“They had absolutely nothing to say to each other.”
That was as far as Jack Cromwell had gotten before the massive, brick wall that was writer’s block hit him and hit him hard.
Now he was sitting at his desk, looking at the computer screen with a furrowed brow, as if trying to will the completed story into existence; he was, of course, having no luck in that endeavor.
He got up and stretched, wincing at the snapping and popping sounds his cramped vertebrae made as he did, What crazy bastard likes that sound? he wondered, almost instantly wishing that he hadn’t as the memory of his ex-girlfriend, Amy, returned to the forefront of his mind with a vengeance.
Amy had relished the sound her bones had made as she popped them; it was one of her less obnoxious habits.
Jack shook his head and turned back to the screen, the unfinished story was still there, mocking him with its blankness. Jack sighed again and got up, he paced across his sparsely-furnished living room and into the darkened kitchen, he flicked the light switch and briefly basked in the fluorescent light, even though it stung his red-rimmed eyes.
He went to the nearest cabinet and brought out a bag of brown sugar, he opened it up and was just about to dig in when a spectacular gust of wind whistled through the old house, setting his teeth on edge, then the arctic October chill hit him and he shivered.
Damn this place, he thought darkly as he walked to the nearest window, which was open. Why did I ever let my agent talk me into coming to this shit-hole?
Said “Shit-Hole” was a small cottage located just outside of a town that was so small it hadn’t even registered on his GPS, the cottage was old and squat, a hutch of wood and weathered stone that far exceeded the usual standards of “rustic”. Hell, the only signs of any modern influences were a crooked antenna and a small generator that hugged the cottage’s left side.
The generator was big enough to provide light and phone reception, but anything else was stretching it, he had to get an extra one just to be able to run his laptop and the mini fridge that he had brought with him from his apartment.
His agent had told him, in her own roundabout way, that the place would be perfect in getting the old creative juices running. Adam had thought that she meant that the place had a storied and interesting history or had been visited by other authors.
He knew better now. The reason that his agent had chosen this spot for him was because the damn place was indisputably the creepiest place he had ever seen.
And the unease of the place wasn’t in the many dark nooks and crannies, nor was it due to the ever-present moan of the wind through the creaky rafters, though those things did contribute to the overall atmosphere.
It was the fact that it was situated smack dab in a massive clearing full of tall reeds and surrounded on every side by gnarled, ancient trees that, despite having no leaves, still seemed to harbor a sea of shadows.
It was, he thought despite himself, an ideal place to write a horror novel.
Jack huffed as he went to the window and closed it, latching it as he did. Had I left it open? he wondered, feeling a chill slither up his spine, Of course I did. He shook his head to clear away the imaginary ghosts, and looked out over the clearing.
The reeds were bending in the cool breeze as if bowing to each other, the full moon hung in the tar-black sky, its eerie light revealing their pale green coloration, the moonlight also made the shadows of the surrounding forest creep outwards, like an army advancing on his little cottage.
Jack winced at the thought, then smiled as an idea came to his mind, An army of shadows, eh? That’s a pretty good idea! he thought, feeling the embryo of a story start to form.
He had only made it three steps to his desk when the breeze hit his bare neck, he gave a muffled yelp and turned around to find the window open again. Jack stood rooted to the spot, a feeling of dread welling up inside him.
He took one faltering step towards the window, then another, one more step and he was at the casement, It couldn’t have been the wind, it’s not that strong and I know I locked the window latch.
Jack reached out and shut the window again, this time he latched it and pressed down to make sure it stuck, then he turned back and went to his desk where he stared at the screen, trying to get his fear out onto the printed word.
When nothing came to him he sighed and went back to the kitchen, when he came within sight of the counter he stopped and stared: the bag of brown sugar was split open and the sugar was spilled over the countertop.
Jack moved closer and lifted the bag up to see several long slashes in the plastic.
He looked down and saw several sets of small tracks in the sugar. So there’s an animal in the house. he thought, unable to repress a shudder at the thought of a raccoon or a rat in his cottage. He was not in any way an animal person, he hadn’t been ever since he was 10, when he had been attacked by a feral dog.
I have to go call animal control. He turned and let out a stunned, “What?”
The window was open again.
“What the hell?” he said as he walked closer. Feeling the hairs on the back of his neck rise.
Fear has a way of heightening the senses, it’s the reason why so many people get “bad feelings” before a disaster, why many survivors of animal attacks can recall feeling predatory eyes watching them from the darkness and how one can sense a presence with them where none can be seen.
Now fear had heightened Jack’s senses to their peak.
He could see the dust motes hanging in the air like snowflakes suspended mid-fall, he could smell the old wood and the cracked vinyl of the couch that sat near his desk, he could hear every little creak and groan that the old cottage made and he could taste the remnants of his breakfast which clung to his teeth
He stepped up to the window and noted with no small amount of irrational fear that the wind had stopped, he reached up and slowly closed the window again, wincing as his hyper-sensitive fingers scraped across the rough wood of the frame, he clicked the latch shut and then started to turn.
That’s when he saw the curtain move—saw it move even though the wind had died down.
