Nightmare Exterminator (Working Title)



    It was one of those moments you take a step back from your life and ask: how did I get here? I was standing in an aisle of my local grocery store, completely alone and feeling like an idiot pushing a cart full of cheap beer. Here I was: middle aged, hadn't shaved for a week, and contemplating how much dog kibble I could afford so that I didn't have to come back next week. I'll admit it was sad, but it was necessary. The guest at home in my basement wouldn't eat anything else, and I was obligated to attend to his every whim. Well, almost every. I grabbed three big bags of the store-brand dog food, hoping my guest wouldn't notice the change in quality. With how much beer he consumed a day, I doubted he would.


    The checkout employee was as curious as they all were when I begrudgingly began stacking the booze and kibble. This was the part I hated the most. They always made small talk. Always. I was sure they were required to do so, but I was always quick to put on a frown to show I didn't appreciate it. Sometimes it worked. Most of the time it didn't. I tuned out her attempt at making a correlation between alcohol and dog food, glancing at her name tag as I let her finish.


    “Listen, uh... Bambi.. just don't ask.”


    Bambi didn't look offended, which made me think she got that request a lot. She only offered me an award-winning smile, nodded knowingly, and asked if I needed anything else. I did. I paid for several packs of Marlboro Red's, anticipating a long day.




    Guinness is a gnome. Not one of those cheesy, fake-smiling gnomes you'd find in an old ladies garden, either. He's a gruff, no-nonsense gnome with a beard so long he has to part it and tie it behind him in a ponytail. His name isn't really Guinness. It's actually just a series of echoing clicks that sound like water dripping in a cave, and it goes on for almost a minute straight; we timed it once. I decided to name him Guinness since I don't have time to learn gnome talk, and he will do anything short of killing his brothers for a six pack of Guinness beer.


    According to Guinness, he lived in a cave with nearly five hundred kin, and has never seen the light of day. I created a veritable gnome paradise in my basement for him, complete with subterranean plants and cardboard boxes set up like a series of cave tunnels. It hasn't been easy, let me tell you. He'll only sleep on umbilicaria aprina, a rare lichen found in Greenland that I paid a small fortune for on eBay. Why do I cater to this craziness? Because Guinness is my invaluable side-kick.


    I suppose I should explain what I do and why I have an ancient, subterranean gnome in my basement. In a nutshell, I get rid of nightmares. A nightmare exterminator, if you will. I'm not usually one to try and convince people of my validity -that's why I have Guinness- and I am finding it difficult to explain on paper. The dream world isn't as inaccessible as most people think. Nightmares and fears can be overcome: for a small fee, of course. I'm not going to pretend I know the full process of why I seem to be the only one who can do it, but somehow it does and it's how I pay the bills and keep Guinness on his cushy, lichen-covered chair.


    Guys like me aren't in the yellow pages, of course. It's all word of mouth, and most people who come to see me are desperate enough to believe I can help. Guinness was a nightmare from an elderly lady that traveled all the way from Wales. He would rearrange everything in her house in her dreams, and it finally drove her OCD crazy enough to seek my help. He was one of the easier annoyances to get rid of, and to this day I can't figure out why he was the only nightmare that could travel back to the tangible world. I joke that he was too ugly for the spirit world to keep around, but he assures me that in his world, he was one of the more attractive gnomes.


    “Store brand again?” Guinness asked in disapproval, flicking one of the bland nuggets into the trashcan in the basement.


    I took a long drag on my cigarette and squinted at him in the gloom. He looked eerie with the amphibian lights I had to line the basement with, and not for the first time I began to doubt his self proclaimed attractiveness.


    “If you haven't noticed, we haven't had a client in over a month. I'm also going to need to get the cheaper cat litter soon if we don't get work soon.”


    Guinness scowled deeply and reluctantly chewed a mouthful of kibble. “Well, that's unfortunate. The cheap stuff gets stuck in my toes.”


    “Yeah, I know.. I'm the one who needs to clean it up. Pretty soon you'll have to share the box with Bojangles.”


    Bojangles is my manly tabby, and he doesn't take shit from anyone. He's mastered the aloof presence and arrogant expression that most cats have, and people are only allowed to pet him, not obliged to. I keep him around as insurance; most pet owners keep cats around to keep mice away, but I kept Bojangles around to keep spirits away. You can imagine I make quite a few enemies in the dream world, and I always know when I'm not alone with Bojangles around. Cats have a way of noticing things that humans can't, and I'd take advantage of that fact by keeping him present with me at all times possible so that I'd never be taken by surprise.


    “I'm going to pretend you didn't just suggest that. Now.. why don't you advertise so I can get some quality food?”


