. They carried me down the stairway through the back doors, my neighbors unaware of what was happening. My voice seemed to be lost, I couldn’t cry out as we walked. I tried to make a noise, but only moans escaped me.
As we walked down the walkway from the back entrance of my apartment, I saw a black van waiting for us in the parking lot. I tried to reach down to the ground with my feet to gain traction so that I could try to twist out of their arms, but the men on each side were too strong. My heart was beating faster and harder in my chest. A man walking towards us paused when he saw us, unsure of what he was seeing and whether or not he should get involved. His thumb poised over his phone as he stood only a few feet away. I tried to coax my voice to work, motioning towards him with my eyes. I opened my eyes as wide as I could to grab his attention, moaning in earnest for him to help me.
My uncle noticed the man and assured him, “Excuse me, sir. Please keep a distance. This woman is contagious, and we must get her medical attention right away.”
That was all the man needed to hear. He jumped back in surprise, giving my uncle and the soldier plenty of space between him and our trio as we got closer to the van. The sliding door opened as we neared, and I was pushed in. I tried to look back at the man still watching us, even though he was now near the back doors, trying to call out to him.
“Sir!” I was finally able to manage.
As soon as the word escaped my mouth, a cloth was placed over my mouth from someone in the van behind me. The smell was distinct, but I had never smelled it before, so I didn’t recognize it. Instantly, my vision started to blur as my consciousness faded. The last thing I felt was my head starting to bob uncontrollably as the sliding door closed me off from the outside world.
The next thing I heard was a humming sound. I could feel the world vibrating around me as I tried to open my eyes. Everything was dark and my mind was foggy. I became aware of a cloth covering my head. It was scratchy against my face and the air inside it was warm and humid from my breath. The realization that they had covered my head with something so that I couldn’t see came over me. The humming sound was the vehicle they had pushed me into, likely on the highway at high speeds, as the wind passing over us was loud. I tried to grip at my stomach as the pain returned, radiating from my center, but I couldn’t move my arms. My hands were tied to something at my sides, making it difficult for me to move.
The fear that had passed over me when I realized that my uncle was no longer behaving as family came back. I could feel my breath ruffling the bag that had been placed over my head. The van was silent, although I was acutely aware of at least three people sitting around me. I had been pushed up against the side of the seat, my left arm pushing into the arm rest on the opposite side of the sliding door. I licked my lips and tried to swallow but my throat was raw and dry. I was thirsty. I finally found the nerve to say something to my captors.
“Uncle John. Why are you doing this? Where are you taking me?”
The van was silent. I wondered if my uncle was still in the vehicle or if he had been replaced by another soldier. Then I heard him clear his throat before finally responding, “I’m sorry about this, kid. Don’t take it personally. I warned your parents that this might need to happen one day, but they insisted that they keep you and let you have a normal life for as long as possible. They never believed me when I said that, one day, you would turn into that thing that impregnated your mother.”
“Turn? What do you mean, turn?”
“Didn’t your mama tell you? It wasn’t no human that got her pregnant. One of the patients I was watching over had gotten loose from the compound and somehow got to her. It must have sensed that she was my family and it wanted to make me pay. So, it put its spawn in her and went into hiding. We never did find where it went. I should have made her abort it as soon as we found out what happened.”
“What are you talking about? You are insane! Take me home right now!”
“Sorry, kiddo. We need to follow protocol. You are going to the compound where we keep the other patients until we know what’s happening to you.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. As I opened my mouth to yell at my uncle, the pain in my stomach radiated into my arms and up my neck. I could feel something hot pulsing in my veins as it reached down my arms and legs and up into my head. I curled over the best I could within the restraints I was in, trying not to scream as it felt like my skin was being burned from the inside.
“Sir, there are purple lines forming down her arms. Are you sure about transporting her like this?” a woman’s concerned voice said from the seat to the right of me.
The atmosphere in the van around me became tense. Although they were talking around me, I could no longer hear the people in the van. My heartbeat was getting faster and louder, pulsing in my brain, causing the sounds in the van to fall away. It felt like something was building within me. I could tell that I was in danger and that if I ended up at the compound that my uncle spoke about, I would simply disappear and I would never see my family or friends again. These realizations were faint against the pain coursing through my body, but the fear still gathered in me. I felt like I might explode.
