Edition 15: Webs by Cindy Hernandez
Eric moves to a cabin in the middle of nowhere with his cat, Zombie. In what starts out as a helpful quirk, Zombie’s spider-eating fetish lands her in trouble. Spider rule is returning to the cabin, and Eric may be more than outnumbered…Cindy Hernandez’s story wrapped up the judges and she was named a finalist of the 2013 Story Quest competition. SY
When you live in the middle of nowhere, you’re bound to encounter creepy-crawlies, little creatures that fly, hop, buzz, bite, and chirp. Oh, and spiders. Every cabin in the woods has at least a few. Fortunately, Eric didn’t mind them. Not right away, at least.
Dust filled hammocks of spider webs hung in every corner of the two-room cabin, but he didn’t care. As long as the rent stayed cheap and the roof didn’t leak, the bugs could do whatever they liked. The place was good enough. It was a shabby sanctuary away from the city, away from people, away from everything. His meager belongings sat in the middle of the floor next to the fireplace: his guitar in its battered case, a black plastic trash bag with his clothes inside, and Zombie, his grey and white, battle-scarred cat. Zombie settled herself on the bag of clothes, purring for reasons only known to a cat, and Eric cracked open a lukewarm beer in celebration of their new home.
Zombie developed a real taste for spiders and insects in the days that followed. Entire battalions of them disappeared down her throat. Eric would sit on the front porch in an ancient, splintered rocking chair, drinking beer, while the feline huntress stalked her multi-legged prey. She held no quarter and she took no prisoners.
But she was bound to meet a more formidable foe. Eric was roused from a beer-induced slumber by an odd wailing sound coming from outside. He shielded his eyes from the harsh sun as he opened the door and peered out. Zombie lay next to the rocker, and her growls and hisses were dreadful. She pawed at her face, gurgling and gagging, and Eric caught sight of four inky black, bristly legs protruding from the cat’s mouth. One of Zombie’s victims had decided to fight back.
The weathered boards of the porch squawked and popped as he crossed it, and he knelt down and picked up his struggling pet. Zombie scissored her jaws a final time, severing the legs from the unseen body. The little cat swallowed convulsively, and whatever had been fighting for its life was gone. The legs fell to the ground. An odd smell tainted the air, acrid and industrial, like drain cleaner. Zombie escaped from Eric’s arms and bolted for the overgrown shrubbery next to the driveway.
He examined the still twitching legs. Using his thumb and forefinger like tweezers, he picked one up for a closer look. Zombie’s afternoon snack had definitely been an arachnid. A huge one. The glossy black appendage was as big around as a drinking straw, and there were orangey-red stripes above and below each point of articulation.
“Holy crap!” He tossed the spider legs over the porch railing, and squinted into the sunlight, looking for his gluttonous cat. “Zombie? Kitty-kitty?”
He spent the rest of the afternoon checking corners, cracks, and crevices for possible relatives to the monster spider. Although he’d only seen the legs, he knew the spider had to have been something extraordinary, perhaps a rare species. Zombie finally emerged from the shrubbery a few hours later, sullen and morose. An old refrigerator occupied a corner of the porch, and the cat curled herself on top of it, glaring at Eric whenever he passed with what could only be described as a ‘leave me alone’ look.
Eric began noticing sores on the top of the cat’s head in the following days, and along both her sides. Her fur began to fall out in clumps. During the day, she spent much of her time on top of the refrigerator, but at night, he could hear her prowling about outside, yowling softly to herself. The eerie sounds gave him the creeps. The weird spider she had eaten must have been venomous; she had been fine before swallowing it. He could only hope she would eventually get better on her own. He had no money to spare for the vet.
Despite the near-tragedy with Zombie, he made no real attempt at cleaning up the place. The webs in the corners and around the light fixtures increased in size until they resembled tattered grey ghosts. They swayed in the drafts from under the front door and around the windows, heavy with their loads of trapped insects. When he came home from his grocery clerk job, the front door would sometimes be swathed in a veil of fresh spider webs and he would have to tear them away before he could unlock it. They were thick and cottony, and he could clearly see each individual strand. Still, the only spiders he saw were ordinary ones, with ordinary spider legs.
