Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
“I don’t want to talk. Really. I just want to go to bed,” she said, taking out her earrings. She hustled by him without making eye contact, tossed the mail on the dresser, and lightly brushed him away. He reflexively glanced at the scattered envelopes. Bills. What’s that one from Venezuela? All bills.
He remembered loving her. She was beautiful in youth. She was tall, lithe, and had an angular face with gorgeously high cheekbones. He wasn’t sure why she began to date him. He had a good job back then, yes, but clearly, she could have found someone better, taller, richer. Maybe she underestimated her drawing power. Maybe she needed stability. She was still tall and thin, but age (and Botox) had pulled her skin porcelain tight and sharp. She looked like a big-haired skeleton.
She vigorously rubbed the make-up off her face, changed into her nightgown, and again rushed by him on the way to bed. “Just, just no. I’m going to read a little, but don’t talk to me.”
He dropped his head, did his nightly routine, climbed under the cold covers, and rolled away from her. He tried to close his eyes. He could hear her breathing – a loud staccato suck followed by a drawn exhale. Each turn of the page seemed like a Velcro rip. How did it come to this?
He’d been having trouble sleeping lately. He’d even resorted to self-prescribing a sleeping pill. That stuff knocked him out so hard that would sleepwalk through the next day. That’s all I need, he thought, to test positive for benzos on the job. Or alcohol. No, I can’t take anything stronger than warm milk. Hell, they could take away his medical license. He gritted his teeth, cringed at every sound from her side of the bed, and waited for the sweet succor of the light switch.
She was staying up later and later. She must have known how much this irritated him. He hated his life, his job, and now even his bed. Somewhere in the midst of thinking her book would never end, his lids grew heavy, and darkness took him.
He rushed to the classroom. I thought I dropped this class? I thought I was clear? Did I not? I didn’t even read the text? This will ruin my grades! I’m applying for medical school – how… how… I swear I dropped this class!
A thump on his foot snapped his eyes awake. He was in a fog, sweating, and feeling like he’d finished a sprint. His eyes tried to focus. Dream. Something had fallen on the bed. It was a dream. He had a lot of those dreams. In his dreams, he was always running, always behind, always forgetting something important. Was he awake now? He couldn’t move. What just shook the bed? Must have been the cat.
Dammit, I need to get some sleep. He rolled over, and noted his wife’s shape next to him. He couldn’t hear her breathing. He could hear his own breathing and somehow it sounded too loud. Go to sleep. His feet were too hot. They were always too hot. He jumbled with the covers to let his foot dangle loose. He was tangled briefly, and he couldn’t quite kick away the damn throw pillow at his foot. He rolled over again to get a visual cue, and his foot finally found the night air.
His eyes tried in vain to fixate on a reference. Occasionally, a car would drive by and the moving light would cross the heavy, darkened room. His eyes settled on the pillow near his foot.
Its shape was just, well, odd. He didn’t remember a pillow when he went to bed. Did the cat jump on the bed? He’d put the cat out. Or did he? Actually, he didn’t remember putting out the cat. Is it the cat? Am I even awake?
The shape seemed even blacker than the dark. He closed his eyes. Go to sleep. He tried in vain, but the harder he concentrated on sleep, the more he felt awake. He slowly opened his eyes again and fixated on the shape. It clearly had weight. He could feel a gradual slope of the mattress with his covered leg. He felt a rising sense of dread as he noted how near it was to his exposed foot. Why did I do that? This is stupid. Just kick the damn thing off the bed! Just kick with your other leg. Just –
He didn’t move. Now fully awake, he mentally berated himself for being fixated on a pillow. He stared at the shape and somehow he felt that the shape was staring back. He felt his pulse in his neck and in his head. He felt clammy. Was he going to throw up? Shit. Just kick it!
