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Abortion rights under attack!

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  1. The Clearing

    I approached a clearing I’d not visited for many years. The path leading to it is wide and smooth. The trees in this region, right up to those that line the pathway stand so tall and close together that their bare oaky branches intertwine in graceful, thatchy arcs that reach even across the path. The pedestrian finds himself strolling along a bare, covered walkway through the center of a vast pillared room. Very little ground cover grows here–little light filters through the canopy.

    As I recalled it, the clearing itself has a similar quality: that of being an indoor place outdoors, although here sun, stars and moon may illuminate, and signs that this is a lush and beautiful place in warmer times abound. It is (or was) pleasantly garden-like. The slightly terraced topography seems both designed and natural. Even in winter, thick tufts of honey-colored grasses testify to the summer lawn that sleeps underfoot. At the far end, near the foot of twin arms of evenly spaced rises of land, rests a quiet pool fed by a fresh, natural spring which tumbles down the gentle, rocky slope that rises away to the south toward the unseen piedmont, obscured by the same pattern of thickly grouped boles that characterizes this area.

    No view seems clear looking out across the land from this secret dell. Shapes that lie more than ten yards off are shrouded in perpetual mist. More distant shapes may be seen as indistinct silhouettes. Even in winter, a foggy aspiration of moisture rises from the rich soil of the forest floor, where countless autumns’ deposit of leaves has built up a vast bed of nutrient-rich humus that serves as carpet and incubator to many furry and feathered residents. But in the clearing itself one could always count on discovering a few young trees, and in the summer, some healthy young berry bushes: a veritable sylvan nursery compared with the surrounding mature growth. “Pristine” was far too weak a characterization. My recollection of this hidden hollow of natural nurturing bordered on the sacred, as if here lay undiscovered, the secret womb of Pennsylvania’s vast and ancient forest.

    As I approached this potentially idyllic island of comfort I soon became aware of activity and the presence of others, the sounds of their industry working through the muffling buffer of tree trunks. Someone—no, many—were very busy. I heard male and female voices. I was straining to make out the conversation; it had an air of instructions and responses, when a sudden “Whoosh… BOOM!” shattered the relative tranquility. Startled and alarmed, I ran forward into the clearing, where a surrealistic sight awaited me.

    The formerly quiet dell was filled to overflowing with some of the strangest folk I’d ever seen. My first impression was that of a vast scientific research team: all of them wore long white coats or smocks over “business casual” street clothing. Each coat had the owner’s name embroidered above the left breast pocket. Each also had a strange small placard (for lack of a better term) centered on its back. These displayed official looking documents that reminded me of hunting licenses—which in fact, they were. Each person carried a weapon of some sort. None noticed my arrival.
    One of the white-cloaked figures was just lowering a large, nasty-looking, military-style weapon from his shoulder. A thin trail of blue haze poured out of its tube-like muzzle. Looking eastward perhaps forty yards deep into the mist, a small fireball—the remnants of whatever his target had been—was sputtering out in acrid plumes of oily smoke and flame.

    “Got it!” he yelled enthusiastically. In spite of the explosive display, most of the others barely noticed this apparent triumph; however, some few milling about near the shooter politely acknowledged him with staid applause of the sort you’d expect from eighteenth-century English nobility at a croquet tournament. He carried the still-steaming bazooka toward one of half dozen handy arms lockers set up in the center of the clearing.

    An attractive woman in her twenties peered through a large set of binoculars in the direction of the carnage. “Verified,” she said dryly as she made a tick mark in a large notebook that rested on a stack of a few dozen others. “Targeted forest contents have been safely removed.” This announcement was immediately followed by a familiar but distant “cha-ching” of a cash register… and a slightly more enthusiastic round of restrained clapping. She smoothed her white coat and returned to looking over pictures of other, more attractive women hawking underwear and cookie recipes in this month’s “Vanity Fair” magazine.

    The explosion had me a bit rattled. I found myself loudly blurting out in spite of near apoplexy, “What the… who? Tell me? I mean, what on Earth is going on here? Did he just blow up some poor creature?”

    Most of the white-coat army went on about their strange business, apparently without noticing this stammering intruder; however, the young woman put down her magazine and beckoned me to walk over to where she sat on what I took to be an elaborately decorated folding chair. “Yes? May I help you? May I get you a clean coat, Dr…?” She let her voice trail off as her eyebrows arched in classic questioning posture.

