Randy Walker is a fiction and creative non-fiction writer based out of New Orleans where he enjoys giving ghost tours in the French Quarter as well as basking in the inspirational insanity that is his city. He has been published in various magazines, such as Stuff and Maxim, as well as the online literary publication Neutrons Protons.
WHAT HAPPENED ON THE FIELD
Bryan was the first to climb into the old family minivan, practically savage in his entrance. As soon as he heard the beep from his father’s electronic keylock, he ripped that bulky sliding door open and hightailed it to the middle seat of the far back row. He knew his parents would assume this was due to embarrassment. Bryan and his folks had reached a certain “agreement”, as they called it, six months ago after Bryan had dropped out of grad school and needed to live back at home for an indeterminate amount of time. His folks had no problem allowing their first born to return to the house he grew up in, but there were some conditions. Part of the “agreement” included that once a week they would all go out together and do something as a family. Bryan was more or less fine with this, even though, admittedly, he did feel a bit silly jumping in that dingy minivan of theirs on some random evening and sitting in the back with his kid brother, who was ten years his junior, while his parents prattled on happily up front. It almost felt like hopping into a time machine, taking him back to a more innocent, less independent time in his life. And yes, at times it could be rather embarrassing, especially when they would go out to a Friday night game together and see many of the other Wilburton town residents, most of whom knew Bryan and would inevitably ask him questions about his life, and he’d have to explain that he was an unemployed grad school dropout who lived at home and had nothing better to do on a Friday night than attend a high school football game with his family.
But no, shame was not the reason he rushed to the way back of the van as he did now. Bryan did this because right now he wanted to feel safe, needed to feel safe. Even though he knew what he saw was not possible, he needed some semblance of assurance, security.
The rest of his family followed him into the minivan with none of the same urgency. The words listless and lethargic came to Bryan’s annoyed mind. Jonathan, his little brother, was the second to enter, and did so with all the speed of a slug, floundering his way to the pilot chair in the middle row, his chin miserably tucked into his neck, before plopping down in the seat as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Bryan almost laughed at this.
He thinks he’s having a hard time, he has no idea.
His parents were the last in the vehicle, his father taking his sweet time to settle into the driver’s seat. If the mood in the van had been lighter, his dad would have undoubtedly made the same bad jokes he made every time they left a game. “There’s no reason to rush, we won’t get out of here til tomorrow anyway, thanks to all this traffic.” or “Boy, this parking lot has turned into a real parking lot!”. But the mood in the minivan was not light, it was foul. Wilburton High had lost the big game, and everyone except Bryan was dealing with that fact.
All around them, the lot sounded off with sporadic cheers from passersby and random cars honking their horns in celebration. Lexington fans, Bryan knew all too well, celebrating their rare win. Up front, his father and mother, normally talkative, fidgety people, sat in their seats in complete silence as if they were in church attending a family wake, grieving over their loss. Bryan felt the urge to shake them, to tell them what he saw.
But of course, he couldn’t do that.
Bryan turned around and looked out the dirt-speckled back window behind him. He could see some of the remaining players and spectators leaving the field and bleachers, some pumping their fists, others with their chins down to their necks much like his distressed younger brother. But Bryan paid them no mind. Instead he looked past them to the bright Friday night lights glowing above in the distant black sky. Next to them, he could see the ominous outline of the forest, that first wave of soaring redwood trees illuminated as they hovered around the far edge of the field.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Bryan turned to his brother, just ahead of him in the pilot chair, who was poking at his window with the end of a frustrated finger.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Each poke came with more force than the last, as if his brother was pouring a little more of his anger into the tip of his finger with each assault, until finally the sole finger returned to his palm and his hand became a fist. The fist began to pound on the glass, causing it to rattle in its frame.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
An image popped up in Bryan’s head. His brother’s righteous fist going right through the window, shattering it, destroying Bryan’s security.
BANG. BANG. BANG.
“Stop that!” he hissed at Jonathan.
His brother turned around and gave Bryan a reproachful look with those pitiful sad eyes of his and for a moment Bryan felt a wave of guilt that had nothing to do with what had just happened or what he had seen, but for a slew of other reasons that vaguely added up to him being a lousy, absent big brother for many, many years. But the moment ended as his brother turned away and returned to the window, resting his forehead on the glass.
Bryan realized the radio was on now. Not loud at all, barely above a whisper. Bryan had to strain his ears just to confirm he was hearing the droll, monotone voice that belonged to the radio host of the local public broadcasting station, who was reading off the latest area news. Bryan suspected his dad had intentionally set the volume at this low level. Turn the radio on not to actually listen to it, but just to kill that damn suffocating silence inside the van. But even if his father didn’t care to hear the news, Bryan did. He put his ear close to the back speaker, searching for certain keywords. He listened for only a moment before he pulled back, forcing himself to stop. It was too ridiculous. What he saw was impossible. The news doesn’t report the impossible, because the impossible can’t happen.
“On that last possession of ours,” his father said, speaking up for the first time since the game had ended, “if the tight end had just caught that pass on third down it would have been enough for a first, no doubt in my mind. That would’ve been game over.”
“It’s such a shame,” his mother concurred, trying to bring out her patented ‘life-can-be tough-but-it’s-ok’ voice, but not doing a particularly convincing job of it, “the boys played their hearts out. Oh well, there’s always next week.”
From his position in the way back of the van, Bryan could see the back of his father’s head shake this sentiment away.
“That was a big game, honey. A big game.”
Outside, the honking and cheering grew louder, and one particular screech of joy from a presumably inebriated Lexington fan seemed to cause his little brother to shake with fury.
“Fuck those assholes,” Jonathan spat out.
“Jonathan Paul Foster! You do not use that kind of language!” his mother chastised.
“Why not?” his brother shot back, “that’s what they were chanting at us during the whole game.”
“When you find a pig rolling in the mud you don’t go joining him.”
“It’s okay, honey,” Bryan’s father patted his wife’s shoulder, “he’s just upset.” He turned his head to his youngest son’s general direction. “Don’t let it get to you Johnny boy, they’re just savoring the moment. It’s a big moment for them. Lexington hasn’t beat us in… oh, I guess twelve years now. Until tonight, of course.”
“Well they don’t have to be so classless about it. Isn’t that what you tell me dad, play with class?”
Their father chuckled in a way that felt forced to Bryan before explaining that not everyone acts the way they should all the time.
“But they never acted with class, at all. That whole game was… petty bullshit.”
While the rest of the family continued to debate the use of proper words and what it meant to play with class, Bryan tuned them out and stared blankly ahead, looking at nothing in particular. He felt almost comatose. He thought about that last play of the game. The action was on the far side of the field, at the goalline, everything on the line for both teams. Why had he looked away? What made him do that?
“Bryan? Did you hear your brother, he asked you a question?” His mother called out from the front.
“Sorry Jonathan, what’s up?” he said, robotically.
“I just wanted to know how many points we beat those jerks by back when you were a senior here?”
“Like thirty, I think,” Bryan said after a moment.
“Thirty two,” his father corrected him.
Jonathan nodded his head aggressively, clearly pleased by this.
“When I go to school here, I’m gonna get big and jacked and join the football team and make sure to beat them by at least fifty points every year, just beat the ever loving piss out of them!”
His father chuckled again, and again it felt forced to Bryan. “That’s the spirit, son. Although, you’d be the first Foster to play high school football. Baseball has always been more of our game, isn’t that right, Bryan?”
The van inched up the lot another foot or so. Bryan looked out the side window now, separated by an empty seat. Through the glass, he could see the dark outlines of the buildings, stores, and houses off in the distance that made up the upscale town of his childhood. He imagined disturbing shadowy figures of ungodly sizes lurking about out there. He then looked down at himself, finding his left hand rubbing his right arm, almost hugging it, something he used to do as a child whenever he became afraid.
It’s just not possible.
“Bryan? Did you hear your father? He asked you a question...”
Once the rickety minivan had finally made it out of that damned parking lot, through town, and back to their brick driveway on Hickory Street, Bryan hurried into the house, ate a quick snack in the kitchen, and said goodnight to his parents before disappearing upstairs to his bedroom. For a moment, he recalled the black case on the top shelf in the hallway closet downstairs and considered going back down to retrieve it, just in case. But he dismissed this notion, telling himself the only thing he needed to do right now was get some sleep.
Once inside his room, Bryan found he had left the lights on. After closing the door behind him, he went over to the wall where the lightswitch was, but he paused just as his finger reached the switch, before pulling back his hand entirely.
Jesus Christ, he realized, I’m afraid of the fucking dark.
He looked around his room and felt a slight kick of shame. Stacks of stuffed cardboard boxes and naked beige walls stared back at him. He had been home for six months now, but something inside him refused to unpack. As if unpacking would somehow affect the length of his tenure here. Such stupid logic. Almost as stupid as a grown man thinking he’s safer in the light than in the dark, Bryan considered. He forced his hand back to the lightswitch, this time the lights went off. Long shadows grew everywhere around him now, the moonlight from the window turning his room into a cliched horror movie setting. He looked over at the large window on the far wall, he could see the oak tree standing proudly in the front lawn, naked of leaves thanks to the recent seasonal change. Illuminated in the moonlight, the tree’s dark, bare branches twisted outward, looking like arms to Bryan, thick dark arms with nasty sharp claws at the end that were reaching out for his window. Bryan quickly went over and closed the heavy curtains.
He laid in bed to settle himself now. But even here he was not safe from his nerves, as his eyes went up to the ceiling and he let out the quickest of gasps. A creature with numerous sprawled out legs seemed to be hanging from the ceiling, ready to pounce on him. When he realized it was just the dark outline of the still ceiling fan he felt his face turn hot with humiliation.
Oh fuck it, he decided, avoiding thinking about it is more torturous than just dealing with it head on. Alright then, fine, he would think about it. He would think back to that last play of the game over in his mind if only to assure himself that it was just a spasm of displaced imagination.
No, something else inside him said. Don’t go straight back to the incident. It’s too much for you right now. Work your way up to it. Besides, if you truly want to figure this out, you’ll need more. Go back to the beginning of the evening, when you and your family had just arrived at the game, taking your seats for the first time that night. Work your way up to it.
He took a breath, closed his eyes, and put his mind to work.
He was back at the game now. The sound of the marching band, those big booming drums, the cheering crowd, all of it emanated around him. He could see his family sitting next to him in that absurdly long row of metallic bleachers. Wilburton High had an unusual football field in more ways than one. First off were those bleachers. For whatever reason- Bryan had heard it was due to an oversight by the school’s builders who assumed they could simply remove a small portion of the forest to create the necessary space, only to find out too late that they couldn’t- the field did not have enough room for a set of bleachers on both sides as most do, so instead they simply built one long set on just a single side. Which meant that both groups of fans, away and home, were forced to sit together during the games, side by side. This could lead to some awkward, intense interactions.
Of course, if he was being honest, that’s what Bryan loved most about the games. His father had mentioned on the ride back home that the Fosters were more of a baseball family. Technically, that was true, as Bryan had followed his father’s footsteps by playing shortstop in his freshman and sophomore year, but he never much cared for it, or any sport for that matter. What he really enjoyed, again, if he was being honest, was being a spectator. It didn’t matter which sport, as he found watching the action on the playing field was not nearly as entertaining as observing the fans on the sidelines. He had learned long ago that fans of school sporting events tended to be rather unhinged creatures. It really was just incredible. The fact that a game played by children could stir such nastiness in adults simply fascinated Bryan. Something as silly as a tee-ball game could break out into screaming matches between grown ups. Screaming at the refs, screaming at the other parents, and the most bewildering, screaming at the actual kids themselves. Kids. His favorite part was how just one single act of aggression could set off a chain reaction. One parent screams about something, another parent takes exception, then another takes exception with the first one who took exception and before you know it everyone’s hammering at each other. Bryan knew it was a perverse hobby, but to be able to sit silently and watch a pocket of society descend into anarchy in glorious little spurts, he found it downright addictive.
As he laid in bed, considering this, it struck him that he didn’t know exactly why he enjoyed this so much. He had been aware of this fascination for years, and yet up until now he never bothered to try to figure out what attracted him to this side of humanity. He simply accepted it as a hobby, a dark hobby, and nothing more. He felt like the fact that he never bothered to question this before said something about him, something that maybe wasn’t good.
Stop distracting yourself, he told himself, get back to the matter at hand.
Of all the intense crowd interaction, it never got better than during Wilburton High School football games at home, up in that long set of bleachers, where the drama had zero separation. Two nasty waves of petty parents just crashing into each other for two straight hours. Oh it was just delightful. And of course, the drama was always highest during the biggest game of the year, Wilburton versus their arch rivals, the blue collar town on the other side of the forest, Lexington. Bryan hadn’t missed one of those games since he was Jonathan’s age. And every one of them had been deliciously ugly in their own special way.
But Bryan had to admit, the game tonight took the cake, and it wasn’t even close. Just the way that the Lexington fans, the majority of them anyway, had rushed into the bleachers together at the start, right before kick off, piling into enemy territory with a giant chip on their collective shoulder, looking for blood. Bryan couldn’t be sure if they planned it this way beforehand or if it just organically grew from their intense determination to let Wilburton know who would be victorious on this night, but it certainly set the tone for the evening. And as they invaded the bleachers they began to shout that new catchphrase of theirs in unison... his brother Jonathan had been right, those Lexington chants had been nasty, vulgar stuff. But of course, more than a few on the Wilburton side reacted in kind. And they had been just as vicious, just as vulgar.
Oh yes, even before the first quarter had finished, Bryan knew this would be a game for the ages. Grown dads threatening each other, mothers flipping off the old and the young alike. The word for it was chaos, and Bryan was loving every minute of it.
And then came the second half, when things really started to heat up. The lead had changed hands three times by now, both offenses fiercely attacking the field, barreling toward the endzone on almost every drive. At the start of the second half, Wilburton was currently enjoying a small lead, and the fans were really letting each other have it. Bryan saw three shoving matches take place around him in a five minute span, as well as a small group of children, no more than ten years old at most, surround a family of opponent spectators and spew a series of profanities at them. But the incident most etched upon his mind was between two women, both middle aged, both with sour faces, who started arguing in the middle of the third quarter and ended up spitting on each other. Actually hocking loogies on each other’s person. Eventually they were separated by respective family members, but what stuck with Bryan was the level of venom between the two women. Completely out for blood, taking no prisoners, merciless.
