|H.A.L.F. by Natalie Wright|
Below is an excerpt of H.A.L.F., Book 1 of the H.A.L.F. series. This will be a 5 book series and Book 1 will launch March 4, 2015 and will be available for preorder by January, 2015. Please sign up for my newsletter (directly to the right) to receive updates AND get introductory off for over 50% off! Thank you for your interest in my stories :-D
Book 1 of the H.A.L.F. Series
Copyright © 2014 by Natalie Wright
All rights reserved.
“[H]istory is not driven by most of us … As a rule, majorities are ruled. It’s the fanatic few, at whom we may laugh one day and cower before the next, who are history’s engine. It’s a minority of single-minded maniacs who can take a holy place and make an unholy mess.” – Jeff Wells, blogger for the webzine Rigorous Intuition: What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt Them
1998, Arizona, U.S.A.
Lucia lay on the well-worn couch, its cushions drenched with her sweat. Her shirt was hitched up exposing her swollen belly to the hot air. It was July and storm season. The normally dry air was as pregnant with moisture as Lucia was pregnant with child. The swamp cooler chugged away but it gave little relief. Perspiration pooled beneath her breasts, heavy with milk. Lucia felt like a stuffed turkey roasting in the oven.
She rubbed her naked stomach. I hope you don’t plan on stayin’ too much longer, Lucia thought.
Though she was hot and uncomfortable, Lucia didn’t have much else to complain about. She’d gone from living on the street to a small apartment on the base. Meals were delivered to her door like room service. It was a prescribed diet that tasted a bit like bark bathed in dirt, but it was free and she didn’t have to cook it. The first thing I’m gonna’ do when I get this thing out of me is eat a double bacon cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate shake.
A nurse visited her daily to take her blood pressure and give her prenatal vitamins. Lucia even got a massage once per week. “It enhances blood flow to the fetus,” the massage therapist had explained.
But instead of feeling like a pampered princess, Lucia felt more like a girl locked in a tower. The armed guards outside her door reminded her that she was not free to go.
Lucia had willingly given up ten months of freedom. It was a small price to pay for the promise of what lie ahead for her. Easy street.
Lucia had never known an easy street. She had been walking on the sidewalk just outside the food bank from which she’d come when a black sedan with darkly tinted windows pulled up beside her.
Instinct told her to walk faster and she did. But the car kept pace. Lucia knew better than to look behind her. “Keep you eyes forward and never make eye contact,” her friend Melina had told her. Curiosity got the better of her.
She looked back at the car. A man in the front passenger seat rolled down his window. “Do you need money?” he asked.
“I’m not that kind of girl,” Lucia said. She broke into a run and for once wished that the sidewalks were filled with people, but they were strangely empty. Lucia could feel the car still stalking her.
When Lucia got to the crosswalk, the light was red. The man in the car shouted out to her, “It’s not like that. We’ve got honest work for you. A thousand bucks just to sit down and talk about it.”
Lucia did not turn to look at the man. She contemplated whether she was going to turn right and continue running or stay and talk further. If she turned, she may be able to outrun them. They had to wait for the cars in front of them to get through the light. But if she stayed … Lucia had never had a thousand dollars all at one time.
But no one ever approached someone on the street and offered honest work. She turned and looked inside the car. There were two men with neatly cut hair wearing dark suits with white shirts and nondescript ties. They didn’t look like drug dealers or pimps. Clean cut white guys in an impeccably detailed but simple black sedan? They’re either feds or Mormons.
“A thousand cash, right now, just to go to an office and talk to some doctors,” the man said. He flashed a wad of cash at her. “And if they accept you and you accept them, a quarter mil.”
Lucia’s past jobs had consisted of working at a car wash, cleaning houses and being a bike courier. She didn’t even have a GED. She’d never see that much money if she worked her entire life.
“You say it’s honest? What kind of honest jobs pay that much to homeless people like me?” She tried to look the man in the eyes, but he wore dark sunglasses that kept his eyes and any thoughts they’d betray secret.
“I assure you, there is nothing illegal involved. We work for the government.” The man flashed some kind of a badge but Lucia couldn’t see it well enough to tell what it said. “It will all be explained at the meeting at our offices. And after hearing about the job, if you decide not to take it, you still get the thousand.”
