November 12th, 1972. It was one of those nights that resonated in the annals of history for no reason in particular, except in the maternity ward of the Ainsworth-Fletcher State Hospital in Greenbury, Michigan. In the olden days, men would have characterised nights like these as dark, darker than ordinary nights. They were the nights where at every turn into a new block, or down another boulevard, you heard a sound from some concealed bush or tree. They were nights when dogs would howl out in the yard, and would refuse to come inside or into their kennels. They were nights when there was no moon, or stars, or blinking aeroplane lights to punctuate the sky, so that it just went on and on, a sentence with no end. They were those nights on which all horror-themed fantasies were based; the nights where Shelley’s or Stoker’s creatures would come to life in the imagination, the place where they could cause the most damage.
That was not what concerned the nurses at Ainsworth-Fletcher though. Their concerns remained the same as always. The simple facts that they were short-staffed, over-tired, headache-riddled and generally unhappy at their current lot in life. And to make matters worse, a coach-load of drugged up wasters had just been brought in on an assortment of stretchers, after their driver had passed out and their ride had dived from the road into a ditch. Some were going to need life support machines. Some might never stop needing them. Perhaps that’s why it was unusually quiet on the maternity ward, that night.
There were no nurses present when David Carter was born. Usually, at advanced and well-funded hospitals like Ainsworth-Fletcher, there were at least two nurses or a doctor at hand to administer anaesthetic injections and assist the midwives with epidurals and detail the baby once the birth was complete. Usually, that was the case. But not on this night. On that night, November 12th, every single nurse had been pulled over to Accident and Emergency as the cleanup from the coach crash ceaselessly raged.
The senior midwife, who was in her fifties, had hit the call button on the wall twice, with no response. Her colleague peered anxiously out the door into the corridor. She was much younger, possibly a student intern. And all the while, Millie Carter writhed on the bed, as the agony of contractions overtook her.
Eric Carter slammed a fist against the wall, “What the hell is going on? How can there be no nurses?! Anyone would think this was the Third World! I suppose you’re not qualified to give my wife the injection are you?”
“No, sir, I am not. Would you please not shout, as it will only distress your wife,” The older midwife motioned and her colleague rounded the bed. Between them, they propped Millie up with more pillows to try and make her more comfortable. Sweat poured down her crimson skin as she continued to crease up her face in pain. Eric stood some way back from the bed; a young, investment banker in his twenties, suddenly caught miles out of his depth and sinking. As if sensing this, the older midwife then decided to take charge.
“Mr. Carter, I am not qualified to administer an anaesthetic to your wife, but I cannot deliver either. Put simply, the uterus passage will not relax, because of the pain she is in. She is unable to push your son out, do you understand what I am saying? She must be sedated, or this birth doesn’t happen. Samantha and I watch nurses doing this every day. We know the procedure precisely. There is nothing that can go wrong. Do you understand me?”
For the first time, Eric removed his knuckle from between his teeth and looked the midwife in the eye. His breathing seemed to slow, and he became calmer.
“Is it the only way?”
“Yes, sir, or I would not suggest it. My job is on the line.”
“Do it. Please. Thank you…” The two midwives swiftly filled a hypodermic syringe and wiped a spot near Millie’s pelvis with a damp pad, which stained the skin underneath yellow. The area looked bulbous and bloated to Eric, as the two women exposed it to administer the drugs. He collapsed against the side of the bed and clasped his wife’s flailing hand.
“Baby, it’ll soon be over. They’re taking the pain away. Soon he’ll be out of you. Soon it’ll be over…”
The younger midwife wiped her senior colleague’s brow, and then the elder stabbed down with the syringe and pushed the plunger in one movement. Millie gave a single cry and then seemed to slow down and glaze over. Her eyes went slightly unfocused, and her head drooped to one side. She was smiling at her husband. Eric wiped tears from his cheeks, and looked expectantly at the nurses, who were both still peering under the sheet.
“It has worked, Mr. Carter. Your wife’s birth-canal has widened, and we can now deliver your son manually. Please replace your mask, thank you.”
Eric Carter spluttered thanks as the two women set to work. He promised not to inform their superiors of the risk they has taken, promised to make a charitable donation to the hospital, and dedicate it to the two midwives who had given him his son back from the brink. In the next ten minutes, he babbled on almost to himself in a haze of relief, so great that he wondered what emotion he would finally feel when he could hold his baby son for the first time. David. The one who slayed Goliath. The one who defied all the odds stacked against him, to come through.
The maternity ward dorms were lined with windows, that were wide and offered a pleasant view over gardens and a large pond, although not much of it was visible on such a dark night. A few specks of rain flecked against the glass as Eric Carter glanced around.
“We can see the head… yes…”
It was that precise moment when it happened. In that instant, there was an enormous flash of lightning, a single white bolt, which was visible through the window of the maternity ward where David Carter was being born. What was so strange was that there had been no thunder, and none sounded after the bolt had vanished. And it had been too close to earth to be heat-lightning; not that it had been a particularly warm night anyway. There was just a noise in the background, something above the hubbub of the hospital around them. It was a shearing sort of noise, almost like paper tearing continuously. Then all the lights in the hospital went out, simultaneously.
There was complete darkness for nearly fifteen seconds, in which Eric Carter had frozen. He couldn’t quite come to terms with what he had just seen. Had it been real? Had the midwives seen it too? He never got to ask them as a moment later, an override generator kicked in and secondary lights flickered on, illuminating the two women who were still crouched before his anaesthetised wife. The older, more experienced midwife had his son in her arms. Whatever had just happened, it didn’t matter, because the ordeal was over.
David Carter did not, of course, remember his own birth. Eric and Millie had both passed out soon after from sheer exhaustion and pressure, and had awoken late the next day, remembering very little. The two midwives though, entrenched in the birth though they were, questioned the events which took place that night on November 12th, especially Samantha, who believed in that sort of thing.
It was almost as if some force had attempted to intervene into the lives of everyone at Ainsworth-Fletcher, to stop the birth taking place. The nurses and doctors had been otherwise engaged. The midwives had had to risk their jobs to deliver a baby caught mysteriously between contractions. Then there was the power failure, following the seemingly random bolt of lightning out of the blue. That sort of thing just didn’t happen. In many ways, it was a miracle that the child had emerged unharmed.
Or perhaps it was just one of those nights.