He gradually moved his covered leg gently toward the shape. Nothing. He was close. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. Okay, one more push. His foot got just under the shape. It definitely had a weight, and it definitely felt heavier than a throw pillow. The clamminess turned to confusion. What the heck is —
It moved! He shook with a small spasm that jolted up his spine. Holy shit! It moved. Didn’t it? I swear it moved. Didn’t it? I felt it push back. God, my foot is right there! Is it the cat? Just turn on a light. His mouth was dry. Yes, it was definitely closer to his exposed foot. Definitely closer. I’m dreaming. Is this a dream?
He began to withdraw his foot, feeling like it needed to get safe under the blanket. He did this slowly at first, but then – there, it moved! I definitely saw it move! He quickly pulled his foot back up when the shape brushed his ankle. He felt an insistent stubbled finger that filled him with a shudder. Another car was approaching. He saw the light start on the ceiling and knew it would sweep just over the foot of the bed.
The light moved quickly and as it did, it glistened off eight black staring eyes, and tracked over a sickeningly fat, soft body surrounded by eight crouching legs.
“Shit!” he screamed, springing from the bed and fumbling for the light. He ran to the switch barefoot, hopping along the carpet, lest he step on something horrible. He bolted to the hall, turned on the light, and stood still, hyperventilating and shivering.
“What the hell!” She started from the bed, her angular face twisted in fury. “What are you doing?!” She covered her eyes and blinked hard from the light. “What is going on?” She drew her nightgown and charged at him. “What?”
“A spider. I saw a spider.”
Her eyebrows peaked. “You saw a spider. And?”
“It was huge. Like a foot or two across. I thought it was the cat. It was huge.”
She shook her head and tried to process what he was saying. “Like a tarantula or something?”
“Yes, only bigger.” His body involuntarily cringed. “It was huge. It was just sitting on the bed.”
“You saw a tarantula. On our bed. This is what you woke me up for? Dammit!”
“Well, go kill it!”
He stared back at her helplessly.
“Oh, geez,” she rolled her eyes and clucked her tongue. “Well, let’s take a look.” She went back into the bedroom. He shivered in the hall. “Is there a giant spider in here? Oh, a scary spider! Where are you?” He heard her clomp around.
She poked her head out the bedroom door. “No spider. God, you’re such a pussy. Now go back to sleep.”
He was now fully awake, mortified, and still nauseous. The lights were all safely on and he could see the bedroom clearly. He riffled through the covers. Nothing. No throw pillow. No spider. Nothing. It was a dream.
“I’ve got a big presentation tomorrow. I guess today, technically,” she said, scanning the clock. “Go to sleep. Don’t let the spiders bite!” She giggled to herself. “Seriously, we’ve got to get you medicated.”
He crawled back into bed, pulse still racing, skin still clammy. She’s right, he thought. A giant spider? That’s just stupid. There’s the occasional Black Widow around here, but those red-bellied things are small and smooth. Daddy long-legs? There’s nothing like that. I just had a nightmare, nothing more.
She shut off the light and he was again surrounded by shadows.
Just a nightmare. She became a motionless lump next to him. For as much as her noisy awake breathing and reading annoyed him, he found her silent sleep breathing even more unsettling. He kept his feet tucked firmly under the covers. How stupid. This is just stupid. I’ve got to get some sleep.
He tried to calm his mind, but his heart was still racing. He screwed his eyes tightly closed, but he couldn’t help scanning the room every time a car passed. He tried to count. He tried a few relaxation techniques that he taught his patients. He fought to fall asleep, but the more he concentrated, the more awake he felt. His mind continued to race. He thought about spiders, about how tired he was going to be the next day, spiders, his wife’s cold hatred…
There is no spider! I’m not getting to sleep. I’ll just stay awake until it gets light. I’ll just nap at lunch. What is that?
Sick dread swept over him as he noticed a shadow tucked between the wall and the ceiling. You’re just too tired. There’s no spider. God, I can’t wake her up again. That’s nothing, just a shadow. It’s not moving. It’s waiting.
