“They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”
Crush. Stamp. Squash. She did it anyway, despite her mother’s words. Those things, those foul, wretched creatures, they deserved the sole of her shoe. That way that they crawled, each spindle of a leg stretching out, moving with that determined creeping motion. That segmented body, bulbous and filled with that disgusting sticky web, ready to spread it across every corner and nook if left alone. Horrifying, and able to be anywhere, above or below, lurking in the darkest, filthiest places. If God had surely made such a creature, she would correct His mistake. Let them be afraid.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come?”
“No, mum, please, just go.”
“You might have fun! You might make some friends or–“
“I don’t want to go, okay!”
Her mother pouted, “You know, your Uncle Greg met your Aunt Fran at a barn dance.” She grinned, “You never know who you might mee-eet!”
Beth folded her arms. If the people there were anything like Uncle Greg then she definitely didn’t want to go. Normally she might take any excuse to be rid of this drafty old house, but the thought of her mother dancing with strange men was enough to keep her curled up with the electric heater. The damn place barely had an internet connection, how was she supposed to keep up with friends back home? Well, not home. Not anymore.
“Well, fine, but I’ll be back late. If you go to bed don’t leave the heater on! Get a hot water bottle or something.”
“Yeah, okay, sure.” Beth began to close the door on her mother.
“Goodbye to you too!” The sarcasm made it through the rapidly closing crack, “Have a nice time mum! I’ll miss you mum!”
The door slammed. The house groaned. Stupid house, its noises had woken her the first few nights, the stairs sounding as though someone were creeping up it, the roof as though things were in the attic lying in wait. The only other things in here were spiders, brought in by the heat, or so her mother said. Which was ridiculous, the house was freezing without her electric heater.
The internet stubbornly refused to work, so she read. Over the top of her book, through the wobbling heat haze radiating from the heater, she spotted another one. Gingerly crawling across the floor, front two legs wiggling over its head every so often as if feeling the air, it crept towards the bed. Carefully she reached down and picked up her shoe. Little by little it came closer, gradually closer, until… Smack!
Urgh, gross. The worst part was when you had it stuck to your shoe afterwards. And here, where there was nowhere to wipe it! She was about to examine the splattered remains when she spotted another, pushing itself under the door. Not just one, three of them. Each a different type. An encyclopaedia made short work of them, dropped on top to crush their disgusting bodies. She hated this house, she couldn’t understand how anyone had considered it fit for living. That was the countryside for you.
Beth covered the gap at the foot of the door with more books, stacked up like tiny fortress walls. If it was her heat they wanted, well too bad. It was hers, and she wasn’t going to share it. She settled back down with her book, trying to put the invaders out of her mind. But it wasn’t long before she saw movement in the corner of her eye again, not at the floor this time, but at the top corner of her door. Tiny legs feeling their way through the top gap, pulling through the segmented body out of the space between the door and frame. She stared, horrified, as more began to do the same, all along the top, finally beginning to abseil down the door itself once through.
They just won’t give up, she thought, grabbing the cellotape off her desk, along with another book from her shelf. She slammed the book down into their bodies, leaving smears across the white paint, and she began running the clear, sticky tape from one corner to the other. She decided to cover the sides for good measure. The way they were squeezing in… the fact they could even do it was so… oh, how she hated this house. There seemed to be so many of them. She’d pay for an exterminator to clear the house with her own pocket money if she had to.
Even with the door sealed she couldn’t help but feel creeped out, as if they were going to find some other way to crawl in that she hadn’t seen. The window was closed, and there were no holes in the floor or walls she knew about. She was sure it was fine, but as she settled down to read her book once more, some small part of her waited for some tiny motion in another part of the room. Some clandestine movement designed to sneak past her.
Time and chapters passed and gradually she relaxed. The room was getting hot, and the bed was comfy. Her eyelids drooped.
Beth awoke to the creaking of the house. The stairs in particular creaked, making her jump in the night, thinking there was someone coming up the stairs. She still hadn’t managed to get used to it. The room was too hot, the air stale and stifling. She went to her window and unlatched it, pushing it to open it out. But it wouldn’t move. It was hard to see through, too, like it was foggy outside, all white. The wood had probably swollen too tight against the frame. Well whatever, she’d just have to open the door. She needed a drink anyway, and it’d be cold downstairs. She peeled the cellotape away from the edges, pushed the books away with her foot, and opened the door. Her mouth dropped.
The landing ahead of her was strung with layers upon layers of web, one of which had been attached to the door and now tumbled down into the others. They weren’t just the big, net-like webs she was used to, they were overlapping and thick, great sheets of them stretching from wall to wall. Giant, sticky, semi-translucent bed sheets. And they moved. They trembled with the motion of something living. As the chill air rushed into her room, they seemed to breathe.
She barely heard the scream she made, too focussed on closing the door, too concerned with getting away, getting out. She didn’t think to pile the books back against the edge as she ran to the window. She didn’t remember to re-stick the cellotape. She shoved harder against the window, getting out a priority before even calling her mother.
The window wouldn’t budge, and she turned to see if there was some other way out. She faced the door, and saw them entering. Hundreds of them. A chitinous carpet, squeezing under the door, through the frame, pushing their way past all the others to climb across the floor and the walls and the door, colonising every surface to scramble towards her.
Beth slammed her hand against the window in blind panic, then grabbed a paperweight from her desk to slam it through. It smashed, the pieces shattering, but they didn’t go flying as she expected. They stayed in place, stuck fast against the white fog outside. She pressed her hand against it, trying to clear it, and past the glass felt something soft, but strong. And sticky.
She felt them on her legs. She felt them climbing. She pulled at her hand but it wouldn’t move.
“No…” she whimpered.
“Beth?” her mother called.
“Oh Beth you should’ve come tonight it was such fun!”
She climbed the stairs.
“And there were plenty of boys and girls your age, everyone was really nice!”
The stairs creaked as she reached the top.
“Oh don’t pretend you’re asleep, you’re always up late! Beth!”
She crossed the landing, clear as usual, Beth’s door was closed.
“Hey, Beth, knock knock!”
Two rapped, and she turned the handle.
She opened the door.
Beth’s floor was covered in scattered books, the bed unmade, the window smashed and broken, but the glass on the inside of the room. But Beth’s mother did not see this. Beth’s mother only saw the layers upon layers of white web, wrapped around and around and around. Beth’s mother only saw Beth, and as they pushed their way out from under the strands that coated her body, Beth’s mother only saw spiders.