    “I don’t need a coat,” I said lamely, “and forgive me, but I’m not a doctor.” I looked around at the strange company. “Do you mean to tell me—”

    “Ka-BLAM!”
    My question was cut off by the deafening report of a twelve-gauge shotgun. I wheeled around to see a white-clad, grey-haired granny of a woman (She could be no younger than seventy, I thought) still aiming the double-barreled gun off into the woods. “Excuse me,” said the young woman as she picked up the binoculars, turned and focused toward the target. “It’s still moving.” She announced a second later.
    “Ka-BLAM!”
    The second load of deadly buckshot flew down line, tearing through what little foliage remained between the target and the shooter. I saw a spray of what I took to be blood—it was too dim to see colors in the woods—and heard “Granny” give a sigh of relief. A fine crimson mist fell on all of us. Some tossed their coats into the pond, replacing them with fresh ones. The tiny body of water was choked with coats and overflowing red ooze. The spring that fed and cleansed it seemed dry.

    Applause. “Verified.” Cha-ching. Applause.

    “…if you prefer, sir. Sir?”

    Apparently, she’d been talking to me for a while. I shook my head. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention,” I said, embarrassed.
    Were I a cold plate of spaghetti, she could not have looked at me with less interest. “I, said, sir, that this area is for medical professionals only. Unless you have credentials, you’ll have to leave; however, I can take a message you might have for any of the staff here, or if you’d like to learn more about NARAL extermination services or if you’re one of those people who is opposed to the idea, you may visit our PR website at nonarals.org, if you prefer.”

    “NARL?”

    “Sir, “NARAL” is an acronym for ‘Not A Real Authentic Life.’ They are not REAL life forms. These things just appear in the woods and get to the outside world via this clearing. Once outside they are a real burden for many people. They’re unwanted and can be best dealt with by extermination.” I must have looked horrified, because she added, “besides, like the name implies, they aren’t really alive,” she said without emotion, but her facial expression took on a distinct air of repugnance. “—excuse me, Sir.”

    Apparently seeing another set-up over my shoulder, she reached for her binoculars again.

    “POW! POW! POW!”

    Applause. “Verified.” Cha-ching. Applause.

    “If they aren’t really alive, why kill them?” I asked.

    She looked at me as if I had lizards crawling out of my nostrils. Then, she wordlessly went back to the magazine and its air-brushed pictures of women whose paid profession is to be physically fit and attractive in spite of maintaining a body weight that barely sustained life. She sighed: whether at the hopelessly unattainable icons of stylized womanhood set as her ideal or at my hopelessly ignorant question; it was not clear.

    An awkward thirty seconds passed in which I began to suspect it was the former, when, without looking up from her reading, she answered: “We exterminate them because they cause problems—I told you already, sir. I know from my own experience. Last summer one was heading right for me. God only knows what would have happened if it had gotten to me. I’d have been ruined—my life consumed by one of those things… and not to mention my figure.” She pulled her gaze from the magazine back to my face.

    Her eyes were brimming. A single tear trickled down her cheek. “Do you have any idea what it takes?” she added, her voice wet with emotion. “I go to the gym five days a week. I eat one small meal a day. It barely helps. Everything I wear makes me look fat” [In fact, she looked underfed to me, and I’m no less a man appreciative of modern American standards of beauty than any other.] “…and it’s not like I don’t have enough to do with my acting career going nowhere and this full-time job too; and Ted (He’s my fiancé.) seems willing to wait forever to set a date; and in the meanwhile I have turned down so many other men, except well, you know how it is when you have to deal with producers: well some are OK, but some want you for only one thing, and it is not for acting—at least not acting in the theatrical sense; and then I’d never be able to finish my degree I started at the community college or write up that idea I have for a book or maybe it could be a television series-or-just-a-special-and-then-there’s-the-whole-responsibility-thing-ImeanwhyshouldIhavetobetheone…”

    Her sentences poured out in torrents.
    Words piled up against one another in a steady stream—no, in a wave of verbiage—so swift, so massive and so dense that I failed to grasp any but the most general sense of it. It seemed that several women spoke simultaneously from the same mouth. At some moments, they almost spoke in unison. At others, they strove against each other not only in syntax but also in purpose: one voice pleading love for the NARL that had threatened her and sympathy for its plight, while another lavished invective that would do any New Jersey construction worker proud.

