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Steven Arkell
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eatenbyspiders.jpg
Clipart Courtesy Bing.com

Crawling Inside

 

Steven Arkell

 

 

Joe awoke to a room cast in a dingy light. He sat up confused, his face didn’t feel right. The sinus cavity under his left eye was swollen. Brushing a fly away from his cheek, he shuffled through the dorm room into the bathroom. He cast a glance at his roommate’s bed to find it empty. No surprise there, Rob was always out.

Turning the bathroom light on, he glanced at his arm; the rash was still there. At least it hasn’t gotten any worse, he thought, coursework due in, exams in a week, I can’t afford to be sick now!

As he pulled his eyes back to the mirror, he thought he saw movement on his arm; a rippling of the skin as though a light breeze had rustled over the fine hairs, causing them to stir. He watched his arm, waiting for… waiting for what? For the skin to move? Don’t be stupid, skin doesn’t move on its own, he told himself, unconvincingly.

He didn’t feel unwell but anxiety settled over him like a blanket. Rash, swollen face. Gotta be more than a cold, he thought. The lump felt strange, as if it wasn’t quite solid. He prodded it with the tip of his finger, it bulged inward as he did so. It felt like there was something in there.

Many somethings.

He peered intently at the swelling, moving closer to the mirror until his forehead was almost touching it. He could feel the cool aura radiating off the silver glass. He thought he could see movement - a twitch in the muscles of his cheek.

Without taking his eyes from the mirror, he snaked his hand out to grab at the toilet roll nearby. Almost knocking it off its perch, he finally grasped it and tore a few pieces off.

He blew his nose.

Looking down at the used tissue in his hand, he stared in horror at a black, viscous liquid smeared across the paper.

His hand shook in long, slowed motions and his eyes opened wide on lazy, mechanised rollers. His heartbeat grew shallow, almost still. He noticed a thin strand in the mucous - a long eyelash or a stiffened stretch of black, silken thread. A Leg! He was looking at the remains of a squashed spider.

It must have been on the paper I grabbed, I wasn’t looking, I just smashed it when I blew my nose.

He looked up at the mirror; everything still in slow motion. A rhyme infiltrated his thoughts, taking hold and looping around his mind. Itsy-bitsy spider, went up the water spout.

He looked back at his arm. Rippling, that’s what I saw.

He blew his nose again, no paper, and heard a fat plop as something hit the sink basin.

 “What the hell?” Joe said aloud.

down came the rain and washed the spider out

He looked down and his eyes settled on a bristly black object trying to climb the smooth walls of the sink.

No, no, no. It must have come from somewhere else, just a coincidence. It's too big! Panicked and fast, the common house spider scuttled about the sink but was unable to climb the basin.

He blew again. Hard. Again he heard the plop of something bulky hitting the sink.

Please no, he silently prayed as he looked down. There were now two spiders in the sink. His legs buckled and he hit the floor with a scream.

out came the sun

“God no! What the hell? God no!” His words devolved into meaningless grunts. Closing his eyes, he saw a mass of spiders wriggling behind his eyelids. And the sinister tones of the nursery rhyme still played across his thoughts.

Jumping up, he blew his nose once more. Two more spiders landed with two fat plops - two drops of blood splashing onto dried cement – plop, plop. He caught little more than a glimpse of them before he felt something odd on his face. His gaze reluctantly travelled to the mirror and he saw the huge body hanging from his nose. With an involuntary jerk of the shoulders he jumped back, as though he could escape. But of course it stayed with him, spinning and twirling from a thread of silken web. It swung with the momentum of Joe’s breathing. Back and forth, back and forth, he watched it, almost entranced by its swinging pendulum-arcs. The spell broke as it latched onto Joe‘s cheek.

climbed up the water spout

He swiped at the spider with hands made clumsy by panic and fear. It took three swats but finally he hit it and launched it across the room. He watched its slow curve through the air. It was a graceful monstrosity. It hit the windowsill and landed on its back. With grotesque flexibility, it flipped onto its front and disappeared behind the back of the toilet.

and dried up all the rain

He left the room at a run with tears flashing from his eyes and a tissue held to his nose as if blood were pouring from it.

#

 

Joe lay on the operating table, face numbed by anaesthetic, apprehensively awaiting the first incision. A familiar green-masked face entered his vision, disturbing his thoughts.

The Surgeon’s eyes flicked down Joe’s body, Joe thought he was frowning at the rash on his arm. The doctor he had seen earlier had spent little time on the arm, he was too busy oohing and ahhing at the spiders Joe was magically producing from his nose. Joe had wondered if the doctor would ask him to produce a rabbit from his ass for his next trick.

The masked face again. Steely grey eyes looked into Joe’s and the boy recognised the doctor. Dr. Arlington. His own doctor.

A glint of light to the surgeon’s left stole his attention; the scalpel, silver, shiny and menacing.

