Okay, so I don't do much with horror, but here is my stab at it.
The bite mark was wine-red on anemic-white, crenellating Kristine’s bare shoulder. She moved the strap of her gown when Noel stumbled into the kitchen, drawn by the sizzle and clank of the frying pan, so he would be sure to see it.
“Morning,” she said, sliding the sausages onto paper towel.
“Hey.” Noel stopped short, still scratching at the wiry hair up his belly. He frowned. “Did I do that?”
“No,” Kristine said dryly. She dabbed at the grease. “Somebody else. While you were gone I cheated with a, a hyena.”
Noel came closer, whispering one finger along the ruined skin. Shook his head. “Shit,” he said, wrapping her waist. “Désolé. I didn’t mean to.”
“Good,” Kristine said. She tipped her head back for a kiss. “I don’t mind it,” she decided, plucking at his hand. “See? We match.”
“Yes. Lucky.” Noel held up his broad hand, two of the fingers still scarred purple from frostbite. “This way I don’t have to bother with your pocket squares.”
Kristine laughed, and gave him a small shove towards the white table. Noel sat down in his old spot, like he’d never left, while she doled out sausages and toast with margarine. The small kitchen was still crammed full with gleaming wedding gift appliances.
“So finally you had someone to laugh at your jokes?” Noel asked, sawing with his knife.
Kristine smiled. “What?”
“Hm. Yeah.” She watched Noel sniff at the sausage, like he’d been rescued off some island instead of from the YEG airport late last night. “And he always ate the left-overs.”
Noel laughed, warm like an electric blanket, and she wished she’d told him the night before. But there had been no space for words, just skin and sweat in a bed that had been too big for too many weeks, and she’d waited this long, hadn’t she?
“I’m going to start on the transcription today,” Noel said, chewing.
“Already?” Kristine asked. “You aren’t going to, I don’t know, warm up for a day? Relax?”
“It’s not so warm here either, Krissy.” He nodded towards the sliding door, half frosted over, and the pinwheeling flakes beyond it. “It’s snowing.”
“Warmer than your igloo in NWT,” Kristine suggested. “I have to get to the bank. Unless you wanted me to stay and help you. With, you know, the bilabial sounds.” She leaned forward and pressed both her lips against his. They felt dry.
“I didn’t sleep in an igloo,” Noel said when they broke, but grinning. “Alright. I’ll wash up. Leave the plates.”
Kristine went to the pristine bathroom, which she knew would have bristles in the sink again soon, but hardly minded, and coaxed some hot water out of the shower. The mirror fogged fast. She retched a few times over the toilet, but nothing came, so she stepped inside. After, while the curling iron was heating up, she rummaged a tube of concealer out of her vanity drawer. She shook it as she eyed the bite mark, debating.
She put the concealer back. The mark was somehow like a checked box, a reminder that Noel was real and he was home and he loved her to death, and it was nothing like the cuts and mice up the legs she’d hidden in high school. Nobody would see it under her cardigan, anyway.
When she passed through the kitchen, keys jangling between her nails, Noel was already swallowed up between Bose headphones, the noise-cancelling kind. His face looked thin and sharp and his eyes were tracking across the laptop screen, left, right, left, right.
“Don’t work too hard,” Kristine said, once she’d tugged one of the headphones down.
“I would never,” Noel said. “Thank you for breakfast.”
He brushed crumbs off his lip before he kissed her goodbye, but the sausages were still sitting on the plate, uneaten. Kristine handed him a Tupperware on her way out the door.
Her shoulder throbbed in line for the bank teller. It throbbed when she pushed through the Grade 5/6 portable doors to collect her lesson plans, it throbbed when she shivered in the meat section of Superstore, trying to remember if Noel loved or hated minute steaks, and it throbbed when she returned home to find him back at the table with his face sickly awash in laptop light. He’d forgotten he cooked Sundays.
“Hey, Mister Linguist, have you even moved?” Kristine asked, opening the fridge freezer. Cold billowed out as she put the steaks in, then fished for an ice tray.
“Buy me a catheter,” Noel said. He gave a wan grin. “This is great shit, Krissy. Come. Listen.”
“I don’t speak Inuktitut.”
Noel laughed, because it wasn’t Inuktitut, and then it was quiet except for the crack-pop of ice cubes into a ziplock. Kristine wrapped the bag in a wet cloth, still watching Noel watching the screen, and held it against her shoulder.
