[The American Dream
**]A Short Story
Books by me:
YOU COULD BE anyone, but let’s assume you’re an average sized person. A spider with a leg-span about as long as your torso and a body possibly slightly smaller than your head lowered itself from the ceiling towards Emily’s face. It came down slowly, like somewhere in the arachnid’s brain it knew that sudden movements will startle prey, even if that prey is asleep like Emily was.
Emily tossed her head from side to side on her pillow, and the spider stopped, suspended two feet above her. It soundlessly clicked its fangs – impatient. She made sounds in her sleep, sounds that were meaningless to the spider – as most sounds are, save for the buzz of a fly’s wings or the high-pitched squeak of a tasty mouse. If you or I heard her though, and saw the expression on her sleeping face, we’d know that she was having a nightmare. We’d probably go to wake her up, if there wasn’t an enormous spider dangling there between us and her. Maybe we’d just close the bedroom door and hope we hadn’t actually seen what we thought we saw.
After a few moments, Emily’s movements stopped, though the nightmare in her head continued. The spider lowered itself even slower than before, a few millimeters at a time, until it was close enough that if it had wished to, it could have reached one long, spindly leg down and stroked her forehead.
Emily rolled off the bed and sprang to her feet, slamming her back against the bedroom door. She reached for the lamp, but in her panic she knocked it to the floor. Her hand skittered across the wall, searching for the light switch. She told herself to calm down or she’d never find it, and in the same thought told herself that there wasn’t possibly time to calm down because a spider was at that moment crouched on the bed preparing to leap at her.
Something between a scream and a sob came out of her mouth. It wasn’t fair to be attacked in the dark like this – she should at least be able to see what was going on. Her shaking hand found the doorknob instead of the light switch, and she yanked the door open. She stepped into the hallway and spun around to face her attacker in the dim light from the hallway bulb. Immediately she regretted doing so, because your face is one of the last things you want to present to a spider. (It can be a fun mental exercise to decide, in order, which parts of your body you would present to a spider if you had to.)
The spider was not on the bed, though. She kicked the door all the way open and it smacked against the bedroom wall – no spider there. She crouched down to look under the bed, then cautiously poked her head through the doorway and looked around the corner into the room. Her hand found the light switch at last, and flicked it on. Any spiders in there had to be small enough that they could fit in a little corner somewhere, or in your underwear drawer, and those weren’t anything to worry about.
Now that there was time to calm down, she wondered how she had even seen the spider above her if it was dark in the room. She blew out her breath as she realized it had been a dream. Even so, she kept her back against the hallway wall. The spider might have been imagined, but the terror was real. Her body was shaking and she could barely stand up. Plus, she was tired – the clock showed 2AM.
There was a lump under her blanket, She wanted to be back in bed, but just in case, she picked up a taped-up box containing her collection of irregularly shaped rocks and dropped it onto the lump, steeling herself for a possible squishy thump. The lump was nothing but air, though, and the box went back onto the pile of not-yet-unpacked boxes. She collapsed into bed.
She hadn’t turned off the light, and she considered getting out of bed to do it. Her eyes didn’t seem to want to close anyway, though – they were searching around the room, checking for something with eight legs and as many eyes. By the time the clock showed 3AM she was considering just staying up the rest of the night, but then she was asleep.
“How was your first night in the new house?” Olivia asked from the other side of the table where they both sat, packaging parcels ready for delivery.
Emily placed the lid on a box. “It was good,” she said.
“Just good? I remember the first night Charles and I were in our new house. There was quite a bit more packing before any of the boxes got unpacked, if you know what I mean.”
Emily did know what she meant, but you couldn’t let Olivia know. It was better that way. “Just good,” she said. “I had a nightmare that kept me up most of the night.”
Olivia laughed to herself. “Just thinking about it makes me want to move house again,” she said. “I’ll text Charles and see what he thinks.”
It was nice talking to Olivia sometimes when she wasn’t listening. You could unburden yourself and somehow it was comforting talking to someone even if they weren’t hearing you. “There was this big spider…”
Olivia looked up from her phone while her thumbs kept typing. “Spiders? In your new house? That’s nothing to worry about. Spiders are always coming indoors this time of year, on account of the cold. It’s really only if they lay eggs that it’s a problem, then you’ve got thousands of spiders. Of course, most of them just eat each other…”
Now it was Emily’s turn not to listen. She pulled her tape gun from one side of the box to the other, sealing it closed. Then she picked up the next box, checked the contents, and placed its lid on. It wasn’t a bad job. Sure, it wasn’t exciting. But then, falling out of a plane without a parachute was probably pretty exciting, so that didn’t say much for excitement. She picked up the next box.
