The Villagers

by Kieran Mundy

edited by Kait Heacock

During the first game, I was a villager. My boyfriend’s little brother was a werewolf. When he found me hiding in the pantry, he tapped on my shoulder and I fell, silently, like they’d told me to. I lay against the cold tiles until my boyfriend’s sister discovered me.

“Dead body, dead body!” she screamed. The lights turned on. Everyone rushed to the kitchen. They all exclaimed. My boyfriend nudged me and said it was time for the town meeting, to deliberate and vote on who the werewolves were. I stayed dead for a moment longer than I needed to. The voices of my boyfriend’s family frothed in my head like foam around a mouth. I could smell a lemony cleaning product on the tiles. My eyes were heavy. At dinner, I drank lots of wine.

It was my first time meeting my boyfriend’s family. I wasn’t nervous, but I was drowsy. I’d been losing sleep, staying up and thinking about all the things I could do if I wasn’t so tired. Two years ago, I was bitten by a tick. The tick gave me Lyme disease, which flared up every few months in bouts of fatigue.

On the drive to my boyfriend’s parents’ house, I hit a dog. This was the first thing my boyfriend said to his father when we arrived.

“We hit a dog,” my boyfriend said as his father shook my hand.

“It lived,” I said quickly, because when my boyfriend got out to check on it, he’d told me it had.

“That’s terrible,” my boyfriend’s father said.

My boyfriend’s father was shorter than my boyfriend but more muscular. He had a goatee and wore a tight sweater. It was black, a V-neck. The house was modern in a West Coast-y way—open floor plan, suede furniture. Abstract paintings hung on the walls, the colors thick and churning.

“Come in, come in,” my boyfriend’s father said. “You must be exhausted.”

I was. I thought I might cry with relief, hearing a stranger say it aloud. My appearance suggested that I was generally well. It was important to me that people knew I wasn’t. That people knew that what I was, really, was sick. I was so grateful for my boyfriend’s father’s sympathy for my condition, I forgot that you must be exhausted was what healthy people said to other healthy people after any kind of travel.

“Thanks,” I said. “The medication doesn’t always work all that well.”

My boyfriend’s father squinted.

“From the drive, I meant,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “Yes. The drive.” I blushed and apologized.

“But also that,” my boyfriend said to his father, jumping in. “Also what she just said. Don’t apologize,” my boyfriend continued, turning to me. He rubbed my back. “You don’t have to pretend around us.”

My boyfriend was very supportive during my flares. We’d been together for eight months and I was tired during half of them, but he cooked me meals from a book called “Foods that Fight Fatigue,” made sure I was well hydrated, researched supplements I should take. Whenever something slipped from my mind—a word or a date or what I was going into the bathroom for—he told me. The fog came and went. Sometimes, it felt like wet cotton balls were stuffed into the folds of my brain.

He was always telling me that he didn’t want me to pretend. It upset him when I acted better than I felt. I thought it a strange word to use. Pretend. It brought to my mind a kid costumed in their parents’ clothes, feet drowning in shoes that were too large.

We sat down for dinner at a glass table: me, my boyfriend, my boyfriend’s father, my boyfriend’s little brother, my boyfriend’s sister, and my boyfriend’s sister’s boyfriend.

My boyfriend’s mother wasn’t there.

“She’s in bed,” my boyfriend’s father explained in the same voice one might use to talk about the weather.

“Such a shame,” my boyfriend’s sister’s boyfriend offered mildly. Everyone mumbled in agreement.

I was disappointed but not entirely surprised. My boyfriend spoke of his mother rarely and when he did, he talked only of how she wasn’t well. How’d she’d never been well. From what I’d been able to gather, she’d spent most of his childhood drifting in and out of health.

“She’s just weak,” my boyfriend told me when I first asked. “Her body isn’t right.”

I pushed for more. He got quiet. Naturally, I was curious. His mother seemed like the kind of woman whose personality was that she was sick, the kind of woman I was afraid of becoming. But I didn’t want to upset him.

When I asked if I’d meet her during our visit, he told me that he never knew when she’d be in one of her spells.

