White Hats

Anthony Bordella held his wife’s hand, her grip returning his excitement. The room had a sterile feel to it, though the color scheme was definitely fifteen years outdated. He looked around at the photos of different children, primarily babies, that dotted the walls.

He was going to be a father.

The ultrasound machine sat to one side of the ‘stirrup’ table, dominating the examination room with its size. The screen was off but the machine hummed quietly and would occasionally blink a light, indicating its slumber was temporary.

Chung, his wife, squeezed his hand.

“I’m glad you were able to be here, baby,” she told him.

“I am too.” Anthony had taken the day off from his job as a welder with encouragement from his boss who had nine kids of his own (and counting.)

“The first one is special,” his boss had told him when he’d returned his PTO paperwork signed. “You should be there for it.”

They had arrived fifteen minutes early for their appointment to fill out paperwork as they’d been instructed to do on the phone. The forms had gone quickly enough thanks to Chung’s experience with insurance carriers as a dental hygienist. A few minutes later they’d been taken back to the ultrasound room and Chung handed a paper robe.

“Please remove your pants and underwear and cover up with this. The nurse will be in in a moment,” the tech had said to Chung.

“…and congratulations!” she’d added toward Anthony.

The doorknob clicked down and Anthony stood up reflexively as the ultrasound technician entered the room. Probably in her thirties, Anthony guessed, she was a stunning redhead who’s curves made her purple scrubs seem like lingerie.

Chung squeezed his hand a little harder than normal and he grunted with the pain. He knew what THAT meant. It was her gentle way of reminding him he was her’s and her’s alone.

He loved her for it.

“Alright Mister and Misses Bordella, I’m Evelyn. I’ll be preforming your ultrasound today. How are you both doing?”

“Good. Excited,” Chung told Evelyn.

Anthony nodded.

Evelyn was looking at the papers on her clipboard. “I understand this is your first time visiting us and this is your first child?”

“Yes, that’s correct,” Chung answered.

“Well thank you for choosing our practice to help you start your family.” Evelyn smiled. “Today’s examination will be a vaginal ultrasound. You’ll be able to hear the heartbeat, and we will also get you some pictures so you can show off the newest addition of the Bordella clan.”

“You don’t do it on the stomach?” Anthony asked. That was how he’d always seen ultrasounds done on television.

“No, Mister Bordella. The baby is still too small for the machine to register externally at this point. These first appointments are always vaginal. If it makes you uncomfortable you can leave the room?”

Anthony looked at Chung. Chung looked back at Anthony.

“Its ok, I’ll stay. Just thought you did it the other way.”

“That’s the second ultrasound appointment. As for this one,” Evelyn took a long slender white object from where it hung on the machine. A thin wire disappeared into a plastic white handle that slowly tapered eight or nine inches into a small rounded end. It looked like what Anthony had always imagined an alien anal probe would look like. “I cover this ultrasound wand here with a condom…” Evenly took a condom from a box on the machine and placed it loosely over the ultrasound wand.

“If we’d had one of those we wouldn’t be in this mess,” Chung joked to Anthony.

“…and we add a little of this, ” Evelyn applied some medical lubricant to the condom and smeared it around with gloved hands, “just to make things easier.”

“I appreciate that,” Chung told her, smiling.

“Turn on the monitor here…” Evelyn clicked a recessed switch on the ultrasound machine and the monitor warmed to life, “…aaaaaand we’re all set. Are you ready to meet the newest member of your family?”

Anthony and Chung looked at each other, smiles broadening. Chung tensed her grip of Anthony’s hand. Chung nodded.

Evelyn guided the wand under the paper smock that Chung wore. Anthony saw his wife’s face tense a bit, concerned, and then relax. On the ultrasound machine’s screen, grainy images began appearing. To Anthony it all looked like black, grey and white pixels; completely unreadable.