But something else started happening in that second half as well. Bryan began to feel the oddest sensation. It was that particular sensation that no one enjoys, where you feel as if you’re being watched. But what made this infinitely worse was that Bryan felt he was being watched from above. It was true that the Wilburton High football field was unusual in more ways than one. For just behind that long stretch of bleachers stood The Red, which was what the people of Wilburton called the redwood forest that bordered their town. Bryan’s old high school was built at the edge of town, thus, right up against The Red. The school had always been very proud of this, as it much improved the aesthetics of campus.
Nothing better than looking good in a brochure!
Bryan himself had a fondness for the forest as well, ever since he was a child. Long before he even attended Wilburton High, his father would take him to the Friday night games, and sometimes when there was a lull in the action, he would make his son turn and look up at the natural wonders that loomed just behind them. Bryan could recall one distinct memory of such a time, when his father informed him that some of those trees up there were over three hundred and fifty feet tall, which meant if you took that long football field out in front of them and stood it upright it still wouldn’t be as tall as the tallest trees of the Red. To little Bryan, that seemed like an impossible height for just a silly tree, but he always believed his father. After all, the trees seemed to dwarf every tall building in town; the American bank, the St. Peter Church, City Hall, even the monstrous six story school gymnasium that stood just on the other side of the football field. Only the radio tower on the other side of town rose as high as those trees. It was this impossible height that caused Bryan to have great respect for The Red.
But sitting there in the bleachers during that second half he swore that unsettling sensation he was experiencing was coming from above, from something up in those insanely tall trees, something that was looking down on him, down on the whole crowd. For the rest of the game, Bryan tried to ignore that sinister feeling and focus on the game, on the chaos. Occasionally, he would slip up and twist his body so he could stare up at those looming trees. He never saw anything, but god, that feeling never went away.
Then came that last play of the game, with just two seconds left on the clock, Lexington down thirteen to sixteen, but with the ball at the WIlburton’s one yard line. It had been assumed by all that the visiting team would simply kick a field goal for three points and the game would go into overtime. But no. To the shock of everyone there, Lexington was going for it. All or nothing in a single play. For the first time in the entire game, the contentious crowd had been moved to silence. How could this be? What a risk. What a gamble. Everyone was on the edge of their seats. All eyes were on the ball, on the players, on that goalline formation on the one yard line.
And then, for some reason, at the biggest moment in the game, Bryan felt compelled to look over to his right, down the field. He still couldn’t say why he did this. Perhaps in his peripherals he caught the image of it, but for whatever reason, his view skewed from the rest and he looked over to the middle of the field.
The last element that made the Wilburton High football field special was the field itself. The field was not made of actual grass, like most of the fields in the county, but rather a state-of-the-art artificial grass that required practically zero maintenance no matter how many games were played on it. It looked almost exactly like real grass though, except for the color. There was an unmistakable blueish tint mixed in with the green turf. Bryan always suspected, but never could confirm, this blue tint was the result of a direct request from those in charge at Wilburton High. Just a little reminder to all those outsiders who came on any given Friday to play, and watch, that the Wilburton Hawks were a bit more special than most.
And if the blue tweak of the turf wasn’t enough to drive that point home, there was also the unique element of midfield. Most high schools only had a single, pitiful painted letter, if that, to represent their team at midfield, but not Bryan’s old high school, oh no. In the middle of the Wilburton High field their proud mascot was on display in brightly painted colors. The school mascot happened to be a hawk -who had a very ordinary name, but for the life of him Bryan couldn’t recall what it was at the moment, George? John? Thomas?- but he was a fierce looking hawk nevertheless, and he had been painted right on the fake turf of midfield in all his glory, with him flexing one of his big hawk arm muscles while gritting his sharp bird teeth and staring cold daggers at whoever might be foolish enough to gaze upon him. Bryan had always found the hawk mascot to be rather hysterical, a bird with huge forearm muscles and a straight row of razor teeth? All they needed to do was give him a set of lips and George the Hawk or whatever his name was would be Bryan’s favorite absurdity of all time.
But as he looked over at midfield now, he realized he couldn’t see the silly school mascot. Or at least he couldn’t see most of it. Only about the bottom third was visible, where its brown feathered arm was just beginning to flex. The rest of the body and face were covered. At first, Bryan thought he was looking at some sort of black oval tarp that had somehow made it onto the field, covering the mascot. But then he realized what he was looking at wasn’t flat, it was clearly three dimensional, big and bulbous. And then he noticed the black poles sticking out from the ground, circling midfield, around this big, bulbous thing. Each pole seemed to have countless little sticks growing out of it. And each pole was arching up and toward the thing. Bryan then realized the poles were attached to the thing, whatever it was.
Bryan’s mind flustered as it tried to make sense of what he was in front of him. And then, in one slick instant, as if he was staring at one of those stupid 3D paintings with the hidden images, it all came together, and Bryan realized what he was looking at. The poles were not poles, they were legs, Dark hairy legs. And the “thing” itself was a body. What Bryan was staring at, he realized to his absolute horror and disbelief, was a spider. A giant black spider. Standing right over midfield, covering the school’s mascot and much more than that. Its great eight legs extending out over the white horizontal lines. Thinking about it now, he knew how ridiculous this sounded. But ridiculous as it might have been, that’s exactly what he saw. Whether it was actually there or not was a different matter, but it was what he saw. He could not deny that, at least.
Laying in bed, he realized he needed to recall every detail of the spider he could, no matter how small, in hopes that he could perhaps prove if it was a delusion or not.
How big was it? Bryan tried to recall. It seemed impossible to make any sort of guess, and then a voice from inside him spoke out. A football field is essentially the perfect measuring unit for giant spiders, stupid. Every ten yards are marked and numbered.
OK, fair enough, but he hadn’t exactly been in the right state of mind to be aware of that at the time.
Fine, but try to think on it. Recall it in your mind, dummy.
He tightened his closed eyes and with all his mental might focused on that very brief moment in the game. He remembered the legs extending across the middle of the field, landing somewhere near both forty five yard lines. That would make it somewhere around ten yards in length. A yard is three feet, Bryan knew, so that meant this thing was thirty feet across, give or take. He focused on the legs themselves now. They seemed to be the size of streetlight poles, or, better yet, more like the size of those twisted branches that grew so menacingly out from that oak tree in his parents’ front lawn. As far as height, he couldn’t begin to estimate, as his elevated position in the bleachers made it practically impossible, but gun to his head he might have guessed it was ten or twelve feet high.
He thought about the body now, and how much of the field that black bulbous body took up, and he felt confident in saying it seemed to be about the size of a car, or maybe more like the old family minivan. For some reason that connection sent a dagger of fear into his chest, perhaps because the familiar connection made it that much more real.
What about the color? It was pure black, as black as night. But wait! The yellow! Jesus he had almost forgotten. How could you almost forgot something like that! The creature was pure black, except for one part. Running straight down its back was one single jagged streak of bright yellow, almost like a bolt of lightning. That had to be significant, right?
Try as he might, he couldn’t picture a face, a big round hump stood in his mind instead. From what little he knew about spider anatomy, he felt that this was a point in the non-delusional column, for if the spider had its back facing him, its abdomen would be in full sight. Also, if the spider had its back facing him then what happened next made perfect sense.
Bryan could see it all now, in his mind, every detail he knew, perfect as it would ever be. And there it was, still standing there on the field in his mind, this preposterous grotesque, contrasting absolutely with the beautiful blueish-green turf it stood upon.
What happened next? Don’t leave out a single step.
It was there, this creature, in the middle of the field, and Bryan remembered having this urge to scream, to reach out and grab his brother and point out this impossible monstrosity in front of them. But he was frozen, filled with fear and disbelief, unable to move.
And then, just like that, after what must have been only a couple of seconds but felt like an eternity, the spider just up and left. Fled in a flurry, its expansive legs suddenly lifting up and reaching out for the ground away from the bleachers, moving in rapid and furious bursts, almost mechanical in nature. Bryan watched in muted horror as the creature scurried over to the opposite sideline of the field, in front of where the school’s prized, six-story, pristine white gymnasium stood. Bryan could remember one random day in high school, years ago, when he and his fellow classmates were changing in the locker room before P.E. He remembered Mr. Saxton, their oafish P.E. coach, barging in and screaming up a storm, as he was known to do, and on this particular day he bragged that the gymnasium was more than two hundred feet tall. No, it was worse than that, Bryan remembered. Mr. Saxton had always hated Bryan as he considered him to be a lazy no-account, and on that day he wasn’t bragging about the height of the gym, he was bragging that he could drag Bryan up to the roof of the gym and drop him the whole two hundred plus feet down, turning him into a splat on the ground below, and nobody would care. Bryan almost chuckled at this memory, until he recalled why he thought of it in the first place, seeing that spider, without so much as a pause, scale up all two hundred feet of that tremendous white wall, moving up and up at a sickeningly swift pace, until finally disappearing over the roof.
How could that be?
What happened next Bryan couldn’t say for sure. It was as if his brain had broke and everything around him seemed broken too. Not real. Fake. Almost like everyone around him was a machine, a robot. As if his mind couldn’t compute the reality in front of him. That was the best way he could describe it. He did remember hearing the quarterback scream “hut!” and turning his head just in time to see the qb hand off the ball to the bruising half back, who ran straight up the gut, bowling over every opponent who was in his path, smashing his way to the endzone victoriously. One of the black and white referees soon lifted his two hands up to the sky, letting the crowd know what was already obvious. That was a touchdown. It was over. Lexington won.
Final score, twenty to sixteen. Half the crowd loses their mind in jubilation, the other half sits there in shock of the loss.
That was it. That’s all there was to it. Just a couple of seconds of sheer insanity, impossibility, and then everything went back to normal.
Of course, the million dollar question now was if this actually happened at all, or did he just imagine it. Both possibilities terrified him. If he was making this up, then that meant he was going crazy, which meant a life of padded rooms and jello dinners. That certainly did not appeal to him. But the other option seemed far worse. What if he wasn’t going crazy? What if, somehow, there had been some monster spider living in the forest for some time, and just happened to jump out onto the field in the middle of a football game? That would mean that not only did the world he live in have giant fucking spiders in it, but that now one of them was currently scurrying around in his hometown, doing whatever it was that giant spiders do.
No, he thought again for the one millionth time, it’s just not possible. First off, excluding the fact that it seemed like a stretch to believe that a giant species of spider could be around for this long without anyone knowing, there was also the fact that if one had been crawling around in the town right now, surely it would be noticed. A giant spider going undetected in the woods was one thing, but in a small town like Wilburton, where its snooty people were terrified of their own shadow? No way. Surely, he would be hearing hundreds of police sirens and god knows what else going off outside his window at this very moment if that were true.
And also, he continued to convince himself, what about the obvious fact he had yet to mention. That nobody else at the game, out of the hundreds of people there, seemed to notice the creature except for him? If you wanna talk about impossible, there you go. Sure, the crowd as a whole was fixated on the far side of the field, but to believe that no one except Bryan had managed to notice THE GODDAMN MONSTER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELD seemed insane.
No, it couldn’t have happened.
Although, he reconsidered, how could he really know who saw what? If other people had seen this thing, how would he know? Look at the way he reacted. He just went numb, became frozen, paralyzed. It was only after his dad’s urging that he found the strength to even leave his seat after the game and head for the parking lot. Would anyone passing by him or sitting next to him know what he thought he saw based on his reaction? Even his parents, who knew him better than anyone, thought nothing of his near comatose state at the end of the game, probably assuming it was part of the shock of the heartbreaking loss.
No, there was no way for him to know if someone else there saw what he saw.
What the hell are you talking about?! He asked himself. You did not see a god damn giant spider on the field. It was all in your mind. Tomorrow, you’ll go to mom and gently suggest the idea of seeing a psychiatrist.
Oh that will go over well, he shot back at himself.
Well, no, it might not, but it has to be done.
True, he relented. It was true. What he saw was not possible, and he would have to accept that. He would have to tell his mother. After all, when a person starts imagining giant spiders walking around in public they have a duty to themselves, and society, to get the mental help they need.
Ok then, he had a game plan now. Get some rest tonight and then in the morning go seek professional help. Good. Now he could forget this for the night and go to bed. He turned over, and as his cheek hit the cool side of the pillow, his hands pulled up on the covers so that they draped over his head, providing security he knew he did not need.
As he drifted off to sleep, Bryan thought he heard the distant sound of police sirens coming from outside his window.
The next morning Bryan woke up to his mom calling him for breakfast. He groaned a little bit. That was another part of the “agreement”, breakfast with the whole family every weekend at nine am. He didn’t see why he couldn’t sleep in on a Saturday morning, but whenever he brought that up, his mom would remind him he still did not have a job and therefore could, and did, sleep in on the weekdays. Bryan never had an argument for this.
He thought about all of this when he first awoke, until the memory of last night came firing back. The game. The creature he imagined he saw. The realization that he was crazy now.
Trying to cheer himself up a bit, he sluggishly lifted himself out of bed and went over to the window, hidden behind the thick curtains. He yanked them open with a hint of hope. While he slept, he dreamed that he was in this field of grass, a field of beautiful thick grass that sloped down towards a lake. A glistening gorgeous lake. He was just a little kid in his dream, and he was running down the grassy slope toward the lake, smiling and laughing the whole time. And above him, up in the sky, the big friendly sun warmed him, warmed his body and his soul and made everything bright and happy around him.
A corny dream, to be sure, but a welcomed one.
But now, holding the curtains open, he found only an overcast sky greeting him outside his window, a sea of dark, ominous clouds hanging above him. He knew it was stupid, childish even, but he was hoping the sun would have been out that day, to assure him that things would be okay.
Bryan threw on a wrinkled shirt and some gym shorts and shuffled his way to the small breakfast table in the family room. His brother was already there, sitting at the table while playing a game on his phone. Bryan noticed his brother’s eyes go to him for a moment, and he looked like he was about to say something, but instead his eyes simply returned back to the screen of the game.
