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Horror

Holly Hart smiled as the tree thumped to the grass.

Of course, Wallace wouldn’t be happy once he returned. But he should have thought about that before he agreed to a work trip. A work trip that spanned the weekend of their anniversary. And how did that old saying go? Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness? The government could take their Tree Preservation Order and shove it. The property belonged to them, now. How could anyone consider it fair to ban you from doing what you liked on your land? And if Wallace didn’t have the backbone to do it, then she’d damn well be the one. Holly bet he’d feel relief when he came home on Sunday evening.

The contractor’s chainsaw died down. From the insectoid buzz that had carved through the wood, to a mastiff’s low rumble. Already, more sunlight spilled into the kitchen. No longer hindered by the grey-brown abomination that had taken root behind the house. Holly smiled and basked in the warmth of the late September sun. Summer’s final burst before autumn encroached.

Their new little cottage now looked the part. No more wizened, skeletal corpse in the back garden. One elongated finger pointed at their bedroom window. It had been the only thing she disliked about the place. Everything else? Idyllic. Now that accusatory digit jutted up into the sky. Like a character from those cheesy action movies Wallace liked. A bullet to the heart, one hand raised to the heavens. Why, father? What utter trash.

Had been full of nothing but spiders anyway. Icky, creepy things. Holly could have sworn that they used to cling to the trunk and watch her through the window. Black eyes as bright as glass marbles. How she hated them. Well, if they didn’t have a place to live, they’d soon leave her garden.

A short, sharp bark yanked her from her reverie. One of the contractors — a middle-aged man with a helmet on — leapt backwards from the tree, chainsaw in hand. Almost tripped and landed on his ass. Holly winced. He hadn’t turned the chainsaw off. But he caught his balance at the last moment. The other one, a younger boy who she assumed to be the former’s apprentice, squirmed from the bushes. He wriggled, boogied and jived, hands all over his neck and back.

“Jesus Christ!

“Is it on me?” The younger man’s voice cracked. “I feel like it’s on me!”

“Get away from there!”

Holly frowned and stepped to the open back door. The cat flap that Wallace had promised to remove — but had never gotten around to — laughed at her. The previous owners had been, of all things, pet owners. “Is everything all right?” She hoped to god that neither one of them had had an accident. Given that she’d cut this tree down against the law, an ambulance would only arouse interest. It would lead to questions. Rather hard to hide an absent tree.

The man in the hard hat batted the boy’s back with wide strokes. Hindered by the boy’s continual jumps and twitches. He whimpered like a kicked dog. The older man continued to hold the chainsaw, which muttered and spluttered. Still active.

“Stay still!” He smacked the kid’s back with an open palm. The younger man staggered forward, inches away from a face plant. “Stay still, lad!”

“Oh, be careful,” said Holly under her breath. Behind her left eye, a dull throb began to emerge. A headache if luck favoured her. A migraine if not.

The boss of the duo took a step back. His head jerked up and down. “There’s nothing on you!”

“A-Are you sure?” He twisted and arched his back, to get a view of his neck. One arm backwards over the shoulder, the other reached up from below. The tone of his voice implied he didn’t believe the other contractor.

The older man grumbled, then patted the boy’s shoulder. “Ah, you’re fine lad.”

“What’s all this commotion?” Holly craned her neck. “Is something the matter? Is the tree causing you troubles?”

At the sound of her voice, both men jerked in her direction. The boss jabbed a finger at her. “You didn’t tell us nothing about no—” He gestured behind, at the woods at the edge of the garden. He shook his head and declined to finish his sentence. “The size of a small dog, it was!”

Holly squinted at the downed tree. “What was the size of a small dog?”

They both pointed into the thicket. “That,” said the boy. “A…” He shook his head, searched for the words. He looked to his superior. “A spider?” he asked.

Holly forced a laugh and repressed a shudder. “Nonsense. Spiders don’t get that big in this country.” Even to her ears, her words sounded like a lie.

