“That … can’t be right.”
She shrugged. “Do the math.”
“And yes, just to settle the issue, I do miss you.”
“There’s nobody here to ruin movies for me.”
Amy had a superhuman ability to pick out the one flaw in a movie that would make it impossible to ever fully enjoy it again. During a single weekend’s George Lucas marathon, she pointed out to me that if Indiana Jones had just stayed home, Raiders of the Lost Ark would have turned out exactly the same way—the Nazis would have opened the ark and gotten vaporized. Then, during The Empire Strikes Back, she paused the movie when a character referred to Luke’s ship as an “X-Wing,” which is impossible, she said, because there’s no way that ship should be called an “X-Wing” based on it being physically shaped like the English letter “X” since an ancient race of people in a distant galaxy would never have seen that letter before. Jesus, I’m making her sound like a bitch.
To the webcam window I said, “How are the classes going? Have you gotten to the part where they teach you to make computer viruses? Because I have people I want to send them to.”
“If by ‘virus’ you mean a program that accidentally freezes up your whole operating system when you try to execute it, then I think everything I’ve coded so far counts as one. Oh, did you know you could hack the phone system with a Cap’n Crunch whistle?”
“Uh, is that like hacker slang or…”
“No, the phones back in the seventies did everything by tones, the different frequencies and stuff told the system how to route the calls and all that. So there was a hacker named John Draper who figured out that the little plastic toy whistles they were putting in boxes of Cap’n Crunch had the exact same frequency and tone that the phone system was using to end charges on a call. He got free long distance for like two years just by blowing his toy whistle into the phone every time.”
“Holy shit, I’m going to try that. See, this is the type of stuff colleges should be teaching.”
“Well they’ve updated the phone system since then.”
We sat in silence for a moment then she said, “Give me a second, I’m trying to think of a way to work the conversation back around to your therapy again.”
I said, “I love you.”
She said, “I know.”
“Actually, tomorrow’s a group session. I’ll probably have to wax beforehand.”
“Though maybe I shouldn’t talk, since I’m sitting here on a webcam without any pants on.”
I said, “Oh, really?”
“Yes. Yes I do.”
30 Hours Prior to Outbreak
There exists in this world a spider the size of a dinner plate, a foot wide if you include the legs. It’s called the Goliath Bird-Eating Spider, or the “Goliath Fucking Bird-Eating Spider” by those who have actually seen one.
It doesn’t eat only birds—it mostly eats rats and insects—but they still call it the “Bird-Eating Spider” because the fact that it can eat a bird is the most important thing you need to know about it. If you run across one of these things, like in your closet or crawling out of your bowl of soup, the first thing somebody will say is, “Watch it, man, that thing can eat a goddamned bird.”
I don’t know how they catch the birds. I know the Goliath Fucking Bird-Eating Spider can’t fly because if it could, it would have a different name entirely. We would call it “sir” because it would be the dominant species on the planet. None of us would leave the house unless a Goliath Fucking Flying Bird-Eating Spider said it was okay.
I’ve seen one of those things in person, at a zoo when I was in high school. I was fifteen, my face breaking out in acne and getting fatter by the day, staring open-mouthed at this monster pawing at the glass wall of its cage. Big as both of my hands. The guys around me were giggling and punching each other in the arm and some girl was squealing behind me. But I didn’t make a sound. I couldn’t. There was nothing but a pane of glass between me and that thing. For months after, I’d watch the dark corners of my bedroom at night, for hairy legs as thick as a finger poking out from behind a stack of comic books and video game magazines. I imagined—no, expected—to find strands of spiderweb as thick as fishing line in my closet, bulging with clumps of half-eaten sparrows. Or spider droppings in my shoes, the little turds laced with bits of feather. Or piles of pink eggs, yolked with baby spiders already the size of golf balls. And even now, ten years later and at the age of twenty-five, I still glance between the sheets at night before pushing my legs in, some part of my subconscious still looking for the huge spider crouching in the shadows.
I bring this up because the Goliath was the first thing that popped into my mind when I woke up with something in my bed, biting my leg.
I felt a pinch on my ankle, like digging needles. The Goliath Fucking Bird-Eating Spider leapt out of the fog of my sleepy imagination as I flung the blankets aside.
It was dark.
Lights were off. Clock off. Everything off.
I sat up and squinted down at my leg. Movement, down by the sheets. I swung my leg off the bed and I could feel the weight of something clinging to the ankle, heavy as a can of beer.
