It wasn’t the October moon. Not quite. It wasn’t even the petty clouds masking it in a swarthy expression. Not really, but it sure did feel that way. He felt the atmosphere shift in his lungs as he breathed—in and out, in and out, in—he held his breath, wading in the slight fragment of faith still clinging to him. The lamppost ahead flickered between a foggy yellow and the grave black of the night which half-heartedly consumed him. It spat his heart back to the street for the morning’s buzzards’ breakfast, and he walked on.
Ian Hafler dragged his feet through the dark without a single destination to reach. All he wanted to do was escape. From what, not even he could answer. Maybe he was fleeing himself, leaving behind the boy smiling along his mother’s mantle, or the lackluster high school student his father failed to be prideful of. In any case, Ian sighed, kicking a small rock about eleven days away from a house he knew was not his home. Every so often he glances over his shoulder, because maybe, just maybe someone would be close enough for him to hear his name being called out into the air. Nothing.
The clouds above cried for him. Tiny, slight droplets of water softly ticked the brim of his baseball cap. Without thunder, lightning, or even the wind to warn him, the storm erupted through the sky. All the stars blurred into one another as the trees did. Streaks of white light were cut off by the silhouetted branches reaching out to cradle them. Ian headed for the woods in hopes of finding some place to stay somewhat dry for the night. In the crook of a sycamore he stretched out his legs. Bending over to untie the laces of his shoes, a quiet shuffling caught his attention. Slowly, he leaned back against the tree, straining his ears to hear. The leaves crunched into the dirt and he identified the sound as footsteps. Thoughts of a dimly lit cabin, floral printed curtains and timber walls filled his mind. He couldn’t help but think of how nice it would be to sleep indoors tonight.
He stood up and peaked through the tree branches. His eyes caught the hem of a lady’s dress. It paused as she did, her raven hair spilling off her shoulders. Her great emerald eyes bore into his for a moment, and in a second she slipped out of sight.
“I don’t think you understand, officer,” Mrs. Hafler said between sobs, “my boy is somewhere out there and you and your team are doing absolutely nothing about it.”
“Ma’am, we are trying our best to find your son. I told you a million times, that we are doing all that we can.”
“That explains why he’s here at home, sound asleep upstairs.” The police officer sighed. This is the part of his job that he hated. There was no consoling a worried mother.
“Where is your husband, ma’am? May I please speak to him?”
“I don’t see what difference it would make, but if you wish to, he’s in the kitchen.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” he turned and pushed through the kitchen doors. Mr. Hafler sat at the table with his head balanced in his left hand and a mug of coffee in his right. His skin was leathery in a way that showed how stern he could be.
“Mr. Hafler?” The man looked up at him for a moment before bringing the mug to his lips. “I’m Officer Adams,” he said, extending his hand. Mr. Hafler hesitated before taking it. “I don’t know if you want to speak, Mr. Ha—”
“Just call me Edward. You can sit down.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Sorry. Thank you, Edward.” Edward huffed into his coffee mug. He was trying his best to be polite, but this officer seemed to have enough fake politeness for the both of them. “You know why I’m here, right?
“To upset my wife,” he answered caustically.
“Mr. Haf—Edward, I would appreciate your and your wife’s cooperation. We are doing our best to find your son. We have sent out search teams and rescue dogs. Indeed, we have found traces of Ian. The dogs picked up his scent off of i46.”
“He’s dead, isn’t he, Adams? It’s been almost two weeks.”
“What? No, he’s not dead. We will find your son, sir. We will find him,” Adams replied, and it was the truth. He had no doubt in his mind that they would find him.
Suddenly, Adams heard a sound, a hardly distinguishable whine and a quick heave of breath. Edward was crying, trying so desperately to conceal it with his hands. It embarrassed him to be seen in such a vulnerable state. For so long, Edward has been perceived as the austere, insensitive father of a boy who worked so unbelievably hard to win his approval. Edward finds himself struggling with the fact that it took son’s absence to get him to see clearly. He loves him dearly, he always has, but in getting caught up in his attempt at creating someone invincible out of his son, he failed to show Ian how proud he was of him.
Adams puts his hand on Edward’s shoulder, hoping to provide some sense of comfort to the man. He puts his hat on and walks out of the kitchen.
“Good night, Mrs. Hafler,” he says, opening the front door.