“Hey Mom?” Bryan called out to the kitchen, where his mother was working her magic with a spatula over the stove.
“There’s something I wanted to ask you.”
“What is it dear?”
I saw a giant imaginary spider last night and now I’m curious about seeing a psychiatrist.
For some reason, the words just wouldn’t come out of his mouth. He looked over at his little brother. He realized this was neither the time nor the place to say such a thing. Jesus, what was wrong with him? He really did need professional help.
“Uh, nothing, actually. I forgot. Sorry, I’m still waking up.”
His mother chuckled at this before turning her attention to her youngest son.
“By the way, Jonathan, sweetie, it looks like you’ll be having a few days off from school this week.”
Jonathan let out a loud cheer without taking his eyes off his phone or asking any follow up questions. Bryan sat there at the table stewing for a moment before asking the question himself.
“Why what, honey?”
“Why will Jonathan have a few days off from school this week?”
“Oh, well, it’s actually pretty silly,” his mother replied as she took the pan off the stove and began sliding the eggs onto a big yellow ceramic plate, “I guess old Todd Ford, you remember him? The man who runs the auto shop over on Maple Street? Your father sent his car to his shop that one time when the engine was making that funny humming sound-”
“Yes, ok, what about him?”
“Well, I guess last night after the game, he was driving back home and lost control of his vehicle and crashed right into Fisher. Right into the main administration office.”
“Jesus, is he okay?”
“No, he’s dead. His body was completely torched when they found him. Apparently the gas tank had busted during the crash and the fuel sprayed out to the engine, which was on fire, and then well…” his mom began to giggle.
Bryan looked at her like she had grown three heads and a pointy tail.
“My god, Mom, that isn’t funny.”
He turned to his brother for support, but he was still tuning the world out, playing his game.
“No, of course it isn’t funny,” she admitted, “It’s just that, well, I mean come on, are you surprised? Those people are always making poor decisions... “
“Lexington people, he worked here but he lived in Lexington all his life. I don’t have to tell you what kind of things those people get into.”
“Do they know what happened?” Bryan asked, deciding to move on from his mom’s out-of-character heartlessness. “Did the brakes fail, something like that?”
“No one knows anything yet. But Mrs. Meyers, the neighbor down the street, she’s the one who called first to tell me what happened, such a nice lady, she said he had a history of drinking. So we think maybe he got good and liquored up at the game and then on the drive home, well, boom!” Bryan could hear snickering coming from his mother’s covered mouth. She turned away, trying to hide her amusement.
“Morning, family!” Bryan’s dad exclaimed, trotting down the stairs in his favorite silky red robe. Bryan muttered some vague greeting, his brother did less than that. Jonathan was still absorbed in his game, Bryan was lost in thought. Why would Todd Ford drive his car into a building? Sure, it could have been alcohol-related like his mom suspected. But what if it was caused by something else? What if Todd had seen something during the game, something horrifying, something impossible, something that he couldn’t stop thinking about, something so bad that it distracted him as he drove home and he ended up crashing into a school? Or, his frantic mind continued to speculate, what if he saw this thing, whatever it was, while he was driving, maybe scurrying down the road or up a building wall, and became so bewildered and lost in the horror of it all that he just drove right into the school? That was possible, wasn’t it?
Maybe I’m not crazy.
“Whose hungry for mom’s special scrambled eggs!?” his mom sang out as she approached the table.
After breakfast, Bryan told his parents he had to leave for his job interview and grabbed the keys to the minivan. Of course, they did not object. The minivan was their third car anyway. His dad had the convertible sports car, his mom had the luxury sedan, the minivan was just what they used to drive to football games ever since a few years ago when his dad accidentally bashed into the back of a pickup truck in that hellish school parking lot with Mom’s sedan, an incident she rarely let him forget. Other than that, the minivan was pretty much Bryan’s to use. And besides, getting job interviews was part of the new “agreement”. Bryan had a quota to fill. At least three interviews every two weeks, or else.
Just before he closed the front door, he heard his mother’s voice call out.
“Wait, Bryan, didn’t you tell me the interview was at two?”
Once in the van, Bryan headed east. The city, where his job interview would be conducted in four hours, was west, but he was driving east, toward his old middle school, Fisher. The drive through town felt strange, eerie. Not only because of the dark shadow of clouds above but because it just seemed far too quiet for a Saturday. Normally a Saturday in Wilburton would be bustling with people out and about, shopping in the quaint mom and pop stores, picnicking at the park, eating at the various pricey cafes and restaurants. He could see very little of that now, with most of the streets and businesses he passed being empty or close to empty. No doubt it was the blow of the recent defeat that had his neighborhood in such a forlorn state, he told himself.
I bet everyone is out and about over in Lexington having a good time.
Bryan looked past his town now, over to the forest in front of him, and then to the rolling prairie hills to the side of him in the distance. Even in this dreary weather, his hometown seemed like some sort of beautiful dream destination. He recalled the presentation he had to do in seventh grade when he was a student at Fisher, about the history of Wilburton. How it started out as simple cattle country, but at the turn of the twentieth century it evolved into an idyllic suburb. A place to live away from the city and its ills, away from the dirty, sinful masses. A place to raise your family in the best ideals humanity could offer.
The dream of living the perfect life comes true in Wilburton...
Upon reaching his old middle school, Bryan found a good amount of police cars and fire trucks posted in the vicinity. He noticed a news van as well, and an immaculately dressed reporter speaking into a camera. Behind them all, he saw the smoldering rubble. His first thought was that it was odd that it was still smoldering, hadn’t there been more than enough time to put out the smoke entirely? His next thought was that the area of damage was much larger than he had imagined. It looked like the entire administration office, as well as the classrooms on either side of it, had been demolished.
It looks like a bomb went off.
What’s the difference between a bomb and an exploding car, dummy? he asked himself.
Bryan found himself staring at the rubble, lost in thought, until a young looking police officer angrily smacked his window and told him to keep moving.
He drove on down the street a bit until he reached the corner of the school, where he found a line of onlookers standing on the tips of their toes at the edge of the sidewalk, trying to get a good peek at the damage.
Why had they come?
Same reason he had, he figured.
Well, not the exact same reason…
He edged his way into a parking spot a block away and walked over to the commotion.
The police were clearly keeping the people back, far away from the damage, making sure they stayed on the sidewalk in front of the parking lot on the east side, so they couldn’t really see much at all, except for the tendrils of black smoke rising up in the air.
As Bryan approached the onlookers, he heard them mutter and whisper to each other excitedly. Everyone seemed to have a nasty thing to say.
“I heard he had a drinking problem,” Bryan caught a middle-aged man with a well-kempt beard say to another man of equal age.
“I heard he had a hitting-his-wife problem,” the other retorted.
“Probably a suicide,” a woman on the other side of him suggested to strangers, “or maybe an attack. You know how prone to violence those people are across the Red.”
He looked over the line of faces next to him and felt unsettled by what he saw. There was an ugly anger present in them all, a look that Bryan had grown used to seeing on Friday nights, during football games. But it was daylight now, and a man had died. Why did they hate him so? Did the loss of last night affect them that much, or was something more at play here? Was part of this anger due to fear, had some of them seen what he saw last night, and in their denial, in their horror, did they decide to push it all into hate? Did they see the spider and refuse to believe it? Was this a byproduct of that?
Or maybe you’re just crazy.
Bryan continued to study the faces until one older woman wearing a pearl necklace noticed him looking at her and gave him a sneer.
You’re acting weird, he told himself. You’re trying to read faces to see if they know about the monster. That’s weird. You need to stop.
Bryan left the line of people and began to inspect the ground around them. Of course, he never would have admitted to anyone else, but he may very well have been looking for certain track marks, perhaps large circular indents or marks on the earth...
But there was nothing. Nothing at all.
He went over to the adjacent street and did the same. But again, nothing.
He closed his eyes, tried to imagine the nightmarish scenario in his head. Old Todd Ford driving down the street, probably overly excited about the win, maybe a bit under the influence as his mother suggested, then he sees something out his windshield ahead…
An image came to him now, of the creature climbing up that white gymnasium wall. Of course! Who said such a creature would be traveling by road? He scoured the roofs of the neighboring homes around him with his eyes, looking for anything askew. But all seemed ordinary. And then the American Bank, sticking out proudly above the rest of the neighborhood a block or two away, came into his line of sight.
All throughout high school, the sight of the American bank made Bryan chuckle. Built during his freshman year, the main bank of town had been the cause of no less than twenty city council meetings and over fifty petitions for its removal. And all because of a height issue. The American Bank was a good twenty feet higher than most of the other structures in the area. Most of that was due to its golden dome top. Similar to a sultan’s palace in some Arabian fairytale, the American Bank had a colossal dome painted gold sticking out above the rest of the buildings in town. More than a few residents in Wilburton loathed that dome, knocking it for being gaudy, cheap-looking. Again, normally Bryan felt nothing but amusement toward all of this. But right now he found himself morbidly mesmerized by the dome, with a distinct cold tingle tumbling down his spine. For sporadically displayed across the surface of the dome were a number of what could be described as “smudge marks”. Large, black circular smudge marks, each of them sizable, maybe a foot in diameter, if he had to guess. If one didn’t know any better, one might suspect these marks as being some sort of soot that appeared over time, perhaps the results of a lazy custodian. But Bryan did know better. He knew there was a good chance these marks had been left by a certain creature. An impossible creature. And if an impossible creature left these marks that meant he wasn’t crazy.
He closed his eyes again, pictured poor Todd Ford driving back to his home, casually looking up to the scenery around him, finding the dark outline of the horrifying eight-legged impossibility on top of the dome, draped in the moonlight. Of course that would be enough of a distraction for any driver...
“Bryan?” a voice broke out behind him.
Bryan jumped. He turned around to find a vaguely familiar face staring back at him.
“Sorry, man, didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Joseph?” Bryan replied, realizing he was looking at Joseph McClintock, an old classmate and acquaintance from back in the day.
“I thought that was you,” Joseph said with a friendly smile, “I live across the street, or at least my parents do.”
Bryan remembered a birthday party he had gone to years and years ago, back when he actually attended Fisher. He recalled being astonished to learn that a certain curly haired towhead lived across the street from the school. The very idea of one of his friends living so close to the hell that was middle school had blown little Bryan’s undeveloped mind.
“Oh yeah, so you’re living with your parents too, huh?”
“Nah, I’m just staying in town for the weekend. I got my own place in the city. I work for a startup.”
“Ah,” Bryan replied, trying to push down his disappointment, but finding that only led to feelings of resentment and bitterness.
“Pretty crazy, eh?” Joseph nodded over to the scene of the accident.
“Yeah,” Bryan agreed, then a new thought popped in his head and he grew excited, pushing his face toward Joseph’s. “You didn’t see it happen did you? Were you home when it happened?”
“Um, what? The accident?” Joseph asked, clearly confused, and perhaps put off, by this new jolt of energy, “Actually, I was home, but I didn’t see it. I was inside on the computer when I heard the crash. I came out to the front, and I saw my little sister out here, just standing on the front lawn, staring at the flames of the explosion. It was pretty messed up.”
“Wow, is she okay?”
“Yeah. I mean, no, not really. She hasn’t spoken since it happened, actually, or left her room. My parents are pretty worried. They think she was playing out front at the time, they think she saw the whole thing.”
“What do you mean the whole thing?” Bryan asked.
Joseph gave him a funny look. “I mean, that she saw the car driving and then crash into the school before exploding. What do you think I mean?”
“You don’t think, well, you don’t think she saw anything else, do you? Like the reason for the crash?”
“I don’t know what you mean?”
“Well, like… you know…” Bryan couldn’t quite form the correct words, so instead he pointed to the golden dome of the American Bank in the distance, which only served to confuse Joseph more.
“Just answer this,” Bryan stammered, “when you saw her out in the front, how did she look?”
“Traumatized, Bryan, she just saw a car explode.”
“OK right, but like an ordinary traumatized face, or like something else?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I don’t know man, it’s just, well, did it seem like she had seen something impossible? Something that could not happen, would not happen in a million years, yet did happen?” Again, without meaning to, Bryan nodded to the golden dome as he asked this last question.
“Bryan, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I understand. Listen, do you think maybe I could go see her, just for a little bit, maybe ask her a few questions?”
His old classmate seemed to study Bryan’s face for a moment.
Bryan sat in the unfamiliar reception area of the unfamiliar office with an elbow on the leather couch armrest and a chin in his palm. It had taken him an hour and a half to drive to the city, and all the while he could not stop thinking about that talk with Joseph. That talk had not gone well. The snooty receptionist with the retro beehive hairdo had told him to have a seat five minutes ago, assuring him the interviewer would be ready any moment. The distinct possibility of employment was just ahead, a chance to be free from his pathetic current life, and yet he could only focus on that recent interaction with his old schoolmate. The thing was, Bryan couldn’t even remember what he had said to Joseph after he rejected the idea of him speaking with his traumatized sister. That had been a bad idea. It was a shame he didn’t recognize how bad that idea had been until after he acted on it.
That’s because you’re going crazy, he told himself. Which was what was agreed upon last night, no?
Yes, yes, of course, but these new updates mean, at the very least, that presumed insanity could be staved off, right?
He didn’t know.
If only I could go back in time, rewatch the game.
This thought was soon followed by a desire to slam his head on the glimmering oak desk of the receptionist.
Rewatch the game.
Good god, what a true idiot he was. He’d been absorbed in this whole debacle since last night and only now did he remember that each game was filmed, broadcasted and uploaded online?
But there was no time to rage against his own stupidity. Bryan whipped out his phone, opening up the youtube app. His heart beat fast as he searched. At first, he was having a hard time finding the game, every other Wilburton game seemed to have been uploaded except the one he was looking for. Curious. Almost as if somebody had seen what was on the game tape and didn’t want others-
-but this thought died inside him as he found the title Wilburton HS vs. Lexington HS Nov. 8th next to a video thumbnail. Ok, one possibility dismissed. But still, he had to see what was on this gametape, anything that might help him understand what really happened last night. He looked up at the receptionist, who seemed lost in her own mobile device. He played the video, holding his phone with one hand while the other hugged his arm.
