Mayra adjusted the temperature to as hot as she could stand it, turned the diverter valve and let the water from the shower head sluice down her skin. There were a mess of thoughts in serious need of sorting, so she began unpacking the events of the day, including the sudden shift in Bethany’s personality. Her friend had always been a bit bossy, a bit in your face, and as her father used to say, free with the lip.
Her father. Oh, God. In all the excitement, with everything going on all at once, she had forgotten to call her father to see how he was coping. That was a lie. She remembered but was afraid to tell him that she saw Mom, afraid of how he would take the news, afraid of how he would react. And now with this, she thought as her hands slowly massaged her soapy belly, no, she’d just have to bite the bullet and tell him everything and hope for the best.
When she stepped out of the shower, she found Bethany in the bedroom stuffing things into a canvas rucksack.
“Are you going somewhere?” Mayra asked.
“No, silly, I’m making a bugout bag and you should, too,” Bethany said.
“In case we need to leave here in a hurry,” Bethany pointed to duffle bag in the bottom of their closet. “That’s a good size bag. Why don’t you start packing it up now?”
“Why would we need to leave in a hurry?”
“Do I really need to explain it you, Mayra? Do you really not know the way the world works?”
“What are you—”
Bethany exploded, “Why can’t you follow simple instructions and stop asking so many damned questions?”
Neither one of them moved. They stood there in the aftermath of an eruption that seemed to catch even Bethany by surprise. After a long moment,
“I don’t know what’s gotten into me,” Bethany said in a quiet voice, without risking eye contact. “I just get these feelings, like intuition but stronger, urging me to do certain things, things I think that are designed to keep you safe. Forgive me?”
“Nothing to forgive,” Mayra smiled, pulled the empty duffle bag from the closet and plopped it on the bed. “What should I pack?”
“Toiletries, a change of clothes, important documents, something to write on and write with, phone charger, stuff like that, you know, the essentials,” Bethany said. “We can pick up water and non-perishable food later.”
After they packed the essentials they had on hand, Mayra brewed tea while Bethany was on her laptop, scouring the internet for any news regarding Mayra’s pregnancy or as she called it, the scan felt ‘round the world. Her search led her to social media and religious forums and while there wasn’t any chatter as recent as today online, it seemed that theorists had been discussing the possibility of a new heaven rising from the ashes of the old, the only difference being no one thought a woman would be birthing it.
“But why me?” Mayra asked, entering the living room with two steaming mugs in her hand and sat slowly on the couch beside her friend, careful not to spill a drop.
“Why not you?” Bethany answered, taking the proffered tea. “If I had been chosen instead, then we’d all have a cause for concern, but you’re basically a good person, so if it had to be anyone on the planet, I’d put my money on you.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
Bethany sipped from her mug. “So, there’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask but you know I don’t do tactful very well.”
“Just ask it.”
“Okay, what was it like? You know, the experience before you got pregnant.”
“Please. Gavin couldn’t father a cause. I mean, what was the whole Mary immaculate conception like? Former non-believing inquiring minds want to know.”
“Mary was a virgin. I’m sure our circumstances are different.”
“Absolutely not slut shaming, I was just curious if it felt, I don’t know, special?”
“Come on, you know what I’m talking about here. Did you feel an angel’s presence or something? It’d give a whole new meaning to touched by an angel.”
“Ewww, that’s tacky, even for you,” Mayra said.
“Warned you, no tact, no diplomacy.”
“You’d think an angel would’ve come to tell me that I was to be the mother of the new Heaven, wouldn’t you? But no, nothing.” Mayra said.
“Well, could it be—and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this—because there aren’t any angels left? We still don’t know what happened to Heaven. What if there was a war that led to the death of all the angels? Now that I have to wrap my head around the existence of God and everything, it seems the most likely explanation.”
Before Mayra could respond, the landline phone rang and she launched herself off the couch and was able to scoop the handset off the cradle by the second ring. She blamed it on her never let the phone ring three times admin assistant training.
