Jessie woke up exactly like a boulder would have. Her eyes cracked open like the doors of a sealed, ancient tomb. The first sight she saw was the red, angry digital clock that read an agonizing 8:49 AM. On a Sunday. She groaned, very long and very deep, while groggily pushing the clock off the nightstand and onto the floor.
That morning, like so many others, she had been literally kicked awake by the three current occupants of her womb. She lay on her side, her pregnant body taking up twice the space she normally did. 8.9 months ago, she would be considered petite. That was a time long gone.
Groaning again, deep in her throat, she sat up as best she could, legs dangling over the bed while she slumped over her belly, nearly ready to fall back asleep before yet another kick from the inside jerked her back awake. They had slowed down considerably as her third trimester continued and the space inside her shrank, but her kids were still as active as ever in the mornings. It was oddly convenient to be woken up on work days by her own, naturally occurring alarm clocks, but less funny on her days off. Sunday was one of them.
Jessie did not wake up happy.
With a total and completely Herculean effort, she stood up from her bed and walked the four feet to her closet. Her stubby legs were fortunately stocky enough to carry her, but walking had become very old, very fast. She slid open the closet with her left hand while pulling up her pajama leggings with the other.
It was the first day of her very short maternity leave from work, so it was odd to have to think of something to wear other than her extremely large work shirt. Scanning from left to right, she took inventory of her wardrobe. Black shirt, black shirt, black shirt, black shirt, black sweatshirt, black long-sleeved shirt, black shirt, black shirt, and black shirt. She frowned. Half of them stopped fitting by the second trimester. There wasn't a way in hell any of them would fit her now. But shoved into a corner, long and very consciously ignored, was a bundle of black with splotches of red on it.
Jessie eventually pulled down the robe after minutes of effort and unfurled it. A solid black, tight-necked robe, emblazoned with the blood red image of an inverted cross. It was the only thing she kept with her from her time with the cult, mostly because it was totally rad as fuck.
Well, she thought, scratching her belly, the only otherthing.
The robe had too big for her when she was first given to her (it was very obvious the cult had only ordered mens' sizes), but she was still surprised when she was able to pull it all the way over her belly. It was still far too tight to last very long, but it was nice to have her navel covered for once. She felt a kick underneath her hand as she smoothed out the shirt and rubbed the sore spot. Jessie had read somewhere that walking helped rocked the babies to sleep inside her, but she was in no mood to be going anywhere but the couch and Black Sabbath seemed to do the trick well enough. Though she was slightly wary about that.
Before she could decide what to veg out in front of for five hours, Jessie's thoughts were interrupted by the all-to-familiar sound of her doorbell ringing. It buzzed once, very rapidly, as if someone had punched it. If she were closer, she could have heard the footsteps frantically sprinting up the walkway and a car door slamming.
"Fuck." she said to the empty room.
She shuffled awkwardly from her bedroom and across the living room to the front door. By that time, Jessie was immensely thankful her apartment was only one story and even more so that it was on the ground floor. She reflexively unlocked the deadbolt and unhooked the chain lock she had personally installed and swung the door open. It immediately bounced against the front of her belly and shut itself again. Jessie blinked silently, her frustration a palpable fluid that would need to be extracted with a spinal tap. With a pained, weary sigh, she shuffled to the side and opened it again.
It was the kind of day where the sun was so bright, you wondered if it was angry at you. Jessie wouldn't have been surprised if that was the case, consider the year she'd had. With the disorientation of the sunlight and her rude awakening, she could have been standing on the moon for all she knew. It took her eyes a few minutes to adjust to the light and another minute for them to look down.
At the foot of her doorway was a tall, glass vase, filled with water and topped with a collection of local wildflowers and yellow dandelions. Mostly dandelions. Nearly twelve dandelions with a single, light purple flower sticking out of the middle, with some grass blades floating in the water. Instead of bothering to bend over, Jessie gingerly lowered herself to one knee to pick up the vase. Popping one of the dandelion buds into her mouth, she wondered if whoever left it knew anything about goat diets, or if they had simply pulled weeds out of her lawn to put into someone's mom's old vase. She guessed the latter.
