“The Night Time Game” is written by Kira Houston, an artist, writer, and advocate. Kira is currently pursuing a double major in Art History and Spanish with a minor in Creative Writing. In his own words, this short story “illuminates the bizarre yet sincere relationship between an adoring human and a primordial lake creature.” This story also has a content warning for body horror.
The Night Time Game
Down to the lake I crouch, my knees on the dock, and I watch as the light approaches. The lake is dark and swallows the moon. My brother thinks the light is a water-reflection, and he doesn’t believe me when I tell him it moves. He has never seen her, the living-light that swims under the surface where nobody wants to look.
As I crouch with my knees on the dock her head emerges from the water, a ripple cascading off her lips. She is a real angel but nowadays she lives alone in the lake, I think. Her eyes shine a brilliant white and her tiny mouth parts when she sees me.
“It is late and you should be sleeping,” she tells me always.
“You too,” I tell her back.
Slowly she stands, lifts her bone-pointed shoulders from the black lake. Her wings extend, drip, water running clumsy off the flesh. The lake is milky now with the light she pours into it from the great expanse of her skin. My angel glows to cover up the broken parts, I think.
A smile pinches her face and her eyes glow brighter. Her needle hands take mine, and she curls something into my palm.
“I made for you a gift.”
In my hands I find a ring made of smooth bone. I slide it onto my marriage finger and hold it up against the skin-light.
“It’s beautiful,” I say. “I should make you one to match.”
“No,” she cries, “please don’t make a ring from your bones. You have so few of them and they are hidden under so much skin.”
“Not from my bones,” I laugh. “I will make it out of wire.”
I hold my arms out to lift her from the lake, careful of her ribs. We sit together on the dock facing each other. Her wings hide the lake entirely. She presses her wet nose into my wrist and makes a small motion with her mouth, which is the way she likes to kiss. (Kissing with our mouths is too much trouble. Kissing my angel is like wrestling a leech down a dark, wet tunnel.) Still I kiss her cheek and chin, her swan neck with its hollows and divots and scrapes.
I help her lay down on the dock so I can climb over her, kiss her better. Her wings splay against the wet wood. My angel has huge wings with a form you can’t pin down, always pulsing in this squishy jellyfishy glow. While I kiss her I touch them and they feel like flayed hands, always twitching, sort of meaty and with gossamer veins all throughout. I think this is why my angel can’t fly—her wings are not wings at all, but great squashed limbs she used for crawling long ago.
“I am not an angel,” she sighs, her voice gentle foam spilling from her mouth. “Stop thinking angel thoughts.”
I do not listen to her and I continue to think angel thoughts. I trace the halo of her dark hair, like a pool of ash. My kisses move down to her chest now and I find the wide, jagged hole there, circle it with my tongue.
“You know that we have to play the night time game, now,” she coos.
I nod. I have always been good at the night time game. Sometimes I do not win, especially when she used to play clever tricks, but she doesn’t play tricks anymore ever since I asked her to stop.
“Chin,” she says. I kiss her chin quickly.
“Femur,” she says. It takes some searching to find the hole in her thigh, but I kiss into it.
“Tongue.” I sigh because I do not like kissing her mouth, but I let her tongue wrestle mine.
“Intestine.” This one I know where to find. Before, I’d lost the night time game by failing to see it, but now I know where it is sewn into her left wing. I cannot see against the light but I kiss something wet and familiar.
“Heart.” I pause. This one I have never found before. I stick my hand into the hole in her chest and rummage around. My hand hits the dock wood, brushes something pink, but too lung-like. I try again, but all I find is meat. The precious seconds wasted mean I have lost the night time game.
“Hey,” I say, “I thought you promised no more tricks.”
She frowns and says, “I’m so sorry. I meant it as a little joke. My heart is with you, of course.”
Only now do I remember the slow beating against my thigh. Her heart is still in my pocket.
“I’m so sorry,” she says again.
“It’s alright,” I say. “It’s been a while since I lost.”
I lose the night time game, my angel gathers me up in the slick cradle of her blinding wings and dives back into the lake. I stay there unblinking all night. She tries to kiss me and hold me but the water does not stop rushing into my lungs.
Only when the sun comes up can I swim gasping from the lake, water streaming from my mouth, eyes and lungs sore. When the sun comes up my angel is gone. It isn’t so bad to lose the night time game, except it means I don’t get to talk with my angel all through the night.
I return soaking wet and green-mouthed to the cabin. My brother looks at me, shakes his head and says, “You won’t catch any fish by hiding under the lake rocks.”