It was several days after Boba’s squealing incident. Yuri mysteriously had been out all day and was returning home in high spirits. Anna’s somber greeting at the door did little to quell his good mood.
“Yuri,” she said, “I must speak to you…”
“And I must speak with you, my love.”
“I took the children to the doctor today,” she said.
“Oh?” he said.
She was surprised by his lack of concern. “I know we can’t afford it but they had more marks and I was worried.”
“And what did he say?”
“They don’t have chicken pox,” she admitted with mild shame.
“I didn’t think so.”
“He says it might be a bug bite. Maybe of bedbugs.”
“As I thought: Snowman and his fleas.”
“I’m sorry I took them to the doctor for that. But the doctor was kind, he only took money for one child even though he looked at all three.”
“Money well spent if it makes you not worry. And you won’t have to worry about anything now. I got a job today!”
“You did?! Where?”
“At Hemstrought’s. Not at one of the stores, at the main bakery. Vasil told me somebody quit. I just went in and they gave me the job.”
“Yuri, that’s wonderful!” She hugged him. “How much does it pay?”
“A hundred eighty-five a week.”
She hesitated. “But that’s fifty dollars less than before.”
“I know. But it took me three years to make that money at Chicago Pneumatic. This is just to start.”
“I’m sure it will go up, Yuri.”
“I want to tell the children the good news.”
He found Taras in the living room. Boba sat dug in on the floor with Taras pulling on his collar. “What are you doing, Taras?”
“I want to play with Boba in my room but he won’t come.”
“Leave him be.”
“He never comes to my room anymore.”
“Taras, I have good news! Tato is going to work at a bakery now. Making cakes and doughnuts.”
Taras was surprised. “Oh, you don’t work at the screwdriver factory anymore?”
Much later that night Larissa was having a dream. She held in her hand a red apple with golden streaks and longed to taste it. But when she took a bite it proved to be terribly sour and her mouth collapsed in a pucker around the bite. She took another bite, this one bitter like the foulest medicine. She took bite after bite and each turned out to be unpalatable in its own way.
Finally a higher level of consciousness intervened to break her out of this miserable cycle. Now she was in darkness, but she realized the darkness was caused by her closed eyes, and that she was coming out of a dream. The apple was still palpable in all its foul flavors, but she knew it was not real.
Yet her mouth still struggled. Something was wrong with her mouth. No, outside her mouth. Her lower lip was being touched by little pokes, like the legs of an insect. Could she be dreaming this? No, the unpleasant tickle she felt was too real.
With disgust she realized that a bug was crawling across her face. She swiftly brought her hand up from under the covers and brushed her fingers across her lips. Her horror deepened when her fingers did indeed feel something small and bug-like on her lip. She brushed the bug aside and opened her eyes.
The room was filled with the icy blue light of early dawn. She tilted her face sideways on the pillow, and thought she could see the bug on the pillowcase. She raised her hand flat in preparation for squashing it dead. But then her eyes came into focus and she was able to see the bug clearly.
Larissa was paralyzed for four loud beats of her heart, before she exploded in a scream. She propelled herself out of the bed with abandon, not caring if her legs were ready to bear her weight. Her forehead struck the nightstand as she landed facedown on the floor. She pushed herself up and bolted through the door. Halfway down the stairs she gained enough sense to scream a word: “Tato!”
She collided with her father as he came out of his room. She buried her face in his chest, screaming into his body.
“Larissa! What is it? Calm yourself!”
She stifled another scream but kept her face pressed to her father’s chest, panting. Her mother appeared and put her hand on her back. “Did you have a bad dream?”
Larissa swept her nose from side to side against her father.
Taras appeared from his room. “What happened, Mama?”
“Larissa had a bad dream, that’s all. Go back to bed.”
Larissa said something unintelligible.
“What did you say?” Yuri asked.
She pulled her head back, gasped and said clearly, “It was not a dream.”
Anna put her arm around her. “Come back to bed. Tell me what happened.”’
“No!” she shrieked. She turned to look up the stairs towards her room and her breath broke into quick sobs.
“Will you come to my room?” She nodded. Anna led Larissa to her own bed where they sat. “Tell me what happened, Larissa?”
“Shut the door,” she said, and then in a whisper added, “I don’t want him to hear.”
“Who?” Yuri said. He closed the door.
“It’s a bug. It’s not a bug. It’s a—“ She could not finish.
“What happened, Larissa?” her mother asked.
“I woke up. There was…on my face there was…a bug.” She rubbed the back of her hand against her lower mouth. “But it wasn’t a bug…It was a man.”
“What?” Yuri said. “There’s a man in your room?”
Her face contorted on the verge of tears. “No…yes.”
“You mean you dreamt there’s a man in your room?” her mother said.
“No. There is something.”
Yuri reached under his bed and brought forth a long-handled axe. “Stay here.”
