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King of the Deep Web

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Wyatt decided quite immediately that he didn’t like Lynette.

It wasn’t like any of the other girls before were any better. Wyatt had twelve years to figure out where his parents keep finding these vapid, invasive parasites of joy and childhood wonder---these “babysitters.” But there was just something about how Lynette carried herself, he decided, that made him stand more in his bedroom than his usual, subtle corner in the hallway.

It was the way her blue eyes seared through the bodies of his parents that made Wyatt feel like half his age.

Lynette said no words as Wyatt’s parents relayed the same instructions they had given to several babysitters in the past: there really weren’t any when it came to Wyatt. Wyatt’s a real sweet kid. Easiest forty bucks you’ll ever make, they’d say.

“Just make sure,” Wyatt’s dad said with a wink while folding two twenties into Lynette’s hand, “That he’s in bed by ten.”

Lynette’s stare didn’t once waver from Wyatt. Even when Wyatt finally slammed the door and collapsed his back against it, he could still feel that girl’s eyes on him. 

Not even his bedroom felt sacred anymore. Even when his watery eyes made contact with the several faces of rock stars plastered over his bed, all he could imagine was that looming figure over him. Her big, black hair casting shadows over his couch. Her nails clinking against the edge of the doorway that would soon enough be clinking against Wyatt’s own hollowed-out skull to be used as a chalice to house the blood of babies---no, virgins. Virgins like him. It was enough to make Wyatt’s temples pound. 

Knock-knock-knock.

He opened the door to the inevitable.

“Hey. Listen,” Lynette lit a cigarette in his smoke-free parents’ house. Whatever embers fell to the carpet, Lynette marked them out with her boot as she said, “I really don’t care what you do as long as the feeling’s mutual. I’m gonna have a guy come over in twenty minutes. Don’t say shit to your parents, and I’ll let you stay up ‘til he leaves. I’ll even let you watch the first thirty minutes of Donnie Darko with us.”

Lynette outstretched her hand towards Wyatt. Wyatt stared down at the stick-and-poke tattoo of a pistol hiding under Lynette’s pink cashmere sweater. There were some leaves and thorns poking out from the lace lining her sleeve, hinting at more roses, more paychecks spent hastily on—

“Yo, do we have a deal, or what?”

Wyatt didn’t see his hand gripping around Lynette’s, but he did watch it go up and down and up and down and up before Lynette let his sweaty palm go like a piece of trash and slam his bedroom door behind her. The webs that held themselves together across his bedroom door frame twirled down to the floor in one ribbon.

Back against the door again, Wyatt could hear Lynette on their landline. Her voice went up two pitches while on the phone, her giggles like rumbles of a graceless vacuum cleaner.

All Wyatt could do was gulp. Now, with two unfamiliar creatures being in his territory, Wyatt, all while still being the slightest bit trusting, had to continue protecting this home and every organism meant to be nurtured within its walls.

He grabbed a few dead crickets from the jar under his nightstand and slinked out of his bedroom.

(*)

 

Wyatt made sure the door was closed behind him while he was putting the crickets behind the dryer.

Wyatt never saw the spiders take his gifts, but he definitely knew they were always scuttling about in this house. It was half the reason why his parents could never keep down a good babysitter. They’d always get scared off by a sudden surge of spiders they found either behind one of the boxes of cereal, or under the sink while grabbing a fresh roll of toilet paper, or even from under the beds.

But these spiders, however, had no malicious intent. The Russian, one kopek coin freshly stashed away in his pocket proved this. 

Wyatt discovered this exchange several years ago by a fluke. After letting a popsicle melt on the pavement of his backyard, Wyatt watched a swarm of ants take over the wooden stick. Many of them got stuck in the sugary syrup, drowning in the bliss of the sun and the fructose. After a day, all of those big and juicy ants were gone, replaced by brightly-colored bottle caps and candy wrappers—assumed to be left only by grateful diners. Wyatt tested what was once a crackpot theory by leaving out a palm-sized moth where the popsicle had melted; the next morning, Wyatt found a cracked yo-yo in its stead.

