Flipping through the catalogue of coupons and adverts next to the cash register, I absently stopped on a half-page red and yellow banner.
Is Your Spouse’s Snoring Keeping You Up At Night?
Tracing the words, I felt a pang of guilt, but when Stephen got going, it sounded like a lawnmower throwing down with a pack of wild boars. I tore the page out of the catalogue, paid for my stuff, and took off to home, the sweet sounds of nameless jazz tunes keeping me company.
Walking through the door, I expected to find Stephen bustling around in the kitchen, but the house was empty and silent. No bother, I thought, I could take over dinner duties for the night.
I put some water on the stove to boil and remembered the ad from the store. I plucked it out of my jacket pocket and read it over a few times; it didn’t seem like a scam.
“Brand new product on the market, thoroughly tested and proven to lessen any level of snoring in just three weeks or your money back.”
The words were wrapped under a cartoon drawing of a smiling nose with wings, taking flight into a light blue sky. The mixture of colors on the page was a bit unsettling. It had a phone number listed below the nostrils: 888-322-3633.
What was the harm?
Punching in the number, I shouldered the phone and stirred lazily at the water beginning to simmer in the pot. Maybe I’d make pasta with a nice chicken cordon bleu, or a–
“Hello and thank you for calling Breathe-EZ, where we’ve got you by the nose.”
I blinked and shifted the phone into my hand. What a weird introduction.
“Please listen closely, as our menu options have recently changed. If you are a new customer, please press 1.”
“If you are ordering for yourself, please press 1. If you are ordering for someone else, please press 2.”
The automated message led me through the rest of the process, presenting a handful of questions and corresponding options regarding the situation, and by the time the pasta shells were softening, I’d ordered a three-month supply for $49.99 plus shipping and handling. The company had stated that 3 weeks would be enough to see serious results, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.
Stephen arrived home a half hour later, sneaking up behind me and wrapping his around around my stomach. I yelped, jumped, and almost elbowed him in the face. He just laughed and rubbed his chin on the back of my neck; I could feel his five-o-clock shadow stubble bristle against my skin.
During dinner, watching his face over our steaming plates, I brought up my purchase.
“So I saw something while I was at the store,” I murmured.
“Tell me you didn’t buy more candles,” he exclaimed.
I furrowed my brow. “They smell good and they help me concentrate, you asshole.”
Sinking he face into his hands, he laughed and said, “God, Carl, you’re going to be the death of me. You’ve spent almost a hundred dollars this mon–”
“It WASN’T candles,” I said, gritting my teeth. This was a conversation we’d had more times than I could count. He hated my spending habits. “In fact, it was something for you. Something for both of us.”
He raised an eyebrow, “Oh?”
Just the slightest bit sheepish, I shrugged and said, “Yeah, jerk. There’s this new product floating around, kinda like the Breathe Right strips, to help with snoring.” I kept my eyes cast down on my plate, watching a small piece of cheese bubble up and burst.
“Seriously? This again? You know those don’t work. How much did you spend this time?”
“It keeps me up at night, and it wrecks your sleep. It’s a money-back guarantee, and it’ll be here in two days. We’re trying it.”
He rolled his eyes; the rest of dinner was mostly silent.
The package arrived two days later, while we were both at work. I got home before Stephen again, and rushed inside to unwrap it. Through the folds of bubble packing, I could see a box with the same odd ketchup-and-mustard scheme as the ad. I tore through it and came up with an instruction manual, a bunch of ads for other products being hocked by the company, and a packet containing 90 small white strips with corresponding numbers. I didn’t care if Stephen thought this was stupid; after years of dealing with his thunder-mouth, I was willing to try anything.
He was reluctant at first, but after he woke up from the first trial run saying he hadn’t had sleep that good for as long as he could remember, his qualms were quickly muted. Like clockwork, every night that week before bed, he happily slapped a strip on over the bridge of his nose. He was breathing better during the day, his skin seemed healthier – more alive – and he was even friskier in the bedroom. It seemed like my most recent purchase wasn’t a waste after all, and I was quick to remind him of that fact every time he brought up how good he was feeling.
It was the second day of week two that he started to have problems. Coming in from the bathroom, I was expecting sex and maybe a good cuddle but found an teary, red-faced mess instead.
“What’s wrong,” I asked, slipping on a pair of boxers.
“It’s the fucking strip,” he huffed, scratching at his nose, “It didn’t sit right when I put it down so I tried to peel it back and it started burning.”
“Let me take a look,” I said, crawling onto the bed. I gingerly touched the corner where he’d tried to remove it; underneath, the skin looked red and chapped, which was odd because when he took them off in the morning, his skin usually glowed with health.
He bit his lip as I nudged the strip with my finger. It started to peel up, and just underneath the surface, past the natural adhesive that held it on, I could see thin black strings connecting it to his skin. I gasped, and his eyes shot to meet mine, filled with fear.
I swallowed, “It’s nothing, just really red.”
His eyes roved my face, looking for the truth, but I just smiled and pet his hair. “Leave it alone and get some rest.” I smoothed the strip back down.
In the morning, everything was fine. As per usual, his skin was smoother than a fresh stick of butter. I put the black strings out of my mind.