Looking up, she saw exactly what she expected to find: a large, beat-up white van, so conspicuously inconspicuous, she was surprised it wasn't constantly surrounded by police be default. It was parked on the curb in front of her apartment building, but slightly off to the side to give the illusion it was there for another house. It didn't work.
Holding the vase with her right hand, Jessie braced her back with her left and started her waddle across the tall grass lawn. The dew uncomfortably wet the hair around her hooves, but it was the shortest path she could take. When she was within ten feet of the van, she put one last dandelion in her mouth, then hurled the vase against its side, where it smashed loudly against the metal door and fell to the curb with a rain of tinkling glass. As she expected, among the glass and shattered pieces was a small, black audio bug that had been hidden within the 'bouquet.'
But instead of immediately turning around and leaving, like she normally did, Jessie instead stood her ground, rubbing a circle around her belly absentmindedly as she listened to the frantic scuffling inside the van, punctuated by muffled shouts. The side door slid open and out poked the head of a scraggly, gray dog, wearing a pair of broken glasses repaired with many applications of hot glue.
"Uh, hey Jessie."
She spun on her heel and strode back across the lawn, hoping her pregnant waddle still looked defiant and angry.
Shutting the door behind her, Jessie was silently embarrassed at how much the short distance had worn her out. Maybe it was too much exhilaration for the morning, but her heart was pounding in her chest and a couple of the babies had decided it would be a great time to start randomly spinning for no reason. Walking over to the kitchen of her small apartment, she took a plastic thermos from the sink and began rinsing it out. Jessie removed a jug of pink lemonade from the fridge and filled the thermos nearly to the brim before screwing on the lid and setting it in the microwave for a minute.
At 45 seconds, there was a light knock on the door. One she very pointedly ignored. At 27, there was another knock. Then a single, louder knock at 19. Then multiple knocks from multiple hands at 11. The doorbell rang at nearly the same time as the microwave. Jessie ignored that as well as she carefully removed the hot cup from the microwave. It wasn't until she took her first sip that she spoke.
"Door's open," she called.
Slowly, the handle was turned from the outside like it would drop off at the slightest push. The door creaked open, agonizingly slow. From her position, Jessie could make out a couple noses of various length and the tips of polished shoes standing frozen in the doorway. She groaned.
"Come in," she emphasized.
At once, the group of five shuffled past the door frame, packed so close together that they might as well have been physically bound. Once inside, one of them at least had the courtesy to close the door before standing stiffly in the middle of her living room. In front stood Bernie, the dog, as the de-facto leader, or at least the one least awkward at talking to people. That didn't say much. Behind him was Willard, a sloth, Christobel, a chameleon, Isaiah, a camel, and Archie, an anteater. Each of them wore the identical set of clothes, albeit in different sizes and fits; black pants, a white button-up, a black bow-tie, and a small metal pentacle pinned to their lapel.
Jessie leaned back against the counter, sipping on her drink while resting her free hand atop her belly.
"You guys are like the Mormons of satanic cults, I swear."
Bernie opened his mouth to retaliate, but was silenced with an outstretched finger from Jessie, quieting him as she took a long sip of her warmed lemonade.
"If the next words out of your mouth aren't 'I'm sorry,' I'm going to beat the shit out of every single one of you."
Christobel immediately burst into tears and manic sobs and flung the door open to run screaming into the front yard. Bernie sighed, looking almost in pain.
"Willard," he said, in a heavy and weary voice, "please go and retrieve Christobel." The sloth paused, staring blankly up at Bernie. With a slow nod, he shuffled outside, pulling the door shut with him. Bernie sighed, breathing a deliberate breath in and then out. He appeared calm, but Jessie was quick to notice his tail tucked between his legs.
"I do, in fact, find this situation to be most regrettable-"
"That doesn't sound like an apology, Bernie," Jessie interrupted. One of her babies kicked, as if in agreement.
"I- I mean to say- We..." He trailed off, staring down her judgmental glare and losing. "I'm sorry, Jessie. We're sorry. All of us. For what happened."
"Mm-hmm," she nodded, taking another long sip while drumming her fingers atop herself. "Better."
