Arachne

Haven’t posted in a while, and still haven’t made good on the promise to embarass myself by sharing some not-necessarily-world-literature-level self-written horror stories, so I thought I’d take care of both here. The following is not necessarily for those who are very, very afraid of certain small animals feared by astonishingly many people. Or perhaps it’s precisely for them, as it is supposed to be a horror story:

With small, careful, almost mechanical steps, Tatjana returned to the graffiti-decorated apartment building she called home, looking over her shoulder in regular intervals. The sleazy tenement stood in marked contrast to the newly renovated buildings around it, hailing back from an era before the city had started renovating its public housing and cracking down on even the lightest of crimes. Yet the greasy-haired girl who was just fumbling in her pocket to find her key between all the used handkerchiefs had never truly gotten used to this “New City for a New Tomorrow”, with all the muggers, thugs and cutthroats gone to the outer districts. She still expected someone to pull a knife at her at any time. While usually, she only left her home when absolutely necessary, every year on the day before Christmas, she would venture out of the closed space for several hours, go down to the mall and stare at the raging, many-faced and many-legged mass of people buying their presents at the last possible moment, and their many eyes would stare back at her.

Tatjana herself was a living anachronism, a dropout from the local technical college with clothes she had worn for two straight weeks, and originally obtained from someone’s dumpster. In recent years, a new class of tenants, affluent, with families, had moved into even her building, and just as in the earlier days, she could feel the violent threats and malevolent intentions of her neighbours on her neck whenever she walked past them, so she now was haunted by their mistrust and disapproval. Security cameras had been installed on every floor of the tenement at some point, so she didn’t even have to encounter anyone for a contemptuous stare to chill her skin.

Nevertheless, she was not entirely ungrateful for the intricate web of surveillance surrounding her. The transmission of the camera images was wireless, and with the landlord having paid no attention to security or encryption, it was relatively easy to obtain them from any computing device within or near the building. Many overly paranoid tenants had voluntarily allowed the installation of the security system even within their flats, so while Tatjana would spend Christmas as lonely as any other day of the year, at least she could secretly watch people happier than herself celebrate the joyful gatherings of their families. That was virtually the only thing for her to look forward to as she finally entered her apartment, shaking the last vestiges of dirty snow off her legs and clumsily reaching for her sweatpants.

She turned on the monitor to watch the arrival of Mrs. Crktzak’s children on the second floor. Yet, for a long time, no one appeared on her screen, and at some points Tatjana thought the room was immersed in a weird, garish light. She switched cameras, and now watched the old couple in the room directly above her own decorating their Christmas tree. At some point, the man had to leave the room for some reason, but he returned five minutes later to continue helping his wife… But where was she? Apparently, she has left, too, and I was too caught up in the beauty of the wooden horses, lametta, little churches, Santa figurines and electric candles glittering in the midst of a sea of fir needles to notice it, Tatjana thought. She interrupted the spectacle to put a frozen pizza into her microwave and then turned to the “channel” of another neighbour, who had gone on vacation in some nearby mountains, popular for their cross-country skiing routes. Nevertheless, he possessed a shelf filled with the most beautiful collection of ancient books one could have imagined, and whether it was Christmas or not, this sight was about the only thing that could ever give Tatjana even a fleeting moment of calm and tranquil. But this time, something was amiss:

Not only was the tenant of the slightly dusty room gone, but it seemed strangely otherwordly, devoid of connection to past and future, as if it had never been built by people and could never be torn down by them. Tatjana suddenly fancied the once so friendly bookshelf to look like a hostile animal, with calculating, lurking eyes, ready to swoop down upon anyone who dared cross its path. Then, she noticed a thick, hairy, bent piece of string in front of the camera lens – no, not string, a leg, and it became two legs, alternately set forward in an almost humanlike fashion, until two more limbs and a grotesque face followed. The creature had eight bulgy eyes and two furry biting appendages on its face, and a drop of slime trickled down from one of them. The second pair of long, finely structured legs crawled on the scene, with a tact exactly opposite to the front ones, pulling a huge black-and.grey frontal body through the picture. But it was the being’s abdomen that was really fat, round and full of tiny hairs, carried over the ground by two further pairs of extremities, one moving in step with the first the other with the second couple of legs that had appeared, as if a madman had cut up two four-legged animals and glued their body parts together in an impossible way. An enormous spider had appeared before the camera. Tatjana screamed.

