I manufactured a chuckle and said, “Heh, uh, I got that off eBay. It’s a, uh, prop from a movie.”
The cop glanced at me. I glanced away.
He shined his light back onto the shelf. Next to the jar was an ant farm. The tunnels between the panes of glass had been dug neatly to spell out the word HELP.
Next to that was my old Xbox, the cables wrapped around it.
He moved the light down a foot, to the shelf below. He passed over a stack of old magazines, not noticing that the top one was an old, faded issue of Time depicting a swarm of Secret Service agents around a dead Bill Clinton, the words WHO DID IT? blasting across the picture in red. Next to the magazines was a stuffed red Tickle Me Elmo doll, the fur faded with dust. At the moment the light hit it, its sound box crackled to life and in a cartoony voice it said, “Ha ha ha! Five and three quarter inches erect!”
I said, “It’s, uh, broken.”
Franky the Cop inched the beam to the next object, a mason jar containing a twisted, purple tongue suspended in clear liquid. Next to it was a duplicate jar, only with two human eyes floating side by side, trailing a tangled tail of nerves and blood vessels. The cop didn’t notice that when the beam swept past the jar, the eyes turned to follow it. Next to the jars was an old battery from my truck, matted with smears of black grime. The light made it to the bottom, where it found a red plastic gasoline can sitting on the floor next to an old CRT computer monitor with a screen that had been shattered by a gunshot. Next to it was the one thing I didn’t want the cop to see. The Box.
We heard crunching leaves behind us.
“Yo, what’s up?” The cop and I turned to see a dark figure with one hand swinging the orange coal of a burning cigarette. John. “Hi, Franky. Dave, sorry I sent you all those pictures of my dick. I hope that’s not what caused you to injure your eye.”
The cop put the flashlight on John, maybe to make sure he wasn’t armed. John wore a flannel shirt and a black baseball cap with the word HAT on it in all caps.
Franky the Cop thanked John for coming over. I was hoping he would back out of the toolshed because each minute he stood there made me more and more nervous. My eye and shoulder were throbbing. The wind shifted and I picked up the scent of alcohol from John.
The cop swung the flashlight beam around and spotlighted the floor of the toolshed again. Light fell on the box, and I mean the box, the olive green box we’d found in the back of that unmarked black truck. It looked like a serious box. It looked like something you’d want to look inside of, if your job was to keep people safe. Franky nodded toward it.
“What’s in the green box there?”
That was sort of true, I guess.
John said, “We found it. You can’t get it open.”
That was also true. Franky couldn’t get it open.
I said, “You can take it back with you, if you want. Put it in the lost and found at the police station.”
The cop clicked off the flashlight, then asked John if they could go inside and talk. He then gestured toward the toolshed with the flashlight and said to me, “You want to close that up while I have a word here with John?”
I said that seemed like a fine idea and their shoes crunched through the leaves until they reached the light of my back door. I closed the toolshed and clicked the padlock shut, then let out a sigh of relief. The relief lasted approximately four seconds, the time it took me to realize John and Franky the Cop were now back inside the house with the murderous alien spider. I hurried back inside and saw John and the cop in my living room having a low conversation out of my hearing, the cop I guess was asking John to babysit me and to call if I showed more signs of craziness. I moved closer and barely heard John say, “… Been real depressed lately…” and wondered what kind of portrait he was painting in there.
I scanned the kitchen for the spider, being sure to check the high ground. No sign of it. I closed some of the open drawers and cabinets, tried to straighten the place up. I made it all the way out of the room before I turned and realized that cabinets would be an ideal hiding place for the little bastard. I’d be getting out my cereal tomorrow morning and the fucker would launch itself at me. Could I search through them without drawing Franky’s attention? Better wait. Instead I checked the bedroom, again under the guise of straightening up. I looked under my blankets and then under the bed. I pushed around the clothes in my closet, I checked behind the door. No spider.
When I came out, I saw John and the cop were on the front porch. Progress. John was thanking the man for coming out, saying he hoped Franky would remember me in his prayers because I could really use it right now because my life was really a mess and I was just a complete pathetic loser struggling with my weight and financial problems and alcohol and erectile dysfunction. I decided to join them before John could defame me further.
The cop was already walking back toward his patrol car as John said, “… And his girlfriend is away and she’s only got one hand. She lost it in an accident. You can imagine the problems that causes.”
