They’re so lovely, my friends.
I’m watching from the upstairs window, staring down at the enclosure. The first light of day is reflecting off the panes of glass in waves of violet. On the other side, I can sense them scuttling along thick threads of gossamer, their handiwork soon to shimmer like permanent dew as the day grows, the strands catching the golden shine of the sun through the translucent walls of the terrarium.
My time is growing short. It’s personally important to me a narrative exists. I abhor the thought of the incredible events which have transpired being drowned in hearsay or misinformation. If this account confirms the facts while simultaneously damning me, so be it.
I’m glad I had the privacy fence installed, though had I suspected the ease with which the unfortunate trespassers would penetrate it, I might have opted for chain link as opposed to wood. The glass and aluminum dome I’ve erected to provide the colony a protected environment is surely enough to keep them out of view, but the structure itself attracted unwelcome attention. I don’t like prying eyes, and the terrarium drew glances from the occupants of the homes on either side of mine.
My neighbors were offended when the fence went up, of course.
They let me know, too. Not directly. No, they’re too bound by social conventions to be so openly rude. God forbid anyone think they were displaying overt hostility and perpetuating a climate of acrimony in the Cul de Sac.
Instead, they’ve chosen a quieter approach, neglecting to invite me to the block parties and the holiday events they host every summer. I might let them know how little it bothers me, this exclusion, if I cared at all. I don’t. Not for them nor what they might think of me. I never have.
I’ve preferred to spend my quiet time inside the terrarium. The trees I strategically planted in adjacent rows within provide a perfect sanctuary for my tenants. Their webs, once no more than five to six inches across, now occupy the entirety of the space between the various branches. Indeed, the expanse between the trunks of the trees currently plays host to webs reaching widths of five to six feet.
I must admit to feeling more than a little pride in that fact.
I’m getting ahead of myself. This story really begins with a different type of wonder. One of the celestial kind.
It happened mere days before I first became aware of the eight-legged visitors to my property. A meteorite landed in the back yard.
I had heard there would be a shower in the early morning hours. I’d planned to stay up and watch the light show, but a long day working in my home office, staring at the monitor as I crunched numbers for my clients, had left me feeling drained. I fell asleep early.
I believe it was the sound of the impact which roused me several hours later. To be honest, I’m still a bit hazy on that point. I was very groggy and my consciousness was still being filtered through the tattered remnants of some strange dream as I sat upright in bed.
My bedroom boasts a window with a view of the grassy acre behind the house. I’m not one hundred percent positive (I was still very much working the sleep out of my system at the time), but I thought I saw a purplish light glowing back there for a moment. Assuming it wasn’t a figment of my imagination, the phenomenon ended almost as quickly as it began. By the time I’d slipped on my robe and stumbled my way out back, it was dark. Save for the sliver of pale light cast from the crescent moon, the area was draped in shadow.
In that silver moonlight, I saw the crater.
It wasn’t large and neither was the fragment of space rock nestled at the bottom of the fresh crevice. Now fully awake and impelled by curiosity, I approached and peered inside.
The meteorite is six inches in diameter at best. It’s oblong, with a dark coloring that shimmers if you turn in under a light. As if it were coated with a thin sheen of some metallic liquid.
Yes, I kept it. I consider that rock to be my prized possession. I mounted it on a display stand I purchased the following day and placed it on the mantle above the desk in my den. I’ve sometimes spent hours silently gazing at it in wonder, drinking in every detail, from the superficial fissures spread across the surface to the pockmarks peppering its circumference.
I discovered my guests a few days later.
When I first came to know my friends, they were common spiders, the sort of everyday garden dwellers one expects to find on the property of a home in the lower third of the Florida peninsula. I noticed them while clearing out a small area of soil just beneath the window of my den, which—like the one in my upstairs bedroom—opens into the back yard. I’d been meaning to plant a few rows of azaleas on either side of my back steps and this spring seemed the opportune time.
Even then, they demonstrated a propensity for population. At first, there were half a dozen or so, holding court on webs woven along the support arms of the awnings covering the windows on the southern face of the house.
Knowing they helped keep the insect population down, I let them be. I’ve always admired the purity of nature when left to function without human interruption and spiders rank high on the list of those creatures I consider natural wonders.
