“Darling, could you check the oven? I think the roast is nearly done.”
Jeb looked up from the paper, his eyes hesitating on his stocks. Ignoring the plunge, he slapped a broad smile on his face and beamed at Darlene. “Sure thing, honey!”
He stood up, stretching; the resounding sound from his belabored spine lit up the mostly-empty room with a series of erratic pops like discount firecrackers. Adjusting his facemask, he stepped over the series of tubes snaking across the floor and footed his way to the oven.
The hermetically-sealed box served little actual purpose – they got most of their nutrients from the daily Protein Strips – but they still used it. Normalcy. Normalcy was important. The Embassy had said to retain all sense of societal autonomy they could afford. And he and Darlene had been trying so hard.
The oven dinged; the duck, even with six extra heads, looked decadent as it bubbled, its phosphorescent green skin emitting a series of gasses that would’ve instantly killed them. Jeb pressed a hand against the glass, his mouth watering; they couldn’t eat it, no matter what.
He sighed. If only he could taste meat once more; if only his teeth had anything to do besides soften the Protein Strips into a pasty gruel.
Somewhere behind him, a sound like wind sucking through a wet tube of flesh pierced the room. The sound of shattering glass quickly followed. Spinning in place, his eyes purposefully avoiding the opposite wall, he saw Darlene bracing herself against the sink; white-knuckled, wide-eyed, a sheen of sweat across her forehead; a dropped dish sat at her feet.
“Darlene, are you al-”
“Jeb. It’s. Back.” Her words were sharp, in-and-out breaths in rapid succession.
Another slap plopped against the window, louder now. This time, he couldn’t help resist the urge; he looked past his wife, at the window.
It was a mistake.
The creature was hideous, pulled from the furthest recesses of his nightmares. Its eyes stood distinctly away from one another on vein-strewn stalks, hanging loose and running freely with a viscous red ooze. A mouth like a bulbous pig miscarriage grinned around jagged, bleeding gums; the mess reminded him of the gristle he’d scrape from the bottom of his boots in the Decontamination Chamber; the streets were littered with living muscle.
A fan of tongues made up the arms and hands, all licking and sucking away at the glass like tiny, hungry dogs. Layers of black fur grew like muted grass along their ridges. They fanned out, moving slowly, giving off the queer appearance of wind, but he knew there hadn’t been wind in months.
Jeb’s eyes followed the trail of twitching flesh up to where a head should’ve been. Fused into the twisted mess, the baseball cap he’d given Tommy for his 10th birthday stood out, a bright yellow against the washed-out sea of color.
The oven dinged again and the beast beyond the window bounded away, its tortured scream a swirling symphony of knives.