But this was years ago. Wyatt was just too old to care about the gifts at this point. These spiders lived there just as much as he did. They deserved to eat, too. Just as an old dog should be given a steak, a spider that kept Wyatt’s home free of flies for the entire span of its life should get a five-course meal of its own. He stopped caring about seeing these spiders for himself shortly after he stopped caring about getting gifts from them. The webs never seemed to bother his parents. They never said anything about them, anyway.

These spiders, clearly, believed that their caretaker deserved payment. Wyatt kept these treasures hidden in a box in the back of his sock drawer, where he put the newfound Russian currency. For years, Wyatt had accumulated wrappers, coins, bottle caps, pen caps, toys, and chachkis of all kinds. Not once had Wyatt thought to throw any of it away, even though he knew his mother certainly would if she found this collection of garbage in her son’s folded laundry. It was why Wyatt insisted on doing all the cleaning. This silent codependency was why Wyatt was so disciplined.

It was why he was just such, such a good kid. 

The easiest forty bucks Lynette could possibly make.

And yet, despite all of this, Wyatt heard the vacuum cleaner begin to whir in the hallway. Wyatt’s eyes widened, pulse quickened, and heart stopped. He opened his bedroom door onto pure arson and anarchy.

Lynette had detached the head from the neck of the vacuum, a feature Wyatt had never utilized. She had already gotten all auspiciously black webs draping over each corner of the hallway, and upon darting into the living room, Wyatt saw that she had already gotten that room, too. His socks glided over the tile as he swung each cabinet door open and pulled out every cereal box to reveal the sanded wood behind it. 

Wyatt shook his head. The vacuum echoed across the hall, and Wyatt barreled further away from it towards his parents’ bedroom. Under their sink, Lynette had stacked all of the extra toilet paper rolls into a neat pyramid. Wyatt heard them tumble like a house of cards when he slammed the cabinet doors shut. 

Still on his knees, Wyatt crawled on the carpet to look under his parents’ bed skirt. The carpet felt soft under his fingertips. Wafts from the tropics of Fiji coiled around his lungs once he saw that the underside of the bed was just as spotless as the space around it.

There was no point in going fast now. Wyatt could only pull himself up and feel the ghosts of the spiders on the walls with his fingertips. The carnage was real, and the Butchers’ house was practically sterile. 

Wyatt could cry, and he did. He dotted out his tears with his sweatshirt sleeve before slowly heading towards the laundry room. Lynette’s back was turned towards him, the nozzle of the vacuum sucking up the last web in the top-right corner of the ceiling. Lynette lined the wall up to down for good measure, but for Wyatt, it felt like an extra kick while he was down. The tip of the nozzle clunked onto the back of the dryer.

“Ew, holy shit. Like…” Lynette stuck her tongue piercing out and gagged as Wyatt's cricket offering puttered into the abyss of the vacuum cleaner bag. “Gross.”

Wyatt took a few steps backward into his bedroom, nearly tripping over the cord in the process. The stumbling was enough to catch Lynette’s attention.

“Oh, hey, let me get---”

The door clicked shut before that murderer could say another word.

Wyatt looked up from the rock stars mid-performance over his headboard to the spider web curtains that covered their appearances hanging from his popcorn ceiling. These webs continued across the ceiling down to his dresser and into his bathroom. Wyatt could just imagine his parents being so thrilled to see someone else, someone not of their own blood, care about the state of their home even more than Wyatt did.

Wyatt, however, still couldn’t help but see all of this a tad differently. There were three more crickets in Wyatt’s jar. He still planned to use all of them. 

Clammy and remorseful, Wyatt’s other hand clicked his door-knob lock in place. 

This was the last safe place left.

 

(*)

 

Knock-knock-knock.

“Yo, Wyatt. Movie’s starting.”

Knock-knock-knock.

“You think he could already be in bed? It’s almost eight.”

"Can't be asleep. Look," Lynette pointed at the glowing light coming out from under the door. "His light's still on."

Wyatt sat crisscrossed on his mattress, one eye on the door and the other on his dresser. On his stack of comic books, he had placed a cricket with a few stale gummy bears, hoping that would entice a spider with more of a sweet tooth. He also placed one next to his slippers and another right at the entrance of the door.

Whatever spiders were left, he had to protect them. Wyatt thought of gathering them all and putting them out in the backyard, where it would be safer and they could make their intricate canopies undisturbed by man. But how, Wyatt kept asking himself, can you catch something that won’t ever let you see it?

Something had to change tonight. Being a child with a beating yet battered heart, Wyatt had faith that at least one spider would come out before him and take his offering, but certainly not while the biggest threat that would ever come to their existence was still in their space.

His knob rattled.

“Come on, babe. He’s twelve. He’s probably jerkin’ off or something.”

Lynette's company found it appropriate to do a coinciding hand-motion when saying this.

“God, Marvin," Lynette hissed. "Why do you always have to take it there? You’re, like, so gross.”

You’re, like, soooooo gross. You nast-ay, Miss Jackson.”

“Right. And you’re somehow whiter than I am. Now, go get me a beer.”

Marvin scuttled towards the living room, his bumbling footsteps growing softer. Head against the wall, Wyatt heard soft murmurs from the television in the living room. Lynette rattled the knob again. The crickets within Wyatt were plowing themselves against his small, shaking ribs.

“Okay, well,” the culprit, the bitch, that murderer Lynette, said in a soft tone, “I popped some popcorn if you change your mind. It’s on the counter.”

Lynette’s footsteps were impossible to hear. This frustrated Wyatt. Obviously, she didn’t have shoes on. Wyatt thought only families in Japan did that, but apparently, Lynette cared so deeply about rubbing her work in Wyatt’s face that she wanted to keep it all clean and intact. This would make keeping track of the enemy much more difficult than anticipated.

All the more reason, Wyatt concluded, to find any survivors.

Wyatt froze in place with his face still pressed against the cold paint of the wall when he saw it. 

A bright red spider the size of a paperweight puttered out from the rectangular vent where the ceiling met the wall. The specimen was careful to keep a pearl button from what looked like a luxurious garment secure on its back as it slinked down the wall and across Wyatt’s dresser. The tips of the spider’s front feet met its feast, and with this, it began to dine.

Wyatt was careful to shift all of his weight from the bed and slosh it over to his dresser, the empty jar trembling in his grip. He raised it in the air. He closed his eyes. Then, the jar swung down.

He opened his eyes.

The spider was still enjoying Wyatt’s gracious offering, even with its glass prison on all sides. 

Still unbothered. Victorious!

There was one black thread leading from the jar to the vent above. Wyatt’s finger traced it while his other hand was still over the bottom of the overturned jar. Without looking down, Wyatt lifted the jar and felt a slight tingling up his wrist and spiraling up his arm.

The spider was now sitting on his shoulder, the head of the cricket stuck in its pincers. Wyatt felt around for a chair and propped himself onto it. His knees slid over his comic books, tearing through a few pages that would have otherwise been in mint-condition. It didn’t take much to take the rusty vent hood off. He threw that onto his bed.

Wyatt’s sneakers were now on top of his dresser as he slid himself through the open entryway. His only guide was the pink spider, his new companion. The creature, its web-sac now glowing a deep magenta, began to putter ahead.

This guardian was all Wyatt needed, or at least, all he could possibly rely on.

 

(*)

 

“Did you hear that?”

“No. Hear what?”

Lynette swatted Marvin’s hands away from her bare breasts. Her glass eyes never left the ceiling as she buckled her bra back on.

“Awwwww, man,” Marvin groaned, wiping the saliva off his beard. He swept his green hair back, only for it to flop back down over his eyes when he fell back on the couch and whined, “Come on, Lyn. It’s nothing. Probably just their vent or something. We already talked about the black cobwebs everywhere and how weird the house---”

"Shhh."

Every last inked mistake the eighteen-year-old had made in her short life was quickly covered again by her pink cardigan. She didn’t bother getting her white polo strewn somewhere behind the couch. She buttoned the cardigan from torso to chest, one button at a time, only to find the top button to be missing. Lynette fingered where the large, pearl button used to be.

“Shit,” Lynette murmured under her breath, “Mandy's gonna kill me when she gets this back.”

“Come back over here, baby,” Marvin gestured at the television like it was ever a point of focus. “Movie’s just started.”

In truth, the movie was in the third act. There wasn’t much time for Lynette to make sure everything with this weird house and that weird kid was in line, much less to figure out what that weird banging was.

