It took a while for Adeline to tell her story. As she pondered over the idea of telling someone else, Keelan went and made some tea. When she returned- a large mug in her hands- Adeline was just about ready.
Keelan was reluctant to grant her a favour- at least, not for any small price. She reasoned that being locked in confinement for a few years was reason enough not to trust anyone. Adeline agreed wholeheartedly.
However, after Adeline told her of her dream, Keelan was left thinking. Adeline sat in a chair, warm cup of tea in hand, avoiding Keelan’s cold gaze. Something about the woman put her on edge. Whether it was the glare, or the general air of someone who knew what they were doing, Adeline did not know. In their silence, Adeline became aware of the ticking of a clock. She heard the faint patter of the first rain in the village, as it tumbled from the sky and collided with the roof of the house. She noticed the gentle sway of the trees in the breeze, the quiet buzz of something electric. When Keelan finally spoke, she sounded far too loud.
“So let me take a guess… you want me to find out your role tonight, correct?” Adeline finally raised her eyes, meeting Keelan’s gaze with her own. She pulled herself up straighter, conscious of how small and timid she seemed.
When she spoke, she was watching Keelan with a level gaze. “Yes. If… if I am the werewolf, then may I also request that you do not tell anyone else?”
Keelan chuckled. “Well of course I wouldn’t. That would be suicide. Even if I could do it without you noticing, I doubt I would convince enough people. And then you’d just kill me anyway, right?”
Adeline smiled stiffly. “I would try not to, if it helps at all.”
“No, it probably wouldn’t. They have to have some way of making sure somebody dies every night, correct? And besides, you didn’t know what was going on in this dream.” Keelan shrugged, standing up to pour herself another cup of tea. “Do you want some more?” She indicated to Adeline’s cup.
“I’ll pass, I still need to finish this one.” Adeline raised the cup slightly so the other woman could see inside, before taking a sip. She liked to drink her tea slowly. Rushing it seemed like a waste. “So, do you think I’m actually the werewolf?”
“Hm?” Keelan looked around the door frame, looking Adeline up and down once again. “I wouldn’t know, would I? I’ve never believed werewolves existed before I came here- let alone seen one.”
“Yeah, but… I’m not asking what you think based on previous beliefs, or experiences, or whatever. I’m asking what you, as a person think. Could I be the werewolf? Do you think the ‘dream’ meant anything?”
Keelan walked back into sight, leaning against the wall opposite. “In all honesty, I think you could be. You could be the thing that everyone’s terrified about. But then, what does it matter? You want to live, correct? If you’re the werewolf, then all you know is that you’re alone, and nobody is on your side. All you know is that you have to kill everyone else here to get away alive.” She paused, closing her eyes and tilting her head back. “Would you be prepared to do that?” Adeline was silent. “Would you be ready to kill every single person here, could you even live with yourself if you did? Would you be able to murder every single, innocent or guilty, person here?”
“As you said earlier, I wouldn’t have a choice. I would have to kill them anyway.”
“Not unless you give yourself up and tell everyone you’re the werewolf.”
Adeline was silent again, turning her head to one side and staring at the floor.
Keelan smiled, looking back at her. “Didn’t think of that? Had it not crossed your mind?”
She still didn’t talk. She could feel her face growing warmer.
“I’m going to take that as a no.” She sighed, walking back into her kitchen. “Look, just because you don’t want to sacrifice yourself for the good of everyone else doesn’t make you a bad person. I wouldn’t do that, either. I don’t want to die. Nobody would blame you truthfully for not wanting to be killed. I mean, they’d say they blame you, and that if they were in your place they would kill themselves so everyone else could live, but in truth? Only the protagonists of books have the guts to do that.” She walked back in, carrying a fresh mug of tea with her. She sat down opposite Adeline. “Anyway, you don’t even know if you are the werewolf yet, do you? There’s no point fretting over something that may not be true.”
Adeline glanced up at Keelan, sighing herself. “I know, but… If I am the werewolf, I can’t really call myself human any more. I… would I be a murderer? A cannibal? I mean, they said Cahal looked like he’d been… you know.” She drifted off, once again unable to meet Keelan’s calculating gaze.
“If you’re a werewolf then humans like me or anyone else here would be beneath you in the food chain, correct? So that means you’re eating what you’re meant to eat, which is something that isn’t the same as you. Therefore it wouldn’t be cannibalism, it’s not murder, but at the same time you’re not human.”
They both fell into silence for a while, quietly sipping tea and listening to the noises of the house. After a while, Adeline put down her cup and stood up, dipping her head in thanks. “Thank you for this… I’m sorry to put you in such a position.”
Keelan raised a hand, putting down her own half-finished cup of tea. “It’s fine. Look, come back here tomorrow after we’ve found out who’s died tonight. I’ll tell you what I found out. And… you can stay for a while and talk, if you want.” She smiled half-heartedly, walking over to the front door, with Adeline trailing behind.
“Thanks. I’ll just… throw out a name today…” She muttered, stepping back out into the drizzle.