“Okay, lets see what we have here,” Evelyn said, focusing on the screen. The paper sheet crinkled as she adjusted the wand, the picture on the screen shifting as she did. “This black area here is your bladder. This lighter area here is your uterus. And if we adjust just… a… little bit here we should see…”

On the screen, surrounded by a circular black area was a small collection of flickering grey and white pixels. A fast ‘wooshing’ noise began to come from the speakers on the ultrasound machine. Anthony knew what he was looking at without Evelyn explaining.

He was seeing and hearing his child’s heart beat.

Chung was grinning from ear to ear, staring at the screen. He eyes had tears pooled at their edges. She tore her eyes away from the image and glowed at Anthony. His own cheeks ached his smile had become so broad. It hadn’t really felt real until this moment. He was seeing his baby. He was going to be a daddy. His incredible wife a mommy. He was awestruck. Anthony turned to Evelyn to ask a question, but it died on his lips.

Evelyn wasn’t smiling. Her eyes were transfixed on the screen, her face a scowl of such intense concentration it unsettled Anthony. She stood up so suddenly it made both Chung and Anthony jump in surprise.

“Excuse me for a moment,” Evelyn said, and was out the door before Anthony or Chung could overcome their astonishment.

Chung’s face contorted in concern. She looked at Anthony in shock.

“Is something wrong?” she said, her voice fearful.

Anthony looked back to the screen. The pixels there flickered with the drumming coming from the speakers. Evelyn hadn’t even removed the ultrasound wand from Chung, he noted in a disconnected place in his mind. It was still transmitting.

“I’ll find out what’s going on,” he promised Chung.

Abandoning his maroon waiting chair he shoved through the examination room door and nearly hit Evelyn who was standing in the hallway just outside speaking with a shorter mustached man of Indian descent.

“…sure this is the one. But what…” Evelyn trailed off at Anthony’s appearance.

“Excuse me, but is there a problem?” Anthony asked them both.

The Indian man exchanged a look with Evelyn and spoke up. “You are mister Bordella?” Anthony nodded. “Mister Bordella, I’m Doctor Mukopadhya, I’m the head physician here. I apologize for Evelyn’s behavior but during your wife’s ultrasound she became concerned and wanted to consult with me before continuing.”

“Concerned?” Anthony’s pulse quickened.

“I can’t say anymore until I’ve examined your wife myself. Perhaps you would care to wait in our reception area while I do?”

“If there’s something wrong with my wife or my baby..”

“Sir, please,” Doctor Mukopadhya interrupted him, “time is of the essence and I must examine your wife and child without distraction. Evelyn will show you to reception,” without waiting for a reply he slipped past Anthony into Chung’s examination room and closed the door.

Evelyn’s hand was on Anthony’s arm before the door had fully closed behind Doctor Mukopadhya. “Please, mister Bordella, if you’d come with me?”

“What did you see?” Anthony’s asked her.

Evelyn, hand on his elbow, led him towards a heavy wooden door marked ‘Reception / Exit’

“I’m sure Doctor Mukopadhya will explain his concerns fully after he is done with misses Bordella,” Evelyn replied, opening the door and guiding Anthony through. “Please wait here in the meantime.”

She closed the door behind her before Anthony could speak again.

Anthony’s head spun with fear. “Concerned.” That was what the doctor had said. “Concerned” was a big medical word for ‘there’s something seriously wrong’ in Anthony’s book. The doctors had been “concerned” about his father before he died of cancer. Same with his mother and her heart issues before the stroke. And now…

Now they were “concerned” about Chung and the baby.

Adrenaline coursed through him. He sat in a chair, then stood again and paced.

Maybe it was nothing. These days doctors had to be super cautious. And it wouldn’t do at all for Chung to see him in this state. What would it do to her if there was something truly wrong and he was too much of a mess to be strong for her? He needed to chill out. To calm down.

He needed a smoke.

Anthony approached the receptionist.

