Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
A few months ago, my wife started to eat some unusual things.
At first, it wasn’t anything too far out of the ordinary. I have never been a good cook but have always loved to grill in the backyard. For the first decade and a half of our marriage, I clearly remember Nicole always ate her steaks well done.
I had gone to the butcher early one day back in the summer and picked up three beef filets. The weather had been beautiful. I wanted to get out and enjoy it. Grilling was an excellent excuse to soak up the last rays of sun on a warm evening and Nicole enjoyed a break from cooking.
The steaks had been seasoned and reached room temperature as I stood in front of the grill. Nicole had stepped out onto the patio and walked up next to me. I saw her put her index finger into the red liquid on the plate and swirl circular patterns through it.
“William Stewart!” She proclaimed. “How did you know I was craving steaks?”
“Sometimes a husband just knows,” I responded with a smile. “There’s a well-done filet in your future, madame.”
She giggled and continued to run her finger through the red runoff on the plate.
“How about rare today?” she asked.
“Rare?” I questioned. “Not really your style, is it?”
“You always tell me the steak with the best flavor still has some pink in the middle,” she replied.
I tossed the steaks on the grill and listened to the rhythmic sizzling.
“Rare may be a bit much for you,” I said. “Why don’t we try medium?”
She kissed my neck and slipped her arms around my waist.
“Rare,” she whispered.
I nodded in agreement. Nicole removed her arms from my waist and swirled her finger through the red liquid on the plate again before picking it up and heading inside. My eyes drifted to her as she passed through the kitchen door. Through the window, I could see her slide the plate into the sink.
The reflection on the window made it difficult to see, but I could have sworn I saw her put the bloody fingertip in her mouth.
That evening all of us sat at the table outside. Our daughter, Brooklyn, had returned home from a visit with her grandparents just in time for dinner. She and I discussed all the little adventures she had been on during her visit, but Nicole didn’t participate very much.
She was fixated on the steak. Usually, she ate slowly, mouthed closed as she chewed, and dotted at the corners of her mouth with a napkin. Not that night.
Nicole didn’t as much cut the steak as rip it apart. Ragged shreds of beef nearly dangled from her mouth as she chewed loudly and openly. Brooklyn didn’t seem to notice as she recounted her visit to me, but I couldn’t help but listen to the wet gnashing of teeth as Nicole consumed the steak.
Brooklyn was still telling me about all the fun she had as I saw Nicole soak up all of the red runoff from her steak on a dinner roll and eat it greedily.
Rare or blue steak became the norm for Nicole after that.
A few weeks later, when I arrived home from the office, she was hard at work in the kitchen preparing dinner. I had purchased a few steaks the previous evening and had planned to cook them myself, but Nicole had texted me during the day to tell me she had planned to cook them herself. At the time, I recall thinking it would be nice to have a little break after work and I had agreed.
I wish I hadn’t.
Generally, when she cooked dinner, I could smell the aroma of delicious food before I came in through the garage door. Tonight, that telltale aroma was absent. Even as I walked into the kitchen from the garage, there was still no smell of cooked dinner.
I wasn’t upset when I thought she hadn’t cooked, but it was odd for her not to already be hard at it.
As I rounded the corner from the door to my surprise, Nicole was working diligently at the counter. Three white dinner plates sat on the kitchen island. Something pink about the shape of a hockey puck and twice as tall was in the center of each dish. A yellow oval sat atop the pink disks covered in flecks of green.
“Welcome home,” Nicole said as she smiled in my direction. “I made us something new to try tonight!”
She gestured toward the plates on the counter. I smiled wearily.
“What is it?” I asked as politely as I could. “It looks… interesting.”
“Steak tartare!” She said with excitement. “I chopped the steaks you bought, seasoned them, and topped them with a raw egg! A little European flair for the evening!”
I still remember how enthusiastic she looked that evening as I looked at the plates.
“Isn’t that raw, Nicole?” I asked. “May not be a great idea for Brooklyn. I’m not sure those cuts were graded to eat without cooking them.”
The excited look melted off of her face.