Over the next few weeks, their number began to increase dramatically. At first, I was confused, not understanding how they could possibly breed so quickly.
A closer examination revealed different species of spiders co-existing in webs spun within inches of one another. Everything I’d read about these creatures suggested this was not normal. While this development explained how there came to be so many so quickly, it also raised new questions as to why the different species of arachnids were co-mingling, rather than instinctively competing for food chain dominance.
Before I could successfully answer that question, tragedy struck.
Noticing the presence of silverfish beneath my kitchen sink and around my shower drain, I had hired a pest control service to spray the interior of my home. I had made it expressly clear they were only to treat the interior. At no point were they to enter the back yard.
I’ve no idea what compelled the exterminator who showed up to disregard my detailed instructions and approach the growing colony of occupied webs, but at some point, he had eradicated them all.
It was to my utter dismay and disgust I returned home that Saturday afternoon to discover my tiny friends—and their homes—were gone.
Furious, I contacted the headquarters of the service and demanded to know what gave them the right. The proprietor, who had already been paid, told me I was crazy for being that upset over some worthless pests and hung up.
I ended my dealings with them at that point, but the damage had been done.
Or so I thought.
Imagine my surprise and delight a few days later when I was planting those intended azaleas near my back stoop and discovered several freshly woven webs. I had no idea if any of their number were the same arachnids from earlier, but it didn’t matter. The important thing was the local spider population had decided my home was where they wanted to live and meant to rebuild.
An idea occurred to me that day. A persistent image I found myself unable to ignore. As soon as I thought I’d put it out of my mind, it would return, stronger. In every instance, new and more clarifying details would be added, as if I were engaged in some sort of psychic construction. Eventually, I could envision the domed terrarium I would build.
This was more than some hobby. I felt a compulsion, an almost obsessive need to make this a reality. The urgency propelling my actions was at times as alarming as it was confusing. I had no idea why this meant so much to me, but I knew I’d never feel a moment of peace until I completed the project.
I filed the necessary paperwork with the local zoning commission and received approval to have the new structure in my backyard. Over the course of the next few weeks, I ordered the necessary components and sketched out a blueprint.
You may be wondering how I afforded all of this in regards to both time and money. I conduct a small but successful home business as a personal accountant. Tax season is a particularly lucrative time of year, and the income I earn between late January and April usually covers my base expenses for the next calendar year. The other work I do through December allows me extra resources to indulge the occasional unforeseen expense. I live alone, so there’s no one to answer to. No office to which I report.
I have always had what can accurately be described as an analytical mind (a clue as to why my livelihood involves numbers), and I have a fair aptitude with tools. I set about drafting a plan for this structure I would build with my own hands.
It was a bizarre experience. I glided through the construction as if I had been doing such work my entire life. I could picture with stark purity the way the frame should be connected, how each pane of glass needed to be angled. Details came to me one after another, such as where to mount the terrarium so the plants it would house received the perfect amount of sunlight. It was as if something were tapping into a latent store of knowledge buried in my brain.
This went on day after day. Tax season came to a close and I decided to contact my other clients and let them know I was taking a sabbatical for a few months, freeing myself to focus on the task at hand.
Time passed in a blur. Daytime hours flew by as my vision took form. At night, I would enter a deeper sleep than I had ever known prior. Part of it was simple weariness from my labors. But it’s clear to me now something else was at work—a force calling me down into my subconscious during those nocturnal hours.
I know I dreamed, but all that remained upon waking were fragmented, vague images of featureless giants enveloped in hues of purple and red. They were not pleasant dreams; I knew that much. Every morning, despite feeling physically refreshed, I had to overcome a lingering sense of foreboding, as if I had encountered some horror down in the recesses of my mind and carried traces of it back to waking life.
I must pause from these reflections to mention my tiny friends. They were themselves quite busy, their community growing by leaps and bounds. By the third week of the project, the number of new webs had reached such a count as to be clearly visible to the naked eye from the other side of the yard. That’s an acre of land, across which one could spy a glittering network of silver thread stretching from the edge of the awning all the way to the earth covered by its shade.
