Nighttime Hungers, Part III
By Maggie D. Fedorov
Published Issue 111, March 2023
I gasp for breath, bolting upright as I wake in bed and take an inventory of my surroundings. The outside air blows in through a crack in the door left slightly ajar. The sheer curtains covering the window sway gently in its breeze letting in a dancing ribbon of unobstructed light. I admire momentarily the mundane beauty of the way it illuminates the dust particles swirling through the air as I follow the trail of light to its termination point. Atop my pillow lies a pair of mud-encrusted feet. Daddy taught me this trick when I first suffered from these bouts of sleeplessness as a child. I remember being led back to my room in the wee hours of the morning, hand-in-hand. Daddy would move my pillow from the head to the foot of the bed, return me upside down and cover me with the bearskin blanket retrieved from the linen closet for only the most special occasions. “The dreams won’t find you here,” he used to say. Then he’d smile and sit with me humming a recent composition until I slept once more. Gooseflesh ripples across my body as I realize for the first time in my life the nightmare had indeed finally found me there. A shiver runs the length of my spine, though whether it is the result of this epiphany or the chill in the air I cannot say.
I stand in front of my father’s grave surrounded by a small handful of our closest friends and I wonder how closely Daddy’s may have resembled the primitive funerals of Australopithecus or Neanderthal; no pomp-and-circumstance, just small gestures and quiet togetherness.
Mom begins to cry and I try to reach into my coat pocket for a tissue to give her, forgetting in the moment that our hands are tethered. I suppose only in moments like this can you so completely lose track of your own limbs.
Into the late hours of the evening the house is alive with the intoxicating comfort of potluck dishes warmed in the oven and quiet chatter. The sweet melody of the sounds of togetherness are a tonic to my soul, and as the evening hours pass I dance from room to room until I land quite suddenly in the hall in front of Daddy’s den. The door has been closed since my arrival, but it whispers to me; makes my heart flutter. This energy, whatever lies behind that door, it leaves a knot in my stomach. I break away, finally turning my back on it and a chill flits at the nape of my neck as if I’ve only just barely slipped through the grasp of whatever lingers in this part of the house. I cleanse myself of it with several more liberal pours from the bottle of Jack before our guests leave somewhere between the nine and ten o’clock hour. Mom and I sit together in front of the fireplace sharing our agony as well as our ongoing silence until some time past twelve, bed calls for us both.
No sooner than I lay my head on my pillow, the motion light outside shines in through the window. My little midnight companions have returned, and once more we slip away together into the night.
The birds come to a rest at the treeline in front of Daddy’s resting place. They peck at the ground, and the sound resonates. As I draw nearer I can see that the grave is covered not in tender, freshly tilled soil; but a door. The door to Daddy’s study, to be precise. A chill envelops me and pulls me closer despite my every instinct silently screaming at me to run. I kneel on the soft earth next to the door and again it whispers. I know what I have to do. The pair of wrens have completed their task, and as such they retire for the night and leave me to do mine. I lean forward and place my ear against the door. The whispers go quiet. I turn the handle and push the door open. It thumps as it bounces off the ground and finally comes to rest. I peer into the dark and I’m certain I can make out Daddy’s armchair. Warm, inviting air wafts out into the night and I reach my arm through the open door frame. Something frigid grabs my wrist and pulls HARD. A shout gets caught in my throat and for a second I am firmly planted at the edge of this portal to another place, but I can’t fight it. Whatever has my wrist grabs a fistfull of hair and as I strike the bottom I realize that I’ve fallen victim to the hole once again.
I wake covered in sweat and sick to my stomach. I throw my feet off the edge of the bed and rest my head in my hands. There’s a tender spot on my hairline and I wince as I try not to think how I came by it.
“Hair of the dog?”
Mom pushes a Bloody Mary across the counter.
“How’d you guess?”
“Found you sleepwalking last night. Standing outside the back door jiggling the doorknob. I put you back to bed, but I figured you probably had a rough night. Never grew out of it, huh?”
“Guess not. Last night makes three times this week,” I raise my glass, “Down the hatch.”
“I’m headed into Sandpoint to get flowers for Nina later. Feel like joining me for a trip to Nieman’s?”
I wipe the tomato mustache with my sleeve. Every fiber of my being screams at me to get the hell out of this house.
“Sure, I can tag along.”