“I’m gonna go check on Wyatt,” Lynette said.

“Godspeed,” Marvin declared, tossing a popcorn puff in the air with the hopes of catching the morsel with his mouth. He missed.

The banging only happened every other minute like some taunt from above. Lynette couldn’t recall the Butchers mentioning another floor. There weren’t any visible stairs, and from going from one end of the hallway to the other, Lynette couldn’t find any discernible way to get to the attic, if there was one.

She reached Wyatt’s door, knocking on it again and calling, “Wyatt?”

There was no reply, only scuffling from above and a final crash from what sounded like the other side of the house.

Lynette’s head spun on her shoulders like an owl was twisted within her genetics.

“Babe?” Lynette cried out.

“Yeah, okay, I heard it that time,” Marvin called back, shuffling up from the couch. “Sounded like it came from this room over here. I’m gonna check it out.”

Lynette turned back to the door. Perhaps it was the adrenaline that gave her the sudden sense of urgency to kick through Wyatt’s door, but whatever ignited within Lynette was enough to force open the barrier Wyatt had set in place with his office chair.

Half of the snapped back of Wyatt’s bright orange, vinyl chair was now sitting on the floor. Lynette gaped at the bed that was unkempt but empty. The vent cover was still over Wyatt’s duvet. She stepped forward to get a closer look at it, only to wince from something she stepped on. It didn’t scare Lynette much to find this thing to be the head of an otherwise well-kept Barbie doll now sitting like an innocent victim under her toes. 

It was just, like, off-putting. 

Lynette bent down and picked up the head, staring into the only pair of eyes in the known world that were bluer and brighter than hers. A long thread dangled from the head’s short, blonde bob. Lynette’s nail followed this thread to Wyatt’s pair of slippers, which led to Barbie's arm. The skin tones, however, were different.

“What in the world…”

Lynette held the pieces in one hand and continued to follow the long thread with the other. There wasn’t much distance for her to walk. Wyatt’s sneakers and comic books were splayed out across his dresser. The only bits of evidence the babysitter had regarding where Wyatt could have gone were a vent cover, a few broken Barbie pieces, a Mason jar, and the black thread that was now telling her to look up.

All this time, Lynette didn’t once think to look up. Now, she dared to. She had no choice.

Layers upon layers of webs had now overtaken Wyatt’s ceiling, leaving only the floor and everything on it untouched. Whatever posters and memories Wyatt had plastered over his walls were indistinguishable from the black paint behind them. Unsure if it was reality or her mind playing even more cruel tricks, but Lynette could swear the black web masses were glowing.

Lynette was too parched to scream. She didn’t even know if she was scared. What could she even be scared of?

The answer was plenty.

It was what she didn’t see that feared her most. It was what was possibly sitting within that open ventilation system that feared her most.

Spiders.

Spiders.

“Fuck. F-Fuck.”

It was her greatest fear.

Lynette slapped the white powder off her freckled cheeks, hoping it was some deluded nightmare. Seeing it wasn’t, Lynette banged her head against Wyatt’s dresser. Her head spun back to Wyatt’s walls to see that, yes, the webs were still there, and no, this wasn’t a dream at all.

It had been many years since Lynette had tried to cry, and while her eyes stung, she wouldn’t let tonight be an exception. Whatever energy she had to scream over the possibility of spiders crawling up her arms and around her neck she put in climbing on top of the dresser and wriggling herself through the open vent. Her two remaining buttons scraped along the metal that was now squeezing her.

“Wyatt! Wyatt!”

The only reply she got back was her own echo. There was no obvious way forward, but Lynette slithered the rest of her body into the opening regardless. Her only hope was to see Wyatt on this other side of black, swampy nothing Lynette was just barely able to navigate through. 

Lynette had plenty of space to imagine her deepest fears in the dark. Armies of spiders darting along her back and taking her further into this system, wherever they were feasting on Wyatt.

She couldn’t think about that. Not while she was falling. Fate gave her time to think of nothing at all as she continued to tumble downward.

 

(*)

 

Wyatt batted his eyes open. There was no need for him to even question if this was reality.