The planting of the trees came last. Before I tightened the last bolt of the metal frame of the terrarium, I had mentally worked out how I would arrange them inside. This time it was less a matter of some perceived external influence than my own talents. I’ve always maintained a fair number of plants, having an affinity for horticulture. The idea of using the trees as a proper home for the community of spiders was a logical conclusion.
Once everything was in order, I took the final step of securing a padlock to the small door that opened into the terrarium. As it was constructed of glass and aluminum, I understood that someone of a mind to get inside would have little problem doing so if they were really intent on it. The padlock was more of a casual security measure. Assuming the structure would be obscured from view once the privacy fence was up, I didn’t really believe I’d ever need more robust measures.
That was my first mistake, starting me down the road to the calamity I find myself faced with today.
Not that I had foreseen such a dark turn of events. The day I completed the project, I felt more energized than I had in years. There was an immense sense of pride in my work, and it was with great pleasure I set about collecting as many of the spiders as I could, gently scooping their webs into a large pail. Then I walked the bucket inside the terrarium, set it on the ground, and tipped it onto its side.
What happened next is still vivid in my mind. The spiders scurried out—scarlet backed Orb Weavers mixed with a legion of black and yellow Arpeggio spiders, Huntsman spiders and even the occasional Green Lynx.
They quickly spread out from the lip of the pail in a coordinated pattern, moving in diagonal rows toward the base of the trees. Within minutes each and every one had disappeared into the branches, some choosing to climb higher, hiding among the leaves. If any of the different species crossed paths as they moved, I didn’t witness it. The entire event unfolded with an eerie, almost structured efficiency.
I recall experiencing an almost hypnotic state while observing the uncanny precision with which the arachnids marched toward their new home. Far from being frightened by the seemingly unnatural display, I felt a deep calm. I could have watched them all day, enraptured in a strange, psychic bliss.
Who knows how long I stood there as hundreds of tiny forms scaled the trunks of the trees. It might have been ten minutes or an hour. I lost track. I only broke from my reverie because of the bizarre encounter that unfolded next.
As I watched the spiders acclimate to their new surroundings, I became aware of a single, dark shape scurrying toward me across the stretch of open dirt between myself and the closest tree. Shortly, I realized it was one of them. It was larger than the others—at least four inches across at the center—and I can only surmise I missed it initially while I was fixated on watching its companions settle into their respective nests.
A more striking difference separating this one from the others were the markings. I’d never seen one like it. It was mostly black across its diameter and all along its legs. Twin stripes of purple and red streaked down the center of its body, as if painted there by some master artist with a steady hand. The colors glistened beneath the midday sun the way the surface of the meteor had, as if there was a metallic quality to them.
Red and purple. Disconnected snippets of my dreams surfaced briefly before being swallowed by my subconscious again. I found myself beset by an unexpected sense of familiarity. My charge sat there, isolated from the others, seeming to assess me. I perceived an intelligence. Something unfamiliar—something other—but cognizant of both my presence and its surroundings.
It turned and headed back to the trees.
I exited the dome that day fascinated and unsettled in equal measure. Something miraculous was happening here, and I had no idea what.
The privacy fence I’d set my mind on was installed a week later. To be honest, that had as much to do with my dislike of other people as it did the colony. I wasn’t being coy when I mentioned I didn’t miss those invites to neighborhood parties. I rarely enjoyed myself when I did attend, finding them to be a waste of time. Life is too short to mount a facade of sociability for the superficial goal of relating to thick, generally dull people. Neighbors who labor under the delusion they’re interesting enough to listen to. I hold them all in contempt and always have.
Unfortunately, there seems to be hard-wired into the human psyche an incessant and lamentable need to explore that which is forbidden. The very act of keeping others out was what drew the special attention of the McLaren boy.
When the family moved into the two-story house on the lot next to mine, Jeremy McLaren had been all of seven years old. I’d watched the boy grow from a spoiled, ill-tempered child into an obnoxious teenager. Indeed, it was his parents seeming inability to engage even the most rudimentary attempt at discipline with their son that ultimately kept a barrier of hostility between us. Joe McLaren knows I’m not particularly fond of him, his wife, or his son. I’m keenly aware he feels the same way about me. Even so, they at least kept their distance and left me to my business.
