The Kincrow Progeny
A Short Story by Kate Krake
She lay back on the table, the thin sheet doing little to take away the cold of the hard metal beneath her. They had put her in the same a gown that all the Facility patients wore – a grey fabric, not cloth, not plastic nor paper, but not unlike any of them. Doctors wore blue, Nurses wore white, Leaders wore red. These observations occupied her mind while they did things to her with their rubbery fingers. She watched them dip their hands into that solution, the liquid drying to a barrier on their skin, expecting the hygienic practice was for themselves rather than for any concern for their patients.
She was in a small room now. She had been in the main hall with the rest of them at first, the sick and dying. On one side of her bench, a man lay motionless except for his breathing. They came once a day to connect him to a machine that pumped and sucked and spluttered through a long clear tube shoved down his throat. He didn’t move, his breathing remained the same throughout. A woman was on the other side, crying quietly for most of her first days. The woman had spoken to her, whispered something in a language she didn’t understand and soon after she was gone, replaced by an old man with a wracking cough and other symptoms of the fever. She didn’t know how many others were in private rooms like the one she was in now. She was unsure precisely how long she had been in the Facility, though she felt time passing by the growing inside her. Their Progeny, her child. Now her time was up.
She squeezed her eyes shut against the glaring lights above her. There were two Doctors, both men, and a Leader. Masks covered their entire faces save a slit to see through. The Leader looked at her with grey cold eyes framed in red and nobody said anything. There was no interest in her as anything other than a biological anomaly. The Kincrow had said miracle, but she still hadn’t decided what it was.
She saw the device; a long handle at one end, and two wide and flat prongs at the other. It felt hard and cold as the Leader pushed it inside her. She gasped against the pressure, more in shock than pain, but she knew better than to actually cry out. All three leaned in close and exchanged looks before making their individual notes on their tablets. One of the Doctors took a thin vial from a cabinet on the wall and drew a clear liquid with a long syringe. He shoved the needle into her arm and she felt a scratching pain followed by a cool sensation around the injection site.
She was sleeping for minutes or perhaps it was hours before she felt a deep movement, like a tightness giving way inside of her. And then the pain came, swelling and drowning, breaking through the fog of the drugs and tearing through her, heavy and inescapable. From a different plain she knew she was writhing against the hardness of the bench, twisted by pain and the agonising pressure, but her body moved without her. She heard their voices through a dream, saw them above and outside – the Leader bent low and ready barking instructions to the others. They made more notes and handed her the instruments she ordered, their excited eyes peering through their masks. She felt the pressure shift and then escalate with excruciating intensity like a dammed river about to burst. After an unknown time, her mind still observing from the far off gloaming, her body convulsed and it slid slowly out of her, smooth and round.
The Doctor carried it carefully to a station by the wall and wiped the blood from its surface, the smooth shell pearly white beneath the gore and red. Sweating, breathless and exhausted, she saw it in glimpses as he worked, measuring and weighing. That would be the last she would ever see of her egg.
The cave was little more than a hollow in the mountain face. She climbed the narrow rocky path in the night, guiding herself as best she could with one hand on the side of the cliff while all she could do was hope the path continued in front of her. The opening was marked by the warm glow of fire, just as they said it would be. Three women were inside; the Kincrow and her two, kneeling around the low flames, their knees bare on the gravely earth. They did not smile as they beckoned for her to come closer to kneel with them. The cave was warm and it smelled like dust under the smoky haze.
She thought of that warmth in the cold room where she now lay, shivering, empty and alone. They would take her now, she knew, test her and fill her with another seed, try and make her do it again. Sooner or maybe later, it didn’t matter, she would be dead.
“What have you heard of me?” the Kincrow asked. Her voice sounded thin and strained, not matching the authority with which she spoke.
“Stories, Madame Kincrow.” Her own voice was little more than the whisper of a frightened child. “Just fireside stories, made up to frighten children when…” she trailed off.