She had felt a little worried about going home that night, but once she got inside she found that it was fine. It was a bright day and sunlight shone in through all the windows, so even without the lights on there were no shadows for anything to hide in.
There were boxes to be unpacked, so she went to work tearing them open and dumping the contents on the floor. An hour later, after hanging nearly all of her clothes, she was starting to sweat slightly. She opened the small box labelled [_Kitchen – Cups and Bottles _]and pulled out her water bottle. Something tickled her hand, and when she looked down she saw that something was a spider about the size of a penny. It may have been the size of a dime, but the spider-measuring currency kit was still packed away. She screamed and shook her hand free of the spider and water bottle, and immediately felt idiotic. One, there was nobody in the house to hear her scream. Two, it was a tiny spider. Screaming was only going to frighten them both. She laughed a little as the spider scuttled away.
She bent down to retrieve the water bottle, and when she stood up she’d lost track of the spider. It was silent in the house – not that a spider would have made audible sounds anyway – which somehow made it seem like the spider was watching. Waiting. Waiting for what? she asked herself. If he comes out here, I’m going to step on him. Let him wait.
After she filled up her water bottle, she found that she didn’t have any interest in unpacking further. Most of the clothes were out, that was solid progress. Nobody had told her how quiet it was if you lived on your own. It was quiet enough that she could hear her own breathing. It was lonely.
She slid down against the wall in the living room, because there was nowhere to sit, and turned on the TV. That was better. Game shows. Bells. Buzzers. Audiences shouting frenetically. A little noise.
A couple hours later, she turned off the TV. The sun had gone down while she was immersed in the television world of contestants willing to do anything for fantastic prizes, and even with the lights on it just wasn’t the same. Artificial bulbs pushed the darkness back into the corners and behind appliances, but at night it was always clear that the darkness was there, just waiting to rush in and cover you if a fuse blew or a bulb filament burned out.
It was earlier than she’d usually go to bed, but late enough that she was tired. She rummaged in her box of childhood things, and underneath Boris the Blue Bunny she found her nightlight. She plugged it into a wall socket in her bedroom and then switched off the room light. That was fine. Just bright enough to see things by, not bright enough to keep you awake. She got into bed, and like usual, she was soon asleep.
Spiders can collapse their bodies, and they can fold their legs up to fit them through small spaces too. That’s how spiders get into your car, into your house, into your bedroom. Most of them can go through a space about one-tenth the height of their bodies, simply by collapsing their abdomen and slipping through. The house doesn’t even need to have cracks – something as big as a tarantula can get through the standard space under a skirting board, which is just a few millimeters. Nearly all interior doors have enough space at the threshold for a hundred spiders to squeeze through at once. Not that there are that many spiders who want to squeeze under your door. But if they did want to, they could.
This spider was big, so it probably needed a bigger space to come through than most. It found that space, though, and crawled across the ceiling in Emily’s room. Something inside Emily’s head, some ancient warning signal, woke her up, and she saw it standing upside down above her. She knew the thing to do was to get away, but then she doubted herself. They say spiders are more scared of you than you are of them, and that makes sense when they’re the size of a dime or a penny, but when a spider is as big as a third of your body, is it still more scared of you than you are of it?
It didn’t matter anyway, because her body was paralyzed with fear, which is one of the most ridiculous things to be paralyzed by. The spider gracefully dropped a few inches towards her, which cleared up the question of who was scared of who.
The nightlight seemed even dimmer than it had when she gone to sleep, but the spider was close enough now that even in the low light she could see its fangs starting to lubricate. She knew they did that to make it easier to penetrate their prey. And then the realization slammed into her mind – she was the prey. Without her even planning to, which was good because she couldn’t have planned anything right then, her body snapped into action. Her arms and legs shot into the air, hurling her blanket upwards and enveloping the spider in a woolly cocoon. She brought her limbs down and to the side, using the momentum of their weight to roll her off the bed and towards the door.