Until the privacy fence went up.
That’s when Jeremy decided he just had to know why I wanted to conceal the terrarium, which he’d spied in its early stages from his back yard. On one occasion, I found him hovering on his family’s side of the newly erected portions of fence now separating our properties, watching me fasten each new beam that would eventually block their view of my yard.
“Whatcha doin?” he’d asked.
“Putting up a fence.” I’d been curt, hoping to dissuade further conversation.
“I can see that,” he’d retorted with his customary arrogance. “But why?”
I’d chosen to simply ignore him. I finished with the lumber and walked back inside without another word.
I should have paid more attention to just how curious Jeremy had been. If I had, I might have prevented what happened. Instead, I remained oblivious. Now I’m left with the consequences. Not only in regards to what befell him, but the dismal turn for the unfortunate friends he’d convinced to tag along.
I’m getting ahead of myself again. Whoever you are reading this, know that my thoughts are clear, but I’m competing with the onset of the bizarre physical transformation begun just after my incident in the dome, the details of which I will record here shortly. These changes are threatening to overwhelm me, so there is a quality of urgency underscoring this account. I’m racing against the clock, trying to get it all down in coherent, linear order before it is over. Already my vision is skewed from the alteration of my eyes, everything I see drowned in a murk of scarlet and amethyst hues. My hands are twisting, fingers merging. The flesh is darkening, hundreds of tiny hairs sprouting from my new skin in a fine coat. I am forced to hunch in my chair, no longer able to stand upright.
I feel no fear. On the contrary, I’m filled with a sense of exultation. I have been chosen. This becoming is an honor, an act of love—a welcome from the other who beckons me.
But I digress. Back to the story.
After the fence went up, I found myself drawn to that place day after day. I would spend entire afternoons in the warmth of the terrarium, gazing in wonder as the arachnids created a literal cityscape of silk that covered the trees. Within a week, the entire area surrounding those planted rows had been turned into one enormous, multifaceted web.
How they fed was another wonder. Inhabiting an enclosed space, there weren’t many opportunities for insects to fly into their traps. Instead, they drew their food from the earth itself. The dome was fastened into place on a series of spikes circling the base, each anchored by a small, buried block of concrete. Otherwise, there was no actual foundation, with the soil of my back yard constituting the floor.
Rather than trapping food as it flew into their web, somehow all manner of creatures were being drawn from the ground. On more than one occasion, I watched as lines of centipedes, ants, and beetles would rise from the dirt, marching to their certain doom in the webbing as if under some hypnotic direction. It was simultaneously eerie and awe-inspiring.
It was around then the bizarre dreams had begun to intensify. The more time I’d spend watching the spiders during the day, the more vivid and pronounced the dreams would be that night. It felt as if I were forging some sort of psychic connection to what was happening out there, in the dome.
Whereas earlier, I’d dreamed of finding myself in the presence of intimidating giants, creatures without face who loomed over me in silhouette, now the mindscape in which I repeatedly found myself took on a new tenor—a not unwelcome one, in all candor.
I was in a new environment, those malevolent, shadowy titans having disappeared. The same colors bathed everything in their ethereal glow, only now I was in a forest of some sort, climbing through a maze of intertwined tree limbs. Odd shapes moved in the darkness around me, keeping pace—present but always just out of sight. Rather than feeling the cold dread of the unfamiliar, I felt a sense of kinship. Comfort. As if I were being escorted through my nocturnal sojourns by family intent on keeping me safe.
The dream always ended at the same juncture. I reached one particularly long branch and crept along its length, hovering at the outermost point. Below me, a wide expanse of earth stretched in all directions. Every night, as I gazed down at this mysterious bit of geography, my last mental image before waking was of a man, staring up at me. I could make out no features, but he seemed incredibly familiar.
These dreams were unlike any other I’d had before and not just in regards to the level of detail. They lingered. As a rule, whatever imaginings my brain conjures up while I sleep have turned to vapor by the time I’m brushing my teeth in the morning.
Not these dreams. They remained, carrying a weight more common to memories than nocturnal whimsy.
This pattern continued for another week. Having made my temporary leave of absence from my home business public knowledge to my clients, I would spend the days in the dome, watching my friends as they continued to thrive. At night, I’d lose myself in that strange, oddly soothing other-world.
