The bathroom door swells in the summer and compresses in the winter. So when I make my late-night visit to relieve myself and brush my teeth before bed there is always a chance I could accidentally wake Christopher, our 6-month-old baby.
Don’t close the door just leave it open, I hear Jen say. Or just leave it cracked but don’t close it. I tried that. The problem is Yukon Cornelius. He comes barging through the door like Hagrid to tell me I’m a wizard mid-shit. Yukon is a huge maine coon cat, but I consider him our eldest child.
It was on an August night a few weeks ago when I decided to leave the door cracked. I hadn’t seen Yukon. I hoped he was chasing flies or mosquitoes that may have wandered inside. The baby was exceptionally difficult to put to sleep that night and I wanted to spare Jen any further frustration from a noisy old door.
I was brushing my teeth when I felt it. Something hairy walked across my bare foot. I looked down to see a small black spider, slowly walking across my toes, no larger than half a centimeter. I panicked. My leg jerked upwards, kicking the sink. I yelled in pain. Then Yukon exploded into the room.
“Fuck,” I shouted. Several doors down the baby began to cry.
“Get it!” I yelled. Yukon stared at me blankly and meowed once before leaving the room. “You fucking coward.” I knelt down and began looking around for the spider. After a few minutes I gave up and headed towards bed.
“What the hell was that?” Jen asked, half asleep.
“A spider,” I said.
“Ah, my knight in shining armor. I hope your scream scared it away.”
“Yeah, yeah, it did but uh, it woke Chris up.”
“Well, go rock him then, I’m done for the night,” Jen said before rolling over. “Hope he goes down soon, you have a big day tomorrow.” She put earplugs in and pulled the sheets tightly around herself like a cocoon.
“Yeah,” I sighed, thinking about the party at work the next day. I was finally being promoted from the warehouse to a cushy office job, and my warehouse friends were throwing a small goodbye party. The thought was exciting. It was also dreadful.
I walked out of our bedroom and into the hallway. A soft white night light led me down the runner to Christopher’s room. The faint hum of his white noise machine emitted from the slightly open door. As I reached the doorknob I paused to listen for any sounds. I heard nothing. Thank god, I thought and turned to walk back to our bedroom. That’s when I saw it on the wall, slightly above my head. Another black spider, this one about the size of a quarter, but large enough that I could see the individual hairs on its long arms. It crawled down the wall closer to me. I fell against the adjacent wall. Yukon emerged from the darkness meowing. Baby Christopher once again began to cry.
“Fuck my life,” I muttered. When I looked back up the spider was gone. Yukon too was staring at the place on the wall where it had been.
“You saw it too right?”
Yukon meowed and walked away.
I’ve never enjoyed being the center of attention, so as my co-workers sang the final verse of “For He’s a Jolly-Good Fellow” I could feel the heat radiating off my face. I smiled politely and muttered a thank you. It had been six long years of driving forklifts, packing boxes, and loading trucks full of pallets stacked high with books and magazines. Now that I had finished my AA in Accounting the company rewarded that dedication with a promotion to their Accounting Department.
The crowd began to disperse into a line for cake. I took another slice of Ledo’s pizza off the table and found a quiet spot to sit down and avoid any future outbursts of songs or unwanted conversations.
“Hey,” a voice called from behind a row of pallets stacked with large boxes. “Let’s go celebrate for real.” Andy, one of the only co-workers I’d publicly admit to being a friend, gestured towards the loading dock door. I stuffed the pizza in my face and quietly followed. We walked outside, down the parking lot, and onto a path which led to a section of forest on company property. Andy smiled as he removed a joint from behind an ear, hidden by his long blonde hair.
“I don’t know man, that’s gonna have a strong smell,” I said.
“Relax, I have some cologne and breath mints, no one will know.”
We shared the joint and some of our favorite memories of working together. Like the time we super-glued a quarter to the floor to watch old man William try and pry free for over half an hour. Or the time we moved the foreman’s entire office onto several pallets about two stories high in the warehouse racks.
“Now you’re one of them,” Andy said. “One of the carpet walkers.” Carpet walkers was a term invented by the warehouse staff for anyone that worked on the side of the building with carpet and air conditioning, both items sorely lacking in the warehouse and production facility. “How does it feel?”
I felt giddy and light-headed as we continued passing the joint. “I don’t know, excited and nervous, happy and sad. It’s hard to describe really, so, conflicted I guess?”
“Yeah but that extra 10k a year should help you feel a little less conflicted right?” Andy said as he flicked the roach onto the ground. I bent down to pick it up.
