Another in a long line of opening chapters I wrote that went nowhere. This one is about curses. And spiders.
Chapter 1 – Eyelashes, Spiders and a Broken Promise
There was a pounding on her door, and Krista thought of three things it could be.
1. She’d won the lottery. A man in a white suit and white hair would be waiting with a check the size of a billboard, accepted at all major banks that still functioned.
2. Someone asking if she interested in Jesus. Did she know that the past five years were proof, once and for all, that Christ existed?
3. Someone was hurt and needed her marginal doctoring skills.
Safe money was on number three.
She squinted into her glass, wondering if she was too drunk for this. Was this drink number three or four? Tough to remember. The fact that it was tough to remember kind of implied it was at least number four.
At the foot of the couch, Josh hadn’t looked away from the TV.
“Any chance you’ll get that?” she said to him, and gave him a tiny kick with her foot. He stared at her, but didn’t respond. His t-shirt was too small and made him look younger than his thirteen years. It had a picture of a Oscar the Grouch and underneath the writing said “Keep calm and be a grouch.” She had bought it a few years ago, joking that it was perfect for him. He didn’t say anything, of course, but he wore it all the time and that’s how she knew he loved it. It’s how she knew he loved her. Not that he’d ever say that.
“Hello?” came a voice from the other side. “Is anyone home?”
She wished she wasn’t home. But keeping this shitty apartment meant money, and her and Josh weren’t exactly liquid. The part time job at the coffee place downstairs barely kept them above water, especially now that Karen, that bitch, had started stealing her shifts.
Shit. That was unfair. Karen was lovely.
“Hello?” the voice from behind the door called out again.
“Coming,” she rolled herself off the couch.
She wasn’t worried about who it was. As the “in resident” doctor for the building, it wasn’t abnormal for someone to pound on her door late at night with some medical emergency. She wasn’t an actual doctor, but she had two years of med school under her belt, and that was enough. Most people didn’t bother with real doctors anymore, the wait list to see even a family doctor was months. Too many people flowing through the system. Everything was breaking.
“What?” She said, pulling the door open. On the other side was a guy from the second floor she thought she recognized. Mark? Some kind of m-name. His forearms were covered in tattoos which made him look dangerous, but up close, that wasn’t the case. His long eyelashes were too delicate and his face didn’t hold any menace.
Hmm. He was cute. Those eyelashes.
“Krista? I’m Martin Applegath, from 201?”
“Martin, right. Yeah, hi. What’s up?”
“It’s my neighbor, Mrs. Taylor. She cut herself pretty badly on a broken dish and there’s blood all over the place. Can you come look?”
She sighed. “Yeah, let me get my stuff. Come on in for a sec.”
The apartment she shared with Josh was tiny and it wasn’t but four strides to the “kitchen” where she kept her medical supplies in a black satchel. Some of the stuff was legal, some not so much. She was able to convince a guy who did supply runs for the hospital to let some inventory go “missing”. He got a few extra bucks and she got access to items she’d otherwise be unable to procure herself.
Martin waited by the door, his hands tucked in his pockets. He noticed Josh sitting on the couch and said “Hey man. I’m Martin. Nice to meet you.”
Josh blinked at him, and turned back to the TV. He smelled a piece of popcorn.
“That’s Josh,” she said. “He doesn’t talk much. Josh, you’ll be fine here? I’m going to help Martin downstairs for a couple minutes.”
Josh nodded and went back to his silent contemplation of the TV. She felt a little guilty for leaving him alone, but feeling a little guilty was her default emotion with Josh. No way to fix it, so why dwell on it?
She swung her bag over her shoulder and said to Martin “Lead the way.”
“Hey I should warn you.” He said over his shoulder as they walked down the stairs together. “Mrs. Taylor has an odd curse.”
“Yeah?” She said, “What is it?”
“You’ll see when you get there. It’s a bit of a mess in her apartment.”
