“Time of death: 10:27 AM.”
Doctor Francis turned his back on the exhausted mother, the tiny body shielded in his arms.
The sound which escaped the mother’s body was more like a wounded animal than a human: raw emotion without words. She reached toward the small bundle, but the doctor turns sharply and walks from the room.
“Let me see him at least! Just for a moment!” she cries.
“It would be too hard on you,” the doctor says, pausing at the doorway. “Try and get some rest. You’ve had a long day.”
And he was gone, carrying the child with him.
I’ve been a nurse at Mercy Hospital for two years. I’ve seen more than my fair share of tragedy and heartbreak. I’ve seen grown men blubbering like babies, amputated limbs, inconsolable children with incurable disease, but this was a first for me. I’ve never seen a doctor pronounce a child stillborn with a hand over its mouth to suppress its cries. The baby was still squirming in his arms as he carried the little boy from the room.
The doctor must have had a reason though, right? He noticed something was wrong, something fatal, and he thought it would be easier for the mother to bear this way. It just seemed so cruel. I had to confront him in the hallway outside.
“Where are you taking him?” I asked.
A feeble cry escaped the child’s lips, but it was drowned out by the swelling wail from inside the maternity room. The doctor wrapped the tiny form in his lab coat and hustled off at a quickened pace.
“You can’t seriously…”
“I could have you fired, you know.” Doctor Francis said it as casually as though commenting on the weather. “All I’d have to do is tell the administration about that time you molested an unconscious person.”
“That never happened. What you’re doing now though —”
“Just your word against mine then, isn’t it?” He was stopped at the service elevator. The down arrow lights up. “And who do you think they’d believe? A lifetime veteran and beloved family doctor, or some sketchy nurse trying to save his own skin?” The elevator opened and he stepped inside. He readjusted to tuck the bundled child under one arm.
I tried to enter with him, but he blocked my path.
“Don’t be an idiot, okay?” he said. “You can trust me. I know what I’m doing.”
“Yeah, because stealing a child and threatening an innocent witness is totally trustworthy behavior.”
“This is for their own good. Them and their parents.”
“Them? How many are there?”
He grinned as the door closed. The shifting light seemed to highlight his teeth into something like a snarl. The elevator whirred down. I helplessly mashed the down arrow, but there was only one shaft and I’d have to wait.
I sprinted to the stairs instead, racing against my own morbid thoughts. The door exiting the stairwell to the basement was locked. I fumbled through my keys. I’d never needed to go down here before, and I couldn’t remember which one opened the morgue.
I heard a child cry on the other side. Was I too late? Was he already killing it? My fingers were shaking enough that even the right key wouldn’t fit. Deep breath. Deep breath. Concentrate. Another cry, muffled and distant this time.
Then the key slid in and I flung open the door. The morgue was still and quiet. There was no sign of the doctor. I searched the room for several minutes, but the cold dead air seemed to mock the very possibility of what I’d seen. I probably would have given up and left soon, but a rattling sound froze me in place.
It was coming from inside one of the body drawers. It was beginning to open from the inside. I leaped across the room to hide behind an upright supply cabinet just in time before the drawer opened.
Doctor Francis crawled out and closed the drawer behind him. He straightened his lab coat, looked from side to side, and then proceeded to the elevator. The child was gone.
I waited until the elevator door closed behind him before rushing to the wall of drawers. Opening the one he crawled from, I immediately realized that it wasn’t a drawer at all. It was a passageway.
Fresh wails from the other side prompted me to lie flat on my stomach and crawl through the tight metal space. The crying got louder as I went, until after about 10 feet I emerged into a room I’d never seen before.
Candles lined the walls with long lines of melted wax to mark their enduring vigil. Occult symbols were splashed on the floor in a dark liquid I preferred not to speculate about. And the cribs — a dozen of them arranged in a circle, each containing a frightened infant.
Thank god the cribs were still labeled with their medical charts. These children were all dead — if you believed the official statements anyway. Their parents were all told that they were stillbirths.
How many heartbreaks and broken lives were there because of this profane room? It was enough to make me sick. I spent the rest of the day removing the children one by one, belly-crawling through the tight passage to bring them back up to the hospital and the world of the living.
The phone calls to the parents were bittersweet. I couldn’t even begin to explain what happened. Some of the children had been down there for as long as a month, and the parents’ shock at hearing they were still alive was absolute.
One tearful reunion after another depleted me to my very core. After the initial relief, the parents would start to ask questions that I couldn’t possibly answer.
In the first meeting, I tried to spin a complicated story about mixed medical records, but it sounded impossible even as I said it. After that, I simply told them it was a miracle, and honestly, that’s what it felt like. By the time all but one child were sent home, I felt like an angel bringing the children back from the dead.
The parents of the last child were out of town, so I’d have to wait until they could get back. It was a little girl named Emma with a single soft blonde curl. She’d have to stay in the hospital one more night, and I volunteered to stay with her to make sure I was there when the parents arrived.
I’d alerted the security about Doctor Francis, but all the commotion of the reunions afterward had driven him from my mind until that evening. I’d spun so many false tales to explain what had happened to the children that I hadn’t even considered what the actual justification was.
I sat with Emma in the extra patient room where I’d be spending the night. She slept peacefully, soft little hands curled and still. Even if Doctor Francis was insane, he must have chosen these children for a reason. He’d delivered hundreds of children over the last month, but he’d only hidden a few of them.
The hospital was growing quiet around us. The day staff were going home, and the lights in the hallway were dimmed. The peace was disturbed by a sound outside my room:
“Where is she? Where’s Emma?”
“You’re not allowed to be here, sir. I was told —”
“Nonsense, I work here. Where is she?”
“314, but Doctor Francis —”
I tensed as the door swung open. I caught a glimpse of a security guard hurrying toward us, but Doctor Francis slipped inside and slammed the door behind him. I was on my feet, but too late to stop him from snatching a metal IV pole and barring the door.
Emma was awake and starting to cry.
“Give her to me!” he demanded, striding toward the girl. “Where are the others?”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I said.
I tried to maneuver around him to unblock the door, but he shoved me roughly back onto the bed.
“I won’t let you hurt her!” I said, jumping upright once more.
“Hurt her? God damn idiot. Emma was stillborn. There’s nothing that can hurt her now.”
Emma was wailing now, frightened high-pitched sobs.
“She’s obviously not —”
The doctor shoved a folder into my chest. Security was pounding on the door. Francis wasn’t moving toward Emma anymore though, so I allowed myself the time to look inside the folder.
“Where are the others? Don’t tell me you…”
“I sent them home,” I said. “They were obviously happy, healthy, living…”
I was staring at a set of x-rays, but I didn’t understand what I was seeing. The outline looked like a child, but there was something like an eel or a snake coiled tightly within, filling the entirety of the body.
Emma wailed louder as the door rattled harder.
“Can’t you hear how scared she is?” I demanded. “You’ve got to stop this.”
“Her mouth is closed,” the doctor replied.
The wail intensified into a shrill shriek, although it still sounded muffled. But he was right. Emma’s mouth was still closed.
“She isn’t crying,” he said, his voice softer now but still audible because of the terrifying intensity. “Dead children can’t cry. But the thing inside them can.”
Emma was starting to squirm. Not just her arms and legs either — it was more like the skin was being pushed from something within.
“Do you want to call the parents, or should I?” he asked.