#StitchedSmile – Lisa Vasquez – 2/9/19

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Excerpt from

“White Widow”

By Lisa Vasquez

Jack was lying in a gutted-out car facing the sky. A million stars lit up the night to a backdrop of indigo and black. He shifted against the old, peeling leather seat. A combination of nerves and exhaustion crept in on him while he tried to stay alert. The trick was to allow the body to rest while staying aware of one’s surroundings. It was harder than it seemed with the beauty of the world around him.

The earth below was thick with green grass and vines. Old tree roots were blanketed in moss which snaked along a path to a nearby babbling brook. The chirping of crickets began the gradual procession of trilling voices. The cicadas joined in afterwards. Their hypnotic buzz was infectious. If you weren’t careful, it could put you under a spell of deep. Before long, singing frogs added to the chorus until the night was an auditorium filled with a nocturnal symphony.

The temperature was perfect. The breeze was amazing. Especially where Jack was-high in a tree top where an old Volkswagen had somehow been caught. The blast from the old world sent debris from all over; cars from Germany were imported in an instant to a national park in California. Jack’s muscles began to relax from the long climb up to his perch. He nestled into the springy backseat and his eyes grew heavy as he began to drift in and out. He had very little memories of those days. Most of them were blocked as a result of trauma. Other memories were gone because he was too young to remember, and it was too long ago.

I shouldn’t be sleeping. It isn’t safe to sleep out in the open.

He jolted awake and saw movement in the corner of his eye. Trying not to make any sudden movement, he walked his fingers down his ribs along the side of his chest. He needed to reach his waistband where his knife was. It was his only chance to defend himself. He thought he was safe up in the trees and cursed himself for being so foolish. Feeling the pace at which his heart was racing he knew something was wrong. In the New World, humans had to relearn to trust their instincts.

Jack remained still. In order to control his breathing he opened his nostrils to take in deeper breaths. He needed to catch a scent. To do that, he needed to get more oxygen to his lungs. Most important, he had to calm his “fight or flee” instinct.

There was a blur of movement to the other side of him and Jack tried to roll out of sight but realized he couldn’t. He was immobile from his knees down.

“What th–”

Panic set in and he tugged at his feet unable to see what had a hold on him. With the knife now in his firm grasp, he held it out in front of him. Craning his head in the direction he saw the movement, he sat up. Reaching with his other hand, he struggled to undo whatever his legs were tangled in. The thin rope was sticky to the touch. He pulled back his hand and looked at it. Silken, thread-like strands clung to his hand. In the light of the moon above, he tried to make sense of it all. It appeared to be webbing from a spider.

“There’s no way,” he whispered aloud.

Pulling his eyes away, Jack fought against its strength. As hard as it was, he willed his eyes to look upward. His racing heart stopped for the count of four short breaths and his face drained of all its color at what he saw. A figure, amplified in its menacing appearance by the wash of silver light on its features, stared back at him.

When his heart started up again, it sent his blood rushing into his temples and ringing through his ears. Swiveling his head left and right he saw the outline of a larger web, woven like a tent around his refuge. Its thread was so fine it was almost invisible explaining why he didn’t see it before. It was only when the moonlight glistened through the silk strands, he knew it was there. If he didn’t move and act now, he was going to die but convincing his mind and his limbs to connect the two thoughts together somehow seemed impossible.

The figure stirred the leaves above him and he could feel his hair begin to rise, stretching from each root on his scalp. Jack looked back down at his hand.

“Make the connection,” he whispered, hoping it would force his brain and body to work together.

It seemed to work. His fingers curled tighter around the hilt of his blade, using it to slice through his bindings. He kicked his legs free and rolled to his side. The old door of the Volkswagen swung open with the impact, dropping Jack into the cradle of tree branches below. Ignoring the deep lacerations from the bark cutting into his skin, he descended as far as he could go until he reached a thick line of fog hovering just above the ground. It floated through the trees like an ethereal spirit, weaving in and out. What lived inside the fog was more dangerous than the figure above him. Mentally, Jack prepared himself. He knew once he went into the pillowy atmosphere, he would not have a strong grasp of direction. His sense of hearing would be off, and there would be shadows in his peripherals, everywhere. All the senses he relied on to defend himself against attackers would be useless.

The figure watching him from above had all the heightened senses he lacked. In the darkness, from her perch, beady black eyes tracked each move he made with predatory precision. When the hairs on his head rose, she watched every single one like blades of wheat swaying in the breeze. She already latched onto his scent and could taste his skin on her tongue. If it weren’t for him waking up while before she finished wrapping him, she would be drinking from his severed carotid now.