Bernie blinked, at a total loss of words now that his script had been pulled out from underneath him. His favorite way to speak was through lecture and monologue and it had always been hilarious to knock him off his pedestal once in a while. His eyes anxiously darted between her face and her giant belly, with healthy attention payed to the space in between. In fact, the whole group held a similar demeanor, aside from Christobel who, after being led back inside, refused to look at Jessie altogether. Although it was funny to watch, their discomfort proved to be contagious.
"Uh..." Bernie stammered out, trying to string together a sentence he hadn't written down in a notebook hours before. "Well...Um..."
"What are you doing here?" Jessie asked, cutting through the silence.
"Oh? Well..." Bernie cleared his throat, back in familiar territory. "Well, after the unfortunate incident nearly a year ago, we thought it best to dedicate our time and resources to locating our dear sister, for the Order of the Black Finger is never complete without allof its members."
Jessie rolled her eyes so far, she caught a glimpse of her own eye sockets.
"So which one of you was listening in on that first bug? The one about two months ago? Hidden in the newspaper?" she asked.
Bernie quickly shut his mouth, swallowing hard. Behind him, Isaiah silently raised his hand like a student in the back of class.
"Right on, then." She drank, her cup half-empty. "How'd that turn out?"
"YOU BLEW AN AIR HORN INTO THE MICROPHONE," Isaiah said, much louder than he probably realized he was speaking. "I FUCKING HATE YOU, JESSIE."
"Isaiah, please!" Bernie said, turning around. "Jessica is one of us! It's against the code of the Order to pass judgment on other members of the circle."
"Oh God, shut up, Bernie," Jessie moaned. "I quit your little tree-house circle-jerk by the time I realized you guys didn't know what you were doing." She pointed down at herself. "About nine months ago, by my count."
"It's not a circle-jerk!" Bernie shouted, his voice cracking at the same time as his composure. He shut his eyes and breathed again, even longer and more deliberate than before. He started to speak again before opening them again. "Jessica, you can't ignore the brotherhood we extended to you in your time of need. And you clearly aren't as fed up with us as you claim!" He gestured to her midsection, where it took Jessie a second to realize he was talking about the robe she wore.
"Since when does a screen-printed nightgown suddenly make you a master of the occult? I'm wearing it because it fits, it's comfortable, and it's badass. The only worth while thing I ever got from you chuckle-fucks." She drank more of her lemonade, but was disappointed to find it cooling down. "Well, that and really, really hammered. That was nice."
"We gave youcommunity!" Bernie said, with all the conviction of a politician. "We gave you a place to belong!"
"You gave mefree alcohol!" Jessie shouted back. "When I was nineteen!That was 70 percent why I was there in the first place."
"What was the other twenty percent?" Archie asked. Jessie and Bernie simultaneously glanced at him, eyebrows raised. Archie frowned, then started counting his fingers "Wait..."
"The otherthirty percent," Jessie continued, "was...a phase, I guess? I got really into occultism and found you guys around the same time. I thought you knew what you were talking about."
"The Order of the Black Finger is the foremost authority of the mystic arts-"
"You aren't even the foremost-"
"LET ME FINISH!" Bernie shrieked, causing Jessie to jump and jostle her children awake. He took more meditative breaths before continuing. "We are the foremost authority of the mystic arts and higher ritual of the state of Vermont."
Bernie fell silent. Jessie stared at him, expecting more to come.
"You done?" She asked. He nodded. Jessie groaned, her back sore. She set the thermos next to the sink and pulled one of the wooden chairs from the kitchen table. She awkwardly and heavily lowered herself down into the chair, with one hand on the back rest and the other cradling her belly. Once she was finally off her feet, she sighed, tugging the front of the robe back down.
"Okay," she began, counting off her fingers, "the Order of the Black Finger is a Satanic cult, right? Unless you're going to be going off of some old, old fucking esoteric texts, and I'm pretty sure you're not, you're going to be going off of LaVey and his Satanic Bible. This is beside the fact that you're preaching all this shit about brotherhood, and LaVeyan Satanism heavily preaches societal libertarianism and individualism, but I guess that's beside the point. Half the 'rituals' and 'spells' you made us do were pulled straight out of the Book of the Dead, which I'm pretty sureyou only flipped through because of the name and never realized that it's a book of Egyptian burial practices and has nothing to do with us. Yknow, the whole 'alive' thing."
