There was a spider on my ceiling. At first, in my groggy delirium, it seemed like a house centipede. I scrambled backwards in fear, only to realize that it was just a spider. I’d had this apartment for a long time, but this was the first time I’d ever seen a spider in it. And a long, black one, at that. Not one of those small, harmless types - one you might crush beneath your foot and brush off with little more than a fleeting disgust. It was larger, and thus, more malevolent.
The spider was glued to the ceiling, completely frozen, immobile. I wondered if it had noticed me staring. I fumbled around on my bedside table for a moment, trying to locate a tissue without looking. Finally, my fingers found one, and in one swift yank, I took the tissue and crushed it. I brought the bloodied tissue back down from the ceiling, inching along as I feared the spider might still be alive. But, luckily enough, it was dead; I’d squashed it completely. It twitched a bit in the tissue, its body bent horribly out of shape. But the twitching was just temporary. I pitied it, if only for a moment.
It took some time to collect myself after the encounter with the spider. After flushing it down the toilet, I dressed, and discovered that it was noon. I’d been waking up late for some time - between noon and 3:00, to be precise - and wasting away my days until I inevitably collapsed in the early morning. My gums grew tired as I gnashed and grinded my teeth together during the few hours I did sleep.
After having found the spider, I spent the day looking for more. I imagined a small nest of spiders infesting my wall, climbing over one another to find a way into my room. They would have built a small city, built as much on webs as the backs of their plebes. The thought, though fleeting, frightened me.
How did the spiders find my apartment in the first place? My apartment was one of many; why did they choose mine? Was it pure luck? Perhaps one had come, long ago, and built a family, and that one spider’s family was just now growing too large to be held in my walls.
But that begged yet another question, one that fascinated me. How do spiders build a family? Do spider mothers give birth the way human mothers do? Do they have miscarriages? Do they experience loss?
But I had little time to ponder more of these questions; it was already 5:00 PM, and I had a date.
So I went outside. The air was unfamiliar, but still somehow kinder, less abrasive than it was before. It was spring. I lived in the city, but even here, the effects of spring were palpable. People had come out with their dogs, and the few trees that lined the sidewalk were blooming. The brick and stone of the buildings surrounding me took a cheery hue, though not devoid of a weathered fatigue. Cars puttered up and down the street, belching contentedly as they went. The sun beat down, but the wind fought back; the day was pleasant.
It wasn’t that late, but the park had already taken a dark, foreboding countenance. The trees, old and withering, loomed, casting long, rigid shadows. The grass had become snarled in some places, matted in others. Few people walked in the park - some runners, some parents pushing their children in inelegant, metallic strollers - but no one else. I’d once loved the park, but now, it seemed as if some dark secret had been revealed to me, and I’d become jaded, disillusioned. For a moment, I caught sight of a large, black mass among the shadows, jagged and spindly, but it disappeared almost as soon as I noticed.
We were seated not long after I arrived. The girl’s name was Sydney. I smiled at Sydney, in what I hoped was an endearing gesture. Her hair was short and black; her cheeks were rosy, and they seemed to burn brighter when she smiled back. There was a small candle on the table between us, flickering towards me when she talked, and towards her when I talked.
We got through the expected formalities of a first date in mere moments; we briefly discussed our mutual friend. I discovered that she was a secretary for a large firm, the specifics of which fled my mind as soon as they entered it; she discovered that I was a “writer,” which really meant that I was unemployed. But we’d both known most of these things beforehand. There was a slight pause after we’d finished with this portion of the date. Then, she broke the silence:
“You go on many dates?” I realized I’d been smiling like an idiot that entire time, and I stopped. She continued to beam.
“No-ah-no,” I stumbled through the words. “I-I actually just got out of a...long term relationship. I hope that doesn’t turn you off. I’m not trying to, like, shift some big emotional burden on to you or anything.”
“Oh, no, no, no. That-that’s not at all what I was thinking. I don’t care about - well, not in, like, a callous way. I mean-!” She was stumbling too, almost as if mirroring me.
“No, no, you’re good. I know what you’re trying to say. But I just - I feel like a lot of people get turned off by that, right?”
“No, yeah, totally. I mean, if nobody wanted to date you after leaving a long relationship, how would you ever get a date, right?’
“Right, yeah, I guess. I just wanted you to know that... you’re not a rebound, or anything like that. I mean, you are, in that, like, you’re the next person I’m trying to date, but I mean, you’re not a rebound in the negative sense of the term.”
“Dude. I get it. Stop worrying, man.” There was a silence after that. Not a short awkward pause, but a long gap in time. Our words lingered in the air, like a cobweb: they were there, but hardly perceptible, and quickly fading. It’s fitting, I think, that after long passages of conversation, there are long moments of emptiness, or silence. It’s the only thing that balances out the noise.
