by Aeryn Rudel
Harold approached the final electrical outlet in the living room, a roll of duct tape in one hand, his bottle of Clozaril in the other. He squatted down, squinting to peer into the topmost socket. Sometimes the little ones would wait inside and then jump out to bite you when you got too close. He didn’t see anything moving, so he quickly ripped a strip of duct tape from the roll and covered both the top and the bottom sockets. So far, the duct tape had been effective; he guessed they weren’t strong enough to push or chew through it.
That was the last outlet in the apartment, and Harold sat down in the middle of the living room to think about what he should do next. He’d already removed all the furniture; it was just too easy for them to hide under sofas, chairs, and tables. Or worse, a bed. He’d thought about ripping up the carpet—they could hide under there, too—but decided against it. The carpet was white, and that made it easier to see them when they crossed it.
He took a deep breath and popped open his bottle of Clozaril. The doctors told him it would keep him from seeing them. Just one little white pill a day. He’d been taking three or four, and still he saw them, still he heard them skittering and scratching behind the walls. He shook out a pill, put it into his mouth, and dry-swallowed it. Maybe it would work this time, or maybe he’d just have to come to grips with the fact that they weren’t a product of schizophrenia, even if no one else would agree.
A dark shadow fell over the white walls and carpet of the empty apartment. He looked up at the bare light bulb in the ceiling—he’d long since removed all the fixtures—and saw something moving within it. Pangs of fear wormed their way into his guts, and there was sudden, urgent pressure on his bladder. One of the bigger ones had somehow gotten inside the light bulb, and it was jumping against the transparent surface, its many legs making a light tinkling noise against the thin glass.
Harold shot to his feet and ran into the kitchen. He grabbed the big black flashlight off the counter and the only piece of furniture that remained: a small stepladder. Back in the living room, he set the ladder under the light bulb, and switched on the flashlight.
He mounted the stepladder. The light made him squint, but it was the first time he’d seen one of the big ones up close. He guessed most folks would call it a spider, but that would be like calling a dinosaur a “lizard.” The thing rattling around inside the light bulb had more than eight legs; Harold guessed it had over a dozen. Its entire body was covered in a jet-black shell, like the big scorpions he’d seen at the pet store. Then there was the “spider’s” head. It had only one eye, bright red and malevolent, and below that eye was a set of writhing mouth parts and a pair of white fangs half-an-inch long. It was about the size of a hummingbird.
The spider’s movements had grown more frenzied, and it slammed itself against the thin glass. Harold sucked in a deep breath, drew back the heavy flashlight, and smashed it against the lightbulb. The glass shattered and he heard a thick, wet pop as the spider was crushed beneath the blow. The room was instantly bathed in darkness, his flashlight not enough to hold that darkness at bay. He ran back into the kitchen and the welcome white glow of the overhead light. He flipped the flashlight around and saw that most of the spider’s pulped body still clung to it. Its innards were pale yellow, like a mass of wet macaroni. He set the flashlight on the counter and wiped his hands on his jeans.
Now they were coming in through the light fixtures. What next—the plumbing? He guessed he might be able to stop up the toilets and sink. Thinking about it made his throat raw and scratchy, and he coughed. He coughed again, this time harder, spraying spittle across the kitchen. Still his throat itched, like there were tiny legs scratching at his esophagus.
He rushed from the kitchen into the bathroom and planted himself in front of the bathroom mirror. The itchiness in his throat was growing. He opened his mouth wide and looked inside. At first he saw nothing but the pale-pink flesh of his tongue and gums—and then the first set of legs appeared at the back of his throat. He tried to draw in a breath, but his throat was suddenly clogged. He reeled away from the sink, clawing at his face. The spiders came pouring from his slack mouth, running down his shirt in a cascade of skittering legs and gleaming red eyes. He fell to his knees, choking, feeling dozens of tiny fangs. He fell forward, crushing spiders beneath his body, but still they flowed from his mouth. The bottle of Clozaril rolled from his pocket and spilled its contents across the floor. One of those white pills sprouted black legs and scuttled toward him, but his mouth was too full to scream.