to The Dark Aspect
A Novel of Dark Fantasy
When women wanted to be discrete about giving birth, they called on
Myra Roberts, a midwife who ran her practice out of her home, which was
situated on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean on a remote stretch of
the Washington coast. Her birthing room, an ordinary bedroom, was kept hot,
especially on this windy and damp March day, for the arrival of a new life.
Ocypete, the new mother, had
arrived only an hour before, without notice, but obviously on the verge
of giving birth. She had gone through most of the labor by herself, and
now her water had broken. The thought of telling her that she was too sick
to work today flitted through Myra's mind. For one thing, she had no assistance
that day (not having expected any births), and for another she was terrified
of Ocypete, no matter how many times she had overseen her confinement. But,
as always, she reminded herself that the innocent baby, not just the mother,
depended on her. And, of course, she needed the business: times were rough
for midwives. In this medically "advanced" era of the 1950s, why
go through the torture of labor when you could go to the hospital, get an
injection of scopolamine and morphine and wake up with a baby without any
memory of how it got there?
Ocypete now sat upright on the
bed, a little dazed but otherwise unaffected by the hours of labor she had
just endured. Cradled in the midwife's arms was a tiny girl-baby, covered
with bloody amniotic fluid, arms and legs flailing in a weird, twitchy way
as she cried with all her little might. Myra had noticed some irregularities,
but ignored them for the moment as she quickly suctioned the infant's nose
and mouth, then clamped and cut the cord.
Before Myra could so much as
wrap a towel around the newborn, Ocypete grabbed her daughter and lightly
ran her taloned fingers over the little body, down to the feet, where she
took special care clearing away the cheesy vernix to reveal oddly webbed
toes. She growled in disgust and handed the baby back.
"Deformed," she stated
in a disappointed if not surprised tone. She threw herself back on the bed
and stared at the ceiling, waiting for Myra to help deliver the placenta
and to clean her up.
But the midwife took the baby
into an adjoining bathroom, a large room she had modified for the purpose
of caring for newborns. Against one wall there stood a wooden lab table
which held towels, a scale, and other birthing equipment. Next to it was
a large sink filled with warm water.
"I want to leave, Myra,"
called the new mother.
"You'll have to wait a few
minutes, Ocypete, till I finish with your baby."
"Don't bother. I'll finish
her up myself later."
This was said in such a sneering,
mocking way that Myra had to force herself to ignore the significance of
Ocypete's cruel words and concentrate on the necessary tasks following the
birth of a child: checking heart and lungs, weighing and measuring, taking
footprints, bathing, drying, and diapering. Finally, Myra swaddled the still
crying baby in a receiving blanket and laid her in a rocking bassinet.
When Ocypete had delivered the
afterbirth and was cleaned up, she dropped a couple of hundred-dollar bills
on the bed and moved to the bassinet. "That's the worst one I've ever
produced. Those ridiculous feet, and look at that awful color!"
Rocking the bassinet on the opposite
side, Myra cringed and hovered protectively over the baby, stroking her
head and letting her suck on her little finger. The poor thing really did
have severely webbed toes, almost like a duck's, but that was not all. Fine,
unusually colorful and downy lanugo still covered her body. But she looked
perfectly healthy and was breathing fine. "Aren't you going to feed
The sound coming out of Ocypete's
throat could only be described as a cackle. "Then let me," begged
Myra. Ocypete shrugged assent, and Myra quickly opened a can of formula,
poured the contents into a nursing bottle, and picked up the child to feed
After a few minutes the rhythmic
sucking gave way to contented sleep. The baby's face, now relaxed, had some
interesting information to reveal. Myra gasped quietly and whispered, "Rip."
Ocypete looked down at the midwife
sharply. She snatched the baby out of Myra's arms and left the house.
Nine months before, Ocypete had taken Ripley Vaughn against his will
to her lair somewhere along a stretch of Pacific beach near Aviston. She
had hypnotized him somehow, perhaps drugged him with hallucinogens, so that
she had seemed so beautiful, exotic, incredibly desirable. At dawn the next
day he found himself lying on the damp, pebbly beach a hundred yards from
her roost. His clothes were scattered around and he was naked and shivering
uncontrollably from shock and cold. He could only recall vaguely what she
had done to him, but the shame of relations with that creature made him
vomit on the spot.
He had spent every moment since
then attempting to deny to himself it had even happened. It must have been
a dream. In a drunken stupor, he must have stripped off his clothes, fallen,
hit his head on a rock, and had a violent, disgusting dream.
But Myra's phone call brought
the bile back into his throat. Why should he care what happened to the child
of such a union? Deformed, resembling her mother in certain key ways. He
had spent five minutes considering letting Ocypete do what she wanted with
the baby. It was none of his concern. But Myra's suspicion that Ocypete
meant to kill the infant yanked at his gut, and for some reason the certainty
that this was his child, sight unseen, released a heretofore suppressed
paternal passion in him. Other people's children were just annoyances to
be avoided, but the birth of a baby of his own seed (now that he was 40
and apparently unlikely to ever marry and have legitimate offspring) provoked
a strange longing inside him, powerful enough to make him go in search of
the child despite his dread of Ocypete.