“Hey, honey.” Mayra recognized the man’s voice immediately.
“Dad! You’re not going to believe this but I was just thinking about calling you today.”
“Things have been a little crazy, I know.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“Did I catch you at a bad time? I don’t want to bother you if you’re busy.”
“Never too busy for you. Are you okay?”
“Ox healthy and twice as strong.”
Then came the silence, that same silence that existed between them all their lives, especially over the phone. Her father wasn’t a skilled communicator at the best of times. He was the sort of person who needed visual cues, to look into the face of the person he was talking to so he could better read the tone of the conversation in order to avoid misunderstandings, and they’ve had their fair share of those. When she couldn’t take the silence any longer, she blurted out,
“There’s something I need to tell you—” but she was surprised when her father said the exact same thing at the same time. Jinx.
“Tell me what, Dad?”
“No, honey, I think you should go first.”
Another awkward silence as Mayra attempted to organize her thoughts. Where to begin? With the dream? The death of Heaven? Mom’s ghost? Gavin almost talking her into having an abortion? She girded her loins and said,
“Dad, I’m pregnant.”
“With the new heaven, I know,” her father said. “Your mother told me.”
Mayra’s jaw collided with the floor. “You saw Mom?”
“She’s standing right here.”
“Wait, hold up, you said Mom told you I was pregnant. You can communicate with her?”
“Not at first. She was talking to me but I couldn’t hear anything until this morning and when she said it my mind was filled with the belief that it was true.”
“That must have been around the same time I went in for the dating scan. That’s when everybody knew, I think.”
“So, it looks like we’ve got a bit of catching up to do.”
“You and those understatements, Dad.”
“Tell me everything and don’t leave out a single detail because your mother would never let me live it down if I didn’t get the whole story.”
Mayra’s eyes filled with tears as she began telling her father about how the madness all began for her with a dream. Bethany, eyebrows raised and wearing a half smile, went into the bedroom to give her friend some privacy.
It was a lengthy conversation, the longest one she ever had with her father and it spanned a range of emotions but by the time it was over, Mayra felt as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She placed the handset back on the cradle and was about to tell Bethany it was safe to come out of the bedroom when the phone rang again. It was probably her father calling to relay a bit of news he had forgotten to say during the call.
“What did you forget, Dad?”
“Mayra Critchlow?” the voice on the other end was male but it definitely was not her father.
“Who is this?”
“Is it true that you’re carrying the new heaven?”
“You’ve got the wrong number.”
“Why are you being like that?”
“I’m not being like anything. I don’t know you and you’ve dialed the wrong number. Please don’t call here again.”
“What are you planning, to keep it all to yourself? You don’t deserve it, you selfish bitch! That heaven is ours! It belongs to all of us!”
“I—I…” Mayra stuttered.
“Just hang up,” Bethany said, pulling the handset from her friend’s hand and dropping it onto the cradle. Mayra was so preoccupied with the phone call she hadn’t heard Bethany come into the room.
The phone rang again.
“Don’t pick it up,” Bethany said.
“But what if it’s important,” Mayra said. “From someone we know?”
“You’ve been doxed,” Bethany said. “Some anonymous asshole at the hospital leaked your name and address to the press and now it’s all over the internet.”
Bethany unplugged the landline from the wall and that was when Mayra’s cell phone began ringing. And it wasn’t only telephone calls. Emails flooded her inbox, texts to her cellphone, DMs on all her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts. Some polite and inquiring, others expressing relief and heaping her with praise but the majority that she and Bethany came across were hate-filled and sexually aggressive. She was receiving assault threats, pictures of genitalia, and degrading messages at an alarming rate.
And it wouldn’t stop. As quickly as one message or text was deleted and blocked, ten more took its place and the cell’s caller ID displayed different phone numbers from different cities and countries all over the world.
