The Strange Case of Abel
The boy woke up because he was thirsty. His throat was dry like sandpaper and each time he swallowed, he could feel the fleshes of its form stick together. It was almost painful how they rubbed on each other. He wanted to drink gallons and gallons of water and wash away the unpleasant feeling.
Behind his closed eyes, visions of rushing water flowed like paradise. He imagined himself putting his cupped hands into a clear, singing spring and bringing them to his lips. He imagined the cool rush of liquid flood down his throat and wetting his parched innards. Each jointed, sinewy limb felt as dry and desiccated as firewood and it pained him to stretch even them out. He groaned at his lack of options. He needed to drink.
He opened his eyes very slowly, cringing as the light creeping in through the slit between floor and doorway penetrated his mind. He was amazed that a bulb as generic as the one in the hall outside his door could be so bright. His vision blurred with dots and sensation. It dizzied and disoriented him so much that he lay very still and took air in slow, measured, puffs before he could venture to reopen his eyes.
Even then, he was forced to blink steadily through each lid until the floaters were gone from his vision. It amazed him still that he could raise himself out of his bed, and he did so with relative ease, moving towards the door. It seemed at first that the floor was unusually close to his face and much closer to his eyes than he remembered it ever being. He thought briefly that he might have shrunk but when he stretched his legs out in the dark, the length of time it took to rise up to his fullest height alarmed him. He thought then, briefly, that he might have grown, but figured it to be a mild hallucination.
He was prepared for the assault of light that came when he pulled his bedroom door open. Blinking furiously and still put off, he rushed out in a beeline for the kitchen.
“Abel, is that you?”
The voice was his younger sister Gloria’s coming from the living room. Gloria was like one of those flowers that morphed to follow the sun’s elliptical path across the sky. She was the only one in their family who could be considered a morning person, her circadian rhythm having figured at birth that it preferred the light to the dark.
She was sitting on the old chaise longue in the living room. Her teenage frame was covered in a navy blue gym trouser and one of those light-grey, form-fitting sweat shirts with hoods that teenage girls had taken to wearing. She held a bowl of cereal in her lap, her attention half-focused on the TV screen. There was a generic Saturday morning cartoon on. In it, a small wimpy-looking cartoon man with a sly grin feigned fright to a larger glowering cartoon bully. The viewers could see that the cartoon man intended to place the lighted stick of dynamite in his back pocket into the outstretched hand of the bully.
Abel continued past his sister, managing only to throw a gargle of words at her in greeting. She turned away from the flickering screen, startled by his speed, but he paid her no mind. Through his half-shut eyes he could make out the hazy form of a cup on the kitchen counter. He picked it up and fumbling blindly filled it with water from the tap.
But just as he brought it to his mouth, a scream sounded through the house, causing him to shake violently. It seemed that he felt the scream through his whole body and that his form itself vibrated from the sheer pressure of the sound. It was in his legs and in his back and the sudden loudness of it caused him to open his eyes very wide into the searing brightness of the kitchen light. He dropped the cup, spun around, and darted back towards the living room.
“Gloria?” he cried, running, “what is it?”
The terror in her scream filled him with fear. Had some intruder forced his way into their home? Was the intruder now menacing his sister with a brandished knife? Where was he?
He exploded into the living room, eyes darting high and low for signs of trouble, but all he saw was Gloria plastered against the far side of the living room wall. Her mouth gaped silently. He saw no intruders in the room with her and no signs that there had been one, although her bowl of milk and cereal was spilled half across the floor. Her silver spoon was almost hidden from view where it now lay under the loveseat. The TV however was still on, tuned to the cartoon and the wall paintings were as straight on their nails s they’d ever been, none showing signs of having been rocked by a person on their way out.
Maybe, Abel thought, there was a fire. He took another cursory scan of the room, paying special attention to the TV stand and its mounds of wires and devices, but he detected nothing.
Frustrated, he turned to her but seeing his attention shift, Gloria shrunk back violently, another scream issuing from her mouth. She pressed herself harder into the wall, almost as if she were trying to push herself through it. He frowned.
He reached out to grab her but was struck by how unusually hairy his limbs were, and how long and oddly misshapen they’d become. These hairs were smooth and black, small against the length of his strange dark arms. His arms ended in wickedly jagged hooks instead of hands, their surfaces as shiny and black as night. He turned slowly to take in himself, his heart beating faster at each new sight of the strange transformation. He realized that he could see both in front as well as above nearly simultaneously, that his head and shoulder seemed to move dependent of each other, and his back now angled parallel to the ground. Eight great limbs extended from a slim torso behind his vision and behind these even, a suddenly engorged anterior continued. He couldn’t see it, but he felt it as if it had always been there.
He knew also, that if he could look, he would see a pattern like an hourglass splayed across his back.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw his mother and father at the entrance to the living room, their large eyes like moons in their ashen faces. His mother stood riveted, her fingers clutching and opening at her breast like the talons of some great bird of prey. Her hands wrung around each other as frantic as the rhythm of her breath. Behind her slimmer form, his father, shorter and more solidly built, stood blinking. They were still dressed in their nightwear, both having been woken by Gloria’s screams. His mother had her eye blinds pushed up to her forehead, her hair in a stringy, old black net. His father wore blue and black boxers with a white tee that stretched out over the slight pouch of his belly. He could see the great vein in his father’s forehead, embossed and starkly visible against the tightness of his skin.
