Today, we are thrilled to present the winner of our Fall Fiction Contest, “Night Beast” by Ruth Joffre. In this story, our narrator attends her brother’s wedding. His fiance is a girl who has been intimate with his sister while sleepwalking. The author says about the story: “Sleep sex has always fascinated me because of the sticky questions it raises about desire, betrayal, and consent. My characters hurt each other in ways they never would’ve imagined, and that was what interested me most while writing ‘Night Beast’.” Kelly Link selected this incredible piece as the winner of our contest, and it is immediately evident why. Congratulations, Ruth Joffre, on this wonderful and powerful story.
Selected by Kelly Link
“Looking at them then, they seemed perfect for each other, absolutely perfect. But Sydney’s eyes found me in the dark, and the look on her face struck me like water strikes a stone.”
Somnambule, I called her. Somnambule pirouetting in the night. I shivered the first time I found her pressed against me in bed, her cold, insistent fingers working their way under my shirt. My brother had told me that she was a sleepwalker, that sometimes he’d wake up in the middle of the night and have to ease Sydney down off the table or the couch, because she was dancing with her eyes closed and didn’t realize how close her head was to the fan. He hadn’t mentioned the sex or the touching, but he probably hadn’t expected it to be an issue; and of course I didn’t tell him. I thought it would embarrass him. He and Sydney had been dating for three years by then, and he’d started thinking about marriage. He told me in confidence that it was time to either get married or break up. He’d had enough of Sydney’s empty commitments. And yet she was the one who called to invite me to the wedding.
It was on Saturday, the third Saturday in April, at Sydney’s parents’ house in Connecticut. My brother had hinted on several occasions that her family was rich-rich, but I’d never met them, and I didn’t think anything of it when I read the word estate on their wedding invitations. Sydney had merely said that the ceremony would be held in her parents’ backyard—she failed to mention that this yard included statues, gardens, and a little brook her parents had installed to mark where their property ended and their neighbor’s began. It didn’t surprise me in the slightest that they had just one neighbor, a pediatric surgeon whose father had been the Governor of Connecticut. When I pulled up in front of the house, I considered turning around and skipping their wedding entirely, but then a truck drove up beside me, and someone directed me toward the garages, and I resigned myself to the fact that this was happening. She was going to marry him right in front of me.
My brother didn’t answer his phone, so I walked around the estate, half-expecting to learn that he’d fled the country at the last minute. Someone told me that he was in the back, helping put up the big tent, but when I arrived, six men were working together to drive metal stakes deep into the grass, and my brother was gone. A tall, silver-haired man in a gray button-down shirt took his place, watching the six men with an expression of disbelief and, it seemed, mild resentment. This was his backyard, I realized. His daughter getting married, just two months after getting engaged. When he saw me, his face went blank, and his hands slipped out of his pockets so he could shake mine. “Austin Carver. You’re looking for your brother?”