    I soon realized that although her eyes remained trained on my location, she had stopped focusing on me some time ago. Whomever she addressed, it was not I. I suspected the person she was so desperately trying to convince of… something (I couldn’t say what her point truly was.), was she, herself.

    I looked about, wondering when the many doctors nearby would come to the aid of this strangely stricken young lady, but none paid her even a modicum of attention. Looking back to this poor victim, I saw specks of spittle forming little white dams around the edges of her mouth as it manically spewed the rising flood. Not once did she appear to even attempt an intake of breath. Surely, I thought, she would have to pass out soon; but she kept on at it. She grew visibly thinner as her lungs gave up every trace of air, and she continued on soundlessly. Her skin turned bluish as her eyes widened. Her lips continued mouthing franticly, though no articulate speech, having no air to fuel it, came forth; rather a sickening flapping of flesh and teeth.

    Fearful that anything I would try would make matters worse, I ran to the nearest white-clad form. This happened to be the same doctor who had fired the bazooka moments earlier.

    “Doctor! Please help her! This woman is… well, look!” I shouted as I yanked on his sleeve. Incredibly, he seemed engrossed with cleaning his weapon at the time, and apparently (like everyone else but me) was oblivious to the girl’s sudden fit and dire straights.

    “Pardon?” he asked politely, looking up at me from his work. His gaze then followed my frantic pointing back to the place where the stricken, oxygen-starved woman must by now be slumped. I looked too.

    There, in the same ornate folding chair, sat the pretty young woman as before, calmly reading her magazine as if nothing had transpired.

    I stood stupefied. “Never mind,” I said, barely above a whisper. “My mistake.”

    “RATTATATTA-RATTA-TATT-TATT-TAT!” A fully-automatic M-16 sprang to life at the clearing’s edge.

    Applause. “Verified.” Cha-ching. Applause.

    “Dr. O’Peon,” the man said, extending his hand in introduction. His embroidered coat testified to his veracity. “…and you are…?” he trailed off as I accepted his handshake.

    “Theo,” I said, “Theo Fessenden.”

    “Well, I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Fezziwick,” he said cheerily. “Would you mind helping me get this thing back on its hooks?”

    “Fessenden,” I corrected as I reached in and helped him hoist the massive firearm onto a large metal cradle designed to hold it, “but my friends call me “Theo.”
    With some effort and a few grunts added on my part, the weapon slid into its home in the locker. The locker itself was one of what looked to be a modular set. One could see that over time many components had been added, and its designers anticipated many additions. “This is quite an armory you have here, Dr. O’Peon,” I remarked.

    The array was impressive: a cache equal to the task of repulsing a small army.

    “You can call me Phil, Theo,” he said; “but please, not ‘Dr. Phil.’” We both chuckled: he because of the vaguely humorous reference to the pop psychologist, and I because any pretense for lightheartedness was a relief from focusing on the overall strangeness of my experience. Frankly, had he turned to me, smiled and said, “Oggie-boogie-oogie,” I would have been happy to encourage it all day. Any nonsense, no matter how absurd would be better than giving heed to the steadily growing, awful sense that something was terribly wrong here. I had begun to wonder not so much about the strange contradiction of “killing” these non-living NARAL’s as wonder what these NARAL’s might be in actuality. Thus far, I’d made out only one, and it was dim shadow prior to its obliteration. Still, the sense did not diminish, and for better or worse, I also sensed I should see this through.

    Dr. Phil (I couldn’t help it—how could I not think of him as Dr. Phil, now?) had opened another locker door and was now looking over an array of medieval pole arms wearing the same sort of semi-detached expression my teenaged son wears when he stands in front of an open refrigerator at halftime.

    “I was wondering,” I broached as he withdrew and inspected a steel-tipped quarterstaff for soundness and balance, “what exactly these ‘NARAL’ things might be? I gather they are dangerous. Is there any chance I might get a closer look?”

    “You could borrow the binoculars, I suppose if Angie will let you,” he said without interrupting his work. He quickly paced himself through some sort of martial drill with the weapon, seeming (to my untrained eyes) to move with deadly expertise. The staff whistled and whirled as it flourished around his body and over his shoulder where it came to an abrupt halt in (as nearly as I could tell) the exact position it began. “But,” he crisply added before I began moving off, “It wouldn’t help much. You see, at these distances, it’s impossible to tell exactly what particular object is out there, even with a scope. About all you can make out is movement.

