Theresa Rourke Cassidy was screaming and she wasn’t stopping. A salty slick layer of sweat coated her brow and her freckled face was flushed an angry red as she gripped tight the hard mattress of her hospital bed. Any glass in the room had long since shattered and the midwives and doctors milling around clutched painfully at their ears, treading over the translucent shards as her sonic vibrations made their presence known. Their crunch was hidden beneath the force of Theresa’s voice.
The medics backed off, but Theresa refused to stop pushing. She wouldn’t stop, she couldn’t stop, not until she held her baby boy in her arms again.
Recognition seemed to flash through Theresa’s tired mind. Again? No…that couldn’t be right…
All thought left Theresa as she suffered a fresh contraction. She’d never felt agony like it, her prone form suffering like never before. Dark spots danced across her vision like lithe shadows, growing until her eyes were squeezed tightly shut.
Theresa felt fresh hot tears trickle down her cheeks. She didn’t expect someone to wipe them away.
“She shouldn’t have gone through with this,” came the voice of Monet St. Croix, rich with Algerian influence, her smooth unblemished hand brushing against one of Theresa’s cheeks. “I did tell her.”
“An’ that would’ve been wrong, Monet,” Rahne Sinclair shot back, as her own smaller but coarser hand wiped at the other and brushed an errant strand of Theresa’s wavy red hair to the side.
“You left, Rahne,” Monet replied scathingly. “I was the only one she had to turn to. But she wouldn’t listen.”
“Leave Rahne alone, Monet,” came the retort of Julio Richter. “And you’re wrong, she had me too.” He huffed.
“Yes, I suppose,” Monet acquiesced. “Unlike Guido.”
“No fair,” Guido butted in. “I was there as much as anyone else.”
“Don’t listen to her, Guido,” Rahne said comfortingly before her voice took a dark turn and the others joined her. They all spoke in unison. “We all know who’s really to blame…
“Now who’s not being fair?”
Theresa’s eyes shot open, her vision bleary through her tears. She could barely see her teammates, Monet’s dark, perfectly proportioned figure on one side, Rahne’s pale, smaller and lighter one on the other, with Rictor standing next to Monet. But the cold clinically white lighting and Guido’s enormous frame beside Rahne left them as nothing more than stark silhouettes, their faces invisible to her. There was only one figure she could see clearly, ready and waiting at the end of the bed.
Short blonde hair and mischievous blue eyes that always hid something much worse. A little girl too wise for her young body, Layla Miller met Theresa’s gaze and held it.
“Come on, Theresa.” Layla urged her. “When the time came, none of them could help you. But I can.”
“You’re not supposed to be here,” Theresa said, her throat finally hoarse, she could only let out a worried whisper.
“I’m always where I’m supposed to be, Terry.” the girl said. “Trust me. I’m Layla Miller. I know stuff. And we both know that baby needs to come out now.”
Theresa cried out once more as a surge of pain hit her lower body at Layla’s words, but she pushed again as her baby fought to squeeze its way out of her. Her eyes started glazing over. This couldn’t be right, the baby’s head was too big, there was no way it could fit. Her child would suffocate inside her…
Just when Theresa thought the agony couldn’t get any worse, it did. And then suddenly, some sense of relief. Theresa went limp for a moment, as her teammates crowded around. The sweet notes of her child’s wailing reached her as Rahne helped Layla cut the umbilical cord, and clean the little boy.
Theresa sighed as her baby boy saw the world for the first time, and took in the wreck of the hospital room.
“It’s a boy, Theresa,” Rahne said. “A wee little angel…”
Then came the clack of heels on the laminated floor and everyone’s head turned curiously as a woman in a stylish black suit entered the room, the shirt she wore underneath crisp and the same colour as the stale unwelcoming walls. She almost looked like an older version of Layla, the same smug look of repressed knowledge and blonde hair framing her face.
“Just like his mother,” Valerie Cooper said smirking, approaching the bed where Theresa awaited. “Have you decided on a name?”
“Sean. Not that it’s any concern of yours,” Theresa spat. “Give me my baby, Layla. Now.”
“Terry,” Layla said ominously. ”You have to trust me.”
“No,” Theresa said sharply, the fear rising within her again. “Get Val out of here. And give my child, Layla!”
Layla shook her head sadly before turning away from Theresa. Theresa leapt up but her friends shoved her back, Monet and Rahne holding her down as Layla gently handed Sean over to Val, who began rocking the child soothingly. Theresa stared at her with eyes that screamed murder, even as Monet’s hand covered her mouth.
“Don’t worry, Terry. The government will make sure he’s well looked after,” Valerie assured mockingly, as she looked up. “Especially with all his aunts and uncles on my payroll.”
“And what about me, Val? Don’t I get to hold my son?”
“Just the once, Jamie,” Val warned, addressing the brown-haired young man dressed in a trenchcoat waiting at the door. “Then he’s all ours.”
Tears began flowing in earnest down Theresa’s haggard face as Jamie Madrox entered the room, his forcibly tattooed face lighting up at the sight of their child. Monet kept Theresa pinned, even as Theresa tried to bite her hand away. Jamie didn’t even look at her. He was about to kill their child and he wouldn’t know…Theresa was shaking and sobbing, tossing and turning in vain as she was kept painfully in place, her voice muffled.
Theresa’s strength was replaced with sorrow and silence, as Jamie’s hand touched against their son’s bare skin. In the blink of an eye, her child was gone, as Jamie stared down in horror.
“SEAN!!!!” Theresa cried, her voice piercing in ultrasonic pitch, its force bursting out despite Monet’s best efforts, sending her friends flying. Theresa screamed and screamed and screamed, her voice a death knell, until she curled up in the broken remains of her bed, shivering as she wept, ignoring the ruin she had left in her wake. Again and again, she called out for her son. Sean…
“I’m here, Theresa,” came a voice with a thick Mayo accent and a slight American twinge. “I’m here.”
Theresa gasped, her throat strained and sore as her father wrapped his arms around her, and lifted her from the ground. Theresa fell into his chest, staining his checked shirt with the water from her eyes.
“Let’s get you somewhere else,” Sean Cassidy whispered as he stroked his grieving daughter’s hair, the same colour as his own. Gently, he pushed her away ever so slightly, taking her hand as he led her from the room. Theresa stared on in horror as his grip tightened, his face and body becoming ever more skeletal as he led her down a darkening corridor. Theresa fought to free herself, but she was powerless, a shell of a woman. What did she have left?
“What are you on about, Theresa?” the voice of Black Tom Cassidy cackled, his grin impossibly wide as Theresa finally noticed the vines that had impaled her father’s body and drained his life away.
Tom stepped out of the shadows, deathly pale, black hair and beard greasy and drooping like wilted leaves. Theresa stumbled backward, as her uncle paused to reach for her father’s corpse, and snap its brittle bones.
“Don’t worry, Theresa,” Tom reassured, the malice never leaving his pearly white smile, as he crushed her father’s skull under his boot. “You’re just about to wake up. Just remember, no matter what life you build for yourself…”
Tom took slow deliberate steps until he held Theresa’s chin in his hand and tugged painfully, forcing her to meet his wild blue eyes. He gave another little chuckle.
“We’ll always be here to haunt you.”
Because for Theresa Rourke Cassidy, waking up was the worst part.