“Good night, officer,” she replies, standing up to lock the bolt behind him. After he pulls out of the driveway she goes into the kitchen. She doesn’t say anything to Edward, and he doesn’t say anything to her. There isn’t anything to say. She pours herself a cup of coffee and doesn’t even bother adding cream or sugar like she usually does. The bitterness of the coffee bites her tongue, causing her eyes to wince slightly, but it’s not too bad. The bitterness is bearable considering the intensity of the pain shooting from her heart. There is no pattern or order to them. They are but tangles of chaos rupturing sporadically throughout her body. She sits on Edwards lap and wraps her arms around his shoulders, hoping for some sort of sturdiness. His voice breaks the silence.
“Norah,” he whispers in the crook of her neck.
“Shhh, Eddie,” she closes her eyes and he kisses her forehead.
“It’s going to be alright.”
“It has to be,” she says, holding back her tears as she wipes his from his cheek.
Gradually, Ian awoke. It was still storming, he could see from the streaked windows in front of him. He looked around the room, studying his surroundings. It smelled of cedar and smoke and a hint of women’s perfume. The walls were made of timber. Looking down he saw he was lying on a vintage floral comforter.
The antiqued pink roses crept up and around his arms like vines, allowing their thorns to sink beneath his flesh. He jerked away, mumbling something profane, only to realize the roses hadn’t moved at all. He pressed his fingers into his eyes, in hopes of rubbing away whatever sleep still pervaded in his mind. Somewhere a song was playing, though he couldn’t quite make out what it was. There were voices singing incoherently and fingers clambering along the keys as if the notes depended on it to be heard. The music meshed with him, or he meshed with the music, but for a split second the universe expanded and gathered its endless arms around his body. Every end of his nerves was electrified and he cried tears that remained only on the inside. Tears for an unrequited love he never knew, for the parents he left behind days ago, for himself and how he has let himself down in ways he couldn’t begin to explain. He looked at the wooden floors and they sighed breathlessly into his chest. The music played on louder, and finally he could hear Roger Daltrey’s voice reverberating around his head.
Love, reign o’er me
Love, reign o’er me
Rain on me, rain on me
The ridges in the wood lit up an electric blue where he stepped. Every meaning of every doubt he ever gave in to rang aloud. He felt a distant girl’s fingers traveling up his spine and he knew that this was meant to be since time and existence first bloomed. All the Gods moaned as the angels danced ‘round and ‘round, encircling him. They emptied their pockets full of posies and fell down upon his shoulders.
Stand up. Stand up! A voice from somewhere groaned. He did. Ian stood and looked up to the ceiling. The cedar blackened and the sky encompassed the room. Stars flickered and bowed between dances. The song continued. It came from everywhere, pulling music from the airwaves to throw back at him—through him. It went on and on, playing to the turning of the earth and the passing of time.
Only love can bring the rain
That makes you yearn to the sky
Only love can bring the rain
That falls like tears from on high
Love, reign o’er me
Rain on me, rain on me
Love, reign o’er me
Rain on me, rain on me
Over the rumble of his mind he could hear the rain again, like a thousand beating hearts. He then felt a hand on his forearm and he turned to see her standing there. She was wearing the dress of which he followed. Suddenly the music stopped and all was still. He began to remember. He remembers the woman. He remembers her viridian eyes, and how they engrossed him whole-heartedly; how his feet led him along her footpaths to the cabin ahead. He can taste the sweet cinnamon taste of the air on his tongue from when he first walked through the door. And then he remembers everything going dark and waking up in a daze. He looks at her now, questioningly.
“Who are you?” he asked.
She glances away for a brief moment before answering. “Natalie,” she whispers. He watched her pink tinged lips as she said her name. She turned to walk away; her dark hair contrasted the fairness of her skin as it slipped in front of her face.
“I’m Ian,” he blurted out. “I don’t really know what happened or why I’m here. I—” Natalie flung her body around. Her face was distorted and gray. She hissed at him through long, white fangs that sent Ian’s stomach to his knees in fear. He backed away slowly and she retreated into the doorway with her hands over her face.
“What the hell was that?” Ian didn’t know whether he should run past her and hope she wouldn’t do it again, or to stay and figure out what was going on. The doorway was narrow, there was no way he could make it past without bumping into her, so he stayed. She stood there with her hands covering her face for a minute or so.
“Are you okay?” he asked. He could hear muffled breaths. It sounded like tears. “Why are you crying?” Just then she looked up. She was laughing; a horrific, witch-like laugh that sent chills through his skin.
“You stupid, stupid boy,” she retorted, “you were hallucinating.”
“What? You thought all that was real? The sky, the music, the angels and the Gods swirling and twirling above your precious little head? That was not real, sweetheart.”