We started dinner by passing around trays of steaming meat.

My boyfriend’s father told me I had a choice of lamb shoulder soaked in a veal marinade, or duck breast topped with red currant jelly. The sides, he went on, pointing, were sweet potatoes, wild rice and kale casserole, and cider-glazed Brussel sprouts with bacon.

“The special guest,” he said, sweeping his arm out across the table, “chooses first.”

I chose the duck. We ate. Everyone exclaimed loudly over the food.

“You’ve done it again,” my boyfriend said.

“This meat,” my boyfriend’s sister said, stabbing a chunk of it with the tip of her knife. “It’s so tender.”

“Juicy,” my boyfriend agreed.

I chewed slowly. The duck was rubbery against my tongue, tasteless. The Brussel sprouts were burnt. I tried not to cringe as the char flaked off and stuck to my teeth. My boyfriend’s family helped themselves to seconds, then thirds.

“I’m close to bursting!” they announced, forking food into their mouths.

“It’s nothing,” my boyfriend’s father kept saying as they fawned. “Nothing at all.”

I tried to keep my eyes open. My joints throbbed beneath my clothes. My boyfriend reached over and put his hand on my back. I knew he was glad to have someone to bring home. I was glad, too. We were beginning to give ourselves to each other. He’d even started to call me “his girl.”

As we cleared the dishes and prepared for dessert, my boyfriend’s father suggested that my boyfriend go say hello to his mother—before it was too late. My boyfriend’s father turned to me.

“We don’t want to overtax her,” he told me. “You’ll probably want to stay down here.”

“Oh,” I said. “Of course.” But I followed my boyfriend to the bottom of the stairs.

“Are you sure I shouldn’t meet her now?” I asked. “I wouldn’t want to be rude.”

This was true—it was important that my boyfriend’s family liked me, especially his mother—but I also felt I had to see it, the mysterious nature of her illness, with my own eyes. I wanted to know what it looked like to be a woman that sick.

“I wouldn’t want to be rude,” I said again.

“It’s not rude,” he told me, starting up the stairs. I stood at the bottom and watched him go. My boyfriend was more attractive from behind. He was lanky, really, but the way his t-shirt stretched tight across his shoulder blades made him seem burly, like the kind of man who could crush my torso with his, if he wanted to.

I walked back to the kitchen and dried plates with my boyfriend’s sister.

“Is it always like this?” I asked. “With your mother?”

“It comes and goes,” she said.

When my boyfriend came back down, we ate dessert: lemon meringue ricotta cheesecake. The meringue was spread on thick, five inches high. It jiggled as my boyfriend’s father brought it to the table, the way thighs do.

Halfway through, my boyfriend’s little brother let his fork clatter against his plate.

“Oh my god,” he said. “We have enough people for the game.”

My boyfriend’s father looked around the table, chewing slowly.

“You’re right,” he said. He swallowed. “We do.”

“What game?” I asked.

“Villagers and Werewolves. It’s something we do at family gatherings,” my boyfriend said. “Thanksgiving and stuff.”

My boyfriend’s little brother said it was their favorite game but they hardly ever had enough people to play. Now, with me here, the numbers were just right.

They explained it to me.

It was played in the dark. You could either be a villager or a werewolf. There were always two werewolves, and everyone else was a villager. It was a secret, who was what—roles were assigned by picking a card that told you what you were.

“We made our own deck,” my boyfriend’s father said proudly.

The werewolves won if they killed off the villagers. The villagers won if they guessed correctly who the werewolves were before the werewolves destroyed them all. If a villager got tapped on the shoulder, they had to fall to the ground and stay there until someone found them. Then came the town meeting, where everyone voted on who they thought made the kill. It was majority rule, and whoever the majority voted for got hanged. The hanged person had to reveal what they were. They also had to stop playing, which meant—if they were a werewolf—that they couldn’t kill any more villagers. But if everyone voted incorrectly to hang a villager, the real werewolf would roam free.

Outside and upstairs were out of bounds.

My boyfriend’s sister’s boyfriend leaned in while they talked.

