A short story by Carter Pierce
The spider wasn’t in its web, and that could only mean one thing. It was somewhere else.
In the following seconds, which seemed to last an eternity, I became aware of the uncanny feeling I was being watched. It was absolutely terrifying. I wanted to turn around and scurry back along the shelf behind the bottles and climb down to the floor and go back to my cage.
But what if it was right behind me? Waiting?
I prepared to whirl about to face it. I tried to steel my nerves, but none of them were working very well, and felt more like a bunch of limp noodles. My legs were wobbly with fear.
But I had to do it. I had to turn around and look. Fight, if I had to.
Or it could be right in front of me. Maybe behind one of the metal bottles.
Or climbing on the bottom of the shelf and coming up over the edge.
Just biding its time until I turned my back. Then it would come at me silently and sink its wicked fangs into me before I even saw it.
I gave a squeak. I suppose it was a pitiful one, but all squeaks sound about the same, and I couldn’t tell. But deep inside the fibers of my being, it was the shrill voice of desperation. The squeak didn’t do it justice.
I just wanted to sink down on my weak legs and curl up and bury my nose in my furry stomach and hope it didn’t kill me.
And I couldn’t, which was worse.
I was frozen, unable to move, my whiskers trembling and my whole body stiff with terror. It was behind me, I was sure. The next moment, as I decided to face it, I was certain it was in front of me, hiding, waiting until I turned around.
And then … what if it was above me?? Suspended on a sticky web, its long black legs reaching for me, its mouth open, eyes glaring! Descending slowly and silently, deadly, as I decided whether or not to whirl around. A useless choice, in the scheme of things, because in that case it wouldn’t be in front of me or behind me.
The soft hair on my back prickled. My skin felt cold. My nose was dry. The air felt still and pensive and everything was ready to eat me alive.
And then … it touched me.
Coming from above. A leg. Or a mouth.
I couldn’t tell what it was, and it didn’t matter, either.
I squeaked and ran.
Heedless of direction. All my muscles released like springs that had been cramped tight, and I shot forward, rocketing between the metal bottles, away from the spider.
The shelf came abruptly to an end, long before it should have. The fingers of web that clung to it stuck to my paws for a second before I plunged headlong over the edge.
A long, empty, clutching-at-nothing moment passed. I felt the wind in my fur. I was going to land on my back. Somehow I’d gotten turned over when I fell, and I was looking at the ceiling.
And where the black widow should have been, where its leg had touched me … hung a dusty cobweb from the old walls of the closet. No spider.
Time seemed to slow down.
It almost came to a halt.
I was suspended in midair, my thoughts running a million miles an hour. I saw everything by the light of the closet’s single lightbulb, crystal clear. Every detail. The grain of the wooden shelf. The color of the walls. Even the labels on the bottles that were facing me. Potassium Permanganate. Ammonia. H2O2, which I knew was hydrogen peroxide. Another one labeled acetone. I knew that one. It melted things.
It could have melted the spider, I thought. If I’d thought about it before. If the label had been facing backward while I scurried behind the bottles. If I’d read it. It didn’t matter, now, anyway.
But time never sped up. I just kept reading the labels. I was still suspended in midair, lying on my back. And I wasn’t moving.
Little sticky arms were crossed in my ears. They clung to my back and held me up like a stringy hammock.
I’d landed right in the middle of the web.
And now I saw where the black widow really was: not in any of the places I’d thought she was. She wasn’t hanging from the ceiling, and she wasn’t on the shelf between the bottles. She was hanging upside down from the bottom of the shelf, her long legs bent and poised and her shiny black body the size of a golf ball glittering in the light of the single bulb.
Six inches away from me.
She was looking right at me with her eight black eyes. The were full of evil smiles and hungry thoughts.
And as she started to come, creeping, moving one leg and then another, gracefully silent and predatory, I had only one thought in my mind.
I had to fight, or I was going to die.
And if she killed me, she’d surely eat me, and then she’d grow to the size of three golf balls.
She’d not think twice about gobbling up a little kid.
Then, one by one, all the rest of them.
Everyone in the whole school.
It would be all my fault.
The web tensed and flexed as she stepped on it. I could feel it under my back like sticky steel threads, shifting and pulling at my fur and grabbing me and holding me down. All four paws stuck straight in the air helplessly. I was looking right across my own stomach at the approaching spider.
Her knees angled up and down, high above her head. Her mandibles opened and closed, and her fangs protruded down like tiny needles, already going through the motions of chewing. If spiders drooled, I was sure she was doing it.
And because she was practically on top of me, I did the only thing I could do; the thing that came most naturally. I had forgotten about fighting. My only desire was to get away at all costs.
I rolled over.
In any other circumstance, this would have resulted in my feet getting under me and carrying me off into the sunset, but in this particular instance it did not.
I rolled over right into a face-full of more spider webs, and one of my paws got tangled up in them, stuck to my side so I couldn’t use it.
The webs pulled and stretched and a few of them snapped. I felt myself jerk lower, bouncing and then becoming still again.
Well, I thought, that should do the trick if I can pull it off a few times.
If I could break enough of the webs under my weight, I’d fall to the floor. Then I’d have the advantage. I was comfortable on the ground. I could fight better.
I could win!
So I tried again. Pushing with three legs and shifting my weight to the left.
I got halfway over.
A few more webs broke like taut ropes and I bounced lower. A few inches closer to the ground. I was on my side now, and I could see it out of the corner of my eye. It seemed impossibly far away. It would probably hurt when I landed.
On the other hand, I was pretty fluffy, so if I landed just right, I might bounce like a pillow full of hamster guts. Squishy and soft and painless. Probably a little sloshy and uncomfortable inside, but otherwise I’d be no worse for the wear.
I heaved my weight around again. Pushing with my legs. Straining against the gripping cords of death that held me.
And then the spider was on top of me. I could feel the pointy little legs in my flesh, crawling. She was heavy. Very heavy.
The web bounced when she stepped on me. I jerked about in aimless directions. Just trying to shake the gigantic beast off before she could bite me.
And then it snapped. Finally. The cords broke and I fell with her on top. Her own weight had done the trick: too much bearing right in the middle of her own web. One shiny black golf ball on top of two fluffy brown golf balls.
The jerking about I’d done right before the web snapped, turned out to be a stroke of luck. I had just enough momentum to keep turning over in the air. She was still hanging on my back, but now she was on the bottom. I was facing the ceiling again. The single lightbulb, and the shelf, and the bottles, and the messy crisscrossed web with the gaping hold I’d just torn through it.
We smashed into the floor.
There was a wet squelching sound like somebody stepping in a mud puddle.
Or in this case, me landing on a pillow full of spider guts.
I was winded.
But I figured the black widow was probably worse off. I rolled over and got to my feet and looked at her, not minding the sloppy goo and the stringy webs in my fur.
There wasn’t much to see.
Just a few bent and broken legs like black pencils stretching out of a soggy black patch on the carpet. Angling knees and pointy feet. And part of the head. A few eyeballs that were glazed over. No longer hungry.
The children would be safe.
I felt that a good night’s work had been done. I was tired. I didn’t even have enough energy to climb up to the light switch on the wall and turn it off.
Who cared, anyway? Other people left lights on all the time. It wouldn’t be noticed, in the morning. One might assume a careless student had done it. Or they might see the black widow and draw other conclusions.
Before I went back to my cage to sleep, however, I had one more thing to do.
I stuck my tongue out at that big black blob of spider goo on the floor and waggled my ears at it.
Good riddance, I thought.
Copyright by Carter Pierce, 2022
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