Prose Header

Instinctive Fear

by RD Larson

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

Jennie lay quietly, her tube of dextrose dripping slowly into her vein. She did not look strange except in the way that she lay so still. I kissed her brow. It was still the forehead of a child, the child she’d been, the child she still was. High and round, pale and regal. I thought if I kissed her there somehow her brain would know that I loved her and that I would save her if I could. Daddy’s magic.

Depressed, I left the hospital and returned to the apartment.

The tacos lay uneaten and unappetizing, oil and cheese congealing on the plates.

The salad wilted and drooping, the milk scumming over. I just looked at it.

Then I wandered over to the couch to sit down. I picked up Jennie’s sweatshirt from where she had balled it up to rest her head. Shaking it between my knees, I tried to make logical sense of the spider thing. What else could it be? As I shook it, something caught my eye.

A tiny eraser-size brown spider clung to the cuff of the sweatshirt. I shook the shirt more vigorously. Knock that ugly thing to the ground and stomp him! Then, I thought, maybe they would need a sample, so I lay the shirt gently on the floor. I went to the kitchen and found a baggie.

He was still there. I imagined for a moment I could see his multiple eyes staring at me. His ears on his legs hearing me. His sex organs, also on his legs, straining toward me. His mandibles working in preparation for that vital bite.

I ground my teeth in defense.

Placing the baggy over him did not make him move. He crouched, imperious on his eight legs, to my mechanics. I shook the shirt gently. Suddenly, I jumped when he did.

He ran, away from the bag, the shirt, from me! As I watched he slipped silently into the duct of the heat vent. I sat there for a moment. Annoyed. Then I noticed the spider had a brother sitting on the computer keyboard.

“Okay, tonight, you win; you little monsters, but I will be back tomorrow. To kill you. Every last one of you!” I shouted, leaving. Leaving food sitting, leaving a message to Travis unsent, leaving toothbrush and electric shaver. I just left.

But I knew that I would have to come back.

Angry and afraid, I ran down the stairs and started across the parking lot. A horrible smell assaulted my nostrils! Garbage? Rotting food? I shook my head and jogged toward the Bronco under the carport.

I kind of glanced up at the low, low clouds that seem to catch and hang on the buildings. Must be a storm coming in, although I didn’t remember a storm out west the last time I saw Doppler radar. I had almost reached the carport, the Bronco, when it happened.

Something viscous, smelly! — slimy — dropped on me! I jerked in sudden hysteria, brushing at my mouth, eyes, and nose! It was sticky, stuck to my face, and I pawed at it, trying to wipe it away. It burned my eyes and nostrils, seeping into my breathing passage. I jumped at the Bronco, grabbing the door handle! Locked. I pulled my keys from my pocket, swiping my sleeve over my face uselessly. The mucous slime was even on my shirt!

I struggled to get the key into the door lock. The keys, too, were sticky. The keys suddenly dropped from my fingertips. I reached for them just under the Bronco door. As I leaned down, I lost my balance, falling forward under the wheel well, crashing to the blacktop.

As I fell, I felt a hundred burning pricks of fire, my nostrils and mouth and eyes searing, and, then, I knew I was losing my thoughts to darkness and death. The spiderlings were feasting on me.

As I slipped from conscious thought, my love for my daughter skimmed my heart.

I felt myself being pulled, twisted. I struggled to breathe, my lungs burning. My eyes seared as I became aware of a bright light in my face.

I knew it was a hospital, but knew nothing else. Then, I saw Travis leaning closer to tell me something. Travis knew about the cloud of spiderlings. I knew he knew. I could not speak to him because of a breathing tube. I tried to listen over the hiss and throb of my life-maintenance equipment, but it was hopeless. I felt myself fall away again into the blackness. Jennie, I thought, briefly.

When I became aware again, the hospital room was empty. I didn’t have any tubes except the IV drip. I felt my scorched throat ache for water and I pressed the button, hopefully for a nurse. I wanted, no, I needed to hear about Jennie. My poor little girl, was she even still alive? What other terrible things had happened?

A nurse-type came in, bringing a cup of ice chips as though she had read my mind. I felt anxious, panicked and asked her, croaking, about my daughter.

She couldn’t understand me; she went away. Much later, a male nurse came in. He looked worn out. I could speak better, the ice chips lubricating my torn throat. I asked what he knew about Jennie.