Joe’s eyes tracked the blade as it closed in on his cheek. He felt the blade prick his skin, but the pain was absent; a strange tingling sensation swept across his cheek instead. The doctor suddenly flinched backwards, he was watched something on Joe’s face. Joe tried to look down, he could see something moving - he thought it was skin. His skin. Moving.

itsy-bitsy spider

          Something thin and black erupted from within. Joe's eyes hurt from looking down at his face for so long, but he couldn’t look away. The leg was followed by a second and a third, then came the body as the spider pushed itself out from within Joe’s face.

The black body emerged from the incision and crawled down Joe’s face. Joe grimaced as he felt it reach his jaw and turn towards his mouth. He felt something on his tightly closed lips and it was too much. He shook his head, frantically trying to dislodge the visitor. It didn’t work, the spider clung stubbornly to Joe’s mouth. He saw the flap of skin under his left eye move again and the first spider was forgotten.

went up the water spout

He expected to see another leg or two poking out but there was nothing, he saw his skin rippling, moving, shaking but nothing emerged.

The relief lasted but a second before the cut under Joe’s face exploded in a flurry of activity. Legs, bodies and tiny, stiff hairs, burst through the incision below Joe’s eye.

The rhyme looping around the boy's mind sped up as he heard – and felt - the commotion – itsybitsyspiderwalkedupthewaterspout.

The boy’s gaze frantically flew around the room, panicked, jabbing this way and that as he sought something, anything, to help him. It settled on a spider as it ran up the arm of a nurse. A loud shriek left her lips and she threw her arm up in the air, knocking the scalpel out of the surgeon’s hand.

Joe's eyes followed the scalpel, watching it as it lazily flew up into the air; scraping the ceiling with an audible scratch, it began its slow descent back down. Down towards his leg.

downcametherainandwashedthespiderout

The scalpel sliced into the boy’s leg and the blade sank into the flesh. He screamed.

“My God!” A nurse said.

“What’s happening?” He asked, unable to keep the panic from his voice.

When he got no response he looked down. From his left eye he could still see spiders below it - bristling body after bristling body, tiny legs poking out from behind his flesh. He looked further down his body until his eyes settled on his leg. Everything was quiet and still – even the nursery rhyme tormenting his thoughts had finally ended. All eyes stared at the scalpel sticking out of the boy's leg; it was vibrating back and forth as if something underneath the skin was rushing past, knocking the embedded blade as it went.

The scalpel exploded from the boy's leg as a centipede – inches long – erupted from the wound; a millipede followed. Wood lice, worms and ants shot out from inside Joe’s flesh. Everyone else in the room shrank back but Joe had no such luxury. He opened his mouth to scream but the only sound he could manage was a peculiar buzzing. Joe’s eyes rolled in their sockets as he felt something rise from his throat. The buzzing grew. Louder and louder. Finally a bee shot out from his open mouth and Joe felt his sanity escaping with it. He was sure he would pass out. He didn’t.

 “Jesus Christ!” Joe heard one of the nurses say in a distant voice. Wasps, flies, bees, other flying insects were flying out from between his lips. Joe heard more commotion and looked up. In a panic, the surgeon was backing out of the room, pushing his nurses before him. He saw them all looking on in horror through the little window in the door.

Joe watched the eyes staring at him through the tiny window, silently cursing them as he struggled to breathe. Each time he tried to take a breath more insects would come surging up from his throat. He felt a weight on his legs. He sat up and looked down at the creature in his lap. Its eight yellow and black striped legs were covered in tiny hairs, its abdomen too. He sat, silently watching the tarantula as it reared back with its front legs raised into the air. Joe watched in terror as he saw his reflection in each of its eyes and finally, mercifully, he did pass out.

 

#

 

Watching the spectacle through the tiny window, Dr. Arlington didn't notice the couple dressed in civilian clothes until they were on top of him, trying to push past him into the operating room.

“You can’t go in there!” He told them as he turned back to the door. The little window had been painted black. After a double-take he realized—as he watched a strange movement ripple across the window—that the insects were completely covering the glass. It resembled waves across the port hatch of a low-lying boat.

“He’s our son, get out of my way.” The man said.

“I can’t let you in, Sir.” He could think of nothing more to say. He couldn’t tell them what had happened, they wouldn't believe it.

“Please doctor, we have to see him.” The boy's mother pleaded as her husband pushed past Arlington and stepped up to the door.

“Where is he?” He asked.

Arlington looked at the glass window. The throng of insects covering it had gone. All of them in the room had gone. The boy had gone too! The room was empty.

“What the…”

“What have you done with my boy?” The man shouted. Arlington was too stunned to react, to placate, to try to explain. How could he explain? Their son had been infested with bugs and had now been eaten by them?

The room was empty, the windows closed – locked – and too small for anyone to escape through.

 

#

 

Arlington paced the operating room. The boy’s parents had demanded answers, as had the hospital administrators, but he’d had none to give. Well, none they'd believe. They would probably sue, he thought as he walked back and forth scanning the walls for any sign of movement, any sign of something out of the ordinary. There was no evidence though, nothing they could pin on him anyway.