“Muhhnnm?” Abel managed. His voice still sounded like his voice to his own ears, although it seemed like it came from a long way off and required a whole more moving parts than he remembered. His front limbs had curled involuntarily to the sides of his maw.
His mother started at his voice, her eyes widening farther still. But then, a strange thing happened. They glazed over as if she’d been struck in the head, focusing and unfocusing on Abel. She smiled dimly at him, clasping her hands finally together..
“It’s alright Frank,” his mother said, “it’s just our boy Abel. Don’t you see our boy?”
The lights in his mother’s pupils brightened sharply and she turned sure eyes to his father who stared blankly at her for a moment. But just as suddenly, he exhaled sharply and laughed. The sound was high and brittle and unlike him, but he turned to Abel with a large smile shining on his face. His eyes were round and wet and seemed overly bright to Abel.
“Abel! My boy!” The force of his fathers bark took him by surprise and he started. He froze when he noticed the wash of fear pass quickly over his mother’s face and his father cringe slightly. Gloria had recovered enough from her fright to unpeel herself away from the wall. She now stared in fearful fascination at her brother taken by the monstrosity of his body.
Slowly, Abel began to back away from them. All eight of his legs trembled violently like wind-blown trees. His fine hairs vibrated all throughout his body in a soft hum that entranced his parents and sister. He could feel the pressure of the wall behind him. He continued backing up into it, his limbs finding easy footing, until he realized that he was actually on the wall. He was suspended vertical to the ground but even then, he continued until he’d moved his great bulk to the ceiling. Only then did Abel turn and rush out of the living room, the noise of his passage sounding like taps on the ceiling plaster. He registered the hallway light as the sun but rushed blindly towards it, understanding that the coolness of his room lay just on the other side. It’s heat left a trail of singed hairs across his abdomen but then he was safely inside the dark interior of his own room and it took only a downward flicker of one back leg to shut his door.
He stayed in his room all day. The house was so quiet that he could hear the tip-toeing of everyone outside his door. He could feel it. Their movement pressed against the floors and the very air. It all traveled underneath his door to him and he shrank as far from their sounds as he could. In the afternoon, Gloria laid out a jug of water for him. He was so thirsty by then that he could barely stand straight anymore. Still, he waited to hear the sound of her departure before opening the door to grab up the jug. More hours passed then with him curled up in the darkest corner of the room. He only realized when night came when the silence seeped into his legs. He felt it moving up slowly through the joints of the old apartment building. It was the ceasing of activities everywhere as families lay themselves to sleep. The air itself seemed lighter and its lightness called on him to fill it with his bulk. The spider stood.
He crawled through his window and out into the night, the moon reflected in the shiny hairs of his body and the thick strand of silk disgorged by his spinneret. Four stories off the ground and clinging to the side of the building, Abel decided to explore.
Outside his door, Gloria returned. She knocked gently on the door, expecting to hear a rustle of activity behind as her brother moved. She knocked again, the hollow echoes of the door filling the hall behind her with its music. Still, no sound or movement greeted her from inside. She stood there for several minutes debating what she should do with herself then she reached for the knob and threw the door wide open.
She noticed the open window immediately. Filled with fear and amazement, her eyes followed the thick strand of webbings stretching across its sill and out into the night. She understood its significance. This single thread of silk was the tie that bound the monster her brother had become to the rest of the family. She contemplated cutting it with her father’s great saw but was instantly filled with a sense of revulsion at herself. It seemed like a secret thing that she was spying on and she glanced guiltily behind her imagining the stern disapproval of her parents.
Gloria waited that night, setting out water and raw meat for the giant spider. The hours of the night deepened with the weight of sleep on her shoulders. When she awoke in the morning, the slab of steak was gone and the pitcher of water drunk.
Excited, she repeated her vigil that night and the following night, but always, she missed her brother’s arrivals and departures.
Then one night, she was awoken by a strange sound. It was the humming of the spider’s thread, vibrating from some great force. Almost as soon as she realized this, her brother’s great form appeared through the open window. Looking around her, she saw that the drink and food she’d set out had already been consumed and was confused. But then she realized that the great spider had already entered before while she slept. He had woken her on purpose to say goodbye.
Tentatively at first, but determined, Gloria reached out to him. She was surprised when he let her touch him, and surprised again at how cool his head to her touch. His hairs felt like the finely toothed bristles of a brush, and she moved her hand across his face, tracing the outline of his features through the stiff, dry, fuzz.
The nictitating eyelids beneath his lenses flashed rhythmically as he watched her, and it drew her into a lull. Then as suddenly as he had appeared to her, the spider rose and with its back legs leading the way, withdrew up its thread.
For many days after that event, Gloria maintained her vigil. When the water she left out staled and the meat rotted, she adamantly replaced them. But as the months passed, the strand of silk outside her window crusted and grew hoary with debris.
Eventually, it withered.