“You should know they take this seriously,” he said.

I laughed politely and glanced at my boyfriend’s father. He was licking the last of the meringue from his plate, sucking carefully on one finger at a time.

Right before we started, my boyfriend pulled me aside.

“My girl,” he said, “I know you’re tired. We can get you to bed, if you want.”

“That’s okay,” I told him. “I want to play.”

I was glad to be a villager for that first round, glad to take refuge in the pantry. When my boyfriend’s little brother approached and whispered that I was dead, I didn’t mind collapsing. It was exactly what I felt like doing.

After my boyfriend’s sister found me dead, we had a town meeting so everyone could vote on who they thought had killed me. I couldn’t vote, because I knew. The rest of the villagers still got it right.

“You’re hanged, you’re hanged,” they told my boyfriend’s little brother, pointing. “We found you out and now you’re hanged.”

When the first game was over, I scooted in close to my boyfriend on the couch.

“Hey,” I whispered. “Can we talk?”

We got up and went into the kitchen. He rubbed my arms.

“How are you?” he asked. “Are you too tired? Are you feeling faint?”

The dog incident, I could tell, had only amplified his concern. He hadn’t wanted me to do any of the driving, but I’d promised him I was perfectly capable. Despite my insistence that the people around me remember I was sick—that they see it—I wanted them to forget it, too.

I hated this about myself—that I needed both at once.

When the dog ran out from behind a parked car and made a dull thump against our bumper, my boyfriend said he’d told me so. I started to sob. He had me pull over, and then he got out. He was gone for several minutes. When he came back, he told me the dog was completely fine, that it’d run off back the way we came.

“Are you sure?” I asked. I looked in the rearview. I did not see the dog lying where I’d imagined it, heaped in a bloody tangle of fur and bones.

“Yes,” he told me. “But I wish you’d listened to me.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“It’s not your fault,” he said. “You can’t see how tired you are.”

He drove the rest of the way.

Now, I kissed him gently. He moved his hand and grabbed my butt, opened my mouth with his, edged his tongue inside.

“Are you okay?” I asked, pulling away. “After seeing your mom.”

He frowned, drew me in.

“You’re my girl,” he said. “Don’t worry about me, let me worry about you.”

We gathered in the living room, and my boyfriend’s sister did what she’d done the first time: handed out cards from the homemade deck that said either villager or werewolf on the back. Mine said werewolf. Underneath the word, there was an illustration of a man with tufts of fur sprouting from his chest. His clothing ripped at the seams.

“These drawings are beautiful,” I said, examining my card. “Who did them?”

For a moment, nobody said anything.

“Mom did,” my boyfriend’s sister told me. She paused. “She’s an artist, all the stuff on the walls is hers, too.”

“Was an artist,” my boyfriend’s father interrupted. He grimaced. “She can’t paint, anymore, unfortunately.”

The room was quiet.

My boyfriend’s sister nodded her head sadly, and my boyfriend’s sister’s boyfriend reached out to squeeze her arm.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know.”

“It’s okay,” my boyfriend’s sister told me. Then she clapped her hands twice.

“Now that everybody knows what they are, put your heads down and close your eyes.”

I obeyed. My boyfriend’s little brother let out an excited giggle.

“Without speaking,” my boyfriend’s sister instructed, her own head down, “the two werewolves should open their eyes, so you know who the both of you are.”

I did as she said and peered around the circle. Everyone had their eyes closed except for my boyfriend’s father. He was staring at me. He winked.

“Okay,” my boyfriend’s sister announced. “If the two werewolves would like to make a plan together for who to kill, now is the time to do so.”

My boyfriend’s father pointed at my boyfriend and my boyfriend’s sister’s boyfriend and took his throat in his hands. He let his tongue hang out of his mouth. I nodded. I wasn’t sure what else to do. My boyfriend’s sister announced that the werewolves should put their heads down again and that on the count of three, we could all open our eyes. When we did, my boyfriend’s family looked around, furrowing their brows and squinting with mock suspicion.

“Alright,” my boyfriend’s sister said, her hand on the light switch. “Let’s begin.”