Flipping his head from left to right, Wyatt found both of his arms outstretched and layered with swaths of black, oddly fluorescent webbing. His legs, right crossed over the left, were also stationary. No matter how much his tiny muscles strained underneath the constraints, not a single joint moved. 

At his feet, Wyatt found a mountain of shiny morsels of all sizes, textures, and colors. Aside from this pile of treasure fit only for the shoebox in his sock drawer, everything else in the space was covered with the sappy, black webbing of the spiders that Wyatt thought he had grown so familiar with. Despite its darkness in hue, the faint glow this black mass gave off was the only light in the whole space.

There was no telling how far underground Wyatt was, assuming he was still beneath his house. It was cold, he knew that much. All he could focus on, however, was how this substance was beginning to seep into his skin, and how it was beginning to itch.

No. No, this substance, this “webbing” was not of this world, just as how the scream that came from what sounded like miles above was not in the slightest bit human.

If there was any escape from this imprisonment wasn't even a question that passed amidst Wyatt's panicked thinking. All Wyatt could discern with this scream that was now drawing nearer was that he was not alone in this space. Thousands of tiny pairs of footsteps accompanied this screaming, assuring this comforting fact that Wyatt would be rescued, somehow.

Armies of spiders of all glistening shades of red began flooding through the dark, damp room. They had started to line up on either side of Wyatt, some throwing new goods into the pile Wyatt couldn’t touch. At the end of the pack, a swarm of spiders, like eggs barreling down a hill, carried Lynette on their backs. 

The only way Wyatt could tell it was Lynette was her face. That was all that was exposed. Wyatt could draw an outline in his head of Lynette forced into a fetal position, her arms and legs both coiled to her chest. Her legs, only two mounds in the glowing webbing, kicked violently to no avail. She was only expending all of her energy by kicking and screaming and screaming and screaming her head off.

There was no way Wyatt was going to tell her to stop.

Lynette’s head went as far back as she could. The one strand of red hair she had dyed herself poked out from the webbing. Her eyes strained up at Wyatt tied on the wall above her in a crucifix. Just like the souls of the other spiders, which now began gathering in droves around Wyatt’s bare feet, Lynette’s was moved enough to almost worship this effigy.

Lynette managed to convert this reverence and awe back into pure adrenaline. She could ask Wyatt what was going on, but by how Wyatt, bound and gagged, looked down at her pitiful, shameful body before his altar, she could tell that this would be yet another useless expense of energy. 

She decided to use her final lifeline:

“MARVIN!”

 

(*)

 

“Uh...like, hey, Mr. Butcher. What’s up?”

Marvin tried his best to remember what his girlfriend’s voice sounded like. It wasn’t like he didn’t know. It was just that they had only been dating for two weeks. Or had it been three? Regardless, Marvin’s voice was too harsh from band practice to try going any higher.

Luckily, this worked in his favor.

“Hey, Lynette. Is Wyatt asleep?”

Marvin looked up at the clock. He was supposed to have left twenty minutes ago, at 11:30. Now, with ten minutes until midnight, both his girlfriend and the boy she was meant to put to bed nearly two hours ago were nowhere to be found.

“Oh, yeah! Like an angel.”

“Great, listen. Gloria and I are on our way back from the social now. We, uh...heh, had a little too much, ya know? You’re a kid. You get it.”

“Yeah,” Marvin giggled. He dabbed out a tear, a close one. “I do.”

“A friend’s giving us a ride home. Should be twenty m---h-hey, honey, stop biting my---”

The phone cut off a second after mischievous, drunken laughter. Marvin slowly clicked the landline back into the wall, the baseball bat in his other hand nearly going loose in his grip.

He had torn this house apart looking for Lyn and that other kid. Every second Marvin turned his back, however, those little eight-legged fuckers came back. He couldn’t even get back into Wyatt’s room, as the entire hallway was barred off with ever-increasing layers of webs. It was impenetrable. Even if Marvin whacked down a few ropes with the bat, if he went further, he’d get all caught up in it.

It was why he only had his boxers on. His other clothes were lost in the glowing void that was now taking over this entire house. Only half of the kitchen was salvageable, and when Marvin turned his back away from the phone, he found that he gave those spiders a few extra seconds to cover the couch again, again, and again.

