I’m not really a horror fan. However I am working on a novel about what happens when the Devil shows up a California suburb and… Well, anyway here’s an excerpt. (Note for the excessively squeamish: Coarse language.)
A mortal blow against the world. No one notices; no one could be expected to notice. We have each been ending since the moment we began. But now beginnings are almost spent.
He awakes; in chaparral, beneath the turnoff from a winding road threaded through golden hills. Comes to his feet, climbs a little against lose, tumbling earth, turns out to the world. A tightening of the throat not there a moment before; he stands upon a promontory overlooking a great bay and the greater ocean beyond and, for his first ten minutes upon the Earth, does nothing. Only stares at the happy accident beneath him. For a moment, at the end, he regrets what he must do; then he remembers that it doesn’t matter. He turns and walks to his car.
It’s black and elegant; low slung and expensive yet not flashy. The key is in the silk lined chamber of his pocket. He opens the door, buckles himself in, turns the ignition. Looks out at the sea for a last, long minute, then glances down at the watch that has come, unbidden, to encircle his right wrist. One o’clock P.M. and twenty eight minutes, precisely, on the eighteenth day of June. A cloudless Sunday. He jerks the stick-shift, and without bothering to look behind him throws the car into reverse, back into the road. For a moment he considers a leisurely joyride through the warren of streets and backroads that snake around him, but he thinks the better of it. There’s not much time now. He guns the engine and heads for Highway 24. After five minutes he merges onto the highway and proceeds down it at a fantastically illegal speed; he knows that there is not a cop within five miles of him. He flips on the radio, begins scanning aimlessly through the electromagnetic spectrum, enjoying the schizophrenic clangor of a species that does not yet realize its own peril: a baseball broadcast and mariachi music, a concerto by a lesser known Bach and hip hop, a top 40 hit so heavily distorted by electronic trickery that it is impossible to tell if there is a human voice at the bottom of it all. And finally, inevitably, he comes across frothingly conservative talk radio. This last keeps him entertained until he reaches the point where 24 splits, wedged apart on the town of Walnut Creek, and merges into Interstate-680 in either direction. The Devil takes the rightward fork and turns toward Danville.
Even he is a little surprised when he sees the place.
Danville California is a most unlikely place to host an apocalypse.
The town is a simple suburb, one link in a chain of such municipalities that constitute the eastern periphery of the San Francisco Bay Area. Hemmed against the rising walls of the San Ramon Valley, Danville proceeds along a freeway, from no particular beginning to no particular end: a cornucopia of cool, tree lined streets and pleasant, very slightly immodest houses, well heeled shops and shaded parks. Aside from a decided affluence Danville is not obviously special, as even its residents might easily confess. The place is peopled by the prosperous upper strata of the American condition: attorneys, doctors, financiers, and other professionals have congregated here, mostly because the town affords more space and more peace of mind than San Francisco itself, or its immediate environs. Ask a lifelong resident for a point of local distinction and they might point to nearby parkland, or a good car museum, or the estate of a cantankerous Nobel prize laureate (now passed) but even they would likely concede that there isn’t much to distinguish the town from its neighbors.
Just a town really, just one more place in America…
All of this begs the question:
And while we are on the subject:
Why the Devil?
