“We haven’t talked much lately,” Lily said reproachfully, twisting her pale white hands together. She always liked to reprimand her husband before she told him something important. It tended to make him more receptive. Tonight however, he didn’t pay any attention. He was thinking about work.
John stared at the TV screen unblinking, his thick chin resting on the palm of one hand, idly stirring his soup with the other. The familiar sounds of the 7 O’clock news washed over him, while he thought about the best way to arrange data and motivate employees. It had been a long day. The extra paperwork was slowing him down, but in a few more weeks he could be managing the floor. He turned these facts over in his mind, rotating the interlocking cogs of possibility and connecting endless strategies with corporate demands. His work was important, and that was something Lily should appreciate. Besides, he could tell when his wife was was upset, and when she was, she said things that didn’t make sense. Whatever it was that she wanted to talk about could wait. In fact, it would be better to put it off as long as possible.
* * *
That night, Lily dreamed that she was lying on her back in a hospital bed with Nurses gliding smoothly about the room. Raising herself on the pillows, Lily saw they were on roller skates. One of the nurses came to the bedside and showed Lily a series of black plastic slides.
“What lovely ears,” the nurse murmured dreamily, wiping her eyes and smiling at Lily. Lily nodded, although she didn’t see what the nurse meant. All she could see in the images was a ghostly blur of alien limbs and swirling white vapor.
“They have their mother’s eyes,” said another nurse sourly from the corner of the room. This nurse had red hair and big arms, and was writing furiously in a notebook.
“And nice big teeth,” said the first nurse, so sweetly that Lily began to wonder if she was making fun of her. “Of course, they take after the bitch,” said the red nurse again, staring intently at her notebook as though Lily couldn’t hear.
Lily was just about to say something sarcastic in response when she felt her teeth with her tongue. Her flat molar ridges were gone, and in their place were long, curved canines. Lily put her hands to her mouth, only to discover that John’s beard had somehow attached itself to her face. She was covered in fur. This was all wrong.
Just then, the ward door opened, and there was John, wearing a doctor’s white coat. His face was red and he stood in the doorway with sweat and tears on his cheeks, staring at Lily.
“Where are my babies?” he cried, his chest heaving as he stumbled into the room. Lily tried to speak, tried to tell John it was alright, but her lips wouldn’t obey her. All she could manage was a guttural, barking noise.
“It’s time to get them out of you,” John said hoarsely, sobbing as he pulled a giant axe out of his pocket. The nurses laughed and ran to Lily’s side. They taped her mouth closed and held her down on the bed while John pried her legs apart before opening her belly with the tip of the axe. Lily felt a stab of pain as her insides spilled out onto the sheets beside her. John reached down and pulled out two squirming creatures. He held the red babies high, by their ankles. There was blood all over his sleeves, and spattered on his coat, but he wasn’t crying anymore. His eyes had the gleam of victory.
He used the axe to sever the umbilical cords, while Lily panted and gasped. The nurses didn’t bother to sew her back up or even close the wound. They circled around John, congratulating him. The red haired nurse linked her arm with John’s, and together they glided out of the room. Lily was suffocating. As she struggled for breath, a nurse came to her and held a large mirror over the bed.
“How do you like your haircut?” the nurse asked. In her last moments, Lily stared at the mirror. She was a wolf.
* * *
John woke to find his wife sobbing quietly. He asked her if she was alright. His throat felt dry in the stillness of the room. Lily said nothing, just carried on whimpering. She was sleeping, John realised. He sighed, expelling the air slowly. Tomorrow they would decide. Gradually, Lily’s sobs faded away and her breathing slowed. John rolled onto his back. He found that his eyes were open but his mind was completely empty, a forest stripped of its leaves. It was the first time in months that he had woken in the night.
He thought of the things that Lily had said after dinner, the sharp words that burned within him and turned his mind to ash. How had this happened? She had been acting strangely for days now that he thought about it. Why hadn’t he noticed sooner? He grasped at answers to these unanswerable questions, and finding nothing, returned to a restless slumber.
He dreamed that he and Lily were back in the cottage in the wood, and a boy and girl were with them. The little girl had his own straight brown hair and the little boy had golden curls, just like Lily. The problem was, Lily didn’t want the children. Whenever she spoke about them to John, she called them “your children”, and whenever they asked for anything, she would look towards John as if the question had been directed at him.
It was breakfast time in the cottage, but somehow all the food kept disappearing. When the little boy asked for a drink, they discovered they only had two cups, “which proves,” Lily said triumphantly, “that there’s not space here for four.” The same thing happened when they wanted toast, and when John finally pulled out the cereal boxes he found there were only four Weat-bix left.
“I’m afraid there’s not enough for you,” Lily said to the children, “because you know John and I always have two each.” The children nodded dumbly and sat at the table with wide eyes, watching John and Lily eat. John fed them little crumbs under the table.
Over the course of the dream, the children diminished in size, and Lily kept trying to hide them from him. John would find them in various places around the cottage – in the bin, or the refrigerator. He walked into the bathroom once to find the children in the toilet and Lily with her finger on the flush button. By this stage the children had become little rag dolls. John fished the sodden little things out of the porcelain bowl and laid them out on a towel to dry.
* * *
When John’s alarm went off, he woke up with sweat and tears caked on his face. He tried to remember the dream, but it slipped out of reach and he lost it. When Lily asked what had upset him, he had to admit that he didn’t know.
“Was it something about last night?” his wife prompted. She rolled over in the bed, half twisted in the sheet and looked into his eyes anxiously. John said nothing. He was numb once more, trapped in another man’s body.
“Talk to me,” his wife said softly, putting her hand over John’s heart. “Tell me what’s going on in here.” Lily’s hand was cool against his warm chest. His breath was stagnant in the room.
“How do you feel?” his wife asked at last, her eyes pleading. The emptiness in John’s mind was replaced by a wretched fury that took hold of him and made him mute. Contradictory emotions rioted through the chamber of his mind and crammed themselves together in the door of his consciousness. He could not speak. He got out of bed and fumbled with the door. He was already late for work and talking would only complicate things.