“Come on out, you little pricks,” Marvin held up the bat like he had never gotten kicked out of the Hickory High School baseball team for smoking pot. “See what you get for ruining my night and stealing my girl!”

Marvin had a lighter he was able to save from his pants before taking them off to free himself. He thought of just burning all this stuff up, but then that would make the house, him, Lynette, everything explode in fire and badness. Knowing it was better than having nothing at all here, Marvin put the yellow lighter in his just as yellow boxers.

Marvin had traversed every corner of the house that he still had access to, and still, he couldn’t find an opening that could lead to the magical someplace where both Wyatt and Lynette had stumbled into. The safest place to be was the folks’ room, which was where Marvin had barricaded himself before the landline rang.

Now, the door was once again closed behind him. It just didn’t make sense to him to hear something so prominent, to see something so pervasive, but not actually hear it. Not actually see it. Marvin was too tired, too pressed, and too terrified to wonder just how such a thing could exist to taunt him like this, let alone why.

He had already looked under the bed and over the headboard for some vent, but there was nothing he could fit through. Marvin must have called out Lynette’s name two thousand times that night, but he added on five more to that total for good measure. He'd call out the kid's name too, if only he could commit it to memory. There was nothing to be found in the bookshelves, behind the bookshelves, not even anything in the books that could eradicate the enemy. Everything, still, was worth a shot.

In frustration, Marvin banged his fist against the master bathroom mirror. Glass cracked against the side of his fist and extended across the other corner of the square like a---

“FUCK!”

Marvin buried his face, now hot with blood and tears, in his quaking palms. At first, he didn’t notice the mirror, actually a medicine cabinet, slowly swinging open to reveal no medicine at all. After catching his breath, however, Marvin noticed the gaping crevice in the wall the mirror was hiding. Peering down, the opening was the perfect size for a person.

Where it led to was for him to say.

Marvin felt the floor for his bat, and once it was in his assured grip again, he slinked into the crevice, into the unknown.

 

(*)

 

Wyatt could vomit, if only he was able.

Whatever bile came up was halted by the webbing across Wyatt's mouth. He had to swallow it down. The offering of gifts was just far less beautiful now. Wyatt had also found that this webbing, whatever it was, was giving off noxious fumes that clouded any other thought he could have. 

He had already tried telling the spiders to stop whatever they were doing several times before they gagged him, but he found very quickly that spiders weren’t ones to listen to reason. They liked codependency, deals with no words attached to them. By how these spiders crawled all over him and kept him in place with their swaddling, Wyatt knew that this protest wasn’t the expected response from him. 

Lynette’s face was covered now. She lost the ability to scream a while back, but she was still writhing and wriggling in her prison. Just with less gusto, like she was finally succumbing to it.

The circle of spiders around Wyatt became a dogpile on top of Lynette. Wyatt chewed the webbing around his mouth away to scream, finally, “Stop! Stop it! Please! Enough!”

It was only five seconds before the web muzzle was back.

Everything grew tighter, dimmer. If Wyatt Butcher had any idea of protest left, it was gone now.

You wouldn’t know Lynette was under all the webbing and spider soldiers if you didn’t see for yourself first. Wyatt could feel the spiders everywhere. In his hair, on his face, darting across his freckles to congregate inside his head.

It was enough to make Wyatt lose all gumption. And then, like a moth frantic in the dark, he saw a flame. 

“Hands. Off. My. Girl.”

The guy Lynette invited over, which Wyatt had never seen before now, stood before the corridor Lynette and the army of spiders had come through. He was armed with a bat, and naked, and bruised, and triumphant—more than ready-looking to die.

“I’m Marvin Williams,” he got in a proper batting stance, letting out one last loogy on the Butchers’ foundations before declaring, “Welcome to JackAss.”

Marvin set the tip of his wooden bat on fire with his lighter. The dropout just started swinging.  Mounds of spiders would crawl up to his feet, and he’d flail the tip of his bat towards whichever ones that didn’t get close enough to get scorched. Once there was an opening, Marvin swung his fist through what he thought was a hollow, webbed cage.

“Augh!”

