“Why did we have to move here?”
Buck Walsh had asked his mother this question, or some variant, at bedtime every night since the Walshes arrived at their new home a week ago.
“We’ve been over this, Buck. Living out here is better than in the city. It’s cleaner, safer, and quieter. Better.” Buck’s mother pulled his blanket up to his chin as she answered.
“I miss my friends. I miss the park and the playground.”
“You have a huge backyard all to yourself now. You can actually climb the trees here without getting a lecture from the overbearing park monitors.”
“It’s when you only need one bear, but you accidentally bring two.”
“Oh.” Buck furrowed his brow. “What?”
His mom smiled. “It means you can play on anything out here, and no one will tell you to get down, or yell at you to stop.”
Buck did love climbing the trees, but that didn’t make up for everything. The constant sound of traffic was missing, as was the soft amber glow of the street lights outside Buck’s old bedroom window. Here, there was nothing outside his window at night but blackness. When the sun went down, his room may as well have been at the bottom of the ocean, or tucked away in the deepest recess of space.
“Could you leave the hall light on, just till I’m asleep?”
Buck’s mother gave him a wry grin. “Maybe for a little while, you know how it keeps your dad awake. Plus, you have your own nightlight right here by the bed.” Buck watched her click the egg-shaped light on, then turn off his room light. The small bulb pushed back the shadows as best it could, but the light was tiny compared to the darkness.
“Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.” Buck didn’t think that last part was very funny. In the city, bugs were the right size to be squashed by a well placed shoe, or a rolled up newspaper. Out here, he had seen bugs big enough to wear shoes and read the newspaper.
His mom left only a sliver of an opening in the door when she left his room. The hall light stayed on, but Buck knew his dad would turn it off soon. The trick was to fall asleep before that happened. That was a tall order, like trying to hurry up and relax. The idea that he might still be awake when the light went out made his stomach hurt, which made it hard for him to fall asleep, which made his stomach hurt even more. He lay staring at the blade of light coming into his room from the hall, wishing for sleep to take him. When his father finally turned out the light, Buck was still wide awake.
He rolled onto his back, looking at his room in the weak glow of the nightlight. He thought about having a campout on the floor next to the light, but it would get cold later on, and he’d get in trouble if he pulled the sheets off the bed. From down the hall, he heard a gentle snoring. “At least someone can sleep,” he muttered. He glanced out the window, then back at the dim spot of light on the wall facing the bed.
Something in the corner of the ceiling moved.
The nightlight didn’t penetrate very far, but far enough for Buck to see a long, slender, shadow move out of the dark corner and into the light. There was more movement, and another shadow pushed out of the corner. Buck stared as they twisted and bent in a strange dance. Two more appeared, and this time the slender shapes were followed by a huge black mass, which drew itself slowly into the light. Buck stopped breathing as his brain sorted the collection of shapes into the only thing it could be.
A spider. An impossibly large spider.
The room was dark enough that he couldn’t make out any markings or colors, but he could make out size, and it was terrifying. No spider could be that large, even out here in the country. Its body was roughly the size of a beach ball, and each hairy leg was like a hockey stick. Buck began to tremble uncontrollably, and his breathing became shallow and quick.
The spider settled in the center of the light, filling the entire wall. Buck could make out its horrible eyes like a smattering of blisters on a bad burn. He knew it was looking right at him, waiting to pounce on him, or crawl down the wall and onto his bed. He tried not to imagine what it would feel like if his blankets were pinned to the mattress in eight places, but in his near panicked state, his imagination was running wild. His eyes flickered to the door. He tried to yell for his parents, but all that came out was a strangled squeak. His heart hammered loud enough to fill his ears, and a warm trail of tears ran down both cheeks.
The spider turned towards the opposite corner of the wall it had come from. It started rubbing its rear legs together slowly, then it crawled into the darkness of the ceiling corner. Buck waited for it to reappear, frantically scanning the roof for signs of it, but there was nothing. He looked back at the wall and saw that it had left something behind.