Address any of these questions to the Devil––and they will all be addressed to him, and many more, once people begin to realize what is happening––and he will smile, and nod, and utter two words: “Why not?” (The Devil can be a font of information if he wishes to be; but only on his terms.) In truth all of these questions will soon grip the world’s collective imaginations, but for locals at least, the greatest conundrum is why, why should this be happening here? Trivial reasons will be advanced. Most obviously Danville sits in the shadow of a 1,200 meter double protuberance of rock named Mount Diablo. To corroborate this point people will invoke an old legend about a Mexican general being dragged to the summit of the mountain by Satan, and shown the American dominated future of the lands below. Lucifer will, as the story goes, offer to fend off the yanqui horde in exchange for the General’s immortal soul. The General will decline, and thus California will fall under the sovereignty of the United States. Other people will attribute meaning to the fact that Dan is the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, specifically the one that will produce the anti Christ. Both of these theories will be suggested in the presence of the Devil; in each instance he will favor the earnest questioner with a high pitched, rollicking laughter (that holds, somehow, in the memory of anyone who hears it…)
Less self evidently ridiculous theories will be advanced as well. Conservatives will argue that the Devil is merely alighting to his natural constituency, the allegedly Godless hub of liberalism that is the San Francisco Bay Area. Liberals will posit that the Devil’s presence has something to do with socioeconomics; that some higher force has decided for once to spare the poorest and most miserable people of the Earth from the brunt of a catastrophe, and instead inflict outrage upon one of the richer towns in the richest country in the history of the world. People who do not live in the United States will suggest, in a plethora of languages, that the Devil’s presence is some sort of divine retribution for America’s wrongdoings. Others will spin fanciful theories drawn around all manner of improbable mechanisms: proximity to research universities, redwood trees, government laboratories, and the Pacific Ocean will all be suggested, more or less seriously, as conspicuous draws for the Devil. Any number of people will embark upon extremely tenuous attempts to connect Danville to various Biblically significant cities. Perhaps, it will be rationalized, the Devil is hellbent upon critiquing upper middle class social norms by undermining them, fond of readily available bourgeois creature comforts, or simply disinclined to endure any possibility of rain or significant humidity. Though, it will be admitted, few if any of these factors will point toward Danville specifically…
…And the Devil will laugh at these ideas as well.
Perhaps, rational minds will inevitably argue, it’s all due to simple chance; that the Devil has engaged in some occult equivalent of throwing open an Atlas and spearing a point on a map with a finger. After all, it will be argued, the Devil has to come somewhere: Danville may simply be the locale that drew the metaphorical short straw. But, sensible though such ideas are, they are intrinsically underwhelming; after all, ours is a species hard wired to look for intelligent decision making in every aspect of existence. And they will make the Devil laugh harder, much harder, than anything else. Just as he will laugh at virtually all attempts by the human race to understand the dreadful mechanisms that beginning to turn against them.
The Devil will eventually give a straight explanation as to why he is in Danville. At the time he will be standing at the head of the longest table in the world. Shocked, astonished eyes, from every corner of the globe, uncountable in number, will be staring up at him. Mouths, some filled with half gnashed food, will hang open. And the Devil’s explanation will be given hardly any more credence than what man has already chosen, or will soon choose, to believe. Which will please the Devil to no mortal end. The Devil does not actually need to lie to mislead the human race; he only needs to exist.
The Devil enters Danville California at high speed, abruptly knifing across four busy lanes of traffic in order to catch the main offramp into town. Horns erupt and middle fingers rise, but the Devil takes no notice; rather his attention is drawn, inexorably, to Danville itself. Against all odds the town somehow captures the Devil’s immediate fancy. This may have something to do with the air. The Devil enjoys a superhuman olfactory capacity; to him sweat can smell like vanity or lust, expensive perfume like self indulgence, and there is an encompassing, complex musk that engulfs the town, that catches his immediate attention. Not quite arrogance and not quite ignorance, it is… “Complacency,” the Devil enjoys the twitch of his facial muscles as he utters the word, and immediately turns left on a road where he should be going to the right. Though on a tight schedule the Devil allows himself a full hour to make several lazy circuits of the town and its backstreets, to fully take in the town. From the air conditioned comfort of his car the Devil admires zealously tended lawns, and the slightly pudgy physiques of the locals, ogles joggers and watches teenagers, recently liberated from school, parading about in small packs through the town’s modest commercial district. Not a single one of them has any clue as to what is coming, which fills the Devil with a certain, subtle glee. The locals are not merely ignorant of the Devil’s presence––this is a given––but almost to a person manifest the compelling delusion that they are somehow safe, that they have some meaningful control over their own fates. That the most basic and fundamental realities of the human condition have, to some degree, been rendered obsolete by the steady march of scientific progress or their stations in life. The very smell of this seemingly minor act of collective hubris fills the Devil with an almost rabid anticipation.