“When there were children still to frighten,” the Kincrow said. “What did these stories say?” The two sat still beside her, their only movement from the black feathers on their cloaks fluttering in the night air.
“They say you take children from their beds, that you make them disappear.” These were the tales she had heard from her parents as a child of the last generation. She still remembered the way her Father sang the terrifying rhymes.
The egg gleamed in the incubation chamber. The room was empty. Machines hummed but the Doctor could only hear the thundering of his own heart. He was not nearly the most important Doctor in the Facility, barely a glint of recognition in the Leaders whenever he addressed them, but he was still good and his skills would take him high, or so they once told him, pave his rise through the Facility. One day he may even dream of becoming a Leader. They were flattering him, he knew. There had never been a male Leader.
There was nothing stopping him now, only himself and the fear. He had to overcome it, he had to act. He twisted the dial to zero and the noise stopped. He paused and listened for anyone coming. The Facility stirred with its usual sounds, the whir and beeps of the equipment, the hum of the air unit cycling through the place. He gave one last look to the door and saw no one. The chamber hatch gave a heavy click and then opened, gliding smooth and soundless. The egg was warm. Sweat moistened his top lip and his hands were clammy. Here it was. The egg he had helped birth just hours before. His Fatherhood.
“Who is the man?”
Her heart was beating so wildly she was sure the Kincrow and her women could hear it. The warmth from the fire that had seemed so comforting when she came in out of the cold was now stifling and tight around her throat.
“Just a boy. A Compound man,” she said. “He was nobody.”
“Somebody enough to sleep with though?” There was no hint of tenderness or kindness on the old woman’s face. She didn’t say anything.
“Men kept giving women seed long after the Incident,” the Kincrow’s voice grew softer. “And in some wombs it took, but never properly grew. Do you know when the last egg was birthed in this State?” Her eyes were suddenly keen and clear as they fixed on her. She shook her head. She had never seen a pregnant woman, only knew what was happening to her from what she had heard in stories from those old enough to remember the final births. Thirty, perhaps forty years? The Kincrow didn’t tell her if she was right.
One of the two placed another branch on the fire. It smouldered before catching, filling the cave with a sweet smelling grey smoke.
“I will protect your child,” the Kincrow said. “But know they will take you.”
She knew it was true but her own safety was nothing. Only her egg mattered now.
He had the egg concealed in the folds of his gowns as he passed through the dark halls. A Leader stopped him in the corridor.
“Why are you in gowns in the common access?” she snapped.
His mind scrambled for something to say when all he could think about was not dropping his precious cargo. “An infirm vomited on me. My uniform is with the cleaners. It should only be another hour or so.”
The Leader gave him a sharp look and then let him pass without another word. He was shaking all over, desperate to get out and on his way. Hatching wouldn’t be long now, two days at the most.
She was aware she was shivering. Her head was still clouded and she forced her heavy eyes open. She was alone in a cold room she didn’t recognise. She couldn’t remember having been moved, she could barely remember anything. She could not be sure if she was dreaming or if it was just her muddy thoughts, drugged and half-awake swirling around in confusion. She saw the boy’s face, the Father whose name now seemed unimportant even if she could remember what it was. He was probably still down there in the Compound, pressed against the next girl and the one after that, the ancient need to procreate still driving bodies together even when it no longer meant anything. No one had him held in cold steel and antiseptic smells. She doubted he was even aware of what he had done. She was long gone from him by the time she was certain of her pregnancy.
She slipped beneath the haze of sick unconsciousness and dreamed. There he was again, his strong body and kind smile, telling her he would love her, he would take care of her. He was with her by the bed, the Father was looking for the child, saying he would take them both away to a safe place.
“I can take the child to a safe place,” the Kincrow had said and she had agreed. Here he was promising the same thing.
“I am the Father now,” he said. His voice was like a shadow at night.