He had gotten Lynette good in her abdomen, but the hole was enough to dizzily tear herself through. Marvin helped Lynette up, and before Lynette could wake up a little more and tell her boyfriend about Wyatt’s imprisonment, Marvin only stared at the crucifix and rasped, “Yo. Ho-ly fuck.”

“We…we have to…”

She fainted in his arms. Loose webbing fell around her like rope. Marvin draped her arm across his shoulder, dragging them both towards Wyatt.

All Wyatt could move was his eyes. 

“Shit. I can’t get this off him!”

“What…”

“It was so easy to get through yours, but this is, like, resin or some shit,” Marvin tried yanking Wyatt’s arm off the wall. If it came out of place, he’d just apologize and get the kid an ice cream. Pop it back in, if possible. But not even a finger could get pulled from the wall. “God. Unreal. Well…”

Marvin pulled out his lighter. All of Lynette’s sense came back.

“Whoa, wait, what the fuck are you doing?!” she tried swiping the lighter from Marvin’s hand, only for the flame to cast her own hand away. “We’re under the house. We can’t just—”

“There’s no other way, Lyn. Force won’t work. If I can burn a hole through the web, here, I could just—”

The burnt-to-a-crisp spiders had fresh backup. There was no more time to talk about it.

Marvin set the flame under the webbing that encased Wyatt’s elbow. It took a moment for the flame to catch on the casing, but once it did, a searing hole formed in the webbing that was now melting into a goo. The flame caught on a bit too vigorously, devouring Wyatt’s entire left arm. His mouth gaped wide enough around his scream to free his mouth from his muzzle again.

Marvin tried dousing out the fire across Wyatt’s left arm with his bare hands, but that swiftly went nowhere. Lynette ended up pushing him out of the way and beating the fire out herself with her friend Mandy’s cashmere sweater. The pink cashmere soon evaporated into black, along with the webbing that pressed Wyatt against the wooden foundations of his home.

Lynette, with her nails, managed to rip away at the weaker, burnt ends of the webbing. Avoiding the unsightly welts and burns that had deformed Wyatt’s arm, Lynette peeled away the webs while Marvin fought off whatever spiders tried to get near her ankles. 

The spiders’ dungeon got hotter.

Once Lynette peeled enough away from the chest, Wyatt fell into her arms pretty naturally. Lynette tried keeping the boy upright as she picked the now all-but-destroyed sweater from the ground and swaddled his arm in it.

“Yo, baby,” Marvin yelled over his shoulder. “We got a problem here!”

The skeleton of the house was being set ablaze around the three humans and the parade of spiders that was multiplying against them. 

“How do we get out?” Lynette called, putting Wyatt over her shoulders. The only way she could remember down here was a long, inevitable down.

“I found a passage. Weird as shit,” Marvin looped around her, swatting his still-lit bat at the spiders. It made the creatures cower, but that didn’t stop the fire surrounding every living being in this house. “Follow me!”

Marvin used his bat as a torch to light the way. Lynette carried Wyatt, slowing her down, but there was still some distance between them and the spiders. Not enough to be comfortable, though. Only enough to get the burning house even hotter.

The way the stone wall scraped against Lynette’s nails made her believe that this tunnel was an intentionally crafted one. The glow from Marvin’s torch ahead, along with the roaring fire behind them, shone faintly against carvings and cave inscriptions Lynette didn’t have enough time to look at or read. Only speculate later, when she and Marvin survived this.

“Here.”

A precarious, single stack of cinder blocks shot up vertically in a spiral. There was just enough footing for a single tip-toe on each step, each fastened presumably by a dime-sized amount of concrete and a prayer for gravity to never work down here.

“I—”

“You go up. I’ll prop the kid up for support as you go.”

“But I can’t—”

“You’re gonna fuckin’ have to, babe!”

A coven of spiders clinking their feet against concrete sounds like a stampede of boots pounding against the beaches of Normandy.

Suddenly, Wyatt felt like nothing on Lynette’s back.

When she was little, Lynette had a recurring dream of flying through a belltower. She assumed that she was a bat on her way to her belfry, zipping through gears and grinding up clockwork to get home. Lynette was embarrassed to admit it, but it was a dream she still had. It was a dream she was experiencing at this very moment, with Wyatt on her shoulders, Marvin on her heels, and hundreds of spiders nibbling at every other part of her body.

