It was not a sinister silence. No silence is sinister until it acquires a background of understandable menace. Here there was only the night quiet of Maternity, the silence of noiseless rubber heels on the hospital corridor floor, the faint brush of starched white skirts brushing through doorways into darkened and semi-darkened rooms.
But there was something wrong with the silence in the “basket room” of Maternity, the glass-walled room containing row on row, the tiny hopes of tomorrow. The curtain was drawn across the window through which, during visiting hours, peered the proud fathers who did the hoping. The night-light was dim.
The silence should not have been there.
Lorry Kane, standing in the doorway, looked out over the rows of silent baskets and felt her blonde hair tighten at the roots. The tightening came from instinct, even before her brain had a chance to function, from the instincts and training of a registered nurse.
Thirty-odd babies grouped in one room and--complete silence.
Not a single whimper. Not one tiny cry of protest against the annoying phenomenon of birth.
Thirty babies--dead? That was the thought that flashed, unbidden, into Lorry’s pretty head. The absurdity of it followed swiftly, and Lorry moved on rubber soles between a line of baskets. She bent down and explored with practiced fingers.
A warm, living bundle in a white basket.
The feeling of relief was genuine. Relief, even from an absurdity, is a welcome thing. Lorry smiled and bent closer.
Staring up at Lorry from the basket were two clear blue eyes. Two eyes, steady and fixed in a round baby face. An immobile, pink baby face housing two blue eyes that stared up into Lorry’s with a quiet concentration that was chilling.
Lorry said, “What’s the matter with you?” She spoke in a whisper and was addressing herself. She’d gone short on sleep lately--the only way, really, to get a few hours with Pete. Pete was an interne at General Hospital, and the kind of a homely grinning carrot-top a girl like Lorry could put into dreams as the center of a satisfactory future.
But all this didn’t justify a case of jitters in the “basket room.”
Lorry said. “Hi, short stuff,” and lifted Baby Newcomb--Male, out of his crib for a cuddling.
Baby Newcomb didn’t object. The blue eyes came closer. The week-old eyes with the hundred-year-old look. Lorry laid the bundle over her shoulder and smiled into the dimness.
“You want to be president, Shorty?” Lorry felt the warmth of a new life, felt the little body wriggle in snug contentment. “I wouldn’t advise it. Tough job.” Baby Newcomb twisted in his blanket. Lorry stiffened.
Lorry felt two tiny hands clutch and dig into her throat. Not just pawing baby hands. Little fingers that reached and explored for the windpipe.
She uncuddled the soft bundle, held it out. There were the eyes. She chilled. No imagination here. No spectre from lack of sleep.
Ancient murder-hatred glowing in new-born eyes.
“Careful, you fool! You’ll drop this body.” A thin piping voice. A shrill symphony in malevolence.
Fear weakened Lorry. She found a chair and sat down. She held the boy baby in her hands. Training would not allow her to drop Baby Newcomb. Even if she had fainted, she would not have let go.
The shrill voice: “It was stupid of me. Very stupid.”
Lorry was cold, sick, mute.
“Very stupid. These hands are too fragile. There are no muscles in the arms. I couldn’t have killed you.”
“Dreaming? No. I’m surprised at--well, at your surprise. You have a trained mind. You should have learned, long ago, to trust your senses.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Don’t look at the doorway. Nobody’s coming in. Look at me. Give me a little attention and I’ll explain.”
“Explain?” Lorry pulled her eyes down to the cherubic little face as she parroted dully.
“I’ll begin by reminding you that there are more things in existence than your obscene medical books tell you about.”
“Who are you? What are you?”
“One of those things.”
“You’re not a baby!”
“Of course not. I’m...” The beastly, brittle voice drifted into silence as though halted by an intruding thought. Then the thought voiced--voiced with a yearning at once pathetic and terrible: “It would be nice to kill you. Someday I will. Someday I’ll kill you if I can find you.”
“Why? Why?” Insane words in an insane world. But life had not stopped even though madness had taken over. “Why?”
The voice was matter-of-fact again. No more time for pleasant daydreams. “I’m something your books didn’t tell you about. Naturally you’re bewildered. Did you ever hear of a bodyless entity?”