Lucia had left her last foster home at fourteen and now at nineteen, she’d been on the street for close to five years. Her funds had always been measured in tens, not thousands. Lucia thought of all the things she could do with that thousand dollars.
Against every instinct and contrary to every rule of the street ever taught to her by Melina and other friends, Lucia got into the backseat of the car. It smelled of leather and aftershave and money.
The meeting turned out to be with two doctors. They said they were doctors but they didn’t look like medical doctors to Lucia. The man was nearly the age of a grandfather. He had kindly pale, grey eyes behind thick glasses with black frames. His hair looked like he’d missed a couple of haircut appointments and his clothes were at least a two decades behind the fashion. Dude look’s like he’s straight out of the 1970’s.
The man introduced himself as Dr. Randall and he explained that if she qualified, she’d be a surrogate mother. “You will receive a thousand for this meeting today, another five thousand to complete medical testing for fitness. And if you are qualified and if you deliver a live birth, you will receive a quarter million dollars plus a lifetime pension,” he’d said.
“Surrogate mother? Me? You’re trippin’,” Lucia had said.
“I assure you that I am not trippin’,” Dr. Randall said.
“I’m not exactly Mother-of-the-Year material, doc.” They had found her coming out of a food pantry. Her well-worn clothes had been hand-me-downs when she’d gotten them. Lucia hadn’t been to the shelter for a shower in over a week. They could probably smell her from across the small round conference table. Why me?
The female doctor with piercing blue eyes spoke. “You are healthy, aren’t you?”
“And you do not smoke, use drugs or drink alcohol?”
“Then you are more fit to birth a child than most women in America,” she said.
The woman’s lips pulled back in a thin-lipped grin that revealed a row of perfectly straight, overly white teeth. But the smile did not reach the woman’s steely eyes.
If Lucia had met only with the female doctor, she likely would have said no, taken her thousand and run from the place without looking back. There was something about the woman that she didn’t trust.
But Dr. Randall had reached out his spotted grandfatherly hand, pat hers with it and smiled warmly at her. “It’s the chance for a better life. What do you have to lose?”
Lucia had no family, no property save for the $9.82 in her pockets, and only a few acquaintances like Melina that she’d met on the street. All she had to lose – all she had to give – was her freedom. Ten months of freedom traded for a life of financial ease had seemed like a small price to pay.
Lucia pushed herself up from the couch and waddled to the bathroom for a washcloth. She padded to the small kitchen, filled the cloth with ice and lay down again resting the ice pack on her forehead. The ice brought instant relief from the heat.
For nearly ten months Lucia tried to find the catch. But the only catch she’d ever found was the requirement of secrecy. She’d signed a paper promising that she’d tell no one anything about the surrogacy. The fine print stated that the penalty for blabbing was life in prison. Once it was all over she’d be relocated and given a new identity. “Like a witness protection program,” Dr. Randall had said. The secrecy and relocation didn’t bother Lucia. Who was she going to tell? And like she’d argue with being relocated from living in the streets to a place with a ceiling and four walls?
The doctors had answered every question she’d put before them. All except for one.
“Who’s the mother and father? I mean for this kind of money, it must be someone famous, huh? Like will I carry the President’s secret super baby or something?”
“Or something.” It was the only answer given.
Without a straight answer from the doctors, Lucia’s imagination tried to come up with its own answer. She imagined she carried a clone baby made with JFK’s DNA, or maybe a super baby that was part Arnold Schwarzenegger, part Madonna.
But no matter how many scenarios she worked out in her head, they all felt wrong. For a reason she couldn’t explain other than to say it was a mother’s intuition, Lucia felt certain that the being inside of her wasn’t human. Or at least not completely human.
She’d taken to referring to it as “the little monster”. Lucia rubbed her swollen belly again and she felt it kick inside her. The little monster kicked hard, or at least it seemed hard to Lucia. She’d never been pregnant before so she had nothing to compare it to. But sometimes it felt like the thing she carried was trying to hurt her.
