3 min read

Teething, by Cassandra Daucus

Cradle with a frilly fabric hem and soft mobile, shot in a slightly sinister way
Photo by freestocks / Unsplash

Content warnings

Body horror. Pregnancy. Birth imagery. Postpartum psychosis. Violence against an infant. Death of an infant.

The baby is teething. I cradle it in the crook of my arm, rub my finger across its gum, and will it to give up and sleep. But it won't be soothed. It champs fruitlessly, pushes its pink gums against my fingertip while it squirms and mewls. I stare straight ahead as it bites and sucks, and keep my eyes on the blank square of green-stained drywall so I don't have to look at the baby.

Its face is a little potato, off-colored and misshapen. It smells rotten, like old cheese left in the sun, and its cries are wet gurgles, never loud but always repulsive. The baby disgusts me, even thinking about it makes my gorge rise. And yet I hold it through the night, rubbing its gums and humming lullabies.

I remember being excited at first. The two lines on the stick brought me hope, and the two heartbeats brought me joy. My husband, a twin himself, was thrilled at the prospect of two of his own. But at the next appointment there was only one heartbeat, only one fetus. Only one baby. The doctor said a vanishing twin was common enough, that she would keep her eye on the remaining baby's development but she didn't expect any issues. My husband insisted it was fine, but I could tell he was lying. When he left with three months still to go I wasn't surprised.

I continued preparing for the birth. What choice did I have? But every day that passed, every doctor's appointment when I was told the pregnancy was progressing as expected, every blanket and stuffed animal pressed into my hands with a well-meaning smile, I could feel that something was wrong with the baby. And when that baby came out I knew. I knew.

The baby cries louder, its wiggling turning into a thrash. I tighten my hold, rubbing harder against the gum, the hard bone beneath a contrast with the soft pink that covers it. The stench builds with the movement, grows sharper and more intense. The baby stiffens and squeals, a loud, long sound that reminds me of a train braking. The noise is cut short by a squelching pop, and the baby goes limp, my fingers still held loosely in the wet warmth of its revolting little mouth.

Although the body is still, something moves inside it, wriggling under the surface of its belly, its neck, the soft spot at the crown of its head. I hold my breath and wait to see what will happen next. Only a moment later, the silence is broken by a wet crunch.

In the bloody ruins of the baby's jaw my finger meets a new obstacle. Not a tooth, hard and sharp, but something warm and soft. I stroke against it and it moves, pushing further through the hole, reaching for me, a rosebud seeking the sun. Another appears beside it, and another, until eventually there are five of them—five perfect little fingers digging through the gums of her mutilated sibling.

I knew she was in there—the other baby. My baby. My baby is ready to be born, and I am honored to be her midwife. The other baby's mouth is small, but so are my hands. I get my second hand in there without too much trouble, say a little prayer, and I pull.

Author’s note

This story was first published in Ooze: little bursts of body horror, edited by Ruth Anna Evans (2023)

Cassandra Daucus

Cassandra Daucus (she/her) writes horror. She has short stories published and forthcoming in a variety of anthologies and literary magazines. Cassandra lives outside of Philadelphia with her family and three cats. Her social media and website can be found at https://linktr.ee/residualdreaming

  • Twitter: @CassandraDaucus
  • Instagram: @residualdreaming