If you haven't been following: part 1, part 2, part 3
I'll have some news about Spider and an offer on Sunday. Have a good weekend.
The kids played below while I listened to Spider breathe all afternoon. I thought about killing him sometimes, how I’d do it. He didn’t exactly hold me hostage, but I didn’t know any other life. He started mumbling, mostly incoherent ramblings, when the sun crawled really close to the horizon. I looked a my bag, this old army duffle with everything I owned—three shirts, another pair of jeans, some underwear, a pair of dull scissors that I used to hack off my hair every couple months, some other stuff. Mostly junk I’d lifted from various stores while we drifted.
“Jackie, mmmm,” Spider called, waking. “So tasty.” Spider stretched in the dim light, casting the old wool blanket to the ground. His long, leg-like fingers danced toward the gray ceiling. My skin shifted, not quite a shiver; I could never quite swallow the parts of him that weren’t human.
I’d cleaned up the bits of dried blood as best I could, but now that he mentioned it, the smell came back, swimming around the empty building and driving into my nose. My stomach cried out. I hadn’t eaten anything all day.
“Look, I’m going to go find some grub, for me. I’m hungry.”
Spider lurched toward me, the waning daylight slicing across his pale face in bands as he moved across the floor. “Jackie, so lonely when you go.” His breath hissed from his mouth and I caught a face full of the awful, stale-blood smell. Spider usually reeked of that smell.
“I’ll be back, promise.” I backpedalled to the window and slipped down.
__________The park below our building stretched out blackly, tucked in the shadow again. But across the street—away from the library—a convenience store glowed like its own little sun. Some people, kids I figured, milled around their cars, crawling around the lot like insects.
The soft lights in the library were kind; those humming things inside the store accused me, scrutinized my face and the dark lines under my eyes. I jiggled the change in my pocket, counting my scavenged wages from the park by the feel of the coins. The lady at the counter, this little buzzard with swept-back grey hair and a vicious beak, zeroed on me the whole time, right up until I dumped my change on the counter and scooped away a pile of candy bars and peanuts, making for the exit.
I pushed on one side and the door yanked out in front of me. Startled, I dropped my loot, the plastic wrappers crinkling when they hit the sidewalk. Two giggling girls brushed past, trailing a sweet smell of something alive. I pushed my eyes to the ground, away from them.
“Jack?” Meghan’s voice stabbed me in the ear.
I burned again, flayed open under the nighttime sun of the bright parking lot. “Hey,” I muttered, kneeling to gather my food.
“Looks like…um, a nutritious dinner.”
When I looked at her, she smiled. I wanted to run, crawl into the shadows under the building. “Yeah,” I said as I stood up. My hands shook slightly, rattling the wrappers.
“Some friends and I are just, you know, hanging out.” Her head nodded toward the others inside. “Not much to do in Springdale, right? You’ve probably already figured that out. Look, you haven’t seen a little dog, have you? Our dog ran away. Amanda—my sister—she’s really worried.”
I opened my mouth, but caught a glimpse of something trying to move across the road before the words came out. Spider, trying to cross the street. My heart scraped against my ribs, swelling like a balloon in my chest. I glanced at Meghan, the artificial sun showing her green eyes, and then shifted back to Spider. He staggered into the street, holding his long hands in front of his face, shielding his eyes from the headlights. The cars moved so quickly, one—
I ran. Meghan shouted something behind me, but I ran. I hit Spider at full sprint; we were close enough to the curb that the impact sent us tumbling to the grass. I rarely touched him—I can’t remember touching him. His body felt so bent and brittle. The car honked, and the driver poked out a finger and yelled “assholes” as he sped away.
“Jackie,” Spider muttered.
I scrambled to my feet, glanced back at the convenience store. Meghan was inside now, looking this way but talking to her friends. When I looked at Spider on the ground, those black orb eyes poking out of his pale head and his wiry body sheathed in old military fatigues, I just saw an old man.
“C’mon, you should stay hidden,” I said.
Spider and I sat up most of the night, regarding each other in darkness and silence. I hovered on the ledge, dividing my attention between the window and his odd expression. He fidgeted nervously, weaving invisible thread with his long, needle-fingers. The sky started changing, started moving slowly toward the new day, when he spoke.
“Jackie?” He didn’t move from his shadows.
I looked at him, thinking about the last few years. Spider never really expected much, just a little something to eat and my company. Moments of real freedom drifted through that time, but everything else floated beneath the surface. I missed my parents. I didn’t have much choice when they died, I didn’t have much choice in those foster homes, and I didn’t have much choice when Spider came to get me in the night. I could have let that car crush him on the highway.
“Jackie, the car tonight. Thank you.” His voice sputtered slowly, hissing between his crooked lips.
“You’re welcome, all right?” My knuckles whitened as I grasped the ledge. I glanced at Spider. “Couldn’t have you splatted, could I?”
We sat in silence until Spider looked at me. “You were so little when your parents died.” His body jerked, snapped forward as he leaned on his grabbing hands and started crawling. He stopped the advance, dropping to the floor at rest. “Jackie...” His head tilted from side to side as he spoke, and the waning moonlight sparkled off his black eyes. Then he stopped, resting on his haunches.
Cold washed over me; I turned my attention to the window and then quickly back him. My eyes flicked to the bag on the floor and back to the window. Spider remained motionless. My body went numb, full of nothing, like a bag of dust. We sat in that empty, silent space until the silence grew monstrous and nearly swallowed me.
“Jackie?” More silence. “Jackie, I’m hungry.”
My parents—I couldn’t help them, but I saved this thing. What was I now? What had I been most of my fifteen years? The memories burned. I burned. Spider’s stench—the smell of decay and rot—grew into an obscene thing. I leapt from the window, stumbled down the fire escape, and ran across the grass in the dark.