Flat on the floor again. I didn’t even feel the impact on the shoulder I landed on.
“HELP! SOMEBODY!” I squealed. I wished I knew the names of my neighbors. “HEEELLLLPP!”
The last cry ended in a croak.
The cell phone screamed again.
Mustering every last calorie of energy from my right arm, I reached out for a phone that seemed to be ten miles away. I got my dead fingers on top of it, then dragged it across the carpet toward my face. It was as heavy as a bag of concrete. Manipulating the hand was like trying to fish a stuffed animal out of one of those claw games at the carnival. I saw that the incoming message was from John.
“JOHN!” I screamed at the phone, stupidly. I slapped at the buttons with my clumsy carnival claw hand. I fought to lift my head from the floor.
The screen changed. An image appeared.
My arm went dead. My head bounced off the floor. Spinal cord totally unplugged now. I was staring across an expanse of carpet, seeing tumbleweeds of dog hair that had gathered under the TV cabinet across the room. Couldn’t look away—didn’t even have that much muscle control. Couldn’t close my eyes.
I could hear, though, and I detected the ever-so-faint rustling of carpet, many little feet stepping through the fibers. Hard, black, jointed legs shuffled into view. The spider completely filled my field of vision, no more than six inches from my eyes. Legs everywhere. A half dozen of them were coated in nacho cheese sauce.
The creature’s mouth was as big as mine, surrounded by needle-thin mandibles. Two lips parted and I saw with revulsion that it had a pink tongue, exactly like a human’s. It inched toward my face.
The spider was my world, its many glistening black legs extending past both ends of the horizon. I could count the taste buds on its lolling pink tongue, could see the wet ridges of the roof of its mouth. Its carapace glistened with some kind of slime. Two of its legs were touching my mouth. It tickled.
A huge, furry nose descended into my field of vision, like the fuzzy snout of God Himself. Molly had finally grown curious enough about the situation to wander in from the kitchen.
Her nose twitched as she detected the smell of nacho cheese. She licked the spider, discovered that her most ambitious doggy dream had finally come true: naturally cheese–coated prey. With a snap of her jaws and a quick twist of her head, she ripped off four of the monster’s legs and buckled down to the hard work of chewing them.
The spider shrieked with a piercing noise that made my bones vibrate. It sped from view so fast I had no idea what direction it went.
29 Hours Prior to Outbreak
Was this permanent? I pictured the venom turning my spinal column into mush. Molly glanced at me, quietly judging me for my laziness. She worked over her severed spider legs, realizing there wasn’t much meat inside the crunchy outer shell. She settled in and pinned the legs under her front paws, then started carefully licking the cheese off of them.
I lay there for an interminable amount of time that in reality was about one hour. I eventually felt a tingling across my torso as I sleepily imagined I had landed on an anthill. It was, however, the feeling returning to my body. Twenty minutes or so later I found I could twitch my fingers, a half hour after that I was sitting upright on the sofa, cradling my throbbing head in my hands. I devoted all of my mental energy to blocking out any thoughts of what the spider had intended to do to my immobilized body.
Well, the first step would be to lay eggs …
Oh, wait. The spider. It could still be here. Shit.
Three seconds later I was on the porch, peering back through the front door into my own living room. No sign of the spider, but then again it was pitch dark inside and I had a streetlight behind me, so all I could see in the little window was a reflection of my own stupid face. My hair looked like I had combed it with an angry cat. I reached for my cell phone, then realized it was still on the floor in the living room.
I flung open the door, sprinted in, rolled, grabbed the phone, and sprinted back out, slamming the door behind me. I dialed John. Voice mail:
“This is John. If you’re calling because you found the rest of my guitar, just bring it by the apartment. Sorry about the rug. Leave a message.”
I didn’t. Even on a Thursday night, the man was probably marinated and comatose by now. I glanced around the neighborhood, my nervous breaths barely visible in the November air. Why was mine the only house that didn’t have power? I raised the phone, but didn’t dial. The English language needs a word for that feeling you get when you badly need help, but there is no one who you can call because you’re not popular enough to have friends, not rich enough to have employees, and not powerful enough to have lackeys. It’s a very distinct cocktail of impotence, loneliness and a sudden stark assessment of your non-worth to society.
