By Ira M. Gansler
Perhaps it was for the best that no one would ever know just how differently it all could have gone. A single step that could have changed the course of humanity and prevented the horror that was to come. Michael George had hated insects and arachnids his entire life and had never hesitated to step on one the instant he saw it. He took a small measure of satisfaction from what surely had to be the imagined crunching sound he heard as his foot came down on the small form of a bug and crushed out its existence. The fact that the one time he chose to act incongruously and let one skitter right past him inadvertently led to the end of human existence as we had known it was a cruel irony that must have been orchestrated by some demon straight out of the depths of hell itself.
Michael had been washing his hands when he spotted the spider. It paused briefly as if taking him in as he saw it out of the corner of his own eye. He didn’t think much of it and certainly took no extra time to examine it. The spider did not seem anything out of the ordinary or give him cause to pay it much attention. For some reason he could not explain, he did not feel his usual desire to crush the living creature. Perhaps it was the news that he had received just that day regarding his wife’s pregnancy. Maybe that information gave him a newfound respect for life that extended to the eight-legged arachnid before him. Whatever the reason, Michael acted counter to his nature and habit and left the insect alone, ignoring the feeling of revulsion he felt at the sight of it.
Whether or not there were missed opportunities or mistakes that dwarfed Michael George’s that day would never be a topic that would be debated, because no one would ever know of it. Michael, himself, would go on back to his house to his wife and rejoice in their unborn child. They would celebrate, make love, and fall asleep in contentment. They would do all of this unaware that Michael had just sealed the fate of the entire human race, including theirs and their unborn child. Michael, Melissa, and little Sylvester would all be dead within two years’ time and their deaths would not be marked in any way special or out of the ordinary for that period in history, not that there would be anyone left concerned with recording history. They would succumb to the same fate as billions of others would over the next four years, all of which could be marked from one of several possible starting points, one of which was Michael’s almost unconscious decision to let the “spider” live.
Humanity would never discover if the spiders had mutated through some fluke of nature, although the search for answers went on until the primary focus of every last living person would become one of pure, simple, and primal survival. We would never know if they had possibly come on some object from space. We would never get the answers to the speculations that they were created in a lab and, if they were, if they had been released accidentally or intentionally. Again, none of these things would have helped humanity in the least, but it is in the nature of people to wonder. However, we will never know. We can never know what might have been.
- - -
The fire had spread quickly and most of the once proud city was now burning. The idea had been simple, but ultimately flawed. They would find the city’s main nest and burn it out with a controlled burn. They would set up sandbags and build a fire wall that would prevent the spread of the flames from the front and sides. Nature, via the river right outside of the large warehouse attached to the rear of the building, would finish protecting the rest of the surrounding area from the fire. Once they had eliminated the nest, along with the breeder, they would then be able to methodically go through the city and wipe out the rest of the population. Once that was done, they could allow themselves to think about what might be next. It had all gone wrong from the start.
Callie had not trusted Ben from the moment he had joined their group. He seemed to always be on looking around the group nervously, as if he were sizing them up. A certain degree of edginess was to be expected from anyone over the last four years, but Ben seemed to be constantly twitchy and on edge. It had been too long since society had collapsed for him to still be going through any kind of withdrawal, yet that was exactly the impression he gave. He refused to share anything of his past or even a last name. He was simply Ben. At first, Callie had almost been willing to overlook this fact, despite her immediate sense of wrongness about the man. After all, wasn’t there enough horror going on around the globe that had created some stories that were best left untold? As time went on, however, his refusal seemed less like simply a desire not to talk of some trauma and more about evasiveness.
Callie had tried to argue against the plan from the very moment it came out of Ben’s mouth. The problem was that she could voice little opposition past the fact that it was unlikely to have any long-term results worth the risk. She couldn’t come out and say that she didn’t trust the plan simply because it was Ben’s plan. Callie was a pleaser and always had been. Even the end of the world as she knew it didn’t change that. If anything, it seemed to intensify the trait. The moment she found the group to which she now belonged, she immediately set forth to prove her usefulness and be accepted. Having no one to win approval from had left her feeling empty and weak spirited in a way that civilization’s downfall and the death of her closest loved ones had failed to do. So, in the end, she had gone along with the plan. She would quickly wish that she had not. But that was the crux of all of the problems they seemed to face now. One simply could not know the right choice until the benefits had come to pass or it was too late to do anything about it. There were too many unknowns.
- - -
Despite all of the unknowns, several things came to be known very quickly as the “spiders” began to spread and grow and then spread more. The first was that they were not spiders in the normal sense of the word. Their exoskeletons were harder than any known insect or arachnid previously encountered in nature. Bullets could stop them, but only if aimed properly so that they hit one of very few areas on the body not covered by the armored encasing. The heads were much larger proportionally then a typical spider leading some “experts” to claim that these creatures actually had three segmented body parts and, therefore, were more like insects. Their legs had nine segments instead of seven as a spider’s does. The joins in the legs could flex in any direction, making them able to quickly move and change direction. It also provided them with a tremendous ability to leap over large distances or even straight into the air. Their jaws seemed to operate more like a shark then a typical spider, extending out to clamp onto prey with amazing force, as opposed to the simple side-to-side movement of normal spiders. However, they did share some characteristics with spiders.
They had eight simple eyes. Many of them spun webs and used these webs to catch their prey. The few that were able to be caught and studied before things got too far were discovered to have the same internal organs and muscle structures as a spider. They hunted in one of the four primary ways that spiders did. They were known to use their webs to catch prey or to go hunting for their food. The most terrifying, however, were the ones that waited in ambush for a passing victim and then sprung with uncanny speed and ferocity. Those unfortunate enough to encounter these type seldom survived the encounter.
- - -
From the moment they came to the building they were certain must be the nest, it all felt wrong to Callie. Dusk had begun to set in and she had tried to argue that they should wait for morning. A cold stare from Ben quickly silenced her. Jacob Stans led the group with Elizabeth, his wife, right beside him. Jacob and Elizabeth had been inseparable in all the time Callie had known them. They would not go into great detail about their experiences in all of the tragedy around them, but they had shared enough for the others to learn that they had lost a child to the creatures that had become known simply as “crawlies.” Since that time, they clung to each other with the ferocity of two people who have nothing else to live for outside of each other. They were quick to agree to any endeavor that would result in the death of crawlies and insisted on taking the lead in any exploration. Callie both admired and pitied them. Their raging desire to kill as many of the creatures as possible prevented Callie from trusting their judgment.
Following close behind Jacob and Elizabeth was 16-year-old Natasha Conneley. Natasha had been the sole survivor of a middle school that had been infested and subsequently blockaded three years prior due to the suspicions of local authorities that it had become a nest. She had managed to sneak out of the school and past the blockade with a few of her friends. The friends did not survive the trip out of the school that led them right past the heart of the nest. Natasha’s boyfriend had sacrificed himself to allow her to escape. She was their primary source of nest information on this expedition. As such, she was sticking close to the front with Jacob and Elizabeth.
The group was rounded out by three men known best the other survivors as “the trio.” The three had no connection prior to the outbreak when they found themselves trapped in a local restaurant. Bob, Sammy, and Will held out and actually managed to fend off a swarm of crawlies for a week with only the supplies they had found in the small building. They had brought themselves and eight others out of the situation alive. Shortly after, they split off from the remainder of their group from the restaurant, desiring to go on more of an offensive and seek out like-minded individuals. They had found that with Callie, Jacob, Elizabeth, Natasha, and now Ben. Sammy and Will were in their late teens and Bob was in his late twenties and Callie thought that they were still too full of testosterone for their own good. She couldn’t object to the sense of safety she got from them, however, so she said nothing about it to anyone else.
Natasha approached the building cautiously. Like many of the surrounding structures, it was covered with taut webs. They crisscrossed every way and overlapped in most areas. They were a mixture of thin and thick, the strands obviously having been made by crawlies of a variety of sizes. After a few minutes of searching, careful the entire time not to touch any of the webbing, she seemed to find what she was looking for. She peered into an opening with trepidation, but aware of the necessity of the action if their plan were to have any chance at success. A single touch of the webbing could yield one of only two results. The first would be that she could become impossibly entangled and stuck before she was able to react. That would mean that they would either have to abandon her to wait for one of the crawlies to find and kill her or, if possible, they would have to amputate any stuck appendage quickly and decisively. The second possibility was that the touch would reverberate through the entire structure and sound a loud dinner bell for everything inside. Neither was a situation that the group wanted to find itself in.