    “I'm sure people would have a field day with an advertisement for a man who hunts spirits.”


    “It worked for Ghostbusters, didn't it?”


    “That's a movie, Guinness. ...and stop watching my movies when I'm gone. If someone looks in the window I'll have the Department of Fish and Game here faster than you can say your real name.”


    I blew a ring of smoke Guinness's way, and he impatiently waved it away.


    “I know it's a movie, but people got used to the idea, right?”


    “I suppose.”


    “Then do it. The movies about this kind of thing have gotten people used to the idea that the supernatural is out there. This is not the type of world you have to worry about most people thinking your crazy. They're desensitized to this kind of thing now.”


    I rubbed the bridge of my nose and did what I usually did when Guinness started to make sense; I took a long drought of beer and waited for my buzz to kick in.




    In the end, I guess I got drunk enough to listen to the now-worldly gnome in my basement. I decided against the yellow pages because, let's be real here, no one uses a phone book now-a-days for anything other than propping tables up. I created as serious a web page as I could manage, and left it up to fate. Oddly enough, I didn't get as many crazies as I'd thought. We had a genuine client by the end of the week.


    “You're Noah Clifton?” the unusual client grumbled, as if he were as surprised at my look as much as I was with his. He held out a meaty hand for me to shake, which I did so carefully. I wasn't a people person, and this fellow set me on edge. I won't mention full names of clients for their privacy, but I doubt I'd get sued for first ones. His name was Chuck, and Chuck was a towering pillar of a man with stocky features and tattoos covering every discernible allotment of his body.


    “That is correct,” I answered, trying not to imagine if all the non-visible parts of his body had tattoos as well. Bojangles the cat appeared out of nowhere, as he's apt to do, and gave our guest a disapproving snub before jumping on the couch beside me.


    It was uneasy seeing such a large man scared stupid. I offered him a cigarette, and he took it with trembling hands. I had to light it for him.


    “What seems to be the problem?” I asked, fearing what possibly could scare the man in front of me. He blew out a shaking breath of smoke, and began as if he'd rehearsed for weeks.


    “It's a unicorn; y'know, those horse things with the horns on their forehead?”


    “I know what a unicorn is,” I said, sighing almost immediately after when realizing I probably shouldn't.


    “Oh, sorry,” he apologized, then continued, “It's haunting me, Mr. Clifton. It looks at me with these eyes; like it's judging me and finding me unworthy. I die every night in my dream.”


    I stared and began to wonder if I had screened my emails well enough.


    “Please believe me, Mr. Clifton. I can't stand it anymore. I can't sleep with those eyes creeping me out.”


    “Chuck.. can I call you Chuck?”


    “Yes, sir.”


    “Chuck, I get rid of nightmares. Nightmares are demons..., ghosts..., manifestations of death..., even god-damned evil leprechauns. They are not fanciful horned horses that appear in little girls' dreams.”


    Chuck's bottom lip wavered, and I felt ashamed at his vulnerability and looked away.


    “Can't you take a look, sir? Just see if you could get it to stop haunting me?”


    “It'll be expensive. I don't like wasting my time.”


    “Oh, of course. I have the money.”


    “Alright. Come back tonight and I'll take a look.”


    I'd never seen a man so grateful. He bobbed his head at least ten times and thanked me at least twenty before stepping out the door.


    I collapsed on the couch beside Bojangles and commenced his nightly back rub.


    “That must be one scary horse.”




    It was stormy that night, a particularly bad combination with my line of work. Sleeping was the only way I could stay in business, and the rain that raged outside, not to mention the deafening thunder, did not bode well for my task.


    It was time for my concoction. It was something I was extremely proud of after a shit ton of testing: four Ambian, two Lunesta, a gulp of Nyquil and I was in business.


    Nothing in the world could wake me up with my potion, and that's just what I needed.


    “You coming?” I asked Guiness that night while placing a pair of earplugs in my pocket.


    “You talkin' to me?”


    “Robert Di Niro. Taxi Driver.” I sighed. Visibly.


    Guiness' favorite past time was pilfering my movies and watching them non-stop for days on end. Along with the dog food, he had a penchant for popcorn. That sickeningly sweet, kettle-corn kind.


    At any rate, my ex wife left a slew of old movies at my place, and Guiness knew every line from our combined movies from Casablanca to Training Day. He also spoke occasionally in quotes, which irritated me from time to time, had admittedly gotten accustomed to. I could name every quote and who said it so far, and Guiness was constantly trying to stump me.


    “You coming?” I asked again.


