Another odd story from my strainge-fiction persona, Eric Stringer…..
When Dorothy Langston first arrived in the emergency room via ambulance and gurney, the sounds—the noises—were almost palpable. At first there was only the click of the ambulance doors being opened and the urgent voices of the EMTs and the grinding of the gurney’s wheels over asphalt.
But once the sliding glass doors shushed open, the sound of the rapidly creaking wheels faded a bit into the background, serving only to punctuate the non-stop, insistent but fragmented one-liners that passed for conversation among the EMTs and the doctors and nurses. They spoke loudly, clearly, and seemingly all at once.
In the distance but growing nearer as the gurney progressed, a child screamed, then began sobbing; the voices faded in and out as mothers and fathers snapped at each other and at the hospital staff overlain with other voices, adults cursing, adults moaning. And always there was the monotone background of quiet announcements over the PA system.
When they pulled alongside the examination table the more distant noise remained, but it was divided and measured by a voice at once calm and commanding. It somehow seemed in sync with itself—“One, two, three,”—and she was jerked, lifted, and moved in one seemingly effortless movement. It was almost as if the hard stress on the third count had caused her quantum movement from one place to the other.
Somehow the noise abated as her jaw moved, seeming to chatter, as someone tugged and someone prodded and someone cut her clothing away and someone lightly squeezed, testing down along her arm to her hand, a minor prick on the hand, warm fingers applying tape as someone elevated her feet as someone strapped her arms along her sides as someone secured her head in a vise, the fingertips gentle but firm, the vise just firm. Her head locked in position, the jaws of the vise blocking the periphery, her field of view was straight up.
A spider was dangling from the ceiling several feet above her face.
Her eyelids drooped and a childhood memory returned. She was five years old. Her papa was frowning, looking at the small, eight-legged splotch on the floor in front of Dorothy. He knelt so he was eye to eye with her. Neffer kill a spider, Dorothy… iss bad luck….
Remorse had flooded through her and she’d cried quietly. She sat with the spider—a bit of matter that used to be a spider until she had crushed the life from it—for a long time. She wondered whether it would be missed at home later. Did it have parents? A mate? Children? She watched it, listened to it, learned from it.
When it had dried, she had internalized every nuance of remorse. Her only comfort was the instinct that told her the spider was still part of everything, but in another form. She squatted over the remains and carefully scraped it from the floor. She used a butter knife at first, and then her fingernail to be sure she’d gotten it all. Then she picked it up with an insignificant cloth and, with measured steps and the folded cloth on her upturned palms, she carried it outside.
The whole time, Dorothy was apologizing profusely and allowing her sorrow and remorse to fill every agonizing step, every bitter silence. After she’d placed the cloth on the ground and dug the tiny grave, she carefully placed the cloth in the bottom. She shared a moment of silence with the spider, then filled in the grave. She moved away for a moment, then returned, knelt and placed a rock over the slight mound.
And I never killed another one, she thought, and I never killed anything else and a light pressure came on the back of her hand like before and I would never kill another one ever, I promise, she thought, and a voice, a soothing kind of electric neon, filtered through the haze. “Dorothy, I need you to count backward from ten for me. Can you do that? Count backward from ten, Dorothy.”
She forced her eyelids half-open. The spider had lowered itself a few inches. What…? Why’s he want me to count back from… spiders can’t talk… they can’t ta…. Her eyelids drooped again, heavy, the top ones curving snugly and perfectly against the bottom ones. The temptation to leave them closed was strong.
“Dorothy, count backward from ten for me now.”
Human… that’s a human, not a spider… A slight smile curled one corner of her mouth. Count backwards from ten? Can I? She forced her eyelids apart again, then let them close. She mumbled, “Ten… nine…” eight… seven… six… “five… f-four… th—” ree…. two…. She opened her eyes wide, determined to stay awake. Is that enough? I said is that “nuff?”
The spider descended farther, dragging a black veil behind it. The starred darkness seemed to stretch from beyond the top corners of the room in a broad V like heavy plastic sheeting. It stretched from there down to the spider’s hindmost legs, the sides of it curving and warping a bit as he descended, pulling it with him.
The V steadily grew broader. The ceiling of the room curled under it and disappeared, then the tops of the walls, then more and more of the walls themselves.
Bringing night… spider’s bringing…. Waves of calm, starry darkness washed over Dorothy. She glimpsed a final time to see the night peel down over the floor and the bed and up underneath her. She could blow against the spider, but she didn’t.
The spider’s front legs grew much longer. It reached to gently close her eyelids. It’s all right, Dorothy… rest….
And she realized the voice from before really was human. The epiphany came to her, warm and dark and undulating. I was right… spiders can’t talk… but I can hear it thinking….
The spider descended, the dark night warm and sparkling with millions of muted stars. It blanketed her, engulfed her, became everything. As the molecules in Dorothy’s cells began to siphon off and merge with the night her thoughts turned to her father and she tried again to smile. He’ll stay with me, Papa… the spider will stay with….
Around the edges of Dorothy and the night, for they had become one, numb tugs and bumps and moves-aside began and happened and continued simultaneously-in-sequence-simultaneously in the absence even of a vacuum.
Dorothy flowed out through small tubes and in through small tubes, expanded to encompass the universe and compressed to seep through cleanly sliced flesh, expanding broadly in her own chest cavity, slipping and simpering around various organs, filling voids small and medium and large where flesh sloughed away and everything fed into silence, a timeless senseless soundless void.
She had buried the spider from her childhood in the only way she knew how.
She sank into the night, imagined a smile. She allowed the warmth of the stars to merge with the quiet in her cells and, she nestled safely against the soft, warm underbody of the spider as it spun its cocoon.