After several nights of shitty sleep I retire to bed early, but despite my fatigue I lay in the dark with my eyes darting across the room and my brain buzzing with thoughts. For hours I worry about this and that; trying at all costs to think of anything but Daddy resting under a bed of dirt. Have the worms found him yet? That’s the tipping point. I hold the pillow over my face and I scream with absolutely everything I have left in me. I can’t fucking do it; grief. It’s ripping me apart and I have no idea how to keep myself together. All I can do is take another breath and keep screaming. My chest heaves, but I’m not really taking in oxygen and I can’t find it in me to care if I’m breathing or not.
I curl into a ball and watch the wet spot on my pillow change shapes until finally my breathing returns and I’m lulled into total darkness.
The quiet lasts for only a few moments before there’s a singular muted knock at the door. On the doorstep I find a small twig with yellow needles. I pick up the tamarack branch and set out on my nightly pilgrimage wondering as I walk if Wren waits for me there. The air is thick, and as I approach the family cemetery it begins to rain. I lift my face to the heavens and let the fat drops cascade over my features. My hair sticks in clumps to my face and drips down my neck as I stand there in the dark giving myself to the moment. There’s a distant rumble, or perhaps a moan; I snap my head forward to see what lies ahead of me. There’s a new hole in the earth next to Daddy’s grave that wasn’t there yesterday marked at the head by a rugged cross fashioned from tree branches and twine. It leans to the left, the ground losing its hold as it softens and melts away into mud while this sudden deluge wears on into the night. I cock my head to the side, mirroring it, hopeful that this might aid me in reading the scratchy inscription.
A flash lights the meadow behind me. The sharp crack of too-close thunder rattles in my chest and purely out of instinct I turn to face the strike. Something lurks in the shadows. I feel its eyes upon me. I squint into the night to try to make it out, but it’s shapeless; nebulous. It shifts; growing taller, and then shorter again. Without warning it charges at me and I panic, stepping backwards. The earth slips away beneath me. Arms flailing I try to grab the edges of the hole, but my fingers find nothing to hold as I fall for what feels like an eternity. I come to a very sudden stop and my head hits something much harder than soil. Minutes pass. A warmth washes over me, emanating outwards from my center. My vision begins to tunnel, growing darker and darker until soon there is nothing and I slip away into oblivion.
I wake to the sound of footsteps. My eyes are crusted shut. I rub them with dirty hands and my vision takes a few seconds to normalize once they’re open. A swath of blue sky is framed by the toothy edges of the hole. A set of eyes look down at me. For the briefest of moments I lock eyes with the fox before it jumps over the opening of the pit.
Even laying still my entire body aches. The stiffness in my joints creaks audibly as I push myself to my feet using the earthen walls as an aid. I’m able to peer over the edge standing flat footed, but the fox is nowhere to be seen. Something does catch my eye though, and it’s the scratchy inscription on the makeshift cross which in the daylight I can finally read clearly:
“P E T R A”
Of the plethora of sources of disquietude I’ve experienced since my return home, this one takes the cake. I lift myself out of the chasm which was, apparently, made for me. The sense of accomplishment is short-lived as I stare into the abyss where I had passed the night, and the abyss stares back through wild, vacant eyes. The image of my own body laid out before me defies all logic, and yet there I lie. Melancholy washes over me as I see myself objectively for the first time as the terrified and desperately isolated girl that I had been in the final days of my life; and so, I do the only thing there is left to do. I lower myself back into the pit that was, perhaps, always my destiny and hold her like the delicate, precious thing she was.
In case you missed it, read Nighttime Hungers, Part I from Issue 106 and Nighttime Hungers, Part II from Issue 108.
Born and raised in the Greater Seattle Area, Maggie D. Fedorov began to develop her inquisitive nature and lust for exploration when she was very small. Maggie considers herself a lifelong learner, and as such she spends much of her free time reading, researching, honing her skills in the arts and other hobbies, and naturally, planning her next adventures!
Maggie’s writing stems from a desire to delve into and capture what it means to be human at its very core; this tug-of-war that we play with the elements which mold our lives as we fight and embrace them, and using our observations to develop more vital roots anchoring us to the elements we all battle and nurture in our own lives. It was out of a compulsive need to share this form of expression and exploration that Maggie Fedorov, the writer, was born.
Maggie shares her travels and her life with her husband, Sam. The two are often found indulging in desserts, collectively dreaming about their future fur babies, and attempting to achieve Nirvana through the flawless integration of bad puns and dad jokes in normal conversation. See more on her Instagram.
Check out more of Maggie’s work in our Explore section.