    Guiness pondered my invitation, placing a fat, stubby finger on his lips. I knew this was for show. He constantly wanted to go with me; sometimes the offer didn't even leave my lips. When it was a particularly tough or confusing job, I welcomed his often clever mind.


    I allowed him a few more moments of consideration before sighing and cutting an Ambien in half to add to the cheap beer I had purchased earlier. I was watching him drink when I heard a knock at my door.


    “That must be him,” I reasoned, getting up to unlock the dozen locks on my door. The neighborhood wasn't exactly the best, and after my ex-wife took everything in the divorce, I wasn't allowed the grandeur of anything more than a dusty, windowless apartment in the bad side of town. Even though Guiness was enough to send even the most stalwart running, I was still a hard-ass about security. You could never be sure what you'd wake up to in my line of business.


    I scrutinized my client through the peep-hole for several moments. He looked as shaken as before, perhaps even more so now that it was night. Next to him was an equally burly fellow with the customary amount of tattoos for one in a biker gang. With their leather jackets and handkerchief hats, there was little doubt that they roamed the streets on their expensive Harleys.


    My advertisement specified that the client bring a close friend to supervise. After all, I could be a scam artist that takes the money and credit cards in your wallet and dumps you in a back alley. Of course, I didn't know many con artists that used my excuse of being a nightmare exterminator. That alone should have allayed anyone's fears.


    I had my own supervisor. My next door neighbor had proved to be a pretty good friend through college, and I knew him well enough now to trust him with making sure the client or their supervisor didn't wake up and strangle me... or worse.


    “Well hello, Chuck,” I greeted, stepping outside and closing the door behind me. I withdrew a cigarette and lit it, puffing a few drags. It was a terrible habit I'd had since I was fourteen, one that I had never been able to kick for more than a few weeks at a time. They had this new technology now called “smokeless cigarettes”, some electronic bullshit that supposedly helped you stop smoking by providing small doses of vaporized nicotine. To add insult to injury to any men considering one, the smokeless cigarette came in four, delightfully fruity flavors. There was no way in hell I was going to waltz around with a flavored piece if plastic that made me inhale vapor.


    “Hello, Mr. Clifton.”


    “Just Noah, please. Now, tell me about your dream. I'll need the specifics to know if I can help you.”


    The “bad-ass” biker wrung his hands in what I could only assume was embarrassment.


    “The dream starts off normal enough. I'm... er... with a woman. A real pretty one, with long white hair and pale skin. She looks albino, y'know? Those type of people who-”


    “I know what albino is,” I remarked, somewhat insulted. “Go on.”


    “Sorry. Well, we.. uh... are getting busy when she suddenly turns... uh...”


    Again the wringing of the hands. He looked down and swallowed hard before continuing. I couldn't help but feel a bit of pity for the man as he shifted in discomfort.


    “...she turns into that unicorn I told ya about. Same white hair, same pale fur or whatever the hell unicorns usually have. She's on top of me when she changes, and before I can even do anything she stabs me in the chest with her horn. She has these vengeful eyes, like I killed her dog or somethin'.”


    I bit my lip to keep from laughing, and turned away to take another drag. It wasn't the most ridiculous dream I'd had to deal with, but it certainly was the most absurd one I'd seen from a guy.


    “Alright, let's do this.”


    “Er, Noah?”

    “Yeah?” I asked while walking to my neighbor's door and banging a fist against it.


    “You're not gonna watch the beginning of my dream, are ya?”


    “Nah, I've had that happen before. I'll hand ear-muff my hearing and avert my gaze. I'll have to check periodically, though, to make sure it doesn't end the way you don't want it to.”


    I was sincerely hoping Chuck would have his unicorn dream tonight. I'd had clients that had to come to my apartment up to twenty nights until they had the dream they wanted me to get rid of.


    The neighbor's door opened and I smirked and gave a lazy salute in his direction.


    “Hey, Ralph-E. You ready?”


    Ralph's last name was Erickson, and so throughout college his friends started calling him Ralph-E, like the kid from A Christmas Story that I had to watch every year with my family. Needless to say, he didn't approve of the name, but what college student really cared about the feelings of a guy who didn't like the nickname assigned to him.


          “Hey,” he answered, always a man of few words. He was a smart kid in college, always the one to get excellent grades. Unfortunately for him, he ended up being one of those kids that had a college degree, but ended up slinging hash when he didn't find a job that called for a major in Greek Literature.



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Novel / Novella
writing ahorst
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A nightmare exterminator isn't exactly available in the yellow pages. Noah Clifton must juggle the life of having an extraordinary ability, money troubles, and the drunk, cantankerous gnome living in his basement.
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