was time to feed.
27 placed its forelegs against the stone wall and spread the tarsal
claws at the end of its feet to secure footing between the stones.
Dense tuffs of hair covered the claws, allowing them to act like fleshy
pads that wedged into the gaps. Number 27 began to climb. It reached
the ledge and waited.
Number 27 touched its
short ventral hairs against the wall to feel the vibrations within the
cave. The splashing and rumbling of water trembled through the stones.
One of its prey occupied itself in the water chamber. Where was the
Number 27's front
tarsal claws clasped the bars along the ledge. A sharp middle barb
extended between each pair of claws and locked around a bar. Number 27
pulled its bulk up to peek into the nesting cave of its prey.
As expected, there
were two prey. The male rested on the mating platform, and because of
the splashing in the water chamber, the female must be completing her
Number 27 relaxed its
legs to let air circulate through the slit valves along its front
femurs and tibias. The first scents were the pungent odors of the
fermented grain and sweetened juices the prey enjoyed drinking. The
second layer of smells belonged to flowers, a perfumed scent the prey
also enjoyed. And the final layer carried the delectable aroma of
succulent warm-blooded flesh.
Number 27 twitched
its jaws to prime its fangs with poison that paralyzed its prey and
dissolved the organs and muscles for siphoning. Its thorax flexed to
circulate abdominal fluid from the midgut into the sucking stomach. The
maxillae behind the fangs opened and closed to lubricate the serrated
edges that chewed a hole through the prey's skin and bone. The wound
would be a channel for Number 27's mouth to draw out the lumpy soup of
Allyson patted her
body dry. She folded the damp towel over the hanger bar and stepped
close to the vanity to dry her hair.
Finally, married and
alone with Paul. The last few weeks had been a blur of expectations and
worries. Allyson fretted that Paul would find out the truth about her.
As she ran the blow dryer and brushed her hair, she wondered how she
Allyson thought she
heard a noise, a thump from the bedroom. She turned off the blow dryer
and listened. Nothing.
She turned the blow
dryer back on and looked at herself in the mirror. She stared into her
eyes and decided that she felt ... happy.
Why shouldn't she be?
Paul was a great catch. Allyson gave a chagrined chuckle. Only a man as
big and healthy as Paul could satisfy tonight's appetite.
Was devour too strong
This cabin was a
perfect refuge for what she had in mind. They had the most secluded of
the luxurious Alpine cottages nestled in the forest. A couple of hours
from the city and relatives. What a lucky find. The cabin had a huge
bedroom with a king-size bed and a hardwood floor. This bathroom was
gorgeous: hand-blown glass basins, custom brass fixtures, and beveled
glass everywhere. The view from the balcony was worth triple what they
were paying. At these rates, how could the owners afford to make a
Allyson put the dryer
aside and rubbed lotion on her hands and arms. To marry Paul she had to
deceive him. Anyway, soon he'd discover the real Allyson and after
tonight, it wouldn't make a difference.
She draped herself
with a white diaphanous gown. No point in fussing with lingerie
tonight. Let's get straight to the goodies.
Allyson turned the
lights off and opened the bathroom door. The dim blue light of the
night sky fell as a rectangle from the balcony doors, across the floor,
and to the bed. The bedcovers lay in a jumbled pile and spilled off the
mattress. Vodka, some sodas, glass tumblers, and wine in an ice bucket
sat on the nightstand on Paul's side of the bed.
Where was Paul?
Was he playing games?
She tipped her head to see if he hid on her side of the bed. No. She
crouched to peer under the bed, a tight squeeze for a guy Paul's size.
The room had no
closet, only an armoire and there was no way Paul could hide in there.
Had he left? If so,
Allyson clasped the
top of her gown and started for the cabin door.
This wasn't funny.
Talk about a mood kill.
She looked back to
the bed and noticed a trail of strange markings along the wall next to
the armoire. In the darkness she couldn't tell what they were so she
changed directions to switch on the lamp by the nightstand. She winced
at the splash of bright light.