One of the babies lashed out a kick to Jessie's lower stomach and she suddenly burped, causing the entire group to jump in response. She rubbed the spot where it had moved and cleared her throat to continue.
"So yeah, your ritualism is a Frankenstein mash-up of all this unrelated pagan conduct I think sounds better than the real thing. So you pretty much just ripped out the part you liked and never even bothered to see if they fit together. Which, I guess, couldwork, but if you have all these pentacles and inverted crosses and shit, I kind of expect you to stick with the Satanism, yknow? Remember when you had us pray to Grigory Rasputin? I almost choked laughing over my vodka and vodka martini."
"Alright, Jessica!" Bernie interrupted. "We get the point."
Jessie blinked, an expression drawn on her face as if she couldn't believe what she had just heard. Luckily, an old coffee mug sat on the table within her arm's reach, so she lobbed it across the room where hit Bernie directly in the middle of his sternum, sending him down with a loud choking sound.
"You don't know the half of it, Bernard." Jessie mocked.
Willard silently knelt to the floor and began calmly massaging Bernie's chest while whispering "Shhhh..."
"I think we can safely say your demonology isn't quite up to snuff, either. But I've been wondering about something. What did you think you guys were doing?"
Bernie coughed wetly before sitting up to look her in the face. Any defiance he once had went out along with his breath.
Jessie kept staring at Bernie, her eyes cutting right through him. She adjusted herself in her seat, leaning forward as best she could, and buried her face in her hands. She made a couple muffled sounds that could have been laughter or sobbing depending on who heard them. Looking up, she shook her head like she was getting over a migraine and turned her attention back to Bernie like he was a stain she was going to need to clean up.
"Are you fucking serious?"
Bernie flinched, rightly afraid that Jessie was going to throw something at him again.
"W-We'd tried it before," he stammered. "We'd try the same time every year and...Well, it never worked, but it was a tradition that..."
"Okay," Jessie groaned. "Okay, okay, okay. Whatever. Goth kids playing dress-up in the woods. I get it. But what made it actually work when I saw the summoning? What did you do differently?"
Bernie swallowed, his glasses nearly falling off his face. Any willingness to talk was stripped out of him immediately. The group glanced between each other, each one trying to pass blame to the other, before all of their gazes fell back to Bernie himself. Seeing his comrades betray him made the fear real, in his eyes.
"I-In-Inst- Instead of s-sage," he said, "we...w-we burned...a lock of your hair."
Her mouth fell open, a mix of rage, shock, and horror making waves across her face. Her hands balled into hard fists, her left hand scraping nails across the wooden table. Her head tilted slowly to the right as she zeroed in a deathly hate-glare straight into Bernie's soul. She was shaking violently from the neck up. Even the children in her belly fell still, in awe of her fury.
"Bernie," Jessie said, softly. "If I weren't very heavily pregnant right now, I'd get up from this chair and I would beat you to death in the middle my living room. In fact? I still might do it." Bracing herself against the arm rests, she attempted to push her body up from the chair, but only managed a foot or so before collapsing back in it. Nevertheless, Bernie and the rest of his cult shrieked and scrambled backward across the carpet. Christobel had started crying again.
"We didn't know!" Bernie pleaded. "We didn't know what would happen!"
"Then why did you fucking do it!?" Jessie shouted. "If you didn't know what you were doing, then why did you do it in the first place!?"
"I didn't think that we would actually summon the devil!"
"Oh for fuck's sake," Jessie said, sitting backward in her chair and rolling her eyes. "You didn't actually think you idiots summoned the literal Devil, did you? As in Satan? Lucifer? The Prince of Lies? Fuck no. That was Baphomet. A goat demon." She pointed to herself. "Goat. Demon. Goat demon. See the problem here?"
The group helped Bernie to his feet, but continued to stare blankly at Jessie.
"Have any of you even read The Gnostic Mass? I'm not teaching a fucking class over here. And what happened to the binding circle!?"
The group, in unison, glanced to Archie.
"Oh, I made the circle." He said. "Just like the book."