“Oh. Well, what happened?”
“You followed me through the woods. I figured I’d lead you here instead of having to cut you down from one of the webs later on.”
“Dinner? Webs? What are you talking about?” He was getting frustrated now. The hallucinations seemed more real to him at this point.
“God, all you humans are the same. ‘Where am I?’ ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Please, no, please don’t eat me’! “This last one amused her and she slid her tongue across her teeth.
“If you’re not human, then what are you? Why was I hallucinating?”
“Did you not notice before?” She lifted up her dress, exposing an orange colored hourglass shape on her stomach. “I’m a black widow. You were hallucinating because one of the other spiders around here got to you before I did. What you experienced was the effects of his bite. Look at your arm.” He did and noticed two parallel punctures along his veins. He looked back at Natalie, unsure of what to say. She turned again, to leave.
“Well, what am I supposed to do now?” he asked, hearing his own voice trembling.
“Why, stay for dinner, of course,” she replied, bearing her fangs as she grinned.
The doorbell rang, breaking Norah’s inattentive gaze at the television screen. Edward hit the power button on the remote and stood up to answer the door. Through the front window he saw Officer Adams standing on the front porch.
“Morning,” he said weakly.
“Mr. Hafler, err, Edward, I’ve got your boy in the back of my cruiser. He’s a bit out of it, keeps mumbling about black widows and a girl named Natalie. Anyway, I could use a hand, he’s—” Edward didn’t allow him to finish before pushing past him to the police cruiser. He ripped the door open and sure enough, there was his son. He grabbed Ian from under the arms and lifted him up and out of the back seat. Adams came over to help get his stumbling legs up the stairs and into bed.
“Where did you find him?” Norah asked. Her hand had not left her chest this whole time, as if she were keeping her heart from tumbling out.
“I was patrolling up on i46 northbound and caught a glimpse of a young man staggering in the mouth of the woods. I pulled up and whaddya know it was your boy. I tried asking him what he was doing all the way out there in the middle of nowhere, giving you folks such a scare, but he didn’t say anything to me about none of that.”
“Well, we appreciate all your help, Officer. We’re just happy that he’s back home. We’ll see he comes around. Would you like a cup of coffee or anything?”
“No, ma’am. I best get going now. Have a good day, now,” he said, tipping his hat as he left the house. Norah looked at Edward, and he gathered her in his arms.
“He’s home, dear. He’s home,” he whispered into her hair.
Edward checked on Ian periodically, and not once had he awoken since they laid him down in his bed. He figured he’d talk to him about all this whenever he was rested.
The walls are rotting. The decaying scent of a house built by calloused hands hurts his aching head. He opens his eyes to discover he’s bound to a wooden chair in the middle of the darkness. His clothes are but shreds of fabric, hardly hanging on. The floor creaks at his struggle to get free. That’s when he hears it. The hoarse laugh of the woman with the emerald eyes. Her lips bear that ominous grin as she traipses about the room, throwing profane glances in his direction.
“I thought you were staying for dinner, darling.” He turns his head to face his knees, trying to wake himself up.
Her body shifts. Long, jagged legs sprout from her torso, her face contorts to her widow-like features, and suddenly she’s beside him. His breath fails to stay with him, struggling beneath her presence. Her eyes caper that wicked smile as her fangs scrape his naked skin. He feels her breath on his shoulder, her lips on his neck. He winces at her words of baleful perversion. Her voice, noxious venom seeping into his ear in whispers—sends his body into frenzy of chills. He pulls away at her touch, but he soon loses this battle. She has taken control.
Untied from the chair now, his back is to the floor. His mind refuses to wake him from this nightmare. Voice is but a memory now, he cannot cry out for help. She bites his neck, hissing beneath his flesh. He screams a shrill, soundless scream. From his mouth, agape, spiders flood out. Hundreds of thousands of eight-legged demons spill from silent cries for someone to get this fiend away. They crawl around on his skin, vandalizing his body with their fangs, sinking into his tormented flesh. She begins to laugh, pushing off of him in satisfaction. His lungs heave with the pressure of a cough, hoarse and choked by spiders, still streaming off his tongue. His eyes well up and he can’t make it stop. They bite and scavenge his writhing body, tearing through his skin, through muscle tissue and veins soaked through with venom. They march inside, spinning webs from the marrow, settling deep into his agonized bones.
Suddenly Ian awakens. Tears streak his face; his hands are clenched into fists. He allows himself to relax for a moment. He rests his head back on the pillow, beside a spider glaring at him, his face reflecting back in its eight mirror eyes.