Sunday 4 October 2015

Arachnophobia - OctoboPhobia short story

My first memory is of spiders. I am seventeen now, and don’t really remember much before I was five, but this is something I’ll never forget.  And as I look at his eyes, I remember it.

I was wearing my yellow skirt. I don’t know why that is something that sticks in my brain, but it is.  I don’t know what else I was wearing, although I was wearing socks rather than shoes. That’s definitely important.

We were visiting my grandparents in the countryside, and I was able to run around their grounds as much as I wanted.  Looking back now, it wasn’t as big as I remember, but it felt almost like its own country. Like it should be on a map somewhere. “Grandparents”, just around the same size as… I don’t know. Birmingham or somewhere I’ve never been.

It was so much bigger than where we lived. So much bigger than anywhere I’d ever been.  We didn’t even have a garden of our own. We had a small piece of land outside our flats, and there was a park down the road.

I was allowed and even encouraged to explore, as long as I stayed away from anything sharp and I didn’t eat anything I found. And, of course, as long as I didn’t go near the road by myself. I’d seen a rabbit and chased it for a bit, shouting and screaming in delight.

Then I found the shed. Not the shed they actually used, the new, larger one that was also their garage. The old shed, the one on the top end of the garden that you couldn’t see into.

I couldn’t reach the handle with enough of a grip to open it, but I could fit my fingers into the gap between the door and the wall. I pulled it, expecting it to be locked, and it opened, scraping against the ground. I had to put all of my strength into opening it enough to fit into.

There were shelves and piles of cans, old tools and jars and bottles. It was like a treasure trove, and I ignored the dust and the cobwebs as I began to explore it, opening drawers and looking around everything that I could. There was an old wooden chair that served me as a small stepladder as I searched my way around it (including finding a small stack of old magazines, hidden in a drawer, featuring naked ladies that made me feel troubled and confused as to why there would be such a thing at all, although looking back, they were likely an old secret of my grandfather’s, although that thought never crossed my mind at the time).

There was an old, cast-iron lawmower in the corner that was heavily coated in grim, dust and webs. I felt my way around it, confused as to what it was, and found a small latch that allowed me to open up the green metallic hood. It was entirely black underneath.

And then the blackness moved.

I didn’t understand what was happening at first, as the centre of the blackness vanished, and it moved outwards, up the inside of the hood, and across the lawnmower, but then it began to wave over my hand, a black sheet of thin, hair-like legs, swarming over me.

I screamed and dropped the hood, which slammed down with a crash, but what seemed like hundreds, thousands, maybe, of small black spiders crawled all over the lawnmower and the floor. I fell, trying to brush them off my hand, and more came over me as they tried to escape the now-destroyed safety of the lawnmower engine.

I could feel them all over my legs, body and hair, and I kept screaming, trying frantically to brush them all off me. I shouted and screamed as loudly as I could, even when I felt one around and then inside my mouth, which I spat out.

I must have been screaming loud enough for my parents and grandparents to hear, as it can’t have been long until they found me.

I cried and cried and cried as they brushed them all off me, and as they told me off for going into the shed, and as they stripped my clothes off, and then put me into the shower. I cried when I was put to bed that night, and I screamed again when I woke up in the night, surrounded by darkness and convinced I could feel them all over me.

Ever since then, I have never been able to bear them. Any time I see one, I know there must always be more nearby, but I always kill them. Stamp on them, roll up newspapers and squish them until they’re just a small black and red smear, or whatever I have to do.

And it’s while I look at the toddler’s eyes, I remember it.

I babysit now, usually two nights a week. It’s a good time to study or watch television or talk to my friends on snapchat. I get paid pretty well for it, and I usually like the kids. The parents are out until whatever time they’re out until, and once the kid’s asleep, I get the house to myself. Tonight, they’re at something in town, and will be out most of the night. I have the spare room, which means being paid even more to sleep, which I’m okay with.

He’s old enough to help get himself ready for bed, although I have to help with some of the trickier stuff like changing and brushing teeth properly. But he’s well behaved and actually comes to tell me that it’s his bedtime. I’ve sat for him plenty of times before.

It’s when he does that, that I look at his eyes. They’re dark brown, with black pools in the middle, and framed with thick eyelashes. He looks tired and maybe a little unwell as he tells me he’s ready for bed.

It’s as he’s saying that, that it happens. Two eyelashes, just right at the bottom of his left eye, move. 

They curl up briefly, and then flex straight again.

I am stunned into silence, not understanding what I’m looking at, but then the memory of the shed overwhelms me.

They’re not eyelashes. They’re two small black, hair-like legs.

I grab him as he leaves and turn him around to face me again, and he smiles, not seeing my actions as aggressive, and leans in to hug me.

I let him do it, and then hold him a bit further away at him again, and look at his eyes again.

This time, the eyelashes stay still. Maybe they know I’ve seen them, but I don’t let on. I have to surprise them this time, not let them surprise me. And I have to be sure.

I help him get changed, and take the opportunity to look at the rest of his skin. It takes me a while, because I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but then I see it.

His back is very slightly moving. Underneath the skin. Small waves of constant movement. It’s almost imperceptible. But once I see it’s there, I understand what is happening.

In biology, a little while ago, I learned about parasitic wasps that lay eggs inside their prey. The eggs then hatch and they devour their victim from within, controlling them beforehand.

I can’t let them know that I know. But as he puts on his pyjama top, he smiles at me before he goes to brush his teeth, and I have to look away, pretending to check something on my phone.

His open mouth, smiling at me. I can’t look at it without imagining spiders pouring out of it. Not that close to me. I can’t do it.

He goes to the bathroom, and I follow him. I steel myself, and I put a towel around him as he stands on the step and I pretend everything is okay and I put the toothpaste onto the brush, and put my hand over his as he holds it and I pretend that I can’t feel the scuttling movement underneath my hand as we brush his teeth.

I put him to bed, which still has the barriers up a bit to stop him falling out, and leave the nightlight on, and I watch him carefully while I tell him a bedtime story. Every sentence I finish, I look again at him, and each time, I see more and more movement.

He pretends to fall asleep, or rather they pretend to fall asleep, and I go downstairs.
They are in him, swarming all inside him, just waiting to come out.

I go into the kitchen and take one of the knives. I don’t know if he can be saved. I don’t know if I’m going to be trying to cut the spiders out of him without killing him too, or if he’s already dead and just pretending. But if he is, at least he won’t feel anything.

I take a deep breath and climb the stairs. I know that once I make that first cut, the spiders are going to come swarming out. Thousands of legs and bodies.

But I have to kill them all.

I hold the knife carefully and open the bedroom door. 

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