"It burst into flame when the demon touched it."
"Yeah, I guess sugar burns real easy."
Jessie recoiled in astonished horror.
"I didn't have any salt at my house, so I just used some of the powdered sugar."
"How- What- How do you not have salt in your house, but have massive amounts of powdered sugar?" Jessie threw up her hands. "Ok, nevermind. Fuck it." Gritting her teeth, Jessie used all of her strength to force her heavy body out of the chair. She reached the knife block in the kitchen and unsheathed the biggest, meanest looking steak knife of the set. She rounded the corner of the kitchen to the living room, spinning the knife around back-hand.
"I KNEW IT!" Isaiah screamed. "I TOLD YOU SHE WAS CRAZY! I TOLD YOU WE SHOULDN'T HAVE DONE THIS!"
As she approached, the group moved as a single unit, backing away with every inch Jessie advanced.
"E-Everybody! Calm down!" Bernie whimpered as he failed to be the voice of reason. "Jessie, think about this!"
"FUCK YOU, BERNIE!" Isaiah continued to scream. "FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU."
"Isaiah, shut up!" Bernie shouted back. Christobel had begun to cry again.
"Yknow what's fucked up?" Jessie's voice boomed, silencing the rest of the cult. "It was you guys that botched the ritual. It was youguys that accidentally summoned a demon. But, it was me that got knocked up by that demon, while you guys don't get a scratch on you." She flipped the knife over to grip it by the blade. "Does that seem fair to you?"
"I'm sorry! We're sorry! But don't you want to think about this?" Bernie tried to reason. "I really think you should stop a minute and-" His shouts came to an abrupt halt as his wide eyes moved from Jessie's face to some point below her belly. His mouth fell open as the rest of the cult's attention was diverted as well.
"What?" Jessie flushed underneath her fur. "What is it?" She felt under her belly with her free hand, pulling down the tight-fitting robe. One of her fingers brushed against the front of her leggings, which were unexpectedly soaked with warm liquid.
The panicked shouting match ended, with every party confused and disoriented. The entire front half of Jessie's body began to tense up, centered around the center of her lower back. She grimaced and braced it with her free hand. The cramp was small, but too uncomfortable to ignore.
"Uh," Bernie said, breaking the silence. "You...You okay?"
The cramp subsided and Jessie sighed, her face relaxing.
"Yeah..." She threw the knife to the carpet and reached down to her crotch. She felt a dab of the liquid slowly moving down her pants, then lightly sniffed her fingers. "Ok. Yeah, that's not pee."
"Could...it have been pee?"
"Yeah." She wiped her fingers off on the front of her robe. "Pregnancy sucks."
Pulling up her pants over her hips, she ignored the knife and the cult and began tottering back to her bedroom while bracing against her back, sore from all the activity.
"Don't you need to...go?" Bernie asked. "Like...to the hospital?"
"I mean, yeah," She said, stopping in the doorway. "Eventually." Jessie shut the door behind her and, after a pause, locked it. Sitting heavily on the bed, she leaned back to rub a hand under her shirt and through the fur of her swollen body. "Great timing, I'd say," she muttered, poking the protruding foot of one of her babies through her skin. While uncomfortably struggling to get on a clean pair of sweatpants, she experienced another contraction cramp and had to wait for the pain to subside before she could think again. After getting the pants on, and deciding her bare hooves would do instead of shoes, she grabbed the small but very full duffel back she kept packed next to the bed. With a controlled breath to regain her composure, she marched back into the living room.
Bernie and his gang stood in a group, facing her bedroom. Their backs were very conspicuously near the door and the knife Jessie had dropped was gone.
"Put it back," she ordered. After a long second of silence, Archie leaned over to the kitchen table and dropped the knife on it. Jessie set the back next to the couch and slowly lowered herself into the soft cushions. She rubbed both hands over her belly while contemplatively gazing at herself.
"What are you doing here" She asked, without looking up. Her voice had softened, weariness replacing the anger it once held. "Why the van, why the microphones? What do you want?"
Bernie stepped forward, his hands clasped behind his back. He actually cleared his throat as if he were giving an acceptance speech.
