Emma’s dreams take reality with the purchase of her first house. A chance to start over, start fresh with her son Emmett. A new future reborn as she rebuilds the house.
A plan disrupted by unwelcome visitors in the night, turning dreams into nightmares.
Emma rolled out of bed before she was fully awake. Emmett’s cry echoed in her mind. She skidded on the worn wood floor as she left the room and collided painfully with the doorframe.
Her shoulder throbbed as she went down across the hall to Emmett’s room. Moonlight filled the room with a pearly glow but it was enough light that she could see him sleeping peacefully in his crib. Mr. Moo sat nearby keeping a placid watch over the child. In one fat hand Emmett clutched his Ragman doll.
He’s fine, she realized. She had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing out loud and waking him up.
Emma backed out of his room. Her hands shook. On her left was the stone ring she’d found when she moved in, down between the torn up floorboards in the laundry room. She ran her fingers across the worn carvings on the ring. She could almost still hear him crying out. Not one of his normal frustrated cries or an upset cry because his diaper needed changing. The cry she’d heard had been one of pain and fear. Even before she had woken up she’d been sure that something absolutely horrible was happening to her son.
And yet he lay undisturbed in his crib.
She found it hard to reconcile those two different realities. Tears welled up in her eyes and she didn’t know why. Chalk it up to emotional overload. She wiped them away. It was silly. He’s fine. She choked back a sob and headed down the hall towards the stairs. The window about the stairs let in more moonlight. She made herself take deep, even breaths as she reached for the railing. She clutched the old wood and held on as if it were a handhold and she stood on the deck of a storm-tossed ship instead of her hallway.
A pile of boxes stood beside her in front of the railing. Only a half-dozen of the stacks scattered around the house. Their first house, her’s and Emmett’s. It still seemed incredible that she had been able to get the financing necessary to buy this place. It needed work but the house inspection didn’t turn up any show stoppers. It was basically sound but the last owners had originally planned to fix the place up and then sell it for a profit. Only they had several such projects and with the collapse of the market had decided to unload the least profitable houses. They left the place with the paint stripped and an unfinished kitchen remodel.
Emma felt better. Think about the house might stress her out some of the time but right now it helped calm her nerves. Fixing up the place was one of the things that anchored her right now. The Plan. Fix the place up and run a yoga studio out of the first floor. That gave her the upstairs and some of the downstairs rooms to live in. With only her and Emmett that meant they still had plenty of room and that was without counting the basement. A cup of ginger-sage tea. That sounded good right now. And a slice of the pecan pie she’d made before the move. After all, it had to be eaten.
Before going downstairs she went back and looked in on Emmett again. He still looked as peaceful as ever. Emma took a deep breath and headed downstairs.
She was in the kitchen with her head in the refrigerator when she heard the noise upstairs. She pulled back and listened while slowly setting the pie down on the piece of plywood serving as her counter top. It had sounded like something moving upstairs across the floor of the room above. Or maybe it was the ice-maker, she thought.
Then more scratching noises from the floor above. Definitely something moving upstairs! In the spare bedroom which just had boxes in it that she hadn’t sorted through yet, but that didn’t mean that a raccoon or something hadn’t gotten into the house. Emma shut the fridge and hurried back upstairs. Her bare feet didn’t make a sound on the bare wood steps. She went quickly but quietly up to the hallway so that she could hear if it made any more noise.
As she reached the hallway she heard it again. It sounded bigger now. She heard a box fall to the floor with a heavy thud. The noise brought her up short. Would a raccoon tip over boxes? She thought about calling the police but if it was only an animal how would that look?
The room above the kitchen was across the hall from Emmett’s room. She had to check first. Maybe it would go back out however it had gotten in. Emma reached out and turned the knob. The sound stopped. She held her breath. One, two, on three she shoved the door open with her left hand and reached in to hit the light with her right. Instead of the smooth plastic of the light switch she felt something hard, prickly and it moved beneath her hand.
She screamed and jerked her hand away. She didn’t let go of the door but before she could pull it shut three long hairy black legs thrust through the opening around and grabbed the door around the knob.
Emma screamed again and jumped back.
Seeing those legs against the wood with the bits of white paint still clinging brought back her dream. Her nightmare. She’d forgotten in the panic of hearing Emmett screaming.
She stumbled further back from the door until she hit the wall opposite. On the door the legs flexed and moved. Like in her nightmare. The spider. She’d dreamed about this spider. In the dream it had chased her through the house and now here it was in that room. It couldn’t possibly be real. It couldn’t.
I’m still dreaming.