Anna soothed Larissa during the several minutes Yuri was away, and she attained a semblance of calm. Yuri returned. “There’s nobody in there, Larissa. I looked everywhere. Then I checked all the windows and doors in the house. They’re all locked.”
“You won’t see him,” Larissa said.
She sighed. “He’s very small.”
Yuri sat beside her on the bed. He rested the axe head on the ground, still holding the handle. “How small?”
“Like a big bug. The size of my pinkie fingernail.”
Anna said, “Larissa, you were dreaming.”
“What did this man look like?” Yuri said.
“He was a man with gray hair and a beard and a belly. An old man.”
“It sounds like a very strange dream, Larissa,” Anna said. “But it was a dream.”
“No, it was not a dream. I brushed him off my lip and he fell on the pillow and he’s there still.”
“There’s nothing in your room, Larissa. I looked,” Yuri said.
“You had a nightmare,” Anna said. “That’s all.”
“I wish I had a nightmare. I know what a nightmare feels like when I wake up, I know it’s not real. But this time I woke up and it still feels real.”
“It was a bad dream, Larissa,” her father said with finality.
Her mother said, “It’s already late enough to get up and get ready for church. When we’re at church we’ll all pray that our beloved daughter won’t have these bad dreams.”
“Now go get dressed.”
“Will you get the clothes from my room?”
“Of course. This time I will.”
Larissa grabbed her mother’s arm. “There’s something else I should tell you about my…dream.”
“I know the man from the dream. I know who he is.”
“Oh?” Yuri said with apprehension. “Who is he?”
“Pan Kravchuk. The church janitor.”
Both parents looked stricken. Yuri was the first to speak. “The last time I saw Pankrat Kravchuk he was much bigger than a bug. That’s proof that what you saw was a dream.”
“Larissa, you stay here. I’ll get your clothes,” Anna said. “Yuri, could you come with me?”
She led her husband up the stairs to Larissa’s bedroom. At the entrance she paused, feeling an apprehension she could not explain. When she went in she found no little man, only Snowman sitting at the foot of the bed. She closed the door after Yuri entered.
“Something is not right, Yuri.”
“Yes, it’s spooky. But she must know he’s dead.”
“She doesn’t know he’s dead. She wasn’t in church last week because of her cold.”
“Kravchuk died two weeks ago. A friend could have told her.”
“Yuri, the way she was talking she doesn’t know he is dead. And if she goes to church she’ll find out. Father Varenyk will have a remembrance for Kravchuk. Maybe she shouldn’t go?”
“She has to learn sometime,” Yuri said.
“But why did she dream of him?”
“Only the Devil could send such a dream, of that wretched man, dead, now small. The Devil put such thoughts into the poor girl’s head. Which is why she especially should go to church this morning.”
Anna flipped the pillow over, half-expecting to find a tiny man underneath it. “Did anyone go to Pankrat’s funeral?”
Yuri snorted. “Just the old diehards like my father. Why should anyone go? Everybody hated him.”
“Yuri, don’t speak ill of the dead.”
“After what he said about you I can speak about him however I want.”
“He was drunk,” Anna said.
“I don’t care how drunk he was.”
“I have forgiven him.”
“Well I haven’t,” he said with a dismissive sweep of his hand. “He deserved to get punched. I’m not the only one. He got into fistfights with half the men in the church, and a lot more outside the church. Nobody was sad to see him go.”
They returned to Larissa with the clothes. Anna said, “You can dress in my room.”
“Do I have to go to church, Mama?”
“But I’m afraid of seeing Pan Kravchuk.”
“You won’t see him, Larissa,” Yuri said brusquely. “He died.”
“He died?” she said aghast. “When?”
“Two weeks ago.”
Her lower lip began to quiver. “But why am I having a dream about a dead man? And like that, how he was small as a bug?”
Her mother put her arm around her. “Bad things like this dream come from the Devil. I don’t know why God allows them to reach you, maybe to test your faith. The only thing to do is to go to church and to pray.”
“Is that what it is, Tato? The Devil?”
Yuri said, “Yes. I think so too.”
Back in Larissa’s room, Snowman lay on the foot of the bed, drifting off. On the skin of his neck, nestled deep in the thick fur, sat the creature.
Something stirred in the creature, memories of a life that was not all desperate need for blood and for warmth. A life of desires, of wanting of particular things, of pleasure, of anger.
And the man who had just been in the room passed from vague familiarity to definite recognition. He had a name. A name was a word. And words were…spoken.
The creature chewed his mouth and remembered that the orifice had additional uses besides sucking blood. He parted his lips, paused. And then he said one word: “Yuri…”
He repeated the word again, this time with bile. “Yuri.” What was the foulness he associated with that name, and with the man who bore that name?
And then he remembered there were naming words he associated with himself. He said these words now: