Stuck in his head, having lost all ties to his friends, and as wired as he was, Brian hadn’t noticed the small land mass coming over the horizon. This new job had netted him some financial gain at least. The helicopter made him feel like a secret agent, even if it was a job to fix cameras for Healthco on their not-so-secret island. It had been better than working as a janitor for big pharma. The electrical engineering degree was finally paying off. Spending some time on a small tropical island wouldn’t be so bad.
Phil chimed in after he noticed Brian crossing his arms contemplating the purpose of the island. “No need to worry, mate. The specimens have their own part of the island. Healthco’s lab is on the west side. You likely won’t even have to leave the facility for any hands-on, camera fixing excursions.”
“I hear they’re bigger than average spiders. What do they eat?”
Shouted Brian over the thrumming rotors.
“Small reptiles, other insects, mostly the annoying flying ones, and the occasional rodent. Macrothele raventoxin has been incredibly valuable to us. They’re hairy little buggers. Normally a few centimeters in length they can grow to be the size of smaller squirrels, thanks to the growth hormone. But they’re harmless to humans. Just make sure to check your boots.”
Brian didn’t laugh and watched as the helipad came into view, getting anxious with every passing moment. Further west he tried to spot the area where the spiders would congregate but couldn’t see anything through the trees. Ever since he got the job he would be deployed on these tropical outings and never wanted to look a gift horse in the mouth, despite Brian never being able to see much of his friends or family. He missed them of course but preferred to not have to put up with their trite complaints and problems. Shivering he paused to reflect on what it would be like to be friends with hundreds of arachnids. “This growth serum. Does it make them less likely to forget my birthday or remember that I’m allergic to peanut butter?”
“Oh sure,” smiled the program manager. “Believe it or not we saw them trapping a lorikeet by covering its nest with webs. At least before the cameras went out. But that’s why you’re here.”
“Great.” Brian felt his stomach lurch when the helicopter landed.
“‘When spiders unite, they can tie up a lion.’ Old proverb. Profound. If we all work together, we can achieve anything!”
“Do spiders work together?” He was led down the ramp into the facility without much of a group welcome, making sure to grab his electrical bag. Scanning the trees he tried to spot any movement but there was only a slight weaving of branches.
Phil seemed eager to share his insect knowledge as he swiped his badge leading into the facility. “Not typically. Ants are more prone to work together. But we farm those on another island.
Brian couldn’t tell if he was serious but he wouldn’t be surprised. The quick tour of the facility seemed to showcase standard lab offices with glass windows in each section. Several scientists were busy collecting samples and working at extracting the venom from several caged spiders. Environmental chambers housing the spiders, Bunsen burners, vacuum pumps, ultrasonic analyzers, and various glass vials and equipment lined the labs.
“We can produce 25 toxin doses per hour which equals out to 25 cancer patients saved. Using a xenogenic model we can use purified peptides from the venom to cultivate our own toxins that will specifically target cancer cells and devour them. Nom, nom, nom.” Brian cringed at the older manager’s attempt at humor. “The toxin is a miracle. It can stop tumor growths in only a few weeks. Not only that but we are doing further research into methods of anesthesia as the venom has paralytic qualities.”
“Impressive.” Brian was brought to a small corner room, devoid of windows, with short wall of ten monitors. Four appeared to have “Signal lost” on black backgrounds. He wanted to get started immediately. On seeing the spider webs on the camera feeds, he realized he was in a sticky situation.
“Here we are. Bathrooms down the hall. You’re doing the lord’s work. Healthco thanks you for your assistance in these matters and would like to offer you free meals in the chow hall. Steer away from the meatloaf, if you know what I mean. Sundown is at 11. We go on backup power. Lights run at minimal energy.”
A clunk sounded when Brian dropped his bag. There was reassurance from the manager that the facility was hurricane prove and tapped the steel walls. The seat was comfortable. He didn’t care for food, not while staring at a cloud of web-covered trees. The power lights on the control board indicated that the blacked-out cameras were receiving power. Phil expressed more gratitude before leaving him to his task. A map to his left provided the exact locations of the ten cameras. These were state of the art cameras, which meant they were linked in through Wi-Fi. He had wanted to be an IT specialist before he had chosen electrical engineer but found the customers of most computers frustrating. The little act of turning on the problematic computer seemed to be the common solution. But that couldn’t be the case here.
Another commonly missed utility of the norm computer user was the manual, which in this case was placed right next to the desk, on a shelf in the dark corner. After flipping through it he found that the cameras did have power switches and the only solution was to turn it on. They couldn’t be turned off remotely. If the cameras were receiving power and the Wi-Fi was still active it could only mean the switch was physically turned off. The manual didn’t offer any other explanation.
He fidgeted with the controls for another hour, trying a series of commands designed to reset various functions of cameras five and six. His eyelids became heavy. A cup of coffee would’ve been nice.
A shape blew past camera three. Peering closer he saw that a forest of trees shifted in the wind. “Deep forest” was labeled below. It was getting darker but he could still make out the fibrous webbing on the branches, suffocating the three trees in the frame. None of the critters were visible. He was squinting when another black shape darted by. Can they leap…?
The joystick helped him move the camera. An open branch became clear. He zoomed in. Within the knot of the tree were three long appendages, gray in hue. He didn’t want to see but couldn’t look away. The twig-like legs started to move, lifting a bulbous hairy body from its nesting place. Size couldn’t be determined and the creepy thing did have a furry back which almost appeared to be another layer of skin. He was certainly glad to be safely sequestered here. If anyone needed to go out there he would just tell Phil to have one of the scientists to go out and his job would be done. He could go back to the mainland move onto the next drab, friendless task.
The thing crawled slowly crawled into the light, exposing more of the body. It couldn’t be…It almost seemed to be wearing fur, but that didn’t seem right. Spiders didn’t generally have hairs like this, especially matted down. He nearly laughed to himself considering spiders hunting down squirrels for their hide to use as armor. Around the spider’s waist was a thin thread of webbing. He blinked and decided he had enough and zoomed back out.
Another shape blurred by. What were those things? Moving the rotary dial back he slowed the footage in reverse. The blurred image came into focus. It was indeed a spider…flowing backwards, hanging onto the branches and…jumping through the trees like a monkey. He blinked again. The freaky atmosphere was getting to him.
After several hours of grueling testing Brian finally decided to take a walk. The halls felt sterile. In the mess hall several scientists were eating their dinner, face masks sitting below their chins. He didn’t want to disturb them or introduce some bacterium to them from the outside world. After eating his own mediocre meal, a cheese burger with chips, he talked to one of the older scientist. In their conversation, the scientist using big words, he was informed that, “spider venom peptides had a cytotoxicity to normal cells,” which was apparently encouraging. Brian pretended to be engaged and mentioned the power switch of the cameras. The scientist rubbed his wrinkled brow and said they used drones to collect samples and that one could be used to investigate.
Leading Brian to another mechanical closet he was given one of the drones he could use to deploy. At the back door of the facility Brian prepared the drone and activated it. The door was badge activated but oddly the door was cracked opened, with a branch stuck in the way. He pushed the branch out of the way and sent the drone out before closing the door tight. Wouldn’t want the bugs getting in.
Hurriedly and alone, he ran back to his room, a small office with a cot. The small display chimed to life. Only a few more hours before sundown. This better be quick. Speeding through the jungle of bark and branches, the drone headed west. Spider webs practically fogged the airways. They were whiter than green, growing in massive blooms further in. Several flashes passed the drone camera. A chill ran up his spine. The creepy bastards found the drone and were leaping at it, almost invisible to the naked eye. He closed his own for a moment and sighed.
Among the webbing was camera five. But, as the drone paned around, there was a dark pit, recessed into the foliage. The darkness of it captured his tense attention. Scanning back and forth he found no spiders but expected them to be housed within. The darkness stabbed at him, crippled him. The darkness became the only image on the small screen. The darkness and eyes. Eyes staring back. Hunting in the dark. Was the drone the prey?
Judging from the surrounding trees and shrubbery the hole had to be at least ten feet wide. He wondered if the scientists knew about this but camera five was placed here for this purpose. He froze, immobile, the tiny little eyes boring into him. The hairs on his neck stood on end. The stares were more penetrating than any romantic encounter he had ever experienced, more searing than any friend he had ever done wrong.
Suddenly the drone fell to the ground and the display went blank, followed by a message, “Signal lost.” He was shaken but could only deduce that the battery had ran out. The other option…he winced at the thought.
Brian tried to lay down when the lights started to dim, signaling the lights out protocol of the facility. Tossing and turning he couldn’t actually sleep and took a few swigs of the liquor he brought with him. Slowly sleep came for him and he slept.
A rustling woke him. His eyes didn’t work immediately. The numbness of being awoken before a full night’s rest prevented his arms from the working. But…he wasn’t in his bed. His ears started to function as the trickling sound of water came to them. No…not water. Feet. Little feet tapping against the tiled flooring. He blinked and saw the ceiling moving above him, barely visible through a milky haze. Brian was being dragged across the floor. The haze itself came into focus. They were strings, thin threads of white covering his face.
The numbness didn’t fade. He tried to scream but found that he was paralyzed. Instead, his mouth remained opened to the chittering of…tiny…little…feet. Thirty or so pairs of legs, needles really, hammered at the floor, pulling, tugging, and driving forward like mules dragging a massive weight. His weight. Dragging within a sack of webbing was his pierced flesh, pockmarked with dripping pustules, dripping the same fluid that would save so many. He cursed them now. Cursed them for bringing him here.
The sores from the fang bites worsened with every tug. Several spiders at his feet, like rats, pulled while the others scurried around making sure he was immobile. They were taking him away. So far away from his friends. He would do anything to see them again, see his mother again.
Their hairy bodies were indeed covered with grotesque animal hides. So smart, so smart, and vile. His chest started to heave under his wretched circumstances. Vomit coughed up from his mouth and ended up on his chest. He wished he could gouge his eyes out, to prevent the horror of seeing the gnashing fangs and teeth coming to gorge on the bile from his stomach. Gluttonous monsters. Devouring. In a frenzy, crawling up his leg, the weight of them only could be felt in their scurrying.
Oh, how he wished it would end, that they would just cut his throat and be done with it. But they didn’t and continued to grab, pull, tug, and slide his body further out the door. They would take him to the hole where more horrors would await. To the horde. Sinking into the earth, taken away from everyone. His friends, family, never to be seen again. Into the spiders’ nest.
Fantastic writing and storytelling!
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