Except she felt a sick feeling in her gut that she wasn’t dreaming. She considered herself grounded. She practiced yoga daily. She ate right. She practiced meditation. She knew when she dreamed and when she was awake.
This was real. It couldn’t be and was, all at the same time.
In the doorway the spider moved. In the moonlight it looked like a living shadow against the pale wood. Another leg had joined the others as it crawled onto the door. As yet all she could see were the long legs. At least a foot long that she could see and the head hadn’t come into view yet. She could still see it in her memory of the nightmare. A head the size of a grapefruit with dark plum-sized eyes and thick fangs that dripped poisons. Right before she woke the spider had been after her. Not only her, but Emmett!
Her paralysis broke and ran to Emmett’s room. Inside and shut the door. She turned to the crib and saw a dark hairy moonlit body crouching on the edge of the crib.
She charged across the room. The spider reared up and chittered at her. She grabbed Mr. Moo from the side of the crib and swung the stuffed cow at the spider. It moved faster than her swing and she missed completely. She didn’t know where the spider had gone. She reached into the crib and grabbed Emmett. She heard a noise and looked around. Movement above her caught her attention and she jumped back as the spider dropped from the ceiling above. It landed in the crib. Emma kept moving away. In her arms Emmett stirred and made fussy sounds but he hadn’t yet woken up. The spider reached out with two legs between the slats of the crib.
At the door Emma turned the knob and peeked into the hallway. The door to the spare room stood open. No sign of the spider. She looked up and couldn’t tell in the dark if there was one above her. What choice did she have? She looked back. The spider in the crib had reached up for the top rail. It might jump from the crib any moment. She opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. She closed the door firmly behind her. At least that one wouldn’t be getting out soon.
She had to get Emmett out of here. She went towards the stairs, easing up to the open spare bedroom. When she got close she took a breath and quickly reached out and grabbed the door knob. She expected the spider to strike and yanked the door back. It slammed shut. Emmett stirred in her arms and made little protest sounds. The spider hadn’t struck. It might be trapped inside now. She hoped it was but she didn’t hear anything moving inside. She looked up but the ceiling looked clear. She couldn’t be sure with the shadows but it seemed safe for the moment. She eased past the door and got within arm’s reach of the light switch. She flicked it on.
Bright light filled the hallway. By that clear light she could see thick strands of webbing covering the ceiling. Beyond Emmett’s room the strands came down to meet more strands on the floors and walls to create a funnel leading back to her bedroom. Emma found it hard to breath. Dark shapes moved in the depths of the funnel. Legs moved into the light and she saw there had to be at least three of the spiders lurking in the shadows at the end of the funnel. Each one of the hairy monsters was as big as a medium-sized dog but the long legs made them appear even larger.
It’s impossible, she thought. It was her nightmare made real. Except it couldn’t be real. She knew better. She’d read it somewhere, that giant spiders couldn’t really work. Something about the way they breathed.
The spiders crawling towards her down the funnel must not have read that article.
Emma backed to the staircase and found herself looking down into more webs. They crisscrossed the space from the top of the stairwell to the floor below. Two fat spiders were busy working on what appeared to be another funnel. Anchor lines ran from the funnel to the walls across the stairs themselves. The way out was blocked.
The spiders noticed her standing at the top of the stairs and started running up the lines towards her.
A glance down the hall showed three more leaving the funnel to run at her.
Emma ran back to the spare bedroom. She yanked the door open. Hit the light switch. A stack of boxes sat in the middle of the room. One box lay on the floor with photo envelopes spilling out of the open top. She didn’t see anything moving. The spider that had been in here might be one of the ones that had gone out into the hall to construct those webs. She shut the door, knowing that there were at least five spiders loose in the hall. She checked the corners of the room that she could see. No sign of a vicious spider. She circled the pile of boxes slowly, keeping an eye out for anything moving. She made her way entirely around the pile and didn’t see any spiders.
Scratching noises at the door made her jump. Dark legs thrust beneath the door and clawed at the wood floor. Emma looked around the room. There wasn’t anything soft but that didn’t matter at the moment. As gently as possible she lay Emmett down on the floor beneath the window. His brow wrinkled but he didn’t wake. She went to the pile of boxes. The spider kept scratching. She picked up a box containing books and lugged it over to the door. The closer she got the more excited the spider appeared to get. Another leg joined the first two. It wouldn’t be able to fit its bulk under the door.
She put the box against the door. Something hit the other side of the door. It sounded like a spider had jumped at the wood.
Emma released the box. It fell right on the legs beneath the door with a loud crack and crunch. The spider screamed a thin scratchy noise.
“Get out of my house!” she screamed back and stomped down on the box.