“Alright,” she said. “Show me.”
“Come.” Noel slipped the headphones from around his neck and held the ice against Kristine’s shoulder while she put them on.
The feedback volume made her jump.
“Sorry.” Noel dialed it down with a practiced finger. Kristine repositioned the headphones and listened. It was a low guttural wail, broken up by a sort of huffing. When she listened harder she could hear an uncanny melody.
“Nice. What is it?” She looked to the screen, where the spectrogram was showing the noise slither along, electric green, undulating through the background sounds. It made her think of ultrasounds.
“Throat-singing,” Noel said. “Beautiful. I tried it, when I was up there. Very difficult.” He turned the volume up slightly. “This is just the icing, though. You know, for when I get tired of the interviews. There are so many stories. Some of them, never heard in English. Never.”
Kristine watched him maneuver the mouse through his crowded screen, over IPA charts and reference logs. He pulled up another audio file. The throat-singing was replaced by an old man’s voice and a dialect that Noel said was all but extinct. She sat in his lap and they pushed their heads together, each using one side of the headphones, and listened.
Noel’s cheek scratched her cheek and his arms ended up around her, but with the ice trickling on her shoulder she couldn’t feel warm, and it wasn’t the time.
It happened in the night. Noel’s knee was keyed between her knees, his arm was over her arm. They’d fucked again, not so frantically this time, and Kristine was still awake when Noel plucked her hand out from under the covers. She turned in the dark and saw his eyes were not quite closed.
“Hey,” she said, moving back against him.
He didn’t say anything, didn’t make a noise. He brought her hand up to his face slowly, deliberately, with his thumb at her wrist. In the quiet Kristine could imagine the sound of her pulse against his skin. He opened his mouth and kissed his way along her arm, teeth skimming her, making her shiver.
Kristine half-smiled. “What are you doing?” she whispered.
“Whatever I want,” Noel mumbled into her skin. He gnawed at her wrist-bone, tickling her.
“I’m so glad you made it home,” Kristine said. “I’m just. You know. I was scared shitless, when I heard about the storms. When you called…”
Noel bit down, playful.
Kristine winced. “Easy, lover boy, I don’t need another one.”
Noel’s teeth pressed harder, deeper, so she could feel each individual crown.
“Noel, stop. You’re getting spit on me. Stop.”
Noel pulled back a moment, tracing the indented skin with his finger, and then he bit down again, not playful, a sudden sharp snap like an animal.
“Ouch!” Kristine jerked away. “Noel! Don’t!”
“Don’t what?” Noel asked thickly. Kristine slapped the light on, exposing the purple bags under her husband’s eyes, the sharpness of his cheekbones somehow more pronounced. “I just want…” He trailed off.
“Can’t you leave the transcription for like, a day?” Kristine demanded.
“Everything’s still fresh,” Noel. “I’m, you know, I’m zoned.”
“You’re being weird. Really fucking weird.”
“You’re being dramatic.”
Kristine went to the bathroom, flicked the light on. She ran cold water over her arm. Her reflection in the mirror looked pale and sick. She prodded her stomach.
“Come on,” Noel groaned from the bed. “You don’t need a bandaid, Krissy.”
“Can’t you shave?” Kristine demanded, coming back. “Unpack? Call your dad to tell him you’re back so he doesn’t call me again?” The fresh mark was blooming on her arm, and when Noel saw it his expression was something she didn’t like. Kristine put her other hand overtop to hide it.
“I didn’t know he called you,” Noel said.
“I’m going to sleep in the study. Just for tonight.”
“I’m sorry. Look. I’m sorry.”
“You hate the hide-a-bed.” Noel rolled up and out of the covers. He scratched at his neck. “I’ll go,” he said. “Are there pillows?”
“In the linen closet,” Kristine said.
She stopped to get them on their way to the study, and then held them against herself while the hide-a-bed creaked and slunk its way unfolded. Noel took the pillows without smiling. He tossed them onto the bed.
“Goodnight,” he said.
Kristine needed a swim, so she left early in the morning with the sky still dark and didn’t even open the study door, just exchanged a good morning / goodbye with Noel’s half-asleep voice. Exhaust was billowing on the cold roads like a fog as she drove, one hand on her swim-bag. She dialled her mother at a stoplight. A voice thick with sleep or Valium answered on the fifth ring.