“Careful, you don’t want to start a fire, it hasn’t rained in a few weeks.” I stubbed out the end onto a nearby rock. A thin black leg extended from below the rock. I stepped back and watched another, and another emerge until all eight legs appeared with a furry abdomen, and a small black head. The spider climbed up the rock and stood at the top, rubbings its hairy legs against a pair of claw-like appendages. It appeared to be the exact same spider I had seen in my house, but easily twice or even three times the size. As I stared down I could see my own reflection inside its glossy black eyes.
“Whoa, look at this thing!” I said.
But Andy was already walking back towards the building. He motioned for me to come with him. “I need a piece of a cake pronto before it’s all gone.”
I stepped forward to leave but hesitated, wanting one last look at the large creature. A weight pressed against my leg. I looked down to see the spider crawling up my jeans. I shook my leg and it fell to the ground. I tried to stomp on it but missed. It ran into a patch of tall grass and disappeared from view. I ran to catch up with Andy.
“Whoa, man, you okay? You look totally freaked out.”
“Um, yeah, just,” I said, panting, “there was this huge spider, I think it’s following me.”
I pointed towards the woods we had just left, half expecting to see a black shape running up the trail behind us. But there was nothing.
“Holy shit man you’re paranoid. Let’s get some eye drops, you are bugging out my friend.”
I stepped into my new office the next day, carrying a small box of personal artifacts to decorate my desk. Photos of my wife and child, an Admiral Ackbar action figure, a stress ball in the shape of Mjölnir, and so on. The office contained a small desk, a bookshelf full of this year’s fall lineup of books, a trash can, and a fan.
“It can get pretty hot in here with the door closed,” Eric, my new boss said. “That’s why Jerry left his fan, said the next occupant would definitely need it.” Eric had welcomed me into the office by parading me around to all the people I had known for years as if I was a new employee. He loved dumb jokes like that. I set the box down on my desk and sat in the obviously overused office chair, which squeaked in protest.
“I’m afraid Chad stole the good chair though,” Eric said. “Jerry had some sort of lower back issues, probably from years of sitting behind a desk.” Eric laughed and took a long sip from his mug. “He had some sort of fancy ergonomic chair we had to order and a few hours after he left that jackal Chad came in here and took it for himself, says he’s starting to get back issues too.” Eric shrugged. He had a reputation for being a hands-off type of boss, only emerging from his corner office to make a joke, show off a new tie, or to put out the occasional accounting-related fire. “Well, I’ll let you get settled in, holler if you need me,” he said, closing my door.
The air inside my office seemed to increase by several degrees once the door closed. I pressed the top button on the fan which sputtered to life and began unpacking my personal items. I spent the morning arranging things and answering the few emails that trickled in from co-workers, mostly a barrage of congratulations.
At 9:52 Andy sent me a text. The 10:00 AM morning break was usually reserved for Andy and me to sneak out into the woods and get high. “You coming?” the text read, followed by an animated GIF of Homer Simpson backing himself into a background of marijuana buds.
“Not today, not sure I can keep joining those parties moving forward. How about after work?” I texted back.
“Whatever carpet walker,” Andy replied.
“Ouch,” I typed back, then deleted. I thought of several options for a response and gave up. It actually hurt my feelings in a very odd way. It felt like a personal attack from my former self.
“It will blow over,” Jen said after I copied and pasted my conversation with Andy and sent it to her. I called her on my lunch break at noon to discuss how the day was going. “Maybe he’s jealous, you both started there at the same time, right?”
“Yeah, maybe, it’s just like . . . we work hard to move our way up and I guess that comes with sacrifices.”
“Like not getting stoned during work hours?” Jen laughed.
“Yeah, but more than that, it’s like we’re playing that old board game, The Game of Life, and now that I’m in this office it means I can only interact with the blue pegs with ties on, right? Like I’m forced to act out this play up here where the floor is soft and the people tuck their shirts in, and I can no longer be my authentic self like in the warehouse.”
“Wait, are you sure you didn’t smoke?” Jen said.
“Fuck off,” I laughed. “Okay I’ll see you at home, have a good-”
BANG. A loud metallic noise rang through my office.
“What was that?” Jen said.
BANG. It happened again somewhere overhead.
“Some weird noise in the vent I think, probably just something Eric forgot to tell me about. I’ll talk to you later.”
I hung up. The noise came several more times. BANG. BANG. BANG. Each time it felt slightly closer. I stood up and opened my door. No one else appeared to be in the Accounting Department, it was lunch after all. I stepped outside into the main area.
“Hello?” I called. No response. The next BANG caused a cloud of dust to fall from the ceiling over my newly decorated desk. “Hey is someone working on the air conditioning?” I called. I walked back into my office and began cleaning the dust off my keyboard. The banging stopped, it was replaced by a much softer creaking. I turned off the fan and listened. Creeeeeeeeeeak. The opening of a vent fell onto the floor behind my chair.