After an hour he can no longer stand dawdling any more; he stops for lunch. Pulls up at a curb in a shady lane across from the library, rises from the car. The Devil does not choose to reveal himself in a gaudy form; he comes to a moderate height, perhaps even a little bit less, sandy blonde hair and mirthful blue eyes sunk into a firm countenance that nonetheless smiles easily and often: a cheshire grin. The Devil strolls into a delicatessen, imbibes a sandwich, then darts into the bank next door. It strikes the Devil as slightly queer that the key to his house should be left in a lockbox, but it is. The Bank clerk––a young man, barely twenty––nods his head without particular alarm when the Devil comes up and asks to go into the vault. The clerk hands the Devil a white half piece of paper, and the Devil duly fills it with expansive, artistically legible handwriting. The Devil’s middle name is Wayne. The Devil hands back the slip of paper to the teller, who stares at it for a half moment before handing it back, telling this presumed wag of a customer to write his real name. The Devil protests that that is his real name, and reaches into his pocket for a form of identification, which, when it emerges into the sunlit interior of the bank a moment later, proves to be a Belgian passport. The Devil finds this immensely gratifying, especially when he sees the look on the clerk’s face. The man fondles the little book uncertainly for a moment, and then leans forward, as if to whisper. The Devil obligingly sinks his body in towards the teller, until their faces are mere inches apart “Are you,” the teller asks softly, “Shitting me?”
“No,” the Devil says with equal quietude.
“Oh,” the teller stands back up to his full height. He pages through the passport, misgivings more palpable on his face with every passing page of stamps––the Devil sees that he’s been to Burkina Faso within the last nine months, which delights him––then decides that no one with fraudulent intent would attempt to steal a lockbox by declaring himself the Devil and using a Belgian passport to prove it. Information is entered into a computer, and to the teller’s vague non-astonishment a name comes up. “Ah, okay, we actually do have a lockbox under your name––”
Bemusement. Three minutes later the Devil holds the key to his house. Besides the Belgian passport his left pocket now also contains three coal black credit cards and a California driver’s license, the photo subtly hinting at jauntyness. The clerk remains directly outside the bank vault, doing his level best not to appear sheepish, “––And thank you again, ah, Mr––Lucifer––and thank you for again for banking with––”
“––Don’t mention it,” The Devil nods respectfully, sets foot out into the early afternoon sun, now becoming hottish. The teller doesn’t believe him, can’t believe him, but slowly the Devil feels doubt bubbling up through the kid’s subconscious, forming itself in the hollow of the stomach that responds to unpleasant facts we know to be false but fear may be true. A small beginning, but the Devil knows it leads to bigger things. At any rate, two chores down. The Devil heads for his new abode.
The house is on the other side of 680, in a semicircular subdivision tucked off a winding backroad, just past the entrance to Mount Diablo State Park. The Devil finds this coincidence delightful. His house is a squat affair, single storied and somewhat rambling. It’s very nearly new and has never been a inhabited–– a string of prospective buyers having each suffered inexplicable credit meltdowns shortly before purchase. This string of misfortunes had vexed the affected realtor to no end, at least until the enormous check––its tight row of zeros marching purposely onward–– had arrived unbidden in the mail. The customer hadn’t even wanted to see the house. This was more than a little strange, but the check had cleared, and the realtor was not one to indulge in further inquiry. So the Devil pulls onto the driveway of the house and rises from his car. He glances with a certain modest interest at the neighboring abodes––either equally squat, equally rambling clones of his own, or slightly more august models reveling in a decidedly un-garish second story––looking for some sign of human activity. Finding none he walks ‘round to his back yard and stares at his swimming pool. For some reason the Devil finds the fact that he has one immensely pleasing. He falls into it, rolls around in the water for a few carefree minutes like a happy, well tailored, giggling seal. Sated, the Devil hauls his sopping person from the water, pulls out his key––the contents of his pockets have faithfully failed to slip out––and enters his house after taking a moment to slough off his drenched clothing. A towel is present on a table immediately within the door. The Devil showers quickly then takes a few moments to inspect his new abode. The home is already furnished, though