It was pointless to theorize on what she’d encounter. Curses were totally random and could be harmless or deadly. Everyone had one now, so worrying about it was a waste of time. Whatever Mrs. Taylor had, she’d deal with it.
“It’s this one.” Martin said. He knocked lightly and pushed the door open.
The apartment was similar to her own. Tiny, dirty and run down. There was one noticeable difference, namely that this apartment was covered in spiders. Living, crawling, Krista-hating spiders. They were on the floor and the ceiling, in many colors, jumping around and scaring the fuck out of her and oh my God, was one in her hair?
“What the shit.” She slammed the door shut. She slapped her head, trying to not to freak out.
“Yeah, sorry about that. It’s kind of nuts in there.” Martin said.
“It’s in my hair, there’s one in my fucking hair.” She continued to slap at her head, she could feel eight little legs on her scalp.
“Krista, hey. It’s fine. Let me look.” Martin held her shoulders and she calmed a fraction while he looked through her hair. He wasn’t able to check the top because they were eye level with and her hair was a crazy, curly mess. A previous boyfriend once referred to her hair as “an impossibility” and “an affront to God.”
She leaned back against the wall, with her eyes shut and took a few deep breaths.
“There’s nothing in your hair. I’m sorry. I should have told you, but I was worried you wouldn’t come.”
With her eyes still shut, she asked “Why is the interior of Mrs. Taylor’s apartment covered from head to toe with spiders?” She was impressed with how calm her voice was.
“It’s her curse. When she bleeds, spiders pop out.”
“Sorry, her blood is made of spiders? What?”
“No, I’m almost certain she has real blood. It’s more that when she bleeds, in addition to blood coming out, spiders also pour out of the wound.”
She open her eyes and looked at him. “If you were to guess, how many spiders would you say are in that apartment?”
“Oh, a few thousand at least. It’s a pretty deep cut.” His hands were in his pockets and his pretty eyelashes waggled innocently.
Her hand twitched with the urge to slap him. She rubbed her mouth and wished she had more whiskey.
“I can’t do this.” She said, and picked up her bag from where she had dropped it. “Sorry. I hate spiders.”
“Everyone does. But you have to help. She’s old and she has no one else.” He continued to fix her with his open stare and she realized how very brown his eyes were. Flutter went his eyelashes.
She really did need the money. So badly. She couldn’t let Josh down because she was afraid of a few spiders. Correction. A few thousand spiders.
“You need to keep them out of my hair, okay?”
“I’ll protect you,” he laughed. “Come on. I told Mrs. Taylor I’d get you, let’s not keep her waiting.”
“By all means.” She said, gesturing him in front of her. She loved that her two years of medical school essentially qualified her to be a doctor now, and mostly she liked the extra money, but tonight felt like a stretch too far.
Peering inside the apartment, she realized there weren’t thousands of spiders, there were merely hundreds. All varieties were represented, from fat spiders the size of her thumb to tiny brown spiders no bigger than a tic tac.
“Do spiders eat people?” she asked Martin, keeping her eye on a particularly large one that skittered up the curtains in the living room.
“Probably if they were able to, but I don’t think a single spider could fully digest a human.” She must have gone a few shades paler, because Martin quickly corrected himself. “I’m sure these spiders are fine.”
From the kitchen area of the single room apartment, Mrs Taylor waved at them, holding a blood-soaked rag around her hand. She was an older lady, with soft graying hair and glasses she wore at the end of her nose.
“I’m sorry for all the mess,” she said, gesturing to the apartment. “So many got out when I first cut myself.”
“It’s fine.” Said Krista, trying not to lose her mind and pull her hair out. She consciously kept her eyes focused on Mrs. Taylor’s bloody hand, which was preferable to the spiders.
She crossed the room and pulled a chair from the kitchen table. It was Spider-free. Bonus. “Hi Mrs. Taylor,” she said. “I’m Krista.”
“I know who you are, dear.” So kindly and old.
“If I scream, don’t take it personally.” Krista said. “I don’t like spiders.”