She reached the top. Marvin had left the passageway door, the medicine cabinet, wide open.

Lynette fell over the sink, twisting her ankle and bruising both of her thighs. Wyatt slumped over her back like a tired bookbag. The cabinet door slammed shut behind both of them. 

Loose webbing fell around Wyatt, keeping him warm as he slept like an injured bird in a nest. Lynette, with half her body draped over the counter, whipped herself back around towards a broken mirror.

“Oh no. Oh no no no no no,” Lynette clicked her spine upward, ignoring all her pain to replace it with more fear. “Marvin!”

She swung the cabinet door back open, revealing the stairs, but no boyfriend and no spiders.

Only fire.

“Oh my God,” Lynette sputtered as if God could help her here. She scooped up Wyatt, put her tears into the void, and bolted out of the house.

Impeccable timing, too.

“Lynette! What’s Wyatt doing out of bed?”

The Butchers were back. Dressed nicely, looking perfect. Mrs. Butcher had a black, fur coat Lynette didn’t remember her having before.

“You…I…we need to…”

Lynette couldn’t stop her stammering. She did tremendously in her speech classes, yet she couldn’t even choke a word out before Wyatt’s parents. It took everything not to faint from everything right at that moment.

“Wyatt! Sweetheart,” Mrs. Butcher ran over behind Lynette, prying her son from her babysitter’s grasp. She pulled at the tattered sweater serving as a cast; it turned into pure ash at her touch. “What happened to your arm?”

“It…it was…”

Before Lynette muttered anything further, everything came crashing down. 

The one-story, modestly brick house collapsed in on its foundation. Fire licked the pieces of the scaffolding before devouring them completely. From the ground up, the flames from the foundation where the spiders had inhabited was destroying everything the Butchers had ever known.

 

(*)

 

“See you at eleven, Lyn!”

“Take care, Mr. Butcher.”

The Butchers had given Lynette eighty this time instead of forty. Now that they had a new dog along with this new, fancy house, Lynette figured that the parents considered Wyatt and Lucy of equal value. So, equal pay. Lucy was the stupidest weiner dog Lynette had ever seen, so she didn’t find it particularly fair judgment. She pocketed the money regardless.

Oh yeah. She almost forgot. She was teaching the kid now, so that was an extra two hundred at the end of the week. Wyatt’s mother figured that her boy would be too traumatized with “the incident” to be in a public school setting ever again.

Given that Lynette had since dropped out, she found that to be understandable.

It had been six months since that last house of the Butchers came barreling down in flames, yet it was all Lynette could see whenever she closed her eyes. The only person who knew her perspective of “the incident” was her therapist. Even then, he only got pieces very carefully curated by Lynette. He got the fire, and the dead boyfriend, and the parents who drove in on it, but not the how, the when, the why.

Mandy refused to speak to her after ruining her “priceless” sweater, demolishing a decade of companionship over a garment. Marvin’s parents hated her, even before any of this. Wyatt’s parents, however, saw something beneficial to come out of all of this: a lifetime caregiver.

They swore her to secrecy. They threatened her with charges of arson if she said anything about what she saw in the foundations of their last house. They told her that she served one purpose, and one purpose alone now: to protect and care for their boy. If she were to try disrupting their way of life again, she would only have the devil to answer to.

There was no longer a point in keeping their rituals a secret to her while she was in the house. There was no need to find another sitter. They left every night to go to this temple to do whatever the hell they did, leaving their cloaks on the coat-rack and their goat heads in the fridge.

She couldn’t touch the webs. That was the only lesson she could pull from all of this.

The spiders were back, and they were here to stay. Now that they were unthreatened, their behavior was stabilized. Lynette, still, was very much untrusting.

Wyatt was asleep now. He did a lot of sleeping, not finding solace in much else. His arm had since healed up completely after Wyatt joined his parents for their weekly ritual once. Yet, his soul was still weary, still wondering what purpose he being so doting over the spiders truly served if this was what came out of it.

Lynette stood at Wyatt’s open doorway and turned off his light. She corralled Lucy and led her outside. Marvin’s lighter guided her into the cold, endless black.

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