It was on the afternoon of the seventh day when I at last made the astounding connection. I remember it clearly—despite the physical changes I’m experiencing, my mind is still relatively sharp—because it was when I also noticed what was going on with the spiders.
When I write “the spiders,” I mean the ones I knew had originated in my yard. The singular creature I had shared the odd moment of silent communication with days earlier was different. I saw that one only on occasion. Mostly, it was the common garden arachnids I would observe scuttling about inside the now almost impenetrable curtain of webbing interlocking the trees.
That day, I was standing in the center of the dome, less than a foot from the first of the trees I’d planted. The plants were by now obscured by a seemingly infinite wave of silver thread, cocooned by their tenants. That external layer encircled the entire tiny orchard, wrapped around the rows the way humans might bind freight in sheets of plastic. Small, dark shapes moved to and fro on the other side of that barrier, their contours blurred but recognizable as they continued to weave.
The spiders remained deeper inside the web. Under my gaze, their prey continued its steady march from between the roots, crawling up the length of the trees and into those sticky traps as if responding to some signal I could not hear.
Then it happened: An errant insect—a millipede, I believe—crawled along the outer surface of that cocoon. One of the occupants was on it in a flash, emerging from underneath the webbing long enough to snatch the hapless creature up and retreat to safety just as quickly.
That was all the time I needed in order to see.
The one I’d spotted had been an Orb Weaver—not a large spider under any circumstances, no matter how well fed or long-lived. This one had transformed, growing to an unnatural width of at least four inches across. What had begun as a standard white and red shell resembling the covering of a crustacean was mottled with splotches of purple and red. Sharp spikes protruded along either side, each an inch long and an inch wide.
And its eyes. Its eyes looked like green marbles, stacked one atop the other. They were too large. It was too large.
The spiders were changing.
My mind began to analyze this information furiously as I stood there, feeling a rush of excitement. This was something about which I had harbored a suspicion for several days, now confirmed by the evidence of my own eyes.
The spiders were being refashioned in the image of the one I had shared that alien moment with. Whether this was the result of it having a direct physical influence on them via a bite or the product of some spectacularly fast reproductive process, I could not say. But, under closer scrutiny, it was obvious they were larger, some having developed into different shapes.
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. Initially, I chalked it up as a reaction prompted by the larger implications of what was going on in that terrarium. Then I sensed another presence, a separate consciousness nearby. Someone—some thing—was watching me. And it was close.
I lifted my head, already knowing what I would see. Several feet above me, a single branch extended from inside the webbing, narrowing to a natural point. Perched upon that point was my striped companion from several days ago.
My dreams floated back and I found myself reliving that vivid image of staring down as a giant gazed back up at me, awash in those eerie colors. I knew I had been seeing this world through her eyes.
I understood in that moment. This was the female of the species. I knew that as certainly as I knew she was not from this planet. That meteorite had carried her here across distances the human mind can scarcely imagine. It may have been intentional, as the environment on this planet was clearly hospitable to her. It may have been blind luck. Either way, she was a visitor.
That sense of peace filled me again and I, at last, comprehended what it meant.
I had been selected. She had reached out, planting into my brain the motivation to build all of this. I had been willing. In that willingness, she had found something else. Someone not hostile, who would protect her. A friend.
I could sense an almost electric connection, an energy filling the space between myself and the other perched on her branch. Compelled by a sense of urgency stronger than any I have ever known, I slowly raised my arm, hand outstretched, palm opened toward the glass ceiling. Thin sunbeams pierced the dome, casting odd reflective patterns of light across my skin.
A new emotion filled me: Acceptance.
As I watched, she crouched on the end of the branch. All eight legs were curled together and she released herself from the limb, suspended upside down as she rode a single strand of webbing toward me. Halfway down, she performed a somersault, flipping herself over on the end of the support line, allowing her to soft-land on her legs as she dropped into my palm.
For a split second, the sunlight caught her body. Captivated, I stared at her stripes sparkling like priceless jewels.