“Me neither.” Said Mrs. Taylor. “Imagine my shock after the pulse happened. For months, I thought I was clear, that I must have only gotten a mild curse. Then I accidentally cut myself and I nearly had a heart attack.”
“I can’t even imagine.” Krista said. For people who had extremely mild curses, it could take months, if not years, to figure out what it was. Krista figured out hers within the first seconds of the pulse. Different stories.
“I’m going to look at your finger now. Can you tell me what happened?”
“It’s so silly. I was doing dishes and one of my glasses must have broke. When I put my hands in the water, one of the shards cut me.”
Krista peeled the bloody dish towel away to look at the damage underneath. The towel was lousy with dried blood and broken spider corpses. A layer of gossamer web settled on everything.
The cut was long and deep, and ran across the side of Mrs. Taylor’s index finger from nail to knuckle. Easily three stitches. Blood pumped out of the cut, and a few spiders crawled out of the wound, only to skitter down Mrs. Taylor’s arm and onto the kitchen table.
Krista grit her teeth together with a clack so hard it was audible. Every muscle in her body had tensed.
“Um,” Said Martin. “Do you want a drink or something?”
“Yes.” Krista responded before he had finished speaking. “Please. Anything.”
“There’s some peppermint schnapps in the cupboard above the fridge.” Mrs. Taylor said.
Oh, so gross. But Krista needed something. Her hands wouldn’t stop shaking and she felt on the verge of a full-blown panic attack. A black spider skittered across her hand and she screamed, leaping back from the kitchen table. The chair fell back with a crash.
“Fuck.” She said. “Sorry. Fuck.”
“It’s okay.” Said Mrs. Taylor. “I used to be the same way about spiders, but after you cut your finger and you’re covered in two hundred of them, you either get used to eat or eat a bullet.” The hard words were incongruous coming out of that sweet old mouth.
Martin poured her a generous drink and Krista gulped it down in one swallow. It was disgusting, like drinking a liquefied candy cane, but the liquor went right to work. Martin picked up the overturned chair and she sat back down, taking Mrs. Taylor’s hand again.
“Huh,” She said, looking closer. “It’s not that your blood is spiders, it’s that spiders are crawling out of your cut. There may not be enough vomit in my body to get through this.”
“It’s so embarrassing,” Mrs. Taylor said. “Anytime I get so much as a scratch I have to clean up dozens of these things. Awful creatures, they get into everything.”
“This is impossible.” She said. “I’m going to have to stitch it closed first and clean it after. I can’t work around these spiders.”
“Will it hurt?” asked Mrs. Taylor.
“That depends,” Krista said, “Can you afford an anesthetic? I have some local stuff, but it’s going to run you about fifty bucks.”
It sucked to charge people directly for supplies, but the stuff wasn’t cheap and it was the only way to cover her costs.
“No,” said Mrs. Taylor, “I don’t think I’ll be able to cover that.” She wiped away a tear that rolled down her cheek and took a breath. “Let’s go fast.”
“I’ve got it, Mrs. Taylor.” Martin said from behind. He pulled a wallet from his back pocket and peeled off a few bills.
“You can’t.” Mrs. Taylor said.
“Consider this payment for all the dinners you’ve cooked for me over the past year.”
He handed the money to Krista and she shoved it in her pocket, feeling a blush of embarrassment. Not her fault that supplies cost money. Nothing she could do about it. Besides, it’s not like she was charging a spider-tax, something she only now made up but immediately decided was a real thing that she would enforce going forward.
She produced a small syringe from her satchel and flicked it a few times.
“This will sting a bit when I inject it, but not much, okay?”
Mrs. Taylor nodded and looked away while Martin held her free hand. Krista tried to eyeball the injection point, now regretting the schnapps she had consumed. She closed one eye, which helped bring the finger into focus and plunged in the needle in, off to the side of the cut. Three spiders squeezed out and Mrs. Taylor gasped and Krista managed not to scream.
Krista started sewing.
“When are you starting?” Mrs. Taylor asked, who kept her head turned away.