It kicked again and Lucia drew her hand away. Just a few more days, little monster.
The cold ice had helped a bit but she still felt rivulets of sweat drip down her sides. The little monster kicked again but this time straight up into her rib cage. The kick was hard enough to force air from her lungs.
Lucia thought of the quarter million and it eased the pain a little. Considering the lifetime pension relieved the discomfort quite a bit more.
Though she doubted the being she held inside her was normal, she could not deny the maternal feelings that nature had given her. She had no desire to try to keep the little monster that was sure. But she didn’t wish it harm either.
With nothing else to do, Lucia had time to think. Maybe too much time. She thought about the guards outside her door. And she thought that maybe they weren’t there so much to keep her safe, but to keep her from running. And with the military component of the whole thing, maybe what she carried inside her was somehow dangerous. And if it was dangerous, what would they do to it?
But she wouldn’t be there to protect it. As soon as it was born, it would be taken away, presumably to its adoptive parents. And she, Lucia, would be relocated and given a new identity so even the little monster could never track her.
The ice was nearly melted. Her hair was wet with the cool water. Lucia tried to sit up but was wracked with a sudden sharp, shooting pain throughout her core. She’d been told that labor pains could be sudden and sharp. But no one had warned her that she’d feel like she’d been split open like a gutted fish.
Lucia rolled off of the couch and managed to push herself up. She stumbled to the kitchen where the cellular phone they’d given her was on the counter. Another round of spasms seized her. Liquid ran down her legs as she reached for the phone. Lucia opened the phone, her fingers unsteady. She hit the sequence of buttons they’d made her memorize to call the doctors. She hit the wrong number more than once and cursed the tiny buttons. It seemed to Lucia that it would have been quicker to just dial a regular phone.
While she waited for an answer, she was hit with another powerful contraction. Lucia fell to the floor, still clutching the phone. She landed in a pool of hot, sticky liquid. Blood. Lots and lots of blood. No one warned me about the blood.
Her hand shook but she managed to hold the phone to her ear. A voice on the other end said, “Yes, Lucia?”
“It’s coming!” she screamed. She let the phone fall as she grabbed at her stomach and writhed in pain.
Within a few minutes, a paramedic crew arrived. Lucia thought it odd that they were wore surgical masks and flimsy white papery suits covered them from head to toe. She could see only their expressionless eyes, their faces a literal mask. They swept her up onto a gurney, wrapped a blood pressure cuff around one arm, put an oxygen mask over her face and stabbed her other arm with a needle to start an IV. They did all of this while rushing her out of her apartment and into the hot sun.
Lucia’s eyelids became heavy, her mind fuzzy. A sedative, she thought. Just before she slipped off to sleep, she heard helicopter blades and a hot wind swept over her body.
Lucia’s eyes fluttered open. There was no way to know how long she’d been out or where she was. She blinked but at first saw nothing but a very bright, white light overhead. She blinked again and through the slits of her still-heavy eyelids, she saw doctors surrounded her. They wore the same paper hats and masks that the paramedics had worn. The steady beeping of a medical machine droned over the murmur of the doctors.
How many docs does it take to deliver one baby? Though her vision was blurry, she counted at least five.
Though only their eyes were visible, Lucia recognized the doctor with the steely blue eyes that Lucia had met all those months ago. That doctor looked at her. The rest had their eyes on her abdomen. Lucia wanted to ask if it was going okay and was the little monster healthy and would it be all right and go to a good home.
But her mouth was as dry as a cotton ball. When she tried to speak, all that came out was a croak.
“She’s awake. Push more Brevital, stat,” commanded the doctor with the untrustworthy eyes.
Within seconds, Lucia felt herself being pulled down as if a hand of darkness had hold of her. But before she left reality again, the room was filled with the blood-curdling screech of the infant the doctors had pulled from her womb.
They didn’t lift it over the drape to show it to her like they would have done if it had been a normal pregnancy with a normal birth of a normal child. Lucia didn’t need to see the thing to know it wasn’t normal.
Ordinary babies don’t sound like that.
Before Lucia fell wholly into the drug-induced darkness, she had time to form one last thought.
I’m glad that little monster is out of me.