A personal favorite: rats - Editor
by Joe Nazare
How he laughed, the warped bastard, as the rats swarmed over me. To him, all those scurrying vermin added up to mass entertainment.
I’d tried to tell him, to reason with him. All too aware of the cameras set up to record the proceedings, I leaned in toward him and whispered my plea: (please don’t make me do this, not right now). Not at that particular time of the month. I dreaded that the rats would be drawn by the bloodscent to the worst possible place on my laid-out body.
He listened to my desperate request, seeming to soak up my concern only to flick it off like forehead sweat. C’mon, Edie, he told me. Fight your fear. Do this. I’d say ‘what do you have to lose,’ but I think you know the answer to that one. Always that ominous undertone to his conversation, hinting at the consequences if I didn’t play along, if I didn’t at least attempt to pass his test.
Already I had begun to curse my own weakness, my foolishness. A needy little lamb, I’d let myself be lured so easily, and now look at the wolf den I’d stumbled into. Or maybe that’s just a mixed metaphor, considering what he’d planned for me.
The red indicator lights of the surrounding equipment gleamed beadily in the basement murk. The cameras were trained on the main set piece in that modern-day dungeon: the long, glass-paneled box, some exhibitionist’s lidless coffin.
I started squirming as the awful anticipation spread through my body. I whimpered that I couldn’t go through with it, that I wanted to get out. C’mon, Edie, he said. We haven’t even gotten started yet. Just relax. You can do this. You have to. Remember, you need to hold out for four minutes, just like the Others.
Throughout the whole ordeal, I never got to see these Others. To interact with them, perhaps bond with them in our shared predicament. But he constantly threw them in my face, as if they represented my chief concern. As if he wasn’t the one determined to toss 250 rodents onto me.
In all, he opened and upended three huge wooden crates. I was moaning before the first batch finished raining down; I was screaming by the time the 250th rat crammed the box.
I’ll never be able to accurately convey the horror of that experience. Furry oblong projectiles poured down into the glass crypt and exploded into a fury of activity. They bustled all over each other, over every inch of me. Beyond the gross violation of my personal space, the most horrid sensation was of simultaneous movement, in countless directions. It could have been cuddly animatronic teddy bears teeming over me instead of those vile rodents and the feeling would have been no less unpleasant.
Bad as this was, though, my mind had figured on something of this nature. What I hadn’t anticipated was the overpowering stench of the rats, like wet puppy mixed with hot garbage. The smell only grew worse in the eternity of the ensuing minutes, as many of the rats (perhaps spurred by all the excitement) voided themselves on me. They scampered on heedlessly, emitting their frenzied squeals while they smeared their filth across my skin. Intrepid explorers of their new environment, they gave me curious nips every so often. It felt like being pinched by dozens of tweezers.
I fought my urge to thrash about, hoping my stasis would spark disinterest. My legs were clamped tighter than a nun’s at an orgy, and I willed the thin fabric of my bikini bottom to have all the obstructing steeliness of a chastity belt. The rats, though, took no more notice of my period than they seemed to take of anything else. Still, I had another orifice to worry about. Any shrieking had to be done through clenched teeth for fear that a rat would seize the opportunity to wedge inside my open mouth and burrow down my throat.
Oh God. Just thinking about it now makes me shudder. Maybe dredging all this stuff up was a mistake. I’m going to need a moment…
…Okay, sorry. As I already mentioned, there’s no way I could fully describe my ordeal to you. But that’s not to say that my tormentor didn’t try to squeeze the info out of me. Apparently the rats hadn’t been enough; he continued to pelt me with questions: How does it feel? What’s going on in your mind right now? If he was so hell-bent on understanding the experience, why didn’t he take his own rat-bath?
When he wasn’t playing Grand Inquisitor, he would rattle off the time lapsed every thirty seconds. Delirious with fear, I could barely grasp his words. But the sound of his voice, something arguably human amidst that roiling nightmare, gave me something to focus on. I gazed at him from inside the makeshift crypt, noting his perfectly cut and styled hair, his fashionable cable-knit sweater, his retina-singeing grin full of excessively whitened teeth. That perpetual leer sickened me worse than anything else I had to endure. Obviously my terror was his mirth, and I was helpless to deny him his fill.