Ocypete's cave was built into
the cliff and almost perfectly disguised--he'd run past it three times before
finally recognizing the slightly unnatural roundness of the opening and
the subtle but telltale odor of rotting carcass emanating from it, clues
that wouldn't be noticeable to anybody else. He was twenty feet away when
the shrill voice of his nightmares called out.
"You won't find the infant
"Then where is she?"
Ocypete did not answer, so Rip
yelled out, "Tell me! You owe me that much."
"I owe you nothing. The
child is deformed. You were not a good choice of father."
"At least tell me if she
is still alive."
"Probably, for the moment."
A fluttering movement caught
Rip's eye. Ocypete stood at the mouth of the cave, the shadows of the waning
day obscuring her body. The pallor of her face, though, shone like the moon.
Rip felt himself begin to tremble like his Dalmatian did during a thunderstorm,
and despised himself for it, though nobody beheld her without feeling the
same way. A fetid wind blew past him and out across the gray, choppy ocean
"Why do you care?"
she asked. "She is not your kind."
"She's my daughter. Of course
I care. If you don't want her, I'll raise her myself."
"Even if you could, we wouldn't
allow it. She is not a true daughter of the Harpuaia and must be disposed
of in the traditional way."
"You mean by killing her?"
"She awaits Okeanos at the
Gate of the Sun. When he arrives to take her through, she will become his
Ocypete said nothing, so Rip
repeated her words slowly, trying to make out their meaning. "Okeanos"
he had heard before. Ocypete and her sisters used it to personify the ocean.
But nothing local bore the name "Gate of the Sun".
"Where is this Gate of the
"At the borderline between
light and dark, waking and sleeping, life and death."
She was being deliberately oblique
and had fallen into that symbolic speech she and the others loved so much.
Panic began to disrupt his self-control. His child was going to die any
minute, if she weren't already gone, and all he could do was stand there
and ask polite questions.
"Think, think, think!"
he ordered himself, though there was nothing more he could say. Ocypete
had faded back into her cave and would not answer Rip's shouts to show herself
again. He turned and surveyed the coast south to north. Miles upon miles
of ocean. Where could the baby be? Bride of Okeanos meant bride of the ocean.
A sacrifice to the sea. But if she was still alive, then Ocypete couldn't
have just dumped her into the water.
Rip started running southward
on the beach toward Myra's house, hoping that since she had much more contact
with Ocypete than most people, she might be able to help him figure out
where the baby might be.
A mile down the coast he slowed
to a walk to catch his breath and spotted the steep wooden stairway leading
up to Myra's house. In the mauve sky to the west, the sun was small and
weak, about to sink out of sight; already the chill of the evening air was
making him shiver. The incoming tide would soon completely flood the beach;
it was foaming around the thirty-foot-tall chunk of craggy rock known as
a "seastack," a stalwart remnant of the eroding coastline. It
had a large hole in its middle that reminded him of the eye of a needle.
When the tide was high enough in a few minutes, seawater would splash through
the eye in a dramatic torrent that earned a mention in some travel books.
It was the only one between Myra's
house, where the baby had been delivered, and Ocypete's cave. A sudden realization
grabbed and shook him: "The Gate of the Sun is that rock!" he
shouted to himself. Not only was it the most convenient altar to Okeanos,
but it also marked the boundary between life on dry land and death in the
ocean. When the ocean swamped the seastack, the infant would become a very
dead bride. In his excitement he stumbled toward the seastack and into the
ocean. But all thought fled his brain as he experienced the searing cold
of the water. He waded the ten yards to the rock, wondering if he could
stay in this water even five more seconds. His feet were already going numb
as the surf swooshed around his thighs. In desperation he ignored his body's
warnings and began wading around the seastack. He suffered a moment of frustration
as he found that there was nothing in the eye. Of course not, he thought;
nothing could have been set there without sliding off. He circled the colossal
rock, searching for any nooks or recesses large enough to hold a baby, but
without success. It was now difficult to move. He should get out and warm
up before trying again, he told himself, but it might be too late. Somehow
he pulled himself up into the eye of the rock, willing his numb legs to
support him as he stretched his arm up and felt inside a fissure above him.
He felt something soft, a flannel blanket. A little farther in he found
the baby. He dragged her out without much care and stuffed her into his
shirt without looking at her. All he cared about now was getting back to
Once there, he sat down in exhaustion
and carefully unbuttoned his shirt, exposing only the baby's wonderfully
crying face. He was astonished that she was still alive after all these
hours and still had the strength to cry. Despite the lanugo, she was the
most beautiful thing he had ever seen. In fact, he thought, it was because
of the downy coat that she hadn't succumbed from exposure.
But he couldn't stay here. He
looked up and down the beach for Ocypete. If she became suspicious and came
out here to check up on the sacrifice, there would be no chance of escaping
her. In fact, he would have to take the child far away from Aviston, perhaps
to California, where his sister lived. He gazed at his daughter and vowed,
"Don't you worry. I'll take care of you. Ocypete will never find you.