"Once it came to our attention that your coupling with the Bastfomet-" Willard quickly pulled on Bernie's sleeve and whispered in his ear. "With the Baphomet had borne fruit, it was determined that, in the best interests of society, that The Order of the Black Finger be permitted to examine the resultant young after their birth."
Bernie paused, but seemed reluctant to continue speaking. Willard tugged on his sleeve again. Meeting Bernie's gaze, he closed his eyes and quietly nodded. Bernie shuffled his feet on the carpet and buried his hands in his pockets.
"And...well...we want you back." He shrugged. "You were the only girl in the group and you know a lot more than us and..." he scratched his muzzle and looked away awkwardly. Jessie was reeling at perhaps the only genuine moment she had ever seen out of the scruffy dog.
She sat quietly for a long time, still gazing down at her belly.
"As the birth got closer and closer," Jessie said, "I kept thinking about all the stuff I guess every girl thinks about. Will it go okay? Will I need a lot of drugs? How bad will it hurt? Stuff like that. But I didn't want to think about that one question that I think was the most important." She looked up at the group, her eyes tired. "What's actually going to come out of me?"
Jessie fished her hand underneath the adjacent cushion and pulled out a stubby, chrome revolver. The cult backed away cautiously, eyes jumping between her and the gun. Catching eyes with Bernie she motioned for him to come closer. She flipped the gun over to hand it to him, but pulled it away as he reached for it.
"I don't know what's going to happen, Bernie. And to be honest, I'm really scared. So I want you to promise me that...if it's too bad...you'll do what you have to. You do this for me, and I'm back in the Order."
Bernie gulped, but looked her in the eyes as he nodded. Jessie exhaled and handed the pistol over to him.
"There's four silver bullets already in there. Be careful."
Bernie looked up, alarmed, then glanced to her belly.
"How many are you having?" He asked.
Jessie held up three fingers. He gazed down at the revolver.
"Ohhhh..." he said, comprehension dawning on him.
Taking a deep breath, Jessie hefted herself to her feet in one quick movement and steadied herself on the arm of the couch. She slung the duffel back over her shoulder and cradled it under her arm.
"Ok then, you fucking pansies," she shouted. "I'm not getting baby juice all over my carpets, so you all are going to drive me to St. Sebastian's Hospital. Otherwise, I get you to help me birth these things and not the trained nurses, and I don't think either of us want that. Sound good?"
The cult nodded in unison.
"Alright!" Jessie made an exaggerated motion toward the door. "Step one is to get your creepy asses out of my damn apartment. Let's go!" Waving her arms, she herded the timid group out the door and into the warming morning. She grabbed her keys off the hook next to the door and locked it behind her.
As she waddled powerfully down the front walkway, Jessie suddenly stopped in the middle of the lawn, dropping her bag as another wave of contraction hit her, a good deal stronger than the ones before. The group stopped to wait as she grimaced and clutched her belly, fighting to stay standing. When it subsided, she poked a finger into her belly and said, "Little jerks."
"Yeah!" Archie said, similarly jabbing a finger into her. "Fuck you, babies!"
Whether it was a simple reaction against being touched or an even deeper, maternal protectiveness, Jessie's immediate reaction was to hook her finger into the small pepper spray canister she kept hooked to her keys and mace the shit out of him. Archie fell screaming to the sidewalk while Jessie calmly pocketed her keys.
"There's nothing these kids have done to me that you didn't do to your moms at one point. Hands off."
"I- I was an...an egg." Christobel mumbled.
"What was that?" Jessie barked, shooting him a glance as she passed by.
"N-Nothing." He quickly said. It was the last thing Christobel spoke all day.
Jessie had a hard time hefting herself into the van's passenger seat, but the cult members were either too timid to actually help her, or blinded. So as she sat down in her seat, trying to wrap the seat belt around herself, the rest of the clambered into the car and shut the doors. They quickly realized they had left Archie rolling around in the grass, so they took the time to bring him in as well.
As Bernie got in the driver's seat and started the van, Jessie looked down at her belly thoughtfully.
"Huh." She said.
"What is it?" Bernie asked.
"'Mom.'" she only said. Lost in thought for a moment, she glanced up to Bernie and frowned at him. "Hit the road! There's not a pause button on this shit!"
