Give Yourself Nightmares

This is our sixth installment of Tabloid Fiction, in which an author chooses from the trashiest, most lurid, or just bizarre stories of the moment and writes a short story inspired by same.

Billie Livingston is a fiction writer, poet and sometime essayist who lives in Vancouver, B.C. Born in Hamilton, Ontario,...

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||Lola Landekic

“If looks could grill! …Accused cannibal cop Gilberto Valle and a depraved online pal salivated together while watching a video of one of Valle’s female friends cavorting with a trained dolphin at a Bahamas resort — discussing how delicious she’d taste barbecued, an FBI agent testified yesterday.“ (Bruce Golding, New York Post, February 27, 2013)

“…and the sonuvabitch bites me!” Clayton stabs his fork back into the plate of scrambled eggs and holds his other arm up for exhibit.

Nora flinches at the mouth-shaped shadow darkening her husband’s forearm. She watches him shovel food into his mouth. She used to get a kick out of his farmer’s grip on a fork. Thought it made him real, salt-of-the-earth. Now, after four years of listening to him vent about hauling away crystal meth dealers, grappling with wife-beaters (and their wives), he looks and sounds like a clenched fist.

It’s nine in the morning. His shift finished four hours ago. He used to come to bed soon after he got home. Lately though, between their different schedules, sometimes they don’t see each other for days.

Clayton takes a swallow of beer. He stares into the air as he chews. “You call the landlord?”

She scratches a bit of dried food off the table. He exhales an irritated breath.

“Call himself yourself if you’re so fired up about it.”

“Christ, Nora. I’m workin’ 12 hr shifts, here.”

“I hate calling him. It’s like talking to a wall.”

Clay reaches for the bread. As he lifts, a shower of crumbs falls from a hole in the bread bag. “Sonuvabitch.” He peers through the plastic at the gnawed slice on the bottom and tosses it down. “See? Right there. Was that sitting out all night?”

“Shit.” Nora sucks air off the roof of her mouth.

“Yeah, mouse shit.”

“Thought I put it in the fridge.” She picks up the bag, fingers the ragged hole. “Just take a slice from the top. It’s fine on top.”

He snatches it from her hand and hurls it to the garbage can where it drops in cleanly like a basketball through a hoop. His accuracy makes her wince. When Clay first joined the cops, he used to bring home target practice sheets with bullet holes. Every single shot straight through the silhouette’s head.

“I can’t think about this now. I’m wrecked.” He stands up. “What time do you

start today?”

“Four.”

“Bring home a piece of pie from work? Cherry if he’s got it.”

“You shouldn’t eat all that sugar before bed. Give yourself nightmares.”

He looks at her. “Call Merck,” he calls over his shoulder. “Tell him we need an exterminator. End of story.”

She listens to the bedroom door close. There have to be mice all through the building. But the landlord says no. Use sealable containers, Merck says. Sweep the floor.

Nora scrapes the dregs of Clayton’s eggs into the garbage and tosses the plate into the sink before she heads for the living room.

Sitting at the desk, she wakes her laptop. Clayton’s been on again this morning. Getting to be a habit. Used to be he never touched the thing—he doesn’t even have an email address. Nora sees “cop” in a news headline and her eyes glaze. Like he doesn’t get enough of the subject, he’s got to come home and read about it? She types Merck Properties into the search engine and then picks up the phone.

“May I speak with John Merck please? It’s Nora Moore calling.” On hold, she listens to classical music. She chews at a hangnail and stares at the screen. Soon, she clicks back to the page that Clayton was reading: Cannibal Cop Plots BBQ for Beauty. New York cop on trial for conspiring to kidnap, rape, torture, cook, and eat women. She clicks back to the previous page. ‘Cannibal Cop’s’ Wife Takes the Stand.

Nora’s shoulders curl forward.

“Mr. Merck is not available. I’ll put you through to his voicemail.”