“Excuse me, my wife is back with doctor Mukopadhya. I’m stepping outside for a smoke. Would you mind coming to get me if they come out?”

The receptionist smiled and nodded, and Anthony headed for the parking lot.

Anthony rarely smoked anymore. Chung hated it, and now with the baby on the way he would probably need to quit. She had banned cigarettes from the house, and anywhere around her (“us” she had started saying.) That left Anthony only one place.

His work truck.

Crossing the parking lot, he pulled the half-empty pack from the glovebox and fished around the cupholder for the purple lighter he kept there. A few flicks of the Bic later the nicotine was coiling through his system in calming waves.

Anthony blew smoke. He’d barely been a father for what? Five? Six weeks? And already between the stress and the smoking the kid was killing him. He chuckled at that. Hopefully it’d be a boy. That way he’d feel ok about tanning his hide over this little episode later. He tossed a cherried butt away and grabbed another.

“It’s you, isn’t it? You’re the father?”

A woman stood by the tailgate to his truck, stooped with age and smiling right at him. Threadbare gray cardigan over a purple checkered buttondown dress, Anthony guessed she was between seventy and eighty.

Her fingers were gnarled, almost clawlike, and clutched a bouquet of purple and white flowers. A marred red leather purse hung from one bony shoulder and was pressed between the arm that held the flowers and her torso. Long gray hair hung past her shoulders limply.

“It’s such an honor to meet you,” the old woman continued. “Here, these are for you,” she held out the bouquet to Anthony.

“Um,” Anthony tossed the butt of his cigarette to the pavement and ground it out with his foot. “Thanks.”

“We’ve all waited so long for his coming, you know. It’s so exciting, don’t you think?”

The old girl was completely bonkers. “Uh, yeah. We’re both pretty excited.”

“Well, I don’t want to keep you. Just wanted to pay my respects,” the old woman’s gaze drifted from Anthony into space for a moment. “Oh, I almost forgot.” She pulled her purse open and began rummaging for something. “The faithful have something for him too. To show our allegiance. Oh, now where is it? Ah,” she caught on something and brought it from her purse to present to Anthony. “It’s already been blessed.”

It was an organ of some kind, pale and fleshy. Blood leaked from it, cascading through the old woman’s fingers. Bizarre symbols had been branded into it on every angle, charring outlining the indentations. Anthony recoiled.

“Aw, What the….?!”

“I’ll just leave this right here,” the woman said, ignorant of his reaction. She set the leaking organ on the side of the truck’s bed. “You take care now, especially of that boy of yours!”

The woman wandered off through the parking lot, leaving Anthony frozen in revulsion. Blood ran down his truck in small dripping streams, red stripes on white paint. Leaves skittered through the parking lot on a gentle breeze, the sound of their scraping suddenly sinister. Anthony turned the bouquet in his hand and used the tied flower stems to push the glyphed organ to the asphalt. The wet noise it made when it landed caused the bile to burn at the back of his throat and he retched once before regaining control.

On the ground, the organ was swarmed almost immediately by small black ants, drawn by the scent of easy carcass. Their squirming invasion of the thing was more than Anthony could take. With a scraping kick from the side of his foot he sent the heart skipping beneath the undercarriages of parked cars, lie where it may. As long as it was away from him.

Anthony felt suddenly cold; he rubbed his arms vigorously but the dread wouldn’t go away.

Something was very wrong.

And then it came to him.

Chung.

How long had he been out here? How many cigarettes had he gone through? He looked at the ground. Three cigarette butts, one already soaking up blood, lay cast on the pavement around him. Had he really gone through that many? He’d been thinking about the kid, and then the old woman had shown up…

He had to get back to Chung.

He crossed the parking lot nervously. The old woman was nowhere to be seen but he was still creeped out with the whole ordeal. He just wanted to get his wife and leave.

He grabbed the door to the gynecologist’s office and pulled, but it resisted opening. He tried again and it barely moved. He shook it a few times with the same result. Anthony bent to examine the seam between door and frame and saw the problem; the deadbolt had been thrown.