He stopped and felt his chest tighten, he looked into the hazy darkness behind the silk curtain and saw something moving slowly upwards, something that was big and almost as black as the shadows in which it crawled… almost.
Jack watched in the kind of horrified awe that forces someone to watch a car accident or a train wreck as the thing crawled up beyond the curtain and came into the light.
It looked like a tarantula, but no—most arachnids had only eight legs, this one had far more, each leg was long, pencil-thin and possessed far too many joints, each leg was topped by what looked like a talon of some kind.
Jack couldn’t see the spider-thing’s eyes, but it had to have them, considering he felt like it was watching him.
With shocking speed the spider-thing sprang from its place on the wall to land in the shadows of the far left of the room, Jack gave a surprised yelp and leaped back, he whirled around and found that the spider-thing had vanished into the shadows.
Jack looked around for a light source, his eyes fell on a nearby lamp and he grabbed it with shaking hands, he turned it on, infinitely glad to hear the click! and see the yellow halo of light flare up around him.
Jack looked around the room, daring only to move a few paces in any direction, there were too many objects in the room; too many places for it to hide.
There was a scuttling noise to his far left, Jack turned just in time to see the vague shape of the thing scurry into his kitchen. I’ve gotta call someone, he thought as he stared into the kitchen, I’ve never seen a spider this fast. What if it’s poisonous? And what about those tracks in the kitchen?
Jack briefly turned his attention back to the kitchen, feeling the sweat cascading down his back, making him all the more susceptible to the chill air, the floor creaked underfoot and Jack halted and waited with bated breath to see if the noise would provoke a reaction from the unknown creature.
He didn’t have to wait long.
The spider-thing emerged from around the corner of the doorway, its spindly legs moving quickly and creating a scratching sound that set his teeth on edge. Then, to his horror, it was joined by a second one which was bigger than its partner.
Jack felt his chest tighten as he focused on those long legs and the loud clicking that marked their passage.
His eyes left them for a moment to rove around the barren room, desperately searching for a weapon of some kind.
But there was nothing within reach.
With fear constricting his throat, Jack turned his attention back to the two creatures.
With a sudden burst of speed one the creatures scuttled off to one side and leaped at him, Jack crossed his arms over his face to ward off the impending strike, forcing the thing to land on his forearm.
Its body was as cold as ice and as smooth as polished marble. Jack screamed in fright and pain as the arachnoid monstrosities’ talons sank into the soft flesh of his arm.
Jack shook his arm frantically, trying in vain to dislodge the creature, but every single jolting motion caused jolts of pain to shoot up his arm. The talons must be barbed like fish hooks, he thought with tears in his eyes, No matter how hard I shake, I won’t be able to get it off.
Then a second set of talons latched onto his leg, Jack fell forwards and put as much pressure on his leg as he could. The spider-thing let out a pig-like squeal as its repulsive body was crushed, Jack kept his leg on it until he felt its cold blood seep into his pant leg.
Then Jack lurched to the side and fell on his arm, hoping to condemn the creature to the same fate as its brother, but the spider-thing scurried up his arm and onto his shoulder. The instant its talons left their place the blood began to flow, Jack knew that the talons had ripped out a good chunk flesh.
Then the spider-thing crawled up to his face, latching onto his neck as it did, and raised its front legs at him, giving him a sickeningly intimate view of a mouth lined with flat, white teeth that gnashed together with an audible snap.
Jack howled in fear and shook his head frantically, but the creature refused to be dislodged, digging its talons into his nape until he felt them hit bone.
The pain overrode all of his senses. Jack leaped to his feet and, lowering his head, charged at the nearest wall like an enraged bull, the spider-thing wasn’t fast enough this time and Jack felt its chitinous body burst.
Jack slumped to the floor, dazed and wounded, feeling the spider-thing’s rancid-smelling liquids moisten his hair and trickle down his forehead.
He took deep breaths, desperately trying to slow his heartbeat, but the awful stench and overall horror of the ordeal kept him from calming down.
With tremendous effort Jack managed to regain his footing, moving with slow, jerky steps to the door. Fresh air… I need fresh air… this stuff stinks like rotten meat, he thought as he opened the door and lurched outside.
The cool wind felt good on his skin, the chill breeze carried the sweet scent of grass and earth, Jack felt his muscles slowly relax. His breathing, which had been harsh and fast, was slowing steadily.
I need to call someone, thought Jack, feeling his senses slowly return to him, Those things might have been poisonous, I’ve never seen spiders like those. Can’t take any chances.
Jack straightened, wincing as pain flared up in his back.
He turned and, doing his best to gather his wits, went back inside to call someone.
Outside the stars shone like diamonds in a dark veil, the clearing surrounding the cottage was silent and still... Every animal, from the smallest field mouse to the largest snake, stayed in their homes on this night, as they had learned to do over the centuries, learned through death and blood and the loss of their offspring.
The shadows were alive tonight. They were infested by a legion of crawling arachnid things that had crept up from the deep, dark places where they nested, hungry and cunning.
As Jack searched for his phone, the reeds began to shake and bend as dark shapes pushed them aside. The wind began to pick up again, its low moan disguising the soft sounds of the approaching swarm.