I looked up to see a black shape uncurl itself through the vent and onto the ceiling above my head. It was the size of a small dog, a small, black, hairy dog with eight legs and six gigantic eyes. I screamed and fell to the floor. The spider scurried across the ceiling. The lights in my office flickered and more dust spewed from the cheap particle board tiles. Slowly the spider descended, attached to a thick white rope. I laid motionless on the floor, attempting to move or scream but finding myself completely frozen with fear. It made a deep purring sound and barred two fangs the size of knives which were now mere inches from my face. I could feel the hot breath of the arachnid on my cheek. This activated a fight response inside my paralyzed lizard brain. I grabbed my chair and threw it into the spider’s face as hard as I could. The spider hissed and fell over the front of my new desk.
The sound of people entering the Accounting Department through the main door distracted me from the horror of the situation. I stood up and ran towards the door. The spider had already begun scurrying up the side of my office wall and back through the vent. I heard familiar banging noises as it retreated. My heart raced as I tried to piece the events together. I was short of breath and covered in sweat by the time my co-workers walked past my office.
“Jogging on your lunch break?” Eric asked. “That’s how you do it new guy, gotta find the time somewhere right?” He patted me on the shoulder and continued walking towards his corner office. Eventually, I walked back into my own office, cleaned the dust off my desk, placed my chair back behind it, and sat down to answer some emails.
Shortly after lunch, Eric received a call from the CEO about a discrepancy in the books. This created an all-hands-on-deck scenario. I arrived home two hours later than expected to a reasonably pissed off Jen.
“You couldn’t call or text?” were her first words as I walked up the stairs to our lower-middle-class craftsman home.
“I’m really sorry, I wanted to make a good impression on my first day but you’re right I should have called.”
“Yeah. You should have,” she said, handing me baby Christopher. “I saved a shitty diaper for you.”
I carried Christopher up the stairs to the nursery. He pulled at the buttons on my dress shirt. The sun was going down and I watched the sunset while changing a particularly smelly diaper. “Shitty end to a shitty day,” I said to Christopher in a high-pitched, baby voice. He smiled and smacked his tiny hands against my face.
After Jen got Christopher to sleep I heated up some leftover pasta and sat down to eat. I opened my phone to see a few new texts from Jen. “Hey I’m going to sleep now too, you’re not the only one who had a long day,” followed by an animated GIF of the cat from Tom and Jerry, opening a bottle of sleeping pills which contained a large hammer and knocking himself unconscious.
“Okay, we can talk later, maybe 18 years or so?” I texted back. “Goodnight, love you.”
I continued eating dinner while staring out the window into our backyard. The moon was bright enough to cast a white glow across most of the yard. As I took the last bite of food the white moonlight turned into a harsh yellow. Something had activated our outdoor motion sensors in the backyard. They remained lit for several seconds then automatically turned off. Probably Yukon, I thought, out for a midnight hunt. Our cat was constantly activating the outdoor lights, the manufacturers claimed it was immune to pets but Yukon’s size proved otherwise. As I thought this Yukon meowed and rubbed against my leg.
I went to the kitchen to give Yukon some wet cat food when it happened again. Yellow light flooded in from outside, this time activated from the lights on the opposite side of our house. I put the food on the floor for Yukon and stepped outside. The light on our porch activated, bathing the shrubs and trees in a yellow light. I stood watching the yard for any signs of movement, breathing in the cool night air. A small breeze swayed the trees back and forth, their rustling created a quiet song that echoed through the neighborhood. I walked down the stairs to investigate the perimeter of our house.
I circled to the back yard after finding nothing in the front and side yards. I decided to take one last look at the entire backyard before heading inside. The once-promising garden was overrun with weeds, something that usually happened although Jen insisted that we have a garden. Maybe she can take care of it next year and do a better job than me, I thought when I saw it.
Among the bushes a large dark shape stood completely still against the swaying trees and bushes. I began to walk back to the stairs when I saw the yellow security lights gleaming against several large orbs. I heard the loud purring now, like an idling car engine. The shape stepped into the light revealing a spider the size of a grizzly bear. It’s tree-branch thick legs moved frantically fast, casting shadows all their own against the light. I ran towards the fence, afraid the spider would close the distance in a manner of seconds if I ran in a straight line to the house.
The ground beneath my feet shook as the spider got closer. I reached for the fence and jumped over it into the alley behind our house. I fell onto wet gravel. The fence shuttered as the spider crashed into it. I got up and ran down the alley into the darkness. If I can get out of the light, it won’t find me, I thought. Can spiders see in the dark? I wasn’t sure. The spider hissed louder than a car horn. Heat, they only see heat, is that it?