Nora stares at the cop’s young face—grinning, chubby cheeks—kind of guy who might come into the diner and order a bowl of macaroni and cheese. John Merck’s outgoing message plays in Nora’s ear as she reads about the wife’s testimony. He started spending more and more time online—and some nights would be on the computer until 5 a.m. He’d been looking at bondage sites—including one featuring a dead woman…

Merck’s voicemail beeps. She looks away, suddenly unable to remember why she phoned. “I —we have a problem. With mice. Could you give us a call? This is Nora Moore from, from — unit 7.” She leaves her number and hangs up.

Swiveling her chair toward the hall, she thinks of the bite mark on Clayton’s arm. Some small movement pulls her eyes down to the floor where an oily brown mouse sits watching, licking its paws. “You,” she whispers. “You little bastard.” The mouse pivots and disappears down the hall.

The wife’s words echo: He started spending more and more time online. Nora turns back to the computer. She clicks on the browser’s history.

— Cop’s Fascination with Cannibalism Sent Him on Downward Spiral

— Was Cannibal Cop Really Planning to Eat His Wife?

— Jury Sees Sick Images at Cannibal Cop Trial

She stops when she comes to the fetish sites themselves. Page after page of it: Darkfestish.com, ViolentSmut.net. Her pulse guns. She hovers the cursor. Then clicks.

A black page covers the screen. Red links shaped like blood spatter invite the visitor to various fetish groups: Asphyxiation; Necro; Disembowelment, Guttings & Eviscerations. She slaps the laptop closed.

Nora opens the door slowly. She creeps to their bed and stands over Clayton. He lies curled on his side, breathing heavy into his pillow.

Lowering herself onto the bed, she peers into the shadowy canal of her husband’s ear as if she might find secrets there.

She presses the heels of her palms against her eyes. Eventually her hands drop back in her lap and she looks at him again before sliding out of her robe and under the covers. She watches him breathe a few moments and then closes her eyes.

The phone rings in the living room. Nora’s eyes scrape open. It’s two in the afternoon; she fell asleep. Beside her Clayton snores. She sits up, trying to get her bearings. The ringing stops. She pulls on her robe and goes out to the desk.

The message light blinks: “John Merck calling. Mrs. Moore, again, I would suggest you keep a clean home and place all foodstuffs in sealable containers. If that’s not clear, have your husband call me.”

The next morning, Nora wakes to a strange noise —a kind of slashing. She blinks into the scant light with a sense of dread thick on her skin. The room quiets a moment until the rhythmic slashes start up again. Like the sound of a blade being sharpened. Adrenaline bolts through her limbs. “Clayton?”

She turns on the lamp. The noise becomes a scrape-thump, scrape-thump. She peers over the side of the bed. At the bottom of the aluminum wastebasket, a mouse thrashes against the side, nails against metal, desperate to claw its way out.

Nora gulps air. She looks at Clayton’s side of the bed and back at the mouse. With two fingers she tips the wastebasket. “Get lost.” The mouse scrabbles out, flattens under the door and flees.

Her throat pulses. She climbs out of bed. Cool air hits her but she doesn’t put her robe on.

Creeping barefoot into the hall, she sees that Clayton is home. He’s at her laptop again. She walks silently to his chair.

Clayton jerks around. “Christ! You scared me.” He swivels to face Nora.

She crosses her arms, shivering now, as she catches Clayton’s reading material: ‘Cannibal Cop’ in Tears as Jury Hears About Taste for ‘Disturbing Porn.’

“Why do keep you looking at that garbage?”

“Did you read it?” Clinton turns to the screen, considers the smiling cop. “Whole thing is weird. He didn’t actually do anything. Now he’s up on charges. Conspiracy to commit murder.”

She stares. “He looked for recipes to cook human meat.”

Clayton shrugs. “Fantasy.”

“Do you fantasize about eating me?”

He looks at her trembling body, and winks. “Every day.”

When she walks away, he calls after her. “It’s a joke, Nora.”

