I slipped through the window and scanned the floor. Dark gouts of fresh blood streaked the nearest pillar. My stomach sank under the weight of Spider’s last meal. He slept in his corner, covered with the blanket. I took a few furtive steps toward the glistening, fresh blood. Behind the pillar, I found her shirt—the little pink one with a puppy on it—drunk with blood. Spider and I had scavenged around the building when we first came to town, and I remembered the broken concrete walls with exposed rebar below. I crept down the stairs into the deeper layers of the old building. Something sharp, I thought, something that would do the job quickly.
A long segment of bent and rusted rebar jutted from a half-smashed wall, and I wrapped my hands around it. It wiggled with pressure, and I leaned against the iron bar and twisted. The metal squeaked and groaned, and a long segment, about two and a half feet, broke from the wall. I held up the bar and examined the broken end, a sharp, shiny point.
Spider slept soundly, especially after feeding. He always slept so soundly, almost peacefully save for the carcass and blood. I knew I had to finish it quickly…for me and Spider. For years, he was my only family. Now, I forced myself to see the monster. I forced myself to see that he was mortal, just like me—frail and weak, or I wouldn’t have pushed him away from the car last night. If I hadn’t saved him, that little girl…
I yanked back his blanket, exposing those naked eyes, and he flinched—woken by the bright daylight, I’m sure. Maybe he knew—maybe he saw me. I hope not. His awful hands flashed to his face and covered his glassy eyes. I held my breath and pushed the point to his chest.
“Jackie?” he mumbled. My stomach lurched. My heart cried—for Spider. For Amanda.
I leaned on the rebar, forcing it through his chest and to the floor, pushing all my weight behind it. An arterial spray caught me in the face as Spider lurched, snatching at the bar with his long fingers. I stumbled backward, across the room, while the heavy blood leaped from his chest, swelling into a pool and soaking his old blanket. He made some noises, gibbering and squeaking like a monkey, stumbled a few times, and collapsed with one hand spread toward me.
“Jackie…” His voice was weak, fading. My own lips trembled as the tears broke free. I sank against the wall, sobbing.
His body twitched for a while before I moved. Eventually, I stood, stripped off my bloody shirt and pants, rubbed the tears and blood from my face, and stuffed the rags in the old burlap sack. I slept for the rest of the day—a black sleep void of dreams.
When dusk came, I gathered my filthy clothes. Behind the old building, just around the corner from the park, there were some old barrels—the steel kind for fuel or grease. I pushed the soiled clothes inside an empty barrel and mixed in a few handfuls of dry leaves. Fishing out the matches, I struck one and ignited the trash; it took a while, but soon the flames licked at the top of the barrel. I stood there, watching the fire and wondering why Spider never killed me. What was I to him?
Maybe I should have attempted a prayer. My mouth opened, but no words would come.
The night grew cold, and I turned away. Shouldering my duffle, I returned to the highway. There really wasn’t any traffic on a Sunday night, so I turned south and walked down the silent road.
I don't know who I feel more sorry for, Spider or Jackie.
The old factory in Clay Center that inspired "Spider and I" is going to be a rubble pile soon. I'm a little sad. It stood empty for nearly forty years...and now they're tearing it down.
I was lucky enough to receive my contributor's copy and a purchased copy of The Devil's Food (in which "Spider and I" originally appeared). I don't need two, especially when there's plenty of good stories which are going unread.
So I want to share, but I only have one with which to part. So here's the deal: I have my fingers in too many cookie jars right now, especially The Bottom Feeders ebook and Strange Publications...
Help me promote The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories by tagging it on Amazon.com or writing a review or mention one of Strange Publications' projects on Twitter or via a blog (like Barry Napier's chapbook, The Final Study of Cooper M. Reid--of which a few copies are still available--or Cate Gardner's forthcoming collection, Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits and Other Curious Things, and I'll enter your name in a drawing for the spare copy of The Devil's Food. Heck, if you feel about as swell as I do about promoting stuff (i.e., don't like it), just mention the contest and you're in.
Drop me an email at aaron_polson(at)hotmail(dot)com and let me know what you've done (and I appreciate the hell out of anything, even a tweet or two), and I'll put your name in a virtual hat (random.org). (if you've already tweeted, etc., I've got your name on the list) The deadline is this Thursday (4/15) at midnight central standard time (US). I'll announce a winner on Friday. I might even have a Friday Flash this week.