Spider web, as thick as shoelace, hung in an evil smile across the illuminated section of wall.
Buck squeezed the blankets in his hand, desperately trying to work up the courage to bolt for the door. It was so close, but he couldn’t risk it. A spider that big could cross the room in a fraction of the time it would take him to reach the door. He had visions of his parents finding him the next day, nothing but a pair of eyes staring out of a cocoon stuck to the wall. He imagined they’d just have time to say, ‘That’s odd,’ before the spider got them too.
The creature reappeared. Its legs moved rapidly, attaching a new section of web to the old one. Then it vanished into the shadows again. Back and forth it went, like a great big hairy pendulum, weaving its web. Buck watched every twitch and movement. He stayed tense the entire time, ready to duck under the covers if the spider jumped down onto the bed. It was a poor defense mechanism, but he had little else.
After what felt to Buck like forever, the spider returned to the middle of the wall, and hung there in its finished web, awaiting the minute tremors that would signal the arrival of a meal. Buck and the spider waited together, or rather, waited at the same time.
As the night wore on, Buck’s adrenaline faded. His hands became sore from clutching the comforter he had been using as a shield, and he needed to use the bathroom. He had decided earlier to wet the bed if it came to that, but now he wasn’t sure that was a good idea. He didn’t know if that would give him away just as sure as moving would. What was worse, of course, was the fact that as the minutes dragged on, he was getting tired. He could feel his eyelids drooping out of sheer exhaustion. He wouldn’t fall asleep, but rather pass out, probably never to wake up. Still the spider hung there, motionless, patient, and hungry.
Suddenly the web twitched, sending the spider in a mad rush off to one dark corner of the room. Buck was awestruck at the speed of its movement, and very relieved he hadn’t tried for the door earlier. Then a thought dawned on him.
The spider was occupied.
Trying hard not to think about what would happen if he was wrong, he allowed his flight instinct to take over every muscle, and he bolted for the door. The fresh surge of adrenaline made his hands shake, and he couldn’t grab the door handle. He jammed his arm into the thin space his mother had left and shoved through, bruising his shoulder in the process. The door opened and he raced down the hall. In his mind, eight hairy legs were closing on him, fast. He flung himself against the door to the master bedroom. It crashed open and he fell onto the throw rug beside his parent’s bed. The relief of seeing them gave him just enough respite to draw a deep breath and let loose the scream he had been holding nearly the entire night.
His mother shot upright like she was on strings and his father was instantly on his feet, bleary eyed and wearing only his underwear. They looked at their son crying on the floor and Buck’s mother went to him, worry written all over her face. She scooped him up in her arms, trying to calm his hysteria and discover the cause of it. Buck managed to get out the important parts of his story in between wracked sobs. His mother held him and looked to his father, who rolled his eyes.
“A spider. Buck we told you, you’re not in the city anymore. Nature here is unrestrained, and some of the local wildlife can get a lot bigger than you’re used to, son.”
Buck shook his head vigorously, and pointed to his room.
“There’s a can of Raid in the hall, honey, go deal with the spider. I’ll take Buck to the bathroom.” Buck’s mother was already ushering him out into the hallway when his father snapped on the hall light and took the can of Raid from the top of their stairwell where it rested. He rubbed his face and yawned as he staggered down the hall to Buck’s room. Buck watched from the bathroom, expecting his father to cry out, or the spider to jump out and grab him. Instead, the light in his room went on, and his dad sauntered in, twirling the can of raid in the air.
“Where was it, Buck?”
Buck finished up in the bathroom and washed his hands. His mother led him down the hall to his room with her arm around him. He began pulling back as they neared the doorway, but her arm was firm. He rounded the doorframe and quickly took stock of the wall where the giant spider had been.