    I spoke the obvious without thinking, “Then of course you know that only NARAL’s are out there, right?”

    It turns out this was by no means obvious, and Dr. Phil stopped his drill to tell me so. “What? Oh heaven’s no… Ted was it?–

    “Theo.”

    “Theo—heavens no! There are plenty of ALF’s: Actual Life Forms out there too. In fact, when an ALF gets to the clearing here, it seems to flail about disoriented for a few minutes, then ‘Lo and Behold!’ it usually turns out to be a small person.” He spoke as though I ought to already know this, but was nevertheless pleased to tell me anyway.

    I was staggered, and not just because this might have been the first time in forty years I’d heard anyone say “Lo and Behold” in a serious sentence. There were people out in this killing ground? “Phil,” I asked him unsteadily, “are you saying that there are people out there with all this firing going on?

    He laughed. It was a good-natured laugh that went well with his disarming smile. I was nearly allayed when he said, “Oh no! Ha. That’s precious!.” He composed himself as he reigned in his mirth. “Oh no, no, Ted, my man. You misunderstand. ALF’s aren’t people—not when they are in the woods. They only become people after they arrive here. And besides, we never target an ALF. We target only NARAL’s. Look, I’m scheduled to deal with one that has been creeping close. It’ll be here in a few minutes. You might want to watch.” He hefted the quarterstaff. “You’ll get a better look then—although the shadow even at the edges still makes it hard for some to see.”

    Nonplussed, I walked silently with him toward the eastern edge of the clearing. The little morning light that managed to sift through the dense stand of trees backlit some small shadowy figure I could barely make out moving slowly against the darker mist behind it. My chest tightened with fear that the creature—if one could call something not living but moving under its own power a creature—might spring at any moment and inflict some nameless misery upon me as another such devil in the dark had nearly done to poor Angie.

    Just as the figure moved into a lighter patch, Phil sprang forward, striking several effective blows with sickening thuds and cracks. The target did not make a sound as it collapsed into a pulpy heap. I was horrified—not just because of the carnage and violence; I’d expected that to a degree, but because still etched in my mind was the brief sight I’d seen as the NARL stepped into the light: that of what looked to me like two dark, sad and very human eyes.

    “Oh my God!” I cried out as the import of what I witnessed worked its agonizingly slow way from my senses to my sensibility. “Phil, the eyes! It had human eyes! That was an actual life! I think we just wiped out an ALF; do you hear me—a real person is dead!” The last twitch of the unmistakable shape of a tiny human hand, bloodied and beaten as it was, stirred. Then it lay still. I felt my stomach lurch and my ears suddenly filled with the echoing of breakers on a stark and barren, stony shore.

    I wrenched my now-watering eyes from the horror of mangled flesh, bone and blood, mercifully obscured by a growing deep veil of shadow, and I forced them onto my companion. His quarterstaff was drenched fully half way up its length. His smock, hands and face were splattered with deepening red patterns that eluded my focus. They swirled and swam before me in blood-red phantasmagoria: like something out of a fever dream or a macabre animated Jackson Pollack painting. My entire field of view undulated in sickeningly slow waves. Although this winter morning was seasonably cold for a Pennsylvanian February, heat waves rose from the clearing floor, bending light and sight nearly to the point of mirage. I was witness to a nauseating dance: an abomination of normal sight, seeing that which I never should have seen.

    I shivered.

    In sharp contrast to my borderline hysterics, Phil projected calm composure as he wiped gore from his face with a stained handkerchief.

    I wondered whether he had heard me. His perfectly calm demeanor betrayed no sign of noticing the immediate horror of my voice and words. I was gathering my energy and my wits (what little I had at the ready: I was by no means able to take stock) to get his attention when he spoke; and his voice conveyed the condescension of a Supreme Court Justice tasked with explaining alternate-side parking laws to a chimpanzee.

    “Really, Mr. Fess—Mr. …ah Theodore—May I call you Ted?” he dripped, “You need to get hold of yourself. This is a medical procedure, after all. I expected you’d realize it involves some blood-letting. Would you scream about murder during an open-heart surgery or an appendectomy? The truly ignorant—a savage—might imagine the thoracic team is attacking the patient, cutting open his chest, peeling back flesh and bone and exposing his heart. Or, a savage might take discarded tissue of a useless and unhealthy appendix to be a container of some portion of the patient’s soul, imagining the patient is diminished by its removal. But you are no superstitious savage now, are you, Teddy?