Now that she was out of bed and had opened her eyes, the nightlight seemed brighter. It wasn’t bright enough for the kind of situation she was in, though, so she flicked on the ceiling light as well, then turned to face the spider. The blanket was crumpled up on her bed, motionless. Was the spider confused by it all? Spiders probably can’t understand the concept of blankets. Or maybe the scent of the wool reminded it of all the lambs it had captured and sucked the life out of, down to their very last bleat of terror.
There wasn’t time to think about what the spider was thinking, because at any moment it could think something different, make its way out of the blanket, and then Emily would be the one bleating in terror. She had taken a lot of boxes out of her room, but the box of irregularly shaped rocks was still there. She leaped to it, then swept it up and tossed it on the bed in one smooth motion.
Now that the spider was just an irregularly shaped lump under the box and her mind wasn’t occupied with it, there was enough space in her thoughts for the memory of the night before to make its way in. She had been standing in pretty much the same place, with the same box on her bed. She looked at the clock. 1:55AM – pretty much the same time as the night before. Her gaze wandered around the room, and she could see that the door was closed, the window was closed, and there was nowhere else for a spider that size to get in. If spiders could open doors, we would all rest less easily at night, but they cannot. (Yet.)
Some parts of your brain don’t always agree with other parts, and that’s why even though she was sure there was no spider in the room she still gingerly tipped the box over with one hand while her other hand gripped a packing knife. The blanket was entirely flat where the box had been. With a trembling knife, she unfolded it. There was nothing there. She dropped the knife onto the floor, sat down on her bed, and leaned against the box. It felt like her only friend. It was there when she needed it, which is what the best friends are like. It was a good listener. It was solid. It was only a sleep-deprived mind that thought about things like that.
Emily sat the box on the floor, blew out her breath, and laid back down in bed. She had plenty of time to wish she was back at home before she fell asleep over an hour later.
She looked up at Olivia. “Mmm?”
“Are you ok?”
Emily raised her eyebrows. “Sure. What?”
“I was talking to you and it’s like you’re not even there.”
How long had she been at work? She looked at the box in front of her. Had she taped it? She lifted the lid to check. It was taped. “Sorry.” She shook her head. “Bad sleep again last night.”
Emily’s new house didn’t have any neighbors within a hundred feet. That was one of the main things she had liked about it when she was looking for a place. “No, the…”
She wished she hadn’t said anything. The dream itself had been bad enough, re-living it through Olivia was going to be worse. She wouldn’t let it go now, though.
“The spider dream, the same one from yesterday.”
“Oh, you poor thing.” Now she had to deal with Olivia’s sympathy too. She just wanted to get into one of the boxes and tape it up. “You know,” Olivia said, “dreams can mean things.” Not this again. Everything meant something to Olivia. “I kept having this dream about something growing inside me, filling me up, like it was going to take over me. Had it for months. Turns out, it was a tumor.” She pulled her phone out of her pocket. “I kept a picture; wanna see?”
Somehow, it was impossible for Emily to say no to Olivia, even though she had seen the picture probably thirty times since she started working there. It was disgusting, just like all the other times. She didn’t say so, though. She managed a weak smile. “So what does the spider mean?”
“Hang on.” Olivia tapped on her phone for a few seconds. “Homosexuality.”
Emily raised her eyebrows. “The dream about a giant spider intending to eat me means I’m gay?”
“It doesn’t really give details. The spider could be gay.” She looked up from the phone. “I guess it could mean I’m gay, since I’m looking it up.”
“So I’m having this dream because [_you’re _]gay.”
Olivia shrugged and went back to her phone, but for the rest of the day Emily was sure she kept giving her flirty looks.
Once again, it was fine when she got home. It wasn’t even a sunny day, but it wasn’t nighttime, so somehow that meant everything was fine. It didn’t even really feel like being alone in the house. As soon as she thought that, she looked behind her. Why wouldn’t she feel alone? Was someone else there? She stopped her mind before it asked if the spider was there, because the spider was only a dream. The thoughts about the spider were real, though, and it was enough to make her not want to be there on her own.
Her father answered on the first ring. “Hey sweetie.”
She didn’t say anything. It was good just to hear his voice.
“Oh, sorry Dad. Hi.”
“Is everything alright?”
Emily looked around the room. She realized she was standing in the corner so nothing could be behind her. She wanted to say that no, everything wasn’t alright, and she hadn’t gotten enough sleep for two days and now there was going to be another, so could he come over, or could she come back home, because living on her own really wasn’t working out for her. That wasn’t the kind of thing people did, though. People grew up, got jobs, moved out into their own houses, had husbands, children, families, then invited their own parents over at Christmas. “Yeah,” she said. “Everything’s fine. I just miss you guys.”
