KEARNEY, NE—In these oft-troubled times, it sometimes seems like all America needs is a little hope—some miraculous, life-affirming tale of small-town triumph that puts all the pain and struggle into perspective and reminds us of what life is really all about.

One of the McCullough septuplets, the quasi-human product of a fertility-drug treatment gone impossibly wrong.

But such heartwarming joy was nowhere to be found Monday, when the collective national psyche recoiled in utter, abject revulsion at the birth of the McCullough septuplets, seven genetically identical, semi-human monstrosities born to seemingly normal Nebraska couple Terri and Wally McCullough. The freakish result of a fertility-drug treatment gone awry, the grotesque septuplets represent a cruel miscarriage of modern medicine.

From the covers of Time and Newsweek to the nightly network newscasts, the nation is struggling to come to terms with the hellish, sanity-defying existence of these pink, half-formed mutants. The seven scientifically engineered aberrations—nightmarish in their glass-walled intensive-care incubator cubicles, their contorting faces riddled with obscene hoses, straps and pipes, desperately gasping for air as they struggle to survive in this, a world in which they do not belong—have captured the collective, horror-stricken imagination of the world.

Though fertility-drug-induced genetic oddities have occurred in the past, never, in all of humankind's long history, have mortal eyes gazed upon such bizarre and inhuman distortions of nature as the McCullough spawn—the only living septuplets ever birthed, each of them grotesquely derived from a single, unnaturally dividing and re-dividing human ovum.

"How could this have happened?" said Dwayne Montcalm, widower of Dr. Ellen Montcalm, the fertility-drug specialist who took her own life shortly after learning of the septuplets. "What kind of a maddened, blind idiot-god would suffer such demon-spawn to live?"

Though doctors at Omaha Veteran's Memorial Hospital, site of the foul hatching, strongly advised the McCulloughs to consider life-normalizing abortion options, the couple, burdened by a naïve country faith in the superstitions of their fundamentalist Christian upbringing, were forbidden by religious doctrine to allow science to destroy that which it had so foolishly conceived.

Against all reason, in a Herculean medical procedure requiring no less than 40 trained birthing personnel, all seven of the unholy fetuses were successfully delivered. The medical team, their faces contorted with horror under their surgical masks, reported ever-increasing shame and revulsion as, one by one, the tiny, grub-like creatures emerged into the light of day.

"I just kept thinking, 'Good God, there's another one," said Dr. Nancy Feldspar, who bravely removed the first three of the semi-fetal infants—designated "Muto-1" through "Muto-7" by hospital personnel—from their mother's distended abdominal cavity via Caesarean section. "They were born so prematurely that they hadn't really even developed lungs. My last thought was: 'This is just like in that one movie, Alien.' Then I blacked out."

In the end, all seven were given life, despite the tremendous risks such multiple-birth freaks of nature typically face, including: death in infancy; mental and physical disabilities; and severe, lifelong emotional trauma from the unbearable knowledge of the life-altering burden they have placed upon their uneducated and financially limited parents.

Though numerous individuals and organizations have generously donated money, clothing and other items to Terri and Wally McCullough in an effort to minimize the mind-numbing agony awaiting the couple, the scars of this tragedy seem to defy all efforts toward healing.

Said Brianna Ewell, public-relations director for Pampers, which donated a lifetime supply of diapers to the McCulloughs in a show of corporate pity: "That such travesties of the reproductive process could issue forth from a human womb brings to mind mad-scientist scenarios more terrifying than Mary Shelley could have ever dreamed. We must see to it that those responsible for this twisted experiment in human fertility be dealt with as harshly as possible."

President Clinton, his voice quivering with fear and rage, expressed similar sentiment in a personal phone call to Terri McCullough shortly after the mutations' removal from her womb.

"I can only express my most heartfelt sorrow at your tragedy," the president said, adding that he will establish a new Human Reproduction Bioethics Task Force to ensure that "such abominations of God's handiwork never occur again."

It is a hope in which all can share. Perhaps in time, the nation's memory of this mockery of nature will slowly fade, like a bad dream in the early light of dawn. But for the McCulloughs, amid the shrill, half-choked gasps of Mutos 1 through 7 in the chill Nebraska wasteland, the nightmare has just begun.