She had never been one to fear these little critters, in fact, she was almost fond of them, but this one had a threatening quality to it that was different: Simultaneously, it seemed helpless and malicious, like an executioner from some kind of ancient tragedy, forced to perform his duties lest a powerful king ordered himself and his family slaughtered. Slowly, she backed away from the computer screen, trying to gather her wits again. Suddenly, without her doing, the image on the monitor changed, and as she looked upon the Crktzak flat again, there still was no sign of her children. The old woman herself sat in her armchair, but something seemed to frighten her. It wasn’t just that she seemed worried about the late arrival of her family, rather, her face gave the impression that invisible, muscular hands were slowly closing around her throat to strangle her. For a moment, Tatjana thought that Mrs. Crktzak could see her, see her behind the camera lens, behind the cable and behind her own screen, but that would have defied belief, and, if true, defied comprehension. Yet, now she saw her lips moving and forming the words, “H-e-l-p m-e!”, and she shuddered. The lights went out as the grey-haired lady had almost finished this sentence, and Tatjana knew she could no longer tell herself everything was normal.

As she hurried to the elevator, drove down seven floors and ran to the door labeled “Crktzak”, a constant sound of hastily crawling insects seemed to be in her ear whereever she went, like cockroaches running from exposure by a lamp just turned on. She was remarkably strong for a girl that spent most of her life inside, and she swiftly managed to kick it open. The room was filled with the same weird light she had observed before. As she looked around, she realized with creeping horror that there was no lightbulb, neon tube or candle lit on that could explain the dreadful glare – as far as she could make out, it came from nowhere. Neither was the woman who normally inhabited this apartment anywhere to be found. Had she gone to the bathroom? Tatjana peered carefully at the chair she had been sitting in on the last camera image, and gradually, she recognized that there was a huge black spot on its red polyester covering: A giant-sized bird spider was looking directly into her eyes, and its own face seemed filled with an eerie regret entirely unnatural for such a lifeform. With an enormous speed, it moved towards her and sat on her arm within a few seconds. Gripped by panic, she swatted the arachnid and stormed out of the flat, but not before it had half finished biting her into the elbow. She pushed the pain out of her mind as much as she could.

Tatjana speeded back to her own apartment. Gone were the noises of fleeing cockroaches now. Instead, she believed she heard whispers, voices and whistles in the air, describing and commenting her tiniest movement and action, some of them mocking, others pitying and again others disparaging her. It seemed spoken by many mouths of many beings, but they were also one, and the ones on the ninth floor seemed to know what had been said and done on the second floor, none of them really uttering words, yet saying the same things one would have to use words for. As she opened her door, believing she was returning to some sort of safety from a threat she did not know or understand, she beheld an unexpectedly joyful sight: The man from the room above was standing in the midst of her living room, shivering and pale, but the first human being she had encountered tonight. She could see that on his hand he, too, had a red, glowing mark embellishing his skin, like the bite on her own arm. But as Tatjana tried to talk to the man, and he tried to talk to her, all hope she had drawn from this encounter died a swift death: Both could hear the sentences the other was speaking in their ears, but neither could understand them in their minds, much less react to them. It felt as if the voices on the corridors outside were the only ones with whom Tatjana could still have some sort of communion, and she feared the same was true for the old man. Regretfully and slowly, she left him to his own devices and stepped out of the door again, shouting like possessed and challenging the creatures to come out and show themselves, and yet still not sure if she ever really had heard them.