an outside visitor might not realize this immediately; the Devil has spartan tastes. The are only two real marks of extravagance in the place; one of them hangs on the wall over the fireplace in all of it’s gauzy, wafting, Florentine splendor. The Devil wanders into the living room to gaze up at it in rapturous confirmation that it is indeed there, then wanders over to the other extravagance, a large and impressive clock. He checks to be sure that the timepiece is synchronized with his watch––it is, perfectly–– then removes the watch from his wrist and flings it casually away in the direction of the kitchen. It falls into a wastebasket, lid left open by the house’s last occupant. The Devil will find this to be exceedingly gratifying when he notices three hours later; as it is he merely stares up at the clock. Twenty minutes ahead of schedule, he thinks. He wanders over to the wetbar, pours himself a drink and then falls into a heavily padded chair. A remote control for the stereo system lies on the right armrest. The Devil picks it up and hits the ‘power’ button. The room is filled with a jaunty pop tune from the 1980s:
That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane, Lenny Bruce is not afraid––
Not altogether surprised the Devil laughs at the little joke, listens to the entire song, consumes five minutes of his self appointed period of leisure. When it ends he sucks down his drink and considers what must happen next. The neighbors had to be told, of course. Not the whole truth––not yet––but the name must certainly come out. The Devil, if he does need to mislead, prefers to do so through omission rather than outright falsehood, and the matter of a name is not something that he can possibly obfuscate. So he’ll simply let it out. He sits back and imagines, with a certain twinge of glee the expressions on the faces of the neighbors as the heavy syllables slip over the threshold of his lips; expressions of heavy, blinking incredulity, masking furious calculations as to wether the new neighbor, has just made an utterly tasteless joke or is, in fact, mad. And then the instant of possible costless resolution, the cheap query as to wether or not they had heard the name correctly––but then the Devil will nod his head and repeat the dread syllables, and the listener will retreat in resignation to the debate within his own skull that had been raging but a moment before. And never, not for an instant, will the truth be considered. At least not yet…
The Devil chuckles, rises from his chair. At present only one of his neighbors is home, but there’s no point in tarrying. Besides, the Devil knows that even now the word is being spread… He grins very broadly as he walks out the door.
The Devil does not come alone.
He cannot. His arrival has left a rent in the world, a rent in man’s conception of reality, and there is a great sea of things beyond human imagination waiting to spill out after him. The Devil’s hole is not large––but apply a little pressure and the tiniest of perforations may expand with breathtaking, explosive speed. And this is exactly what will happen here. For a force beyond accounting follows in the Devils wake, powerful enough to break the world like helium shredding a punctured balloon. And, ever more rapidly under the impetus of this force, things hitherto extant only in the dreams of men will be propelled into the waking world…
Or put just as simply as possible; the Devil will be followed into this world by a train of miracles.
Even as the Devil sets foot upon the earth curious things begin slowly, but forcefully, to happen. The ground stirs itself, prepares to come to life. The heavens are unexpectedly seeded with paper. The pending labor of pregnant women is synchronized and vocal chords still in utero prepare themselves. A certain august author is dredged from the grave and presented with a frankly preposterous mission. A crucial fencepost has already gone missing. And, at a height of twenty nine thousand and two feet above the surface of the Earth, an eighteen year old girl makes a decision that may or may not end the world.
Of course this is only the vanguard. Stranger things, far stranger, are waiting in the wings: a warrior king, armed and mailed and seated upon a great, impatient dead-eyed leviathan of a charger. Wormwood. A dinner table expansive enough to accommodate the whole of the human race. Thousands of automobiles, with latent maternal instincts, ready to awake and clog the streets of Berkeley, California. Enough used chewing gum to encapsulate a Southeast Asian hotel. And, perhaps most dreadful of all: an envelope, containing a slip of paper that bears a ten digit telephone number and two Greek letters. This last will soon find its way into the bowels of the United States postal system, and then to the house of an aged physicist in Taos, New Mexico. And when it arrives…
In short things are about to get weird.
