This story is by Claire Moran and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My foot slips from under me. I grab the banister, steady myself, and wait out that dizzying adrenalin aftershock that follows a near miss. It’s a good job I kept my hands free by taping the weapons to myself. Because a fall down these stairs could be lethal. They are steep, Victorian era, in a house built for mine-workers, much sturdier people than me. People who would most certainly laugh if they saw me now: wrapped in plastic, teetering down the stairs, scared of what awaits me in the front room. Well, I’m not bothered by laughing ghosts. Or falling, actually. It’s being prone on the floor at the bottom of the stairs that terrifies me. Because then it would come. Inevitably, it would come. A whir of bent legs, a scuttling shadow. The spider, come to get me.
It wants on my long, dark eyelashes. I am sure of it. Because lashes are very much like spider legs. Arousing for an arachnid, to have those lashes lying around on a person’s face. A temptation it could not resist. It means to get on them, it has done it before.
One minute I was drinking wine, alone, and I’ll admit, crying. And then, suddenly, I was had by spider. Though it happened in a literal blur – a tickling black cloud racing over my eyes – I knew what it was immediately. There’s something about a spider that can’t be mistaken for anything else, though many things can be mistaken for a spider. I screamed. I leapt. I retched. Had I known what the spider wanted, the retch may have been productive. But I was an innocent then. I did not know it was a horny man spider trying to mate with my eyes. Then all I knew was that it had been on me and now it was running over the back of the armchair, looking like an emaciated monkey paw come to life. Unfair, as I had not made any wishes.
Or maybe I had. I was in a bad state when the spider came. I cry so much these days I wasn’t even aware of it, just that the TV was hard to see. Tears are just part of the evening ritual, too much cheap wine, bad TV I’m too sad to care about, some processed food I know is bad for me. But I’m allowed to wallow. My boyfriend has gone. I am alone in a house I can barely afford. And I know no one in the city I just moved to. Being alone isn’t nice. But be careful what you wish for because having a spider for company is even lonelier.
For a while – in my bedroom, squatting on a chair, continually checking the floor, googling spiders on my phone – I theorised the spider had got onto my face to drink my tears. The internet told me spiders are thirsty, it’s why they are often found in baths. But I read on and learned that my spider has a different type of thirst. It is autumn: house-spider mating season, when the men leave their webby dens and run about seeking a lover.
They can’t hurt you, I was also told by the internet. But who fears a spider hurting them? Spiders are hurt, solidified scuttling hurt. Their damage is themselves and the threat that they will get on you. This has to be prevented at all costs. My panicked googling further revealed that spiders can’t crawl up shiny surfaces, it’s why they get trapped in baths. Suddenly the mounds of black bin-bags filled with clothes were not a sign I did not feel at home here so had not unpacked. They were instead a gold mine. A slippery gold mine. Half an hour of ripping and taping later, and I was wrapped in plastic from head to toe. Doing my feet probably wasn’t sensible, but they are also, by necessity, closest to danger.
Anyway, screw sensible. I’ve made it, I am at the bottom of the stairs, an impenetrable spider-hunter. The door to the scene of the crime is on my left. Time to do this. Impenetrable, right? But my hands shake. And my heart hurts from pounding so much. Is it possible to have a heart attack from fear? Surely my heart is already weak from the break up. I can’t do this.
God, it would be so easy to ring him. Tell him I need him – it wouldn’t be a lie. He’d come. I haven’t even told anyone I ended it, so I wouldn’t have to give any embarrassing ‘we’re back together’ speeches. And perhaps the spider is a sign we should be together. I wouldn’t tell Peter about the spider, of course. He could just deal with it when he saw it. My phone is taped to me, I could do it so easily. I don’t have to go in there, there is this other, rational, option.
But I have to decide now. The spider is an imperative: I can’t live with it in the house. So, I call Peter or I confront the spider.
The handle on the door to the front room is hard to grasp through the plastic around my hands. When I finally get it open, the room is there, as I left it. The light is on, the TV too, the local news. An old man with an accent I am still not used to warns of frost, grit trucks are out all over Yorkshire. But I view the room not as a citizen of Yorkshire, but as a terrified solider. Where does the enemy lie?
Eyes skittering between floor and ceiling, I ready my weapons. My long-distance crusher: a Hoover pole, with a small hard notebook taped the end. And hairspray. I have learned that house-spiders are the second fastest spiders in the world. To have a chance at crushing it, I’ll have to stun it with the spray. Because calm nerves are a weapon too, I drank half a bottle of valerian tincture. You’re supposed to dilute it, but I did not. Unfortunately, it has made me rather nauseous. The sight of my unfinished glass of wine sitting on the fireplace – Peter took the coffee table – makes bile flood my mouth.
Of course this is the moment he comes, darting from underneath the armchair. Had he stayed there all this time, waiting for me?
I stab out with my crushing tool. It lands nowhere near him. I forget to use the spray.
Then he’s gone. I don’t see where. He is so fast. The speed of eyelash-lust. But then, he was not coming toward me, actually, but away. Perhaps he’s realised there’s no lover for him here. But even if he does find a lady spider, it’s not happily-ever-after. Because once the loving is done, the man stays to guard the woman and neither eats nor drinks. They mate, they wait, and then they die.
I catch sight of myself in the mirror above the fireplace. Hair under a carrier bag, mouth thin from fear, weapons in my hand to kill this – objectively – small, horny creature. Yes, a truly noble representation of humanity. With a shaking hand, I put the spray down on the mantle. I can’t use it. A quick crushing death is one thing. Sure, soldiers die in war. But it’s illegal to torture them. Isn’t it? In fact, it’s time to admit I cannot do this at all. I can’t kill him. It’s time to tell Peter I made a mistake.
But the spider has other ideas. He moves once more. Racing towards the open door. A turmoil of knees, impossibly fast. He wants to go upstairs.
I grab the wine glass off the mantle, chuck the wine onto the carpet and dive. My slippery feet slide. My plastic-bound hand slams down. The glass meets the carpet. I don’t know if I’ve caught him. I can’t move.
For too long I stay bent over the glass, pressing down so hard I fear I’ll snap the stem. My legs quake. I’m sort of fainting. If I fall I’ll knock the glass over. I force myself to release my hand.
And I see the spider. Its legs up against the glass, clawing at it, desperate to be free. He is so big. He is so small.
I back into the armchair, as I had been when the spider first came to meet me. The spider and the glass block the doorway. To leave the room I will have to step over the prison. To remove it from the room I will have to get something under the glass. Then, I’ll have to lift it up, carry it, take it outside. Free the spider. I don’t know if I am capable of any of this.
I’ve an Amazon package due tomorrow. Maybe I could ask the delivery person to do it for me.