Lorry shuddered in silence.
“You’ve heard of bodyless entities, of course--but you denied their existence in your smug world of precise tidy detail. I’m a bodyless entity. I’m one of a swarm. We come from a dimension your mind wouldn’t accept even if I explained it, so I’ll save words. We of the swarm seek unfoldment--fulfillment--even as you in your stupid, blind world. Do you want to hear more?”
“You’re a fool, but I enjoy practicing with these new vocal chords, just as I enjoyed flexing the fingers and muscles. That’s why I revealed myself. We are, basically of course, parasites. In the dimension where we exist in profusion, evolution has provided for us. There, we seek out and move into a dimensional entity far more intelligent than yourself. We destroy it in a way you wouldn’t understand, and it is not important that you should. In fact, I can’t see what importance there is in your existing at all.”
“You plan to--kill all these babies?”
“Let me congratulate you. You’ve finally managed to voice an intelligent question. The answer is, no. We aren’t strong enough to kill them. We dwelt in a far more delicate dimension than this one and all was in proportion. That was our difficulty when we came here. We could find no entities weak enough to take possession of until we came upon this roomful of infants.”
“Then, if you’re helpless...”
“What do we plan to do? That’s quite simple. These material entities will grow. We will remain attached--ingrained, so to speak. When the bodies enlarge sufficiently...”
“Thirty potential assassins... “ Lorry spoke again to herself, then hurled the words back into her own mind as her sickness deepened.
The shrill chirping: “What do you mean, potential? The word expresses a doubt. Here there is none.” The entity’s chuckle sounded like a baby, content over a full bottle. “Thirty certain assassins.”
“But why must you kill?”
Lorry was sure the tiny shoulders shrugged. “Why? I don’t know. I never thought to wonder. Why must you join with a man and propagate some day? Why do you feel sorry for what you term an unfortunate? Explain your instincts and I’ll explain mine.”
Lorry felt herself rising. Stiffly, she put Baby Newcomb back into his basket. As she did so, a ripple of shrill, jerky laughter crackled through the room. Lorry put her hands to her ears. “You know I can’t say anything. You’d keep quiet. They’d call me mad.”
Malicious laughter, like driven sleet, cut into her ears as she fled from the room.
Peter Larchmont, M.D., was smoking a quick cigarette by an open fire-escape door on the third floor. He turned as Lorry came down the corridor, flipped his cigarette down into the alley and grinned. “Women shouldn’t float on rubber heels,” he said. “A man should have warning.”
Lorry came close. “Kiss me. Kiss me--hard.”
Pete kissed her, then held her away. “You’re trembling. Anticipation, pet?” He looked into her face and the grin faded. “Lorry, what is it?”
“Pete--Pete. I’m crazy. I’ve gone mad. Hold me.”
He could have laughed, but he had looked closely into her eyes and he was a doctor. He didn’t laugh. “Tell me. Just stand here. I’ll hang onto you and you tell me.”
“The babies--they’ve gone mad.” She clung to him. “Not exactly that. Something’s taken them over. Something terrible. Oh, Pete! Nobody would believe me.”
“I believe the end result,” he said, quietly. “That’s what I’m for, angel. When you shake like this I’ll always believe. But I’ll have to know more. And I’ll hunt for an answer.”
“There isn’t any answer, Pete. I know.”
“We’ll still look. Tell me more, first.”
“There isn’t any more.” Her eyes widened as she stared into his with the shock of a new thought. “Oh, Lord! One of them talked to me, but maybe he--or it--won’t talk to you. Then you’ll never know for sure! You’ll think I’m...”
“Stop it. Quit predicting what I’ll do. Let’s go to the nursery.”
They went to the nursery and stayed there for three-quarters of an hour. They left with the tinny laughter filling their minds--and the last words of the monstrous entity.
“We’ll say no more, of course. Perhaps even this incident has been indiscreet. But it’s in the form of a celebration. Never before has a whole swarm gotten through. Only a single entity on rare occasions.”
Pete leaned against the corridor wall and wiped his face with the sleeve of his jacket. “We’re the only ones who know,” he said.