They exchanged goodbyes, before Adeline started back on her way to the village square. She felt like a load had been taken off her back- she’d managed to tell someone about her nightmare, and that put her somewhat at ease. She took a deep breath, walking down the driveway, kicking a rock as she went.
At the same time, however, she felt like a new, almost heavier, load had been put on her instead. Keelan also believed the dream meant something to do with being the werewolf. Adeline sighed. Her life was so simple back in the facility. There was just the normal, everyday works of a life that she understood. Something that was laid out. There were no dangers to that life, there was nothing especially dangerous about it. And she’d had that life a mere three, four days ago. They all had that life back then. Perhaps they took it for granted. That life, as restricted as it had been, was mere child’s play compared to this. After all, they hadn’t been forced to kill each other.
By the time she had returned to the village square, it was midday. Only a few people hung around, muttering things to each other, asking them about who they had chosen. Adeline shuffled along, heading for the village hall. Nobody stopped her, nobody said a thing. It took her a moment to remember that nobody else knew about her dream. She shivered. She was letting the dream get to her, she was letting the dread settle in and chill her.
She stepped inside, smiling nervously at Mason and Aeron. The two of them stood by the box, making sure nobody changed any of the votes. Adeline picked up a piece of paper and a pen, walking over to her normal corner and thinking for a few moments. She didn’t know who to pick. There was still a fairly large number of people left. She eventually decided on Emyln, and wrote his name down as neatly as she could. Then, she folded it and walked back over to the box. She put it inside, putting the pen back down beside it, waved a small goodbye to Aeron and Mason, before heading back out.
Now, she thought to herself, she needed to check her traps. She had a rather small mental checklist of things she needed to do. It wasn’t very long, but it was long enough.
She spent much of her time walking back toward her house thinking. She went back and forth in her thoughts, debating with herself whether she had a right to live any more. If she was the werewolf, then what would she do? She was unsure, clueless. What would she really do? Could she live with herself? She opened the door to her house, stumbling inside. It had been raining since she left Keelan’s, and she was fairly wet. She didn’t mind, though. Her thoughts occupied her, running around in her mind, blocking out any other thoughts. Adeline sighed, grabbing a thin waterproof and her backpack, and walked to the back door. She hadn’t bothered taking off her shoes. She opened that door, and went outside. From there, she went to the gate and started off into the forest.
The bones from the rabbit the previous day had gone. She smiled to herself, and looked ahead. The forest was quiet. It was peaceful. She took a deep breath, breathing in the smell of leaves and fresh air. It was a smell she felt was all-too familiar. She trudged on anyway, stepping over the occasional bramble, making her way through the woods to her destination.
When she got there, she headed toward the first trap. Today, it was empty, but had still been tugged on. Adeline sighed, and reset it. Then, she moved to the next. And then the next. She came to the final trap, and found a rabbit there, squirming. Adeline straightened herself, and looked down on the creature. It was overtaken by fear, and was staring at her, almost paralyzed, eyes wide, quivering. Adeline had seen this before. She had seen it the previous night, during her ‘dream’. The rabbit’s face and body language mirrored Reagan’s. Adeline felt a pang of guilt, and stood there for a few moments, watching it. After a while, it become too much, and she knelt down beside it, taking its neck in her hands to steady it. She could feel the blood pounding beneath the skin, she could feel its body shaking uncontrollably. With her other hand, Adeline raised the rock, and swung it down toward the rabbit. She shut her eyes as she did so, turning her head away slowly.
She heard the dull crack as the rabbit’s skull snapped. She also became aware of the warm blood that was slowly dribbling on to her hand. Adeline took a shaky breath, putting down the rock and opening her eyes. She tried not to linger on the mashed form of its head, instead just working to get the wire ring from around its neck. She ended up cutting it off, and replacing it with a newer, cleaner piece. Then, she stood up, holding the rabbit by its back legs, and started off back to her house.
She took the rabbit into the shed, and put it down on the small table. She left her back by the door, taking off her coat. Her hands were slowly being stained a deep red. She tried to distance herself as she skinned the rabbit, trying to forget what she was doing, trying to forget the warmth that was slowly seeping out of the dead rabbit, trying to focus on something else, like the gentle patter of the rain on the roof of the shed, trying to imagine herself somewhere else. She told herself that she was watching somebody else skin a rabbit, trying to forget how similar this felt to the previous night.
The more she dwelled on it, the more her nightmare seemed real. She’d heard about real-life experiences that started to feel like dreams after a while. She hadn’t heard of a nightmare that started to feel all the more real.
Once again, she took in the meat that she had taken from the rabbit, putting it with the remainder of yesterday’s, before heading back out to leave the corpse for the foxes. By the time she went back inside, she had two hours before she needed to go back to the village square. Two hours before she’d find out who was going to be killed. She washed her hands, and found a book to read.
The next time she looked up at the clock, it was nearing five. Adeline sat up begrudgingly, putting her book down on the coffee table, and heading back toward the door. The rain had slowed to drizzle. She pulled on her boots, and headed outside, not bothering with a coat.
It didn’t take her particularly long to get back to the village square. She lived much closer to it than Keegan did. She waited around a few minutes longer as more people gathered, until they were all there. Today had been a fairly tame day compared to others. Life in the village was gradually started to settle down as people grew accustomed to how they should live.