He couldn’t avert his gaze. He was afraid to blink, for fear the shadow would instantly dash away and he’d lose sight of it. I’ll just stare at it until the morning comes. It won’t move if I stare at it. He played different scenarios in his head. He’d like to turn on the lights, find a shoe and just kill it. Then he pictured himself missing it with the shoe and it attacking and running after him and…
He shuddered again. Oh no, he thought. I have to pee. Maybe if I turn on the light, all the shadows will disappear. It will be gone! But she will wake up. Which is worse? He always had to go to the bathroom at night; he would stumble blindly around the room until he found the door. Now, the thought of reaching out with his hands and feeling the unseen walls made him feel sick. What if he felt a hairy, moving, crawling, mass? What if he disturbed some hideous arachnid that would then leap onto him? A swift shudder shot through him.
He closed his eyes and concentrated. Maybe I could just wet the bed? She’d definitely kill him then. The unwavering feeling in his bladder momentarily distracted him from the shadow. It’s gone! Shit. He didn’t know if he should feel better or worse. He stared at the corner. There it is. No, no it’s gone. Where? He scanned the room hesitantly.
Another car drove by.
The lights traced the room. Shit! The spider was crouching on the dresser legs drawn beneath it. When the light hit it, it shook briefly, then scuttled behind the furniture. He reached over to his nightstand and flipped on the light. He sat in the bed, sweating and shivering. It was just a shadow. There’s no spider! He glanced over at his wife, who, mercifully, seemed asleep.
The room was now filled with delicious light. He looked around for a weapon of some sort and decided on grabbing a small electric fan that was perched on his nightstand. He’d throw it at it. At what? There’s nothing. I’ll throw it at it and run away! My God, he thought, I’m delirious. He pulled his legs out of the bed, and, fan in hand, approached the dresser. Nothing.
“What are you doing?”
“Just going to the bathroom.”
“Turn out the light.”
He shuffled to the bathroom. He glanced nervously at the dresser and found the courage to peek behind it. Nothing. He felt numb from exhaustion. Maybe I should just go into the office. At 2:30 in the morning. Stupid.
He crawled back into bed and pulled the covers completely over his head, leaving just his nose and mouth exposed. How horrible would it be for something to crawl across his head? The very thought was sickening. He’d just stay safely tucked in, because a blanket is adequate protection against a giant nightmare spider. He was angry and disappointed with himself. I’m not a child. I’m not afraid of the dark. Still, the blankets made him feel better and soon his eyes grew heavy.
It was just too hot. He couldn’t stay totally covered. He tried, but he just couldn’t do it. He slowly pulled the blanket down. He paused at each inch, waiting for something he knew was impossible, but filled him with dread anyway. Nothing. He slowly exposed his face. Fine, he thought. I’m about to fall asleep. Soon this will all be over.
He rolled over to face his nightstand. There, inches from his face, was the spider, easily able to stretch its legs around his face, reaching out to him. The spider’s lidless eyes met his and its fangs twitched.
“Shit!” he screamed and sprinted out of the room, not daring to look where his feet were hitting, not stopping at the hall, but racing to the kitchen. A knife! He needed a knife!
“What in the hell is going on! Dammit!” She sprinted after him. He turned on every light.
“It’s on the nightstand!”
“There’s something seriously wrong with you.”
“I saw the spider sitting on the nightstand. It was right in front of my face. It covered the whole top of the nightstand. I know it sounds crazy.” His words were dripping now with anger. Anger replaced fear.
“And you’re going to stab it?” she said, noticing the knife. “Alright, let’s just take a step back. Let’s go look through the room together. Okay? Look together?”
They walked back to the bedroom. He clutched the knife. What good was a knife? I guess it was better than a fan. She turned on the lights. There was nothing on the nightstand.
“Okay, let’s start with the bed.” She took off all the blankets, shook them out, and tossed them on the floor. “Want to check under the bed?”
A wave of panic hit him.
“You pansy.” She bent down. “Can’t see.” She went over to her nightstand, opened a drawer, and pulled out a flashlight. She bent down again and waved the light around. “Come here, you’ve got to see this.”