Other irregularities became noticeable. All the lights had been turned off and a security door had been pulled down in front of the receptionist’s window. The other people who had been in the waiting room were all gone as well.

The place was empty.

Anthony checked his watch. 2 PM. Not even close to closing time. He pounded on the door with his fist.

“Hey!” He yelled. “Open up!”

Nothing happened. Nothing moved, and the door to the examinations rooms remained closed.

He pulled out his cellphone and called the number he had saved for the office. It rang. He could hear faintly through the door the office phone ringing as well. But no one picked up. It eventually went to the answering machine.

Anthony grew more anxious. Why was no one answering?

“HEY!” He shook the door furiously back and forth creating a terrible racket. “OPEN UP!”

“Hey!” a voice yelled at him, but not from inside. It came from his left, down the breezeway. A rent-a-cop, probably patrolling security for the complex, was headed his way.

“Oh good. Listen man, do you have keys for this place? The door’s locked and my wife is inside,” Anthony asked as the security guard approached.

The rent-a-cop kept his gaze steady. “Sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to step away from the door. Doctor Mukopadhya’s office is closed for the day and we’re receiving complaints from the other tenants about the noise you’re making.”

“It’s two in the afternoon. Why would they be closed?” Anthony asked him.

“Please sir. You’re going to need to leave the premises. I’ve already called the police. It’d be best for everyone if you were gone by the time they arrived.”

“But my wife is STILL IN THERE.”

“Maybe they took your wife to the hospital while you were outside, sir. I don’t know. What I know is you’re causing problems and you need to leave. Now.”

Anthony thought about that. Had he heard any sirens while he was smoking? No. It was possible an ambulance had arrived with the sirens off and they loaded Chung from the rear of the building. He had had a clear view of the front the entire time and he knew nothing had taken place there.

“And no one from the doctor’s office thought to tell me?”

“They might not have known where you were. I don’t know.”

“I told the receptionist where I would be.”

“Look, I’m through talking about this. You need to go.”

“Just…” Anthony was in anguish. What the hell was going on? “Just let me call the hospital. Make sure she’s ok.” He pulled out his cellphone and dialed 411 for information.

The rent-a-cop’s eyes darted to the cellphone and back to Anthony.

“Aw, fuck it,” he said, and he pulled his taser and fired.

The electricity hit Anthony like a train, doubling him over and onto the ground in pain. Every nerve ending screamed. It felt like fire was trapped in his torso and was burning it’s way out. Tears streamed from his eyes. The world went red, the black, then red again. He lost consciousness.

It felt as though he had only passed out for a moment, but he came to staring at the rent-a-cop’s shoes filling his field of vision as the man crouched over him. Every fiber of Anthony’s body ached. Through the haze of pain he realized that one of the man’s hands was rubbing Anthony down removing things from his pockets. The man was also speaking.

“This is Harris. Guy wasn’t leaving. Had to take him down. Have the doc send someone out with a sedative soon as he can. I’ll taze him again if he looks like he’s waking up.”

Anthony heard a burst of static, presumably from the rent-a-cop’s walkie talkie, and then a tinny response. Even distorted as it was, Anthony recognized it.

It was Evelyn’s voice.

“Bring him around back you idiot. You can’t just leave him lying out there where anyone can see him. I’ll send Angela to unlock the door. Mukopadhya is almost done with the wife and ready for me. Don’t you dare screw this up. We’ve waited to long.”

“Copy,” Anthony saw Harris the rent-a-cop shift on his feet and drop to one knee as he adjusted to return his walkie-talkie to his belt. “Great, leave me to move the heavy fucker all by myself,” Harris muttered.

Anthony’s mind raced in fear. He could still feel the electrodes buried in his chest from the Harris’ first tasering. A wetness, probably his blood, was spreading out from where they protruded. Could Harris simply pull the trigger and shock him again?