So what will mankind do when the shit hits the fan? (Note that this posited combination of a rotary fan and excrement will remain wholly metaphorical. But precious little else will…) The answer is: complicated. There will be a fight, of course. In the aggregate it is not within the nature of mankind to back down from a challenge; we do not, as a rule, sit back and allow things to just happen to us with equanimity. Especially not when confronted with enormity such as this… Some sort of active defense is only to be expected. And yet… this is a challenge without precedent. The arms of a warlike species, the accumulated divisions, the stealth aircraft, the nuclear armed submarines cruising in lethal anonymity beneath the sea, all of these will prove useless against the Devil. Unable to farm out their defense to the normal practitioners of organized violence, mankind will fall back upon… Religion? Superstition? Blind hope? All of the above and vastly more.
Cults will form. Organized religion will both be immeasurably strengthened and shaken to its very core. Faiths will swap adherents like ten year olds once traded baseball cards. Evangelical mobs will form in Tibet and prayer flags will fly in long undulating strands across the near empty plains of Nebraska. Laws against apostasy the world over will be bent to or even past the breaking point. Hordes of people of all different faiths will congregate in great makeshift masses in the public places of the world to pray. Deities and prophets and saints and all manner of things in Heaven and Earth will receive entreaties for help. Prayers that for once, just once, prayers will actually be answered.
And will it all be for nought?
There must surely be a God; the Devil’s presence more or less proves this, as the Devil himself will admit. And yet even as the Devil parades flamboyantly across the Earth, God will remain maddeningly aloof, as always––and God never seems so distant as when he is needed most. When faith is presented with an ultimate test, when confronted with rampaging demonic power, any number of people will begin to wonder if the Big Guy upstairs is really there, if He gives any sort of a damn at all… Even the people who will hold the balance of the world in their hands, who have been assigned by God to save the world (or perhaps to let it fall to destruction) will have their doubts.
There will be four of them: a prophet, a hero, and two lovers. Danville residents all. And, like Danville, they are not obviously special. Even now they each wile away the last hours of their respective obscurities in a more or less normal fashion: one is buying groceries, one is setting foot in an expensive automobile, one is trekking up a dun colored hillside with two friends, the last is throwing open a catch to a car on the Paris metro whilst simultaneously trying to work up the nerve to make an unpleasant phone call. Only one of them would ever, in a million years, imagine himself (in this case it is a he) in the role he will shortly assume. And even he will be surprised when he fully grasps the magnitude of the mess he is in. The others will be, simply, gobsmacked. An accountant, a wastrel, and two teenage lovers. Why they should be fated to save the world––or die ignominiously in the attempt––is as inscrutable a mystery as anything else, not least to the people themselves.
Just one more mystery in a fast metastasizing pile.
Perhaps there is no reason, no reason to any of it; though this seems to be the explanation that people are inclined to fight to the last.
If there are to be prophets and saviors then presumably there must be messengers as well; and there shall be. More than one in fact. The first gaudy miracle is even now emerging into the light of the world.
Even as the Devil leaves his house, Mr Caleb Matthews, shortly to be of Pleasant Hill, enters the world. Emerges, to be precise, into the florescent brilliance of the John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, six and a third miles removed from Danville at exactly four o’clock in the afternoon. He is the 42nd baby to be born in the hospital that day, precisely twenty three and one half minutes after the first. This is abnormal. On average someone is born somewhere in the world once every six seconds. Over a span of 23.5 minutes the collective fecundity of the world’s women ought to result in about 235 live births. As this particular hospital is the proximate point of medical care for, perhaps, one hundred thousandth of the overall human population such a string of births is… statistically unlikely in the extreme. A nurse with a penchant for statistics and five free minutes sits down shortly after the delivery of Caleb Matthews and works out that the hospital––which normally averages one birth every three hours––is producing children at a rate roughly 320 times faster than normal, a turn of events that is hard to square with simple chance. A hard probability with an astonishing number of zeroes is calculated. The person doing the math gasps a little and wonders if the babies are collectively the most unlikely thing that she has ever seen. She silently wonders something that another member of staff has already had the effrontery to declare out loud: “This is a fucking miracle.”