Zombie eventually left her perch atop the old refrigerator after a few days of recuperation, but refused to come back inside the cabin. He left food and water out for her, but she wasn’t interested in that either. She looked awful. Most of the fur on the top of her head was gone, and her sides were sunken, causing her ribs to stick out, and her eyes bulged from their sockets. At night she prowled around outside, as if carrying out a plan only she could understand, scuttling through the dried leaves just beneath his window, and making odd little sounds. She had been a picture of health only a few days earlier, plump and sleek.
In a week’s time, the blanket of thick, white webbing extended from the front door to the exterior window frames. He swiped at them each morning with a tired old broom he had found in the cellar, and when they ripped free they sounded like rotted lace being torn. Every time he came home, the first thing he saw would be the replacement webs, tinted a gentle orange by the setting sun. He never saw the spiders responsible for these gauzy masterpieces, but his imagination supplied plenty of images. It was hard to forget his intrepid cat, struggling to swallow her latest kill, those long spider legs quivering as they flexed their orange-striped joints.
He saw spiders inside, but they were quite ordinary, their webs, though plentiful, were normal. They would waltz across his face at night, cutting through his eyebrows and investigating his ears. If only Zombie would come back inside and start eating the little bastards again, he figured he could get a good night’s sleep for a change. He still caught fleeting glimpses of her, though. She stayed hidden in the shrubbery, lurking in the shadows, as though she were too afraid to come close to the cabin. She never responded to his gentle calls and the food and water bowls remained untouched. He didn’t blame her; this spider situation was getting out of control.
Eric left the Winner’s Circle Market Friday afternoon with his uncashed paycheck in his wallet and two boxes of insecticide bombs in the pockets of his cargo pants. He didn’t like to steal, but spending money on spider eradication would have cut into his beer money, and there would be none of that. Besides, the crappy company he worked for owed him a freebie or two. He decided to cash his check tonight at the dive bar down the street, and then drink his fill while he waited for the bug bombs to work their magic. He saved his smile of triumph until he had guided his car out of the parking lot and was certain he had gotten away with the small pilfer. It was time to unleash hell on some spiders.
The bug bombs hissed in unison as he locked the door behind them and strode to his car. He patted himself on the back for having the presence of mind to extinguish the pilot light and shut off the gas on the stove. He had always remembered the story his mother told him about an uncle who was not so careful. He knew six canisters of insecticide in his tiny cabin was over-kill, but why take chances? He wanted them gone. All of them. Later, he could work on getting his cat back.
It was a minute past one on Saturday morning when he carefully coaxed his car down the rutted dirt driveway. He’d driven home at thirty miles an hour, with his head out the window in an attempt to see the road better. Half his paycheck had disappeared on drinks for himself and an occasional round for a few fair-weather friends. He couldn’t feel his nose, his legs had wobbled in a parody of walking from the bar to his car, but he’d made it home alive. He made the trip from car to bedroom with only a few minor mishaps and had just enough time to open the window and turn on the bedside fan before he collapsed in a groggy heap on the bed. Forget airing the cabin, if the booze hadn’t killed him by now, what chance did some bug spray have? Besides, the open window would be fine. A moonbeam slipped in and lay across his face as he began to snore.
In a shaded corner of the lawn, under a dusty juniper bush, Zombie opened her yellow eyes. Recovering from the poison had been slow as she lay on her bed of mildewed leaves. The mutated creature that had forced its way down her throat had nearly killed her, but she felt well now enough to venture out again tonight. The night entranced her more than ever, now that her range of vision had increased. It had taken some time to regain control of her legs, but now they moved in perfect unison. She lifted a grey-and-white leg and her relocated claws closed around one of the silk-wrapped bundles hanging from the fragrant ceiling of the juniper branches. Whatever was inside twitched, much of its insides destroyed by the digestive enzymes Zombie had injected earlier. She lifted her inch-long fangs and ripped through the white wrapping and into the liquefying body of the mouse inside. As she drew in nourishment, her exoskeleton cracked a bit more. It was time to molt again, time to find a new host. The being inside her body was growing quickly.