There was a broom leaning by the front door, from when I had used it to knock a dead bird off the porch a few days ago. I clutched it in front of me like a spear and pushed through the door. Molly brushed past me in the opposite direction, presumably to find the perfect spot outside my car door to take a dump so that I’d be sure to step in it the next time I was in a hurry to get to work. I took one step inside, focusing on the floor to—
The spider thumped onto my head, twitchy legs tangling in my hair. I dropped the broom and threw my hands up as the monster climbed over my ear and onto my shoulder. Itchy little legs, all over my face and neck. I grabbed the spider around the body, rigid legs bending under my hands. I tried to pull it off. I couldn’t, the feet were latched on somehow. My shirt—and my skin—stretched away from my shoulder as I pulled. I heard a screeching like steam from a teapot, and realized it was me.
Sharp mandibles filled the view in my right eye. A stab of pain seared through my skull. I lost vision in that eye and thought the bastard had plucked out my eyeball. I let out a scream of rage and grabbed bundles of legs with both hands, ripping them away from the skin. I felt wetness and realized the monster had left one leg behind, the foot still attached to my shoulder. But I was free of the creature now, the unholy thing thrashing around in my hands, twisting its mouth toward me, trying to bite.
That freaking tongue! Goddamn it!
I frantically looked around with my one good eye, trying to find a container I could cram the creature into.
Laundry basket! Bedroom floor!
Into the bedroom. I kicked over the plastic basket, dumping the clothes. I dunked the beast inside and turned the basket over, imprisoning it. I knocked the shit off my nightstand and laid it sideways on top of the basket. Good and heavy. There were vertical slots in the basket and the spider stuck a leg through. It couldn’t crawl out but I suspected it could bite through the plastic eventually. Have to watch it.
I sat heavily on the bed, chest heaving. Face wet and sticky. Cringing, I lifted a tentative hand to the right side of my face, expecting to find a squishy eyeball laying on my cheek. I didn’t. I winced as I felt around the eyelid, raw skin stinging at my touch. Everything felt torn and ragged up there. I blinked and tried looking through the eye, found I could a little bit. I looked down, intending to dig my cell phone from my pocket, and let out a disgusted hiss.
The spider’s black leg, the one that broke off when I was pulling it off me, was still stuck to my shirt. I grabbed it and pulled it and it would not come free. It wasn’t stuck to the shirt, it was stuck to me, pulling up the skin like a circus tent. The foot was hooked in somehow, dug in like a tick. I pulled apart the hole in the shirt and pinched the skin between two fingers and tried to get a close look at it. I couldn’t tell the exact point where the severed leg ended and the patch of skin on my shoulder began. It was like the leg had fused to it somehow. I pulled and twisted. It was like trying to pull off one of my own fingers.
I was getting seriously pissed off at this point. I stomped out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. I yanked open several drawers until I found a utility knife, what some people call a box cutter. Molly came trotting in behind me, figuring maybe I was making a snack and she could get some scraps.
I pulled off my shirt, then grabbed a long wooden spoon and stuck it sideways in my mouth. I stabbed the tip of the utility knife’s short blade in at the point where the monster’s foot was fused with my skin, and started prying. I growled and cursed around the spoon, teeth denting into the wood. A thick drop of blood ran down my chest like candle wax.
It took twenty minutes. In the end I had the six-inch-long jointed leg in my hand, with a little dot of bloody skin and fat on the end that used to be part of me. I held a bundle of wet paper towels to the wound, smears of blood making my abdomen look like a finger painting. I put the monster’s leg in a plastic container from my cabinet. I leaned against the counter, eyes closed, taking slow breaths.
I had taken one step back toward the bedroom when a knock came at the door. I froze, decided not to answer it, then realized it may be John. I went into the bedroom to check on the caged beast. It had two legs through a slot in the plastic basket but had made no progress toward biting its way out. I made my way back across the living room, smacking my foot on the coffee table on the way. I yanked open the door—
It was a cop.
A young guy. I knew him, name was Franky something. Went to high school with me. I straightened up and said, “What can I do for you, officer?”
I saw his eyes go right to my torso, where I was holding a red wad of paper towels over a freely bleeding wound, and then back to my face, where one eye was swollen shut under a ragged eyelid caked with dried blood. He had a hand resting on the butt of his gun, alert in that way that cops are.
He began with, “Who else is in the house, sir?”
“It’s fine. I mean, nobody. I live here alone. I mean, my girlfriend lives here with me, but she’s away at school right now. So it’s just me. Everything’s fine. I just had a problem with, uh, something that, uh, came into the house. Some kind of … animal.”
“You mind if I come in, sir?”
There was no right answer to that, since he clearly thought I had a butchered prostitute in here somewhere. I stepped aside without a word. That “sir” shit was irritating me. He was my age. I went to parties with this guy in school, watched him play teabag twister with underwear on his head.