It wasn’t long before he found himself frowning. The game had barely begun and Bryan knew that no horrifying creatures would be shown. The way it was being filmed, as he supposed all games were filmed, now that he thought about it, with the camera pushed in on the action meant that on that last play he wouldn’t see anything close to midfield.
Nevermind that, he told himself, just get to that last play before they call your name.
His nervous fingers managed, after a few failed attempts, to skip ahead on the timeline to the fourth quarter, until he finally reached the infamous last play. He watched it. On the first watch it seemed like any other play of football he’d ever seen before. So he watched it again. It was here, on his second viewing that he noticed it. It was such a small thing that he understood why he missed it the first time. After all, who ever focuses on the referees while watching a football game? But now that he had noticed, he couldn’t take his eyes off them. Specifically, he couldn’t take his eyes off one certain ref. Standing just to the right of the base of the field goal. While the rest of the zebra-dressed officiates moved and pivoted toward the action of the play, this one remained perfectly still the entire time, like he was stuck in place. Even after the other ref put his hands up to indicate touchdown and the others followed suit, he didn’t do a damn thing. Didn’t move a muscle. Almost as if he was... frozen.
And then there was his face. It was not a happy face. It was not a calm face. It was a face of terror. And that terrified face appeared to be looking past the players, past the game, as if he was looking far down the field at something… impossible.
“Mr. Foster, they are ready for you,” the receptionist called out.
“OK, thank you,” Bryan replied, shoving his phone back in his pocket while trying to hide his frayed nerves.
He walked to the first door on the left out in the hallway, as instructed, where he was met by a smiling man who looked to be in his early thirties, wearing a slick business suit with a loud tie.
“Thank you for being so patient,” the interviewer said as he extended a hand, “and also, thank you for coming in on a Saturday. As I’m sure you know, we’re quite busy considering potential candidates, lots of people looking for work these days. Lots of people.”
“Of course,” Bryan replied.
“Now,” the man continued as he took his seat behind the desk, “why don’t you tell me what makes you want to work for our little company, hmm?”
An odd breeze shuffled the night air around as Bryan conducted his nocturnal investigation. This new wind was neither cold nor warm, but it had a rather fierce quality that Bryan found unsettling. And every time he parked the minivan on the side of the road, or in some alley, and got out to put up one of his fliers, he would find this unsettling wind playing with him. Throwing bits of dust in his eyes, rustling his hair, sometimes knocking one of the yellow fliers out of his hands. Above him, the sky was overcast as ever, except for the moon. Up around the moon was a perfect circular clearing of clouds, allowing the moonlight to drip down into his childhood town. He knew he should be grateful for this. Anything that helped his visual acuity should be viewed as an ally, but damn if the scene above didn’t heavily resemble some b-roll footage straight out of a slasher flick.
As he drove, a great deal went through his mind. He wasn’t thinking about the interview in the city that had been a disaster from start to finish, nor was he thinking about the hellish ride back home after the disastrous interview, over three hours in the minivan, thanks to bumper to bumper traffic. And he wasn’t thinking about the fruitless effort he made in those three hours on his phone trying to find the contact info of a certain referee from last night’s game, the terse reception he received with every phone call he made, with stern sounding people treating him like some kind of terrorist, letting him know in no uncertain terms that they would not be giving out any information of any of the officials of the county’s football league program. Nor was he thinking about when he finally gave up on contacting the ref, and simply searched his phone for spider facts and found that one, the largest spider in the world, according to science, was about the size of a dinner plate and lived exclusively in South America, and that, again, according to science, spiders could not grow to the size of cars or house because they would collapse under their own weight. And finally, he wasn’t thinking about that family dinner after he finally made it back home, where his mother revealed that one of the Wilburton High cheerleaders had been found dead in her room, hanging from the ceiling fan thanks to electric cord tied around her neck.
No, he wasn’t thinking about any of this. Instead, he was trying to determine at what point he became fully invested in this. At what point did he decide that no matter how embarrassing, odd, or downright criminal his actions became, he would not stop until he found some answers. At what point did he decide to believe in himself? After much thought, he still didn’t know. But he knew that it felt good to believe in himself again. As corny as that sounded, and as absurd as the situation was, it felt good.
He had now been driving, and stopping, around Wilburton for the last two hours, and with each growing minute he felt more unease about his surroundings. The streets seemed completely devoid of all life, leaving scenes that practically begged for rolling tumbleweeds. To Bryan, it felt like yet another key piece of evidence. Lock your doors tonight, children. Stay away from the outside. Something evil lurks this way. Occasionally he would come across a dark home and swear he saw the silhouette of a face behind a window, staring fearfully out into the street.
In the southeast section of town, he saw the bright colored lights of a fire truck off in the distance. And then the orange glow of fire above it. Cautiously, he made his way to the scene, coming to a stop at the corner of an intersection, half a block away. From his vantage point, he could see a woman in the arms of a firefighter, being consoled, while the flames raged on in the background.
A house fire, nothing more.
Bryan continued on his drive.
Bryan slowed down for a moment when he came to the bridge by the radio tower. He considered it as a spot for one of his fliers, but then he remembered when he and his friends in high school used to try throw stuff of the bridge late at night. He hit the gas and sped away, he knew from experience that too many cops looking for a quick nap in their patrol car frequented that particular area.
That was the thing with the town like Wilburton, you couldn’t put up fliers, especially the sort of fliers Bryan was putting up, just anywhere. Any sort of place with high foot traffic was bound to have some irate taxpayer, or diligent policeman, who would rip them down as soon as they saw them. No, you had to find spots that were both out of the way, yet frequented by the right sort of people. Nonconformists. Places like around the train tracks, in random alleys, near public park bathrooms, where people who think a little differently would be.
Do you even know what the hell you’re saying?
Only a little, he answered himself.
As he continued to drive, he recalled more wild nights of his youth, with him and his friends cruising around these quaint streets of their suburbia, looking for trouble. In that very specific regard not much seemed to have changed from then to now. Only things were more on the lonely- and unsettling- side now.
The minivan passed by Kennedy Road and the sizable grocery store of Lunardi’s came into view up ahead. Bryan thought back to his senior year, when he and his stoner buddy Evan Daneman would sneak off campus between sixth and seven period and smoke bowls in the alley directly behind the mom-and-pop grocery store. For some reason, that seemed to qualify it in Bryan’s mind as an “appropriate” spot for a flier. Maybe some off duty cashier on a smoke break would see it and understand its importance.
He slowed down his speed and pulled into the narrow alleyway. He felt a tingle on the back of his neck. He grabbed a flier from what was left of the stack on the passenger seat. He opened the door and felt that gust of wind hit him. Goosebumps formed across the flesh of his arms. With intense focus, he walked over to the alley wall. He stopped suddenly when he thought he heard the distant blast of gunfire coming from somewhere across town. A second or two later, he heard it again.
And then, nothing but silence.
Bryan forced himself to continue with the task at hand, getting to the wall and taping down the flier. As he finished smoothing over the second piece of tape at the bottom of the flier, he felt that same sensation he had felt at the game. He was being watched again, he knew it. He gulped. Like a goddamn cartoon character in a Looney Tunes short, he gulped. He did not want to look up. But he had to. Of course he had to.
He forced his head to tilt up, forced his eyes to stay open. His body tightened, as if preparing itself to be devoured by this demon spider creature.
But there was nothing. The back wall of Lunardi’s above him was bare.
But that sensation remained. He turned his head, scanning the area. Again nothing. Cautiously, Bryan walked back to the minivan.
His hand just reached the door handle when he saw it.
There it was. Just as it had been on the field. Just there. But this time it was two blocks away, on top of the Saint Peter church, the oldest church in the town, and certainly the biggest. Its massive steeple dwarfed the American bank in both length and height, allowing one to see its holy goodness all the way from Main Street. And now Bryan could see, from two blocks away, the black silhouette of the eight legged creature making its way across the precipice of the steeple, with one set of legs seemingly on each side. But it wasn’t in sprinting speed as it had been before when it left the field. No, this time it appeared much more casual to Bryan, just a giant spider in the middle of a night hike, nothing unusual about that at all. He watched in frozen fascination as this casual, impossible monster made its way from one end of the steeple to the other, before disappearing down the other end.
You have to follow it, you have to see where it goes, take its picture, get proof.
Bryan knew this was right, but his legs weren’t cooperating. He cursed them for their disobedience, but that of course did nothing.
And then the walls and ground of the alleyway around him became a disco dance floor of blue and red lights.
“What are you doing out here, boy?” a gruff voice called out from a cop car.
The next morning his mother woke him up for another early family breakfast. That fucking agreement. He staggered out of bed and headed for the curtains. Again he frowned, for again, he found nothing but grey skies. He had had that same dream last night, running down that grassy slope, toward the lake. Only this time he had tripped as he ran, and his little child body began to roll and somersault over the soft grass, and he was laughing, and the sun warmed him from above, and everything was beautiful.
At the breakfast table, his mother and father seemed to be in the middle of an argument.
“Are you really going to go to work on this beautiful Sunday?”
“What’s so beautiful about it?” Bryan’s dad replied as he eyed the dark clouds through the window. “and yes, I am. Damn Robert never finished filling out the paperwork we need to close the Erickson file.”
“Well, why don’t you just call him and make him do it now?”
“I can’t. I have no idea where he is. His wife told me he went out for a jog last night and never came back.”
“That’s odd. She must be very worried.”
“Ah,” Bryan’s father waved a dismissive hand, “he probably just jogged a couple of blocks, called an Uber and got the hell away from her. He’s probably lounging at the edge of some city hotel pool right now.”
Bryan’s mother had no response to this, but Bryan did notice the nasty look she gave her husband as he made his way to the front door.
Bryan felt his pocket vibrate. He took out his phone and found he had a new OKCupid notification. Amanda had sent him a message. Jesus, Amanda, he had forgotten all about her. They had been messaging each other last week, and had made plans to have a first date today. Crap. That’s the last thing Bryan wanted to do now. He prayed the message was her letting him know she needed to reschedule, but no luck. Instead, she was simply confirming that they were still on for their picnic date in the park today.
Amanda, the outdoorsy girl, Bryan remembered from her profile.
He very much wanted to cancel on her. But then again, he had a quota to fill. Part of the “agreement”. His parents, specifically his father, felt a young man should be looking for a partner just as much as he was looking for a job. Otherwise, he’d just spend all his time in his room, ‘pleasuring himself’, as his father put it. God damn it.
But then an idea came to him and he hit the reply button and sent out a response that was short and to the point.
What about a hike in the forest instead?
“So do you really hike that much?” Bryan’s date asked from the passenger seat, “or did you just tell me that ‘cause you knew I did?”
Bryan laughed. “I mean, I guess I haven’t hiked much lately, but I used to do it a lot. I used to come out here to The Red every other day. When I was a kid, my father used to take me all the time.”
“Aw, that’s cute.”
“And what about you? Do you really hike?”
“Well, yeah, but not so much since I moved back home. But in college I hiked almost every day on the trails near campus. And like you, when I was a child I would come to the Red a lot with my parents.”
Bryan turned a right onto Main Street, eyeing the treeline of the forest in the distance. But as he approached a stop sign his attention turned to his right side, to Fancy Feet, one of the several posh shoe stores of the quaint downtown of Wilburton, that stood at the corner of the intersection. Except, it wasn’t Fancy Feet he was looking at, but rather its remains. A charred steel skeleton and a pile of ash were all that remained of the high end foot apparel store. The remains looked fresh. The fire had been recent.
Two fires in one night?
“Oh no, Fancy Feet!” Amanda said with true sincerity. “My friends and I used to shop there sometimes. I wonder what happened?”
“I don’t know,” Bryan answered. “There was also a house fire last night, plus that thing at Fisher.”
“Oh that was just awful.”
He waited for more from her, but apparently that was all she had to say on the subject. He looked over to her and they shared a glance and it all became immediately apparent. He had to hold in a chuckle. It was funny, even with all that was going on, he could still find the humor in life’s daily absurdities. Him and Amanda had been texting for almost two weeks, who knows how many texts a day, and yet it only took five minutes together in person for them both to see the truth that all those texts had kept hidden. There was zero chemistry between them. Not that he was all that destroyed by this revelation, after all, he was hardly in the dating mood considering the current circumstances. But still, it was funny. And he knew she felt the same way. It was in her eyes. The eyes never lie.
As they continued the drive down Main Street, towards the forest, Bryan noticed odd clumps of people standing on the sidewalk. Not walking. Just standing. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk, huddled together almost. Like they were having secret meetings out in the open. Very curious. In one of the huddles, an old man with few gray wisps of hair growing out the sides of his head noticed Bryan staring at them and gave him a mean look as the minivan drove past them.
“What’s this?” Amanda asked. Bryan looked over and found that she was holding one of the fliers he made last night.
“I don’t know...” he lied.
“‘Call if you’ve seen the spider’?” she read the big bold words off the yellow paper, “isn’t that your phone number down at the bottom?”
Bryan looked over at the flier again pretending to be confused.
“Oh yeah...” he fake laughed, “...that’s just this silly game me and my friends play.”
“A spider game? How do you play?”
“Oh it’s really complicated, it would take too long to explain.”
“Oh come on, it sounds fun!”
“Well, I mean, the basic gist of it is that you pretend that a giant spider is hiding around town and nobody else can see it, or doesn’t want to see it, and you and your friends try to capture it.”
“Huh,” Amanda replied, sounding confused, “sounds kinda weird.”
“Yeah, you know, just some high school kid stuff that never died.”
The minivan grew quiet now. And dark. The sunlight, however much there was from the overcast sky, was now hidden under the looming redwoods of the forest. They were in the Red now. Bryan’s eyes strayed from the road as he looked up the skirts of the passing wood giants. He suddenly felt very small, and very foolish.
“Wow!” his date remarked, “this forest is just gorgeous, isn’t it? Sometimes I feel so fortunate to live next to such a living monument to the beauty of nature.”
“Yeah, we sure are lucky.”
Silence filled the van once again.
“So did you have a particular trail in mind?” Amanda asked. Bless her heart, she was really trying to make this date work.