He stood over the sleeping infirm, watching her and feeling the weight of the egg secured in the transport carrier in his grip. It was disguised under rows of black topped sample jars, like the thousands any Doctor was carrying about the Facility, except his were filled with as much of the artificial milk as it would hold. Would any of her face appear on the child? As soon as she was stronger, he knew they would try to farm her like a beast. For one moment he wondered if he could take her too. She was not unpleasant to look at. Her sleeping face was set in a half frown, a wrinkle across her brow, her jaw set. Her hair was growing back in uneven patches. He could be with her, let her Mother the child he was claiming. He reached out his hand and with the back of his finger, landed the lightest touch on her cheek. It was a foolish and dangerous thing to do without the safe layer of the liquid glove. He turned to leave but stopped, something almost like sadness tugged at him.
“I will take the child to a safe place,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
She moved on the bench, her dry and cracked lips parted and she cried out softly. He turned away repulsed by her weakness. The biology of the two who had made this thing didn’t matter. He was the Father now and all that had meant would be his. He would take care of it, raise it. His soft shoes hardly made a sound as he hurried out of the Facility.
She lay back by the fire, her dress raised to her neck and the full roundness of her belly bare. She had expected the Kincrow’s hands to be hard, calloused and coarse with grime, but they were smooth and soft, a warm touch like air she could only just feel. The two sat back, staring from other side of the flames.
“Neither have ever seen a fruited woman,” the Kincrow said.
“How many have you seen?” She asked.
Saying nothing, the Kincrow pressed her hands harder against her belly, moving her fingers around in small circles. She spoke a strange word at the two and one plucked a black feather from her cloak, passing it to the Kincrow while keeping a distance from the visitor. The Kincrow took the feather and with its needle-like shaft, she drew blood from the tip of her finger and begun to sing short notes without a melody. She could not see clearly what was happening past the rise of her breasts but she felt the feather’s end scratch against her belly and saw the Kincrow touch it again to her bleeding finger before she wrote again on her skin, continuing her strange song while the two kept their wide eyed watch. By the time the ritual was complete, the sky was pale, the fire was embers and the two were sleeping. She sat up and looked down at her stomach where small sharp lines marked her in strange writing.
“The child is safe,” the Kincrow said.
She did not understand.
She righted her dust covered dress and hurried to the cave mouth.
“Payment,” the Kincrow called after her, “will be taken when you have the means.”
“Many thanks for your gracious assistance,” she said. She bowed because it felt right and she was already thinking where she might steal coins to pay the crone.
They found her the following morning. The market seller was hollering for the return of his money, but none in the crowd was paying him any attention. All eyes were fixed on the woman, sprawled on her back in the street, still clutching the merchant’s purse. The guards pressed their guns hard to her neck. Her oversized cloak was open and there was no hiding her swelling. By that afternoon, they had her bound and guarded in a private cabin on the Facility train, the kind of car usually reserved for Facility staff. She could not comprehend what the Kincrow had done to protect the baby, but she needed to believe it had worked.
Evening passed. There was a place he knew by the crossroads, an old roadhouse he could reach before dawn. He was not dressed for a long walk. He had barely left the Facility boundaries and his feet were aching in his indoor shoes, his arms and shoulders tight and sore against the cold and the weight he carried. It was too late to turn back now, he could already hear the alarms ringing.
She woke, still cold. Her stomach heaved with hot nausea, every part of her ached inside and out. Sounds had drawn her awake as they moved through her dreams. Alarms were ringing, bells and sirens. People were shouting at her.
“What have you done with it?” said one voice.
“Who are you working with?” said another.
“It’s impossible she had anything to do with it, look at her!” said a third.
She struggled to focus. The face above her was a woman, stern and mean. She recognised the grey eyes of the red cloaked Leader who had taken her egg from her. The Leader leaned in close, a chemical smell on her breath.
“We will find it,” she said. “You cannot stop this.” She moved away from the bed. Three guards were at the door. “Lock her down.”
“The child is safe,” the Kincrow’s words came back to her. Had this been what she meant? Bile rose in her throat, and she struggled to sit up as burning yellow vomit spilled down her front. The Leader and the Doctors left the room and the guards remained.
He stopped, allowing himself a moment rest alongside the deserted highway. The exhilaration of the last several hours had left him. He was exhausted and frozen and still so far from the crossroad. The thought would not leave him: he carried the first egg seen by any human in most of his lifetime. More than likely it would also be the last, but now it was his and he needed to see it again. He lay the milk bottles aside and the egg seemed to glow in the little light from the almost full moon. Just an illusion, he thought. He touched his fingers to the shell surface. The first Father in how long? Once he was far enough from the Territories he would settle into a village, any one, it didn’t matter, and stay hiding until the infant was older. How many would pay him for his story? His miraculous tale, saddened by the death of his wife, left alone with their perfect egg she died bearing in secret in the hills. The miracle child. All power of life would be his. His dream fell quickly and he moved his fingers back to the top of the egg. Was that a crack? A small break, barely thicker than a hair and the length of his little finger had formed. He swore and struggled to his feet. It was hatching. He had to keep moving.
It was long past midnight when he reached the roadhouse. His limbs were numb, his mind equally without feeling. He set the carrier on the floor and searched in the gloom for a light switch. A lot of these abandoned buildings still had their power on. He found a panel of switches and harsh light flooded the place, showing up the room layered in a thick dust with scurried animal tracks marking paths across every surface. He removed his thin coat and spread it on a table. He placed the egg softly on the cloth. The crack was much larger now, a hand span at least. He had expected it to come breaking through the shell like the hatching chickens he had seen when there was still television. This was much more of a clean break, a single line that was making its way around the egg’s circumference. He waited. He checked the taps, discoloured as it was there was still water for when the child came. He wasn’t sure, but he guessed it would need bathing. He thought again about the Mother, perhaps he should have made more effort to move her, bring her just until the child was stronger. He pushed the weak thoughts from his mind. He folded his arms on the table and rested his head watched the crack growing in minuscule increments.
He woke to a sound, a soft crumbling noise. He had not even realised he had been asleep. The egg was open, two perfect halves on his spread out jacket. His stomach knotted. The shell was empty. He picked up one half, it was clean and perfectly dry inside. On the inner surface of the egg were lines, sharp marks like some kind of lettering written in the rusty colour of dried blood. The soft light of dawn came to the crossroads.
The Kincrow looked down into the valley, the small Compound below and all of the stories they told down there. The Facility shone like an alien station, bright and cold and ruling over everything. Her wrinkled lips pushed into a small smile. She did not mind their fear or the songs they sang about her. As the children had grown fewer so too the need for tales to scare them. Now there were no children, not down there, and soon those tales would fade all together. She would still be there, sitting and looking down to that place from her cave and her companions, now three.
Hi! I’m Kate.
I like a lot of different genres though I mainly write speculative fiction.
I live in Brisbane, Australia with my husband, daughter, two beagles and an increasingly populous mob of kangaroos that have taken up residence in my backyard. I think they’re plotting something.
By day, I’m also a blogger, writing about writing and the writer’s life on . By night, I’m typically sleeping.
Welcome to Guessing.
Population: Darkness. Strangeness. Fear.
Walk through streets in a city where things are sometimes not as they seem, where the curious and the monstrous can appear on any corner, where warriors fight, where demons lurk, where ordinary people in ordinary lives might prefer to look the other way rather than turn to see what might be looking back at them from the shadows.
Guessing Tales brings their stories together.
Guessing Tales is a collection of short stories, serialised fiction and other tales written by Kate Krake. Each story takes place in some corner of Guessing, a sprawling metropolis that lives and breathes as much as any of her inhabitants. Each story and serial can be read as a standalone complete work, however some overlap of character and incident links some stories.