"Balance" by Bethany Walker
A low mechanical hum filled the uninhabited room. Rhythmic clicking joined in as a red digital display scrolled to show a countdown, the seconds ticking down to oblivion. Shiny metal machines lined the room, operating untouched by human hands. Two screens flickered on, the collective glowing lights illuminating the mission control room. One showed a young brunette woman sleeping. Her hair tangled on the pillow as she rolled to her side and continued to dream. On the second screen, a mother panted in a hospital room as she stood beside a large bed, gripping the rail in the throes of her labor.
A switch slowly rotated as a scale rose from within the machine, each side balancing out the other for the moment. The control room had a single purpose: to keep the universe in balance. When one comes into the world, one must leave.
In the room where the brunette slept, clothes were thrown over a plush chair in the corner. On the desk, a stack of envelopes waited beside a roll of postage stamps, each address neatly written. A novel lay half read on the bedside table. It was overturned and splayed open to be easily picked up and completed.
The mother paced the hospital room, occasionally stopping to bend over and give a silent groan, her contractions making it impossible to stand. A nurse came in and had her lie on the bed, checking her progress. “Soon.” Her mouth formed the words, inaudible in the control room.
Cogs inside one of the large metal machines began to slowly turn, the metal teeth meeting and parting in perfect symmetry. The scale slowly tilted until the left pan rested on the base of the balance.
As the brunette slept, the bedroom door slowly opened. A male figure crawled into the room, moving to the side of the bed. His movements were erratic, unnerving, his head cocked jerkily and quickly to different sides, scanning erratically. He stood, looming over the woman, tall and lean. The gaunt angles on the man’s face cast shadows over his eyes, making them pools of black. His shoulder blades protruded sharply through his shirt. A glint of metal caught the light as he pulled a long knife from the waistband of his pants.
Under the fluorescent light of the hospital room, the laboring mother’s team rushed into the room, bringing an array of medical supplies and devices. The doctor positioned himself between the woman’s legs, indicating to her that it was time to push. Beaded sweat rolled down the mother’s face as she readied herself for the task ahead.
A red button blinked above the screens and then compressed itself down.
The brunette stirred in bed, rolled onto her back, and her eyes snapped open just in time to see the knife thrust downward toward her. Her mouth opened in a silent scream, and her back arched in pain as the metal disappeared into her body. Feverish movement ensued as she tried to sit up, to get out of the bed. The man pulled her back as her hands clawed at the edge of the bed. A puddle of blood quickly formed, soaking the bed sheets beneath her.
The mother’s mouth opened in a silent cry as her body contracted, pushing her child along. The nurses in the room hustled around her body, prepping blankets and the warming tray. The doctor slid her hands between the mother’s legs, ready to catch the infant. With the next contraction, the mother pushed, focusing all her energy on bringing her child into the world.
The cogs in the machine moved quicker, racing the countdown on the screen.
The man’s lips curled into a disturbingly wide smile as he straddled the woman, pushing his knife into her again. The woman’s face contorted in agony as she fell unconscious, head lolling to the side. His head tilted back in an inaudible cackle as he flung himself off the blood-soaked bed. The brunette’s eyes flickered half open, then glossed over as her body caved into immobility. The man left as quickly as he had come.
Sliding out of the birthing canal, the boy took his first breath. As the doctor placed the boy in his mother’s arms, he severed the umbilical cord, and the child became his own person. As the mother gazed at his face for the first time, the boy suddenly stilled. His body went limp as if he were nothing more than a rag doll. The mother patted his face, a look of desperation crossing her own. She let out an inaudible scream as the doctor hurried to pull the child from her arms and rushed out.
The countdown hit zero.
In the bedroom, there was the smallest movement. A finger twitched. The brunette’s lips parted slightly. Her eyelids opened to reveal the faintest spark of life.
Slowly, the scale moved back, balancing out once again. The machine’s gears suddenly stopped and screens winked out, returning the room to darkness. An eerie stillness settled in the quiet.
Seconds passed, and then the mechanical hum returned. Click. Click. Click. The digital display suddenly blinked back to life, casting a red glow on the machinery as the countdown began again.
Bethany Walker is a licensed social worker and trauma therapist. She currently resides in Longview, TX with her husband, daughter, and pets. In her free time, she binges horror movies, collects an absurd amount of books, and writes fiction in various forms. Her work is featured or forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine, Asylum Magazine, and more. Find her on Twitter @bookshelfofbeth.
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