“She’s still in a coma at St. Joseph’s. She’s on O2 and antibiotics, there hasn’t been a change for four days. You’re here at St. Mary’s,” he told me, his eyes sympathetic. “I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you. It must be awful for you not knowing how she is.”

“Where’s Travis?” I said, weakly nodding, remembering I had seen Travis’ face sometime since I had arrived. I was so afraid.

“He’s at the Civil Defense Command Station; your doctor has sent him a message telling him that you’re conscious.”

“What have they done about the spiderlings?” Afraid to ask, yes, but I had to.

“Spiderlings? What’s that? You mean this sudden illness? It’s some kind of flu, the CDC is trying to get a handle on it. They think that they’ve found an antidote from the blood of someone who has gotten it and recovered from the coma, but that’s only hearsay. Hey, is that you? No, I’m not just kidding. I don’t know who it is but I suspect it’s you.”

He paused, seeming to wait for me to say something. “Too bad your kid’s got the flu; and, then here you came down with it, too. Never mind, don’t worry, she’s on the mend, and so are you. You’re recovering — before you know it, you’ll be up and taking care of her.”

“So what’s wrong with me?” I could hardly bear to ask; I had been sure it was the damn spiders. “Is it the flu?”

“They aren’t saying, but you’ve been getting the flu treatment. You have a closed chart. In fact, I’ve been told not to tell you anything except about Jennie, Mr. Matthews.” He smiled a large smile, his eyes companionable. “I just can’t help myself, you looked so worried.”

“Thank you,” I whispered. My thoughts raced. Not spiders? What then? Flu? A virulent strain that suddenly developed?

I slept again. My dreams tormented me. I had visions of the hairy legs of that tiny spider rasping against my face, not just him, but millions. I woke up twisted in the sheet and dripping in cold sweat. My eyes stared at the dim room. Frightened, I called out.

“Who’s there?” I gasped. “Travis?”

“Hi, Abe, how’re you feeling?” Travis moved into the light and I sighed.

“Better, how’s Jennie?” I could barely whisper still. Must have been the breathing tube. My throat was still sore.

“She’s better, not awake yet, but better.” Travis handed me a water glass, the straw circling, teasing my thirst. “I was just there.”

I looked at him. His plain face shone with inner excitement. His eyes gleamed.

“Thank you,” I said, then sipped the water in long drinks. Satisfied, I examined his face again.

“What aren’t you telling me, Travis? I have to know, tell me, for God’s sake, she’s my kid.” The tears threatened to choke me.

“You don’t want to know, Abe,” Travis said slowly. “It’s better to not know. Think of it as the mutated flu. There’s only the future ahead of us, from now on.”

“What do you mean?” Every sort of terror pulled at me. My imagination warped into light-speed. “Is it, is it the spiders? Or what? What IS it?”

I almost couldn’t ask, I was so terrified of his answer.

“I’ll help you to the bathroom, Abe,” he said louder than before. Did he think we were being taped? Had he gotten even more paranoid?

I looked at him as I threw back the covers, and hung my bare legs over the bed. He helped me to rise and to position my IV stand. We walked slowly to the adjoining bathroom.

“Here, I’ll come in and get you situated.” Travis left the door almost open. Then he leaned near to me and whispered, barely more than a breath.

“It is spiders — kind of — they came back on the Voyager from Mars, they’re dust spiders. The CDC is keeping it quiet for now. Most of the insects have been killed.”

I looked at him, shocked that my worst fears were realized. As he slipped out the door, I weakly lowered myself to the toilet. As release gave way, I heard a scuffle.

I struggled to stand. Not even drying myself, I flung myself toward the door. Two men were fastening handcuffs on the struggling Travis. When he saw me, he suddenly stood head down, turning his back to me.

“This sucker won’t give you no more trouble, sir,” one of them said as I felt a now-cold trickle of urine inch down my inner thigh.

I ran to Travis, pushing the guy out of my way, grabbing at anything, clothes, arms.

“Travis, tell me what to do, we’ve been friends for years, tell me,” I begged him. Shook his shoulders.

“Let him go along, sir,” the guard said, tugging Travis from me. My anger melted away my fear.

“Look here, if you want trouble, you’ll get it. I’m the news anchor on KKIT and I will fry you guys and your agency.” I felt the air at my butt: I jerked my gown together and stood backside to the door.

“You won’t get around me without trouble, you’ll have to hurt me,” I said, my voice weak but determined.

They looked at me, then at Travis.