    “As I already explained, we do not target ALF’s—only NARAL’s. The resemblance these tissues…” He nodded in the direction of the ruin still steaming in the woods nearby. “any resemblance, I assure you, is a mere happenstance of nature. A NARL can no more be a victim of violence than can be an abscessed tooth or an ingrown toenail. Look at it this way… “he began, gesturing in the general direction of the “discarded tissue.” But he did not finish voicing his thought; for as his glance followed his gesture, he suddenly focused, peering hard into the shadows. I looked too and saw barely moving against the darker background another small shadow creeping toward us. Mere inches of the lethal dark zone separated it from the clearing.

    “Holy Sh–!” Dr. Phil shouted as he pushed forward. “There were two of them!”

    My already lagging brain managed to recover quickly enough for me to realize what was coming next—or what would certainly come next if someone didn’t do something quickly. Being the only “someone” likely to act… I found myself between Phil and his prey faster than I would have imagined–or would have imagined, had I a spare moment to imagine anything. In truth, my only thought was that I could not bear to see a repeat performance. It took at least a full five seconds to realize I was already engaged in an active struggle to wrest the deadly weapon from his grasp.

    Those who know me might recognize that my now under-muscled and somewhat over-rested body once housed an athletic physique; however, in terms of physical prowess, my glory days have long passed. For the past twenty-five years or so I’ve lived the relatively sedentary life of a writer: a bit too well rested, a bit too well fed and very much a bit too much the hackneyed image of a middle-aged American male. My heart pounded in my chest and my limbs almost instantly burned with the sensation that sudden heavy exercise forced onto unconditioned muscles. However, where physical form lacked, pure desperation began to prevail, and for the moment I arrested his progress.

    While we struggled the tiny figure crept closer to the clearing’s edge. My hope rose for a moment, but then I saw that its progress was seemingly thwarted, not by Dr. Phil, but by the natural dense growth pattern of the woods. The figure was trying to force its way between two young saplings. A child might easily have thrust through, but this tiny creature was already exhausted from its labor through the forest, and this final barrier represented a travail which appeared to be beyond its ability to survive passing.

    In the meanwhile I weakened whereas my opponent remained strong. He was younger than I and much more fit; and my adrenaline-pumped muscles were failing. I was a sprinter. He was in it for the long haul. But that is not what caused me to cry out in near panic. Our struggle did not (of course) go unnoticed. Many other white-clad forms rushed toward us, intent on removing my hindrance and aid in what looked to become an inevitable act of destruction.

    Looking toward the small, silent creeper, I discovered myself cheering as if I were encouraging a race-horse that I’d bet the farm on winning the Derby, “Go! Go!” I screamed. It managed to force most of its body through the opening and out—out into the relative light of the clearing, but it was caught (for the moment) by its head, the top of which remained occluded.

    I heard someone—a woman I think—instruct another to try drilling into its head before it could disengage. Yet another urged its removal from the clearing, “Push it back first! Don’t let it get out here!” From somewhere nearby came the loud whine of a power drill.

    Many hands laid hold of me and pulled me screaming down to the musty floor of the clearing. “No! Leave it alone! It’s alive!” I tried to shout. But I was so spent from the struggle that it came out a mere croak, inaudible amid the tumult. I had reached my limit: barely a strand was left of my former resolve. I surrendered.

    The throng screened my view of its victim—for this much I was glad.

    Then almost all was silent. A woman emerged from the crowd, holding a small, bloodied bundle.

    It was the same woman I’d seen using the shotgun earlier. As she walked purposefully through the crowd which parted Red-Sea fashion, she smiled (almost tenderly, I thought) at her cloth-wrapped burden until she passed close by the place I remained rooted in near imbecilic shock.

    “Idiot! Fool! Interfering nincompoop!“ She upbraided me, her face suddenly red with anger. “You should be arrested! Have you ANY idea of the degree of sheer misery your rash actions will bring about?”

    Uninterested in anything I might have said in response—what possibly could an ignorant, superstitious savage say to a woman of her sophistication?—she continued on toward the ruddy pool of the once clear spring. Others filed in along side and behind her: a grim procession accompanied by soft, unintelligible murmurings.