“Oh, I just kinda figured we drive until we found something promising.”
“Fun! I like that a lot. Spontaneous.”
The road twisted and turned through The Red, carving through rough and rugged hills and curving around ravines thick with vegetation. Bryan noticed that the further they drove into the forest the denser it became. Had it always been that way? He felt like it hadn’t but he couldn’t be sure. Only a few miles in now, he could see smaller trees, bushes, and shrubbery began to pop up everywhere at the feet of the mighty redwoods. Where once Bryan could see hundreds of feet into the forest, now he struggled to find an opening more than ten feet past the road. It made him feel uncomfortable, but he didn’t know why.
Because it feels like the forest is closing in on you...
“What about that trail?” Amanda spoke, pointing out a dusty path with a red tipped wooden spike sticking out from the ground at the side of the road, the universal sign of the entrance of an official trail.
“No, I’ve been to that one, it’s not that great,” Bryan lied. He didn’t know why he lied, but he did.
They took a few more turns before a new set of trails appeared. Multiple ones next to each other, all paving their own path into the unknown. And they had their own dirt parking lot too, with a few cars and trucks sprinkled inside. Bryan studied the vehicles before shaking his head.
“No good?” Amanda asked.
“No, none of those feel right.”
In the next couple of miles, they passed four more trails, and four times Bryan vetoed them. Meanwhile, the forest grew thicker than ever before. The trees seemed to be growing out of the ground almost diagonally now, arching over the road itself, making horrible faces down at the van.
“Can you help me out here? What exactly are you looking for?”
“I’ll know it when I see it,” Bryan told her.
And then he saw it. After one particular brutal turn around a seemingly endlessly deep ravine, Bryan found a new trail entrance, with three cars parked next to it on the side of the road. All of which were covered in dust, dead leaves, and other various forest residue, a sign they had all been parked there for a good long while. Days. Perhaps weeks.
“Let’s do it,” he said to Amanda with a smile.
“Alright, yeah, let’s do it,” she returned the smile.
“So, you said you were currently looking for work, right?” she asked as they took their first trots onto the path, “I’m in the same boat. It’s hard out there these days. Seems like everyone is looking for work. How’s it been for you?”
“I just had an interview in the city yesterday, but I blew it.”
The trail wasn’t too bad, yet. Some of them could get pretty steep, Bryan knew, but at the moment the ground here was level, more or less. All around them, a million shades of green and brown stared at them just beyond the path.
“Oh, I hate when that happens. God, interviews are the worst. What was the job?”
“I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember? It was yesterday…”
“Yes I know, but I’ve been distracted. Things have been happening.”
“What kind of things?”
There was a break in the forest up above now, and the grey sky poured in. Bryan liked this. He wished the forest would stay this light for the rest of the hike.
“Just- well, haven’t you noticed lately that things in town have been… funky. Rotten. Like something’s not right?”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“I don’t know it’s just…” Bryan felt the words coming out of him. He couldn’t stop himself. “like last night I was just driving around town, trying to clear my mind, and I got stopped by this cop. And he’s asking me all these questions about what I’m doing, what’s my purpose here and all that, and the whole time I’m thinking it’s so obvious what this is really all about, but he won’t even acknowledge it.”
The path turned into a snake of turns ascending up a hill.
“What won’t he acknowledge?”
“That something’s not right! And that something is right in front of our faces but we pretend we don’t see it!”
Silence now. Bryan cursed to himself. He had stopped himself from mentioning the spider, but he knew he still came off as crazy.
“I mean, I kinda get what your saying, my parents have been acting weird lately. They seem to be panic stricken these days over nothing. Convinced that the tiniest things are going to ruin them. But then when you bring up big things, like the economy or climate change, they just kind of wave it off. And my dad’s been drinking a lot more. I don’t know what that’s about, but I don’t like it. He’s like-”
Bryan waited with bated breath for her to continue. For once, it felt like they were having a real conversation. He wanted her to continue, what was her dad like?
But when she did speak again, it was in a far different tone, one of concern.
Bryan turned back to her and saw her pointing out into the woods off the trail, to where there was a small clearing of trees and shrubbery. It was a quaint, cozy scene. A pocket of beauty in the Red.
“No Bryan, look. Don’t you see it? Right there?”
Bryan looked again, and again, all he saw was the scenic clearing. But then his eyes searched up from where she was pointing, and that’s when he saw it. His mouth dropped open a little. Up above, not fifty feet away, the biggest, longest, widest, spider web he’d ever seen in his life. He actually had to turn his head to see it’s starting and end point. Two massive redwood trees, both standing on opposite sides of the clearing, were the endpieces to this ungodly net. It had to be a hundred feet wide, at least. The image of that mighty gym wall popped in his head again. He had to tilt his head up just to see where the damn thing ended. But it was so high up, he couldn’t be sure what he was looking at.
He tried to take in the whole view of it, but it seemed impossible. It reminded him of when you try to look at ant colony at your feet. You can look at it as a whole and get an idea of how big and busy it is, but when you try to study one specific area, you just became lost in the maddening confusion of it all. Bryan would pick a spot in the web and try to focus on it, but each time his head hurt, and he had a hard time figuring out exactly what he was looking at. Near the bottom of the web, it looked like a great deal of large insects, or parts of insects, and birds, and feathers, were caught on the web, but the higher up his eyes went the more difficult it was to understand what he was seeing. Just large bulges wrapped in white.
“You see that, right?” he asked his date. “You actually see that?”
Amanda took a couple of cautious steps forward, her eyes transfixed on the web.
“Bryan, this is incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“But you do see, right? You do see it?”
“Yes of course.”
Bryan felt a great warmth come over him now. Finally, someone else had admitted to seeing what could not be. A great weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
But then he noticed her face go from a look of fear to a slight smirk as her eyes went from the web to him.
“Wait a minute...this is part of it, isn’t?”
“Part of what?” Bryan asked.
“Part of the game!”
“Game?! What game!?”
‘That spider game!” she said, almost laughing, “come on, you don’t think I’m that dumb, do you? But this is amazing? How long did it take you to set this up?”
Her words came out like a puff of relief. Bryan felt the anger building inside him.
“Me?!” Bryan yelled, feeling like he could almost cry, “Amanda, how could I possibly set this up? Look at the size of it!”
“You almost had me. I’ll say that. This is so cool. So what happens now? One of your friends jumps out in a spider costume or something? Damn, what a great idea!”
Bryan felt like his skin was going to rip away from his body.
“Amanda!’ he grabbed her by the shoulders, looked straight into her brown eyes, “I did not do this. This is real. You must understand.”
“You’re hurting me,” she twisted in his grasp, trying to escape.
“Listen to me! This is real! It’s real!”
“Let go of me!”
Bryan felt something round and hard jam right up into his testicles. He let out a whimper and fell to the ground. As he withered around in pain, he heard the sound of running feet on dried leaves growing more and more distant, until finally, there was only silence.
Sunday nights were reserved for meetings with his father. Another part of the agreement. At the end of each week, Bryan would meet with his dad to discuss the progress he had made in the last seven days. Of all the aspects of the “agreement”, this one was his least favorite, as he rarely had any sort of good news to share with his father.
“So,” his father asked from the other side of the breakfast table, a tumbler glass of whiskey in his hand, “tell me what, if anything, you’ve done this week.”
Bryan eyed his father. Something seemed off with him. First there was the whiskey, he couldn’t remember the last time he saw his father drinking whiskey. He remembered what Amanda had told him about her father’s drinking habits minutes before she crushed his testicles with her knee. And then there was that odd glassy look in his father’s eye. Glassy and red, and looking straight at Bryan like something fierce.
“Well?” his father barked, waiting for an answer.
Bryan cleared his throat while trying to think of a response. He knew this question was coming, as it always did, and yet he felt completely unprepared.
“Well, I had six interviews this month already, nearly all of them over in the city. And I’m waiting to hear back from them soon. I feel quite hopeful about several of them.”
Bryan’s father looked down at his drink, his face unreadable.
“I’ve heard this before,” he said, without looking up.
“It was true then too. That’s just the process. You know that.”
“I went on a date today too.”
“How’d that go?”
“She kneed me in the balls as hard as she could.”
“Attaya boy,” his father replied dryly. He took another sip of whiskey.
“I swear, all you kids today are goddamn faggots.”
“Jesus, dad.” Bryan responded in sincere shock. He had never heard his father talk like that before.
“What?!” He roared. “It’s true. It’d be one thing if you, my first born son, were a special case, a lazy, no account with his head up his ass. Unwilling to get a job or a lady. That would be one thing. But no, it’s all of your generation. Every last one of you is a pussy.”
“What the hell is this, dad? What the hell are you doing?”
Bryan’s father stared at his son with a furrowed brow and snarling nostrils. His nostrils were actually snarling. Bryan felt afraid of his father in a way he never had before.
“You guys are going to let the white race die out. You’re gonna let the others take over, you’re giving up the power we’ve held for centuries. You’re not even gonna fight for it, are you?” He finished off the rest of the whiskey. “Are you?”
Bryan’s eyes met his father’s. That glassy eyed stare penetrating him. He wanted this meeting to end.
“It’s late dad, I’m gonna head up to my room.”
Up in his room, Bryan stared out his window and tried to make sense of the odd, horrific turn that meeting had taken. He was already dealing with so much at the moment, he felt it best to simply blame the whiskey for his dad’s out-of-nowhere racist and homophobic rant and push the whole thing out of his mind. Outside he could see an orange glow coming from a few blocks down and a plume of black smoke reaching up to the sky. He watched flickering lights of a fire truck as it passed through the buildings and trees in the distance, making its way to the orange glow.
Another house fire? he wondered.
Closer to him, he could see the neighbors’ from across the street front porch. Dr. Smith and his family lived there. Good people. He thought he could see the good doctor now, out on his porch, on his porch swing. It was a rather grim sight though, as his neighbor’s face was covered in shadow, almost giving the appearance of a headless Dr. Smith. And he wasn’t swinging in his porch swing either, he was just sitting there, perfectly still, like a mannequin. And in his lap, he appeared to be holding something. Something that looked an awful lot like a shotgun.
In the distance, the orange glow seemed to be getting larger.
A light knock from his door pulled Bryan out of his trance.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me,” his brother answered.
Bryan frowned, his brother never came to his room, what could he want?
The door opened, and in walked his brother, shuffling his feet, head lowered, clearly nervous to be there.
“Hey Jonathan, what’s up?”
“I think… I think there’s something wrong with mom and dad.”
The words came out of his brother as a matter of fact.
Bryan considered his response.
“Yes, there is.”
“Do you know what’s going on with them?”
“Not exactly. I have a suspicion. But I can’t prove it.”
“What is it?”
Again, Bryan considered his response. Was this the day he unloaded on his brother. Telling him the impossible, hoping years of neglect might be washed away by this measure of trust?
As he continued to consider, Bryan felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. Eager to avoid making this big decision, he retrieved his phone and found a number he did not recognize staring back at him on the display screen.
“Sorry Johnny, I have to get this, give me one minute.”
He watched his brother sadly back out of the room before closing the door on him. A new wave of guilt hit him, but he pushed it down and hit the answer key.
“Hello, is someone there?”
“I...I… found your flier,” a nervous voice finally responded, “ in the bathroom stall of Jimmy’s.”
Bryan stopped breathing. Please, let this be real.
“Oh yes, of course.”
“I saw it. The spider. I go on walks at night sometimes, you know, to relieve some of the stress of the day, and I was going through the park- I know you’re not supposed to at night cause it’s closed, but I’ve never been caught before- and I was just walking and up ahead, it was just… there. This thing, this giant thing, walking from one end of the park to the other In the distance. I couldn’t…”
The man’s words tapered off here.
“I understand exactly what you mean,” Bryan reassured the man.
“How can this thing be… I mean, how can it be?”
“I don’t know.”
There was another pause here.
“So, what do we do?”
Bryan heard his phone beeping now. Another incoming call. He pulled the phone away from his ear and looked to see another number he did not know on display.
“Listen, I’m figuring that out right now. If we were to try to get together, say sometime tomorrow, would you be up for that?”
Another pause here. His phone still beeping, Bryan was dying to go over to the next call. The more allies the better.
“Yes, I suppose I would.”
“Terrific. Well, I have your number, let me call back later tonight, I have to go, I’m getting another call.”
“Hello,” he said, a second later.
No answer, but he could hear breathing on the other side.
“Did you see it,” he asked the silence. “Did you see the spider?”
“...yes,” a female’s voice responded.
“Tell me everything.”
The woman began to speak again, but Bryan lost focused, the beeping had returned, another call from an unknown number was waiting for him. Suddenly a disarmingly warm sensation began to flood his insides. A comforting notion that finally, after three days of hell, he was no longer alone in this. That he would soon have a team of allies. A team that would support his beliefs, a team that would ride and die for the truth. Perhaps, at last, it was all coming together.
Bryan’s “team of allies” were really starting to piss him off. Ever since their meeting began thirty minutes ago they had done nothing but argue. Everything from the size of the spider, the type of spider, and whether it was actually a spider at all. Currently, they were belligerently shouting at one another about the yellow markings on the spider’s back. Nobody could agree on the exact shape of the markings. All five of them were sitting at the concrete table, while he stood four or five feet away from them, leaning against one of the gazebo pillars.
Listening to them bicker, Bryan felt like he needed a beer. It was ten in the morning, and he wanted to drink. Not a great sign.
“Only a blind asshole could think…” Bryan heard Frank begin to bark at the rest of the group. He sighed. Of course it would turn out like this.
Bryan had received fifteen calls last night. Two were crank calls, one was a confused man who thought the number on the flier was for a very specific kink phone sex hotline, and one from a woman who was just curious what would happened if she called the number. Five were legitimate, though. Well, at least, as legitimate as they could be when dealing with something like this. Five people swearing they saw the spider, giving their full accounts of what happened to them. Bryan decided the best thing to do was try to schedule a meeting with everyone as soon as possible. This proved more difficult than he expected, as even though it seemed that most, if not all, of these people had wide open schedules during the work week, they all had very specific requirements of where and when they would be willing to meet. Finally, after four hours on the phone, over thirty different phone calls made to the same six people, Bryan set a time and place for the meeting. Nine in the morning at the park, specifically at the gazebo by the pond on the north end of the park.
