The nursery was crowded with the excited burble of young children. Miss Keen, the nursery intendant, had been on shift for the last 12 hours. Her skull felt like an apple in a vice, though thanks to a few white pills the jaws had stopped closing an hour ago. Her assistants had called in sick for the second shift, or just not answered her pages, and she had had no choice but to be there for a full double.
Both classes had been hellish, the children could sense her discomfort and saw it as weakness. The memory of ancient documentary footage showing an elk being torn to shreds by wolves flashed through her head and she shivered.
“Miss Keen! Miss Keen! Brad is being mean!” a little girl screamed as she ran at Miss Keen. The girl’s face was a red mask of dripping blood, an eye dangling from its socket to swing with each pounding step.
Keen froze, her pain expanding into a metal chrysanthemum scraping the inside of her skull, as her eyes locked on the charging figure. The girl collided with her leg, the ruin of its face slapped wetly into her thigh while tiny arms locking her leg in place.
“He said I was ugly!” The creature looked up at Keen, a strand of blood and pus trailing from her empty socket to Keen’s leg. “Do you think I’m ugly?”
Miss Keen’s hands were trembling as she wrenched the beast from her body and pushed it away. There was a wet thud as Miss Keen shivered, the taste of bile sliding across her tongue
“Miss Keen?” a girl’s voice pushed through her shock as a hand gripped her shoulder. Miss Keen blinked and looked to the hand and followed an arm into the concerned face of a 14 year old girl.
“Miss Keen, are you OK?”
Gone was the creature, the blood, the hanging eye of judgement. All that remained was the dull thud in her skull.
She shook her head, trying to clear the pain and make the nursery come back into focus. The place was relatively quiet now as it was late and most of the colonials had picked up their offspring.
“Yeah, I’m fine, I think I’m just a little tired. Ceril! Ceril!” Miss Keen called to the room. A tousle haired 8 year old turned from a paint smeared esil with a smile. He wiped his stained hands on his tiny overalls and ran to Charlotte.
“Time to go kid,” Charlotte said as Ceril put his hand in hers. He gave a little wave to Miss Keen before both of them left the nursery.
Keen walked to the easel and looked at the picture Ceril had been working so hard on, the screaming figures, the burning hab unit, the smiling face mouthing the word “kill.” She narrowed her eyes and put her finger on the paper. It was warm, wet, and there was a smell she couldn’t give a name to.“Just need some air...”