The Wrong Fear
By Jeffrey Bishop
Tell Time: 4 minutes
Scare Rating: 2/5 Ghosts
Christian was in the middle of his bedtime ritual — or at least the modified version he used on camping trips. The bedroll was smoothed out and straight across his cot. All zippers had been checked — twice — to ensure they were securely closed against any bugs or other woodland creatures that might want in overnight. A full canteen of fresh water was at arms length beneath the cot.
Christian was busy laying out his clothes for the next day when his headlamp beam illuminated the one thing that all his preparations were geared to protect him against: a small brown spider, toiling away at a tiny gossamer web in the top corner of his tent.
The boy froze, and so too did the spider, caught in the blue-white light from Christian’s lamp. The boy’s panic welled up fast, rising like a flood within the lad’s small frame. When the fear reached his throat, a loud scream escaped, which seemed to knock the boy off his feet.
The spider also reacted. It hissed a small — but perceptible — hiss toward the boy, then stalked forward on his invisible guy-wires in the tent, directly toward Christian where he had fallen. As he neared, the boy noticed that the spider was also growing; it was now almost certainly the size of the boy’s hand.
The boy screamed again, calling for help in between frantic gulps for air. At the fresh bellows, the spider recoiled, and Christian grabbed ahold of the momentary pause to turn and paw at the tent’s zippers, which were supposed to keep such terrors away. He needed all the time he could steal from the advancing menace; after only spreading a hands-width apart, the zipper had taken a bite onto the nylon placket that ran along side of it.
Finally! Zrrrrrrrrrrrrrrpp! came the sound of the zipper around the arch-shaped doorway, as Christian finally made the mechanism work for him. Trying to run through the opening, he instead fell forward and scrambled out into the clearing on all fours. He was certain that he’d felt a furry claw swipe at his leg as he fell forward.
The boy got to his feet and turned to look back on his threat. The tent had collapsed around the spider, but looked alive as the creature — which took up as much space inside its nylon cocoon as a large dog might have — squirmed inside the boy’s former temporary abode.
Christian looked around for others — he looked for his father’s tent or those of the other campers they were with, but saw no one and nothing else in the moon-lit clearing. He was alone.
At least he might have hoped to have been; he still had the spider for company. The tent continued to writhe and grow, as the thing within it struggled to escape. That struggle ended with a loud tearing sound, as the monster shredded its shroud with its large, sharp pincers. What emerged from the one-man tent was now the size of a compact car, and it quickly oriented it’s eight-eyed gaze on the boy.
Christian had no screams left. He had to figure out how to escape, or how to defeat the terrible threat before him. Confident of its next meal, the creature slowly stalked toward the boy.
Suddenly. Christian felt a light pinch on his neck; a small bite. With fast-draining strength, he swatted the spot and felt the assailant smoosh under his fingers. He looked at his hand in the beam of his headlamp, and saw a small, flattened mosquito in a splatter of the his own blood.
Growing faint, the boy swooned and fell. He didn’t know where the spider had gone, but as he passed out, he fully realized that the spider was no longer what threatened him.
The father looked down on the fever-wracked body of his son as he lay in the well-lit hospital room. He was thankful that the writhing and murmuring that accompanied the boy’s dark dreams had finally stopped. Christian’s father kept his vigil as the boy slipped into the deep but restless sleep that the encephalitis brought. There was no telling if he’d awaken, but the nightmares would come and go until the boy’s health resolved itself in either death or survival.
“It was spiders,” the man said to the nurse who had entered the mesh-curtained hospital bay where the boy lay. “His big fear was spiders. Funny that it was a mosquito, not a spider, that took him down.”