She could hear him smiling through the phone. It’s good to be missed. “How about you come over on Sunday?”
Sunday. Two days away. “Yeah,” she said. “Sunday would be great.”
The spider crawled out of its lair in the abandoned basement. Before it left, it blocked up the entrance with leaves and other debris so that no other creature would find its babies. Spiders don’t have names. But they do have a sense of self somewhere in that bundle of nerves that functions as an arachnid brain, and if you spent enough time trying to translate that spider sense of self into English, you’d likely be poisoned and eaten, just based on the odds. Someone might find your notes in a large cobweb though, fumigate the place, and work out for themselves that a female spider thought of herself as something like She. The way they think it, it would definitely be italicized.
She crawled up the outside of the house, picking her way carefully over the ivy-covered brick. At the bedroom window, [She _]paused to look in. Eight eyes can see a lot, and [_She _]could see Emily through the not-quite-closed blinds. She rolled her head back and forth on the pillow. She turned towards the window, opened her eyes for a moment and shuddered, but didn’t wake up. [_She _]was on the roof now, and then[ _]inside the house.
Somehow, in her dream, Emily knew it had all happened before. She could sense the spider in her room even before she saw it. She knew it had happened the night before, and the night before that. Sometimes in a dream you can take control – you can break out. With a sound like you might make if your lips were sewn tightly together but you ripped them apart just an inch or so while screaming, Emily woke up. Her feet came down out of the bed, and she ignored the feeling that she had almost stepped on a spider. She picked up the previous day’s clothes from her desk, and then went out the bedroom door, ignoring the feeling that maybe she could hear the sound of eight legs scrabbling against the closed door behind her.
“Who… Emily, is that you? But it’s… well, I guess it’s not that late, actually. What’s going on?”
Olivia was the only person who lived close enough that Emily could ask. Her parents would say yes, of course, but she’d already planned to see them soon and she didn’t want them to think she couldn’t handle things on her own. Ten minutes later, she knocked on Olivia’s front door. Olivia answered, wearing just her underwear – underwear of the sort where you paid more because they’d used less material.
“Sorry,” Olivia said, “you didn’t give me much time to prepare.”
“It’s alright.” Emily averted her eyes. “Sorry to wake you guys up.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. Charles isn’t here.”
Emily looked at her and their eyes met. Something about the way Olivia looked at her was almost frightening, and Emily broke away from her gaze. “Where… where is he?”
Olivia waved her hand dismissively and walked into the kitchen, talking as she went. “He’s out. Work. You know. It’s just us girls here now.”
Emily looked around the room while Olivia clanked in the kitchen behind her. It had most of the usual things you’d find in a living room. A television. A tall plant in the corner. A bookshelf with some best-selling books on it. One of the things it did not have, though, was a couch. There was only a loveseat, which is good enough for two people to sit close together, but not good enough for one person to sleep on.
“Would you like a drink?” Olivia called.
Emily said “No, thanks—” but then turned around and was met by Olivia’s outstretched hand holding a glass of wine, and it was too late to refuse.
Olivia sat down on the loveseat, and standing up on her own became too awkward for Emily to continue, so she sat down as well. Olivia sipped her wine and looked over the top of the glass at Emily. Emily looked away and down into her wine as she, too, sipped. They talked, and soon she finished the glass. She was about to set it down when Olivia produced the bottle from behind the loveseat and filled it back up. By the time the bottle was empty, Emily felt much more relaxed. Before, she had been almost wondering which was worse – the spider in her dreams or the real Olivia right in front of her.
She began to feel warm, and she took off her top, which wasn’t the sort of thing she’d usually do around people, but it still left her much more dressed than Olivia, so it was fine. Olivia moved closer on the loveseat. Emily moved more tightly against the arm to give Olivia room. Olivia turned her glass up and then moved closer still, leaving Emily nowhere further to move. Olivia leaned towards Emily, and Emily could feel blood rushing to her cheeks. She stood up. “I’m really tired,” she said. “Where can I sleep?”