The room sunk into darkness.

I felt my boyfriend leave the couch, heard the stairs to the basement creak. It was dark in the house, but you could still make out shapes. Smells. The particular texture of a sweater. I stood. I wanted to stall before making my first kill, hide so that everyone would think I was a villager, too. One of them, equally as worried about survival.

I walked from the living room, guided by the streetlights coming in through the windows. I turned a corner and it was darker, almost pitch black. I ran my fingertips along the wall. Turned another corner. I was about to head back, realizing how few places there were to hide in this part of the house, when my hand hit a door.

I pawed around until I found the handle and then I opened it, walking forward with my arms out in front of me. I brushed up against wool, nylon, denim. Coats, I realized. A closet. I decided I’d hide until someone else walked by and then I’d reach out, tap them on the shoulder. I stood between the coats and the cracked door for several minutes, waiting, but my legs were aching, heavy with Lyme. I wanted to sit. As I moved to a crouch, I lost my balance and toppled, falling backward into the coats. The sound of something knocked over filled the small space. I got back on my feet and pulled my phone out for light.

The closet was much larger than it felt in the dark, not a wall behind the coats dangling from their hangers, but more space. Storage. Stacks of boxes, books. And, I noticed as my eyes adjusted, canvases. Paintings. There were several of them—propped up on shelves, leaning against one another. A few were on easels.

I looked at them, wondering if my boyfriend’s mother felt frightened that her illness made it difficult for her to hold a brush, to sit upright at an easel, to feel like her ribs and spine still belonged to her.

When I first began to suspect I had Lyme—that the itchy, red rash on my knee needed to be diagnosed—I thought it odd that the disease came from a bite. It didn’t sound like the sort of thing that should happen to a human. Later, though, after my symptoms worsened, I began to have cravings. I fought the urge to eat gravel, dirt, chalk. Sticks, pebbles. Apparently, the Lyme had drained my iron stores. Doctors told me not to worry, that this was normal. But I wasn’t concerned. The bite started to make more sense to me then, considering that it made me want to feel the crunch of something hard and brittle between my jaw.

I didn’t have the cravings so much anymore, now that the Lyme came and went sporadically. The doctor said I was susceptible to flares because the disease hadn’t been treated soon enough. Some days I’d be myself and other days, I wouldn’t.

“You’re my girl,” my boyfriend told me during the flares. “It’s up to me to take care of you.”

The way he nursed me, it was as though my body were a part of his, a limb or a lung. He was able to see, even before I could, when I was beginning to feel unwell, when I was not entirely myself. And though I was grateful for this—that he could tell me what time of day I’d get a migraine, the foods that might make me sick to my stomach—I worried, too.

A few months into dating my boyfriend, I experienced an extended period of wellness. For a full nine weeks, I didn’t have any symptoms. And yet, my boyfriend continued to keep my light therapy energy lamp free of dust, continued to arrange my medications alphabetically, and cook large vats of fortifying, nutrient dense stews.

Once, I woke in the night to my boyfriend massaging my joints like I’d told him they were swollen. His hands clenched around my kneecaps. Something about his fingers, the knuckled pressure of them, made my mouth go dry. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell him to stop.

I assumed it was because of his sick mother. He knew how to be around a woman who needed help.

I looked away from the paintings when I heard a muffled shout, calling for me. I picked up the canvas I’d knocked over and placed it back on an empty easel.

In the living room, the lamp was on. My boyfriend’s father had killed off the villagers in one round.

“What happened?” my boyfriend asked, kissing my cheek. “Too nervous to make a kill?”

“I was hiding,” I told them. “Playing it safe.”

I didn’t mention what I’d seen in the closet. I felt I shouldn’t have been there at all.

They laughed. My boyfriend’s sister started to hand out cards and I reached for one. But my boyfriend grabbed my arm and turned it over, pointed to a spot of red.

“Are you bleeding?” he asked.

I squinted at my skin.

“Maybe I clawed myself,” I joked. “I’m not used to being a werewolf.”