Simply put he hospital is not, repeat NOT, equipped to handle forty two near simultaneous births. For the simple reason that, until perhaps twenty four hours before, such a scenario had been too preposterous to contemplate. And then slowly a stream of pregnant women had arrived and started to build up, until it was obvious that something quite extraordinarily unlikely was going on. Reasonable measures had been taken: the entire staff had been put on call, and ringers were called in from other local hospitals. Attempts were made to shift at least some part of the fast redoubling battalion of women to other locations, but a number of curious factors––ranging from obstinance, to maintenance, to a small fire, to an outbreak of food poisoning, to bureaucratic bungling and insurance issues, and, in the last and least expected instance, raccoon attack––prevent any of the women from being transferred. And then 42 women go into second stage labor more or less simultaneously and all hell breaks loose. Several children are ultimately delivered by three general practitioners (who until that point had been congradulating themselves on a slow day) and a agricultural veteranarian from Alamo who had come for the birth of his third daughter, and instantly earned himself the emnity of the obstetric staff by joking that going through twenty births in a single go was rather old hat for him. It was rapidly left to the interns to perform the customary post birth examination of the babies. “Look it’s very simple,” the head of the department had rapidly explained when she had proposed shunting this simple but rather substantial duty off on a trio of twentysomethings, “Just make sure each baby has an even number of everything that they’re supposed to have an even number of, an odd number of everything else, and make sure none of the holes are blocked.” And so it transpires that Dr Adrian Lopez becomes the first person to take a really good look at any part of Caleb Matthews that is neither his rather bulbous head or the space in between his adorably diminutive legs (ensuring that Caleb would indeed be named Caleb rather than Stephanie.) He holds the child up to the light and begins to count:
“Okay, two, two, one, two, one, ten, one, one–– then Adrian lifts the child up to the light in order to get a good luck at his properly miniscule toes. He counts them over four times before calling the head of the department in. “Doctor Alexander––Janet!”
Janet Alexander, the head of the hospital obstetrics staff, comes moments later, the trail end of her last conversation (‘Is anyone else preggers in this goddamned building?’ ‘No.’ ‘Thank God.’) echoing down the corridor behind her. Dr Lopez, listens to the strengthening sounds of her footsteps, takes a bit of a deep breath. Janet Alexander becomes curt when she is tired, and after 42 babies… “What?” she’s suddenly there, snaping the moment she lays eyes on him. Adrian Lopez, not wholly unintimidated by his boss, considers what to say for a brief moment, then merely holds up the baby. “Twelve toes,” his voice is almost firm, “Six on each.”
Janet Alexander stares long and hard at the child before finally shrugging. “Whatever.” Polydactyly. A naturally occurring phenomenon where a person is born with more than five fingers or toes on an extremity. The extra digit can range from a nubbin of skin to a fully functional digit, and is often surgically removed in first world countries. Incidence is about one in five hundred live births. It was strange, certainly, but neither life threatening nor bizarre enough to overwhelm the weirdness of the baby rush itself. Though it did make a pretty fitting coda for the last twenty four hours… She’d have to explain it to the parents sooner or later, and––but fuck, what was there really to explain? Your kid has twelve toes. End of story. You can have two of them snipped off, or just make sure the little bugger wears socks. And be glad it wasn’t an extra head…
Janet Alexander tells Adrian Lopez not to worry about it, that she’ll tell the parents, retreats back to her office, resisting the urge to lock the door behind her, collapses into the nice rolly padded leather chair she’d splurged on several months before. Reclines as much as the chair will go, flirting dangerously with gravity, hair spilling off in long tresses off the side.
It is at moments like this that Janet Wilson thinks of God.
