PseudoPod 813: A Belly Full of Spiders
A Belly Full of Spiders
by Mário Coelho
Alone in a dark basement, Davey’s learned to do much without his eyes. He can hear the groaning of a house that never settles. He can taste different flavours of humidity: rust, cloth, mould, sweat. When he sniffs, he knows what Mom and Dad are cooking upstairs. Baked potatoes, drizzled in olive oil and peppered with garlic. Sirloin steak, charred on the outside, bloody within.
Sirloin. Sir Loin, Lord Gone whispers in his mind, his voice like scratches. Sir Loin, knight of the rotund table. You don’t need a knight, Davey. You just follow what I say.
Davey looks up at the ceiling he can’t see. He misses the old dark, the one that preluded lucid dreaming. He doesn’t dream anymore. Lord Gone doesn’t let him. Davey just moves between a darkness that is still, and a darkness that is stirring.
What do you smell, Davey?
“Cheesecake,” Davey says. “Strawberry cheesecake. Mom made it.”
Cheesecake doesn’t have a smell. Are you sure you’re not dreaming?
“I’m not dreaming.” Davey touches his face, to make sure. His arm is like lead. Odd, how the lighter you become, the heavier you feel.
The chains rattle. Knotted wrists, skin calloused in places you wouldn’t expect callouses to grow. He’s opened a sore again. Smells the sick-sweet signs of infection.
Are you hungry?
Upstairs, wood screeching on wood. Dad just pulled his chair back to tell a joke. His guests laugh before the punchline. There’s three of them. Two are scared, one’s a child.
“Not for spiders,” Davey says.
There’s nothing else to eat.
Spiders. That’s all he has now. Spiders, and Lord Gone. Davey can’t really remember when Lord Gone first appeared, when it uncoiled itself from the corner like an empty scarecrow bloating to life. Davey’s never really seen it, either, just a hunchbacked shape and hints of many eyes.
But Lord Gone’s company. Lord Gone’s a friend. And Lord Gone lies, sometimes, but it’s for Davey’s good. It is lying now, when it says there is nothing else to eat. Mom and Dad bring Davey food on occasion, but Lord Gone says he shouldn’t eat anything but spiders.
Lord Gone stands in front of him. Davey doesn’t see it as much as he knows. He feels its breath, like air that’s gone stale.
Open your mouth.
“How do you catch them?”
I don’t. They come, as a favour.
“What’d you do for them?”
Fed them. It pauses. Listened as they talked, too. The world is different now. People keep trying to extinguish the dark. Lightbulbs, lamps, lampposts, headlights. Spiders don’t like the light. They’re running out of homes.
“And they let just let themselves die? So I don’t starve?”
Lord Gone pauses again. Davey knows it well enough by know. He knows it is pitying him, and his empty stomach goes cold with a bit of anger, a bit of shame.
So you starve just enough.
“Okay.” Davey opens his mouth.
The first spider is big, fat, squirming. Her legs flail in either excitement or regret, prickling the inside of Davey’s lips, tugging at his gums. Davey says ‘sorry’ in his mind and bites down. Bitter, crunchy, more gooey than usual. A tinge of iron in this one.
He chews slowly. After all, he has all the time in the world. He doesn’t even keep track anymore. He can’t. How do you make a clock out of the dark? How do you count the different shades of nothing?
And now one to stay with you, Lord Gone says.
Davey sucks on his teeth and licks his lips thoroughly. It’s only polite, to clean up the pieces before the second spider goes in. He imagines they don’t want to see the remains of their friends.
The spider goes down in a glob of saliva. She’s smaller, but smaller ones are okay too. Davey hopes she’s comfy, there in the graveyard of his stomach, with all her brothers and sisters.
He envies her, in a way. Davey hasn’t had brothers or sisters in a while. Used to be they were frequent, when his parents were younger. A succession of them, coming down blindfolded and crying. Different faces looking the same in the dark. Different voices circling back to the same words.
After the first few days they’d open up, they’d talk about things that were normal to them. Going out to eat a burger. Being tucked in bed. Being read to. Being out in the yard, kicking balls, petting dogs, not talking to strangers. Missing someone.
Eventually, they’d ask questions, too. But Davey had been there for so long he stopped having answers for anything.
How old was he? He didn’t know. He wasn’t even sure he still knew how to count.
