Daniel David Froid ~ Vermin

Fred had a pas­sion for vermin—to put it inac­cu­rate­ly. In fact, he had a pas­sion for their exter­mi­na­tion, for nov­el meth­ods of effect­ing their cap­ture and destruc­tion. He had a pas­sion, too, for obses­sive obser­va­tion of his traps; he need­ed to bear wit­ness to the deaths and to clas­si­fy, to tax­on­o­mize, his vic­tims. Peter found him sit­ting in their walk-in clos­et, legs crossed like a child, exam­in­ing a trap that he held in one hand. In the oth­er hand, he gripped a pair of tweez­ers. He prod­ded with the instru­ment at a cap­tive spec­i­men; it twitched in response. What do you think this is, Fred said. I have no idea, Peter said. Fred con­tin­ued to poke it. Stop that, Peter said. I don’t know how, Fred said, to explain it. But since child­hood I have wres­tled with a fear of ver­min. The sen­sa­tion of crawl­ing all over. I hate them. I hate them.

Peter exit­ed the room. He felt help­less to address the pho­bia and more than a lit­tle alarmed.

If the bug were suf­fi­cient­ly large, if a lar­va grew to such a size as to over­take the clos­et at whose thresh­old Fred then sat, if it burst from the clos­et and threat­ened their home, and not only their home but also their lives, and not only their lives but—well.

What? Peter said. This was lat­er. Their home, habit­u­al­ly pro­fes­sion­al­ly cleaned, bore no dirt what­so­ev­er and sure­ly few points of ingress for the crea­tures Fred so despised. In the kitchen, Fred knelt before the range as though in prayer’s hum­blest pose, con­vinced of a spider’s pres­ence. I had a weird dream, Fred said. Fortunately, Peter said, the dream bears no resem­blance to real­i­ty. Reality as we know it, Fred said, shrug­ging at Peter’s prompt to say more. The shrug dis­guised his pan­ic, his dream of the thresh­old beyond which loomed a giant, mon­strous thing. He knew it to be false, yet false­hoods mat­tered lit­tle in the face of quiv­er­ing, crawl­ing potential.

Fred said: The dream is false but feels real. That’s all. Since his therapist’s move to Albuquerque, he felt he had lit­tle recourse. In kitchen or garage or back­yard, he knelt, inspect­ed, cleaned, and suffered.

Things took a turn when Fred pur­chased a cam­era and began to film his kills. Among those things that took their turns: Fred’s mania, Peter’s bewil­der­ment and patience, the cin­e­mat­ic arts. His cam­era, trained on the traps, record­ed long takes that endured with­out action for hours until a hap­less spi­der or house cen­tipede or ant ven­tured unknow­ing­ly into the clutch­es of a piece of thick paper whose upper side was cov­ered in glue. Once, the cam­era suc­cess­ful­ly cap­tured the appre­hen­sion of a mouse, result­ing in a film that Fred seemed espe­cial­ly to cher­ish. In cor­rob­o­rat­ing his fear, it offered irrefutable proof yet also com­fort. The vermin’s pres­ence and death alike seemed, on film, more real but less per­ni­cious. He watched it per­sis­tent­ly, seized by what his efforts had wrought.


Daniel David Froid is a writer who lives in Arizona and has pub­lished fic­tion in The Masters Review, LightspeedBlack Warrior ReviewPost Road, and elsewhere.