Sleep, You Black-Eyed Pig, Fall Into a Deep Pit of Ghosts
by Kirsty Logan
The following piece is published in F(r)iction #9. Art by Lilly Higgs.
Night whispers. Ellen woke instantly, eyes wide, no fog. Her feet took her to the window. Her hands slid the sash up. From the dark mass of trees came a suggestion of voices, clear and pointed as glass, all hiss and high vowels. Clouds of glossy insects flickered, reflecting the moonlight, becoming night again. Ellen leaned out of the window to try to see better, her feet straining on the floorboards, the sill pressing into the tops of her thighs. Somewhere in the shadows, shrill angles of silver. She held her breath and strained her eyes against the dark.
Spindled figures, tall and thin. The light of them pulsed. The longer she looked, the closer they came. The outside wall was rough on her hand as she pushed her upper body further out of the window. Her bedroom was on the second floor, but the ground didn’t look far. She could easily jump down. She’d probably fly. They’d probably all catch her.
She blinked hard against the dark until she was sure: every one of them was staring up at her window. Their silver fingers beckoned.
She pulled herself up to kneel on the windowsill. She could see them clearly. They were on all fours, their legs long and thin, and they were bright as mercury, except for their black eyes. Their faces were terrible and beautiful. Inside their narrow chests, their hearts throbbed so hard the skin pulsed. Their voices filled her head.
Ellen took a breath and tensed her thighs, ready to tip forward out of the window and float down to them. Her knees grazed hot against the window frame, the air so cold it took her breath.
From downstairs, the creak of the front door, the click of Jenette’s heels. Giggly drunken whispers, the thud of a body falling against a wall.
“Sorry, Ellen!” Jenette couldn’t seem to decide whether to whisper or shout, and chose something both and neither.
Ellen froze, suddenly awake. Her bedroom door had warped in its frame, and it let in a glow around the edges. A line of warm light stretched across her bedroom floor, reaching out to her, just touching the tip of her bare toe.
What the hell was she doing?
She looked down at herself, barefoot and freezing and kneeling on the windowsill. She looked further down: the ground, twenty feet below, cold and solid and ready to snap her spine. She stumbled back off the sill, landing with a thump on her bedroom floor.
Without looking, she shut and latched the window, her hands shaking. She wished it locked, so she could hide the key from herself. She edged back to the glass and looked outside.
The dark trees, the bright stars. She was awake. There was nothing.
Downstairs, the air in the kitchen felt warm, expectant, unfamiliar. Half the room was too bright, making Ellen squint, and half was still in shadow.
“Hey, sick girl! Did we wake you from a dirty dream?” Ash was drunk; she could tell by his shifting eyes, his unsteady hand pouring the wine, the way he was shuffling his feet off the beat of the music.
“Mmm,” Ellen replied. “A bit.”
Jenette leaned up off the couch, sloppy-sexy, her lips shiny, and pulled Ellen onto her lap. “Poor wee beastie. Snuggle in, eh?”
“Get off, daft bugger.” Ellen laughed and pushed Jenette away, but not too far. She settled on the couch, making sure her leg was pressed against Jenette’s, and Jenette tipped Ellen’s head onto her shoulder and stroked her hair.
“Soft,” she said. “How do you get it so soft?”
“Get this down you. Warms the blood.” Ash swaggered over to the table and slapped down two overfilled wine glasses. Ellen lifted one and sipped. Her head still throbbed with her fever, her skin too hot and too cold. With a laugh, Jenette leaned forward and licked the circular base of Ellen’s glass, where a drop of wine threatened to fall.
Ellen settled her wine glass on her sternum, relaxing into Jenette. She thought about tilting her head up and kissing her, but she didn’t, not yet.
It felt like the right time, this trip. The thing between her and Jenette had been building for so long, and now they were here, playing house. Ten days off work, budget flights, this pretty little Finnish cabin surrounded by woods. Together, alone—and okay, Ash was there too, technically, though he hardly counted. Ellen could feel him watching her with Jenette. She felt like someone would have to be blind not to see this thing between them, not to sense the build of it, the inevitable climax.