Breathe-EZ hadn’t been exaggerating: in just under three weeks, Stephen’s snoring had gone from a rip-roaring ocean of turmoil to a few gentle snorts under the hazy cloud of sleep. There were some nights where I didn’t even realize he fell asleep before me until I set my book down, rolled over to nuzzle into him, and found him with eyes closed and mouth half-open, the gentle rise and fall of his chest a hypnotic comfort as I drifted off.
That Saturday night, just before the end of the third week, we came home from a party blasted out of our minds. Stumbling through the door, we began to grope each other in the dark of the living room and eventually ended up in a sweaty pile on the bed, panting and writhing in the tangle of our sheets. After we finished, Stephen loped off to the bathroom with a sock stuck to his ass. I giggled silently.
I could hear him shuffling around, making a mess of the cabinet. He dropped something that clattered noisily against the linoleum floor, and I could hear a faint “Fuck it.” A few minutes later he stumbled back into bed, and rolled over to me. He smelled like whiskey with a faint, lingering scent of rubbing alcohol. As he pressed his face into my shoulder and sighed, I felt something hard and rough on his chin. We fell into a heady, warm sleep.
I was dreaming: colors and rough shapes flew past my face as I was sucked into the night sky and clouds whizzed past me; a tumultuous drunk’s dream. Then, I was falling; falling, falling, and I hit the ground with a burst of sound… screaming? Harsh, frantic screaming. I shot up in bed, my heart racing, to find a writhing form next to me. It was Stephen, and he was screaming like a fisher cat caught in a trap.
“What’s wrong?” I slurred. I was still pretty intoxicated.
“Burning. BURNING. Everything is BURNING,” his response came in short, quick gasps.
I fumbled around in the dark next to my head for the cord to the lamp. When I found it, I pulled it down and the light clicked on, revealing a scene that still makes me gag years later.
Riddled across Stephen’s face were small red bumps, like the kind I used to get when I was a kid and went through my cystic acne phase. In between them were a dozen or so of the strips; he’d scattered them across his face, only one making it on the bridge of his nose, and even that was crooked.
I looked closer and saw that the bumps were moving. Pulsing. As though something were alive underneath the surface. In horror, my mind still fuzzy from the alcohol, I grabbed at his head, holding it still as he continued to squirm and yell in my face, and ripped one of the strips away from his chin. It came up with the sound of a small shrub being uprooted, but didn’t lift away completely. Attached to it were more of the long, spindly black strings, and this time they were moving.
Waving in circles, caught between the sticky web of the adhesive strip and Stephen’s apple-red skin, they strained and pulled and jumped, as though trying to free themselves. Then, they did. With a sick pop, the flesh around the strands split open, spraying my face with a hot, sulfur-smelling liquid. Stephen screamed louder, and i joined him as the small black bodies attached to the strings began to wriggle out of the new holes in his face. Freeing themselves from the adhesive, wrapping the strands – their legs – around and under his chin, the slick, alien-like spiders forced their way out of his skin, burrowing to the surface.
Stephen shoved me away from him, clawing at his face; his fingernails raked across a few of the tiny black forms, making them burst in a shower of blood across our sheets and down his chest. Underneath the flurry of his efforts, he scraped away more of the strips, forcing more of the spiders to the surface. I just sat against the foot of the bed, watching, my mouth agape.
His throat screamed raw, skin a festering mess of bulbous newborn arachnids, he scrambled off of the bed and fell into the bathroom. More banging, more clattering, and a moment later his screams were cranked to a volume I couldn’t comprehend.
I jumped off the bed, stumbling as I went, and gripped the doorframe, preparing myself for the worst. Pushing the door open, I found it.
Slumped against the sink, Stephen had a pair of scissors in one hand and a six-inch strip of his face in the other; he’d carved a patch of it away from his cheek and it hung moist and thick from his jaw like a nightmare jowl. His eyes were wild and white against the blood that now adorned his pale complexion, and he was crying, tears running a torrent through the mess of his skin. More black legs were beginning to sprout, pushing their way through the carnage and wasted muscle.
Right before I dove back into the bedroom and reached for my phone to call 911, I saw the thin flesh of his nose stretch and bubble, legs pushing their way through the knotted surface; he swiped at it with the scissors, the sharp blade cutting through the tip, and a dark shower of wriggling black bodies poured through the fresh hole, landing on the bloodied floor with a plop.
Stephen was in the hospital for months, recovering from both the physical wounds and the mental ones; I don’t think he’s ever fully forgiven me for forcing him into using the strips, but he lightly jokes about it from time to time. He had to have surgery to fix his face, and the scars are now a dull white.
Breathe-EZ had nothing to say about it; when we contacted their lawyers, we were informed that “results may vary”, and my husband’s reaction was clearly a sign of mental illness and self-harm, not to mention his blood-alcohol level that night. Any attempt we made at going further was countered with the threat of lawsuits we couldn’t afford to fight in our wildest dreams.
For weeks after the incident, every so often, we’d find one of the spiders; in the corner of the bathroom, creeping under the sink. Every time I killed one, I could hear a distant echo of Stephen’s screams of pain and horror.
On the bright side, he hasn’t snored in years.