“Then cook something for the two of you,” she responded angrily. “I’ve busted my ass in the kitchen trying to bring a little bit of class to this family and this is the thanks I get.”
I tried to apologize, but Nicole just held her hand up in my direction to silence me. She scooped up the plates and pushed the raw piles of beef onto one dish before taking it outside and eating it on the patio table. Taken aback by the hostility, I made a few sandwiches and called Brooklyn down for dinner.
Nicole didn’t speak to me for the rest of the night.
Over the coming weeks, Nicole stopped giving me the cold shoulder and things mostly returned to normal. When she cooked dinner, it was a commonplace dish again. Nothing raw or out of the ordinary. It was a relief that there was no recurrence of the tartare incident.
I did notice that Nicole would barely pick at the food she cooked. Even when she did take a bite, her lips would curl into a sneer as though the flavor was making her sick. She rarely ate more than a fourth of her plate.
It became common for raw cuts of meat or ground beef to vanish from the refrigerator. The first time I noticed it, a tray of ribeye steaks that I had seasoning in the fridge was missing. When I asked Nicole what had happened, she told me that Roscoe, our golden retriever, had knocked the tray onto the floor and eaten them.
While it wasn’t entirely impossible, I had never known Roscoe to attempt to snatch food like that. He had always enjoyed a life full of table scraps but had waited patiently for them. Never so much as a whine to beg for a bite.
The next week three pounds of ground beef vanished. Nicole acted as though she had never seen it when I asked her what had happened. I even went as far as to show her the grocery pickup order on my phone but she insisted that they move have forgotten to place it in the bag.
I knew she was wrong. It had been there. I put the damn groceries away and still recall putting it in the meat drawer at the bottom of the fridge.
Later the next day I was tossing a bag of garbage into the pickup bin when I saw a single Styrofoam meat tray at the bottom. There wasn’t a drop of blood left on it.
A few days later Roscoe vanished. He was seven years old and not once had he ever left the confines of our yard. We lived in the country and our lot was large enough for him to run freely on but he never left our line of sight. The farthest he had gone was to the wood line behind the house but that was it.
Nicole said she had let him go out to use the bathroom, but before she could stop him, he had run to the road and vanished. We drove around for hours calling his name but never saw him. Brooklyn had gone with me and sobbed loudly as we called for him.
Nicole stayed home, unconcerned.
While cutting up a fallen tree in the backyard a week after Roscoe had vanished, I could smell the sickly-sweet scent of decay. Turning the chainsaw off and stepping into the underbrush I tried to find the source. Flies buzzed loudly a hundred feet ahead and when I reached the spot the stench was overwhelming.
I pulled back the overgrowth and found a pile of bones and a hairy pelt matted with blood. It appeared all of the meat was gone. Reaching down and picking up a stick I prodded the pile of rot to try and identify what kind of animal it had been. As a wet pile of skin and bone sloughed to the side my heart dropped.
Roscoe’s brass nametag and collar sat at the bottom of the remains.
“I found Roscoe,” I said to Nicole that evening.
“That’s sad,” she replied flatly. Nicole sat in a large armchair in our bedroom with the lights off. This had become her routine. She rarely left the bedroom now and always sat in the dark.
“Why is it sad?” I asked.
“Brooklyn will be sad her dog is dead,” she said in the same monotone voice. “Do you want to tell her?”
“I never said he was dead, Nicole,” I spat. “How did you know?”
She didn’t respond.
“Answer the question,” I said angrily. “I hadn’t told you yet.”
“He’s been gone a week,” she replied without care. “If he was alive, you would have sounded happier. Leave me alone. My head hurts.”
I left the room and slammed the door. There was no way to prove she had done something to Roscoe but my stomach turned with the thought. Nicole had been so sweet and gentle our entire lives but I knew she had killed him. Worse was the fact that Roscoe’s body was nothing but bones and pelt.
All of the meat was gone.
I buried Roscoe in the tree line and never talked to Brooklyn about it.
The month after while I was driving home from work my cellphone began to ring. I didn’t recognize the number so I sent it to voicemail. A few moments later my phone chirped to alert me a new message was in my inbox.
I put the phone to my ear and listened to the gleeful voice.