Now, he found himself exhausted and irritated as he leaned back against the supportive pillars of the gazebo, scanning the five people at the concrete table in front of him.
Currently, Frank was still running his mouth- as Bryan had learned he was want to do- talking to the group about how his uncle had an old tank from the first gulf war, and that all they needed to do was sweep the streets with that baby one night, and all their problems would be solved. This wasn’t the first time Bryan had heard about Frank’s uncle’s tank. He had been on the phone with him for more than an hour last night, and whenever there had been a lull in their conversation, Frank would bark:
“You know, my uncle has this tank…”
Angie, the housewife in her mid-forties who claimed to have spotted the creature crawling over her neighbors’ homes when she was taking out the trash on Saturday night, was staring down at the table, avoiding eye contact with everyone, as if they might just turn out to be some horrible giant monster. This did not surprise Bryan in the least, as she had cried no less than seven times during their phone calls last night. Of all the people in the world not equipped to spot a supernatural spider in the wild, she had to be in the top three.
Sitting next to her, pounding her fists on the table, was Julie. Julie was in her twenties and seemed hellbent on not just destroying the spider but on destroying all of the “social structures that held the people down,'' she said. If there was anyone among the five that were more aggravating to talk to last night than Frank, it was Julie. Their entire phone conversation last night was peppered with odd moments where she seemed to try to get Bryan to agree with things he did not at all agree with.
“We could just blow up city hall one night, you know. Then when the helicopters and jets show up, there is no way they won’t see the spider.”
“Don’t you think most of the people are working for the spider? I say we kidnap some of them and see if we get a response.”
“If nothing else works, let’s just burn the fucking forest down.”
And then there was Derek. Based on their talk last night, Derek seemed rather reserved in his character - certainly more in charge of his emotions than some of the others- but his wild streak of paranoia troubled Bryan. Numerous times throughout their talk, Derek would suggest that the spider was either a robot controlled by Russia, or a laboratory-created bio-weapon created by the CIA.
Bryan looked over and found Derek having a nice quiet chat with Harold. Harold was an old man, around seventy, Bryan guessed, who called around midnight the night before. It took twenty minutes of small talk before the spider was even brought up, and even then, only because Bryan was the one that brought it. Bryan suspected that Harold had not seen the spider at all, and was just a lonely old man looking for company. But the fact that he never screamed at Bryan once during their talk, or suggested anything crazy, was enough for Bryan to bring him on the team.
“I’m telling you idiots,”Julie broke out, “What we need to do is break into the mayor’s office TODAY and put his ass in check.”
Bryan looked around at his team once more and decided this was no team of allies, this was a gazebo of lunacy.
“Oh that’s a fine idea,” Frank followed, “yeah, let’s just ignore the actual problem at hand and do something completely fucking crazy. Brilliant!”
“OK, what’s your idea, smart ass?!”
“I’ve already told you. My uncle has a tank-”
“WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP!” Bryan boomed, which successfully quieted his “allies”.
“Look,” he continued in a much quieter, calm manner, “if we are going to get anywhere with this meeting, we have to stop with the interruptions, shouting over everyone, and saying crazy things. Now I think the best step for us to take is to try to get footage of this damn thing. We need proof. Once we get footage or pictures of the creature, we can send it to the proper authorities, who will surely understand the severity of the situation.”
He looked around the table, looking for support.
“Orrrrr…” Derek said, “they’ll dismiss our proof as ‘photoshopped footage’ and laugh us out of the building.”
Heads nodded at this.
“True, that might happen, “Bryan admitted, “but I still say building a case is our best move here. If we just take things into our own hands, become some sort of giant spider killing militia, that will only lead to our downfall.”
“Giant spider killing militia sounds pretty badass though, I could get behind a name like that,” Frank said, getting a laugh from the group. Bryan actually appreciated this bit from Frank, as it seemed to ease the tension among his new team.
“This is what I have so far,” Bryan pulled out a manilla folder from his backpack, opening it up on the table and distributing glossy photographs of the spiderweb in the forest to his team. “I found this in The Red yesterday during a hike. Of course, this is not enough, but this photo, coupled with others that we will take of the actual creature-”
“Wait,” Angie spoke up for the first time, looking up with her sad, scared eyes, “you know where its web is? Can’t we just send the police to the web so they can see it for themselves?”
“The forest is out of the Wilburton police jurisdiction. And even if it wasn’t, you think anyone is going to go out to the woods to check out a spider web?”
“But if the creature lives there-”
“No, I don’t think it does any more,” Bryan cut her off, “I did some research online last night. From everything I could learn about spiderwebs, this one seems to be old, no longer in use. See how cluttered and messy it is? Spiders keep a clean web unless they’ve abandoned it.”
“Of course it’s abandoned,” Frank shouted, “it’s living in town now, we all know that.”
“Yes,” Bryan agreed, “but the question is, where?”
“So… you want us to find its new home in town?”
“Not exactly. Like I said before, I think our best bet is getting physical proof of the creature. I believe if we do that, we can get others to come join us, and soon, with so many eyes on the thing, we’ll be able to have the force and numbers to put it down.”
“OK great, so how do we do that?”
“We split up into pairs,” Bryan answered, “three pairs in three cars, roaming the streets tonight, with our cameras ready.”
“What about guns?” Frank asked.
“No guns,” Bryan said firmly, “if we’re caught with guns they’ll just brand us as crazy. No guns. We just capture it on camera and show others. That’s it. Tonight, we split into pairs and we find the creature. And then-”
But before he could finish his declaration, a cry broke out at the concrete table. It came for Angie, who had tears streaming down her face as she waved her hands wildly and stared at the space in front of her. The others, including Bryan, looked for the cause of this outburst, and found the source two feet above the table. It was a spider, no bigger than a nickel, dangling from a thread of web attached to the ceiling.
“Fucking asshole,” Frank spat as he sent a fist into the spider, causing Angie to scream again as it flew into a location unknown.
A gazebo of lunacy...
Bryan looked over to his mom, who was driving her luxury sedan with angry eyes, he could practically see the steam leaving her ears. It had been such a simple plan. How did it go so wrong? When he first saw her at the station, he of course offered to pay her back every dollar of bail money, but she did not reply. She hadn’t said a single word to him, in fact. He believed this was the longest amount of time she had gone ignoring her oldest son.
No guns, that was the rule. And yet...
“Your father is going to lose it when he hears about this, Bryan,” his mother said.
“Dad has bigger issues than this, believe me.”
“Like what?!” his mom cried out in a laugh of disbelief.
“Well, his newly found racism, for one.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Or maybe it’s not newly founded, maybe it was always there and this thing just brought it out of him.”
“Thing? What thing?! Bryan you wrecked the minivan. It’s totaled. You understand that right?”
“I apologized for that before, and I truly am sorry for that. But you have no idea how hard it is to drive a car when gunshots are going off next to your ear. I may have serious ear damage from this.”
“Bryan, why were there guns going off around you in the first place?!”
“I have no idea! I told them no guns!”
“...the giant spider killing militia.”
“Bryan… I don’t even know what to say to that…”
And true to her word, she did not say anything else about it in the moment. She simply continued to drive in silence, presumably trying to figure out why her son was so disturbed. Meanwhile, Bryan thought about what had happened back there. How things went all wrong. It was Angie, of all people, who started the trouble. Not Frank, or Julie, but Angie, the soft spoken housewife. And what killed him the most was that she wasn’t even supposed to be his partner. The plan was for him and Harold to take one car, her and Derek to take another, and Frank and Julie to take the last. But then at the last moment she called him and said her car broke down, and Derek didn’t have one, and so their three car convoy turned into two. He never did find out what happened to Julie and Frank. But it was at city hall, the second tallest building in the city, that things went haywire. Bryan had driven his motley crew of four around the building of city hall and ordered his people to keep their eyes peeled and their cameras ready.
He heard Angie shriek first. Then the gun came out. The handgun from her purse that she wasn’t supposed to have. She didn’t even bother to roll down the window to fire. She simply fired straight through the windshield, up into the right corner, where the giant stone wall of City Hall stood behind the glass. Bryan had no idea why she did this, as the wall had been completely bare.
His mother turned on the radio with a flick of her wrist. It was the local broadcasting station, that monotone voice spewing out the latest news of the town.
-tonight, numerous arrests have been made in Wilburton, including one in east Wilburton where an undercover cop lead a sting operation against a man who was planning to use a tank on the town in some sort of apparent attack. No reasons or motivations have been given for this, but sources claim that the man has ties to Lexington...
“Those people,” his mother muttered, “they’re the real danger.”
Stopped at a red light, his mother ignoring him completely, Bryan looked out to the horizon. To the side of him, he noticed the soaring radio tower inn the distance, glowing with little red lights from the base to its peak. And then he let out a gasp. There it was again. The spider. The dark silhouette of the spider halfway up the tower, horizontal, climbing to the top.
“Look!” he screamed at his mother, “look over at the radio tower! There it is!”
But instead of looking, his mother took a sudden hard right turn down a side street, putting the tower in her rear view mirror.
“I’m tired of these games, Bryan.”
“Why did you turn down this street? This isn’t the way we go home, it’ll take an extra ten minutes at least going this way…”
“I’m not going to argue with you anymore. You need to figure your life out.”
Bryan’s mind began to reel, why had she taken this sudden turn?
They drove in silence for the next few blocks, until they came to a two story house on a corner, engulfed in flames.
“Jesus,” Bryan remarked. His mom did not respond.
“Shouldn’t we call someone?” he asked her.
“I’m sure it’s being taken care of Bryan. That’s how it works here in Wilburton. We’re good people. We take care of each other. Not like those soulless monsters over in Lexington.”
Bryan thought about this response. A few blocks later, when they were close to home, Bryan said something matter-of-factly.
“Tomorrow, I’m going to take Jonathan to the Red tomorrow for some hiking. It’s been too long since we hung out. I’ll need to borrow your car though.”
He thought his mom might fight him on this, considering what happened with the minivan. But even now, in her deranged state, her motherly desire for her boys to be closer overwhelmed all else.
“Okay. I’m sure he will love that.”
As they drove through The Red, Bryan’s attention switched from the road ahead to his brother in the passenger seat, who was wearing a big grin on his face while looking out his window in pure delight. It reminded him of Herbert, the family dog from his childhood, a beautiful golden retriever, who would become elated every time one of his parents granted him a car ride. But then Jonathan would turn and look at Bryan and that big grin would grow even bigger and that wave of guilt would hit him again. Unlike Herbert, Jonathan wasn’t happy because he was in a car, he was happy because he was in the car with his big brother, who wanted him to come on this outing with him.
“We’re not going hiking,” Bryan said abruptly after watching his brother’s smile grow wider yet again.
“Oh,” Jonathan replied, “Okay, where are we going?”
“We’re going to Lexington.”
That was all that was said. Bryan knew he should say more. Hell, he had to say more. There was no choice, really, considering what he would be getting his brother involved in in the very near future. But he also knew he didn’t have to say it right at this minute, that he had some time to delay the inevitable. Bryan knew himself well enough to not be surprised by the path he chose.
The rest of the drive through The Red was mostly silent.
In the minivan, with its almost complete lack of kick and a barely recognizable form of power steering, it took about an hour to get through the forest to Lexington. With the sedan though, and its far superior engine and handling capabilities, they reached the 3 miles away sign in just under a half hour. As they took the last couple miles before their destination, Bryan tried to remember the last time he was in the neck of the woods of his town’s most hated rivals. The only clear memory that came to him was a field trip back in the eighth grade, when he still attended Fisher. His whole class had gone out to see the Mill, where trees were chopped up every day and turned into things like paper and furniture. He remembered it being an overall enjoyable affair, but that was about it. He knew the entire reason for the town’s existence was due to the timber mills. Unlike Wilburton, Lexington was not a luxurious settlement. It was a blue collar, meat-and-potatoes sort of town, deep in the heart of the forest. God knows what they would find in there now.
Up ahead, through the turns and the trees, Bryan could see what looked to be brick buildings in the distance. The closer they got to exiting the forest, the more brick buildings he saw, until finally they were free of trees, and entering the large clearing known as Lexington. The sight took Bryan aback at first. In Wilburton, the forest only covered the east, and some of the north, side of town, but here, in this foriegn land, it was as if the Red had swallowed the outer edges of the town. There were rows of redwood trees at every border, Lexington was completely surrounded. Bryan didn’t like this for a number of reasons. Besides the obvious, his lack of trust in this godforsaken forest, there was also the fact that he was pretty certain the east end of this town was supposed to be clear. He could swear that’s how it was on every map he had ever seen of the place. And yet, for some reason, trees everywhere.
Within this intimidating gang of trees, stood the town itself, which seemed to be completely made out of brick. Or at least, the first line of buildings were. Massive and in a long row, it was impossible to see whatever was behind them. And all the buildings looked relatively new, as if the town had recently decided on a massive makeover in the past couple years. Very odd. And the buildings themselves were disconcerting. As tall as they were, some looked to be four stories high and about a city block in length, there were few windows to be found. And the windows they did have were darkly tinted, making it impossible to see inside. And there weren’t any signs on the buildings either. Were they businesses, apartments, shops? How was somebody not from here supposed to know?
“What a weird place,” Jonathan remarked, taking the words right out of Bryan’s mouth.
In front of the line of brick buildings, a parking lot stood. A seemingly never ending parking lot that stretched from one side of town to the other. There were cars peppered in the lot, but not many. He soon found that the main road led him directly to the lot, and stopped. He scanned the area ahead, but it didn’t seem like this road led you past the buildings. Not knowing what else to do, Bryan parked the sedan in one of the empty spaces.
“Look,” he turned to his brother, forcing himself to have the conversation he should have had days ago. “You’re probably wondering why we’re here.”
“Yeah, I am.”
“I know, I should have told you earlier, it’s just, well, it’s not the easiest thing to talk about, in fact what I’m about to say is going to sound absolutely nuts.”
