Milo Himes disappeared from a Utah beach one Wednesday last month. It’s possible he wandered too far out, drowned in the undertow, but the police suspect foul play, someone grabbing him then disappearing over the dunes. Drifters and local sex offenders top their list. The media thinks it’s the stepmom, how she stayed at the beach four hours after she reported him gone. Me? I’m wondering why no one’s saying “shark.” That lake in Utah, it’s salt, so why not? I call the police and posit sharks into their heads. The police hang up. There’s no cash reward involved—I just want to help. If there’s a great white in the Great Salt, it could strike again. At any time.
On the home front, it starts with tiny red ants. I find a gap between the faucet unit and the countertop, the seal disintegrated. Or melted. Or chewed. I paper-towel them, make it all white again, but every time I get a drink of water, go to the fridge, or take a pill, I see a thousand more. I wipe them up, they come back. I clean, they come back. I put out traps, they have a little party. I spray my entire house with vinegar—I read about that once—sixteen bottles of Heinz, and after a few days, they’re gone. I recaulk the sink, do the same in the bathroom, tub too: It’s a big tube of caulk. I have defeated the tiny red ants.
The Great Salt Lake contains no sharks: I checked the Internet. But other lakes in the world do. Bull sharks in Africa can live in fresh water—they take a wrong turn at a channel and can’t find their way home. For some reason, they produce twenty times more urine than bull sharks living in saltwater. I’m pretty sure it’s the opposite for people: salt = peeing. I think of my father’s prostate, his need to go every ten minutes. I picture him in a saltwater tank in his living room, wearing a scuba mask and oxygen tanks. He’s floating in his red and blue trunks, giving a thumbs-up, watching a game, reaching over the side of the tank for a shot of rye, to dip a chip in dip. He doesn’t have the money for that kind of contraption, and I’m guessing his insurance wouldn’t pay for it, either. And Milo Himes didn’t disappear in Africa. Case closed: the shark didn’t do it.
Next is a mouse in the cupboard. At least I hope it’s a mouse and not a rat—I’ve never seen it/them. Bags of rice, of flour, of tea are gnawed through. Black shit dashes my linoleum. Floury steps lead to a hole in the baseboard behind the stove. I duct-tape it shut; two days later, it’s bored through. I set traps; they’re picked clean. I get a cat; it runs away. I buy D-Con, shove it in the hole, nail a new board over the opening. I sit in the dark and listen, hear something scuffle, something struggle. They are inside the cardboard packaging, eating the poison. That’s the last I hear from any of them. The reek from their carcasses lasts a couple days, but smells, no matter how nasty, can’t eat my food.
Milo Himes’s left shoe is found in a diner bathroom in Green River, southern part of the state. They know it’s his because descriptions have been all over the news, his shoes distinctive, Elmo and Big Bird, arm in wing, Milo’s squiggles doodling the toes. A janitor spotted it behind a toilet. I think the janitor’s got Milo, to be honest, because it’s always the janitor, some ex-con or mental patient. He just happened to spot this shoe and turn it in? Fuck me. But I used to be a janitor, at a school, and I never did it. When she hired me, the superintendent told me never to smile at the kids, never talk to them. I obeyed. Last fall, some girl showed signs of abuse, said it was her dad, and the first thing he said when they questioned him? “It’s probably some janitor at school.” The police had to follow it up, questioned me in the kindergarten for two hours, treating me like I was feeling her up right there on the tiny desks. They brought up my B&E from when I was 17—I pinched a couple of car stereos—and somehow tied that to raping third-graders twenty years later. They had nothing on me, and eventually, the dad got caught, in his daughter’s bed, both of them sobbing and naked. A week later, I got laid off. The superintendant said she’d gotten too many calls. Parents didn’t want me around, even though an aunt walked in on the scene, the dad confessed then hung himself in lockup that night. But no, I got the ax. Go figure.