In order to ensure that their plan was actually worth the risk, they would have to actually venture into the nest and set the fire directly at the heart of the encampment. If they could burn out the breeder, the rest would likely ignore them and come to the aid of their queen. That would draw in as many of the creatures as possible and allow them to torch the entire building. Whatever the creatures were, they were just as susceptible to being burnt to death as any other living thing. The idea was to positively identify the building as the nest so that they could bring up the truck they had loaded with the sandbags for the fire wall. The trio would then establish the fire wall while the rest of the group spread out through the outer edges of the building and doused it in as much gasoline as possible. Ben had volunteered to seek out the queen with Natasha’s help. They would find it, burn it, and return to the outside of the building where they all could regroup and set the entire building ablaze. Ben insisted that it was a simple plan, but it all felt wrong to Callie. She would come to wish that she had spoken up sooner.
Natasha peered into the darkness looking for the tell-tale signs of a nest. She made sure to keep herself outside while shining her light in. She knew all too well the risk of a leaper coming out of the darkness. She remained low to the ground and looked around. After a few minutes that seemed to go on for an eternity, she stood up, took a few steps back, and turned back to the group.
“This is definitely the nest,” she said to them with an air of pride at being able to provide useful information and thereby justify her part within the group. Just as she announced this, they heard a shaking from a group of bushes off to their left. Before anyone could react, the huge leaper sprung from the foliage with its eight legs extended. Elizabeth barely managed to get out a scream before it had collided with her and wrapped its segmented legs around her upper torso as it knocked her to the ground.
Jacob screamed a guttural sound of rage as he threw himself onto the back of the crawly. He pounded at its armored back with no results. He was still pounding on it when Elizabeth shrieked as the underside of its abdomen opened and the stinger came out. The crawly’s stinger slithered up between its own body and Elizabeth. It raised up its cephalothorax enough to give it room to strike. As Elizabeth’s scream turned into a shriek of pain, the stinger buried deep into her chest and blood spurted out all of her, the crawly, and the surrounding ground through the hole in her back. The rest of the group stood by in shock at what happened next.
The crawly seemed to grow additional appendages from the underside of its body. Eight small tentacles wrapped around Elizabeth and pulled her dying body close to the crawly. It stood up quickly, throwing Jacob off of its back. Jacob hit the ground hard on his back and pushed himself up onto his elbows just in time to see the crawly take Elizabeth into the dark recesses of the nest. Elizabeth’s blood stained the ground and trailed after the creature as it went into the blackness.
Jacob laid propped up recovering from the shock of the moment for just a few seconds. Before anyone in the group could do anything to try to stop him, he jumped to his feet and ran into the building screaming his wife’s name.
- - -
The most disturbing fact about the spider-like creatures that had been dubbed the crawlies was their apparent high level of intelligence. It was a hotly debated topic for as long as the media continued to hold out and one expert inevitably contradicted the next expert until no one was really sure. No one, that was, except for those who witnessed the intellect of the crawlies first hand. The problem was that most of these people did not live to pass on the information. Basic observations were made, however, that generally seemed to conclude that their intelligence was equal to, if not rivaling, that of their human prey.
The few that were able to be captured showed an ability to maneuver mazes with little to no difficulty. Further, one lab discovered that, within their physiological limitations, the crawlies could manipulate locks. That particular discovery cost the lives of every person working in the lab.
When the government lab team had failed to report in for twenty-four hours, a SWAT team was sent in and three more lives were lost before the single crawly was dispatched. There were many who argued that the creature could not have been nearly as successful at taking out the entire facility in such a short period of time if it were not able to plan and reason. This scared the government higher-ups like no information that they had received before and the orders became to systematically eliminate the creatures while only taking enough alive so that they could test more efficient ways to kill them. In addition, the ones that were taken alive were to be severely wounded prior to being transferred to research facilities. That order turned out to be much harder to execute then anyone had anticipated.
PART 2 - COMING IN ONE WEEK!!!!!!!!!!!
PART 2 - COMING IN ONE WEEK!!!!!!!!!!!