There was no sign of it. His father stood, looking around the edges of the ceiling and then the floor, still twirling the can of Raid. “I don’t see it. Maybe it ran off back to where it came from.” He checked behind a few of Buck’s toys and under the bed, but the spider was gone. “How big was it anyway?”
Buck’s head swiveled to every nook and cranny of the room, but there was no trace of the creature. Even the web was gone. “It was big enough to cover that whole wall.”
The Raid can stopped twirling, and Buck’s father looked at him with exasperation. Then he looked at Buck’s mother, who sighed and shook her head. “Buck you were having a bad dream. Nothing like that could be real.”
“But I saw it, mom! It was waiting to eat me and I stayed still in bed until it caught something in its web and I could get away!” Buck hadn’t meant for his voice to take on a whiny tone, but it had nonetheless.
“Honey, spiders don’t get that big. Anywhere. Even here in the country. You had a bad dream, and now you need to get back to bed.” She reached for the light switch and flicked it off.
The monstrous black spider reappeared instantly on the wall behind Buck’s father. Buck screamed, and this time he wasn’t alone. His mother almost drew blood where her hand was still on his arm. Buck’s father whirled to face the wall behind him and stumbled back, dropping the can of Raid and saying some of those words Buck knew he wasn’t supposed to use.
The spider stared, motionless, at the three of them.
Buck wanted to scream for his dad to get out of the way, but instead his father actually got closer to the spider and put his hand out to touch it. Buck began to feel dizzy and unsteady on his feet. He expected the monster to rip his dad’s arm off and crunch it up like a handful of pretzels. Instead, the hand passed clean through the spider and flattened against the wall.
“I’ll be damned. Hit the light again.”
Buck’s mother turned the light back on with shaking fingers and the spider disappeared. “How . . .” she began, but Buck’s father silenced her with a thrust of his finger towards the wall behind her.
“There’s your giant spider.” Buck and his mother whirled around, expecting another scare, but there was nothing behind them.
Nothing but the nightlight.
Buck’s father unplugged it, took the plastic case off the bulb, and held it out for both of them to see. Nestled inside was the tiniest spider Buck had ever seen hanging in a web no bigger than his thumb.
“An amazing, though admittedly disturbing, trick with the nightlight cover. See how it’s ridged? Not around the cover, but across it, making it the world’s smallest projector. All it needed was a surface at the perfect distance for focus. If Buck’s wall had been even a few inches closer or farther away the effect wouldn’t have worked, too blurry.” He snapped the cover back on and turned out the light again, making the giant spider reappear. “Incredible.”
“Not for Buck it wasn’t.” Buck’s mom put her hands on his shoulders, “Honey, I’m so sorry, you must have been terrified. Do you want to sleep in our room tonight?” Buck’s dad made a choking sound.
He thought for a moment, then shook his head. It had been the scariest experience of his life, but now he felt a little silly about the whole thing. Of course spiders didn’t get that big, he should have thought more and been scared less. “No, it’s just a shadow. I’ll be fine.”
His father took the nightlight cover into the bathroom and cleaned out the tiny arachnid and the web. Then he dried and replaced the cover while Buck’s mom tucked him back into bed. The nightlight went back on with the room lights off. No spider.
“You sure you’ll be ok?” Buck’s mother fluffed up the pillow under his head.
“Yea, I’m fine.”
She smoothed his hair back and kissed his forehead. “Night Buck.”
His parents left for their own room, this time leaving his door wide open, but still turning off the light in the hall. He lay back against his pillow, staring again at the soft circle of light on the wall in front of him. His eyes began to droop, when something moved in the light. Thick legs and a dark body came into view exactly as they had before.
Buck didn’t even bat an eyelid. He grabbed the can of Raid off his bedside table where his father had left it. The spider on the wall descended slowly into the light on a cable of webbing.
“Find somewhere else to make your stupid webs.” Buck held the aerosol can in front of him and removed the nightlight cover.
But there was nothing inside.