Pretty sure I have squirrels in my attic. They move in the evening, scampering about for a while, then hit the town in full dark. I sit in my yard at dusk one night and watch: it’s raccoons. There’s a hole right under the gutter, southeast corner. Two coons use it like a revolving door, living in sin in my attic, which I can’t tolerate. I make some calls—raccoons will claw your fingernails out, then give you rabies—and find an exterminator who says he can handle it, but it will cost me $380. I clean my rifle. I give the raccoons one more night together—I imagine them at a midnight chapel, tying the knot, having a final roll in a Dumpster—then pick them off at dawn when they cross my property line: two shots, two kills. I’m burying them in the garden, free fertilizer, when three squad cars pull up and six cops jump out, vests on, guns drawn, screaming for me to get on the ground, to drop my motherfucking shovel or else I’m fucking dead. They see my Winchester on the porch, take it and me in. I discover that you can’t shoot at mammals, or anything, even on your own property, within city limits. The judge doles out my fine—$2400—plus I have to surrender the Winchester. I wonder if this judge isn’t the bastard who married those raccoons. Vengeance comes full circle, I guess, and I surrender my life savings to the clerk, just so I can go home, see what else has made its move.
Milo Himes is never found. The stepmom and the dad divorce, which seems like a clue, but tragedy results in so many divorces, the experts say, so maybe not. A few months later, it comes out that the stepmom went to high school with that janitor’s first cousin. A lot is made of that. But Utah is small, people-wise, and everyone knows everybody. I want to believe that Milo is somewhere, in a well-lit room, eating Trix, drinking a juice box, watching cartoons, asking when he can go home, but less frequently than he did before. I want his captors to love him, to just have wanted a little Milo for their own. Maybe Milo loves them back by now. Maybe he never liked his stepmom to begin with. Maybe his dad drank. Whatever the case, I hope they find these people who took him. So much trauma, to the dad, to the family, to the police. And to me. If something bad happened to Milo, the likely case, I hope it’s a swift trial, that the defendants don’t appeal, just take their medicine, do the honorable thing. They still have firing squads in Utah, but that’s a waste of bullets. With me: one shot, one kill. I’d tie that found shoe from the end of my gun, let the fuckheads see it, watch it dangle as the explosion pours forth.
I wake up to some noises coming from downstairs. It’s three weeks after the raccoons, and I only have my mom’s old handgun—sadly, no bullets. I walk downstairs and find a guy stuck in one of the side windows, his huge ass unable to wiggle free. He’s trying to reach the floor with his hands, grab onto the radiator pipes off to the side. I kick him in the cheek. He reaches back like he’s got something to use on me, but I cock my empty Glock under his nose and he goes limp, half of him in my dining area, half of him outside. I find a .22 in his belt, put it in my pants. I ask what he’s doing, and he says he saw my TV from the street, my plasma.
“You were going to carry it out the window?”
“I was going to unlock the door.”
I’m pretty certain I can shoot an intruder—an armed one especially—once they cross the plane. I tell him this and he begs me not to kill him, suggests I call the police. I think about it, but instead go and get my duct tape, my boards and nails, the tub of Plaster of Paris. I tie the guy’s hands and start sealing him in, taping him up, boarding the window. He tells me the blood is going to his head, how he’s going to faint. I give him a glass of water from the sink, a banana and a granola bar—the corner chewed off—from the cupboard. I tell him his new name: “Fido.” He says that someone will see his legs, half a man hanging out my window. He says he has to go to the bathroom. He asks why my house smells like vinegar. I tell him that nobody lives next door, and soon, I’ll go out and cover his legs with a tarp, make him look like a stack of firewood. I tell him to go to the bathroom, just let it fly. He eats the banana and asks if this is his last meal. I tell him no, that he caught me at a good point in my life.
“There’s been enough killing,” I say.
As soon as the cast dries, I go upstairs and sleep, more soundly than I have since I can remember.
Michael Czyniejewski is the author of the story collection, Elephants in Our Bedroom, released by Dzanc Books in 2009, and the recipient of a 2010 NEA fellowship. His work has appeared in journals such as The Southern Review, American Short Fiction, and StoryQuarterly, and is forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Indiana Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Knee-Jerk, and Artifice. He also teaches at Bowling Green State University, where he serves as Editor-in-Chief of Mid-American Review.