At the four-minute mark, he pulled me out of the infested box. As I groaned and trembled, he favored me with an amused, see-it-wasn’t-so-bad expression. He even deigned to congratulate me. But no sooner did he announce that I had passed his test than I passed out cold into his clutching arms.
When I came to, I found myself back in the windowless room I’d been stashed in since first being brought to the house. The room’s air of normalcy seemed almost hallucinatory after what had gone on down in the cellar. I lay there curled on the plush futon sofa, ignoring the programs playing on the wall-mounted TV. Bottles of Evian lined the coffee table like translucent bowling pins, and a change of clothes had been left hanging on the back of the door. For the Next Test, read the note pinned to the mauve blouse and black slacks. I couldn’t care less about looking fashionable at that point, but I leapt at the chance to get out of that stained bikini. A long hot shower first would’ve been even better, but apparently that wasn’t allowed. Just another one of his damned “rules.”
I was given the afternoon (according to the digitized wall clock) to recuperate, and my nerves had just started to stabilize when my host summoned me. Obviously pleased to find me sitting there dressed, he escorted me back downstairs.
Thankfully the glass box had since been removed. In its place stood a rectangular oak table topped by an inverted cardboard carton. The unseen contents thereof gave me pause, but then my host drew my attention towards him. So how are you feeling? he asked, as if he really cared.
No harm in honesty, I figured, so I grumbled about how hungry I was. That gave him quite a chuckle. Well, that’s what we’re here for, he assured me.
Since our last encounter, he, too, had changed—into designer jeans, along with a blue silk shirt beneath a navy blazer. (The bastard’s fresh, soapy scent only sharpened my sense of my own reek). He reached into his shirt pocket, but what he pulled out hardly qualified as edible.
What I need you to do for me, he announced as he extended his arm, is roll this six-sided die on the table here.
Seemed like a simple enough request, but realizing where I was and who I was dealing with, I naturally hesitated. Go on, Edie, he urged, jiggling the die on his palm. The cold look in his eyes belied his smile; he wasn’t accepting no for an answer. So I humored him, taking the small white cube and rolling it.
It clacked to an eventual halt on the wooden tabletop: a six. For an instant I actually believed I’d made a fortuitous roll.
Wow, you really must be hungry, he said, and suddenly I had a lump in my throat that needed swallowing.
He lifted the cardboard box to reveal the culinary delights in store. First I spotted the jug of milk, then the blender. Then the horror situated next to it.
These are Madagascar hissing cockroaches, he explained. You’ll be eating six of them. As if cued, the insects broke into sizzling chorus.
Even as my stomach backflipped, my tongue lashed. “There’s NO friggin’ way!”
He winced at my profanity but quickly regained composure. C’mon, you know the old saying: don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. These are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. He turned and poured the milk into the blender.
But you have to try, Edie. The Others all took their turn, and now you have to take yours if you want to survive.
That last word sledgehammered my resistance. I watched silently as my tormentor proceeded to open the top of the wire-mesh cage housing the exotic roaches.
The first one extracted looked as thick and long as the fingers grasping it. Its many legs, bristled with coarse black hair, wriggled in the air. Its orange-red shell smacked like a stone as the bug plopped into the blender.
One, my server called out. Methodical madman that he was, he announced every number until all six were submerged. Then he hit MIX, making an instant whirlpool of the milk. The very sound of the blending felt like a dentist’s drill applied directly to my spine, and an icy numbness radiated from my shoulder blades down through my arms.
The grating screech ceased after several seconds. He unscrewed the glass pourer from the blender’s base and handed it over to me. Madam, your cockroach cocktail, he said with mock formality before breaking into devilish grin. I had to remind myself that this was all just a game to this sick freak.
It’s a wonder my shaky grip didn’t send the pitcher crashing to the floor. I didn’t dare look at the concoction directly, but could tell that the milk had turned sallow. I half-expected one last hiss to sound from the depths.
The only noise, though, came from my pressing host. Go on, Edie. You can do this. Just then I realized how irritating I found his constant naming of me.
Fight your fear, Edie, he told me. Chug that sucker.
With eyes squeezed close and chin quivering, I lifted the glass to my lips. Self-recrimination boomed in my head: Look at the mess you’ve gotten yourself into, you careless fool.
Tilting my head far back, I guzzled the foul mixture. I kept my tongue flattened and pressed against my bottom teeth, trying to avoid the taste. I managed to drain half the drink before disaster struck.