I pulled at my restraints, trying to break free to cover my head as it pulsed. Suddenly, the energy seemed to pass through my skin, exploding out from me in every direction. The relief of the energy leaving my body was immense, so I didn’t immediately notice the explosion that erupted around me. I slowly became aware of the sounds of screams and metal crashing around me. The vehicle was being whipped in a direction that I couldn’t see, so I braced myself for impact.
When we finally stopped, I sat still. I waited to hear what the three in the vehicle were doing, but silence is all that followed. The sounds of the engine had even faded. After a few moments, I tried to move my arms from the restraints. They came away from my sides with ease, as if there was nothing holding them back. I reached up and slowly pulled the bag from my head. The smell of burned meat and hot metal filled my nostrils.
The world around me was dark. I realized that we had been driving back to the military base near my old hometown, so it was well past midnight. The vehicle had been pushed into a field off the road. I could see cornstalks poking into the vehicle from holes where the metal had been blown open around me. I realized that the driver was no longer in front of me, as his seat had been blasted out of the vehicle. My uncle was pressed against the front passenger door. He was not moving and blood was pooling under his head from where he must have collided with the passenger door window during the crash. I looked beside me and noticed that woman I had heard speak only moments before was now pushed against the opposite side of the van away from me, her body pressed into the sliding door with the glass smashed out. She was laying on her side partially leaning over the broken window, revealing a gaping wound open under her ribs nearest me. It looked charred, as if it had been burned open by something that had exploded onto her skin.
I looked down at my hands, checking over my body for any injuries. My skin appeared to have an odd texture to it that I didn’t recognize, but I couldn’t see any bleeding. That was when I realized that although it was dark in the vehicle, my eyes had somehow adjusted so well that I could see details without difficulty. I was somehow differentiating colors around me, even though there was no light anywhere in sight. The headlights of the vehicle were off, leaving the field in darkness. I looked around and saw that the entire side of the van on the left of me was gone. The metal of the vehicle looked like it had been blown open from the inside where I sat.
I reached over and unfastened the seatbelt that I could still feel tight on my hips, amazed that a small piece of ribbon had held so well. Carefully, I placed my left foot outside of the van, hearing the ground crunch under the weight of me as I slowly stood up. The pain was gone from my body and I felt more alive than I had ever felt. I looked back at the vehicle and realized that the explosion had come from the inside, forcing the van to fly off the road into the nearby cornfield. I looked around the crash site and noticed all the corn between the road and the final resting place of the van had been flattened by the force. I saw a pile of debris on the other side of the road. I recognized the color of the seat, realizing that it must be the driver seat of the van. It was glowing from a fire that was slowly crawling up the back of the seat. I looked back at the van, realizing that the people in it were likely dead, but I wasn’t going to wait to find out. I started to run through the corn field away from the vehicle, hoping that no one would come across the wreck and realize that I wasn’t in the vehicle. I needed a decent head start.
After a few hours of walking across fields and back roads, I came across a small gas station. It was quiet and mostly dark, so I wasn’t sure if it was even open. I walked around the back and found a door with symbols of a man and woman painted on it.
“A bathroom. Finally.”
I walked up to the door and pulled on it. It was locked. I looked down at the handle, refusing to admit defeat, but also refusing to go inside to ask for a key from potential witnesses. I turned the handle again and pulled with all my strength. The door broke off its hinges in my hand. I looked down at the handle and let it go, the door dropped to the ground beside me with a loud thump. I kicked it out of my way and walked into the small room.
“What the fuck is happening to me?”
The smell of old urine overtook my senses, and I covered my nose instinctively. I walked to the sink, thinking only of cleaning the evidence of the crash off my skin. I turned on the tap and splashed some cold water on my face. I stood back up to take stock of what my face must look like, my mind still trying to make sense of what had happened and how I could have walked away unscathed.
A being was looking back at me and made me jump back. Its eyes were bloodshot, with a sliver of gold in the middle of the black pupils. Its skin was red and scaly with remnants of black soot and dirt covering it. In my surprise, I raised my hand to my mouth to stifle my scream. The creature I was looking at raised a hand as well. I looked down in confusion and realized that my hands were covered in the same red, scale-like texture. I was looking at myself.
“Who was my father?”
I realized that I needed to find him, and fast.
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