Evelyn had mentioned “the wife.” Had they been talking about Chung?

His muscles were still twitching from the jolt he had received. He realized his hand was still tensed around his cellphone. He had been calling the hospital when Harris had tazed him.

Harris had his hand in Anthony’s back pocked fishing for his wallet. It was now or never.

Anthony shifted beneath Harris and smashed the cellphone into the side of the rent-a-cop’s head with all the strength he could muster. Harris’ yelp of surprise was cut off as Anthony’s fist made contact, crushing the phone to shards and knocking Harris cold.

The rent-a-cop crumpled on top of Anthony who pushed him to the sidewalk and got unsteadily to his feet using the plate glass storefront of the doctor’s office for support. Wires hung from his chest where the barbed electrodes of the taser had penetrated. Grunting with pain Anthony pulled them from his chest.

He had to get to Chung.

Anthony jogged to his truck, looking around. He couldn’t see anyone who might have seen his altercation with Harris but he couldn’t count on that. He needed a weapon.

The bed of his truck was full of options. His mind raced. Evelyn had said she’d send someone to open the back door for Harris. If someone had seen him take Harris out there was no way he was getting in that way. He could bust the windows out front but from the looks of things between the solid door and the security window at reception he wouldn’t get in that way either. Not to mention that the noise from the breaking glass would be easily heard inside the office. Whatever they were doing in there, it would give them plenty of warning to hurt Chung.

If they hadn’t already.

That spurred him to action. He climbed into the cab of his truck and started it up. Backing out of the parking spot he pulled in front of the office long enough to use some cable ties to strap Harris’ hands to a water spigot protruding from the office wall. Satisfied the rent-a-cop wasn’t going anywhere, Anthony drove his truck around to the rear entrance of the medical facility.

A narrow alleyway separated the medical offices from the supermarket next door. There were no security cameras Anthony could see. He climbed from his truck, leaving the door open to prevent making more noise than necessary. Anthony slid on his work gloves and grabbed the tool he had settled on: his Victor oxy-acetylene portable cutting torch. Deftly he hooked the cutting torch to the gas feeds and slid his arms through the shoulder straps. The goggles would impair his vision too much, so he left them where they were. Sparking the torch to life, He headed for the rear entrance of the facility.

The suite numbers were painted in red on the doors. Anthony found Mukopadhya’s office with little difficulty. The door was fairly standard for a rear entrance: metal with a reinforced frame. The doorknob wasn’t locking, that duty was taken by the keyholed deadbolt set slightly above it. Anthony took the torch and held it to the keyhole, melting the cylinders inside until they gave way. Then he jerked the door open and headed inside the office.

It took a moment for Anthony’s eyes to adjust from the sunlight, result of the lights in the rear of the office had been dimmed. Only one fluorescent bank remained on. He couldn’t see anyone moving but he could hear moaning coming from from somewhere. The voice rose and fell in pitch, a droning, almost plaintive cry.

A girl in scrubs walked by, focused on her clipboard, clearly not expecting anyone. She yelped when Anthony grabbed her arm and pulled her close.

“Make any noise and I will burn your eyes out with this,” He hefted the torch to emphasize his point, “got it?”

The young woman nodded, terrified.

“I want my wife. Now. Where is she?”

The young woman, who’s nametag said ‘Angela,’ pointed wordlessly toward the door marked ‘ultrasound.’

“Leave. Now,” Anthony told Angela who nodded with tearful eyes and ran out the door.

The moaning rose in volume as Anthony warily approached the ‘ultrasound’ door. The sound had resolved itself into some kind of chant. Anthony didn’t recognize the language. But whoever was doing the singing was in the room.

With Chung.

Carefully Anthony eased the door handle down. He felt like its quiet clicking echoed like a shotgun blast, but the voice coming from inside the room remained steady.