“Hi, honey, what is it?”
“Hi, mom.” The light lanced green through the clouds of exhaust and Kristine drove. “I just had a question about the thank-you notes, I’m still finishing up and—
“Noel’s back, isn’t that right? Give him my love. Hugs. How’s his frostbite?”
“I will,” Kristine said. “The thank-you note for Uncle Carrow, I can’t remember his girlfriend’s name. Was it Sheryl?”
“No. Carol? No. Hm, I can’t remember either.”’
“Noel’s acting different.”
There was a staticky pause, and then her mother’s voice came edged with a sigh.
“What do you mean?”
“Just, I don’t know,” Kristine said, and she didn’t, not quite. “Doing weird things. Not eating. Yesterday after breakfast he didn’t eat anything all day. He’s, like, he’s obsessing over his transcription. Won’t talk to me.”
“Well, he’s driven, you know—
“Not like that.” She dropped her indicator and turned into the Glenora parking lot, still mostly empty of cars.
“—and it’s a good thing. It really is.” Another pause. “A lot of things might be or look a little different now. All those little things that were nice, you know, endearing, a lot of those things look different when you realize it’s for the rest of your life.”
“It’s not a honeymoon is over thing, mom,” Kristine said, putting the car into park. “It’s been over for a while.”
“I mean, your father, my God. He had his days. Weeks. Years. But it was all worth it. I never once thought of divorcing him, in all those years, not once. And Noel’s a good man. A really good man. It’s all about compromises, isn’t it? People thinking marriage is supposed to be easy? Makes me laugh. It’s all about sacrifices. There were things I wanted to do, plenty of things…”
“I’m not talking about getting a divorce, mom, I’m just saying he’s acting funny and I don’t know why.” She turned off the engine and fumbled the key into her coat pocket. “This thing with the storm…”
“Sharon. It was definitely Sharon, and half his age, too. Maybe a prostitute, like that movie. Look, honey, just stop worrying. He hasn’t even been back for a week. Go for a swim, you’ll feel better.”
“Thanks,” Kristine said, hefting her bag. “Bye. Love you.”
She swam longer than she’d meant to, churning up and down the lane until the water felt bath-tub warm, and so she went to the school with her hair still hanging wet wires and the toothed trace of swim-goggles around her one eye like a sucker scar. But she did feel better, even though Elijah and Braden had to be sent off to the principal for the third week running.
Noel didn’t answer her text, or the second one. She tried not to worry about it. She fixed a smile to her face as she climbed the stairs to the apartment, went down the hallway that always smelled like weed and Febreeze, and keyed open their door. It was dark inside again. Kristine flicked on the lights and checked the bare sink. No dishes. She opened the fridge. Nothing touched.
“Hey, Mister Linguist!” Kristine called. “Where are you?”
No reply. Kristine remembered the noise-cancelling headphones and went looking. She was barely even surprised when she heard the computer hum from behind the study door. Cold was seeping out from the bottom of it. She eased the door open.
Noel was hunched over the laptop like an old man. The shadows hollowed out his cheeks and for a moment his eyes looked like black holes. Then he looked up with a bleary grin and pulled the headphones down around his neck.
“How were the little terrors today?” Noel slapped the laptop shut.
“Good,” Kristine said. “Fine.”
“That little boy, that Elijah, he didn’t make trouble?”
Kristine cracked a smile. “Yeah, he did. A little bit.”
“He’s trying to impress you,” Noel said, scooting over on the rolling chair. “He has a crush.”
“That’s why I make trouble.” Noel caught her wrist, the not-sore one, and folded both hands around it. “I’m sorry about last night,” he said. “I don’t know what’s in my head, sometimes.”
“You scared me a little,” Kristine said. She gave a smile. “It’s okay. It’s nothing. Really.” Noel’s hands felt like ice. The frostbite was ugly. “Why’s the window open?”
“The laptop has been overheating,” Noel said. “I thought, maybe, if it’s colder in the study, maybe that helps.”
“I found something in the fridge,” Noel said.
Kristine stiffened. “No, you didn’t.”
“You didn’t take anything out of the fridge,” Kristine said. “You didn’t eat anything, did you? You’ve been in here all day.”
“I got something at the Second Cup,” Noel said, but he let her pull her arm away.