I got up and went to the bathroom, ran the tap and began to scrub the red off. My boyfriend appeared a moment later.

“Can I get you a Band-Aid?” he asked, leaning against the doorframe.

I shook my head.

I shook my head, because when I’d stuck my arm beneath the faucet, I’d realized that it wasn’t blood at all. It was paint. Wet, still.

“I’m good,” I said. I smiled at him. “Just a scratch.”

In the living room, I took my card from my boyfriend’s sister and glanced at it. My boyfriend’s family were peeking at their cards, too.

“Eye’s closed,” announced my boyfriend’s sister.

We put our heads down.

Maybe, I thought, someone else had done the painting. Or else maybe it was a surprise. Something my boyfriend’s mother would reveal to her family to show that she was slowly gaining strength.

Yes, I thought, holding my card tight to my chest, careful not to let anyone see it, a surprise. It had to be a surprise.

I wondered when she’d put it in the closet to dry. Was she out of bed? Wandering around the halls amongst the rest of us? I pictured bumping into her in the dark, how she might clap a hand over my mouth, bring a finger to her lips.

During the last game, my boyfriend and I were the werewolves.

He blew me a kiss from across the room. When the lights went out, he got up quickly, disappearing into the dark. I was glad to be a werewolf again. As I padded through the dusky kitchen, I embraced the role, gave myself over to it. I snarled under my breath a little, clawed at the air. I felt safe that way, inching around with my invisible fur and fangs.

I found my boyfriend’s father behind the washing machine in the farthest corner of the laundry room, his husky body hunched over. He had his back to me. I was startled by my excitement. I was a werewolf, ready to make my first kill. It was the most alive I’d felt in weeks.

I extended my hand and touched my boyfriend’s father’s shoulder. But instead of crumpling to the ground he turned and smiled. His mouth curved upward—slowly, with his teeth hidden behind his lips. He held my gaze and then he fell like a tree in a forest, hitting the floor with a thump.

The adrenaline that billowed through me before making the kill disappeared once my boyfriend’s father lay below me, my usual weariness taking up residence in my bones once again. I was more exhausted than I’d thought. I wanted to lie down, too. I stared at my boyfriend’s father’s figure. His arm muscles bulged beneath his tight black sweater, the fabric stretching as if his clothes were struggling to contain him. Something about it was familiar, but I couldn’t place how or why. My brain was beginning to soften with the late hour.

I wanted a breath of fresh air, to wake me up. I didn’t think stepping onto the porch would count as being out of bounds because I wasn’t trying to hide. I wasn’t trying to find anyone, either.

I slipped my feet into my shoes. On the front porch, I leaned against the railing and stared at the dark street. It was a brisk night. I put my head in my hands and let my eyes rest. My right knee, where the tick had bit me, was throbbing. This happened during my flares whenever I stayed on my feet for too long. It was uncomfortable but not quite painful. A dull pulsing. As if something were trapped behind my kneecap, knocking to be let out.

When I opened my eyes, I thought I was imagining it at first, the dark figure moving towards the house. I blinked, squinted, and realized it was a jogger, coming up the sidewalk. I checked my phone. Ten thirty. Late for a run. The jogger got closer. I could hear the slap of sneakers on pavement. When the figure passed under the streetlight closest to my boyfriend’s parent’s house, I saw that it was a woman. She was moving at quite a pace.

I watched her, expecting that she’d continue to make her way up the hill. But the jogger slowed. She crossed the street and walked up to the edge of my boyfriend’s parent’s driveway where she paused next to a large tree and began to stretch.

A neighbor, probably, I thought. Stopping here to rest before continuing on.

She lifted one leg to her chest. Then the other. I moved towards the door, but I could not bring myself to open it. A thought snagged on the fog in my brain like clothing on a nail. I could not shake it loose. But surely, I was wrong. Surely it was only some housewife, her children finally asleep, taking advantage of the clear, cool night. Surely it was only the Lyme making me think in zigzags. I needed to resume my part in the game.

But the jogger stopped stretching. She turned away from the street and began to walk up the driveway, towards the back of the house.