I experienced an intense bolt of pain as she bit down on my flesh. What felt like liquid fire raced up my arm and I cried out. My knees lost their strength, and I collapsed, kneeling in the dirt, gasping, gripping my wrist beneath my injured hand.
She scurried up the length of my arm, taking position on my shoulder. There she sat, motionless. Again I felt as if she were regarding me. I could sense the intelligence, a consciousness equal to my own.
Remain calm. The pain will pass.
It wasn’t a thought, but a voice. Not my own.
A low rustling like that of brittle leaves being pushed across the floor of a forest by a strong, October wind surrounded me. I raised my head, the pain overcome by a new sense of wonder. Hundreds upon hundreds of spiders were emerging from their silken castle, moving as one toward the incapacitated human being kneeling inside the domicile I had erected for them. These members of the colony were smaller, perhaps the first wave of the next generation born of their mutated parents.
The sensation of thousands of crawling legs rippled across my skin, sending waves of goose flesh coursing across my extremities. They swarmed my legs, chest, arms, and face, countless bodies exploring every inch of my being.
I felt something new, a dull pressure followed by a series of sharp stings, as if I had been repeatedly bitten by a mosquito. I found myself unable to move, whatever she had injected into my system acting as a paralytic. Only my eyes still darted about in a combination of horror and awe.
I focused on my arms and discovered the source of the stinging pains: The spiders were burrowing beneath my flesh! Thick, black mandibles covered in thousands of tiny hairs carved away, creating small cavities in the muscle into which they forced their wriggling bodies. I watched as lumps appeared, stretching my skin, traveling the length of my limbs. They began to inject me with their own venom.
Despite this violation, I felt no further pain—quite the contrary. I soon became conscious of a warm, euphoric calm settling over me, numbing my senses and slipping me into a dreamlike trance. The world twisted into new shapes peripherally as all the colors with which I was familiar were bleached from reality. Spheres of amber light appeared out of nothingness behind my eyes, flaring like a series of small stars exploding one after another.
The light faded, returning me to the familiar sight of the web. Only now, I was witnessing it from a thousand different angles at once, while at the same moment seeing it as clearly as if I were watching with my own eyes. This was the mind of the colony, connected through her power.
I could hear her in my head, soothing, welcoming me. I felt the acceptance of the others, this surrogate family she had found here on our planet. A tribe of similar lifeforms with whom she could bond.
I saw it all, her entire history. Eons traveling from the farthest reaches of space, moving from planet to planet. That which she did not absorb, she preyed upon for nourishment. Entire civilizations had been either transformed or eradicated in her wake.
I was not frightened by this knowledge, but elated. It was beautiful, this mechanism of perfection she commanded. It left no room for upheaval or disorder. All served the one, dutifully. Willingly.
And she had chosen me as her equal.
By injecting me, she had joined me to them. My thoughts were now an open book to a collective mind. Alternately, I could perceive their mass consciousness, even as they emerged from beneath my skin and began to crawl back to the trees.
Go. Rest. The change will take a toll.
Change? I broadcast silently, alarmed.
A necessary transformation, she answered. You will survive it, as have others, some of whom are here with us even now. Without it, you will never be able to join me at my side.
The thought of not being with them—of having been brought this close, only to fall away and not complete whatever strange journey I had embarked upon—filled me with a combination of dread and despair. It was an unexpected rush of emotion, forcing a shocked gasp from my lips.
Do not be afraid, she consoled. You will survive. Your form is stronger than many we have encountered in our travels, and members of those species have been absorbed. Go now. Rest.
I staggered to my feet, feeling lightheaded. The world seemed to sway back and forth. I took a moment to steady myself, closing my eyes. I drew a deep, calming breath, then opened them. I saw the colony crawling away in those unnaturally symmetrical rows, retreating within their protective, silver veil.
I searched for her, eventually spotting her dark form slipping back onto the raised tree limb she’d been occupying earlier. I smiled. We had forged a bond.
That moment of bliss—in concert with the overload of new and incredible information my mind was still processing—is what I blame for my failure to secure the padlock as I left.
Stumbling into my house, I managed to make it up the stairs to my bedroom just in time to collapse onto the mattress. I quickly slipped into unconsciousness, sinking into a deep, satisfying sleep.