In the end it was a very simple reaction—utter revulsion bypassed my determination to endure the torment. In the midst of imbibing, I felt something chunky hit the back of my throat. I imagined it as the horned head of a decapitated roach, and then the whole brew did an about-face. I spewed it all over the wooden table.
Oh man! He giggled and grimaced at the same time. Then: Don’t give up, Edie. It still counts if you lap it off the table.
And that’s when I really lost it. The lumpy puddle of vomited milk, now spiked with my bile, was too much to even consider. I clutched my hair, shrieking.
At some point after that I sensed his arms around me, shaking me from my hysteria. Alright, Edie, alright. It’s over.
I opened my eyes, stared warily at him.
I’m sorry, but you’ve failed the second test. That means—
Smirking, he nodded a more emphatic yes. That’s how it works around here, he said. You didn’t pass the test, so now I have no further use for you.
Please don’t beg. You’ve earned the same fate as the Others who failed. He stabbed a finger at the staircase leading up out of the cellar. Walk. Get out of this house. NOW, he bellowed.
Stunned by this dismissal, I slowly turned and plodded upstairs. Could this really be happening? I wondered. After everything I’d gone through…to have it end just like that.
Ever the naïve girl, I didn’t realize that my trials were only beginning.
I have no surviving family, but my handful of friends doled out sympathy when I finally got back to New York. They complimented me on my courage for withstanding as much as I had. Still, I could sense their underlying disappointment in me. Their desire to distance themselves from me, as if fearing that the indignity I had suffered were some communicable disease.
So I did them a favor and pushed them away, then tried to settle back into the life of Edie Pough, aspiring model/double-shifting waitress. I embraced a routine existence, the mind-numbing monotony of which helped free me from reflection. Unfortunately, that same gray haze I wrapped myself in also served to obscure the darker storm brewing.
Forgetfulness at work plagued me first. Over too many years of waitressing I had developed the ability to forego pen and pad and just make mental note of a table’s desired drinks and meals, but now the simplest order slipped my mind before I had taken five steps back toward the kitchen. I fared no better trying to apprise diners of daily specials, offering them Thursday’s traditional soup on Tuesdays, Saturday’s exclusive entrée on Wednesdays. My boss Jerry, owner of the Sixth Avenue establishment bearing his name, had supported my return to work after my “hiatus,” and showed great patience with my concentration lapses. But his kindness only exacerbated my guilt over my screw-ups, which in turn made the job that much more trying for me.
However exhausting my work shifts might have been, I struggled to sleep at night. I’d toss restlessly, kicking the bed sheets off of me and ultimately onto the floor. Frustrated, I would try to pass the long nights with a Nora Roberts novel, but failed to muster much enthusiasm for reading. The heroine could have been encased in glass, for all my inability to form an emotional connection with her.
Dreams saturated my sleep whenever I did manage to nod off. Vague nightmares whose actual content I could never quite recall afterwards. But I think drowning must’ve been a recurring feature, because I’d be flailing my arms and gasping for breath whenever I jolted awake.
From there things got progressively worse, although I didn’t recognize the fact at the time. I’d always taken my coffee black, but now I started eating my morning cereal dry. Preparing breakfast, I would remove the plastic pouch from the cereal box, pour the bran flakes into a pasta strainer. Then, like some latter-day 49er panning for gold, I’d stand there scrutinizing and sifting, inspecting the cereal for the absence of God knows what before finally scooping up overly crunchy spoonfuls.
And that was only the beginning of my fanaticism about my food. Everything I had, whether in fridge or cabinet, was transferred (following rigorous inspection) into tightly-sealed Tupperware. Yet despite the satisfaction I might have taken from such storage, I still had little appetite most of the time. It didn’t take long for my model’s physique to phase over into emaciation—not that I paid much attention to the increasing boniness of my appearance.
My insomnia had meanwhile inked black moons beneath my eyes. I couldn’t even attempt to fall asleep in my bed anymore; the very act of stretching out supine felt like a natural antidote to relaxation. I would move off into what passed for a living room in my shoebox apartment, and snatch whatever rest I could while sitting up in my recliner. But I didn’t find much peace, because most of my time was spent fending off inexplicable blitzkriegs of panic every time the radiator started to hiss its heating.
Had there been anyone to observe my behavior, they surely would have alerted me to my problems. But I endured my unwitting ordeal all alone. It took a special situation to thrust the reality of my entrapment right in my face.
