I always think I’ll do better. Next time, it won’t bother me as much. I’m a rational person - some would say, too rational. Others might say rational to the point of psychosis. Anyways - as a rational person, a little eight-legged probably-not-poisonous crawling beastie shouldn’t worry me too much. Ignore it. Squish it and move on.
Nope. When confronted with arachnids, the ferociously rational part of me squeals, throws up its hands and locks itself in the closet. The rest of me starts shaking, folds up into the fetal position, and rocks until the crisis has passed. Sometimes I manage to grab a shoe and smush the offending creature before the rocking starts. Sometimes not.
When the nightmare caught sight of me, it was like the rational and irrational parts of me joined hands and jumped off the roof, leaving me entirely senseless and alone. There was no time to curl up, much less grab for a suitably heavy-soled shoe and start flailing. I just stood there, frozen.
It came at me, growing with each rippling-skittering-mind-piercingly horrifying step. I could see myself reflected in too many eyes, reflected and then erased in a flash of white light beaming like an icy sunrise behind its back. Henry had charged from behind, leaping up to slice into the giant spider-nightmare-thing. It reared up, trying to fling him off, but he clung to it, stabbing repeatedly with the blazing silver blade that he seemed to have pulled out of nowhere. The glossy darkness of the spider’s - what, forefeet? Front arms? appendages - rippled, faded and snapped bonelessly, morphing with a gristly crunching sound into pale, smooth ladies’ arms with black-tipped talons for fingernails. A pair of eyes blinked, sprouting long lashes, their darkness shrinking to the centre of vibrant blue and green irises. Then the green eye burst, melting out of its socket to leave a gaping pink and red hole.
I saw Henry’s face slacken in horror, his determination waver. The spider-nightmare-beast tore at him, and he bent over the blade, pressing deeper into the creature’s back, using it as an anchor to keep from being torn off. He bled bright, arcing his back and tucking his head to shield vital areas from the attack. Then he twisted away, ducking and hauling on the blade as he rolled, swinging it in a bright arc that lopped off one of the black-taloned fingers, before digging it to the hilt in another spot on the spider-creature’s carapace.
The severed finger whipped through the air spewing gouts of black blood and planted itself talon-down in the earth beside me. The spider-nightmare shrieked from a fanged mouth suddenly adorned with luscious red lips and a forked tongue, and renewed its attack. It caught one talon under Henry and flipped him, scoring a gash down his side and curling into his stomach. He let go of the blade, knocked loose, and the creature caught him, fist clenched tight, the stump of one finger pumping black muck over him.
That hyper-rational part of me that had fled, earlier? It poked its head up and whispered, “at this rate, he’s not going to make it.”
I knew what was coming next, “you’ve got to run.”
I knew I would, too. I had to. I had to turn my back and haul ass away from this place. It was my only chance. I even knew he’d want me to. I could picture the look on his face, hear the words. He’d shown every indication of putting my safety above everything else, and the least I could do, in his memory, was to follow suit and make his sacrifice worth something.
I looked at him, his face pale and tight from blood loss and pain, streaked with black and red, his eyes staring at me, pleading. I looked at him and I looked at the monster and I booted the rational part of me right off that roof again.
I grabbed the severed finger, a good three feet or more in length, with a hard, tapered and wicked sharp talon planted in the ground, and hauled it up. Black blood slicked my arms and soaked my shirt, stinging. I screamed wordlessly and charged the spider with its severed finger braced like a spear, terrified. Terrified I’d trip and fall on my face. Terrified I’d vomit and pass out. Terrified I’d be impaled before I could do anything.
The beast opened its mouth wide and laughed, great rolling, shrieking guffaws, flicking its tongue at me in derision. The severed finger in my arms dissolved under my touch, shrinking and pouring and… skittering? It disintegrated into hundreds of tiny - and not so tiny - spiders and I howled with my mouth closed, flailing to knock them loose as the talons reached for me-
And planted themselves in a five-pointed star around me, ends spraying black like evil torches. Henry landed in a graceful crouch in the scant distance between me and that flickering tongue, having sliced through the talons imprisoning him. He called out to me without looking back, but I couldn’t hear him over my own muffled shrieking as the spiders worked their way into my ears and nostrils. I was choking, unable to breathe, but if I opened my mouth…
I blinked fast, trying to keep my eyes clear, so the final moments were like really old animation. Flashes of darkness and everything smudged and blurred. Henry straightening, blade at the ready, somehow. Henry, bracing himself. Henry, diving forward, at, no, under the beast, twisting, driving the blade up. A curtain of black spewing from under the spider-nightmare, Henry dragging the blade through its belly, stump-fingered hands flailing and legs curling as it rears away - and then a burst of air, foul with blood and monster, but blessedly clear, as the monstrous spider dissolved, sweeping its attacking army away in an instant.
I couldn’t stop shaking, so it kind of looked like he was still alive, laying there on the broken ground, hands empty, limp and outstretched. My breath came in gasps, and I gagged, vomiting, curling onto the ground as my body clenched and spasmed involuntarily.
My eyes were clamped shut, visions of the attack replaying against my eyelids as my skin rehearsed the sensation of a million tiny skittering feet and narrow fangs digging in. Then the light was blocked out, and I knew it was the end. The nightmare had come back for me, and this time there would be no one to stop it.
“Shh,” he said, soft like he was talking to an infant or a small animal, his touch even softer on my arm. “Shh. You’re ok. It’s ok now, April.”
I’d never seen anything as beautiful as his face, haloed in light and streaked with muck.