“Okay, then we will,” said the other one. The shorter one with a cruel face. “We’ll just have to hurt you, Mr. Matthews.”

Travis jerked and twisted, but didn’t say a word. The shorter guard stepped up to me; his eyes level with mine. I wanted to slug him. Oh, how I wanted to hurt him. I just knew it wouldn’t do any good. I backed away.

They led Travis away, mute in his handcuffs. What was the world coming to? My mind revolved in circles of numb fear as I stumbled back to my bed, dragging the IV stand I had left in the bathroom, torn from its connection to my taped-down IV needle. Where are the nurses? This makes no sense.

I lay there. I felt such dread that I couldn’t think what to do.

Finally, I picked up the phone and dialed the station. A receptionist came on-line to tell me that the line was busy, could I try again later? I knew the station had forty lines. They were lying to me.

I got up again, pinching my split-backed gown together. I peered around the door. I thought about Jennie at the other hospital, miles away from here. This was almost a clinic at the outskirts of town. Why was I brought here? I saw nurses huddled together at the lighted station down the dark hall. I went back and read my IV bottle.

Dextrose, saline and morphine. They — whoever they were — were drugging me.

I thought about Travis. Was he right? I heard a sound and rushed back to bed, lying down quickly, tossing the clear IV tubing over my arm, covering it with the sheet. Just then the nurse walked in.

“Mr. Matthews, are you awake?” He leaned near me. His eyes now seemed ominous, a secret malice in their depths.

“Ummmm, no, not too,” I mumbled. He reached down and took my pulse on the hand free of the IV needle. I opened my eyes as slowly as I could, trying to appear unfocused. “My daughter, is she... umm, here?”

“No, Jennie is at St. Joseph’s. I’m going to tell you something. One of them is coming to see you; he wants you to do something for them. If you want to save yourself, you’ll have to agree. And to save Jennie.” His whisper was harsh, his breath hot against my ear. I felt terrified.

“I will, for Jennie,” I whispered at last, barely audible. My skin crawled as he laid a heavy hand on my chest.

“It’s really for the best, Mr. Matthews.”

I sucked in my breath, his hand crushing my breast bone. I nodded. His hand pressed harder, then lifted. As he left, he put a small clear vial from his pocket on the table. As I saw the tiny spiders struggling to crawl up the smooth glass sides, my gut heaved and my heart thudded. I turned on my side, fighting the sensations.

Then, I heard the click of leather dress boots in the hall. My fists clenched, I could smell him before he entered my room. Skin smell; that moist, perspiration of humidity mixed with deodorant soap and cheap shaving cream nearly gagged me. As he walked toward the bed, I rolled over to face him.

“Mr. Matthews? I’m General Conroy Holycroft, in charge of the Field Containment Conflict in this area. You and your daughter are my responsibility. I take all of my responsibilities very seriously. The agency wants no more deaths from the plague of these little assassins.” He picked up the vial of spiders and turned it in the light from over my bed.

The evil little things ran over one another; there must have been two dozen spiders in there!

“I’m scared, okay, and lucky to be alive. I know that. What do you want me to do?” I pushed my head back, away from the spiders, from the general.

His smile did not seem indifferent or cruel. I could maybe live. Maybe.

“We want you to forget about the cloud of spiderlings, Travis Jordan, and this stay in the hospital. We have much work to do before the invasion; you have done more than your part to help us by just living. By letting your blood provide the needed antibodies to make a vaccine, you are giving us a chance to make a DNA vaccine. It will prevent the immediate death of those trying to protect the civilians.

‘We will have a chance to succeed. We won’t die helplessly as a species. Mr. Matthews, if it weren’t necessary to keep it from the media, even the entire world, I would recommend you for the Medal of Freedom. Someday when the war ends. In your own way, you have saved us all.” He saluted me.

“Okay, now what?” I was too afraid, too tired, too beaten to believe this was going to be the end of this nightmare.

“You and your daughter will be transported by aircraft to an unknown place in Wyoming. You will enter the witness protection program and we will continue with our war efforts.”


“He was part of the cause. Travis Jordan is going to stand trial in Federal Court, and you may have to testify, by video if it comes to that. You will agree with all of this, yes?” I nodded yes to his question.

General Holycroft took the spiderlings with him. Jennie and I would be safe for now. I tried to sleep. Tomorrow a new life would begin for Jennie and me.

Copyright © 2009 by RD Larson

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