Deep gouges marked
the plaster, symmetrical patterns of wedge-shaped holes in overlapping
arcs with a seven-foot span between the outermost holes. The gouges
started at the floor, ran up the wall, and continued to the vaulted
followed the markings along the ceiling and stopped when she saw the
dark shape above her.
black creature, a spider the size of a rottweiler, clung upside down
from the ceiling. Legs as big as tree branches splayed from a segmented
torso. Before the creature hung a long bag of silky material conforming
to the shape of a man. A pair of naked human feet, pale as plucked
fowl, dangled from one end of the bag. The spider pivoted its
pumpkin-size head away from the bag toward Allyson. Light reflected
across the shiny eyes that dotted the hairy face. The two central eyes,
as big around as fists, swiveled to focus their inert gaze on Allyson.
Shock ran down
Allyson's spine to her limbs, like ice water pouring through her
arteries. Her body heat contracted to her chest, fueling the panic
which made her heartbeat race into a snare drum staccato.
The spider exposed
more of its head. Two large jaws swiveled apart, revealing matching
fangs the size of meat hooks. A black hole appeared between the fangs,
framed by a second set of serrated jaws.
sputtered in confusion. That was Paul cocooned against the ceiling.
That was a giant spider feeding from him. That creature was looking at
her. She was next.
A gooey, white ball
oozed from between the spider's jaws.
Her brain fired the
heaved with breath, and her legs tensed to spring away.
The white ball
splattered on Allyson's face. The goo splashed into her eyes, mouth,
and nostrils. Allyson tried to scream but the cold, slimy mass filled
her mouth and smothered her. Blinded by the goo and retching
uncontrollably, she fell to her knees and tore at the mass in panic,
but the mass congealed instantly, covering her face in hardened gum.
Vomit filled her
mouth. A scream echoed in her head, unable to escape. Her lungs
bellowed, pumping for air that wouldn't come.
The mass tugged at
her head. Allyson felt her neck stretch upwards and she realized this
creature was pulling her off the floor. As her body stretched from her
neck, the pain made Allyson feel as though her head was about to snap
She grabbed what
seemed like a sticky rope connected to the mass. Her fingers became
glued to the strands. Allyson's feet scrambled against the floor in a
frenzied dance until she was aloft and then she whipped her legs
through the air.
A pair of hairy, firm
pads seized her upper arms and bent them down. When the two sharp
points touched the back of Allyson's neck, she stopped squirming.
Allyson relaxed. In this moment of clarity, she knew what was about to
Toby Johansen pulled
the radio from his belt. "Maintenance, get a crew to cabin 5A."
The newlyweds Paul and Allyson were goners. "Let's not waste time.
We got another set of reservations for tomorrow night."
Toby's Jeep sat
outside the porch. A steel cage on a trailer was hitched to the Jeep.
Earl waited beside the trailer, an assault rifle in his hands.
Toby clasped the
sparker to his front. He only had to show the device to remind Number
27 of the pain he could inflict if she didn't behave herself and get
into the cage. The embedded electrode would shock her into submission.
Toby waved at Earl
and then cracked open the cabin door. "Number 27? Did you eat well?
Is your tummy happy?"
The odor of
putrefying flesh blasted him. He grimaced in disgust. Toby expected to
see regurgitated remains, like piles of rotted jerky, litter the cabin.
But the floor looked clean. A solitary silky hammock hung from the
ceiling. It contained only one bony and desiccated form, not two.
Toby rested his thumb
on the safety catch of the sparker. He should hear the footfalls of
eight feet rapping softly against the floor but none did.
Toby clicked the
safety catch. "A pregnant girl like you is in no condition to give
He pushed the door
Shards of broken
carapace, like the rind of a hairy watermelon, lay strewn about the bed.
Toby felt the breath
leave his chest.
Allyson crouched on
the mattress, bent legs tucked against a grotesque naked belly swollen
to the size of an oil drum. She licked the strands of mangled tissue
stuck to the long barbs of her immense praying mantis arms. Bits of
torn flesh clung to her chin and neck.
Terror and nausea
welled up Toby's throat. His guts weakened and he fought to keep from
wetting his pants.
Allyson wiped the
gore from her face with a swipe of her left claw. "Number 27? She
was delicious. As was what she left of Paul."
Allyson stretched one
leg off the mattress. Her foot clutched the floor with talons that
knifed into the wood. "And guess what? You're next."