“Lady.” The boss regarded her with a glare of ice. “We know what we saw. Now, it’s one thing to—” his voice dropped to a whisper “—cut this on the hush hush. It’s another to take out a habitat for an endangered animal. Our van is parked outside, with our logo on and everything. Could get into a lot of trouble for this.”

“That’s why I’m paying you more than your competitors. Besides. You were never here. Right?”

They both glowered at her. The boy ruffled his hand through his hair and shivered. The boss killed the chainsaw. Neither said a word.

Holly sighed. “I can pay an extra 20 per cent. How’s that?”

The boy perked up, but the man with the helmet on put a hand to his chest, held him back. “Now, hold on. We just got viciously attacked by an angry tarantula. The least we can accept is 30.”

Holly clenched her jaw. She wanted to argue the toss, but it wouldn’t be worth it. There are no tarantulas this side of the ocean, she wanted to say. “Fine.” She jutted her chin at the splintered remnants of the tree. “Just hurry up and get rid of that eyesore.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The older popped off a salute to her. She couldn’t tell if he meant it as a mockery or not. Holly chose to ignore it and retreated into her kitchen.

The sky had grown a dim shade of grey by the time they’d finished with the tree. She’d watched them like a hawk through the kitchen window, a mug of tea in hand. True to their word, not a trace of the blight remained in the garden once they’d cleaned up. Holly nodded and blew steam from the rim of the cup.

She paid them their fee and promised she’d have the extra 30 per cent by tomorrow. If they didn’t pop by to pick it up, then that would be their loss. Under no circumstances, she warned them, should they return once Wallace had come back. But she knew they’d be on time for the money collection. The only time you could guarantee they wouldn’t be late.

They got in their van and pulled away, right as the first of the raindrops fell. The first droplets of the first rain of the season. The clean, copper aroma of petrichor stung the back of her nostrils. Holly glanced up at the sky, where the frothed-up clouds had turned a blackish-purple. In the distance, thunder rumbled. She wrapped her cardigan around her and slunk back into her now eyesore-free home. Time, she decided, for a bath. Baths and thunderstorms went together like coffee and milk. Cosy and calm.

Holly popped the kettle on and pulled out the small two-cup teapot. She fished two green tea teabags out of the jar and plopped them into the pot’s strainer insert. She liked her tea strong. As the kettle thundered its way to 100 degrees, Holly rested on the countertop and watched the storm. Rain lashed against the glass, and lightning flickered on the horizon. It soothed her disquieted soul. And, to that end, the view had never looked better. No more wrinkled old tree — shrivelled like a curse-happy crone.

Out of the corner of her eye, something small and black twitched. But when she turned to look, nothing stirred. Teapot. Discarded teabag wrappers. Kettle at the boil. Holly shrugged, grabbed the kettle and poured the water into the pot. For one brief moment, she thought she heard a minute scream. High-pitched, like the squeak of air out of a balloon. And then it died. She inhaled the fresh aroma of steeping tea and sighed.

It had been a long day, indeed.

Armed with her pot and favourite mug, Holly crept upstairs to the bathroom. She laid her things on the side and lit the aromatic candles. The small orange flames flickered in the darkness, and her eyes relaxed. The headache that had threatened to come to a head began to subside. The rain rattled against the window. Hush. Shush. All taken care of. The sky beyond the frosted glass lurked, black and bloated.

Holly slipped into her fluffy dressing gown, the fabric soft against her skin. She twisted the tap, to let the water warm up a bit before she plugged the drain. A bath had to be hot. Otherwise, why bother? From experience, she knew it would take the heater a few minutes to catch up to speed. One of the few downsides of an old house. But this, unlike the tree, she didn’t mind. You shouldn’t rush a bath like you shouldn’t rush the process of brewing tea. You had to take your time and turn it into a meditative process.

She poured herself a mug of the good stuff and raised the pot mid-stream with an artisanal flourish. She’d read somewhere about how the splash aerated the tea, to enhance the flavour. As the bath tap heated up, as the rain pattered against the window, Holly took a sip. First, came the flavour — warm green tea, steeped to perfection.