They took the highway, rumbling down the road as fast as the rusty clunker could go without falling apart like so many Lego blocks. The drive was longer than Jessie thought, so all the while her contractions were getting more and more intense as they grew more and more frequent. She was very willing to let this known to the other passengers and even punched Archie in the neck in a pain-induced rage. However, she wasn't in so much pain to not appreciate the comedy of Bernie being pulled over for speeding and botching the 'my wife's in labor' excuse so badly he got a ticket anyway.
By the time they spilled out out of the van into the hospital entrance, Jessie's contractions were occurring within twenty seconds of each other. Willard had taken over the car to find a parking spot, but would subsequently not been seen for several hours. A large bear in nurse scrubs watched the group come in and came forward already pushing a wheelchair. As Jessie fell into it, clutching her sides, the nurse leaned forward toward her.
"I think I can guess what you're here for, honey," she said, warmly.
Jessie jabbed a finger at the rest of the cult.
"I hate every single one of you."
The nurse looked them over curiously, before wheeling Jessie off as she clutched her belly against another contraction. Bernie followed awkwardly after them, clutching the overnight bag against his chest. Meanwhile, in the lobby of the hospital, Christobel fainted from over-exertion and was taken to a room on the other side of the hospital; Isaiah became involved in a shouting match after asking where the restrooms were and was escorted off the premises from security; Archie sat in the waiting room quietly and patiently and would be left overnight because everyone else would forget he was there.
Jessie was quickly undressed into a hospital gown and wheeled into the single cleanest room she had ever seen. She was helped onto a bed and was at first embarrassed to put her legs into the stirrups, but another contraction changed her mind. She glanced to the doorway to see Bernie standing there, looking like a child lost from his parents in a supermarket. He flashed her an awkward thumbs up and a toothy smile. She frowned and made a gun shape with her pointer and thumb while raising an eyebrow. Bernie grimly gestured to his back pocket and nodded.
"Miss Bell?" asked a ram doctor on her right side. "I'm Doctor McPherson. I'm here to help you make this birth as simple and easy as possible so you'll get to meet your kids as soon as possible. Now, some women like their births unassisted, so-"
Jessie reached up and grabbed the doctor by one of his curved horns and pulled his head down to her level.
"Doc, I want you to pump me full of every drug you've got. I don't even want to feel a pinprick. Got me?"
"Ugh, I understand," the doctor choked, struggling before she let him go.
"You're at about 5 centimeters dilated, honey," the bear nurse said, looking up from between Jessie's legs. "These babies want out quick."
"That's what I'm afraid of," she mumbled, lying her head back onto the mattress.
As a couple nurses wheeled in an IV drip of painkillers, one of them turned to Jessie and gestured to Bernie, still in the hallway.
"He the father?"
Jessie snorted and laughed herself into another contraction.
"He's with me," she said, "but...I think he'll want to stay outside."
Bernie looked like he was about to cry in gratitude.
"It's your party," the nurse shrugged before pushing the door shut. As it closed, Bernie mouthed a silent 'Thank you.'
Once the door was shut and the IV in her arm, Dr. McPherson came to her side, still rubbing his sore neck.
"Ok Jessie, the next time you have a contraction, I want you to push as hard as you possibly can. Can you do that?"
Jessie nodded, feeling another contraction coming on.
"AL-RIGHT!" She screamed to distract from the pain, causing the entire room to jump. "LET'S BIRTH THESE MOTHERFUCKERS!"
What followed were the most intense hours of Jessie's entire life. Even with the drugs keeping the agony away, the stretching pain of her lower body was still almost too much to handle, just from the pressure alone. Her left hand gripped one of the bars of the hospital bed while the other slammed against the mattress itself. Through her dulled senses, she eventually felt the bizarre sensation of something very large popping out of her vagina and the even more unexpected sound of a baby crying coming from the same place.
"Oh my god," she panted. "Holy shit...this...it can't be real..." There was no bizarre shriek, no gurgle, no unearthly roaring. Just the high pitched, bleating sound of a baby. She pushed with the next contraction, the experienced nurse pulled very gently and twisted to easily free the baby's shoulders. It wasn't long before the small, hairless little goat kid sat wailing in her soft paws. Standing up, she held the baby up for Jessie to see over her legs. It kicked and moved its limbs in the air, still covered in fluid and connected through the umbilical cord.
