A Web In The Dark
by Laura Campbell
Cameron had two great fears: spiders and the dark. The former wasn’t that unusual – many people were afraid of spiders, but his phobia of darkness stemmed from that other one. Since he was a young boy, he’d always gone to bed with the lights on, just so he could see if a spider was sneaking up on him. His father told him he was being childish. After all, if you were going to sleep, your eyes would be shut and lights wouldn’t make a difference.
Eventually though, both parents had given up trying to get him to turn his lights off. If they did it themselves, he’d sit up in bed, bawling at the top of his lungs until they undid their crime. He wouldn’t get up himself. What if a spider was crouched on the carpet getting ready to bite at one of his feet?
As he got older, he could pretend that he needed the light on to study. He could make it look like he’d fallen asleep reading a book. He was fooling no one – least of all himself – but it was a legitimate excuse for keeping his room lit up.
Now he was nineteen. “Almost a man,” he kept saying to himself with pride. But he knew that deep down his phobias kept him a child. His parents said so. Not so much his fear of spiders as his fear of the dark, though. But he couldn’t help it. The thought of spiders, small or large, their bulbous bodies, hairy legs as thick as a human finger or as slender as toothpicks, their poisonous teeth, the glitter of their multi-facetted eyes, the ghostly flutter of their cobwebs hanging in a dark corner…he was so afraid of them.
When the time came to a week before his nineteenth birthday, Cameron was getting himself all excited about presents and parties. He wanted to set up the large ping-pong and pool tables in the garage for his future guests to use. Some people preferred games to disco dancing, getting drunk and making out, and he wanted to give his friends the opportunity. His mother said it was fine, so long as no one threw up on either table.
In the warmth of the evening, Cameron walked down into the basement of the house, shutting the door behind him so the family cat – a white feline with silvery-grey tracings across her fur that had earned her the name ‘Cobweb’ – wouldn’t follow. He switched on the flickering light that hung suspended from a long wire in the middle of the room, and went carefully down the creaky wooden stairs, dust sifting down to the cobbled floor with every footstep. The two tables were sitting in pieces in a corner. They were always folded into separate segments when not in use. A couple of pool cues, a box of billiard balls, two ping-pong paddles and a ball or two rested nearby.
Cameron reached the bottom of the stairs and quickly reached up
to fix the alarmingly flickering light-bulb. Giving it a quick, clockwise
twist, he wasn’t surprised when it went out. He was however, extremely
upset when a twist in the opposite direction didn’t turn it back on.
The light was out and he was standing in the middle of a pitch-black basement.
“Dad!” he yelled.
No answer. They wouldn’t hear him when the TV was on, either.
“Come on, you baby,” he muttered to himself. “Now’s your chance. Show them you can do it yourself. Show them you’re not afraid anymore.” With a shaky breath, he strained his eyes open wider and eventually succeeded in seeing a little more. Well, more black, that is. Swearing under his breath, he gave the light-bulb a final, hopeful twist and was rewarded by the sickening sound of shattering glass.
No doubt now that the light was dead.
Looking around wildly, he made a guess for a direction and groped for the rickety banister of the stairs. Touching nothing, he took a hesitant step in the same direction, eyes staring at nothing. Broken glass tinkled and crunched loudly under his sneakers.
A second step. Nothing.
By the next, he knew he was going the wrong way, but kept going, hoping for the touch of a familiar object that would tell him where he was.
All of a sudden, his outstretched fingers came into contact with something fine and sticky, like the threads of…of a web!
“My hand’s in a bloody spider’s web!” his mind shrieked, and he panicked, tearing the web down then crashing into something in his blind dash to safety that was very solid and very hard.
Legs turning to jelly, he fell to the floor and saw sparks explode behind his eyes as the back of his head connected with unyielding stone. For a second, he lay on the floor, utterly still and heart pounding like mad. If only he could see!
“Don’t worry,” he panted, as much to alleviate the dreadful silence as to comfort himself. “You’re fine. Just lie still and relax for a moment…”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath that shuddered in his lungs.
Something touched his bare leg. It was a horrible moment. His
whole body stiffened in primal terror, the hairs on the back of his neck
rising and his stomach constricting. At first, nothing else happened, but
then the prickly touch came again and started its way over his knee.
Rigid with fear, Cameron’s mind jumped to the only conclusion he could think of.
And what kind of spiders did one find in dark, warm, quiet basements?
Paralysed from the waist down, Cameron reached wildly for a weapon to squash his attacker with. The light, spindly legs continued up his thigh…he almost screamed.
“Don’t panic! It’ll bite you and you’ll die and…and…”
He grasped a smooth, thick, stick-like implement that fit neatly into his hand and gripped the polished wood hard, trying to stop the infuriating trembling of his arms. He lay in trembling silence for a minute in an attempt to pinpoint where the spider was. As the ticklish touch continued up his leg, he broke out into a cold sweat and decided to move…now. This was it. Strike quickly!
Faster than he himself could believe, he lashed out and struck halfway down his thigh with all his strength. There was a crack and a crippling pain as the blow hit his leg as well as the spider, but he immediately felt better. Panting in victory, he shoved the stick away, then groaned. His leg felt really sore. It was worse than sore. He might have broken something in his excessive fear. But he’d only used a stick…
Eventually the pain became too much to bare and he started to sob for help.
With a creak of protest, the basement door opened and blessed light filled the room from the corridor beyond.
“Cameron?” his father said. He leaned over the banister. “Are you down there?”
“I did it, Dad,” Cameron groaned. “I killed the spider!”
His Dad stated down at him through the darkness, the light behind him making him an expressionless silhouette. “Oh my God…” he said, then turned and stumbled back out through the door.
Cameron heard him throwing up.
Then he moved the stick he’d been holding and turned his head
to look at it. It wasn’t a stick…a handle. An axe handle. Cameron’s eyes
drifted up to the heavy metal blade and saw…