Husk

Sarah Zisek

The world, as Jeb saw it, was dark. Wrapped in the security blanket of the husk, he had never seen the light of day. It peeked through cracks from time to time—enough to warm his golden skin with the penetrating radiation. Jeb knew the day would come when he would finally get to see more than a sliver of the world, but that time was not now. He would wait his turn patiently, as the rest of his kin had and would into the future.

For the majority of his life, Jeb had heard the horrors of the outside world from his warm, enveloping home. The screams of terror when those developing around him were torn from their skin, blistered by the ever-present sun, or hacked to pieces by copious numbers of insects were common enough that he had developed an indifference to them—the shrieks and sounds of bones cracking were merely instruments, playing their melodies in the soundtrack of his life. Jeb was aware of the impending doom that was his future, but he chose to ignore it. The inevitability of suffering and death would not put a damper on the current moment, as he still had some time left.

The whispers from the others indicated that Jeb’s time was near. Their eyes had been uncovered fully, revealing the realities of the world that those still enveloped could not see. Soon, they told him, he would emerge; he would be given the gift of sight that every child longed for. It was almost bittersweet for Jeb, as he knew vision was indicative of his impending doom inching ever closer. However, he hid his fear behind the illusion that maybe, just maybe, he could avoid the eventual void that all would one day enter.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Jeb was able to see what the others had been describing. His green blanket, wrapped around him from birth, was peeled back, revealing a lush landscape filled with hues of colors he had never seen before. What the others had whispered through the long nights was finally clear. Jeb could see the others, both those given the gift of vision and those still hiding in the darkness. He saw creatures roaming the fields around him, playing with young ones in the dirt. It was glorious, beautiful, more than he could have ever imagined. This, he thought, is why they always said the sight was a blessing. Jeb wondered, however, why it was also described as a curse.

Moments after his inquiry, Jeb’s question was answered with a sudden horror. The creatures, who had once seemed so peaceful, began to rip the children from the ground, leaving their organs exposed to the air as they withered away into the void. They moved on to the others, the ones that had whispered to Jeb since his beginnings, peeling their skin from their bodies as they collected them. The screams were something Jeb had been used to hearing, but the sight was different. The sight showed the agony on the faces of the living as they were viciously abused and murdered, the fear within the eyes of both the young and the old. It was a curse, not a gift. A curse that Jeb wanted to end.

His once minimal fear of the end was now exaggerated to unimaginable heights. The ever-present comfort of the radiation beating on his skin could not eliminate the fact that Jeb felt cold, like the ice layered underneath three feet of snow. As the creatures came closer, their bony appendages mercilessly ripping his colleagues away, he closed his eyes. Jeb didn’t want to see anymore; he wanted to be blinded as he once was within the comfort of his husk. As he felt himself ripped from his skin, he too let out a shriek of fear and terror. Looking at the golden kernels of the whispering others, their eyes laced with horror, his vision faded and he sank into the void.