Where were his parents? Upstairs, of course. What a dumb question.
Who was he talking to?
They could never stand Mom and Dad for long. It always ended the same way, same sounds with different timbres. Crying, screaming, thumping. Silence. Hauled upstairs limp. Skin like dry mops on concrete.
“I hope the spider’s okay,” Davey says.
The air moves. Lord Gone has a hesitant hand on Davey’s shoulder. She is, it says. They all are. I can hear them purring.
There is no more laughter upstairs. There is just Mom and Dad doing their one-two knockout, as Davey once heard them call it. Dad barking away and slapping the table, Mom highlighting the pauses in his bullying with derisive comments. The guests’ voices echo with the flat timidity of saying sorry.
The kid is crying. Hands pulling fabric. Tugging on his dad’s pants?
Your wrists are infected. Don’t let them swell, Lord Gone says. It stinks. Like cheese. Maybe that’s the cheesecake you’re smelling.
“You said cheesecake doesn’t smell like anything,” Davey says.
But I don’t have a nose… When’s the last time you had it?
Davey isn’t even sure he’s ever had it. Mom brought him cake, once or twice. Davey liked it, everything tastes good when you’re starving. But afterwards he always doubled over as much as the chains let him, puking or shitting himself.
Dad would then berate Mom, saying it takes a lot of conditioning to eat sugar like that. Poor creature never eats any, woman, you can’t just give him your shit fucking cake.
And Mom would berate back, and then either one or both – depending on who lost – would punish Davey each in their own way.
Davey, Lord Gone says, shudders. Its shape grows closer and bigger, like Davey’s a spider and it’s his turn to be swallowed down. The air feels thicker on Davey’s back. Means Lord Gone has its arms around him. Davey… Things can change, even in the dark.
A sting in Davey’s eyes. Something asleep that Lord Gone’s trying to wake up. Davey told it to stop, many times before. But Lord Gone said Davey had to get used to his eyes stinging. That light stings harder than hope.
It does, Lord Gone says. But you’re not alone. You have spiders inside you. They know how the light can hurt.
“The guests are leaving,” Davey says. “Mom and Dad will be here soon.”
Lord Gone’s shape fizzles. Its version of shuddering in irritation. If they give you anything, don’t eat it.
Light or no light, Davey’s eyes sting harder. “I’m really hungry,” he says.
Is he choking up?
Is he dreaming it?
I know, Davey. But you agreed. Chew one spider, swallow the other. No more. No less.
Rattling. Chains. “We don’t know if it’ll work…” He almost meant: I don’t know if I want it to work.
Things work, sometimes.
“But what if it doesn’t?”
Then you’ll still be here, same as you are now.
Davey nods, head heavy, filled with buzzing. Mom and Dad’s footsteps echo louder, hollow.
Dad’s voice floats over, muffled, “Fuckin’ junkies… Can’t count on them for anything, not even to be junkies.”
Mom’s voice is decades younger than her. A spoiled brat, Dad still calls her. “They’ll come around,” she says. “It’s happened before. First visit’s for their conscience–“
“–second’s for their fix,” Dad completes, impatient. “Yes, yes. But what if they tell?”
Mom’s laughter, broken crystal. It’s clearer, they’re getting closer. “They’ve got no one to tell.”
“Crackheads don’t need an audience. They’ll talk to the clouds on a clear day. Wrong person walks by, someone with enough suburban boredom pent up, and we get a bad visit from some good person.”
She stops walking. Dad stops, too. Davey hears him shift in irritation. He hates stopping. “Could be,” she says. “But did you see the kid?”
“Yes,” Dad grumbles. “Skinny bundle of trauma. Junkie spawn. Won’t last a week.”
“Lasting’s all he fuckin’ does,” Dad spits. “Dave’s old. His hair is more grey than black. And he’s dying. Doesn’t eat anymore.”
A slap. Davey tries to imagine Mom’s hand printed in red on Dad’s face, but he can’t picture red anymore, and he can’t picture hands either.
“Davey’s our son,” she seethes. “As much as any of the others. And he’s not old, that’s not why his hair is grey.”
A pause. Not a good one, like Lord Gone’s. A heavy one. Davey makes a popping sound with his lips, in time with Dad hurting Mom. He mimics her scream in silence, tilts his head like hers is hitting the wall.