Every light was off within the ultrasound room. Flickering candlelight lit the dim scene as Anthony eased himself inside, holding the burning torch carefully out of the room to avoid bringing attention to himself immediately.

Chung lay on the examination table much as she had when Anthony left her. An IV drip on a pole beside her and a tube running under tape on her left arm, as well as her closed eyes, told Anthony she was being sedated. Her chest rose and fell. She was alive.

Dotted with dark droplets, Evelyn lay nude on a similar examination table that had been wheeled in next to Chung’s. The attractive woman was breathing heavily and answering the chant occasionally with soft moans of her own. Another IV line ran between her arm and Chung’s right, mingling their blood.

Doctor Mukopadhya was stripped to next to nothing, wearing only a sort of cotton loincloth wrapped around his groin. He was the source of the chanting, yelling and moaning in a warbling pitch that rose and fell as he gyrated wildly. In one hand he held some kind of leafy tree branch which he shook towards Evelyn, spattering her with more dark liquid. A severed goat’s head sat on the counter next to Chung’s purse and some magazines, pooling blood beneath it. Shaking his body violently, Doctor Mukopadhya brushed the branch against the pool of goat blood and then shook even more onto Evelyn who exhaled with pleasure.

Anthony had seen enough. He shoved the doctor toward Evelyn who sat up and yelled at the small man falling on top of her.

Anthony brought the torch to bear at both of them.

“Stay back!” Anthony yelled, thrusting the torch toward the surprised couple.

Doctor Mukopadhya scrambled off of Evelyn and pressed himself against the wall, eyes wide in shock.

“Mister Bordella! Stop!” Evelyn sat up, covering her breasts with an arm, reaching toward Anthony in an entreating manner with the other. Goat blood ran trails down her milky white skin. “Your child, he is special! Chosen!”

“I said back!” Anthony swiped at them with the torch, moving to Chung’s bedside. Holding the torch to keep it between Chung and the crazed medical staff, Anthony pulled the dripping IV needle from Chung’s vein. Reaching across his wife Anthony took her other wrist and removed the line that ran between Chung and Evelyn.

“Mister Bordella. Anthony. Please,” Evelyn was speaking to him again. “You have no idea of the significance of your wife and child. We have waited thousands of years for his arrival. Searched the world over for him.

Chung was slowly regaining consciousness, murmuring softly now. Anthony bent as best he could and got an arm underneath her, pulling her to unsteady feet. She hung from him limply.

“You’re meddling with things you don’t understand Mister Bordella,” Evelyn’s voice was growing hard with anger now. “You cannot just take the child. We won’t let you.”

That’s exactly what I’m going to d…. hey!”

Doctor Mukopadhya threw himself from the wall at Anthony, yelling as he did so. Evelyn dove from the table reaching towards Chung in an attempt to pull her away.

Anthony brought the torch up reflexively between himself and the small indian man. Mukopadhya screamed in pain and stumbled back into Evelyn, clutching a cauterized slash burned in the meat of his bicep. They both fell to the floor, a tangle of skin and shouting. Anthony pulled Chung along, dragging her through the office hallway and into his patiently idling truck. Evelyn’s screams followed them out.

“We’ll find you again, Bordella! You can’t keep him from us! We’ve waited too long!”

“Watch me,” Anthony muttered to himself, slamming the truck door and peeling out as he guided the work truck into traffic.

Chung whispered something. Anthony couldn’t make it out.

“What baby?” he asked, swerving the truck through three lanes of traffic and barely making a yellow light.

“Doctor said… dehydrated. Need to take care of…. baby,” Chung’s eyes were still closed, her voice barely audible above the roar of the truck’s engine.

“That’s what we’ll do,” Anthony told her, mounting the curb, already thinking about where they could go, how they could get out of the city.

“We’ll take care of our baby.”

 

Want more strange fiction? This and many other stories are available in the STRANGITIES collection “A Thousand Creeping Things” – available in both paperback and digital!