"Holy shit. Holy shit!" She said, smiling despite herself. "That's...it's...it's a...that's a kid! It's a goat! Just a...just a...a baby...baby goat..."
"Just onegoat, honey," the nurse said, deftly tying off the umbilical cord before severing it and handing the baby off to another nurse. "You still got two more. Don't quit on me now."
While the relief was an enormous burden off her mind, the birth was far from over as Jessie was hit with yet another contraction. By that point, she'd fallen into a pattern. If the labor wasn't comfortable, at least she recognized what her body wanted her to do. So she pushed and pushed and pushed, her energy depleting with every one. By the time her second kid was out, thankfully another normal goat, she felt nearly empty. When another contraction hit far sooner than she was ready, she got an idea in her head. Motioning over for a nurse, she pulled him closer and whispered weakly into his ear.
"Bernie...outside...bring..." Jessie was too exhausted to finish her thought, but the nurse thankfully understood and left the room, returning with a confused look. He shook a little, tail between his legs, as he saw how weak and exhausted Jessie was. She held out her hand and motioned for him to come closer.
Jessie had the energy to roll her eyes at him before holding out her hand to him. He looked between her hand and face, his eyes wide with amazement. He took her hand and intimately interlocked their fingers.
"I know you never really liked me all that much," he whispered, "but it makes me humbled to think you'd want me here with you during this magical mo-"
As soon as another contraction hit, Jessie gritted her teeth and clamped down her hand as hard as she could over Bernie's knuckles. He shrieked and tried to pull away, but she latched onto his upper arm with her other hand. He fell to his knees, howling as she dug her fingers into his arm and pushed her final baby out at the same time. The nurses glanced between each other with confused expressions, but continued their work as if nothing had changed.
Inflicting serious pain on Bernie gave Jessie the final burst of energy she needed to give birth to her third and final baby, a normal and healthy goat, just like the others. She let go of Bernie and collapsed onto the mattress, feeling like a deflated balloon. Resting a hand on her empty stomach, she guessed that that was essentially what she was at that point. Bernie curled up in the corner next to the bed, the last casualty in Jessie's campaign of terror to get her babies born.
After a period of time she was in no condition to accurately guess, the matronly bear nurse came in the room, holding the three babies in the cradle of one of her arms.
"That was some workout, huh?" She said, smiling as she approached the bed. Jessie forced herself to sit up on the raised section of mattress and eagerly held her arms out as the nurse handed over the three little kids. All of them were tightly wrapped in individual blue blankets. Two of them were awake and squirming in her left arm while the one in her right arm still slept.
"Boys?" she asked. The nurse nodded.
"I'm not gonna be jealous of you when they're all toddlers." She leaned over and patted Jessie on the knee. "Congratulations. You did great, honey."
"Oh my god," Jessie said, looking over the triplets. "They're so fucking cute. I don't...I don't even like babies...but holy shit, these are the best ones I've ever seen. They're fucking perfect." She looked over her babies from left to right. "You can be Neal Pert Bell. And you can be Keith Moon Bell. And you can be Lars...Nah, fuck Lars. Lars sucks. You can be John Bonham Bell. How's that?"
Bernie stood up from the floor, his left arm totally unusable. He saw the babies and smiled.
"Oh thank god," he said. He pulled the revolver from the back of his pants. "I won't have to use this."
The nurse saw the gun and charged, football tackling Bernie against the wall and immediately knocking him unconscious. With the pistol in one hand, she dragged the lanky dog, his glasses in pieces on the floor, out into the hall and dropped him, calling for the security guards. Jessie barely noticed.
"C'mon, John," she whispered. "You had nine months to sleep. Lemme get a good look at you."
She gently shook the baby awake. He looked up at her with bright blue eyes before yawning as wide as a newborn possibly could. On his tongue was a black birthmark, resembling a brand. Shaped like a 6.
Jessie blinked. Turning to Neal and Keith, she waited for them to yawn or open their mouths and found them both to have the exact same birthmark.