Two more heavy thuds hit the door. Emma looked at her son. He was still asleep. A sob escaped her lips. He was amazing.
She grabbed the next closest box and shoved it next to the one she’d dropped on the spider’s legs. Then a third on the other side. She started stacking them after that, moving the pile of boxes up against the door. Most of the boxes were full of books and had a comforting weight to them.
“Let’s see you get through that!”
Something hairy crawled across her hand. Emma screamed and jerked her hand away from the box she’d been about to pick up. She looked down and saw a plum-sized spider fall onto the cardboard where it joined dozens of fellows. A white, egg-shaped web casing had split open at the heart of the pile of boxes and the spiders were spilling out in all directions.
Including over the remaining pile towards Emmett.
Emma ran around the pile. One of the spiders was right in front of her and she danced around it to keep it away from her bare feet. She got to the other side of the room and saw several crawling towards Emmett. She sprinted past them and picked him up.
This time he woke up and looked at her with wide eyes. She kissed his forehead. “It’s okay. Shhh.”
His face turned red and he screamed at her. It was the cry that she’d heard when she woke up. Full of pain and fear.
She lifted him up and there, on his leg, she saw one of the baby spiders. She brought him close with one arm and swatted with the other. The spider tumbled away. She lifted him again and looked at his leg. Two bright red spots were on his thigh and the sight of them made her shiver. It had bitten him!
Dozens of the young spiders crawled towards them. She didn’t have on shoes or she’d have stomped them flat. She backed up until her arm touched the cool glass of the window. Emma turned around and looked out the window. It was hard to see through the reflection but the steep porch roof outside looked clear. She looked down. The spiders were close. Emmett sobbed into her shoulder and made muffled ma, ma sounds.
“It’ll be okay,” she told him.
She unlatched the window and shoved it up. There was a screen outside. She hit it and it popped out and clattered down the porch roof, then fell to the ground. She bent, swung a leg through and stepped out onto the roof. Her feet gripped the slate tiles better than shoes. She reached back and shoved the window down behind her. Now she just had to get down. She walked gingerly down the slates until she could see the ground below. It sloped down away from the porch. It looked steep. If she jumped she’d probably fall and roll down the hill. She couldn’t do that with Emmett. She had to find another spot. The porch wrapped around the front of the house. It should be easier to get down to the lawn.
She hadn’t gone far when she heard a scratching noise above her. She looked up in time to see the full-grown giant spider crouching on the eves above her. It jumped. Emma gasped and ducked. The spider missed her and landed on the slates. It slid on the tiles and tumbled off the porch with a hissing noise. Emma hurried along the porch towards the front of the house. That spider would probably climb back up and there could be others. She needed to get down and get to her car. There was an emergency cell phone in the glove compartment. She could call for help and the spiders wouldn’t be able to get into the car.
She reached the front of the house and saw webbing strung across the upper stories. Two of the big spiders turned away from their task towards her.
Emma went to the edge of the roof. The lawn looked clear. She held onto Emmett and turned around facing the spiders as they raced towards her. She knelt and slid her feet off the edge. She could only hold on with one hand. She dropped onto her side, cradling Emmet and slid over the edge. She tensed, fearing that a spider would grab her feet. Nothing happened and the two spiders above were getting close. She slid down, slowing her descent with her outstretched free hand. She was falling. She couldn’t stop it now. In her head she pictured her landing and rolling onto her back to protect Emmett from the fall. As she went over the edge of the gutter caught the stone ring on her finger and painfully ripped it off, taking skin with it. She cried out.
Hit hard on her heels and rolled back. The impact almost knocked the wind from her. She lifted Emmett up and looked at his face. He sniffled and wiped at his eyes but seemed okay. Except for the bite marks on his leg. She hugged him close and rolled up onto her knee and pushed herself up. She looked up at the roof for signs of pursuit. No spiders where in view. She didn’t wait for them to show up. She ran across the wet grass, cold against her bare feet, jumped over the marigolds along the driveway and made it to the car. She grabbed the door handle and yanked. It didn’t budge. Locked.
Emmett squirmed in her arms. She readjusted as she ran around the car, keeping an eye out for the spiders. Still no sign of them. The driver’s door was unlocked and she slid in and yanked the door shut. She leaned over and opened the glove compartment. The phone wasn’t there.
Emma bit her lip to keep from crying out in frustration. She hit the steering wheel then leaned forward, checking for the spiders.