    I looked away. I did not want to see this tragedy tossed like just another ingredient into a ghastly soup of bloody discards. What made me look back was the sudden eruption of (what was to me) an utterly unexpected sound: the cry of a small child.

    “My God, can it be?” I asked aloud as I turned back and pulled myself to my feet.

    There standing next to the pool, wearing an ill-fitting garment made from the soiled cloth it had been wrapped in, stood a small person: a child, a toddler (seemingly), barely upright under its own power, looking about itself with hardly a sign of recognition on its face. Except for two red bruises at its temples, the little girl (I knew instantly that she was a girl—how I knew, I still do not understand.) bore no physical mark of the life-and-death struggle she had just miraculously survived.

    She’d made it through after all!

    My heart skipped many beats as tears rolled down my face in warm rivulets. I had succeeded. What was I thinking? SHE had succeeded!

    For the moment I was far too overjoyed—nearly delirious with relief, to consider the strange change that had come over all of those who only moments before were expending every effort to dash the child to bits; however, this respite of my mind from the insanity inherent in this peculiar congregation did not last long.

    Dr. Phil was there, smiling cheerfully and reassuringly at the new arrival. Shotgun granny was gently wiping the last hints of the child’s bloody passage from its unblemished skin. A woman who I did not recognize, but I assume whose voice it was I’d heard earlier, gently stroked the tiny girl’s arm with her left hand, while her right still limply held a portable power drill, its quarter-inch titanium bit still unused and unstained—for now.

    They all cooed and “ooh” -ed over the newcomer as most adults tend to do when introduced to very young children—that is, all of them but the young woman who remained seated in her curious chair, intently reading another publication (It was a paperback romance novel, Pirates of Love, I believe.). She seemed unaware, or if aware, she was determined to remain aloof.

    In the meanwhile, the unfocused expression of the pristine neophyte was rapidly being replaced with cognition. I could clearly see that she was drinking in awareness of her surroundings, looking with specific interest at each face. She fixed upon the young woman, Angie (At least “Angie” is what Dr. Phil had called her, but I was inclined to dismiss him as a fully reliable source of information—at least as names go.)

    Amid more sentimental exclamations (“Oh look! She’s walking! How Darling”) especially from the women, the little girl toddled toward Angie. For her part, Angie kept her eyes fixed on her book.

    Dr. Phil and Dr. “Granny” followed, and soon all three figures were standing next to Angie’s little throne, waiting for her to look up.

    “Ahem.” Granny cleared her throat.

    Nothing.

    “Ahem.” She ventured again. “Alice, dear,” I’m afraid I have some news you might find distressing, but…” she trailed off weakly.

    Alice turned a page.

    “Miss Frost…” Dr. Phil began.

    ”Forrester,” corrected Granny.

    “Miss Forrest,” he continued, “I’m afraid the procedure did not go as planned.”

    Alice did not look up. “No.” she said dryly, her eyes riveted onto her book. “I don’t want to hear it. You’re wrong.”

    “I’m sorry, Miss Fro—Agnes,” but there is no mistake. Truly there is nothing we can do now.

    Alice threw her book with sudden fury. It vanished in the shadow of the wood. “Nothing?” she shouted, looking from Phil to Granny, but never at the tiny form standing next to them. That’s what you said last year, but you fixed it. You did your job. It almost got to me then, and you can not let it get to me now!”

    “It’s not the same this time, dear,” Granny interjected using her most soothing, matronly voice. “you see this one is uninjured and many people have seen her already. We can’t just,,, do what we did last time.”

    “I’m not asking you to do anything!” Alice fired back, nearly barking her attempt to keep her rage at bay. “Just ignore it, like you did the other one before!”

    “It’s too late,” said Phil. His veneer of compassion cracked. “You’ll have to make do. There were two of them. It happens sometimes. Don’t blame us. She is here. She is yours and you’re stuck.” He then looked at me. “We had a shot at doing a partial, but that didn’t pan out.”

    Without another word, both doctors turned and walked away from Alice and her new companion, to whom her gaze finally drifted. The toddler looked back.

    All were silent.

    Minute by minute, the newcomer transformed into the image of an infant.

    Suddenly to my astonished wonder, Alice bent forward and took the girl into her arms. “She’s so beautiful!” she blurted out as her own eyes now filled with tears of joy.

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