On our way up to a friend’s cottage last weekend, my wife Rachelle accidentally drove over a snake. She thought it was a twig, but once she saw this twig spasm and flip about in a snake-like kind of agony, she felt horrible.
“I can’t believe I just killed a snake. That has to be a disastrous omen. God must hate me now.”
“No, no, God hates snakes,” I added helpfully, ” And the Lord God said to the snake, Because you have done this you are cursed more than all cattle and every beast of the field; you will go flat on the earth, and dust will be your food all the days.”
Rachelle looked at me.
“God’s on your side, here! He meant that snakes would evermore be in danger of being run over by boulders and cars. It was part of the deal for ruining the garden of Eden.”
Rachelle sighed, “is it still twitching?”
“No, no, it looks like some sort of birds are picking at it now. It’s fine. It’s slithering into the light, now.”
“Michael, please shut-up! This really bothers me, snakes freak me out. And will you take off that creepy Nick Cave music, I feel like I’m driving into a serial killer movie! Put on something cheerful, Feist, anything that makes me feel safe, like I’m shopping in a Gap or a Banana Republic.”
When we got to our friend’s cottage we noted that it was big, dark and full of mice. Apologetically, our host explained that in the Fall the mice always make an effort to infiltrate the place. He was combating this invasion by setting up an array of mousetraps he’d bought in Chinatown. These traps, all adorned with an impenetrable Chinese script that gave them a mystical vibe, proved brutally effective, and on the first night we were there over 17 mice were killed in these traps.
Throughout the night we’d be intermittently jarred awake by a loud SNAP, knowing at that precise moment a mouse had just shuffled off it’s mortal ccoil. Lying in bed, trying to fall back asleep and hearing various traps going off in the cottage, I imagined all sorts of ghost mice floating through the night. Rachelle, who loves animals of all sorts, was still sincerely upset about having killed a snake earlier in the day, and was almost beside herself with a kind of anxious grief hearing all the traps going off.
“I wonder if they get decapitated?” she asked me out of the blue at 3:15 in the morning.
“Do you want me to go and look?”
“No. Yes. No, no, no! I do not! Yes. Go. Look.”
And so when I went down to the bathroom I checked the mousetraps and saw two decapitations, which completely surprised me and for some reason, actually kind of terrified me.
“Rachelle,” I said, “the mice are curled up on cotton balls, smiling, like they’ve found the peace they’ve always been seeking.”
“Oh Christ, did you bring up any of your sleeping pills? I’m going to need some.”
In spite of the drugs, we slept little that night.
The next day while sitting down at the dock, we noticed a man paddling by. He passed us three times, as if doing surveillance first before actually stopping. He looked weird, this guy, and what I initially thought was a knapsack on his back turned out to be extreme curvature of the spine, a condition that rendered him, well, a hunchback.
Marcus, our host, told us a little bit about him as he made his passes. He lived nearby, was named Arash and he came to Canada from Iran after the Revolution in 1979. Near 50, he had lived with his parents until their death ( this never fully explained) 20 years ago, and had been living alone on the ramshackle property they had shared ever since.
He had never been married, was a handyman of some sort, lost three fingers off his left hand in an incident with a bull, and made no secret of the fact that he loathed the cottage culture and escalating prices that city folks brought to the area he called home.
“It disgusts me,” he said as he stared at Rachelle, who was sitting on
the dock in her bathing suit.
“I feel vulnerable,” she whispered to me.
A bonafide misanthrope, Arash had nonetheless come over to extend an invitation for us to join him at the local gun club, where he was a member. This had been been pre-arranged by Marcus and was sprung on us as a surprise. Neither Rachelle nor I know a thing about shooting, but had always told Marcus that we’d love to try it sometime, and
this, well, this was to be the time.
Scared, but excited, like the first to go in a slasher flick, we went to Arash’s property the next day. Over 100 acres in size, it had about a half dozen structures on it, all in varying degrees of decay and creep. Bodies of cars were strewn about, a mannequin wearing a dress could be seen through a window, a winch for gutting animals hung in his garage, and his dog was terrified of him. At this point, any doubt that I had about whether Arash was a serial killer or not were completely erased.
“Why did you have to kill that snake?!” I hissed at Rachelle, “It’s like a sailor killing an Albacore! Now we’re doomed!”
“You mean Albatross, you moron, and our deaths will be you fault, if you’d just gotten your goddamn driver’s license when you said you would, this never would have happened!” she hissed back.
On the way to the Gun Club, Arash spoke of many of the things he hated. I had no idea a man could hate butterflies as much as he did, and as his anger with the creatures escalated, I got more and more nervous, which always makes me chatty. I began to talk about movies and asked Arash what his favorite film was.
“I watch action movies,” he responded, “I don’t like to think when I’m relaxing. It’s important for me to quiet my head. I don’t drink, you know.”
“Why does your dog hate you?” I blurted.
This led to a long monologue about how we, the city folks, infantilized our animals and how dogs must know who the leader of the pack was and then, well, then we were at the Gun Club.
There was nobody else there, of course, and as we stood there watching Arash unpack about 12 different guns with a meticulousness that seemed like an evident disorder, I thought of all the scenarios by which he might kill us.
I imagined myself hanging from a hook and Rachelle kept in a dungeon for a week or two before making a break for it like Ashley Judd did in that movie.
After setting up a rifle, he asked which of us would go first. As I very much wanted a weapon in my hand, I volunteered and contrary to every expectation I had, Arash proved a very gentle and patient teacher.
When my target returned, it happened that I was a surprisingly good shot. Arash looked at me, “Ah, so maybe you are not just a blind owl, maybe you are something more?”
I thought it was a funny thing to say and felt insulted. I gave him a look. He held my gaze. Not knowing exactly how to extricate myself from this weirdness, I thought I’d go big, “You know, Arash, you are straight from central casting. You score off the charts when it comes to serial killer profiles.There must be shallow graves all over your goddamn place!” I started to laugh, hoping to encourage Arash to do the same thus evaporating some of the tension, but he did not.
He looked at me, “the only graves on my property belong to my parents.”
This scared me like nothing I had ever heard before, and for a moment I sincerely thought I was going to vomit, and then I fainted.