Franky was desperately trying to escape the conversation, talking into the little radio mounted on the shoulder of his uniform, letting headquarters know that everything was under control here. John and I watched him go. Then we heard a skittering by our feet and saw the goddamned spider run past our shoes. It vanished into the darkness, heading right toward the cop.
I jumped off the porch, waving my hands. “Wait! Franky! Officer Burgess! Wait!”
The cop stopped just short of the squad car and turned to me. I opened my mouth, but the words retreated back into my throat. A bundle of thin black legs appeared over Franky’s left shoulder, touching his bare neck. And he couldn’t feel a thing.
From behind me John said, “Franky! Franky! Don’t move, man! You got something on you!”
Franky put his hand on the butt of his gun again, looking alertly between me and John as if his crazy person troubles had just multiplied. The monster crawled over Franky’s shoulder and put legs on his cheek.
John screamed, “Franky! Do this!” John made a brushing motion on his own cheek, as if waving away a fly. “Seriously! You got something on your face!”
Franky, oblivious to his situation, did not follow these instructions. He started to say something about us not moving any closer. I lunged, throwing my hands toward the little monster. I never made it. Franky did something to me that dropped me to my knees, gasping for air. It was some kind of chop to the throat and man, it worked.
I looked up and for the second time tried to warn Franky and for the second time I was unable to. The spider crawled around to Franky’s chest and then, in a blur, burrowed into his mouth.
Franky flailed backward and flung himself to the ground, his head thunking against the squad car’s door on the way down. Franky clawed at his mouth with his hands, gasping, choking, spasming. I backed away, crawling backward on my ass through the leaves. As I retreated, John advanced, saying, “Franky! Franky! Hey!”
Franky wasn’t responsive. His arms were locked in front of him, fingers curled, like he was being electrocuted.
John spun on me and said, “We gotta get him to the hospital!”
I sat there in the grass, frozen, wishing I could just go back inside and crawl under the covers again. John threw open both back doors of the cop car. He dug his hands under Franky’s shoulders.
“Dave! Help me!”
I got to my feet and took Franky’s ankles. We wrestled him into the backseat of the squad car, John backing out through the opposite door. We closed it up and John took the wheel. I slid beside John as he hunted around the console for a switch. He found it, flipped it. A siren pierced the night. He shifted into gear and tore down the street, red and blue flashing off every window in the neighborhood as we raced past. We blew through an intersection. I pulled on my seat belt and braced my hands against the dash.
“That thing came into my house, John! It came into my house!”
“I know, I know.”
“I woke up and that thing was biting me. In my bed, John!”
We turned the corner, rounding a closed restaurant with FOR SALE painted on the windows in white shoe polish. We passed the blackened shell of a hardware store that had burned down last year, we passed a trailer park and a used-car dealership and a 24-hour adult bookstore and a skanky motel that never had any vacancies because lots of poor people lived there full-time.
“It was in my house, John! Do you get what I’m saying here? Franky couldn’t even see it. It was on his face and he couldn’t see it. It was in my house.”
I felt my body push against the armrest on the door. Tires squealed. John was taking a corner car chase–style. Two blocks up was the concrete parking garage for the hospital, the lit windows of the hospital itself looming up behind it. I peered back through the wire screen separating us from Franky, who was laying motionless across the backseat, eyes open. His chest was heaving, so at least he wasn’t dead.
“Almost there, man! Hold on, okay?”
I turned to John.
“It crawled in his mouth! Did you see it?”
“I saw it.”
“Are they gonna be able to help him? You really think the doctors can do somethin’?”
We squealed into the parking lot and followed a sign that said EMERGENCY. We skidded to a stop in a covered drive-up to the emergency room. We threw open the back door and dragged out Franky, then clumsily lugged him toward a set of glass doors that slid open for us automatically. Before we got five feet inside, a couple of orderlies came and started barking questions at us that we had no answers to. Somebody rolled up a gurney.
John started talking, telling the guys that the cop had had some kind of a seizure, that he had something in his throat, definitely to check his throat.
There was a flicker of red and blue lights out of the corner of my eye—a second cop car turning in fast across the parking lot. They probably saw John and me tearing ass through town and followed us here. The orderlies were rolling away Franky and a third guy showed up, a doctor I guess, taking his vitals. I turned to John to tell him about the second cop car but he had already spotted it. I followed him back out to the sidewalk.