Clang. Another slap, this time from her.
Pause. Lips smacking, clothes sliding off.
Pause. Whispers. Grunts and moans. A smell, both acrid and sweet.
Keys rattling. The door opens. Davey closes his eyes hard. To him, the dark outside the door is almost like light. He’s not ready yet. He doesn’t want Lord Gone to go.
I’ll be with the spiders, Lord Gone says. You won’t see me, but I’ll be here.
Then Lord Gone’s gone. And Mom and Dad come down, still smelling of each other. Davey remembers what red is like, again, when Dad shines something on him. He sees it through his eyelids in striated lines of pain.
“Trying to starve yourself?” Dad says. “Won’t work, Davey. We’ve seen that before. You’ll eat, in the end. You know how long it takes to starve someone?” Davey hears the tendon in Dad’s thumb crackle. He’s pointing it at something. “Your jug’s not empty, so you’ve been drinking the water. You haven’t spilled it. That’s how you’d do it, if you’d really want to do it.” A scoff. He’s shaking his head. “Sammy stopped drinking. So did Jenny. This you’re doing? This is just a tantrum.”
Davey whimpers, turns his face away from the shine.
A very slight pop, Mom’s lips opening. She always leaves them like that for a tiny while, before she says something motherly. “You have to grow up someday, Davey.”
Her fingers worm into his hair. She massages his scalp, hushes the lullaby Davey sometimes hears playing upstairs, in her music box. Then her fingers slow down, stop, pull away. A shudder of disgust, tears grinding like gears.
“Why must you be filthy? Why can’t you be like her?” she says.
When they’re done with him, when Mom’s hugging him and wiping her tears on the grime on his neck, Dad mercifully turns off the flashlight. He places it on the floor, and then squats down and puts his hands on Davey’s shoulders, and says fatherly things.
Behind them, Lord Gone stands up.
Davey. It’s time.
In the dark, Mom and Dad pull back. “What was that?” Dad says.
Davey opens his mouth. The first spider leaps out, lands on Mom’s hair. She jumps, touches her hair.
Davey’s hands slip out of the chains, skeletal, hard with sores, slick with pus. He uses them to stretch his jaws wide open. He feels the spiders crawling up his throat, amassing on his tongue, jumping over his teeth.
Mom screams. Shakes and slaps her head.
“What the–“ Dad starts, and goes for his flashlight, but Davey snatches it and scrambles to get away, skidding on sweat and piss, muttering ‘sorry’ every time he squishes a spider.
Dad stalks after him, stomping in the dark.
Davey stops breathing. He stays very still, hoping Dad won’t see him, looking for Lord Gone.
Dad catches his wrist, fat fingers like forceps on bird bones. “You think you’re–“
Davey opens his mouth as wide as it goes, jaws crackling, and a stream of spiders pours out, lunging like fleas.
The flashlight in Davey’s hand comes alive. The white light sears his eyes. He drops the flashlight, barely sees it roll away to Dad’s feet. Barely sees Dad contorting in place, slapping about his body, skin writhing with spiders.
He’s on all fours, hears himself hack out more spiders and apologise to them, while Mom screams and chokes and Dad heaves and snarls, little spider legs between his teeth, and he makes a veiny fist and–
Davey’s body hits the floor like water. Dad stands over him. Places a foot on his neck, pushes down hard.
“Dog!” Dad says, and spits on him. “You’re not our Sophie. You’re just a fucking dog!”
Dad shines the flashlight on Davey’s face. Davey turns away, whimpering. Dad leans in to put more weight on his neck.
In blurry detail, Davey notices a blade of grass on Dad’s shoe. A small piece of outside, a small mercy, as the burning white starts giving way to soothing black.
The pressure stops. Davey gasps for air.
“What was that?” Dad says, startled. He scans the basement with the flashlight. He wipes dead spiders from his face, leaves a dark smudge of hair and legs. “Did you see that?” he asks Mom. She doesn’t answer, just gags and coughs.
The light wavers. Dad shakes the flashlight like a bottle, muttering in frustration. The glass is cracked, the light blinks, flails.
And then Lord Gone is behind Dad, a slice of stretched up dark. It reaches over with a hand like bleeding ink. It looks at Davey.
Go, it says, and with a single finger it touches the flashlight, and snuffs out the light.