When my eyes next blinked open, the room was cast in shadow. Through the window, the sky was painted in deepening tangerine hues bleeding into an ever-encroaching aqua blanket as the sun sank beneath the horizon. Hours had passed. My heart was racing and my body was crackling with apprehension. It was a jolt of terror and anger that had roused me.
I sat upright, blinking as the room around me flashed in and out of existence, replaced in brief intervals by images of the terrarium and its occupants, who were scuttling in all directions in something akin to panic. The feeling was underscored by a sharp sense of rage.
The fear burrowed deeper. I felt my skin go clammy, my frame beginning to tremble. A terrible sense of violation—intrusion—enveloped me, filling my head with a horrible realization.
Someone was inside the dome.
I lunged from the bed, intending to sprint down the stairs and race outside. Instead, I found myself off-balance, unable to stand. I toppled, arms flailing as I landed on my side. The impact knocked the wind out of me, and I lay still for a moment, recuperating.
One arm—my left—was sprawled out before me. Something was wrong. I knew I was staring at my open palm, but it didn’t look right. My fingers were mottled with thick splotches of black and purple, and what appeared to be a series of small, rough bumps were peppering my hand. Short stalks of coarse hair sprouted from these protrusions. The digits were suffused with a thick, gray sludge that seemed to bind them together.
Frightened, I forced myself up and slid back until my shoulders were pressed against the edge of the bed. It was then I noticed the odd way my legs were twisted inside my pants. Rather than being straight, they were bent, curving outward from my hips to my knees, then elongated like stalks down to my feet.
Like the legs of a spider.
Pressing my hands (if that’s what I could still call them) against the floor, I pushed myself up, drawing my crooked limbs underneath me. I managed to find my balance and, after a few tries, found I could move fairly quickly and remain upright if I stepped sideways, then moved a step forward one leg at a time. I attempted this for several feet when it occurred to me; I might be able to steady myself and move even faster if I leaned forward and incorporated the use of my hands.
It worked. That’s how I made my way down the stairs: Bent over at the waist, palms touching the floor. I’d take a step to the left, then forward, then a step to the right and forward, keeping myself centered by walking on my hands. By the time I reached the bottom step, it already felt natural.
I entered the back yard and saw the door to the terrarium standing ajar. Instinctively, I glanced at the privacy fence and could see where several of the wooden boards were slightly out of place. That had to have been where they entered. They must have pried the panels away from the post they’d been nailed to just enough to slip through.
The last of the day was dwindling. Under what remained of the sunlight, I could perceive strange shapes twisting and turning through the paneled glass. Whoever had come through the fence was still inside. At that point, I knew who it was. A dark part of me almost found it amusing. Wouldn’t it just stand to reason the lack of parental supervision I found to detestable had, in fact, led the neighbor boy into severe danger?
Taking a deep breath and steeling myself for the worst, I nudged the door all the way open and crawled through.
The McLaren boy was standing in the same spot where I had been earlier, directly below that same extended branch. The other was there, staring down at him. I could sense the malevolence radiating off of her. She might have trusted me, but there was no mistaking the hatred she felt toward this unexpected intruder.
Much of the colony had encircled him, forming a living barrier which he had no hope of traversing. Even if he’d attempted to jump across, he’d have likely fallen short and landed far enough in to be instantaneously swarmed.
Not that the boy was going anywhere. He was frozen in place by sheer terror, his eyes wide in their sockets and his skin pale. His lower lip was trembling. I thought he might begin to weep.
His concentration was locked on two large forms trapped in the thick webbing. These figures wriggled like worms on a hook. Every few seconds, one would issue a muffled shriek. A number of the mutated spiders remained with these new cocoons and scurried across them, sentries guarding precious stores.
I knew who they were. McLaren had a couple of friends who tagged along with him most days. They were neighborhood kids. Although their names escape me, I’d sighted the three of them together on numerous occasions. Judging from the height and girth of the cocoons, I surmised those two had entered the dome with their friend and managed to get themselves tangled in the massive web, likely when approaching it out of sheer, stupid curiosity. In turn, their movements must have alerted the occupants.
The colony was selecting prey higher up the food chain.
I shifted my focus to the surviving teenager, hissing his name. I was startled at the high pitched, slurred noise that escaped my lips when I attempted to speak.
