Nell Notices the Creases in Doug’s Brow, which used to be only one crease, then two, but are countless now. She, too, dislikes the minister, though she wishes Doug would stop glaring at his sleek face anytime it appears on the TV.
“Shay will be here in 20 minutes,” Nell reminds him. “Hope you’re ready?”
Doug tightens his fist around the beer can. “Coming in like locusts,” he says, smirking as the minister commends fellow citizens for opening their homes to the Peregrines who have fled their bombed city. “It’s going to be a pandemic, I swear.”
“Keep at it, and you’ll soon have a heart attack.” Nell goes upstairs to their bedroom. “We can’t have Shay waiting!”
Barbecuing with Nell’s friends was always fun until their ideas, like their openness, began to baffle Doug — it’s like taking a mongrel for a purebred. They refuse to see the country for what it has become. Can’t one be generous from afar? Does it have to be in one’s home?
Doug tosses the empty can into the recycling container, which clatters to the bottom. He hears someone laughing and swings his gaze around the living room, finding no one. Had he imagined the laughter?
Meanwhile, a Peregrine man is beaming at the minister. There are other Peregrine men, women, and children with similar skin and hair, all looking out of place, almost untamed.
“Bloody —” Doug stiffens because the man’s face is distending, though the minister doesn’t notice.
“Nell!” Doug clasps the edge of the couch as the face oozes out of the screen and plops onto the carpet, shaping itself into a Peregrine.
“Shay will be here any minute now.” Nell’s voice sails downstairs.
Doug scrambles off the couch, but the Peregrine blocks his way and shoves his hand into Doug’s mouth. Before Doug can wrestle with the hand stuffed in his mouth, the Peregrine instantly liquefies and dribbles down Doug’s throat just as headlights sweep through the pines outside the porch.
Doug thuds on the couch, his eyes bulging. He is still for a second. Then, groaning, he gets up.
“Are you OK? You were making such…” Nell’s hands flutter to her lips. She backs up the stairs, almost tripping over, screaming, “Who are you? Get away from me!”
“What’s the matter with you, Nell?” Doug, bewildered, looks up at her.
Nell flicks her eyes around the living room, searching. “W-what have you done with Doug? How did you get in?”
“It’s…” parched, Doug clears his throat. “Listen, Nell…”
“No, stop calling my name,” Nell blurts. “Your face!”
Doug turns at once to the accent mirror on the wall and shudders at the face gazing right back at him. Thoughtlessly, he dashes up the stairs as the front door creaks open, but Nell grabs the vase in a corner of the landing and brings it crashing down on his head.
Doug yelps, thunders down the stairs, collapsing in a heap at Shay’s feet.
About the author
Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike is an assistant professor of English at the University of Calgary. An alumnus of the International Writing Program (USA), Umezurike is a co-editor of Wreaths for Wayfarers, an anthology of poems. He is the author of Wish Maker (Masobe Books, 2021) and Double Wahala, Double Trouble (Griots Lounge Publishing, 2021).