You Fucker… A bit of a grin here… I suppose that this is your idea of a joke. Eyes laze round a hectically appointed office, looking for an impressive-ish mahogany cross nailed at a slightly odd angle upon the wall to the right of her desk. Janet Alexander has a dysfunctional relationship with the Lord. She is, in fact, an Atheist, but this is really just her way of ensuring that the almighty––whatever the hell he and/or she is––can’t take her for granted. Janet Wilson is 51, a little more than short, by no means fat but tending ever more towards pudginess––for she likes food and there are never enough hours in the day to maintain a calorie deficit––hard-talking and Iowan. She is very nearly indefateagueable, which means that she has almost enough energy to keep up with the frankly preposterous demands of her job. Her staff revolve around her in a sort of a state of fearful, awestruck wonder; so much so that a few of her (relatively senior colleagues) joke about her setting up a cult or otherwise encouraging mass idolatry. This prompts a grin and nothing more. She had been quite religious once, downright evangelical––had even gone so far as to vote for a Republican presidential candidate––but then college had intervened, and Janet had developed, as she liked to put it, ‘her own way of looking at things.’ She had married but kept her name, even went so far as to ensure that her last name would become her son’s first. If anyone ever mentioned her lack of religion Janet would merely note that she has already technically accepted Jesus Christ as her own personal Lord and savior; if the old goat upstairs doesn’t accept that delivering a great many of His children into the world isn’t a good excuse for a certain amount of inattention then she doesn’t particularly want to have anything to do with him anyway. I wouldn’t last long in the South, Janet jokes, usually within close proximity of her Medical school diploma, which reads University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in flowing letters. At present she finds herself resisting a strong urge to go down a beer.
Outside in the hallway, someone, somewhere starts playing very nice choral music.
For a pleasant moment Janet Wilson, sits back, breathes slowly, manages to be fully and wholly calm. Takes a little time to be thankful that the vast bulk of all the births had gone more or less smoothly, in spite of everything––one two caesarians had been medically necessary, and despite being rushed nobody had bungled anything so severely as to call lasting harm to either a mother or child. “Forty-two,” she whispers to herself. A twist of a smile. 42 babies, 42 healthy mothers, not even half an hour. Not once in a million years. And probably not again in another million. A smile, and she remembers a couple of side comments tossed about by frantically rushing doctors after the first thirty babies or so. I do hope someone calls Guinness… A pang of tremendous pride in her staff. A sense of total professional equanimity. And then Janet Alexander makes the most terrible of innocent mistakes; hoping that the music outside might waft in more fully, she comes to her feet and opens the door to her office. And then does nothing; for a pleasant, fatal moment Janet only stands still by the door, admiring the sound. And then she notices a tumult of people, rushing down the corridor, towards the nursery. Brows arch up and together. Hesitation––oh, Janet thinks for a weak moment, wouldn’t it be nice if this could be someone else’s problem?––but then professionalism gets the better of her, and Janet is racing down the hallway, berating herself for momentary cowardice. Her pager starts beeping, but she ignores it, rightly intuiting where she is being summoned, her head already racing with the potential emergencies that might afflict a newborn… The plexiglass window, looking into the nursery is thronged. This is not surprising––forty two babies ought to draw a crowd. And yet the feeling is wrong… There is, past the newly arrived last rows of the crowd, no sense of joy, or happiness or any hint of the excited cooing that ought to accompany proud parents staring at their new offspring. There really isn’t much of anything at all; is just a stillness, an utter stunned stillness… Janet assumes that the crowd’s reaction means that something is going terribly wrong inside––post birth complications, an army of nurses and doctors descending upon a bassinet, a crowd staring on in stunned silence, no one bothering to turn off a radio. With all possible haste Janet muscles her way through the mob to a key carded door off to the side of the window, and, throws the door into the nursery, ready to deal with whatever medical emergency…
But there are no doctors frantically attending to an emergency.
There is no radio.
There is a nurse, more profoundly and wholly stunned than any person Janet Alexander has hitherto seen.