Those bulging eyes drifted in my direction and somehow grew even wider, so much so I reasonably expected them to literally burst from his head. His mouth scrunched into a disgusted grimace.
“Oh, god, what the hell happened to you?” he whispered, his voice hoarse. “Please, what’s going on? Help me!”
I stared back, and something deep inside me changed.
My intent upon seeing the frightened teenager had been to help. Now I felt besieged by a powerful surge of contempt, eating away at my capacity for compassion like acid. I no longer regarded the pitiful specimen standing hapless before me as a victim. Hunger gnawed at me. I sensed the presence of the other underneath, goading, pushing, commanding.
She was offering me the opportunity to choose my allegiance.
I lunged, ravenous. He threw his arms up at the last second in a vain attempt to lessen the impact. I swiped at them as I connected with his body, a sudden blast of unexpected strength sending my mutating hands ripping through his forearms as if they were composed of tissue. The resultant stumps spewed their crimson load across the soil in thick, wet splatters, some showering across my face. The smell of the blood drove me into a frenzy.
What exactly happened over the next few minutes I can only guess. My memory is empty here, only a blur of screams and torn flesh. Once I returned to my senses, I saw that what little remained of the McLaren boy was unrecognizable.
I should have felt a deep disgust and a deadening horror at what I’d done. Instead, I sensed her approval—her love—and felt only pleasure at having now earned my place at her side.
The circle of spiders converged on the remnants of Jeremy McLaren, dragging him off into the recesses of the web. I moved toward the door, intending to crawl back to the house, when I caught sight of something inside the sticky labyrinth. Pinpricks of light, glittering like diamonds.
The moon had emerged, a pale crescent floating in the heavens, piercing the dome with beams of reflected light which shone on the other two, casting their woven prisons with an unearthly glow. I quickly became aware—the tiny gleams which had caught my attention were moonlight reflecting off their open, tear-filled eyes.
They were awake and aware. They had seen everything.
I opened my mind and drank in their fear, deriving a deep satisfaction from their understanding of what was to come.
Then I returned to this study.
That was early evening yesterday. As the writing of this epistle draws to a close, dawn beckons. Sharp pains have plagued me through the penning of this chronicle. These are the pains of rebirth. I find myself incapable of standing upright. Even gripping this pen is requiring all of my concentration.
My perspective continues to shift. The room seems larger now, the desk further from this chair even though I haven’t moved in hours. I know the McLaren boy and his friends will be sought. Three teenagers cannot disappear without creating alarm. Eventually, the authorities will arrive and investigate my property, whether I am present or not. He hardly made his desire to know what was inside the terrarium a secret, so it’s only a matter of time. I am positive there is enough evidence in the dome to convict me for several lifetimes as a murderer, were I still human. The more severe threat is the almost certain execution of every living thing dwelling within upon the discovery of the colony.
I must move fast.
This last passage is of paramount importance. It is for you, the reader, whatever your reasons for being in possession of this journal. Consider this the last kindness I have to spare: A reason for the holocaust you will all soon suffer.
Even as my body diminishes and transforms, even as I lose my human characteristics and assume those of my new brethren, I know why I was chosen. It was as strategic a move as it was personal.
They absorb the knowledge of every new addition. Whatever I know, she knows. That means the rest now own that information as well.
I’m the first human to be joined. I have an understanding of our infrastructure we can use to plan our travels. I perceive the threat of insecticides and large gatherings of people in a way they do not. Using what has been wired into my consciousness over the years, she will be able to lead us away from here, into safer areas.
From there, we will find others to transform. There are billions of spiders across this planet. We will increase our numbers and spread, feeding on what we have now discovered to be an excellent source of sustenance. In doing so, we will dominate this world.
And I—I, beloved of other—will be the general.
You will come to understand the legitimacy of this account in the weeks and months to follow. As the army crawling across the face of the earth accomplishes conquest after conquest, your media and leaders will be unable to ignore the increasingly visible threat soon to encroach upon your every waking moment.
I must stop. My fingers have fused completely, and the words are slipping away. The final moments of my humanity are upon me. Our colony must depart now.
Your world ends and ours begins as we steal away.