But she wouldn’t kiss Jenette in front of Ash. She’d wait for the right time—under the northern lights, or in a forest clearing in the middle of a fairy ring. Somewhere epic and foreign and mythical.
“So what were they like?” Ellen asked. “The neighbors?”
“Isn’t it weird?” Ash said, flopping to the couch on the other side of Jenette, draping his leg over hers, ignoring the roll of her eyes and the giggle into Ellen’s hair. “Isn’t it the weirdest fucking thing? You build a holiday cabin right out in the middle of nowhere, and someone comes along and builds theirs next door. There’s literally fucking miles of nothing, and that’s what they do. Fucking people.”
“Come on, Ash! They were nice. Really, Ellen, they were nice.”
“Tell Ellen about the stories.”
“What stories?” Ellen was woozy from the fever and the wine. She could just fall asleep right here on the couch, with the heat of Jenette’s skin and the rhythm of her breath.
“Ash, don’t be a dick. They weren’t weird. They were interesting.”
“Hmm?” Ellen said, which was all she could manage.
“It’s like an old folk story,” Jenette said. “They said that there are things hidden out here, and you don’t see them until you’re ready.”
“What do they look like?”
“No one knows,” Ash interrupted. “Because once you see them, they get you, and no one ever sees you again. Woooooo!” He made ghost noises, waving his arms, spilling wine down himself. “Spooooooky!”
“Fuck off, Ash,” Jenette said, and lifted Ellen’s hair to whisper in her almost-sleeping ear. “They can be beautiful, the hidden things. People see them because they want to. There are so many wonderful things, if we would only let ourselves see.”
Alone in her bed, Ellen wasn’t alone for long. The first she knew was a soothing hand placed on her forehead. Thinking it was Jenette, she smiled through her fever. But it was not: the palm too cold, the fingers too long. Ellen’s eyes were hot and weighted.
Before she could open them to look, the hand had moved, stroking the damp hair back from her face. Shhhh, tinkled a voice, shrill as silver. The hand kept stroking, and then it was joined by others.
Five, six, seven hands, smoothing back her hair. Then down her throat, cooling her hot skin. Pushing the covers down to her waist and further, further. The sweat on her skin turned to pearls and diamonds. Silver swirled behind her eyes. She was in the clouds, she was on a bed of leaves. Everything was cool and soft—and still the hands.
Ellen could hear herself breathing faster. The room was quiet—only the beat of her heart and the soft slither of her bedcovers. Fingers plucked at her, not quite hard enough to bruise. Tender pinches at her earlobes, her nipples, her toes. The flash of pain followed by a tiny rush of endorphins. She wanted the feeling again, again, again.
She pushed her back into a slow arch, her heels to the bed, her crown to the pillow. Again. Again. Her body was turning to something light and damp. A cloud, a wrung-out sponge. She couldn’t help it: she let out a cry.
Shhh, said a multitude of voices, sharp-edged. The hands lifted from her, her skin left throbbing, her nightdress clinging, her covers kicked aside.
They were leaving, slipping out of the crack in the window, folding back into the waves. Shhhh, said the voices as they receded, the sound of the sea inside a shell.
Ellen woke to whispers. A giggle, a thump against the wall, a laughing shush. Blinking back sleep, she opened her door and slipped into the hallway. Jenette’s bedroom on one side of hers, Ash’s on the other. No light under either door.
But she was sure she heard something. She stood in the hall, waiting, and couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something else that she couldn’t see, waiting for her to stop waiting.
She held her breath, tried to slow her heart.
The next morning, when Ellen fumbled downstairs in search of paracetamol, she was surprised to find that Jenette and Ash were already up. Bleary-eyed and nursing black coffees, true, but still up.
“Look at you two, all bright-eyed and keen.”
“How’s your fever?” Jenette asked. “There’s paracetamol in the cupboard if you need some.”
