“Our last date night as well-rested people.”
Jake waited for a response, but Frieda only grimaced and shifted in her seat.
“Are you ok?”
Since they reached thirty-eight weeks, he had been on high alert for anything labour related.
“I can’t get comfortable.”
Frieda attempted several positions before giving up and tilting the seat back until she was nearly laying down.
“Hey, babe, it’s not safe for you to sit like that.”
“Don’t be paranoid.”
As the car climbed the highway on-ramp, the wilderness dropped away. Down the steep embankment, an evergreen forest levelled its treetops with the neighbouring traffic. Frieda gazed into the dark woods, illuminated at intervals by streetlights. The sky which framed them was moonless and black. As the reflected dashboard lights merged with the trees, she imagined she could see faces in the glass.
Jake kept thinking of things to say, then stopping himself. Frieda had become more prickly lately, due in no small part to his constant anxiety. Even driving half an hour to a nice restaurant had worried him, but he hoped she couldn’t tell.
Frieda was exhausted. Tasks as simple as leaving the house had become olympic events. She closed her eyes and conjured thoughts of the warm, cozy bed she would be curled up in very soon. But her daydream was interrupted by a stifling, almost pointed, sense of dread. It was immediately followed by a force from inside her, which jolted her upright in her seat.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I felt something.”
“Felt what? What does that mean?” Jake was involuntarily shouting.
“I don’t know. It felt … weird. Not like Braxton Hicks or … worse. It was different.”
“Bad different?” He lowered his voice, but couldn’t conceal his alarm.
“Not good different.”
Jake pressed his lips together and turned his focus to the road. I’m going to keep it together, he thought. Anyway, the hospital is on the way home.
Frieda laid back down facing the window and rested her head on her hand. She could see a clearer face in the pane now, with menacing eyes that studied her. She knew it was her imagination; the face was similar to her own. It was her reflection. A street light passed over it, and it became more familiar.
Jake was deciding the best routes to the hospital from different points on their drive when Frieda’s piercing screams broke his concentration. Labour had hit her like a transport truck. She was hunched over, clutching her stomach and shrieking. Jake’s ears rang.
“Oh my God. It’s okay, Frieda. I’ll get you to the doctor.”
Tears were pouring down her face.
“What? We have to get to the hospital!” Frieda’s water had broken; he could smell it. They hadn’t even gotten off the highway yet.
“Pull over now!”
Jake strained to focus on driving through Frieda’s continued crying and screaming.
I can see the exit now—we’re gonna make it.
Frieda grabbed his arm.
He turned and saw her bulging eyes, bloodshot and wild. Her teeth were bared.
It was a threat.
Jake found this more disturbing than the screaming. He nodded.
“Call 911 then.” He passed her his cell phone from his jacket pocket.
She took the phone, but didn’t dial it. Instead, she slumped against the door, panting, drenched in sweat. When Jake parked the car, as far to the side of the road as he could, he took back his phone and dialed 911 himself.
Frieda knew something was wrong. It wasn’t only the pain, which was sharp and constant—not like what she was told to expect. The uneasiness she felt before her labour began had grown into an oppressive force.
It’s like I’m being watched.
Frieda reflexively looked outside for the watcher. She was horrified to find that the menacing eyes from the window had materialized on a figure scaling the bank from the woods.
Frieda threw open the car door and forced herself to move through the pain. Jake called to her, confused: where was she going? She couldn’t stop to respond—it was here for the baby.
The door slammed behind her.
It must be windy out, Jake thought. Maybe she was going to be sick. I better get out there.
He tried to open the car door, but it was stuck. He jiggled the handle with increasing urgency. He looked for Frieda out the rear window, but saw a dark, cloaked figure instead. A fearful cry caught in his throat just before the car was tossed, like as much dust, down into the indifferent forest.
Frieda could feel the threat closing in on her as she struggled to run. An almost magnetic force was slowing her down.
It was hopeless. The baby wanted to be found.
Frieda turned to face the figure: a young woman with crimson stained eyes, who smiled a cruel smile before grasping Frieda’s throat. The Ageless One had called to her followers from the womb—cried out to them through her mother. Now she must be Delivered.
This story is my response to the February 25th prompt, “Write 500 words to practice building suspense.”