The whispers died down, and Tatjana was alone again, ringing the bells of all neighbours on that floor for half an hour to no avail, and then collapsing on the floor, crying. Nevertheless, she could sense that not a second in that timespan passed without her being watched by tiny, attentive eyes, waiting for their moment to descend upon her. Still lying on the ground, she ultimately fell into an uneasy, fever-like sleep. As she opened her eyes three hours later, a ghastly sight gradually penetrated her reluctant mind: A spider was, once again, couching in front of her. Except she could tell it wasn’t just any spider, it was the one she had observed in her neighbour’s library earlier, the one that first had her panicking, even though there was some particularly benevolent quality about this animal that no one else in the army of sentient, eight-legged black spots that assembled around it had. As she awakened, she could perceive more and more of these spiders, most of them tiny, a few of them huge, blackening the floor, the walls and the ceiling. With them, the whispers had returned, whispers of judgement and whispers of clemency, none of them paying a second of attention to anything other than the girl they were surrounding. But it was the one directly in front of her eyes that spoke the loudest and was respected the most, and finally, it seemed to utter something that sounded, or rather felt, like, “Do it now!”

Tatjana felt a myriad of bites all over her skin, slowly gnawing her flesh, her bones, her organs away, spitting them out again only to devour and spew them out another time, yet strangely, she still remained alive. Her eyesight seemed to be split into more and more parts, two, thre, four, five, and counting… As the diligently working arachnids released the parts of her body they had eaten from their little mouths again and again, they grew tinier and tinier, and Tatjana felt unpleasently restrained in her own skin, skin that grew darker and hairier with each iteration. When the spider army had reached her heart and brain, her consciousness started becoming dizzier and dizzier, until it seemed to hit something, something that first felt like a brick wall, then like a piece of paper, a bubble of water, a current of air —– that was another mind, no, many others. The voices she had heard in her ear were now inside her head, not judgmental anymore, but collegial, inviting, friendly. Still, she didn’t think herself a part of this chorus yet, and she shivered as she got a feeling as if strange appendages where growing out of all sort of parts of her body. Meanwhile, the pressure of being more and more compressed became almost unbearable, and each new hair that grew on her was more painful than the last. Only the new, multidimensional eyesight that had been given to her became increasingly familiar, until she had gotten completely used to it.

It was at this point that Tatjana managed to find her resolve again. Even though she still had some kind of poison in her blood, slowing her body and numbing her mind, by sheer force of will she managed to move one leg, two legs… three legs?, four legs!, and finally, all two times four new limbs she had on her body. Pushing all tardiness, pain, fear and doubt out of her head, she ran away, trampling on a sea of eight-legged creatures in the process. Gradually, she managed to isolate her thoughts from them again, too. Most of them remained strangely passive, resembling spectators in a sports game more than participants. Only the large master spider, the one from the library, followed her in pursuit, followed her until it finally caught up near an open window, a window that now seemed a tremendous, enormously large edifice to her. In the same language of the whispers she had heard all night, she thought she perceived the phrases, “Truly remarkable!”, and, “As you wish!”, from the being behind her, and as if given some silent command, the waters of the spider ocean they were standing on started to ebb and tide at an ever accelerating pace, producing larger and larger waves, until Tatjana was swept out of the window by a grotesque tsunami of living beings.

She fainted for a brief moment, then she realized she was freezing and had to get to safety as soon as possible. Thus, she speeded towards one of the other tenement buildings, desiring to never return to her old home. Meanwhile, she shrank more, and her legs and other appendages were growing out further, but now, it became almost pleasant and familiar, and the pressure she had felt for so long finally vanished. She was running, and running, and running, to save herself…

In the following days, the whole neighbourhood was abuzz with strange rumors of what had happened to the sleazy apartment building that had collapsed that night, its ruins infested with weird spiders not native to the area, most of them later killed by the cold or the quickly-called-in city pest control, and leaving no living or dead bodies of any tenants to be found. Nobody had the mind to notice another tiny little spider that had moved into one of the basements in the area.

Yet, only she knows.

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