I was riding the subway to work (Jerry, who deserved canonization for his patience, had yet to fire me) when it happened. Mid-commute, within the tunnels stretching between subway stops, the C-train screeched to a halt. Whatever glitch plagued the subway line also killed off the lights inside the car. Darkness wrenched itself around me, and the rush-hour crowd of passengers seemed to huddle up against me. My tightening claustrophobia caused me to turn and try to peer out the oblong window. I managed to regulate my breathing as I studied the scant airspace between the car’s outer shell and the dark grimed wall of the tunnel. I was focusing so much on remaining calm that I didn’t recognize at first what looked in at me from without. As my night-vision gradually sharpened, I spotted the football-sized mutant of a rat teed upon a pipe jutting from the wall.
Pronounced scuffling sounds filled the interior of the car, as my fellow passengers retreated from my piercing shrieks. But insight washed over me even as I made my hysterical outburst. The singular rat before me multiplied 250 times over in my mind’s eye, and suddenly I understood. Reworking formerly random incidents into coherence, I made sense of all that I had been suffering for so long.
I continued to scream, albeit with less gusto. My newfound awareness also brought with it a pall of sadness. I couldn’t deny that I was not well; without a doubt, I needed help. But I had little interest in seeking out a professional. I knew now what vexed me, so what did I need for some pompous headshrinker to give me a clinical diagnosis. To saddle me with some label. PTSD—sounded like something you contracted after a frat party. (Why do all the worst acronyms seem to end in D? Disease, Disorder, Destruction, oh my.)
No, I didn’t need to lie down on some psychiatrist’s couch; what I needed now was to take action. To help myself. Watching the creature eyeing the subway car, with its whiskered nose twitching in apparent contempt, I realized New York City was truly the domain of rat and roach—the rest of us were just subletting. And thus for me, the pestilent Big Apple epitomized the wrong place at the wrong time. I desperately needed to relocate—unless I intended on forgoing things like eating and sleeping for the shrinking remainder of my miserable life.
Like my Grammie Pough used to say: Balls to that.
Eventually the stalled train powered up again and completed its journey. Emerging topside, I marched into Jerry’s and quit my job. Took a cab back home and packed up my clothes. The next day I cashed out my bank account, used the bulk of the money to buy a used car and obtain a few other necessities for my trip.
The temperature had sunk below freezing as I left the City that afternoon, but I drove with the top down on the 2001 Sebring Convertible. I had a destination in mind, a slew of street maps spread out on the passenger seat, and no idea of what would prove my particular road to recovery.
I’m eager to get to the good parts, so I won’t linger on the details of my cross-continental odyssey. Anyhow, what matters is the destination, not the journey.
My time behind the wheel only increased when I reached the Left Coast. I drove up and down, down and up the streets of Los Angeles County, a seeming sightseer actually engaged in much sterner vigilance. Still, as the days wore on, I began to fear the futility of my efforts. I was honestly on the verge of giving up when it happened.
Or should I say, when he happened to show himself.
Piloting the Sebring down Sunset, I spotted him just getting into a magenta-colored sports car parked twenty feet up ahead to my right. The timing could not have been any more perfect. In fact, it almost seemed too convenient, and I had a moment of hesitation wondering if I had fixed on some two-legged mirage. But no, I could never mistake my former tormenter. There he was in the flesh, the bastard.
I slowed down to allow him time to start his car and pull away, then followed at what I deemed a discrete distance. As I drove with a suddenly sweaty grip on the wheel, I felt a strange pulling at the corners of my mouth. Finally, I identified it: I was enjoying my first smile in God knows how long.
He thought he could hide by keeping a low profile. Thought he could protect himself by vacating his haunt over in Burbank where he did his filming (naturally, the first place I’d checked upon returning). Thought he could lose himself in this big city, if not the wider world. Well, I’d found the prick in a haystack.
The fact that our paths had managed to intersect again after all this time made me believe that a higher power had to be at work here. It heartened me to think of that power on my side.
I continued to tail him, and he led me on a winding trail up into the Hills. Once, when checking my rearview mirror to verify that my pursuit had not drawn any unwanted attention, I caught glimpse of myself. Look what you’ve done to me, I thought as I glared back ahead toward his car. I could’ve been Playboy material before I met you, and now I look more like a fresh cadaver than someone to die for.