A spasm of panic ripped through me. I kicked out with the leg, grunting in the chill air of my dark bedroom, trying to shake off the little biting whatever-it-was. The thing went flying across the room, passing through a shaft of moonlight spilling in around my blinds. In that brief second I saw a flash of jointed legs—lots of legs—and a tail. Armored plates like a lobster. The whole thing was as long as a shoe. Black.
What in the name of—
The creature that my panicked mind was calling a “spider”—even though it clearly wasn’t an arachnid or any other species native to planet Earth—flew across the bedroom and hit the wall, landing behind a basket of laundry. I bolted up out of the bed, squinting, edging around the room, feeling the wall with my hands. I blinked, trying to get my night vision, scanning for something to use as a weapon. I pawed around at the jumble of objects on my nightstand, saw something jutting out from under a copy of Entertainment Weekly. Round and slim, I thought it maybe was the hilt of a knife. I grabbed it and threw it, realizing only after it was airborne that it was my asthma inhaler. I reached again, grabbed for what looked like the heaviest object on the table—a jar of cheese sauce.
I spotted movement across the baseboard. I chucked the jar, grunting with the effort. A thud, a tinkle of broken glass. Silence. I grabbed the table lamp, a novelty item that consisted of a naked bulb jutting out of a stained-glass sculpture of a turkey. A birthday present from John. I yanked the cord from the wall and raised the turkey by the neck, holding it over my shoulder like a quarterback photographed in midthrow.
The spider(?) skittered across the floor, out the doorway, and into the living room. It had legs all over it, walking on half a dozen legs with another half dozen sticking up in the air like dreadlocks, like the thing was made to keep running even on its back. The sight of the thing froze me. That awful, primal, paralyzing terror that only accompanies an encounter with something completely alien. I lowered the lamp and forced myself to take a step forward. I tried to control my breathing. I risked a glance down at my leg and saw a crimson stripe leaking down from the bite.
That little bastard.
I felt a heat, and then a numbness, creeping its way up my leg. I didn’t know if the little monster was poisonous, or if it was just the shock of getting bitten. I took three steps toward the doorway and had developed a serious limp by the fourth.
I slooooowly peered into the living room. Not quite as dark in here, the streetlamps outside spilling halfhearted ribbons of light on the floor, writhing among shadows of windblown tree branches. No sign of the spider. I heard a scratchy rustle from the kitchen tiles to my left and spun on it—
It was the dog.
Molly stepped sleepily toward me, a knee-high reddish shape topped by two eyes reflecting bluish moonlight. I caught the faint blur of a wagging tail behind her. She was looking right at me, wondering why I was up, wondering why I smelled like terror sweat, wondering if I had any snacks on me. I glanced toward the front door. Ten feet of carpet between me and it. I had half made up my mind to pack Molly into the car and flee to John’s place, then regroup so that the two of us could come back here tomorrow with a shotgun and holy water.
My feet had never been so bare. Those little naked toes. That spider thing probably looks at those like the ears on a chocolate bunny. Where had I left my shoes? I brandished the turkey lamp and took a shaky step, my bitten left leg having fallen asleep. I willed it to hold up from here to the driveway.
A scream, from behind me.
I flinched and spun, then realized it was my phone. John had set my phone’s text message ringtone to a sound clip of him screaming, “TEEEXXTT!! SSSSHHHIIIIITTTTT!” I never figured out how to change it back. I snatched the phone from the coffee table and saw it was a blank message with an attached photo. I opened the image …
A man’s penis.
I quickly closed it. What the hell?
The phone sounded again in my hand. A call this time. I answered.
“Dave! Don’t talk. Listen. You have a picture in your inbox. DO NOT OPEN IT. I sent it to the wrong number.”
“Jesus Christ, John. Listen to me—”
“Man, you sound out of breath—”
The phone slipped from my fingers, which were suddenly unable to grip it. I took a step toward the fallen phone, then another, and the room started wobbling in front of my eyes. Losing my balance—
NO NO YOU CANNOT FALL YOU CANNOT GO DOWN THERE WITH THAT THING!
I fell face-first on the carpet. My left leg was fifty pounds of dead weight dragging behind me. My right leg was tingling now, terror pumping the poison through my veins with horrible efficiency. I swung an arm around, finding the coffee table. I clawed at it, tried to raise myself. No grip with that hand.