“Do you see it?” He bent down, now hoping for validation.
“Nothing. I see nothing. Look for yourself.” She pointed the flashlight into each corner. Aside from a few cat toys and dust balls, there was nothing.
She could tell by his face that he still wasn’t satisfied. “You check those drawers, I’ll check these.”
They began to search the two dressers, looking in each drawer. He hesitated before opening each drawer, half wanting to find it, half cringing in horror at the possibility of it waiting for him. He checked behind and under the furniture. He checked her nightstand.
He opened the drawer and they both saw half a pack of cigarettes. Neither of them smoked. Both of them stood there, stunned. Thoughts of a giant spider completely left him.
She cut him off. “I’m not doing this now. Not at 3 o’clock in the damn morning. I’m just not doing this now.” She walked back to the kitchen.
He followed her. She fumbled in the cabinet and the refrigerator. She pulled out a pill casing. “We go back to sleep, and we’ll talk in the morning.”
“Who is he?”
“I said I’m not doing this now. I want you to take this.” She handed him a sleeping pill.
“This will knock me out,” he said.
“Yes, exactly. We both need some sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.” She handed him the pill. She didn’t let him see that she had crushed four more pills in the cup of milk she now put in the microwave.
He looked at her, head swimming in a nightmare of anger, sickness, and hurt. He knew this was going on. He knew for weeks. Maybe that’s why his nightmares had gotten so vivid. He was a psychiatrist; he knew the subconscious manifestations of stress. Yes, he was having nightmares about loss and neglect, and somehow this made him hallucinate a giant spider.
The microwave dinged and she handed him the cup. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”
He drank the warm, poisoned milk.
She grabbed a few quilts and put them on the couch. “You stay here.”
She stomped back to the bedroom and slammed the door.
He was stunned and numb. He absent-mindedly flipped on the television. He flipped between online shopping shows, reruns, and bad television edited horror. Wasn’t I just afraid? Now I feel nothing. He watched one show for a few minutes, and then switched to another. He’d give her the divorce. No, wait. He hadn’t done anything wrong. Maybe the spider would eat her. He leaked a morbid smile.
Where was that damn cat? He looked over at the cat’s food dish. It was full. So was the water. A large yawn involuntarily took him. He stood up and instantly regretted it. He felt dizzy and disoriented. He stumbled off the couch, knowing he’d soon be completely enveloped by the medicinal haze. He didn’t know why, but he wanted to find that cat. He looked at the cat’s bed and found nothing. He stumbled toward the laundry room, knowing the cat sometimes hid in clean clothes. He saw nothing at first.
The sleeping pills began to take over his body. Each movement required maximal effort. His legs were heavy. He knew he only had a few moments to get back to the couch. His eyes blurred and he couldn’t find a way to keep them in focus. Just behind the dryer, he saw a small, black lump that had to be the cat. He braced himself on the washer, then stumbled toward the dryer.
“Buttons, where are you?”
He looked over the hood of the dryer and his heart stopped in a flood of nauseous dread. There was a thicket of web, extending as high as the appliance. A half-eaten cat was enveloped, as was what looked like a bird and a mouse. He felt his stomach rise and felt a retch heave out of this mouth.
He stumbled out of the room, trying to scream for his wife, but produced no sound. His legs were no longer bound in servitude to his brain, and he fell into the hall. His arms felt stuck to the carpet and he couldn’t find the strength to roll over. He blinked slowly. Sleep was defeating terror. Yet, the terror was with him, just trapped in the darkness behind his eyelids.
He saw the bedroom door open, and then he saw the bony feet of his wife.
He blinked heavily again. He struggled – struggled – to open his eyes. When he did, he saw the spider, crouched, in full light, just in front of her legs. The spider drew its legs closer, as if coiling a spring. Then, it sprinted toward him sickeningly quickly. He couldn’t find the strength to move or scream. He prayed the medicine would take him before he felt its bite.
Credit: D. Fulkerson
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