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, Lightspeed, Black Warrior Review, Post Road, and elsewhere.