“Hey there Mr. and Mrs. Stewart! This is Selma at the Humane Society. Just calling to check in and see how the new cats are doing! I hope they are well. Don’t forget to bring them in for their checkup next Monday. Thank you for fostering them! The shelter appreciates it so much. Bye!”
The message ended.
We hadn’t fostered any cats.
I punched the callback button on my cellphone and listened to the ringtone.
“Humane Society! Selma speaking,” the same chipper voice from the voicemail poured through the phone.
“Hi, Selma,” I muttered. “This is William Stewart. You left a message about us having fostered some cats. I’m afraid you’ve made a mistake.”
“Umm…. hang on,” she said and I could hear her typing feverishly on a keyboard. “Nope, it says here that last week Nicole Stewart signed the two of you up for our fostering program. Nicole took custody of three cats while they await their forever homes. Is everything okay?”
I ended the call.
When I arrived at the house, I immediately walked to the tree line. As I drew closer to the spot where I had found Roscoe’s remains the smell of rot filled the air again. The swarm of flies was visible in the distance as well. I bounded through the vegetation until I reached the place where I had found our dog.
A pile of rotting pelts and tiny bones lay on the ground. Flies and maggots worked their way in and out of the folds of skin. There wasn’t a single scrap of meat to be found.
Knowing Brooklyn wouldn’t have been home from school yet I stormed to the house to confront Nicole. It had been my fault I turned such a blind eye to this but I had had enough. Whatever was wrong with her we had to get her help.
I searched the entire house but Nicole was nowhere to be found.
Call after call to her cellphone went unanswered. She didn’t return any of my text messages. After a call to her work, her family, and our friends no one reported seeing her.
She never came back to the house.
Brooklyn asked me where she had gone but I told her truthfully that I didn’t know. After an initial call to the police that night, they told me that Nicole was an adult and had the right to leave. Unless I had reason to believe something bad had happened to her, I would have to wait to file a missing person’s report.
It only took a day after calling the police for them to call me back. Detective O’Hara, the officer that contacted me, asked if he could come to the house and ask me a few questions about my wife. I agreed.
We sat on the back porch in the midday sun as Detective O’Hara scribbled away in his pocket-sized notebook. He was a middle-aged man with a vanishing hairline, protruding stomach, and hard eyes.
“So, when was the last time you saw Nicole?” He asked without looking up.
“Two days ago,” I replied. “I called you guys that night but whoever answered told me I couldn’t file a report unless I suspected something bad had happened to her. Have you found something?”
“Yes and no,” he responded. “We do want to move forward with the missing person’s report on your wife.”
My heart began to beat quickly.
“Do you have any reason to expect that someone would have wanted to hurt her?” O’Hara questioned. “Does she have any connections with anyone in the area that may be in danger?”
“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Do you think she’s been hurt? What happened? Why are you willing to take the report now?”
Detective O’Hara closed his notebook and slid it into his shirt pocket. He rubbed his eyes with the tip of his fingers before fishing a cigarette out of a pack in his other pocket. The flame of his lighter danced on the tip of his cigarette.
“We found some remains in the woods a few miles from your house,” he said sternly. “We think they are the remains of two adults of undetermined age and sex. It’ll be on the evening news tonight. Big press conference.”
I sat in silence.
“I do not know that any of the remains belong to your wife but her disappearance lines up with the discovery of the bodies.”
“Can I go to the morgue and try to identify her?” I asked. Warm tears had started gathering in my eyes.
“No, sir,” Detective O’Hara. “There isn’t enough of the bodies left to identify. We’ll have to do dental match identification on the remains.”
“You said her disappearance lines up with when the bodies were found,” I sobbed. “How could they be so decomposed in two days that you need to do a dental match?”
O’Hara crushed the smoldering cigarette below his heel and lit another.
“They aren’t decomposed,” he said quietly. “Someone cut all of the muscle and tissue off of the bodies.”
Nicole is still missing. Her dentist was able to provide x-rays to the police. None of the recovered bodies have matched with her. The police keep telling me they will find her but I know they won’t.
My wife started eating strange things and I am fairly certain that it has gotten worse