From the car she could see the porch roof and it was empty of spiders. More than that the webbing that had been spun across the front of the house was gone. She leaned over to try and see more but still didn’t see any sign of the spiders. How could they have just vanished? She hadn’t imagined it. The bite mark on Emmett’s leg was evidence enough that the spiders were real. She checked his leg and found it hot to the touch. She needed to get him to a doctor. To do that she needed the car keys. They’d be just inside the front door, on the little table. Except that was right near where the web funnel filling the stairwell. If she was fast she might be able to get in, grab the keys and get out. She’d leave Emmett here, in his car seat ready to go.
He started crying as soon as she buckled him into the car seat.
“Shhh.” She kissed his forehead. “Mommy will be right back. I need to run in and get the keys and then we’re out of here.”
He cried harder. She wanted to make it all better but he wouldn’t understand. At least in the car he was safe for now. She got out, shut the door and faced the house. Nothing moved. Her partially-restored Victorian looked perfectly ordinary. She ran silently up the dirt driveway towards the house. Not going fast yet so she could keep an eye out. She slowed the closer she got and then when she was almost to the porch and still didn’t see anything, then she sprinted up the steps. Two strides to cross the porch.
She yanked open the front door expecting to see the thick web funnel hanging down from above, crawling with giant spiders, and instead the stairwell was clear. No web. No spiders.
Emma didn’t move, she was so stunned by the absence of the spiders. She heard Emmett crying all the way out in the car and that got her moving. She grabbed the keys, spun about and sprinted out, slamming the door behind her. She didn’t bother to lock it. She ran full speed down the driveway to the car. Got it. Started it and drove it around the drive and away from the house. She kept looking back out the rear window and checking the mirrors. No sign of spiders. Emmett quieted down now that the car was moving. She put the spiders out of her mind and headed down the road towards the hospital.
Two days later she stood in the driveway again. The sun was shining and the house looked dingy with all the paint peeled off. But no signs of spiders. She’d half-expected it to be covered in webs.
That night still felt like a nightmare. Except Emmett had been treated for an “unusual” spider bite at the hospital and her finger still had scratches from when the stone ring was scrapped off as she slid off the roof. Those minor injuries had been the only evidence she had of what had happened. She didn’t tell anyone at the hospital about giant spiders for fear that they’d lock her in some psychiatric ward. She also didn’t call anyone like an exterminator to go to the house because she didn’t want to put anyone at risk if they didn’t know what could happen.
So instead she left Emmett with her sister and came back to the house to check it herself. She remembered how the spiders had chased her across the roof but then when she got to the car she hadn’t seen them. And the funnel she had seen in the stairwell hadn’t been there when she went back for the keys.
She needed to know what had happened. It was hard to walk up to the house again but nothing threatening moved. She went in, tensing when she opened the door, and found only her house. It didn’t take long to go through the house and discover no sign of the spiders. The spare bedroom was difficult to get into because the boxes were still piled in front of the door but she eventually forced it open, toppling the pile in the process. The baby spiders were gone too, and the egg sack that had been on the boxes.
Emma shoved aside the boxes until she could turn over the one that she’d dropped on the spider’s legs. No legs beneath the box, but the cardboard did looked warped like it had gotten wet. She didn’t find any other evidence.
The house looked safe.
She went to the window that she’d climbed out and lifted it up. The harrowing flight across the roof holding Emmett looked worse in the daylight. She could see how steep and slippery the roof looked. The screen lying in at the bottom of the hill looked very far away. She went around to her room at the front of the house and looked out that window too.
No evidence of the spiders, but in the gutter she could see the stone ring. This had all happened after she put the ring on and the spiders were gone after it got yanked off.
It all happened after she found that ring. She put it on, had a nightmare and then the nightmare had been real. There had to be a connection. The spiders disappeared the instant the ring was off. So what? She had a magic ring?
Emma went back downstairs and out to the garage beside the house. She opened the door and reached over for the light switch. She felt webbing against her hand and screamed. She jerked back and jumped away from the door.
Nothing moved. Carefully, ready to bolt, she moved closer and peeked inside. Nothing but a cobweb across the light switch. No visible spiders.
She flicked on the light and the long fluorescent tubes buzzed to life. Cobwebs up among the rafters but no giant spiders. She went across the stained concrete and took down her adjustable ladder.
Emma carried the ladder over beneath her window and used it to climb up to the gutter. She plucked the stone ring out of the gutter and ran her fingers across the worn stone carvings. It was very pretty but she didn’t dare wear it again. She’d put it away someplace safe. Emma stuffed it into her jeans pocket and climbed back down.
This story is the 64th weekly short story release, written in September 2009 . Eventually I’ll do a new standalone e-book and print release when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the stories. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new e-book and print versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next Monday for another story. Next up is my story Sooner Murder.