“Have you been here before?” Sydney cleared her throat.
“Yeah, a few times, actually. It’s pretty good.”
“Do you recommend anything?”
“Uh...I’m personally partial to the dragon rolls.”
“What’s on that?”
"Like, shrimp and avocado, I think. It doesn’t sound immediately appealing, but it’s pretty good.”
“Alright, I’ll give it a try.”
The waiter came by not long after and took our orders. We thanked him and tried to politely shoo him off.
“Do you have any fears?” I asked Sydney.
“Yeah, like, I’m afraid of heights.”
“Yeah, I mean, once in eighth grade, my Academic Challenge team -!”
“Oh, uh, I think some places call it a quiz bowl.”
“Oh, got it.”
“Right. So, we were at this hotel in Chicago - it was the national tournament - and the hotel was basically set up so there was this, like, central atrium, and all the rooms and hallways overlooked it, from the bottom floor to, like, the 32nd floor. And for whatever reason, the rounds were always on the top floors, which, coincidentally, also had the narrowest hallways. So I had to shuffle around, hugging the wall the whole time, because I was so scared of falling over the side.”
“Then you’re not scared of heights, are you? You’re scared of death.”
“Everyone’s scared of death, though.”
“Really? I feel like there are people out there who aren’t scared of death. And what about... I don’t mean to sound crass, but, like, suicidal people?”
“Suicidal people are scared of death too. It’s just that life just scares them more.”
“But...that just means there is no fear other than that of death. Your fear of heights just collapses to a fear of death.”
“No, no. You might be right, that all fear stems from death, but that doesn’t mean that other fears doesn’t exist. It’s just a matter of what kind of death worries you most. For me, it’s falling. When you’re falling, you have no control. Nothing is sure. Things you could normally rely on disappear.”
“That’s an interesting way of looking at it.”
“I spend a lot of time in my own head. I’ve thought it through.”
“Yeah. Huh. Well, I don’t have any fears I’ve thought through like that...I guess I’m pretty scared of spiders.”
“Yeah, it’s just - something about them. They’re quick, they crawl, they’re poisonous -!”
“I think it’s venomous, actually.”
“Spiders aren’t really poisonous, they’re venomous.”
“Oh. Uh, okay. Anyway, I really don’t like spiders. And I mean, like, why are they hairy?” She laughed at her own joke. I smiled.
“Are spiders hairy? I mean, I know tarantulas are, but I mean...are normal spiders?”
“Well, even the ones that aren’t are still scary. I mean, they’re just so... nasty.”
“I don’t know. Let’s not talk about spiders, alright?”
The sushi came. We’d both gotten dragon rolls. The waiter lingered a little too long. But he left, after a moment. And we ate.
“Do you have any tattoos?” Sydney asked.
“I-uh, yeah,” I said absentmindedly. “I got my grandmother’s name on my chest in Bengali.”
“Huh, really? So do I.”
“On your right breast?”
“Yeah.” We had the same tattoo. In the same place.
“That-huh. Cool, I guess.” I hadn’t meant my response to be so curt - but something had caught my eye. There was a child in the street. A young boy - young enough that his feet weren’t much longer than the center lines of the road he was standing on. He was crying, his hands curled up in fists that rubbed against his eyes, leaving deep red depressions when he pulled them away. I stared at the boy through the window of the restaurant. Cars rushed by him, paying him no heed; the people lining the streets, seemed not to notice him either.
“What’re the chances of -!”
“I-I’m sorry, do you see that?” I pointed out the window.
“What?” she grunted, vaguely annoyed at my interruption.
“Out there, there’s a boy.”
“No, no, there’s a boy in the middle of the street. He’s like, I don’t know, four? He’s a little kid. He’s just standing there. We-we should do something.”
Sydney turned around, my words sobering her slightly.
“What’re you talking about? There’s no boy there.” She was confused, more than anything. But she was right; the boy had disappeared. There was a slight pang in my chest. I felt almost as if I’d lost something.
It was evening now: dark enough for the streetlights to be on, but light enough that they hugged the streets in a warm caress. More people were out - couples, in particular. The air was cooler, but somehow more soothing. Not cold enough to warrant an overcoat, but enough for a fleece, or a sweatshirt. Sydney’s dress didn’t have any sleeves; I offered her my jacket.
“Oh. That’s very kind of you,” she smiled. I shrugged off my jacket and draped it over her shoulders. Her skin was perfectly clear, save for a single blemish on her right forearm: a small brown dot, only slightly darker than the skin around it. My brow furrowed as I noticed it. I had a birthmark that was identical.
“Hey Sydney,” I mumbled. “Is that a birthmark on your right arm?”
“Yeah,” she blushed a little. “I’m surprised you noticed.”
“Yeah…” I trailed off. “I...uh, I have the same birthmark.”