Olivia frowned, but her face quickly smoothed out. “Follow me, the bed’s all made up.” So the bed was the only place in the house to sleep. After what had just happened, did she want to sleep in the same bed as Olivia? She’d brought a blanket with her, she could sleep on the floor. Having slept on the floor before, though, she knew it wasn’t something she wanted to repeat. Olivia walked down the hallway in front of her. Was she shaking her rear more than a person normally would? It’s not often that you see a person in a lace thong walking in front of you, so it’s hard to say what’s normal when the situation itself isn’t normal, especially when you’ve had two glasses of wine.
Is it ok to sleep in the same bed as a married woman who is wearing lingerie and appears to want to press her exposed flesh against you? No doubt you have asked yourself that question many times, and Emily was asking herself that now. She wasn’t attracted to women, not even when influenced by alcohol, so surely there wasn’t anything wrong with it. It might lead to a frustrating situation for Olivia, and it was probably unfair for her, but at least Emily would get some sleep. So she continued following Olivia’s more or less bare buttocks down the hallway.
Olivia opened a door on the left and gestured for Emily to go in. Emily hesitated in the doorway, and Olivia gave her a playful slap on the butt. She turned around and stared at Olivia, unsure of what to say. She decided to say nothing, and went into the room. She was so tired.
“This is the guest bedroom.” Olivia sounded like a chorus of angels to Emily as she delivered that news. “You can sleep in here. Just let me know if you need anything.” With a smile and a flash of bare breast – hadn’t she been wearing a bra before? – Olivia went into a doorway on the right and then Emily was alone. Thank God for that. She’d been thinking it was probably worth it just to let Olivia have her way with her if only she could get some sleep afterwards. She dropped onto the bed like a box of irregularly shaped rocks and was soon asleep.
Emily stirred in her sleep. She opened her eyes and saw by the bedside clock that she had only been asleep about 45 minutes. Something was tickling the back of her thigh. She was sick of this dream. The clock was a brass analog model of the type a character in Clue could use to bludgeon another character, and she picked it up. A spider of any size couldn’t do much with a head smashed in by a clock. She flipped over in bed faster than the spider could react, and raised the clock up ready to smash it down on… on Olivia’s face, which was very close to her crotch now that she had turned over. This was not a dream. She was definitely awake, and her eyes screamed at her to close them.
Olivia put her finger to her lips and smiled behind it. “Shhh.”
“I’m tired. Please go out.”
She looked at Emily, then up at the clock still raised in the air. She silently withdrew from the room. Emily noticed she had been wearing even less than before, which was an impressive feat. She placed the clock back on the bedside table and sighed. Getting back to sleep seemed impossible now. The door couldn’t lock, and there was nothing to move in front of it to block it. For the next 30 minutes, she lay there with her tired eyes wide open. At last, she decided that the real Olivia was worse than the dreamed spider, and got out of bed. She put her clothes on, and left the house as quietly as possible – if Olivia was asleep, she wanted her to stay that way.
Her own house seemed to envelop her in its warmth, silence, and peace. Nobody here was going to sexually harass her. She could close her eyes and never open them again if she chose. She turned out the light, crawled under the covers, and let sleep take her.
It was morning when she woke up. The sun was dimmed by clouds, but it was light enough to see. She hadn’t dreamed at all – the first time that had happened in the new house. It felt like a fresh start. She had been looking forward to going to her parents’ house the next day, back to the protection of their arms, but now it didn’t seem necessary. She had resisted Olivia, she had come back to her house on her own, she had beaten the dream. She felt like she could do anything. She stretched out her arms. Or at least she tried to. She couldn’t move her arms. They weren’t numbed by sleep, because she could wiggle her fingers a little. Her breathing quickened. Something was around her. Wrapped all around her. It wasn’t clouds that dimmed the light, but the material which wrapped around her head and stuck to her face. She felt a tickling sensation at her feet, like ants. When the biting started, she realized it wasn’t ants. When the screaming started, she knew that it was far too late for anyone to help, but she couldn’t stop. When the thousand newly hatched spiders had finished, she would never dream again. She hadn’t been having good dreams lately, so it was probably for the best.
This story is based on a recurring nightmare I have, a nightmare which feels real even when I wake up. To date, however, I have not been eaten by a giant spider. As long as I continue to release books and stories, you can be sure I’m still alive. Either that, or the spider is writing using my name as a pseudonym. If it got you to read this far, though, she’s probably a decent enough writer, so I guess you’ve got nothing to complain about, really.
You can email me any time of day or night at , I’d love to hear from you!
My website is . There I write short fiction and non-fiction and complain about how the state of the universe has changed since I was a lad.
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