Mom thrashes on the ground, gagging on spiders. Dad is breathing hard. Davey hears his vertebrae crack. Means he’s looking over his shoulder, trying to see where Davey is.
And Davey is closer than Dad knows, close to the rattling of the keys. Trembling, silent fingers slipping into his pocket.
Then he’s out, running – stumbling – and Dad comes after him. Mom starts screaming again, angry this time.
But Davey knows where everything is. He doesn’t need to see the chair with the two front legs bent, leaning over the deflated camping tent. The toolbox filled with nails. The bags of children’s clothing. A half-burned cradle, a bundle of rolled up cables, old VCR tapes with dates and names of people in cursive. Davey doesn’t trip. He just walks up the stairs to the door, hearing Dad trip on the toolbox, stick himself up with nails.
Davey opens the door, and gets out.
He stops. His hand trembles on the handle.
“Lord Gone?” he says, softly. His Mom and Dad go quiet. He hears their heads turn.
Lord Gone stands in front of him in beautiful, solid darkness.
“Don’t leave me,” Davey says. Spiders run between his feet, out the door. “Don’t leave us.”
Lock the door, Davey. Don’t open it, whatever you hear. I’ll be with you soon. A pause, one of its, silence like promises. I’m just going to have a talk with your parents.
Davy steps away, climbs up the stairs, many flights of stairs, blinking as he goes. He touches the wet walls with the tips of his fingers.
First floor up. He sees a bathtub half-filled with tepid water, bathed in the weak twilight of a lightbulb. Painful, but bearable. Canned food lines up the walls. Salmon, tuna, beans, a lot of beans.
Second floor up. LEDs buzzing to each other. There’s a tank with water and chemicals on the counter. Photographs hang from a clothesline. Children’s faces, hollow-cheeked and hollow-eyed. Davy remembers some of them.
Third floor up, the door is closed, painful yellow shimmering beneath like fire. Davey breathes in for courage. There are many smells here. Grass outside, lukewarm food in the kitchen, mopped floors and dusted carpets and air fresheners. He opens it to a hallway boiling with light.
He stumbles, knocks over a music box, calls out for Lord Gone. But he’s alone now, alone with the light. He’s emptied of spiders. He staggers around, drawing the curtains and closing the shutters. There are only two floors above the ground. The house is deeper than it is tall.
When it is dark enough, he goes to the kitchen. He ignores the steak on the table, he’d never eat living things without their permission. He unplugs the fridge to turn off its light and opens it and takes out the milk and combs the cupboards for cereal, finds a box with a little brown rabbit. He remembers liking those, long back in his anonymous past. Mom and Dad’s voices and faces were different then. They were kind people in a different house.
As he eats, he feels a vibration beneath his feet: Mom and Dad crying far below in the basement.
He pukes the cereal in the sink and goes up, to Mom and Dad’s room, and slides under the bed where it’s darker. Somewhere, a spider is skittering. Davey says hello to her. He says thank you.
When he wakes up, it’s night outside. He eats, doesn’t puke as much, and walks about looking for spiders to thank, hearing Mom and Dad’s muffled pleading. Someone is ringing the doorbell. Davey doesn’t open the door, and the day ends and he sleeps.
And he wakes up, eats, doesn’t puke this time, and walks about followed by spiders, and opens his mouth to them, but none come in.
It’s all right, they don’t have to anymore.
Mom and Dad are louder, and Davey eats a second time, this time. The doorbell rings again and again. Someone throws rock at the windows. And Davey sleeps.
And it goes on like that, and in the meanwhile, Davey finds books and, very slowly, he learns to read as he did once and uses the page numbers to relearn how to count. It’s the tenth day now. Mom and Dad can barely be heard anymore. He misses Lord Gone. So much it’s like he still has spiders inside him, biting him from within.
It’s the dark of dawn. Davey is about to go sleep when he hears a crash. Hinges bursting out of wood. He goes see what it is, and finds a man and a woman in the entrance hall. Mom? Dad?
No. They’re much thinner and younger. The man has a baseball bat in his hands, the woman is gripping his arm. The man raises the bat, then wavers, and says, “Jesus.”
The woman covers her mouth. “Oh my god.”
Davey knows their voices. The guests from the other day.
“Who–who are you?” the man says.
“Davey?” the woman says. She grabs the man’s forearm and starts crying. “Just down the road? Oh my god.”