“What?” she paused, her smile more incredulous than kind now. I pulled down the sleeve of my shirt, and sure enough, it was the same brown mark, sitting on the same vein.
“That-that’s weird,” she stuttered.
“Yeah,” I said quietly. “Weird coincidence, right?”
“R-right,” she forced a laugh. As if to ignore the incident, Sydney slipped her hand into mine, like the couples that lined the streets. Her hand was warm and soft, lacking the roughness and wear that my hands had imprinted on them, a roughness that went even deeper than the coarse hide of the skin itself. A roughness I’d once lacked, a long time ago.
I felt a presence behind us as we were walking. I craned my neck backwards, while still trying to keep pace with Sydney. But I was forced to stop: there was a large spider, taller than me and wider than the sidewalk. In form, though, it was not unlike the one that had been on my ceiling earlier. It was moving towards us at a leisurely crawl, tenderly picking its way down the street. And now, I understood why Sydney was scared of spiders; it was hairy, like she’d said, and had a number of eyes as black as its body. It had two pincers at the front, which gnashed and grinded together as it bore down on us.
“What’s wrong?” Sydney turned back to me, concerned.
“There-there’s a spi-spider,” I nearly choked on the words, my finger shaking as I pointed to the monster. It had stopped, and seemed to stare back at me just as I stared at it. Even from a distance, I could see myself reflected in its eyes. Sydney peered down the path my finger indicated.
“Where?” she asked.
“It’s literally massive, you can’t miss it,” I gasped. My heart was beating at my ribcage, desperately trying to escape. Sydney gave me a look.
“That was a really funny joke, dude,” she said flatly. “Let’s go.” She took hold of my hand and dragged me away from the spider, which continued following us.
We kept walking for some time. In silence, largely. And, once I got over the giant spider following us, I enjoyed it. I think there’s a certain intimacy to silence. A connection that can’t be expressed through words.
“So, your last relationship,” Sydney cut open the silence. “I-I don’t mean to pry, but -!”
“No, go ahead! It’s fine with me, honestly.” My voice withered a little.
“Alright, well...were you and your last girlfriend...close? I know that sounds like a dumb question, given that you said it was long term, but sometimes, ‘long-term’ doesn’t necessarily-!”
“No, no, uh...yeah, we...we were...” I glanced back. The spider was still there, a few paces behind.
“So...the break up must’ve been hard.”
“Y-yeah. You could say that.”.
“Oh. I’m sorry. What was she - !”
“Hey, why don’t we talk about something else?” I cut in, stealing glances at the spider.
“What? I was just -!”
“Spring in the city is nice, right?”
“Look, I’m sorry if I struck a nerve, but -!”
“And the dogs, and…” I barreled on.
“Honestly, I just wanted to know.”
“Why?” I stopped. “Why are you so fixated on my last girlfriend?”
“I’m not, I was just asking,” she said, exasperated.
There was another long pause. We walked in silence for a little while again. A few couples passed us; I realized I wasn’t holding her hand anymore. But then again, we weren’t a couple.
“The park is beautiful.” Sydney smiled at me. We were, as one might guess, in the park now. There was a small lake there; we had decided to make our way over to it.
The spider was still following us. How it had made it through the trees and foliage eluded me, but it had. It remained some distance away, but I could feel its many eyes glaring at me. It weighed down on me, dragging me back even as I tried to keep up with Sydney.
“What’s that?” Sydney pointed to a dark mass sitting at the shore of the lake. There were a few small lanterns scattered about, but the mass was engulfed in shadow, and thus featureless. It was small - barely perceptible against the shore - but it was there. I feigned indifference, but I felt an unnatural draw towards it. I could feel the spider bristling behind me as we approached. I looked back; it seemed angry, as if it didn’t want me near the thing. But Sydney had taken hold of my arm again, and so we went down to inspect the object. I could feel her trembling; but her trembling quickly became indistinguishable from my own.
The object was small, not longer than my forearm, and not much wider, either. We began to discern some of its features: a head, a foot. It was a baby. A dead baby had washed up. The hair on its head was thin, barely hanging on, as if a single brush would wipe it all away. Its skin was an ugly, blood-red; it was stillborn. Its fingers were curled up tightly in its palm, the skin stretching around the depression it had made. Its eyes were closed; it was at peace.
Tenderly, I picked the baby up and cradled it in my arms. It felt familiar, holding this baby. I hadn’t had the opportunity before, but now, I did. I recognized it. And I began to cry.
“I’m sorry,” I sobbed. “I can’t...you can go. I’m sorry.”
But there was no response. Sydney wasn’t there. Neither was the spider. I was left alone with my baby, cradled in my arms.
Dev Peyrat is a young writer from Cleveland, Ohio. Currently a high school student, he looks to continue writing in college.