Neighborly Cannibals

Mrs. Burgus sued Rush, Dr. Braun and her insurance company over claims that he and Dr. Sachs had implanted false memories in her head. They settled out of court in 1997 for $10.6 million.

“I began to add a few things up and realized there was no way I could come from a little town in Iowa, be eating 2,000 people a year, and nobody said anything about it,” Mrs. Burgus told the Chicago Tribune in 1997.

The Times.

My name is Margaret Jo Stinson, and I’d like to share my own perspective on this sort of thing. I live in Birchberry, Nebraska, population two hundred and thirty-eight, and my neighbor of more than fifteen years is Teresa Krell, who is sweet as a bug. Every morning, on my way to work at my boutique, Stinson’s Yarnables, Crochet Caddies & More, I wave to Teresa, who just yesterday was sitting on her porch in her housecoat and slippers, picking her teeth with what appeared to be a human femur.

I have no interest in cannibal-shaming anyone, and, again, Teresa couldn’t be more friendly. On Halloween, she always hands out gift bags stuffed with treats, including what she calls “cinnamon pinkies.” Last Christmas, we worked side by side at our church bake sale, with me contributing my signature whole-grain walnut-chive biscuits, and Teresa generously donating more than fifty cupcakes, frosted with buttercream and decorated with sprinkles, love, and molars.

I’m not saying that Teresa leads a satanic cult in her finished basement, but, when I asked her about the large duct-tape pentagram on her laminate flooring, she explained, “It came to me in a dream where I attended junior college and my art teacher was Walter Beelzebub, who purchased my soul in return for a pre-owned Chevy Equinox and one of those sectionals with cup holders.” Not my business. Sometimes after midnight I hear wolves howling and voices chanting, “Serve the Dark Lord and buy him twenty-four-roll packs of paper towels at Costco,” but then I remember that Teresa gets Hulu and sometimes falls asleep with her flat-screen on. I chatted with Pastor Meersman about whether satanic worship is real, and he offered me a cup of tea and asked if I ever checked the menu at Olive Garden for Genuine Tuscan-Style Lungs.

Of course, with Ozempic and all, everyone’s always counting calories. So, when I saw Teresa putting a batch of skulls in her recycling bin, I said, “But how do you stay so trim?” Teresa told me, “It’s all about portion control and letting my kids have the spleen.” Did this disturb me? Not really, but I did notice that Teresa hadn’t separated her bubble wrap and Styrofoam takeout containers from the blood-spattered nuns’ habits. I thought about suggesting OxiClean, which gets out even stubborn grass stains, but just then Teresa lightheartedly called out, “Margaret Jo—catch!,” and I found myself holding a foot that still had a Croc on it.

I decided to do a Google search about cannibalism and human sacrifice, and you know what? It turns out that those are America’s third and fourth most popular rainy-day activities, right after board games and before matricide. I wondered what I’d do if I came home and found my teen-age daughter Kayleigh and her friends KayLee and Kayleen snacking on their pep-squad captain, Kaylette, and I decided at least they wouldn’t be glued to a bunch of screens. I asked Kayleigh if she ever feels pressured to experiment with nontraditional Lunchables, and she just rolled her eyes and said, “Geez, Mom, it’s called healthy eating. Get a life. Or an ear that hasn’t been treated with pesticides.”

Live and learn. At today’s book club, Teresa suggested that we read a how-to guide called “Dismemberment for Dummies,” and it looks interesting, although I still haven’t finished last week’s novel, which Teresa calls “a real page-turner,” about a woman who murders her neighbor with a snowblower, sells the torso on eBay as a collectible, and falls for a handsome widowed farmer because she admires his warm smile and all the crumbling outbuildings on his isolated property. I also just saw that Teresa seems to be growing horns and a tail, but when I asked about them she shook her head, grinned ruefully, and said, “Menopause. You’ll see.”

So the moral is, when you come across a discarded buttock while Weedwacking, or if you catch yourself thinking, What would it be like to become immortal if it meant feeding on entrails, maybe seasoned with Entrail Helper?, don’t be too hard on yourself. I’ve got to skedaddle and answer the door, because I can see Teresa wearing a hazmat suit and ringing my bell, alongside everyone in our spin class, and they’re carrying pitchforks and napkins. As Teresa once told me, small towns are just gift baskets filled with solid values and homemade cobbler that screams. ♦

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