Aeron stepped up on to the platform. Once more, the hanging post had been put up. A rope and box were also there. Everybody avoided looking at them, and were glad to have Aeron to watch instead.
“So, hello everyone. I’m guessing I don’t need to say anything before we get to work.” He took a deep breath. “Today’s vote is Rouben-”
Adeline jumped when she heard the protests. “No! No I won’t go! I’m innocent god damnit!”
Aeron waited for a few moments. “But we also got the same amount of votes for Christina. So you two… have to draw a straw each to see who’ll be hanged.” Rouben was quiet, quickly searching the crowd for Christina.
Adeline felt a pang in her heart. She didn’t want Christina to die. All the time in the facility as her room mate had made the woman grow on her. She turned her head the other way as Christina and Rouben both stepped up on to the stage. Christina didn’t seem particularly bothered as Aeron picked up a box from behind him. There were ten straws sticking out from the top. He held it out between the two. “Whoever draws the shortest straw will be hanged.” He held a hand over them, stopping the two from picking just yet. “Ready?” Both Rouben and Christina nodded, the latter after a slight delay. “Alright then. Go!” He pulled his hand back and both grabbed a straw, pulling it out of the box.
There was a slight pause, before the two held out their straws. Aeron looked at them both slowly, before dipping his head. “Rouben, your straw is shorter.”
The change in Rouben’s face was massive. A look of surprise first crossed his face, to be quickly replaced with a look of sadness, before utter devastation settled finally. “I’m sorry.” Christina muttered, jumping off the platform and rejoining the crowd. Rouben collapsed, as Marija had before him. He woke up today certain that he would make it through the day and live for another night. Now that was all changing. He raised his head to the sky for a few moments. Aeron let him sit there, feeling the cool rain on his face. Then, Rouben stood up, pulling his shoulders back and striding over to the box. He put the rope around his neck himself and waited patiently, hands in front of him.
Adeline stared in disbelief. When his name had first been called out, Rouben had been in a state of shock, screaming out that he was innocent. His actions had changed drastically in the past few minutes, and now he was calm, standing on the box to accept his fate. Aeron stepped forward so he could kick the box from Rouben’s feet. Rouben turned back at him. “It’s fine… I’ll just jump.”
Aeron watched him for a few moments, before nodding slowly and stepping off the platform himself.
After another few, painful minutes, Rouben stepped off the box. There was a short drop, before there was a loud snap. Everyone was silent, and only the scraping off the box as it was pushed backwards by Rouben’s legs was heard. Annelise and Gretchen got up onto the stage this time, getting Rouben’s body down, and carrying it over to the village hall. Adeline turned away, looking back toward the direction of her home. Keelan walked over, patting her on the shoulder, before she started off back to her home.
Adeline watched her as she went, heading off herself after Keelan had disappeared from sight.
By the time Adeline got back to her house, the sun had begun to drop behind the hills. She had about an hour before sunset. She didn’t feel particularly hungry. Nervousness was beginning to build up- she could feel it in the pit of her stomach. She felt dread there, as well. She didn’t know what the night would bring. In fact, she wished the night would never come. She wished now that she wasn’t here, that she was somewhere else, perhaps in her old house. Before she had been taken to the facility, she had lived alone, in the middle of nowhere. There had been a small shop in the nearest village- around ten miles away- but that was the closest she had been to civilization. It had been a nice, quiet life. A life in which she could have done as she wished.
She took off her boots by the door, not bothering to turn on the lights, and sat down in one of the chairs. She sat there for a long while, watching the light slowly fade from the sky, watching the shadows in the room slowly lengthening.
Keelan flicked the lights on, stretching over, before returning to her washing up. The water was starting to go cold. She sighed, putting the last plate on the drying rack. Soap bubbles slid down its vertical surface, hanging for a second on the wire of the rack, before dropping down onto the training board. Keelan shook her hands, overturning the washing up bowl, before drying her hands. She peered out of the window. The sky was turning purple, quickly fading to black. She took a deep breath, moving back into the other room.
There was a ring. Keelan turned around, her eyes fixing on the small black phone, which stood on a small table beside her front door. She took a deep breath, before walking over and picking up the receiver.
“Hello?” she asked. She didn’t even need to ask- it was merely formalities.
The voice at the end of the line replied with its casual “Hi.” Before the two plunged into business. “So who do you want to know the role of today?”
Keelan paused for a second, glancing around, checking for any onlookers. As usual, she found no one. “Adeline Marsden.”
There was a chuckle. Keelan braced herself for information she was already almost certain of. “Adeline Marsden…” There was a sound akin to that of papers being ruffled. She scowled, cursing whoever it was at the other end. They never liked to give a flat out answer. From their tone, it seemed they already knew for certain what Adeline was. “Adeline Marsden is… The Seer’s Apprentice.” Keelan let out a sigh of relief, leaning against her door. “But she’s also the werewolf.”
The feeling of relief quickly evaporated. Panic fluttered within her, and she slammed down the receiver of the phone.