Nora’s on breakfast shift, setting down plates of French toast, eggs benny, breakfast hash. An old-school diner, this place has been around since before she was born. It’s a kitschy hipster joint now, with a crowd who likes to look like Buddy Holly and listen to old diner slang. A guy who orders a hamburger with onion overpays to hear Nora call out, “Gimme a cow and make ‘im cry.”

It’s noon and the place is clearing out. She leans on the counter.

The busboy taps her shoulder. “Your cell’s been ringing.”

“Thanks.” She shoves through the swinging door and finds her purse. Two calls from home. One message: “I’m about to lose my shit, Nora. I just want a goddamn bowl of cereal and there’s—. There’s mouse shit all over the cupboard and the box is— forget it. I’ll see you at home.”

When Nora comes through the front door, she hears Clayton in the kitchen, his voice rising. She heads down the hall.

“…because we’ve got vermin!…Oh, you don’t? Maybe I don’t want to pay your goddamn rent!” He fires the phone at the counter and the force sends a chunk of the receiver flying. Flinching, he stands for a moment, blinking at the spinning piece of plastic on the floor.

Nora inches into the kitchen. “He’s an asshole, Clay. Don’t let —”

Brushing past her, he sits at the table. He hunches over, concentrating. Beside him is a cereal box with a corner chewed out. Cornflakes lie scattered on the linoleum between the cupboard and table.

Nora sets a paper plate with a slice of cherry pie next to Clayton, and notices the mousetrap sitting on the table between his forearms. That bite mark on his arm is still a deep purple but it’s beginning to yellow around the edges. Clayton flips the trap’s hammer over and carefully sets the hold-down bar. He takes his hands off it.

Peeling back the plastic wrap on the pie, he shoves a finger and thumb into the criss-cross pastry and pulls out a membrane of fruit and viscous red juice. With the other hand he slides a carving knife out from under the cereal box and touches it to the mousetrap. Nora jumps as the hammer slams.

Three mousetraps sit empty. Clay’s been home all day. His schedule is four days on, four days off. He and Nora have been arguing since they woke.

“…because you’re obsessed with it!” she says.

“I haven’t even looked at it today. Or yesterday. It’s you that’s obsessed!”

“Oh my Jesus-freaking-Christ. You’re going to lie? You figure just because you shut the browser down, the history disappears? How do you think they caught that freak—every place he went online —it’s all there!”

Clayton stares at her, fists his hand, and opens it. “What do you care?”

“You’re on those fetish sites. I saw.”

“I’m a cop, Nora. I should be —”

“Please! You read that garbage and then you make little sex jokes when the fact of the matter is—When’s the last time we had sex, you and me? When’s the last time you even—” Nora’s voice breaks “—kissed me for chrissake.”

A sharp crack cuts the air. Both faces turn to the sink. They stare in confusion. Clayton bends down and opens the cupboard underneath.

Caught in a trap, the mouse struggles. Neck under the hammer, its long thin teeth bite at the air for breath.

Nora leans and sees the oily brown fur. She gasps as blood slips through the rodent’s teeth onto the pale wood of the trap. The mouse stills. Nora stands up. She clenches to stop the tremor in her jaw.

Clayton plucks the trap off the floor of the cupboard, unsure of what should happen next. He goes to the garbage can, pulls out the empty cereal box and drops the trap and mouse inside. He blinks down at it, looks around the room, and finally stands the box next to the can.

Nora has begun to sob, gasps of truncated breath.

Clayton’s hand rises, fumbles at the air between them and drops. He tries again, touches his own temple and then sends his hand in her direction once more. Finally he reaches her hand. She tries to tug away but he holds firm. Her eyes dart.

Still panting, she meets his gaze, and sees the film of tears there. Clayton begins taking slow, deep breaths through his nose, exhaling out his mouth, as if coaching her.

After a minute of this, Nora starts to get her air back. The room is silent.

The two of them stand in their kitchen, side-by-side, holding hands the way sleeping sea otters do, each afraid the other could drift away in the night.