Agnes Kaufman was never the same after her son died. She often wandered about, lost in familiar places, lugging around memories like millstones. Rumor was she still pushed little Benjamin’s stroller around at night, the whine of its worn-down wheels a sad reminder for those who heard it. So it was no wonder that many of us were surprised to see her one day wearing a long black maternity gown, plump as a plum.
Word gets around in a small town like Mercy Ridge, yet no one had heard anything about Agnes having a new suitor. And those who had seen her the week before had spied no such swollen feature on her thin, haggard frame. Oddly, Nancy Oats swore she heard the grieving mother mewling prayers to some strange idol while kneeling amongst the wilting flowers of her dying garden. (This latter description bears an eerie resemblance to the bizarre statuary residing in the city of Orphan—the effigies depicted on the dark sculpture describe a hideously corpulent woman, her womb swollen and distended with the spirits of dead children.)
These strange rumblings led me to keep an eye on poor Agnes's home. One night, I followed her to the overgrown reaches of Serenity Grove—Mercy Ridge's cemetery. She passed by little Benjamin’s grave, her hand caressing the tombstone. The ground before it appeared sunken in, as though its contents had been vacated. Agnes moved to a nearby patch of grass, where she stripped naked and lay her pregnant form spread-eagle on the cold ground.
I watched in horror as a hydra of writhing umbilicals squirmed from her nether regions, each puncturing the sod of three tombstone-shaded plots. The wet cords went taut and began to retract, soon revealing the limp forms of three tiny, suited corpses. One by one, Agnes slowly dragged the lifeless bodies within her, each joining what could only be Benjamin in the amniotic comforts of her ravenous womb. The last thing I saw was her tumorous belly expanding, the movement of tiny shapes pressing hard against it.
No one saw Agnes after that evening, but on a quiet summer night several weeks later, her house erupted in blood-curdling screams. As a growing crowd gathered, the screaming was replaced by elated laughter and the shrieks of newborn children. The crowd paused and began to slowly withdraw, retreating to the safety of their homes. They knew full well those were not the cries of the living.
It’s been several months since that awful night, and those in town unfortunate enough to have lost a child have been haunted ever since. Desiree Adams now hears her deceased daughter calling to her from the attic, where the play of rattles speaks from the retired crib she put up there so many years ago. And many of us witnessed the poor demise of Mrs. Chatsworth, who was swallowed into the infinite abyss of an unmanned black stroller, which giggled out into the woods on the outskirts of town. But even when the bereaved are not under siege by the tragedies of their past, we are all kept under the nightly serenade of lullabies as Agnes Kaufman—the mother of Mercy Ridge's dead children—lulls her offspring into the sweet un-death of sleep.
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