I paused, hand on the doorknob.

No one who was sick—really, actually, sick—would go running. Probably, there were trails behind the house. Some kind of shortcut that the joggers in the neighborhood used.

Back in the house, I tried to remember that I was a werewolf, that I had claws and fangs and an appetite for blood. But I was distracted. Thrown off the scent. I wandered around the first floor. My boyfriend’s father was still lying where I’d left him. I didn’t know where my boyfriend was or which of the other villagers he’d managed to kill.

I descended the stairs to the basement, walked into the den, a bathroom, a bedroom. The house, it seemed, was getting bigger and bigger and I knew, too, that villagers could move as they pleased, run when they heard me coming.

My eyes watered, straining with the difficulty of trying to see in the dark. As I walked back through the den a second time, I took my phone out and let its glow brighten my path. It might’ve been cheating but I didn’t care. I was tired. So very tired. I needed the game to end.

I was about to start up the stairs when I saw them. Dark patches on the white shag carpet. Tracks. Sneaker prints.

I froze.

I held my phone up and spun in a circle, illuminating the room bit by bit. I stopped when I saw a sliding glass door. It led to the backyard. On the carpet below it, more footprints. My head swelled with dizziness and my fingertips and toes tingled unpleasantly, as though I were standing on the edge of something very, very high.

That’s when I heard her. It was a floorboard moving. I wasn’t alone. She was there, with me.

I stopped and tried to hold my breath but it was impossible. I was sure she could hear me too. I stared into the dark. Something moved to the left of me. I turned, waiting to see her long legs emerge.

Another floorboard creaked behind me. I felt her hand on my shoulder. I turned to face her.

But it wasn’t my boyfriend’s mother. It was my boyfriend, trying to kill me.

“Oh,” he said. “It’s you.”

He grabbed my hands. They shook.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

He took his own phone out of his pocket and pointed it at me.

“Listen,” I said, “I saw someone running outside, before, and now—”

“You went outside?” he asked, interrupting me.

I told him I’d needed air to clear my foggy head. He said that I should’ve found him if I wasn’t feeling well, that we could’ve stopped playing.

“We can always stop playing,” he said. “Anytime you want. We can always stop playing.”

The light from his phone made my temples vibrate. I thought I might vomit. I had to tell him. He needed to know. I blurted out that there were wet tracks on the carpet, that someone had come in through the door. I could hear that I was talking very fast—my words scattering like marbles spilled. I was about to tell him that the footprints were his mother’s, that something was very wrong, when he put two hands on my shoulders.

“Take a deep breath,” he said. When I didn’t, he grabbed my face with his palms and pointed my head down.

“It’s okay you didn’t notice,” he said. “You’re totally exhausted.”

He pointed at my feet. I still had my shoes on.

I frowned. The footprints were coming in through the door. I hadn’t walked by the door. Not that I could recall. Unless I had and the memory of it was gone, lost to the haze. It was possible. Anything was possible. Was it me? I didn’t know. I didn’t know what was me.

I stared at my boyfriend’s face. Usually—in the daylight especially—his eyes were startlingly glassy. So much so that whenever I looked into them, it was an image of my own face I saw, reflected back to me in the corners of his irises. But now, in the dim glow of his phone’s flashlight, there was only the dark chasm of his pupils. I felt a sudden panic claw up my throat. I imagined my boyfriend out in the road earlier that day, pulling the dog’s limp, dead body away from my sight, its paws dragging on the pavement.

“Listen,” he said. “Why don’t you go ahead and get settled in the guest room? I’m going to tell everyone we’re done playing.”

He disappeared.

I made it up the two flights of stairs without running into anyone. On the third floor, only one door was closed. I pressed my ear to it and turned the knob. I had to look at it. Her illness. I had to look at it to believe it was real.

The bedroom was very large and dark, thick with the smell of sweat and sleep. I squinted. Gradually, a dark shape came into focus. She was on the floor, her back to me.

She was panting. Quick, shallow gasps of air.