The spider landed in the alley with an earth-shaking THUD. Its skittering legs threw gravel into the air, smacking into fences, trees, and sheds like a hail storm. The moonlight reflected off the metal handle to a shed. I entered the yard with the shed and opened the door, closing it behind me, falling into pitch-black darkness. Can it smell me? Do spiders smell their prey?
I stood in the small shed for a long time, listening to the steps of the spider. It went up and down the alley, pausing, then running, then pausing again. I grabbed at the walls of the shed, trying to find anything to use as a weapon. I found a hose, a lawnmower, screwdrivers, and finally settled on a pair of rusty garden shears. I covered my mouth to hide the sound of my panicked breathing.
After a long bout of silence, I opened the shed door. It whined quietly, a sound I prayed would be lost to the chorus of insects in the summer night. I took a step outside. THWACK. A mass of white goo landed on the shed door, forcing it shut. THWACK. The next one landed on the roof. The trees above my head creaked and leaves fell in waves. The spider crashed through the branches, landing on the ground in front of the shed. I turned to run. THWACK. My face hit the ground hard. The white goo covered my leg. I pulled as hard as I could but found myself unable to move. The spider took several steps forward, towering over me. A loud purr radiated through its body, vibrating the ground I was pinned to. I reached for the shears and tore into the white goo. The pressure against my leg released slightly, then completely as I ripped a straight line through the sticky web.
The spider continued walking closer. A thick, black, hairy leg landed in front of me. I stabbed it with the shears. The spider hissed and took several steps back. The shears were covered in a black tar of blood. I threw them at the creature which hissed again and began climbing the tree. I ran back to my house, closed the door, and passed out on the kitchen floor.
“I know you’re having a hard time adjusting,” Jen said, looking down at me on the kitchen floor with a mix of amusement and disdain, “but this is ridiculous.” She held baby Christopher in her arms who also stared down his father, lying on a floor no one ever lied on.
My head throbbed as I sat up. The microwave clock read 7 AM. I’m going to be late to work, I thought. I stood up and headed towards the stairs.
“What the hell happened to you last night?” Jen called after me.
“Uh, I heard a noise outside, went to investigate and fell down. Must’ve bumped my head on a rock or something.”
“Jesus, are you okay? Can I take a look at it?”
“I’m fine, no time, I’m gonna be late.”
“Okay, well, make an appointment or something, you should have it checked out.”
“Yeah, yeah, I will.”
I took a shower, washing off the night. It took a whole bar of soap to remove the sticky white goo off my leg. It must have soaked through the fabric, I shuddered at the thought.
I walked into our bedroom to pick out a shirt and tie. Our walk-in closet was deep, and dark, without any light bulbs. Bracing the doorway I took one step into the closet. The black room swayed in response. I reached for a shirt. Oh god, I should go see a doctor, I thought. The blackness seemed never-ending. When I reached the distance where my clothes should have been I felt a soft, warm mass. I pressed my hand against it. The whole room was covered in a thick, wet, substance that appeared to be moving. This must be a concussion, I thought. The closet moved slightly, breathing in and out. The whole room was, purring.
“No!” I screamed. Turning around I saw the giant fangs reversed. Long appendages closed the open gap disguised as the doorway to my closet. All light disappeared from the world. I screamed but my voice had nowhere to go. The room grew tighter against my body until I couldn’t move at all. The chittering of a thousand tiny legs filled my ears. Spiders of all sizes, crawling over my skin, into my clothes, onto my face. They poured into my mouth and ears. The spiders crawled under my skin, into my body. I felt them behind eyes, inside my throat and ear canals. They crawled everywhere, filling up the space inside me more and more until there was no room left for anything else.
“Hey man, haven’t seen you in a few days, wanna grab some lunch?” a text from Andy read. In actuality, several weeks had passed. I no longer spent any time in the warehouse at all. I kept my head down and my shirt tucked in. Eric had noticed and rewarded my hard work with a small bump in pay. Twenty-five cents to be exact.
“Don’t spend it all in one place,” he said winking. I faked a laugh and he patted me on the shoulder. A thousand legs inside me protested against the sudden jolt of movement. I rubbed my shoulder to soothe the small moving masses living just under the skin.
A small black spider crawled across baby Christopher’s changing table. I was putting a new diaper on him and he lay smiling and batting at my hands. The spider crawled over his skin. I picked it up and examined it. After a few minutes, I placed the spider onto my cheek. It crawled beneath my left eye socket to rejoin its brothers and sisters. My body purred in response.