“I’m already one stitch in.” Krista replied.
“Oh!” Mrs. Taylor turned her head, saw the mess of spider corpses, blood and semi-stitches and wavered in her chair. Her face went sheet-white.
“Easy does it Mrs. Taylor. Focus on Martin and his nice forearms.” Martin blinked at that and she grinned at him. Was that good flirting? Tough to tell, it had been a long time and the spiders were off-putting.
The stitches didn’t take long, the cut wasn’t that big and once she got used to sewing around spiders, she was able to finish. She wrapped a bandage around the finger and cleaned away the remaining blood.
“There,” she said, “keep that out of water for a week and then I’ll come check on it. Change the bandage every day. It should heal fine.”
“Thank you so much,” Mrs. Taylor said. “It’s so hard to get in to see a Doctor now. How much for that?”
“Fifty for the needle and fifty for the stitches.” Krista replied, making up a figure. Fifty bucks would help get her and Josh closer to rent. One or two more gigs like this through the week and they might not be evicted.
“Let me get my purse.” Mrs. Taylor said and walked over the counter. She rummaged through her purse and pulled out a few crumpled dollars that Krista stuffed into her pockets.
“No offense, but I need to get out of here before I never stop screaming. Remember to clean it every day. I’ll come back again in a week to see how it’s healing.” Before Mrs. Taylor could say anything else, Krista ran out of the apartment to the spider-free safety of the hallway. Once there, she bent double, hands on knees and took several deep breaths. She realized her hands had started shaking again.
“Sorry, that was so tough.” Martin said from behind her, startling her. She yelped.
“It’s fine. It’s over now. I’m going back to my apartment. Seeya.”
“Wait,” he said. “I wanted to thank you properly for Mrs. Taylor. Do you think we could have dinner sometime or something?”
“Are we having dinner because you’re in debt to Mrs. Taylor, or are we having dinner because you like me?” And edge found its way into her voice. She didn’t know why she was pushing him like this. It had been so long since a guy asked her out and she didn’t normally get along with other people. It was her and Josh and that suited her fine.
“I don’t really know you.” He said, “but I’d like to change that. It’s only dinner. I promise it won’t hurt.” He smiled and that, combined with his stupid, huge eyelashes made the offer pretty hard to resist.
“I can’t leave Josh alone.”
“I’ll cook us dinner and bring it over. Maybe tomorrow night?”
A Saturday date. Wowee. This would be the most monumental social event her calendar had seen in years. They would make Josh uncomfortable what with his recent problems, but on the other hand, what was she going to do? Never eat again?
“Fine.” She said. “Dinner tomorrow. Six thirty okay?”
“Works for me.” He said and they both stood there awkwardly. Should she shake his hand now or something? What happened after the date was set?
“Okay, bye.” She turned and walked down the hallway back to the stairs, probably too quickly. Not the most elegant way out of the conversation, but not bad.
She opened the door back to her place to find the lights and TV already off. She had a bit of a buzz left from the booze, and decided she’d have one more to harden it before sleep.
Josh had curled up in his bed and from his breathing, she could tell he wasn’t asleep. She crawled in beside him and snuggled up. He shifted his back against her and they settled in together.
“That guy from tonight is going to come over for dinner tomorrow, okay?” Josh didn’t say anything. “I know food is a problem for you right now, but I’m going to figure this out. You have to trust me. It’s your curse coming on, it obviously has something to do with food. I’ll get there. Don’t worry.”
Josh continued to not say anything, but he squeezed her hand. He’d never outwardly show that he was scared, but the hand squeeze meant he was terrified. It had been four days since he had last eaten and he was getting weaker. She’d fix it though. She would.
She decided to skip the drink and stay in bed with Josh and cuddle. As she did every night, she promised herself she would keep quiet. She wouldn’t say anything, she’d just go to sleep. Just one fucking night, she didn’t need to say it every night, she didn’t need to keep –
“I’m sorry.” She whispered.
Another night, another promise broken.