“Where are your parents?” the man asks Davey.
“In the basement. Talking to Lord Gone.”
“Talking to–” The man clears his throat and turns to the woman. “Wait here. I’ll go see if there are others.”
He disappears inside the house.
“Come with me, honey,” the woman says. She touches Davey’s hand. They both flinch.
“There’s too much light outside,” Davey says.
“It’s night,” the woman says. “You’ll be okay.”
“There are stars.”
The woman grabs his hand, doesn’t flinch this time – but Davey does – and she pulls him out the door, to a sky dotted in light. Lampposts bathe the street in fire. There’s pain, boiling wounds everywhere. Where do dark things live, in all this light? Where do spiders sleep?
The woman sits on the porch and has Davey sit too, and she starts asking questions. The same old questions. But Davey doesn’t know how old he is, doesn’t know who those people she’s talking about are supposed to be. And she starts crying again anyway, and tells Davey to stay where he is, and starts going from house to house, ringing doorbells.
Davey looks around at the spots where shadows take over light, but he doesn’t see Lord Gone. It’s been a long talk, he thinks. Mom and Dad must be so bored by now.
The woman returns, followed by people. So many people, lining the street in their pyjamas, covering their mouths, calling other people on their phones. Some are crying.
The man called Carlos comes back, says something to his wife, shakes his head. Davey hears something about thirst and infection. He hears something about how ‘that could’ve been our son’, and ‘it isn’t, we didn’t do it, and we’re clean now’.
And then more lights flood into the street, flashing blue, making noise, and people with guns pull Davey aside and others run inside the house. And sometime later a woman with dark circles under her eyes and bedroom hair starts asking questions, and two very old people push her aside and hug him and cry so hard Davey is afraid they’re hurting themselves.
They take him away, to a hospital, and a night goes by, then a police station, and a day goes by, then to a house with the old couple, and days go by, but Davey doesn’t want to answer their questions.
They let him go out, to the yard, with the dog and the blue sky he’s learning to bear, day by day, hunger a ghost, darkness a longing.
His eyes almost don’t sting, anymore. He has to put eyedrops on them and wear a patch sometimes. He has a room, with a bed, and he sleeps under it and he doesn’t puke now. And Lord Gone doesn’t come, when he calls. Nor do the spiders. Dark as things may be, how many times he may unscrew the lightbulbs or hang blankets over the curtains, Lord Gone doesn’t come. Not even when Davey goes down to the basement of this new house, which isn’t as deep, and isn’t as dark. Or when he slips out during the night and looks for other, darker basements, in crumbling houses with fungi stains on the walls.
The old couple have stopped asking questions. Now they just tell things, describe him dreams he’s had before. He dreams of them again, in new colours, when he’s alone with no Lord Gone and no spiders, in a room of his own that’s been kept the same, waiting for him. Or so he’s been told.
Word by word, he starts asking questions of his own. And he learns why phones don’t have buttons anymore, why everyone is always staring at them, staring straight at the light, never truly alone. And vans come and go and pour out screaming people with screaming microphones, and the dog barks back and the old couple sit on the couch, taking turns crying and touching each other’s faces.
But these things change too. Eventually the old couple don’t cry as much. And Davey stops flinching when they touch his hair. And they stop whispering that’s it’s so grey, as grey as theirs.
And then, one day, he’s down in that new basement, standing in pitch black comfort, and…
A shape in the corner. Arms unrolling like paper, warm air flowing, pulling him to a hug.
“I thought you’d left me,” Davey says.
I’ll never leave you, Davey.
But we won’t see each other as often.
There are other basements, Davey. Other children.
“But you’ll come visit?”
“And the spiders?”
I’ll find them a home, too.
About the Author
Mário is a writer and translator, born in Portugal in 1990, year of the German reunification. You’re welcome, Germans. He likes post-rock and melancholic sci-fi.
His English-language fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons and Solarcide, but it won’t stop there. You can find his multilingual ramblings on Twitter at @MSeabraCoelho.
About the Narrator
Bryce Dahle is a beginner voice actor who’s recorded multiple stories for the tales to terrify podcast, along with a character voice in monsters out of the closet episode 33. When he’s not working or hanging out with his wife, he uploads some of his own recordings to his youtube channel “awkward mammal”