There is nothing else in the room except gorgeous four part harmony and babies.
It’s a good ten seconds before a steadily more confused Janet Alexander realizes where the music is coming from.
The voices and the newborns; when the disconnect unravels itself, the unmet ends fusing themselves together with a viscerally jostling lurch, Janet somehow manages to remain standing. Though not without effort––she momentarily considers steadying herself upon a large rolling bassinet, then remembers that leaning upon things that roll is a bad idea––and also sees that this particular rolling objects holds an adorably tiny mezzo soprano. This imbues her with the ramrod straightness of the crowd outside and she turns and walks slowly from the nursery, stepping lightly and with her arms close to her torso, as though in the midst of a tiny, chorusing minefield that might be set off by the slightest perturbation. Janet nearly makes it from the room before noticing that many members of the crowd have overcome their initial astonishment and currently recording the babies––and Janet––with camcorders and cell phones and various other electronic devices… Within mere hours Janet’s visage and that of the babies will be beamed around the planet Earth, a serenely diminutive chorus and a shellshocked, gobsmacked woman wearing an expression so utterly alien to Janet’s face that Janet will hardly be able to recognize herself when she sees them… As she is still in the room she has a faint premonition of this, a twinge of irritation––which is useful, as the crowd, having collectively regained a modicum of it’s composure, or at the least it’s mobility, has begun to flood through the doorway that Janet, in her haste, had left open… Janet raises her arms to shoo the interlopers away, but before she can open her mouth she is confronted by a woman who asks, with a mystified panic, a protest against the unrealness of the reality before her, “How can anything so small be a bass?”
Janet doesn’t bother to answer; she wonders the same thing herself. She starts again to try and herd people from the room, but the press of people is already too great, and within moments the nursery is filled with a crowd wallowing in its own collective bafflement. “Does anyone know what they’re singing?” asks another woman, leaning cautiously over one of the bassinets. There’s a moment of silence and then a grunt of satisfaction and a male voice from within the solid phalanx of persons still flooding the room, “It’s Palestrina.”
“Fifteenth century Spanish composer. Did choral music. The song is called Sicut Cervus.”
“Oh,” A disconcerted pause. “That doesn’t make it better.”
“No, I can’t say that it does.”
The end; the four parts come together in harmony. The last word is deus, and then silence. Or near silence. After a moment the assemblage realizes that the silence is marred by a single remaining voice. The edge upon him slowly, in the backmost corner, for he was indeed the last; Mr Caleb Matthews, shortly to be of Pleasant Hill, a bulbous head swaddled in pale blue, his diminutive form perfectly serene and babyish. Except for his mouth, which moves with outlandish form, perhaps because of some strange evil, or perhaps because, after all, babies aren’t meant to speak. No one could tell; nor could anyone––with one exception––comprehend the words coming out of the child’s mouth, an odd babble that is neither English nor the normal murmerings of a newborn. “Please tell me,” Someone will say after a minute, “That that’s not from the Book of Revelation––”
No one thinks to wonder at the odds that someone who is conversant in Attic Greek should find themsleves in the nursery. Janet Wilson, huddling somewhat protectively over Caleb Matthews’ bassinet begins suddenly to consider the consequences that might stem from having a minor miracle erupt in her hospital. Then she looks down at little Caleb. Or not so minor.
Eyes upward. You fucker.
She storms from the room, the sole motive object in it, and then not in it, paging the hospital’s chief of security as she marches.
And with good reason; already hundreds of people have been informed by text message, phone call and e-mail that something miraculous has happened. A nearly full video of the baby chorus and Caleb Matthew’s recitation of the Apocalypse of John are posted less than than ten minutes after Janet quits the nursery. Within twenty minutes there’s a small crowd outside the hospital, earnestly and politely flabbergasted that they aren’t welcomed inside. They don’t leave.
Within an hour the crowd has metastasized into a full blown mob, wholly engulfing the hospital parking lot. The singing has commenced. Many more people will come. Though nobody can even begin to guess at the fact yet, only one more person needs to arrive.