Witch’s Bed
Andrea Kneeland

The hole was way out behind the house, way out past where she walked the dog to shit when it needed to, way out past the first stand of pines and sort of awkwardly placed over and beyond a half-rotted log and brambly vines and shrubs that aimed to leave the trespasser with burrs and blood. In fact, when they’d first found it, the dog had been pulling and whining and she just let it go because why not – the sooner she got back home, the sooner she dived back into laundry and wiping her children’s asses and putting uneaten dinners in the refrigerator, so why not just walk blindly into the smoky dusk and maybe even get a second cigarette going, careful now to stub out the last with wet fingers and roll it carefully into a plastic baggie brought specifically for that purpose because she didn’t want to be caught and she really didn’t want to be caught by starting a forest fire – and when the dog had found the hole and sunk its paw in and let out a whine so high and feral it nearly sounded human, then barked, froth flying like wet, white stars into the now darkened-into-night air, she had dragged it back through the bushes and over the half rotten log so quickly that she’d scraped its nose raw on something, and found later, under the soft lamp of their back porch, dozens of burrs stuck through the old dog’s fur, and as her gut sank into that sickly slime of guilt, like something rotten at the bottom of a city street dumpster, she’d realized that she was still holding her cigarette between her teeth, the ash ready to fall on her porch, just a foot away from the door where she could hear her kids approaching, the faint call of “MOMMY” echoing inside the walls of the house.

But she didn’t get caught. And she’d blamed the raw nose on the dog chasing a squirrel.

The next night, after the rest of the family was asleep, she’d stepped out onto her back porch with a flashlight instead of a dog and she’d trekked her way through the field stretched out behind her house, up to the first stand of trees and beyond, down the well worn path she walked with Shiloh every day after dinner, trying to find the sinkhole of mud that had made her dog scream like a child. Eventually, her light found the log that had scraped the flesh from Shiloh’s nose, the broken bushes and bramble that Shiloh had dragged her through suddenly, with a deranged force, that she thought he had been chasing a possum or squirrel through. The brush was thick and prickly and even more uninviting than she’d remembered, but she could make out the black mud just beyond.

She picked her way, instead, around the trees, walking a huge and meandering circle to get to the spot, and there it was, gaping and huge. A bubble popped off the surface of the pit, the mud blacker than it should be, the surface appearing to steam.

She knelt and pushed her finger in, and her body went to a feeling of darkness. She drew her finger back out, shameful. But then knelt closer, and the finger went in again. Two fingers. Her hand. Into the mud. It sucked at her like a baby at a breast. Something sharp grazed her knuckles and she pulled back out, heart racing. Everything felt dark and wrong and exciting.

This time, she is ready. A roll of saran wrap. A lantern instead of a flashlight. A six-pack of Corona. In the time between visits, she had fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole of Witch’s Beds. Bodies of mud that appear from nowhere, as if overnight, burbling and suctioning and stinking and swallowing. This particular hole, it’s true, is beginning to give off a foul odor. Sulphur and rot and something like an unwashed body. She throws a pebble in the center and watches it disappear. She opens her backpack and begins to throw in the contents. A crushed bag of goldfish crackers. A broken pen. Receipts. Lipstick. Advil. Diapers. The hole hisses. She finishes her Corona and throws it in. It bobs for not even a second before sinking. She imagines Shiloh, off leash, disappearing into the hole, screaming that almost human scream. She pushes her finger in again at the edge of the hole and shudders.

She sits on the ground, removes her boot, removes her sock. Wraps her leg in saran wrap up to her knee, hitches her skirt up, tucks it into her underwear. She scoots to the edge – wonders if, in actuality, there is an edge, or if she is miscalculating terribly. Slips her toe in. Her foot. The mud sucks and lets out a soft moan-like hiss. Her leg sinks up to the knee, the warmth wrong and dark. She lights a cigarette, tries to move her leg against the weight of the hole, and feels her foot hit something solid. She shouldn’t be here. The thought fills her with a kind of electric excitement, the kind of guilt that transforms itself into firecrackers and euphoria. She opens another Corona. She could be a witch. The saran wrap begins to unravel in a way that defies physics. She slips in her other foot and the stars between the branches spin.

Andrea Kneeland is the author of How to Pose for Hustler (Civil Coping Mechanisms) and The Translations (Sententia Books). She is very tired.