          “Just a bunch of hysterical nurses and two distraught parents!” He said aloud unintentionally. A furtive glance around the room assured him he was still alone.

          Still, it was strange how the lad disappeared—or rather how the bugs vanished, he thought to himself, still pacing the white linoleum floor. It was odd behaviour for insects, and he should know of course, he had studied them long enough. There should have been fights between species—within species in fact! Yet they had seemingly all cooperated and left together, almost as if they had…

          “No, not a chance!” Intelligence?

          The fluid he had injected into the boy for his flu vaccination was genetically enhanced, but only to live and thrive within the confines of the human blood stream. He had done nothing to increase their intelligence. They were just meant to grow inside the boy—to use his own flesh to fuel their growth until finally, the boy was no more.

          Distantly, Arlington heard a light rustling from somewhere in the room, but he was too caught up in his thoughts to take notice.

          Perhaps there had been something special about the boy? But he had been chosen purely because he was unremarkable in every way.

“No, that can’t be it.” He said aloud, unable to hear himself think over the thrum of noise behind him. He suddenly realized the rustling had gotten louder—much louder.

As he turned, he remembered reading about tests with planarian worms. After learning to complete a maze the worms were then fed to other worms that finished the maze much quicker. Surely not!

He knew what he would see before he had finished turning. The insects were back. A mass of black covered the wall behind him.

“God, no!” He whispered. The throng of insects covered the white walls from floor to ceiling. Arlington looked up: they were coming from behind the light fitting.

The insects invaded the room, turning white to black as they came. At first they spread out covering the walls opposite. Arlington watched them in awe. He backed up as they slowly advanced towards him—a river of insects.

He jerked his head around to find insects were behind him as well. He was surrounded and stood in a circle of white, half a metre in diameter. The ceiling was similarly white above his head. They are taunting me, he thought through his panic.

“It’s not possible.” His moan was muffled, dampened by the layers of insects surrounding him. The circle slowly closed in.

A constantly ululating river of browns and blacks streamed towards him. Here and there large lumps moved underneath the insectoid carpet, displacing the smaller insects as they moved through the throng. And still the circle closed in.

 Cant be happening, cant be happening, cant be happening. Arlington spun so he was facing the door, intending to make a run for it, insects be damned. But before he could move, the insects swarmed in.

A tarantula fell from the ceiling and landed on his shoulder. He let out a strangled cry as he tried to throw it off. He felt something on his legs and turned down to look. As he did, the tarantula scurried over his head and pushed its way underneath the back of his collar. Arlington didn’t care, he was too busy wondering why his trousers were bulging and moving. It didn’t take him long to realize the insects had run up his legs, underneath his trousers. He could feel tickles on his legs where they ran. He cringed as he pictured them coursing up his body.

He bent down to try to brush the insects back down his legs. A whimpering arose as he did so, he looked around frantically wondering what manner of creature could make such a sound. The whimpering turned into an ear splitting scream as he felt large bodies land on his back, and he realized the sounds had been his own.

The cry of fear subsided and the doctor headed for the door, jumping and shaking as he felt thousands of tiny legs scampering across his body. More creatures landed on him from above. He heard crunches from underfoot as he stepped on as many of the foul creatures as he could. He realised his mistake as his foot slipped on the blood and mucous of the insects. He fell. Hard.

Banging his head on the floor, he tried to rise but found himself dizzy from the knock. He pushed his hands out to steady himself and give him leverage to get to his feet. As he did so, insects scurried up his arms.

And then the biting began. Arlington screamed as he felt hundreds of insects all bite into his flesh at the exact same time. His struggles became frenzied as he felt the bites on his more vulnerable parts.

He suddenly wondered why he could see when he was so furiously trying to keep his eyes closed. A tarantula sat perched on his face with a flap of something pink and wet between its fangs. His scream rose anew, even louder than before, as he realised it was an eyelid. He couldn’t close his eyes because he no longer had eyelids.

Loud crunches and unbearable pain shook the doctor out of his panic, he looked left, then right, crabs and scorpions lined his hands and his fingers were gone.

He felt something crawling in both of his ears and realised what was to come next. With a final, adrenaline-fuelled effort and a grunt louder than any of his screams had been, he launched himself from the floor. He got to one knee before two identical blasts of pain rocked him. His eardrums had burst and a feeling of something squirming around inside followed him to the floor and into the darkness.

The doctor's struggles ceased and the insects retreated back through the light fitting. Within seconds the room was empty save for the blood-covered, mutilated body of a doctor. A doctor full of knowledge. The last spider scurried behind the light fitting; bloated from its meal, it barely squeezed through the crack. And then it was gone.

 

 

Steve Arkell is an aspiring writer currently working as a computer games programmer in Birmingham, England. He lives in Tamworth with his wife, three dogs ,and two cats (and yes, he says it is as hectic as it sounds!).  He has had work previously published in Sinister Tales and Sonar4 ezine.

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