From where Jack hung, he looked around and listened. North of him was a clearing, and the sound of the brook was to the west. If he could make it to the clearing he would be out of the fog but exposed. He started to scan in the other direction when he caught a glimpse of torchlight in the distance. It was blue.

Blue torchlight in the new world was the universal sign for healers. They possessed access and knowledge of herbs, plants and secret potions with the ability to change the color of fire. Like the Red Cross in the old world, they were a neutral entity. They allowed humans left over from the old world who survived a safe passage. Their only enemies were the abominations created from the ruination of Mother Nature; the “Sins”.

The “Sins” were exactly what he was trying to avoid tonight.

Ir’ri, the one who watched from the darkness, gave a small flick of her wrist. The unseen others hidden in the dense foliage skittered back into the trees. The others were the ones mankind never intended. The ones who shouldn’t be. The “Sins” of Man who tried to play God. It was how they acquired their nickname. When the world realized they could not control the Sins, they tried to annihilate them. Soon, however, man discovered he was no longer at the top of the food chain.

The first generation of Sins were a weak, watered down version of the brood now reigning on New Earth. Ir’ri’s race was a breed consisting of DNA pulled from the arachnid gene pool and placed into harvested, human candidates. The results were similar to the fictitious vampires humans obsessed over. They drank blood, they were nocturnal, they had superhuman strength, and they had fangs. There were various other races man created, but the arachnids hunted them to extinction, or enslaved them until they were as scarce as their human creators.

Tonight, Ir’ri saw fresh meat in the tree, and she was in heat. The male’s blood tasted virile and strong, so she sent the females out to throw a hunting party. It was up to her to decide if this was a good enough candidate for a mate, or if he would be just another meal.

Jack tried to make a quick note of how far, and in what direction, the torch was. Traveling in groups at night was always advisable. Traveling with a healer was even better. They always carried food and resources. Two things he did not possess at the moment. Taking a deep breath, he hopped down from the tee and as soon as he felt the balls of his feet touch the earth, Jack took off running toward the torch.

With his arms pumping and his calves burning, he moved with the speed of a rabbit. He was small and agile; something which saved his hide in more situations than he could count. Until last week, Jack had a nice place underground. Food was easy to find, he was safe at night, and he had enough to hide out for a few days. When the storm came it flooded his home, forcing him to seek shelter elsewhere.

Right now, with his breath being pulled into his lungs faster and harder, all Jack could think about was getting to the torch and getting to safety. He made a leap over a stack of knotted, high roots and skid to a halt using his hand to catch his fall.

A woman was hanging from a high branch by her neck, her entire body wrapped in a webbed cocoon. She was alive. The only feature he could see was her eyes, wide with fear, the whites bright against the darkness. Jack glanced around before taking a step toward her. Even if he wanted to help, he had no idea how. All he could do was stare up at her, wondering how long she would fight before her life drained from her. In her final moments, the woman, whose mouth he could now see was bound shut, twitched. The violent spasm shook the entire branch from which she dangled.

Jack was frozen where he stood. What do I do? She was too high for him to reach. And if I get her down, then what? He looked around again. Whatever trapped her must still be nearby. It wouldn’t leave its dinner and go too far, and he didn’t want to run into it by surprise. Taking small steps to his left, Jack did his best to stay quiet until he could get back on track to the torch without becoming someone’s meal.

The hanging woman jerked, and Jack flinched. When her eyes began to sink in and darken, Jack squinted and leaned in for a closer look.  Tiny legs poked through small tears in the cocoon, tickling the air outside. The spun silk unraveled and fell, unleashing thousands of writhing bodies. Jack continued to back away as the legs grew in number.

“Run, damnit!” he shouted at himself. His body lurched into action as an army of baby spiders came bursting from the woman’s every orifice. Blood sprayed, covering him in thin droplets before he could get away. The newborn spiders were feeding from the inside of their host until their bellies had bloated and now, they were escaping from wherever they could.

Jack’s hand cupped his mouth to keep from throwing up what little he had eaten the day before. He had no nourishment to spare, and had no idea how long before his next meal. His jaw quivered and his eyes watered. He needed to get away and he didn’t see any other road besides the one he was on. From the solace of the shadows, the huntress sent to capture the human, smiled in satisfaction then turned to Ir’ri for her approval.

The arachnid sovereign gave a small nod of her head in response then spoke, “Follow him. I will meet you at the torch.”

The White Widow

2 thoughts on “#StitchedSmile – Lisa Vasquez – 2/9/19

  1. I WANT THE REST OF THIS. This is just mean to tease like that. I started out envisioning the landscape from Thundar The Barbarian mixed with the spiders from The Hobbit. Incredible.

    Like

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