The last of the insecticide fumes in the house were borne away by the oscillating fan. The tiny victims of the poison cloud lay curled on the floor, their legs tucked up next to their bodies. Their abandoned webs flowed in the breeze coming in through the open window. Eric stirred in his sleep as something kept pulling him up from the depths of his unconsciousness. As he became aware, he realized it was a hissing sound, like air escaping from a tire. He grunted, satisfied it was nothing important, and rolled over onto his back. His mouth dropped open as his snores resumed.
What woke him next was not a sound, but a sensation. It felt like someone watched him as he slept. His mouth clamped shut, cutting off his snore, and his eyes flew open. A square of moonlight fell across the foot of his bed, painting everything with a dim silver glow. Beyond that frail light, the shadows were black as coal. In the farthest corner of the tiny room, the hissing began again, and with it came a muffled tapping, like idly drumming fingers wrapped in wool socks. He sat up and his hand dove between the mattresses for the baseball bat he kept there. Something dark moved along the baseboards, still hissing quietly to itself.
He kicked aside the cumbersome top sheet and got out of bed. His fingers clenched around the splintered bat in a two-handed grip. It was the closest thing he had to a weapon. Although nothing seemed to be moving, he knew he wasn’t alone.
“Zombie?” He called out to the dark corner of his room, hoping that he would hear his cat’s distinctive meow. It must be Zombie, home at last, he reasoned.
He took one hand off the bat and slid it down the wall in search of the bedside lamp while he called out again to what he hoped was his cat. His fingers touched something gauzy and sticky, and when he yanked his hand away, the stuff made a soft ripping sound. His face screwed up in disgust. Webs. Just like the mess outside. He groped for the lamp again, found it, and flipped it on.
A heavy net of thick webs hung from the wall, the strands glowing opalescent in the light from the bare bulb. His fingers were bound together by the sticky threads. In his haste to pull his hand away from the wall, he struck the lamp, and it shattered on the floor, plunging the room into its former darkness.
He no longer felt the effects of the alcohol; he was scared sober. His one thought was to leave the room as quickly as his legs would carry him. He spun about and collided face-first with something dangling from the ceiling. It had a body like a football covered in soft grey-and-white fur, like a stuffed animal hanging from a rope. And as it bounced off his face and into the gloom, he caught sight of its legs, all eight of them, and all tipped with delicate pink pads. The creature swung forward again into the ghostly patch of moonlight.
What arced towards his face had once been Zombie; there were still obvious signs. The head, elegant and triangular, with two smooth lumps where the ears had been. And the eyes, eight of them now, were brilliant and golden, with black slit pupils. The legs were still feline, but were bent at odd angles, and each joint was marked with a bright orange stripe. The pink, open mouth bore no resemblance to a cat’s, though. It was spider-like and hissing, and its fangs and maxillae flexed and worked at the air as though it were tasting it. It hissed again and swung at his face, reaching forward with its eight dainty paws. Still possessed of a long tail, it swung that appendage upwards, and the pink opening at its base contracted as its spinnerets added an extension to the line from which the mutated cat dangled.
Fear and fascination combined to hold Eric fixed to the spot. His arms refused to lift from his sides and ward off the loathsome being which sailed towards him on its silken trapeze. The hooked claws made contact with his face and dug in, and the action caused Zombie’s exoskeleton to split further. She was lucky to have found a host just in time. The nictitating membranes of the eight golden eyes slid shut as the triangular head shot forward and dove into Eric’s scream.
The beam of moonlight eventually shifted away from the bedroom window, and slid down the wall of the porch, illuminating the white sticky ball which hung in the corner above the old refrigerator. Zombie had deposited her egg sac here some days ago, and the tiny creatures inside, awakened by the cold pale light, began to squirm and fuss. They were due to hatch any day. For now their slender grey and white legs would stay gathered together, wrapped in their long fuzzy tails.
Cindy Hernandez is a writer of horror, dark fiction, and poetry. She has been fascinated by the horror genre since she was a kid, and started writing stories at a very young age. Cindy wrote for years with no thought of becoming published: just for the sheer enjoyment of it. She finally “got serious” about writing in 2012.
Cindy resides in California’s Central Valley, and lives with her adult daughter and a variety of animal companions. In addition to writing she enjoys crocheting, jewelry making, drawing, and a variety of arts and crafts.