Second, came the texture.

Something hard.

Something hairy.

Something segmented.

Holly pushed the object to the front of her lips. She fished it out of her mouth, like a woman with popcorn stuck between the teeth. The way it slid out caused her to shiver. She swallowed her mouthful and flinched, but no other fragments tickled her throat.

A little black stick, about the size of a toothpick. A hinge about halfway down. She frowned at it, twisted it around between thumb and forefinger. “What the—?” Lots of small hairs, tough and bristly. Beads of liquid, caught in the fibres, reflected the candles’ warm glow.

Holly’s breath hitched in her throat, and her stomach rolled over an acidic tide. She reached out and hit the switch for the bathroom light. Her hand trembled as she did so. The harsh brightness of the bulb blinded her for a moment. She winced and squinted and looked down into her mug.

Nothing but tea — a clear shade of green-brown. Good. Good. Her heart continued to jackhammer behind her ribcage. Her palms continued to sweat — wet and hot and cold. The hairs on her body continued to stand on end.

But that still left the teapot.

And the furry black stick.

Holly put the half-full mug down and gripped the pot with one hand. The liquid sloshed within, her grasp unsteady. Her thumb flicked the metal lid and popped it open. The hinge squealed in the silence of the night.

Two teabags and the metal strainer and flavoured water and—

A spider.

A spider in her tea.

Fat and black and drowned and boiled.

Holly screamed and dropped the pot, which shattered into oblivion across the tiles. Ceramic fragments exploded. Scalding hot tea splashed over her feet and up her calves, and the bloated corpse of the spider rolled up to her toes. She recoiled and tumbled into the bath.

Right into a pool of lukewarm water.

At first, Holly occupied herself with spitting as much as her saliva allowed to think about that. But after several stuttered heartbeats, a worm began to eat its way through the grey matter of her brain.

She hadn’t inserted the plug.

Why hadn’t the water trickled down the drain?

Before Holly could answer that, she rocked on her knees and peered over the edge of the tub. The spider (I drank that, oh god, I drank spider water) remained where she’d landed. Curled up into a little ball. Dead. As dead as a — well, who cares? The damned thing had died.

On a neck that creaked like a door from a horror flick, Holly turned to look at the bath drain. In the back of her mind, she wondered why the tap had stopped its stream of water.

The drain looked fine — brown metal, with a black abyss beyond.

Until that abyss moved.

It writhed with a million legs, a thousand fuzzy, black bodies.

And then Holly understood.

Every nerve ending crackled with electric ice.

She tried to move, but none of her limbs would cooperate.

Deep within the pipes, metal groaned. Something coughed and spluttered. Why had the water stopped? The rain continued to tap-tap-tap against the pane. Only…

Only another noise now intermingled with it.

A subtle sound.

A sound that you could mistake for rain — if you didn’t listen for it.

The pitter-patter of arachnid legs, as they scurried and scuttled.

Up the side of the house, across the windows.

And she’d left most of the cottage’s windows open.

The bathroom included.

As this realisation landed, something else landed, too. With a squeezed thunk, a big fat spider popped out of the tap bounced into the tub with her. It splashed into the water and rolled towards her in a ball. Inches away, the creature hopped up. Its tucked-up legs popped out like springs. Through the shallows, it scrambled towards her. Quiet plinks and plonks as its eight legs twirled.

That cured her paralysis.

Holly fought for purchase against the smooth, slick surface of the bathtub. She slipped and slid and gripped the rail with both hands and hauled herself over the edge.

At the last moment, she remembered the dead one and the ceramic shards.

Holly’s face smacked down into the spider ball, and her lips kissed the bulbous, hairy body. She recoiled and screamed and sliced her palm open on a shard of pottery. Behind her, the rain and the not-rain continued to drum against the side of the house. Shh. Shh. All will be fine. All wrongs will be righted. Shh. Shh.