“Your shoes were still where you left them yesterday.”
“You’re a detective or something?” Noel was still smiling, but only with his mouth. “You photograph where in the closet I put my shoes?”
“Why are you lying about this?” Kristine snapped. “Are you on a fucking hunger strike or something? Why are you acting like this?”
“Like what?” Noel asked, still prone in the office chair, still not angry. Kristine wanted him to stand up so she could shove him back down. She felt hot and sick all over.
“Was there somebody else up there?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” Noel asked, and now his eyes were finally narrowing.
“I mean, did you fuck somebody while you were up there?” Kristine demanded. “You called once the whole time, and now you come back, you won’t talk to me, you’re acting so fucking weird—
“Of course not.” Noel was up, teeth bared. “Of course I didn’t. Did you?”
“Oh, my God, Noel.” Kristine gave a shaky laugh. “Just shut up, Noel.”
They stood frozen for a long moment, Kristine’s nails digging crescents in her palms. She watched Noel’s face work until the grimace smoothed over.
“Maybe I have a bug,” he said slowly. “I haven’t been hungry. I didn’t want you to worry.” Kristine nodded. She rubbed her eye with the heel of her hand.
“What happened in the storm?” she finally asked. “Do you even remember calling me? They had a satellite phone in the infirmary, and you called me in the middle of the night.”
“I remember calling,” Noel said, cautious.
“Do you remember what I told you?” Kristine asked, remembering how she’d gone to the bathroom, flicked on the lights, pulled out the test again just to be sure. That was before she’d realized how late it was, that something was wrong.
“I don’t.” Noel shook his head. “I don’t. I don’t remember what I said, either.”
“You were delirious,” Kristine said, wrapping her arms around herself. The bite on her shoulder throbbed again. “You told me how you got stranded, right? Between the station and the village. One of those storms that comes from nowhere.”
“Worst they had seen in years,” Noel said. “They told me that later. Yeah.” His voice had an unsteadiness Kristine was unused to hearing, and somehow it drained all the anger out of her. “What else did I say?” he asked.
“You said the wind felt like teeth.”
“Like death,” Noel said.
“The Ski-doo broke down, so you tried to walk back to the village.”
“Went the wrong way. They told me later.”
“You said the mucus in your nose and the spit in your mouth were so frozen up you couldn’t breathe, and the wind was like teeth.” Kristine paused. “You said you lost your hands, then your feet. Like being disembodied. Like floating.”
“Should’ve died,” Noel muttered. “Should’ve frozen to death.”
“They told me that, after they took the phone away from you,” Kristine said. “I mean, it’s a miracle you’re alright.” She shrugged helplessly. “Doesn’t this feel better?” she asked. “To talk about it? Isn’t this what’s been bothering you?”
“What else did I say?” Noel probed.
“I don’t remember,” Kristine said. “You were fevered. You know, delirious.”
“Did I say what I saw?” Noel’s eyes were wide. “Kristine. Tell me.”
“Yeah. You did.” Kristine swayed, foot to foot. “You thought you saw someone else in the storm. An old man.”
Noel shut his eyes now, breathing quick and shallow. “What did he look like?”
“Tall,” Kristine said. “Taller than the trees. Skinny like those starving kids they show on UNICEF ads. And he was naked.” She stopped. “People see things. You know. Your brain was practically, it must have been practically shutting off.”
“He didn’t have a face,” Noel said. “Just a big dark mouth. Big black hole. I still remember it so clear. Clearer than what actually happened.”
“I think you might have PTSD or something, Noel. I’m worried.”
“It’s nothing like that.” Noel’s voice was strained. He opened his eyes. Blinked. “I haven’t been myself. I know. I just need to get this transcription done, and then I’ll be done with it all. I’m looking for this one story. I know it’s in there somewhere. Just give me the week, Krissy. Be patient for me.”
“Of course,” Kristine said. “I get it. Really.” She put her hand against Noel’s hip. It felt sharp enough to cut.
“Yeah. I mean.” Kristine paused. “If you need to get through this transcription so you can be done with everything, storm included, and just stop thinking about it, then yeah. I get it. And then you’ll be yourself again. I get it.”
They embraced, and it felt like all angles. Kristine wasn’t sure, but she almost thought her hands could make out the nodes of his spine under thin wool sweater.