“Why are you up so early?” Ellen turned to open the cupboard and caught a look between Jenette and Ash that they thought she didn’t see. Was it knowing? Secretive? Guilty?
No. Just the fever making her feel strange. Making her see things that weren’t there.
Ellen fell asleep at the kitchen table, waking stiff-necked to a note from Jenette.
ROAD TRIP. BACK LATER. XXX
Ellen crept back to bed. The day felt stretched and compressed, hours pulling endless and then gone fever-fast. Light on glass bottles, sticky teaspoons left on windowsills, the curtains drawn, her head pulsing hot and cold.
She felt like if she could just get through this, could just sleep it off, then her fever would fade. Every time she thought it had left her, the shivers overwhelmed her again.
“Did you have a good day?” Ellen asked.
“It was great,” Jenette replied, eyes dreamy. “Perfect, really. How about you?”
“Well, not perfect. But better than I was.”
“That’s good. One more quiet night, maybe, and you’ll be back on your feet. You just have to sleep it off.”
“It doesn’t need to be quiet.” Ellen went to the cupboard and rootled through the wine bottles. “There’s plenty left. Me and you and Ash could have dinner, play some games, maybe watch a film.”
“We can’t tonight, Ellen. We’ve been invited to the neighbours’ for dinner again, same as last night.”
“You don’t mean just you and Ash?”
“That’s what we told them. We figured you weren’t well.”
“I’m not. But a couple of paracetamol, a quick nap, and I’ll be fine.” Ellen stroked her fingertip down Jenette’s forearm. “Promise I won’t fall asleep at the table and embarrass you.”
Jenette pulled away—not much, but enough. “It’s probably best if Ash and I just go. As a couple, you know?” Jenette rubbed at her thumbnail, base to tip, over and over.
Ellen laughed. “A couple. Right.”
Jenette didn’t look at Ellen. If she kept rubbing her thumbnail like that, she’d make it bleed.
“Come on, Ellen. This is getting silly. Let’s stop pretending.”
And just like that, the house was gone. The walls, the roof, the floor: gone. The trees closed in on them, claustrophobic, seeking. The ground was black with dead leaves, the rustle of hidden insects.
“Don’t pretend you didn’t know,” Jenette said, and she went to put the kettle on, and her voice seemed to come from a long way away. “I mean, God. It’s so obvious. You couldn’t have missed it.”
The ground cracked apart and they both fell into the earth, down into the dark, and Ellen couldn’t see anything except Jenette’s eyes gleaming silver. Tree limbs scraped at her feet, her hands, her eyes.
“And you were playing up to it, Ellen, you know you were.” Jenette’s laugh was high and hard. “Flirting with me in front of Ash last night, trying to be sexy for him. You must have known what that did to him.”
“No,” Ellen says. “No, of course. I was just—” And she smiled, down there in the dark, in the belly of the earth, and her face shattered with the force of it, and beneath it was just blood and bone, the tear of muscle, and still she smiled. “I was just kidding.”
“Cool,” Jenette said. “Love you.” And she kissed Ellen’s cheek, and went to Ash’s room to get ready.
Even after Jenette and Ash had left—laughing, leaning, tipsy already—Ellen lay in bed for a long time, pretending to be asleep. Finally, after midnight, when it was obvious that they wouldn’t be coming back for a while, Ellen got up and went to the window. She opened it wide and leaned out into the night. She held her breath.
She waited for the silvery figures to slip out of the trees and toward the cabin; waited to see the shadows they cast as they stretched out their spindly fingers up her window, their long teeth click-clacking; waited to smell the coppery, sweet-rotten scent of their magic; waited to hear a staccato crack crack crack as the borders between worlds broke and remade to let in yet more beautiful, terrible things. She knew that they were always there, hidden, waiting for something that they wanted.
She stayed at the window for a long time. She saw trees and stars and night. She stayed there for so long that her legs went numb and her eyes blurred with tears, and then she went to bed.
She wasn’t disappointed, of course not. It would be silly to wish for danger. It would be silly to want to be taken.