I fought to keep my foot from slamming down on the accelerator. Still, when he slowed down to negotiate a right turn, I didn’t hit the brake either. I figured this might as well be the moment of truth, and smacked the Sebring into his rear bumper at a steady 25 mph.
The collision produced only a minor jolt, but it was enough. A moment later, he got out of his car, giving it a quick scan for damage as he walked back toward me. “Hey,” he called out as he approached the driver’s side door, “are you alri—”
But I’d already launched into my act. “Ohmigod, I am so sorry. I am such an idiot. I took my eyes off the road for just a second”—I rustled the nest of maps burying my right hand in the passenger’s seat—“and look what happened. It’s all my fault. Don’t worry, I’ll take complete responsibility. I’ll—hey, wait a minute. Ohmigod, it’s you.”
I noticed he was deeply tanned, but not quite as toned as I’d remembered him. His tight black T-shirt betrayed a body beginning to bulge in all the wrong places. If he’d been trying to affect a rugged look with that few-days’-growth of beard, he’d failed. No, he certainly wasn’t the pretty specimen he used to be. But, hey, join the club, buddy.
He didn’t squirm, didn’t smile, didn’t take flight. Merely responded with a listless shrug. So I had to pick up the slack: “This is so weird. I can’t believe I’m running into you like this after all this time.”
His brow furrowed. “We’ve met somewhere before?”
“Oh, c’mon, don’t tell me you don’t remember me.” I favored him with a smile as I made the mild rebuke. But I was really choking back bile all the while, remembering how he couldn’t stop announcing my name when his cameras were rolling.
He cast a sidewise glance up and down the deserted street. “Sorry, I—”
“How long has it been?” I cut him off. “How have you been?”
His confusion gave way to a weak sigh. “Look, maybe we should just exchange insurance information.”
He really was the poster boy for disinterest, standing there hunched over and watching me with heavily-lidded eyes. Such posturing suddenly infuriated me. I remembered how he used to caper when back in his element. Remembered the devious cleverness of his methods, where the aftershocks proved even worse than the tremors instilled during the tests themselves. So no, I had little patience for this lethargy he presented. Enough with the whole act already.
He grew a lot more energetic (at least momentarily) when I reached my right arm across and rammed the taser into his paunched gut.
So now here we are, holed up in this nice little hideaway. I sit here writing this all out longhand for you, my trusty spiral-bound notebook. Just getting the words down on the page helps leech the sickness from me, makes me feel sounder in mind and body.
But the main aspect of my treatment, of course, is my treatment of him. The sole cause of all my problems. He used to be so snide, so self-assured, but already he’s turned into a sniveling little pissant. And I’ve barely begun to test him, to transfer my trauma back onto its source. It promises to be quite an educational experience for him; he will learn that no one harms me with impunity.
I’ve often heard that bon mot about revenge being a dish best served cold. So I think I’ll leave his testicles in the fridge a little while longer before pushing them through the Cuisinart.
Hopefully, he’s still game after that. Because I have so much more planned for him. It’s only fair, considering the countless Others he must have tormented.
I really do hope he fights hard for his survival. It’ll make it that much sweeter to crush him. To keep inflicting and inflicting until finally he falls to his knees, weak and meek, a permanent supplicant before the beautiful bitch-goddess Payback.
I, for one, am trembling with anticipation.
[article appearing in the April 1st edition of the Los Angeles Times]
HOST’S DISAPPEARANCE CONTINUES TO BAFFLE
On Day 13, the search for missing TV personality Joel Logan failed to turn up any new leads.
Logan was last spotted leaving the Winston Café on Sunset Boulevard on the afternoon of March 18th. Later that same day, police discovered his 2006 Dodge Viper—which apparently had been involved in a minor accident—abandoned less than a mile from his Hollywood Hills home.
The 32-year-old Logan is best known as the former host of NBC’s “false-captivity/ extreme-reality” hit Fearmonger. At the time of the show’s surprising cancellation last summer, Logan denied rumors of a bitter contract dispute, alluding to creative rather than financial differences. According to industry insiders, Logan balked at the increasingly sadistic persona that Fearmonger’s producers pressured him to display towards contestants.
Given Logan’s subsequently blinkering stardom, cynics have theorized that he staged his own disappearance two weeks ago as part of some desperate publicity stunt. Police commissioner Allan Blackwood, however, insists that the possibility of foul play has not been ruled out at this time.