by Shannara Johnson
“You think we should get some ice cream when I pick you up later?” said Mom and smiled the ingratiating smile she always used when she didn’t want him to make a fuzz at the dentist’s or to bribe him before she dragged him along on one of her tedious shopping trips.
Today it was her “Make sure you look happy for picture day” smile, but Felix didn’t pay attention.
His gaze was fixed on the monster that fiercely clung to the back of the driver’s seat. The morning sun gave its black body a sheen that reminded him of Megatron and the other bad-guy Transformers.
Here it was again, staring at him with somber, multifaceted eyes. If it hadn’t been so tiny, he might have seen his own face reflected, warped and scared-looking, in those gleaming black mirrors.
He’d known it was evil from the first time he saw it, a week ago. How or why he knew, he couldn’t have said, but there was something about its stare and the cruel jaws that opened and closed, opened and closed in a steady rhythm… conveying its sinister intent with every infinitesimal move.
I want to hurt you, the jaws seemed to say, I want to kill you.
The other day, he had watched it eat a hapless ladybug that had had the misfortune to get tangled up in the monster’s web in one corner of his bedroom ceiling, right above the Red Sox flag. It had taken its sweet time, spinning the encased carcass around and around on its thread, like one of those female circus acrobats who hang by their hair.
He saw what came next as if through a magnifying glass—observation intensified by focus. The spider opened its jaws and vomited a milky liquid onto its victim. He could almost smell the putrid stink. Then it started chewing on the body, sucking the fluid and the liquefied meat back into its gaping maw, all the while staring at him with those horrible eyes.
See? it silently mocked him, see what I can do?
And now it was here, in the car with them. He had no idea how it had gotten from the ceiling in his room all the way to the car. Perhaps it had let itself be carried out of the house on his school backpack.
Now it sat on the back of the driver’s seat as if it belonged there, as if it was the driver and Mom in the front seat a mere puppet following its nonverbal instructions. But it wasn’t looking at Mom or out the window or wherever you’d expect a spider to look. It was staring right at him, challenging him to raise his hand, to try to swat it. Go ahead, little boy, its twitching pedipalps said, give it a try and see what happens.
Don’t move, he thought as if he could will it to do what he wanted. Do. Not. Move.
Maybe if he didn’t touch it and didn’t make any hasty movements, it would stay where it--
“Felix?” Mom had started the car engine and put the gear changer into reverse. “Did you hear what I just said?”
Oh no! Don’t look back! “Yes, Mom, I heard you,” he hurried to say, cold sweat soaking his armpits. “I’d love some ice cream after school.”
“Okay, it’s a date, then,” she said easily and began to back out of the driveway.
He had looked at her face for only a second, or perhaps three, but when he turned his gaze back to the spider, it was already on the move. Determinedly striding forward like a soldier in a one-man (one-spider) army, it reached the dividing line where blouse met seat before Felix could even blink.
“Mom…” he said, but his voice cracked. Paralyzed, he watched as the monster climbed onto her arm, making its way to her shoulder. Nonononononononono…
His mother turned around to get a good view of the street behind them, and her eyes met the spider’s compound ones. The spider raised its front legs in a threatening gesture, as if ready to strike.
She screamed, a scream so earsplitting that Felix feared he’d go deaf inside this confined space. “Mom—“
But she didn’t hear. Her eyes were wide and panicked, and her cheeks flushed with the sudden shock of a phobia thrown back into her face. She didn’t see or recognize him, he knew from past experience. Her entire body was in flight mode now, her muscles tensing in anticipation.
She exploded into action.
Pulling the door handle, opening the door, and throwing herself out was one swift, rolling motion. Still screaming, she vanished from sight. The door swung slightly as the car kept moving backward down the driveway.
Felix stiffened. The car was still moving. On its own. Without a driver. The driveway, he knew, would only get steeper and the car would gain speed as it went. And at the end of that steep driveway glinted an egg-yolk-colored blob. The school bus, waiting for students from the neighboring houses. Not for him, because Mom always drove him to school. She loved to do that for him, she said. For my little angel.
Her little angel, he thought bitterly, would be a real angel in just a few moments. No way he could make it to the front of the car and step on the brake before it crashed into the bus. If he could even find the brake. No way he’d unfasten his seat belt so close to death.
The spider was back on the driver’s seat, staring at him triumphantly, flicking its jaws open and shut, open and shut.
See? it said silently, see what I can do?
© Shannara Johnson, 2015
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