Holly swiped the dead one away and stumbled to her feet, eyes wide and blind with fear. The blood on the floor told her to mind her step. But she could see no jagged edges, and the movement at the corner of her eye told her to run. Holly knew she shouldn’t look back, but she couldn’t help herself.

She glanced over her shoulder.

Right in time to see the first wave of spiders as they poured in through the window.

Her heart stopped.

She tried to squeal.

Only a mouse-timid squeak.

Motion in the tub, off to the side.

Her eyes rolled in their sockets, the copper taste of blood in her mouth.

Something as big as a hand curled over the top of the rail.

It crouched.

And leapt at her face.

Holly shrieked and flinched away, ducked and turned.

The big boy smacked against the door right above her shoulder. She didn’t see where it landed because she had already sprinted from the room. Holly exploded out into the hallway, headed for the stairs. She lunged past the bedroom door, right in time to leap over a black carpet of arachnids. They washed out from the place she and Wallace had slept in, fast and liquid like the ocean’s tide.

Somewhere, far below her, the cat flap thudded and squeaked on its hinges.

Holly tore down the stairs, splinters and a burn from the bannister beneath her hand. She left a bloodied smear across the white paint — they’d only finished it the week before. She raced fast. Almost lost her balance twice. Would have broken her leg or her neck if she hadn’t regained herself.

She landed downstairs with neither dignity nor grace and headed for the kitchen. Nearer to the back door than the front. Faster to get out that way. The closest exit. Holly didn’t want to—

She came to halt, half inside the kitchen.

Mother waited for her there, a few inches away from the cat flap.

The contractor had been right, after all.

She had grown to the size of a small dog.

Holly now understood what she’d done. She saw the act in the way that the spiders saw it: a declaration of war. If you destroyed their home and set up one of your own, where the hell would they go when the weather took a turn?

Mother took a step towards her. Her eight eyes, each the size of a thumbnail, regarded her with a mix of intelligence and hatred. Thick bristles coated her body, longer than an inch. Droplets of water from the downpour caught between the fibres. She took another step. Slow and calculated. With her legs as fat as hot dogs. Mother’s fangs quivered, and saliva drooled from them. Her mouth mewled.

“Please,” Holly said. She took a step back, and her naked foot crunched on something. Wet warmth popped beneath her weight. It squirmed under her. She whimpered, and her words blubbered out of her in sobs. What will Wallace find when he comes home? What will remain of me? “I’m sorry. Please. I beg you. Please.”

But already she could feel the younglings as they scuttled up her legs.

Their mass became a second skin.

Holly opened her mouth to scream again, but spiders filled her up before she could make a sound.

And still, Mother advanced.

September 20, 2021 18:24

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6 comments

Annalisa D.
19:01 Oct 04, 2021

Wow, that was really well written and scary. I can feel them crawling over me reading it. The descriptions were well done...maybe even more so than I would have liked haha. They were fantastic though and I really enjoyed it.

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18:21 Oct 06, 2021

Thank you, Annalisa! Haha, so glad you enjoyed it this much! :)

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C Hilber
09:52 Oct 02, 2021

I actually really like spiders so this was more humorous to me than horror. But let me tell you, I have had a tarantula jump at my face before and that is scary. That was the day I learned spiders do not sit. Fantastic story! The voice of the character was so vivid I could practically hear her spitting with rage. This is my favorite one I've read with this prompt.

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17:09 Oct 04, 2021

Thanks, C! Wow, a tarantula jumping at your face? That sounds absolutely terrifying! So glad you enjoyed my little arachnid tale. :)

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Francis Daisy
11:57 Sep 25, 2021

HOLY! If this doesn't win this week...WOW! This story is terrifying and horrifying and well played out. I HATE HATE HATE spiders and almost threw my Chromebook across the room when I realized that the story was going to be about them, but I stuck it out and I am so glad that I did...sort of. Now I will have nightmares, but...WOW! Fabulous story!

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14:18 Sep 26, 2021

Thanks, Francis! I'm so glad it terrified you so much. (Also, sorry — haha!) I really appreciate you taking the time to read and leave me a comment. :)

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