Jonathan stared at him with big wondering eyes. Bryan sighed and began to speak. He figured the best way to do it was to explain how it all started, so he told him about the game on Friday night, and what he had seen. But he was only halfway through recounting that awful night, he had just gotten to the part of what he saw at midfield, when his brother interrupted.
“Oh you saw the spider?”
Bryan felt his jaw drop slightly. He looked at his brother like he had grown ten heads and four pointy tails.
“You know? You saw it too?”
“For awhile now. First when me and my friends would go out deep into the Red on hikes, but then, we started seeing it near town too.”
“Why didn’t you say anything Jonathan, jesus christ?!”
Jonathan shrugged at this, much to his brother’s chagrin.
“We, me and my friends, told a bunch of adults at first, but nobody believed us. Or pretended not to.”
“What about mom and dad? Did you tell them?”
“Yeah, of course.dad thought I was joking. And when I wouldn’t stop he threatened to ground me. But that was before he changed.”
“Wait, so you’re saying that you’ve known about this for awhile, told our parents, told others, and no one, not a single person did anything about it?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Jonathan said with another shrug.
“How the hell are you so calm about this? How have you not been terrified this entire time?”
“I don’t know. I guess it’s just, well, it was really scary at first, but like, we told adults, like we were supposed to do, and they just didn’t seem to care. And then things kept being normal, and the town was never overrun by spiders like we were afraid of, life kept going on, you know?”
Bryan felt the anger rise up inside him. There was a fury in him that he’d never knew before.
“Jonathan, this isn’t fucking normal. This is a big deal. This is scary. And pretending like it’s not isn’t going to help anyone. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, I guess I do. I mean if you’ve made it a big deal all this time, I guess that proves it’s a big deal.”
“Not just because of me, but because it is.” He stared hard at his brother, pleading with his eyes that he understood the importance of his words. His brother returned the look, and nodded in comprehension.
“OK, yeah. No it is a big deal. It is scary. We should do something.”
“Exactly.” Bryan felt a nice sense of relief flow over him.
“So, I still don’t see why we’re here though?”
“To put up some fucking fliers.”
It took them a good five minutes of walking before they reached the path that stood inbetween two of the looming brick buildings. The path seemed to be wide enough for vehicles, except there was a big concrete barrier between the parking lot and the path. Looking down the path, he couldn’t see much except for more rows of brick buildings behind the first row.
“Tape,” Bryan ordered as he went up to one of the side walls, taking one of the fliers out of the manila folder and putting it up to the brick. He could see his brother smirk a bit as he ripped off some pieces of duct tape and hand them to him. He was enjoying himself. And so was Bryan, in a weird sort of way. But then he felt a little angry at himself, they should have been doing this together since Friday. He should have talked to his brother sooner.
“Why didn’t you tell me about the spider, Jonathan?” he asked,”You said you told other adults, but you never told me.”
“Well, you were at school when I first knew about it, and then by the time you came home it was already kinda a thing and I wasn’t worried anymore,” he paused here, clearly holding something back. “Also, I don’t know, you never seem like you want to talk to me or do anything with me.”
Bryan felt the urge to hug his brother.
“Come on,” he said instead, “we have a lot more of these to put up. And you know what? Once we’re done here, we’re going back home and printing more of these, a lot more, and plastering them everywhere. And we’re gonna talk to people. A lot of people. And make sure that no one can pretend that they don’t know.”
His brother smiled at this. They continued to walk.
They stopped about every fifty feet, putting a flier. It wasn’t too long before they were three or four blocks down the path, several rows into the odd collection of brick buildings. Each one was identical to the others. Fresh red brick, few windows, zero people coming in or out.
As they walked, Bryan recounted the last five days to his brother, causing Jonathan to guffaw with every absurd twist in his story. The gazebo of lunacy, the disastrous date in the woods, the most awkward conversation ever with his old schoolmate Joseph, he confessed all of it, while his brother struggled to breathe because he was laughing so hard. It was a good time.
It was just after the fourth row of buildings when the path came to an end. Well it didn’t quite end as much as it T’d, with yet another large brick building standing in front of them, forcing them to go left or right on the path.
They chose left.
Their new direction did little to mix up the scenery, as everything looked just as it had before, dirt path between walls of brick with little plants or any kind of nature to pretty up the view.
They were out of fliers by now, and Bryan could tell his brother was wondering what their game plan was now.
“Let’s just see if we can get past this building, I want to see if the rest of the town is all like this.”
They continued to walk for a bit, until Jonathan excitedly tugged at Bryan’s elbow and pointed to where there seemed to be a narrow steel ladder built into the wall of the last row of buildings. Bryan felt those hairs on the back of his neck stand straight up and his skin felt tingly. He knew they were gonna find something if they climbed up the ladder. He knew they had to climb, yet he was afraid.
Jonathan climbed first, with Bryan promising to catch him should he fall. The building wall was a good twenty feet high, but Jonathan moved up the ladder like a ninja, making it to the roof in seconds flat. Bryan wasn’t nearly as quick in his ascent, but soon they were both together again, up on the roof.
“What now?” his brother asked.
Bryan looked around. The other end of the roof was a good walk away, and Bryan couldn’t make out what was past it. They had to go there. He began to walk in that direction.
The walk across the roof was a nervous and quiet one. The humor that was once present between the two of them seemed to have dried up in this higher altitude. To Bryan, each step felt heavier than the last. After a long minute or two, the siblings came to within ten feet of the edge of the roof, where a four foot lip blocked the view of what laid beyond.
“Ready?” Bryan asked. His brother nodded coolly. Without speaking on it, they both knew whatever they were about to find was going to be bad.
And so they walked out to the edge, up to the lip, and looked down. And what they saw stunned them both. There it was. Lexington. The real Lexington. The way Bryan remembered it as a kid. With normal neighborhoods, normal houses, a normal town. Except not. Except it looked like a battlefield. Every other house was literally nothing more than charred remains, victims of a bad fire that seemed to repeat itself throughout the area. And the houses that were still whole were in bad shape. Broken glass windows, dozens of what looked to be bullet holes in the walls, nasty yellow, dead lawns of grass in the front lawn. It wasn’t right at all. And above and beyond them were webs. Tons and tons of dirty, giant, spider webs. Like the one they had found in the forest only there were many, countless in fact, as opposed to one. And they were all draped over the roofs of the houses, like some intricate, layered tapestry.
Bryan couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He had a suspicion he might find something like this, but not to this degree.
“Holy shit!” his brother said in a loud, shocked voice. Bryan made a motion with his finger over his mouth, indicating to Jonathan to not be so loud, but then he looked back out at old, destroyed, Lexington, and found the damage had already been done. At first, they only heard the sound of footsteps crunching on the dry, brittle ground below, and then that sound came with the source. In the few remaining houses still standing, people were walking out. Disheveled, dirty, some barely wearing any clothes, they came out of their homes and looked up at where Bryan and Jonathan stood. One that immediately stood out to Bryan was an old, weathered man in a cowboy hat came out of one of the remaining houses and stared up at the two brothers on the roof.
“Bryan, I want to get out of here,” his brother said, pleading, “I think we should leave.”
“Yeah of course, just let me take some pictures first.” He took out his phone. He could feel his brother tugging at his arm.
“We should go now, please, let’s go now.”
Bryan stared down at the cowboy below. Even at this distance, he could tell he didn’t look well. His outfit stained with dirt and what looked to be blood. And those eyes. They weren’t threatening eyes, they didn’t seem violent in any way. If anything, they seemed sad. Big and sad. The rest of the cowboy’s face was unreadable, a blank wall filled with creases and wrinkles. Bryan knew he had to capture all of this on his camera. He could feel Jonathan still pulling on his arm.
“Give me a second,” Bryan ordered. “If you’re that scared then just go over to the other end of the roof where the ladder is and wait for me there.”
Bryan could feel his brother’s hands leave his arm. Could hear footsteps walking away from him. He lifted up his camera phone and began to snap pictures of the scene below when he heard his brother calling him.
“Bryan, look! Turn around!”
“Just a second!”
“No Bryan turn around right now!”
Bryan bit his lip hard, stopping him from unloading at his scaredy cat brother. He turned around. He looked. He felt a sickness in his stomach.
In the distance, past the buildings, past the lot, high in the sky, above the looming trees of the forest, black smoke. Huge billows of black smoke rising from the forest, filling the sky.
“Bryan, it’s on fire! The Red is on fire!”
Bryan couldn’t remember if he said anything to his brother or not, he just remembered that they both started running across the roof toward the parking lot, toward the fire, at the same time.
Bryan melted into the rocking chair that sat on the front porch of his parents’ place. With the ends of his toes he pushed against the wooden floor boards to achieve a nice swaying rhythm. The sun had just set behind the Red moments ago, but there was still a dim glow of daylight left in the sky, giving it a disarming yellowish tint that had a calming effect on Bryan- as long as he remembered not to look directly above The Red, where the black billows of smoke, more monstrous than ever, loomed.
This is nice, he thought to himself, and nothing more. His brain wouldn’t allow him to do more than that. The last few hours had been a rollercoaster descent into hell. His brother was surely traumatized after everything he had just been through. But Bryan had gotten him home safely. At the time, he figured that’s all that mattered.
Currently, Bryan and his brother were enjoying a brief reprieve from their father’s berating. Since they first arrived home they had endured his derangement. And he was almost certainly that. Deranged. He had first become unhinged when Bryan returned home with mom’s luxury sedan, mangled as it was. Two flat tires, a cracked windshield, a smashed back window, and more cuts, scrapes, and dents in its body than you could count. The price you paid for entering, and escaping, a hellish mountain of fire. His brother wasn’t the only one who was traumatised. But it was his parents, especially his father, who were pissed about it. Pissed about the car. Bryan could appreciate that. But what he couldn’t appreciate, nor understand, was when his father became belligerent once again at the mere suggestion that they should leave town before the whole place became engulfed in fucking fire. Hours of screaming resulted at this suggestion.
“That’s just what they want!” was the basic summary of his protest, “they want us to believe the fire is going to get us! Of course it’s not. It’s them! It’s them that’s gonna get us!”
Of course, Bryan had screamed back at his father. But he might as well have been screaming back at a brick wall. And then the phone rang, his mother answered, before quickly passing it off to their father.
“It’s Dr. Smith from across the street,” she had told him, “he wants to talk to you.”
That was about twenty minutes ago. Since then, Bryan and his brother had been relaxing on the front porch, enjoying the silence while ignoring the alarming amount of ever increasing smoke in the air. Bryan knew he should be planning some sort of new escape plan to get out of this absurd crisis they found themselves in, but he was just so damn tired. They had just fled from the nightmare that was Lexington, through the literal hell that was now The Red. Making it all the way back home in what was now pretty much only half of a functional car, only to find more insanity. And that was just taking today in consideration. For a brief moment, he actually forgot about the spider, about the four other days of this madness. Yes, he was fucking tired. Could he not just relax on the porch for a moment, swaying in his rocking chair without feeling guilty?
Through his weariness, Bryan prayed that Dr. Smith was talking some sense into his father, explaining to him that, realistically, they all needed to leave the town. But then he remembered that image of the good doctor on Sunday night, sitting on his front porch, hidden by shadow, holding that long shotgun, and realized this was a fool’s hope.
“You lazy sons of bitches, get up,” his father demanded as he invaded their peaceful porch space, “we’re leaving immediately.”
Bryan felt a jolt of new energy. Could it be true? Could his father have actually come to his senses?
“We’re leaving town?” his brother asked, hopefully.
“Hell no. We’re heading to the high school. Dr. Smith tells me there’s some special secret meeting being held in that gymnasium of theirs. Apparently, those in the know have a plan.”
“We should leave town, Dad, that should be the only plan. Are you an idiot?” Bryan blurted out.
“You shut your mouth while you’re on my property!” his father shot back. “Have you forgotten about our agreement? You live with us, you do as we say!”
“Fuck your agreement,” Bryan replied. He said it without anger, without fire. He said it calmly. Matter-of-factly.
Bryan and his father stared each other down. Bryan could tell his father was thinking about taking a swing at him. Bryan had no idea how he would react if that were to happen.
“I’m going to go inside to grab your mother. We will be leaving here in exactly five minutes. Either you come with us, or you go, and if you go, you stay away forever.”
As his father disappeared back inside the house, Jonathan moved in toward his brother.
“What are you going to do?”
Bryan weighed his options. The Sedan was in no condition to drive. So he was without vehicle. He supposed he could try to somehow get the keys to the sports car off his father, but even if he did, what would he do then? Drive a stolen car into the city with his brother and live off his meager savings until that ran out? No, he didn’t see that plan working. The other option was going with his family to this meeting at the gym, whatever the hell that entailed. He considered this. He had to admit it intrigued him. If nothing else than he wanted to see what exactly this plan was.
He realized he had no third option.
“Ok Jonathan, go tell dad we’re going to go with them,” he told his brother, before grabbing his arm, having a new thought. “Oh and Jonathan, before you do that, you know that black case on the top shelf of the hallway closet?”
“The one Uncle Joe gave Dad last Christmas?”
Bryan nodded. “I’m going to bring it with us, just in case. What I need you to do, is get the key for it. You remember where dad put it?”
“OK, then go get it. Trust me.”
The drive to the high school was a rather horrific one, Bryan and his brother crammed into the pitiful space of the back seat in their father’s sports car, forced to either stare out at the fiery forest to the side of them, the chaos of the town in front of them, or down at their feet on the car floor. The presence of the black case made the situation even worse. At first, Bryan had put the case in between him and his brother, but when he saw his brother’s big scared eyes staring up at the fire, he moved the case to his other side, telling him, “it’s okay, everything will be okay.”
Bryan had wondered what he was going to say if his parents questioned the black case, but they never did, too far gone in their own delusion.
When they reached the school, Bryan’s father hadn’t even bothered trying to find a parking space in that dreadful parking lot, instead choosing to park his car right on the sidewalk in front of the school.
“No one’s giving parking tickets today,” he explained.
For the first time in a long time, Bryan found himself agreeing with his father about something.
Inside the cavernous gymnasium, outrage roared. Bryan noticed a good number of familiar faces around him. Teachers, neighbors, family friends, store workers… all of them shouting at the same time with fierce, perturbed faces. Bedlam. There had to be three hundred people in there. He saw a few folded metal chairs put out in front of the stage, meant for the elderly and disabled, but besides that everyone was standing, shaking their fists into the ether, ignoring one another.
