Cassie switched off the vacuum cleaner and took a deep breath. She stood at the entrance to the living room, the very room she hated going into.
It was a nice part of the house, a cozy, warm room that was lined with built-in mahogany bookshelves and attractive silk window dressings. A plasma TV hung above a spacious fireplace, and an ornate oak desk, custom-made and inlaid with silver trim, stood before a large bay window. It was cluttered with her husband Frank's various papers and an expensive computer monitor. A small brass lamp stood at attention on a corner of the desk
Cassie could see Frank sitting there, a cigarette in one hand and a gold-plated pen in the other.
Her attention swung over to a large glass aquarium. It was perched on a steel-frame stand and gleamed in the sunlight that streamed into the room. It stretched eight feet long and two feet tall, and the lid, a heavy-duty iron grate, was slightly ajar near one end.
She stepped into the room, closed the door behind her, and walked up to the aquarium. Fear battled with her curiosity over control of her body, but the former won out.
She secured the lid back in place, and peered into the tank. A thick mat of peat moss carpeted the floor of the aquarium. A massive hollowed out decorative log big enough to house a small dog occupied one side of the tank, a faded ceramic bowl with stagnant water the other.
Cassie felt revulsion seep into her gut. She didn't like spiders (especially big ones), and judging by the size of the aquarium (as well as the log) the one hiding was a big one.
Too big as far as she was concerned.
And Frank loved spiders.
Cassie straightened up and realized that she had been standing too close to the tank. Her body trembled as her head began the process of plaguing her with a migraine.
She stepped away from the aquarium, and was about to bolt out of the room when she noticed a glimpse of movement on the far side of the log. It was small (no more than a slight jostling of the substrate), but it was there nevertheless.
With bated breath she stared at the spot and waited for something to emerge from the peat moss.
Seconds ticked by, gradually sliding into minutes.
Cassie forced herself to look away.
Maybe I imagined it.
And then, almost as if responding to her thoughts, something moved again.
She did a double take and waited.
A tiny nub of something flesh-colored poked up through the substrate. It was small, but as more of it emerged, it began to take on a definite and recognizable form.
A finger. It was a finger. A human digit bleached from lack of blood flow and stiffened by the merciless onset of rigor mortis.
Cassie froze where she stood. She struggled to regain control of her body, but fear held her tight in its grip.
"Oh…my…God," she mumbled through clenched teeth.
As she watched, the finger rose from the ground cover. Soon it was flanked by other fingers, similar in size and stage of decomposition. Each was stiff and bloodless.
Something shiny caught her attention.
It was a ring on one of the fingers. And not just any ring, a ring Cassie recognized. She could see the custom-made diamond that Frank had put on it when they were first married.
The fingers twisted upward until the remainder of the hand they were attached to rose into view. Clots of substrate clung to the dead flesh, adding to the ghastly appearance of the hand.
As Cassie watched, more lifted up out of the ground cover, and in the span of half a minute, the entire arm up to the elbow was exposed.
There was no doubt about it. It was Frank's arm.
With her heart in her throat, Cassie stepped back from the aquarium. Her mind raced in a thousand different directions. She knew she should call the police, but the anguish over losing her husband paralyzed her body. She stood in the center of the room, not knowing what to do.
A thought struck her like a freight train.
What killed him?
She rushed over to Frank's desk and snatched the phone off its base. She punched in 9-1-1 and waited for a dispatcher.
Nothing. The line was dead.
"Hello? Hello?" she cried into the receiver, even though she knew there was no one on the line.
She slammed the phone back on the base and gripped the cord in her sweaty hand. She followed it down off the desk, nearly falling over when the neatly snipped line drew up into her fingers.
"This can't be happening."
Something occurred to her then. It was the only explanation for how Frank wound up in the aquarium.
The spider. The God-awful beast that had to be hiding in the hollowed out log.
Cassie turned and faced the aquarium. She wanted to leave, to just run out of the room and get help, but something made her stay. She needed to know what happened to her husband, even at her own risk.
The hand was still there, jutting up from the substrate like some crazy Halloween decoration, and with a sick feeling in her stomach, she looked at the log.
The opening was nearly a foot and a half wide and pitch dark inside. Nothing stirred in the blackness. A few random crickets scurried around the entrance to the miniature black hole, but seemed to sense danger and avoided venturing inside.
Cassie strained to see inside the log. She couldn't imagine a spider big enough to need such a large hiding spot. She'd never seen the beast, only the tank, but just the thought made her shudder.
The arm moved again, although not by its own volition. The fingers were frozen with rigor mortis, but the arm rose up, as something beneath it was gently pushing it upward.
Cassie backed away from the horrid display. She grabbed a letter opener on the desk and wielded it as if it were a dagger. Somehow she knew she would have to defend herself.
A great explosion erupted in the aquarium. Tufts of substrate shot into the air as the arm, and the body it was attached to, were pushed up for all to see. Clumps of clotted blood and flecks of decayed flesh dotted the limb. Chalk-white bone protruded out from beneath the skin, and a terrible stench permeated the grisly relic.
It seemed as if the arm was pointing at her.
Cassie fought the urge to vomit. The letter opener in her hand felt as useless as the phone had been.
The substrate began to move. Where the arm ended, a clump of ground cover lifted and fell in smooth rhythms before something else made its presence known.
And it wasn't part of Frank.
A leg, bristling with dense black hair and droplets of dried blood, lifted up. It was multi-segmented and moved with an air of confident stillness.
Cassie watched as the horrible appendage slowly rose, inch by inch, until it revealed what it was attached to.
A bulbous and grainy-black abdomen emerged, and with an equally grotesque and slightly smaller head in front of it. Four sets of glossy black eyes glared out from their recessed sockets. A pair of glistening fangs hung in the air below its head.
Cassie recoiled from the sight. The spider was enormous, the size of a puppy, perhaps bigger, and sported an evil visage that animals simply should not possess.
And the worst part of it was was what dangled in its mouth, hanging down between its 3-inch fangs like some piece of ghoulish jewelry.
It was a human head, stripped of most of its flesh and barely recognizable as Frank. The eyes, clouded over and staring at nothing, only added to the horrific display.
The spider let the head fall. It made no sound as it crashed to the mat of substrate and rolled to its side. A dull-gray tongue lolled out of the mouth.
Cassie screamed. Her voice seemed to be a separate entity, a different part of her body altogether, wholly able to express itself individually.
"Help! Somebody help me!"
The spider tilted its head to the side as if puzzled by its intended prey's reaction to its presence.
But it made no difference. It was hungry and wasn't about to let a meal get away.
The spider crept forward with perfectly synchronized movements toward the front of the tank. Its many eyes focused on Cassie. Hunger throbbed in its brain. Its fangs clicked in anticipation. It was a predator, streamlined to maximum efficiency and intent on obtaining sustenance. Nothing would stop it. Nothing ever had.
It swung one of its front legs against the tank, shattering the reinforced glass with ease, and in the blink of an eye, darted out into the room toward its next meal.