Part III: I Don't Like It, but He's Dead
We were getting close to the site and I hadn't even begun to explain any procedures to the fresh meat. I sighed and cleared my throat just loud enough for him to start and center his attention to me.
"So first things first, you know what the job is we're doing today, right? Hopefully boss filled you in on the details," I said with so much freaking enthusiasm it hurt. He just looked at me, shrugged ambivalently and said, "I know we are clearing a large house today. I think some local landlord bought the house without even looking at the inside and apparently the interior is outrageously filthy."
I nodded with surprise. The kid pays attention, and there actually might be hope for him after all.
"Well, good then, we need to knock this out quick as possible. First we'll make a rundown-" and Jake shouted at me to look out as something large and mammal-like was crossing the road in front of our car.
I tried to brake and curve around it but was not fast enough and the poor beast hit our van with a pathetic thump and the van jolted upward about three inches.
"Shit," I muttered, and drove the car to the curb, parking it a few feet from our new flat friend. Nothing says a good report like making a cadaver with company property, especially with this little runt around. He was wide eyed and looking all over the place not knowing how to take in what just happened. It doesn't speak well of me that I was wondering if he was going to blab to the boss about this. I tell him to come on and we both exited the van to see my driving ability's artwork.
It was a dog, not someone's pet but a stray living outside for who knows how long. Even though a large metal beast rammed into the poor thing, most of the body suffered little damage. Of course, the dog was dead on impact and nothing could change that. I would be lying if it didn't make me feel a little guilty. Not much of an animal guy but the mutt didn't deserve swift vehicular judgment. Jake didn't say anything, but just stared at the fallen dog. I knew it was getting to him. I couldn't find the right words to comfort him, so I fell to my old standby move: It was time to be a man and continue our job.
"It's ugly and I'm not happy about it, but come on, lad," sometimes a hint of my Scottish ancestry crept into my voice when I wasn't thinking, a holdover from my grandparents, no doubt,
"We still have our job to do and lookin' at this dog aint gonna bring it back," I turned resolutely toward the van, expecting the kid to follow. I took just three steps and suddenly Jake called me over, saying, "Sir!
Take a look at this!" His voice was shaking in a way that made me suddenly wide-eyed and alert.
As I walked back I noticed what he was pointing at: Just above the left side of the dog's neck were two very large open holes in the flesh of the neck. Never had I ever seen something like that before, and it looked like some kind of other animal's bite. Something with teeth as big around as shotgun shells.
I squatted to get a closer look. My expression went from curious to disturbed. The holes were so deep that inside all you could see was black; there was no blood on the edge of them, as if the animal were already dead when the holes were made.
"You're the expert," Jake said, "What makes a hole like that?"
I had a few ideas, but when I considered each one, it seemed less likely than a moment before. Some goofy part of me wanted to be able to give him a good answer, to seem wise. Being unable to think of a convincing response, I just felt old.
"No idea," I said, heaving myself to my feet. "I doubt it's something we need to worry about, though. Come on, let's get busy."
Jake gave one last look to the corpse, then slowly turned from it and followed me. We pulled ourselves into the van and slammed the doors. Irrationally, I felt some comfort when the doors were shut, blocking us from unspecified dangers in the vague "out there." At the time, I didn't consider what we saw to be a portent. A dog with some holes in it is all I saw, and I quickly forgot it as I eased on the gas and left it behind.
"This place actually looks pretty nice," Jake was saying as we pulled onto a white-pebbled driveway, which traveled to the threshold of a quaint wooden house, large and attractive in a classic sense. Something you would want to raise a kid in, to meet your wife at the door holding groceries.
I grabbed the shifter, one of those mounted on the wheel, and as I pulled it into park, I said, "It's no wonder he didn't check the inside on his initial inspection. This place looks, ah—" I considered a good word,
"Pristine" Jake offered.
I looked at him and he smiled without a hint of mockery, not even good-humored mockery.
"Yeah," I allowed, "That." We got out and walked around to the back of the van to get our stuff. Jake was walking backward so he could gaze at the house a little longer. I noticed and, keeping a straight face, said, "Maybe we should give the place a condemnation and then keep it ourselves."
Jake grinned, but his visage teetered between jocularity and uncertainty because I was intentionally keeping a grim expression.
"Are you serious?" He asked timidly.
I said nothing, just grabbed the handle of a big, 2watt flashlight in one hand, a bag full of essential tools in the other, hauled them out of the back of the van and walked passed him, toward the house. Maybe he'd wonder about my ethical astuteness for a little while and I could have fun watching him sweat.
I was feeling right amused with myself when I crouched to set my equipment down at my sides so that I could open the door. There was a screen door with a handle and a button-latch in just the right position to press with the thumb.
I pulled the screen door open, and grabbed the knob of the white wooden door behind it.
I want to stress that I've seen all manner of vile vermin, disgusting signs of neglect and piles of filth; I've seen maggots fall out of rotting wood and one time I pulled up a floorboard to find three dead cats piled atop one another. One had been pregnant.
I'm telling you this because I want you to know that I have seen just about every repulsive thing you can think of, so when I opened that door and jumped back, and maybe screamed a bit like a little girl, it was justified.
Covering the entire entrance, from the top of the doorframe to the bottom, was a spider-web like I had never seen before. Each strand was almost as thick as a pencil, and on it were thick drops of some sticky-looking liquid, some of the drops still oozing down the web, and one had dripped down to the floor in a long, slimy tendril. Initially I paused, staring at it, my face twisting into a grimace. Then I saw something as large as a dog go skittering through the back of the room. Just enough light was entering from outside that I made out a vague shape, many legs, and a dark brown color.
I jerked back and yelped, tripped over my bag and was even more surprised when two hands pushed against my back and prevented me from toppling down the steps.
"Whoa, there, sir. You nearly killed yourself—what is that!"
Jake pointed at the web as I tried to locate my dignity.
"Just a spider web," I said, and the implication of that made me consider leaving. "Nothing else," I added, and hoped it sounded convincing to him, because it sure didn't sound convincing to me.
Bloody Sander, bloody job, bloody spiders!