Bryan felt a tug on his hand. He looked down to see Jonathan, in front of him, trying to point out that they were being separated from their parents, thanks to the large moving influx of invading townsfolk. Bryan considered fighting through the crowd to get back to them, but then decided against it. Instead, he grabbed his little brother by the shoulders and guided him to a pocket of space within the crowd near the middle of the gymnasium. He could see the stage for the most part, but his brother could not. Bryan looked around and found a folded chair resting against the close wall. He instructed his brother to stay put and retrieved it. His brother stood on the chair so that both could see the stage.
Around them, the crowd grew more and more impassioned. Bryan tried to decipher the screaming questions that were bouncing off the walls of the gymnasium, but each inquiry kept bleeding into the next. Nothing made sense. Bryan’s head hurt.
Occasionally, Jonathan would look back at him for reassurance. Which Bryan would try to give as earnestly as possible.
Finally, a voice came through the large speakers that hung at the corners of the wall around them. The voice belonged to the man on stage. An older man, maybe in his fifties or early sixties, dressed in a suit, stood at the center of the stage. Bryan did not recognize him.
“Quiet please. We must have quiet.”
When this did not work, he repeated himself in more of a barking manner.
“Quiet! You need to be quiet!”
Eventually a wave of “shhhh!” carried over the crowd and the man on stage got his wish.
“I understand people are upset, but we must have some order. Now, as we all know, we are facing a great threat at this time. The enemy, those people, are clearly trying to destroy what we have, who we are, but we aren’t going to let them do that, are we?!”
The gymnasium thundered with affirmative grunts.
“How can we trust you that you guys have this under control?”
“Well, the official plan is classified, but I can promise you-”
But the man’s assurances were beaten down by the volcanic rumblings of indignations. Bryan began to see folded chairs being lifted and hurled at the stage. The man quickly retreated, and for a second it looked like a riot was about to break out, but then a young woman, a girl really, maybe a freshman in high school at most, scrambled on stage from the side and grabbed the microphone that was now pleating out on the floor.
“Excuse me! Excuse me!” she began to shout. At first this only proved to serve as a louder voice among the sea of voices, but eventually, through enough repeating of her two words, the crowd somehow quieted down again.
“I just wanted to say that I think we are ignoring the real issue here. Most of you seem to want to believe it’s Lexington that is causing all these problems, including the fire, but that’s simply not true. There is a creature in our community now. A… well, look, it’s a giant black spider. We all know this. I’ve seen it. I’m sure a lot of you have seen it. I know this is a scary idea to admit, but we need to tackle it head on and stop blaming other people for the damage this thing has done.”
Her plea was met with silence at first, and then a light chuckle began to spread across the crowd. And the chuckle turned into outright laughter, and Bryan lost all hope once more. The elderly man from before stepped back to the mic, ushering the young lady away.
“I’m for jokes as much as the next man, but right now is not the time for humor, it’s the time for action!” he crowed, garnering loud support from the audience before him. “Our proposal is this. It’s simply too dangerous to be out in town right now, and I think we’re all in agreement when I say none of us are willing to leave?” A cacophony of agreement from the crowd came loud and fast. “Alright then, we suggest we all stay in here until it’s safe to go out. We have plenty of water and food rations, and cots and blankets for everyone. We won’t have to stay long, maybe just even for the night. But we’ll be safe in here. No fire can get us here. And then when we determine it is safe to leave, we will, and then we will seek retribution!”
As these words were spoken, Bryan felt an odd surge of hysteria spreading among the crowd, and he began to step backwards, pulling the shoulder of his brother as he did so. As he and his brother retreated, the rest of the crowd pushed in. Excitedly, savagely, they pushed up to the stage. Bryan turned him and his brother around while trying to make himself as small as possible, so as to not be detected by the others. After a great deal of pushing, shoving and squirming, he managed to get them both outside.
Once outdoors, and away from the influx of people trying to get it, Bryan found it easier to breathe, but the unsettling nature of their surroundings had not improved. Scores of humanswere hightailing it from out in the darkness toward the gym, trying to get through the doors, savage in their entrance. Even for a gymnasium as big as this one, surely there could only be so much room? If Bryan was certain of one thing, it’s that he didn’t want to be there when maximum occupancy had been reached. He grabbed his brother by the shoulders.
“We have to get out of here.”
“What about mom and dad?”
“We can’t worry about them now, we can only take care of ourselves.”
Bryan considered their options. Looking straight out, he knew he wanted nothing to do with all that madness. Elevation is what they needed, he decided. He looked up the massive wall of the white gymnasium, where the wall reached the roof.
“Follow me,” Bryan barked at his brother.
The two ran alongside the outer wall of the gym before taking the corner. Here, they found a concrete staircase connected to the white wall. The staircase zigzagged up and up into the sky, until it looked like it stopped just short of the roof. It was their only option, but the entrance was blocked off by a locked steel gate.
“OK, here’s what I need you to do. I’m going to lift you up and get you over this gate. Once you’re over on the other side, I want you to climb as fast as you can to the top of the stairs. Once you reach the very last step, stay right there, and wait for me.”
“Wait for you? Where are you going? I want to go with you.”
Despite being in his preteens, it seemed his brother had devolved into a child half his age over the course of this ordeal.
“Listen to me. I have to go back to the car and grab that case. Then I’ll come up the stairs to you.”
“But why can’t I just come with you?”
“Because there’s no time, Jonathan! And if something happens to me, I need to know you’re okay. Do you understand?”
Jonathan refused to look at his brother.
“Also,” Bryan added, “I have an important mission for you. Try to figure out a way up to the roof. When I went to school here, me and some friends snuck in one night and climbed those stairs and somehow found a way from the top of the stairs to the roof, but I don’t remember how. I need you to figure it out, okay?”
Giving him a new mission seemed to satisfy his brother, who nodded reluctantly.
“Remember,” Bryan said to him as he boosted him up so he could climb over the gate, “I don’t want you looking over at the Red, it’s not good for you. Just try to find a way up to the roof.”
Two minutes later, an out of breath Bryan returned back to the locked stairwell with the case in his hand. He tossed the case over the gate before climbing over it himself. His journey up the stairs was a painful one, as his lungs begged for a rest. But he refused them, continuing up the six flights of stairs with as much speed as he could muster. He tried to follow his own advice and not stare out to the Red, but with each new flight the view became more and more impossible to ignore. Occasionally his curiosity would get the best of him and he would look out, past the railings and feel a cold shudder go down his spine.
Finally, he made it to the last set of stairs and found his brother waiting for him.
“I think I found a way to the roof!” he said.
Bryan congratulated him, before coming to a stop and vomiting a little. He took a moment to catch his breath, and then his brother showed him his plan.
Minutes later, they made it successfully to the roof , and a flood of memories came back to him now, of that one night he and his friends snuck up here for no particular reason. That carefree time of his life seemed so far away now. His brother walked around the roof in a sort of awe over its size, his feet crunching the layers of gravel that covered the floor. Bryan smiled at this, it was nice to see his little brother, if only just for a second, forget his troubles and enjoy being a kid again. But then, in the middle of his exploration, Jonathan caught sight of something off in the distance and stopped in his tracks. Without thinking, Bryan turned to see what he was looking out, and found himself staring out at the Red.
The entire inside of the Red glowed like a jack o’ lantern now, and from their vantage point they could see it all. The center of the jack o’ lantern was a hellish red. He could see hundreds of tops of trees in the middle of the forest on fire, burning brightly in the night sky. And above that, pillars of black smoke rising up in the air, the image of the black smoke juxtaposed against the not-as-quite black sky made Bryan sick to his stomach. And swirling around the pillars of smoke were a number of helicopters, their bright lights serving only to highlight the nightmare below.
“Don’t look over there,” Bryan ordered his brother. “Follow me so you can help me.”
Bryan walked briskly toward the center of the roof, away from the terror of the Red. His brother followed. Bryan knelt down and placed the case in front of him.
“Key,” Bryan requested, to which Jonathan complied, taking it out of his pocket, and handing it over.
As Bryan fit the key into the slot, turning and opening the case, he began to speak to his brother in calm, cold words.
“Remember when Uncle gave us his rifle?”
Jonathan let out a small laugh, “Yeah.”
Bryan took two dark rectangles from out of the case and handed it to his brother. Then he went to work, and his brother did too, and while they did, Bryan retold the story they both knew, of their uncle, a notorious gun-lover, and booze-lover. About that one night years ago, when Joe combined his two favorite things inside the house he and his wife lived in, and accidentally shot their fifty inch flat screen television while cleaning the trigger. The next day their mom found the case on the front porch, with a short note that explained that Uncle Joe was no longer allowed to keep guns at his house. As he recalled this infamous Foster family story, he kept his hands busy, putting the pieces together.
Bryan lifted up the hunting rifle, complete with scope, up to his brother’s eye line for approval. It had been years since their uncle had taken them out to the shooting range, and yet his muscle memory served him well. He had perfectly assembled the rifle from its dissected form in the case.
Jonathan handed him the cartridge, now filled with bullets. He rubbed his fingers gently.
“I forgot how hard it is to do that.”
“Come on,” Bryan told his brother, and led them to the edge of the roof, opposite from where the Red stood. With each step, Bryan felt his chest tighten, remembering the sight they had found on the edge of the roof in Lexington, he worried about what they were about to see on this in a moment.
They reached the other end of the gym roof and the sight of the town itself came into view. If the Red had been the ninth layer of hell, then what they were seeing now must have been at least the sixth or seventh. Small house fires peppered the ground below. A snake-like line of bright headlights seemed to stretch to the complete other side of town, with the line of cars leading to the front of the school. From there, they could see the masses still pouring in to the gymnasium. Each clump of people pushing and fighting each other as if they were on a sinking ship, trying to get on the last lifeboat.
But it was directly out in front of them, not below them, where the real terror was located. Miles away, the radio tower stood tall in the night sky, its pointed top blinking red. And starting from its blinking top all the way down its side, was the beginnings of the web. A pristine, white web that started at the tower and stretched out across town, coming to an end somewhere near Main Street.
Bryan noted it was nothing like the web that he and his date had found in the woods on Sunday. Where that had been messy, old, and seemingly abandoned, this one was clean, fresh, and certainly not abandoned. For in the middle of the web was the creature, hovering above the town it had slowly destroyed these past five days.
“You see that, don’t you?” Bryan asked his brother, who gulped in confirmation.
I’m gonna shoot that son of a bitch right in its god damn yellow streak.
Bryan knelt down, placing the forestock of the rifle on the stone ledge of the roof, peering through the scope. After getting his sight lined up, aimed at the center mass of the spider, he took a breath and fired.
“You missed,” Jonathan said after a pause.
Of course Bryan knew he missed. The spider was still on its web, still sitting there, vertically, without a care in the world. Bryan cocked back the bolt handle again and took aim for the second time.
Again the rifle let out a dizzying roar, and again, it yielded zero results.
“You keep missing,” his brother said.
“I know, Jon!” Bryan fired back.
“No, but I mean, why are you aiming so low? The spider is a good twenty feet higher from where you’re aiming.”
“Jonathan, I’m staring at it through the scope, I can see it. I know what I’m doing.”
“Well maybe you should let me try,” his brother suggested gingerly. Bryan ignored this at the time. But three missed shots later, he gave in to his brother’s demands, handing him the rifle. He knew his aim was about as good as Bryan’s anyway.
He watched his brother move the end of the barrel higher and higher, til it was far and above the creature by a ridiculous degree.
“Jon, that’s too high up, you’re nowhere near it.”
“He’s right in my sights,” he retorted, “and I’m going to shoot him right in that stupid yellow triangle of his.”
Jonathan fired. Bryan had his fingers in his ears, but even with that, he could hear his brother cursing after the shot was taken.
Jonathan tried again. And again he cursed after. Jonathan looked at his brother in complete bewilderment.
“I don’t understand. I hit it. Twice I hit it, center mass.”
Bryan was beginning to understand himself. He began to think of all the little things that didn’t add up in these last five days. Each account of the spider being slightly different than his. It almost seemed to make sense, at least in the way it might in the madness they now lived in. But he had no notion of how to even try to explain it to his brother, or anyone else for that matter.
Bryan let out a frustrated scream, ripped the gun away from his brother and threw it across the roof, the sound of it smacking the gravel echoed across the roof. Bryan stood there, at a loss of what to do next. He looked over to the other side of the roof, where the staircase was, where they had climbed up, where the Red was.
“What do we do now?” his brother asked.
Bryan looked down to the ground, to the doorway of the gym. It was closed now. He recalled those brick buildings they had found in Lexington. Bryan knew it wouldn’t open up again in a long time. He looked over to the Red, still glowing like a jack-o-lantern. He looked down at his brother, who was holding his arm with his other hand, practically hugging it.
“What do we do now?” his brother repeated the question.
“I don’t know,” Bryan answered honestly.
Off in the distance, he thought he heard a gunshot go off. The spider remained as it was, on its web, indifferent to everything around it.
“I keep having this dream,” Bryan began, “where I’m just a child, and I’m running down this grassy hill towards this lake below, but then I fall, and I start to roll. And I roll all the way to the lake and fall in. And in my dream I can’t swim, so I sink all the way to the bottom. But I can push on the lake floor to get up to the top, but-
“Bryan,” Jonathan interrupted, “who cares about your dream? What are we going to do?”
Bryan thought again.
“I don’t know.”
He looked down to the school grounds below, about a hundred or so feet out, he could see the sizable outerwall of the math wing standing tall at the edge of the quad. Freshmen used to play handball on that wall back when he was in school here. And then, just like now, there was a painted picture identical to that of what was on the middle of the field behind them. George the Hawk -or was it John? Or Thomas?- flexing his big bird muscles and gritting his sharp bird teeth while staring daggers at anyone who might foolish to match his eyeline. It was a look of a mascot who guaranteed a victory no matter what, no matter how much time and the facts had proven the mascot wrong.
“I really don’t know,” he said again.
In the distance, another gunshot echoed in the night air.