Eventually, when it all became too much, Mayra turned off her cell phone, deactivated her social media accounts and as she and Bethany were in the middle of devising a plan of action, there was a knock at the apartment door. A light rapping so soft they almost missed it.
“Miss Critchlow? Mayra Critchlow? If I might have a word?” the person on the other side of the door said in a taut tone but his voice sounded strange, intelligent but almost as if he wasn’t accustomed to speaking.
Mayra crept to the door, carefully avoiding the loose floorboards that creaked. She slowly slid the peephole cover up and saw a tall, lanky man whose clothes hung off his impossibly thin frame. He was creepy in the that he looked wrongly human, like something assembled by a description from being that never saw a human in the flesh. In a blink, his eye filled peephole view which startled her and she lost hold of the peephole cover which made a metal on metal sound as it slid closed.
“Please open the door,” he said in a manner that seemed surface level kind but dangerous, like antifreeze sweetened iced tea.
Mayra moved away from the door gingerly on the balls of her feet until she backed into Bethany who mouthed the words, “Who is it?” Mayra shook her head and shrugged in response.
“I know you’re in there!” the lanky man said, knocking again, this time harder and the console table near the front door rattled as if a freight train was barreling past. “I can smell you! I can smell it in you!”
The emphasis on the word it caused the heaven embryo in Mayra’s womb to shift. She clutched her belly and Bethany asked, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“We’re in danger.”
The lanky man pounded on the door relentlessly now, one fist after the other. At first, neither Mayra nor Bethany moved, their brains unable to make sense of the input from their ears and feet. The floor was moving, rippling as if it were a wave on the sea and the pounding was many magnitudes louder than thunder and although the door held by some miracle, the vibrations began to crack the wall surrounding the doorjamb. Then all at once the apartment was moving up and down with such incredible force that the women sprawled over the floor, falling heavily to splintering solid hardwood. Then like a switch had been turned on, Mayra and Bethany scrambled for the legs of the oak dining room table, pulling themselves underneath for safety, curled up in balls and holding on for dear life.
The entire apartment was shaken like a dollhouse and Mayra and Bethany were tossed around like so many dolls. Glasses smashed, books fell off shelves, the walls creaked as they swayed and the lights flickered rapidly before going out altogether. The table they were under was jumping over the floor like it had a mind of its own, and parts of the ceiling were coming down in chunks. They were terrified and their screams were lost as the very ground shook with more deafening noise than a quarry detonation releasing the tension of eons.
They reached out for one another’s hands and as their skin touched they look around.
“We can’t stay here,” Bethany said. “This place is crashing down around us!”
They made their way unsteadily from under the table and scrabbled across the floor into the bedroom.
“Get the bugout bags!” Bethany shouted to Mayra as she fumbled with lock on the bedroom window. Luckily, the fire escape was attached to this window, so the women climbed out onto the exposed wrought iron zigzag staircase that was desperately clinging to the crumbling brick wall.”
“Is this safe?” Mayra asked, clutching the metal handrail as they made their way down the shaky steps.
“I’d rather be out here than in there,” Bethany answered over the squeals of shifting metal.
When they reached the second floor, the staircase came to a halt and the only way to ground level was via a drop-down ladder suspended by a hook. Bethany unfastened the hook and let the ladder drop to the concrete below with a bang. She helped Mayra onto the ladder but she herself almost slipped and fell when the building lurched suddenly and a portion of the fire escape pulled free from the wall.
The fire escape put them down in the alley and they were nervous that the lanky man was right behind them having followed them down, or he had friends waiting out front in case they managed to slip away but as Bethany peered out onto the street all she saw was a crowd of normal looking people cell phones out filming the single building on the block that seemed to be experiencing an earthquake.
“We need to get as far away from here as possible and I think I know a place where we can lay low until we get our bearings,” Bethany said, taking her friend’s arm and hurrying her through the crowd.
This time, Mayra hadn’t tried to argue or ask questions.
To Be Continued…
©2017-2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys