Everyone on Earth was pregnant except for little Jolene. The men were pregnant, the dogs were pregnant, the secretaries were expecting any day now. They were green, they were glowing, they were practicing breathing in an obnoxious fashion.
At the same time, everyone on Earth went into labor and delivered healthy babies and carried them around showing off and complaining and yacking. The only good thing about this was that now, not a single person was pregnant.
But they were all still Special and gloating and pretentious and annoying and the men carried little kidney stones in clear plastic cups to show off their tolerant pain (wasn't so bad a'tall, whatever have women always complained of!) and called them all little schnookumsies. Maybe it would have been best if everyone had died in that war instead of getting mysteriously pregnant and calling it off.
The babies were getting bigger.
No one was pregnant but they liked to show off their scars.
"Jolene? Hey! Look at that! Jolene, you're pregnant, aren't you? How swift and miraculous. It's about damn time, girl. We all wondered why you were so special."
Jolene patted her extended stomach and smiled at the secretary.
"Pretty soon you'll understand everything, just like we do."
Jolene patted her stomach and smiled.
There are some things you can fake. Being followed by the FBI and labeled Special are not one of them. Jolene, the anomaly. Why her?
And now this Mysterious pregnancy of hers, after she managed to avoid the alien peer pressure of spontaneous conception the first time around—who was the father?
Who were any of the fathers? Particularly the men and the half-human puppies?
But Jolene was under Suspicions for being slow on the uptake.
Jolene attached the tube to the small hole and turned the valve and watched her belly grow. Night after night she expanded the empty cavity of her womb. Oh, sad womb. Empty womb.
She could be pregnant forever. Which also meant never.
People said they were happy. They were happy. Go forth and procreate, they remembered the Bible, and thoughts of God intervening in their war finally made them happy. It meant there was a higher purpose and no one was jacking them around.
"I never wanted this baby."
But that was a secret. They could say it now, so long as the children's eyes were small and their brains didn't comprehend the words of their language, only the sounds.
"If only it could have stayed a baby. They need more care and thought as they get bigger."
"There will soon be too many big people on this planet."
"No one's been pregnant since the Population Explosion that ended the war."
"And no one has died."
"The undertaker is starving. He wants to eat his child."
"His child is eight and gave birth to a strong boy. A strong boy to take over the family business."
"Isn't keeping undertaking in the family like being in a caste?"
"I pity them."
"They should be pitied."
Jolene attached the tube and turned the valve and watched herself inflate.
It would be suspicious if she never gave birth.
Jolene's doctor had once told her she could never get pregnant and he was right, even when there were supernatural forces at work, he had been right and it was like he cursed her. I curse you, Jolene, to never be special (to always be special), I curse you that you cannot live like the others.
The other babies were growing large and crawling and standing and most of them were quite fat and none of them had died of marasmus or other baby diseases.
There were some people who went into their basements and whispered into the dark cement blocks: I haven't fed my child why does it grow why can't it die mysteriously like my real child died ten years ago? I don't know if I like it that God is suddenly on our side with no word of why.
Married couples and couples with children were doubly, triply cursed. Women had given birth, men had given birth, babies had given birth to extreme miniatures of themselves.
The creatures that were growing up and growing fat were all miniatures. No DNA had been added. They were exact replicas.
Idiots birthed idiots. Geniuses birthed geniuses. Food dwindled. People cried.
Jolene decided to give birth. It would be better to be a curiosity than to be the pregnant freak.
"Your womb is nice and large, but these arms will cut you to pieces. Have you considered a cloth doll? We could exchange it later."
"I prefer realism."
"I'm sure you do."
"Cloth would stain."
"Babies aren't supposed to be pretty."
"Please put it in."
"When it comes out like this, it will hurt. Probably kill you. Don't you want Caesarian?"
"Fine, remove the arms and legs. But as the baby comes out, you'd better put them back on so fast no one notices. And put them on the right way. I don't want to go explaining a backward freak baby or one with a foot coming from her shoulder."
The plastic doll was implanted in her womb, the arms and legs wrapped in silicone and placed separate. So they wouldn't be lost. To be retrieved in a hurry.
The miracle children held conferences in diapers and passed out weapons in bottles, in toy trains, in teddy bears. So many children, they had to attend mass daycares. So many working parents. No orphanages could handle the influx. Babies must be fed. Your neighbors all have children. You all have children. Deal with it.
The miracle children had signals: goo goo. It was trite and old-fashioned enough, no one would question. They had signals: poopy diapers, on command. Who thinks a poo could have ulterior meaning, could hold hidden messages swallowed two days prior with the mushy peas?
The caregivers were exhausted. Please, God!
Please, God, what?
Please, God, war, please, God, take me, please, God, help.
Yet no one died. They would all be around to see—
A miracle birth.
A true miracle, it seemed, not an intervention. A news crew sent a camera and Jolene said okay but stand back and please turn away if I scream I'm not strong.
It was on every channel. Jolene's birth.
Everyone stopped to watch.
No, please, God, not another baby.
The miracle children stopped to watch. They had many plans, but they also had heard rumors—of a child to come, to replace them.
The miracle children were so young, they did not believe in themselves. They knew why they were there, they understood all too well. Then they heard the prayers of their forefathers and knew it was nearly time. Yet, the miracle children were so young, they did not believe in rumors that started outside one's DNA, and came through the ears. Wholly unreliable, those ears. But… where did truth come from? There was no truth within, only orders, only needs. And so then all truth had to come from outside the ears.
That was the meaning of faith, wasn't it?
Jolene screamed and the doctor popped the plastic arms onto the bloody torso. It hurt. She'd understood that this baby of hers would be less malleable than a real baby, but she had to do it. She screamed again and the camera had to turn away and she heard the pop pop as the doctor attached the legs and proclaimed it a girl congratulations!
Jolene named her little girl Congratulations. It was a sound she wouldn't forget. Every person on Earth said it to her, with a haunted look in their eyes and a forced smile.
Oh please no not you, too.
Congratulations was well bundled up and Jolene the attentive mother would not let anyone else hold her.
They only asked because they were supposed to. They were very relieved not to. Their own children were growing heavy.
Jolene knew, no matter what, Congratulations was too light. But with a cute hat and a pacifier, you couldn't tell so easily from across a busy street.
Hysterical and crying, a baker rushed out of her bakery still wearing her hat her apron her smile and someone's blood. "I did it I did it I killed my baby couldn't take it anymore and inside it wasn't mine it was a fish and it was filled too with scales and caviar and I did it I did it I'm free kill your childrennnn!"
It was the signal. One of the humans had reached the last straw and it wouldn't be long for the others; they were all too similar.
The miracle children descended on Jolene's apartment to start with her baby, the baby that was to supplant them all, and they did not want that. Rumor or not, that baby was not one of them. It had to go.
You had that baby on purpose! We are the happy accidents!
Jolene opened to the knock.
The baker stood there, covered in dried blood. "I must kill your baby."
The miracle children crawled through the open door, bypassing Jolene and the baker and their polite conversation. It was too early in their development to be walking unaided. Some had bouncy seats and some had horses on wheels, but most crawled.
They set on Jolene's baby.
"It hurt to give birth, what do you think you're doing?" Jolene asked.
The miracle children could not seem to kill Jolene's child. This peeved them. They turned on each other with plastic hammers that went squee.
There was an ultimatum. The miracle children returned to the ocean and shed their skins and most weren't killed outright because it was all too suspicious and difficult to kill a miniature of yourself.
The baker never again stopped crying, happy as she was.
Everyone thought Jolene's baby was the true miracle. It never grew.
They wouldn't get close enough to examine it. They'd had their fill of miracles and babies.
Jolene was the only human to ever give birth after the Universal Day of Birth, and she did it twice, once of her own accord, and once via natural means. This may have been how the dinosaurs died out. A population explosion followed by curbed sexual appetite.
And Once There Was A Myth. The rumor that had circulated amongst the miracle children and caused them to attack Jolene's fake baby. That there would be a true Miracle to supplant them.
That Miracle had already been born when the Population Explosion happened, had lived eight years. Who looks amongst the already-living for a rumored supplanter? The Hated should always come After, not Before. What a jip.
She was a miracle because, just like Jolene, she had not actually given birth to a strong boy to take over the undertaking business (a well-placed rumor). She had avoided the pressure to birth, somehow: her spirit, her flesh. She lived simply and helped her father raise the small demon that had ripped out of him without an Excuse Me.
The others hated themselves out. They started to die. Everyone started to die because they all forgot to live, except the one.
This child married Jolene's second child to protect him from the mobs and ill wishes. And when the time came, when she was eighty or a hundred, the undertaker's daughter finished burying the Last Person. Everything was very quiet. And dark. Just the way it should be.
Jolene's second child: the Last Person.
The undertaker's daughter buried him.
Maybe she would miss him.
But she didn't have to be alone. She went back inside and picked up Jolene's first baby, the one with the cracked plastic skull who had survived so much and refused to grow up, to lose its faith, or to become jaded. She cradled that baby as if it was peace itself. Maybe it was. Because the wars had finally stopped.
The baby started to grow.