I stepped into the room and concealed myself in the shadow of a dresser, crouching. I blinked, uncertain of what I was watching until the high beams of a passing car shone through the window. For a moment, my boyfriend’s mother’s figure was illuminated.

She was doing crunches.

I stared as she switched positions, flipping over to do push-ups. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw that she was beautiful, but not in the way I expected her to be. Her features were rugged and severe—a strong, fixed jawline, protruding cheeks, thick brows that obscured her eyes. Her hair was untied, so long it gathered on the floor below her.

The headlights faded. She panted.

Another car passed. The room lit up. My boyfriend’s mother had curled onto her side. She was doing leg lifts. Something—the floor or a wall—creaked. And there—standing in front of a different door than the one I’d used—was my boyfriend.

He didn’t see me, kneeling behind the dresser, as he stepped towards his mother.

“Mom,” my boyfriend said, clearing his throat.

My boyfriend’s mother looked up at my boyfriend and her posture suddenly shifted, loosened. She let herself crumple to the ground.

“My darling,” she said, lifting a hand up towards him. “I’ve fallen.”

My boyfriend nodded, and then the room went dark.

“Yes,” I could hear him saying. “It looks that way.”

Maybe, I thought, my palms dampening, my boyfriend believed that his mother’s panting and her quick, sharp movements were some kind of fit. An attack. After all, I did not know what he could see—what was hidden from his view, what was visible. I did not know if he’d seen, as I did, that she’d crumpled into weakness upon laying eyes on him.

“I’m ill,” she said. “I’m so very ill today.”

Another beam of light shone through. He was close to her, bending to scoop her up.

“Can’t you see it?” she said. “Can’t you see how sick I am?”

“I’ve got you,” he said, quietly. “I’ve got you.”

I watched as he carried her to the bed and set her down. He squeezed her shoulder, kissed her forehead.

Right before he turned to go, she reached a hand out and caressed his face.

“Thank you,” she said.

He leaned down to embrace her.

“My sweetie,” she murmured.

And then, slowly, my boyfriend’s mother twisted her head. She looked at me. Her eyes bore into mine.

“My boy,” she said.

In the hall outside my boyfriend’s mother’s bedroom, I stood still and listened to my heart bump up against my skin. I wondered if someone was about to yell “dead body,” if the lights would come back on, if we’d meet and deliberate, decide who ought to be punished. Hanged.

I wasn’t sure who it would be: my boyfriend or me. I wasn’t sure who was at fault. Because I’d given my body over to the werewolf, hadn’t I? Let myself be taken by it, let it become me. I’d wanted to.

I was walking into the living room when the house lit up, when my boyfriend called out that it was over.

“She needs to rest,” my boyfriend said to his family once we were all gathered. He gestured at me.

My boyfriend’s father showed us to the guest room, a stack of fresh sheets and towels in his arms. His strides were determined and purposeful. A strong, manly gait.

I trailed behind. My stomach stewed. The lingering taste of duck and red currant jelly and meringue filled my mouth. The sounds my boyfriend’s family made during dinner rang in my ears—their lip smacking and plate scraping, their wild exclamations over the food, the production they put on.

Before getting into bed, my boyfriend reached out and placed a palm on my forehead.

“You’re a little warm,” he said. He brought me to his chest.

“Hey,” I said, extracting myself. “Was the dog actually okay today? Were you just saying that?”

I knew as soon as I said it, as soon as his arms were no longer holding me up, that I had killed that dog.

“What?” he said. “Of course it was.”

We crawled into bed. I let my boyfriend pull my body into his own. He ran a hand across my arm—the spot where he thought he’d seen blood. The spot that I’d joked was a wound I’d given myself.

I felt heavy, my muscles like chains.

As my breathing slowed, I thought about how, at the beginning of the last game, in the safety of the warm, bright living room, we’d all put our heads down after getting our cards. My boyfriend wasn’t next to me but I could feel him in the room—the smell of his aftershave, the soft rumble of his stomach.

And when it was time for the werewolves to raise their heads, to open our eyes, it was the two of us who did so. We looked at each other like my boyfriend’s sister said we should, so that we both knew who the other one was.