One month after Zooey’s dead husband returns and makes love to her like never before, her period fails to arrive on time. Nor do the next eight weeks bring even a smidgen of latent blood.

Fancy that.

All those years spent trying to create a child, and nothing—but make love to a ghost one time and next thing you know, her womb begins to tick with proto-life.

Of course, no matter how many ept sticks she pees on, the results are inconclusive, nor are the doctors down at the clinic particularly supportive, dismissing every one of her symptoms, from the morning sickness and growing tenderness of her breasts, to her swollen abdomen and weight gain, to the absolute sense of quickening life within her—a soccer baby, if its uterine kicks are any indication—as spurious.

“You have, we believe, what is called phantom pregnancy,” they try to tell her.

“Yes. Yes,” she insists. “My husband—like I told you, he was lost to me over a year ago when his car went over an embankment and he drowned, unable to free himself from his seat restraints. But somehow—and I know this sounds crazy—he was able to come back and give me the child we always wanted.”

“Again, our sympathies,” says the ob-gyn. “But you’re not really pregnant, Mrs. Geisel. You just believe you are and your body’s responding. It’s a little like the placebo effect, where mind dominates over matter. Or in your case, the corpus luteum.”

Should she tell them about the river water soaking her bed on the night in question, or how her husband’s kisses tasted of mud? Clearly, trained as they are in matters of the flesh only, they are pre-conditioned not to understand.

And so she just leaves, on the way home, picking up a book on fetal nutrition. Immediately she stops taking her migraine medicine and adds folic acid to her diet. Fish is also out—no sense poisoning baby with mercury, while spinning, she reads on the web, will help build cardiovascular reserve for both mother and fetus, and can be tolerated well into the third trimester.

At work, over the next several months, as she begins to show more and more, she’s treated sympathetically by the sisterhood, but does not dismiss rumors of artificial insemination; soon, forty pounds heavier, and leaking milk like a guernsey, she arrives at her planned leave of absence.

It’s a little different now, her nights, watching the moon approach its gibbous phase, ballooning out ghostly white.

Never again, however, despite all her wishes, does her husband make a follow-up appearance. But not much later the first aura returns, the scintillating scotoma that always used to precede her migraine attacks—except this time the light field is, well, baby-shaped. With definable arms and legs, but no penis. A girl child.

And then her head begins to pound. Savagely, as if there’s something trapped there, beneath the glistening membrane of her skull.

If she ever gets out, by those who can see her, she’ll be called Minerva.


Robert J Borski has stories appearing in Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and Star*Line. He describes himself as a late-blooming child prodigy and lives in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Other works by Robert J Borski