Marien Reed brushed her hair off her forehead and smeared flour on her nose before returning her focus to kneading the dough on the countertop. Her seven-year-old son, Stuart, dashed past her and bumped her leg.
“Sorry mom!” His voice was already distant at the other end of the hall. His small feet pattered down the steps and out to the garden.
Marien shook her head with a smile and went back to her baking.
Dr. Warren Reed entered the kitchen a moment later, his nose in a book as he walked. Even in his preoccupied state, he kissed Marien’s cheek and then sat at the table with a cup of coffee.
“What are you working on so early in the morning, dear?” Marien asked and tried to lean over to see the book title.
“Oh, just some medical studies. You’d be bored to tears by the details.” He gave her a smile, but his attention was fleeting.
Marien peered over the edge of the page anyway and saw faded words typed in neat lines. In the margins were handwritten notes. She made out the words ‘mutated blood cells’ before Warren closed the book and set it on the table. He took a sip of coffee and smiled at her again.
“What are you baking, my love?”
Nurse Lillian Jacobson pushed through the door to the lab, her eyes on her clipboard. “Dr. Reed, I need you to sign these release forms and the patient in room seven is ready for you.”
Warren jumped and the vials of blood he’d been trying to place carefully into a chest of ice jostled together. He blew a breath through his nose and tried to keep his face calm when he looked over his shoulder at Lillian.
“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to disturb you.” Lillian’s cheeks flushed, and she gripped the clipboard tighter. She glanced at the vials of blood, but didn’t ask. She held out the clipboard to him.
“Didn’t disturb me. My mind was elsewhere. Nothing to be sorry for.” He laid the vials down and tucked the lid shut. He grabbed the clipboard and scrawled a quick signature. “Thank you. I’ll be with the patient in one moment.”
Lillian nodded and smiled shakily before leaving the room in a hurry.
“Did you hear that, mommy?” Stuart said. He stared out his bedroom window, the bedcovers pulled up to his chin.
“What’s that?” Marien turned away from the door and glanced out the window. “Hear what?”
Stuart didn’t answer right away, his eyes wide. “There it is again!” He ducked lower and pulled the blanket higher until his eyes were the only thing Marien could see below his tuft of brown hair.
Marien frowned and stepped closer to the window. The only thing she’d heard was the howl of the wind, but when she got closer to the glass, she noticed the trees weren’t moving… which meant there wasn’t any wind.
But Stuart didn’t need to know that.
“It’s just the wind, honey.” Marien pulled the curtains closed and bent to kiss his forehead again. “Don’t worry. Get some sleep.”
“Okay…” Stuart didn’t sound convinced.
Marien pulled the door shut behind her and hurried down the stairs to find Warren. As she entered the kitchen, he walked out of the hall from the back door and wiped his hands on a towel. She couldn’t see what he was cleaning off.
“Warren!” Marien gasped, the fear getting the better of her.
“What is it? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Warren tucked the towel into his back pocket and pulled her into his arms.
“There’s something making strange sounds in the yard. Did you see what was out there?” Marien gasped against his shoulder.
Warren tensed against her. “Strange sounds? What do you mean?”
“Like a howling. Or a scream.”
“Hmm… No, dear, I didn’t see anything. But it was probably just dogs. I’ll check again before we go up to bed, all right?”
Marien sniffed and forced back her tears. “Okay. Thank you.”
Warren patted her cheek and retreated down the hall.
Marien set plates on the dining table and glanced around.
“Stuart!” She’d called him several times already, and he hadn’t appeared in the room. “Stuart, where are you?”
Warren entered the room, a book tucked under his arm. “What’s the matter, my dear? I heard you shouting from upstairs.”
“Stuart. He must be out in the yard, and I need help setting this table so the roast doesn’t burn. Could you go out and find him, please?”
“Of course.” Warren set the book on his chair and left the room.
He walked down the hall and out into the back garden and looked around for his son. He wasn’t anywhere to be seen, however, and so Warren set off to check around the side yard. But as he neared the storm shelter door, he had a sinking feeling in his gut. The door was ajar; the chain pulled to the side.
“Stuart?” Warren called and quickened his pace. “Stuart, are you in there?”
“Da-” A growl and squeal cut the answer off.
Warren sprinted the last few feet and threw the door wide.
The creature at the bottom of the stairs whimpered at the sudden light and cowered back to its corner. On the way, it dropped the small form of Stuart to the ground, where blood gushed from a wound in his throat.
“Stuart!” Warren took a few steps down the stairs, but had to stop himself before getting within reach of the creature. He groaned and pressed a hand to his mouth.
The creature blinked dumbly up at him and bared its bloodstained teeth in a low growl. It snapped its jaws and lunged to the end of the chain before retreating into the shadows again.
“Warren? Is he out there?” Marien walked around the house and stared at him.
“Marien, no. Stay back!” Warren felt tears spring to his eyes, and he looked from his wife down to his dying son.
“What are you talking about? What’s going on?” She approached him, her skirts swishing around her ankles.
“Marien, please…” Warren whined, but then sank down to the top step and dropped his head into his hands. It was too late.
Marien stopped right behind him and stared over his shoulder into the storm shelter. Her eyes moved from Stuart, to the creature, to her husband, and then back to Stuart.
“What is this, Warren? What.. why is Stuart.. Warren! What have you done!”
“I was just trying to cure him…” The doctor wouldn’t raise his head. He didn’t want to see the look on her face.
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