Colin Regis was in bed reading a Dean Koontz paperback when he noticed movement in the corner of his eye. Something black scuttled into sight and disappeared again beneath the bed spread. He lowered the book, blinked and sighed. The black thing was nothing more than one of Garfield’s stripes. A twitch of his foot caused the motion.
Colin feared only one thing in the world. Spiders. Big, fat ones with hairy legs. They hid everywhere. Under the bed, behind the dresser, in the bathtub and the sink, in the corners of the rooms where walls met ceiling.
The only spiders he ever encountered were the small ones, but their larger cousins were out there, somewhere. It was only a matter of time before they sprang out and crawled all over him.
He shivered, anticipating their thick legs on his arms and face, probing his skin, searching for the most suitable body cavity to lay their eggs.
Enough with the scary images. He picked up the book, ready to lose himself in a battle between good and evil.
It was too early to call it a night. He was a fanatic reader and when he didn’t leave this world for an imaginary one for at least half an hour, he’d toss and turn in the dark until finally he’d turn the lights back on and go on a cheap holiday to fabulous California with its serial killers, genetically mutated monkeys and brainwashing mad scientists.
Colin hated Mondays. The start of a new school week. Sundays would be so much more fun if you could stay up as long as you wanted. All the good TV shows and movies were scheduled on Sunday nights and he had to miss them because he had to get up early the next day. It wasn’t fair.
Luckily, his parents slept downstairs and couldn’t see his light was on. Stealing those thirty minutes of entertainment was fun, if not exciting. There was always the chance they’d check on him and each time he heard a door downstairs he dropped the book, hit the light switch and buried his face in his Garfield pillow.
He heard the rumble of a train in the distance. The railway wasn’t that far off. Or perhaps it was an approaching plane. The house wasn’t near any airport, but on a popular flight route. Planes flew over all the time. Colin didn’t hear them anymore, except for the really big ones.
The bedside lamp flickered. Dad must be heating a late-night snack in the microwave.
Theirs was an old house, with old wiring. You couldn’t turn on an appliance without affecting the lights. Old plumbing as well. Better not shower when Mom’s doing the dishes. And when Dad’s on the john at the same time, keep the number for the ambulance ready.
Colin sighed. The flickering scrambled the letters in his book. He pulled it a little closer until his nose almost touched the page.
There they were, in the correct order, making sense once again.
A minute later, the flickering stopped. Dad’s snack was ready. Probably a plate of leftover Chinese.
Colin lowered the paperback to its original position, read another two lines, then stopped. Something funny was going on. The letters were … melting? He blinked, brought the book closer again.
He must be getting tired. It was already past 10:00 pm. His eyes played tricks on him. That was the only way to explain what was happening on the page.
He blinked again. The letters were still melting. Although melting wasn’t really the best way to describe it. They were like waves breaking on the beach, then pulling back again. One moment the letters were fine, then they were elongated, leaving smudges on the white space between two lines, then they were back to normal.
Colin put the book down. He rubbed his eyes. Time to stop. When you start seeing things, you’ve read too much.
He reached for the light switch, but pulled back. The light went out by itself.
He stifled a scream. The darkness weighed heavy on him. It pressed him together into a tiny box, a coffin, deep in the earth. All critters and crawlies came out when it was dark. Spiders left their hiding places behind dressers and under beds. They were free to roam wherever they wanted.
He reached for the switch again, caught it. Nothing happened. The bulb had failed.
He waited until his eyes adjusted to the dark. Waited.
His eyes didn’t adjust.
If he waited too long, the spiders would get to him. He got out of bed and stumbled his way to the wall switch. Flicked it.
The street lights would help him out. He searched his way through the darkness to the window. He placed each foot before the other carefully. He didn’t want to step on something living, squish it under his bare skin. He held his breath at this revolting thought. He stretched his arms toward the window. A few more feet. There, the thick fabric brushed against his finger tips. He took hold of the curtains and pulled them back.
He couldn’t see anything. The night was so black he couldn’t even see the curtains and they were right in his hands. Couldn’t even see his hands. All outside lights were extinguished.
General power failure. Any moment now his parents would come upstairs to see if he was okay.
The rumble in the distance was definitely a plane. He recognized the sound of the engines. It was a big one, flying low for some reason. Colin craned his neck, trying to catch a glimpse of the plane lights. He couldn’t see anything. The plane must be directly over the house.
He jerked back from the window when a spark almost exploded in his face.
A spark? Where did that come from?
There it was again.
It was gone before he could see what it really was. A blue spark, a tiny flame. In front of him, a little to his left and a few inches above his eye level. It floated in mid-air for a fraction of a second.
The plane’s engine grew louder. It couldn’t possibly come any closer but it did. Was it going to crash?
Another spark startled him. Colin felt his way back to the bed, jumped in and pulled the spread all the way over his head. He covered his ears. He didn’t want to see or hear anything else. With luck, he’d fall asleep in a few minutes and wake up refreshed in the morning.
But what if the power was still out by then? His alarm clock wouldn’t go off and he’d miss school. He’d already used the excuse of a power failure last week, when the book he’d been reading was so exciting he could only put it down at 11:00 pm, a full hour later than when he usually went to sleep. The teacher wouldn’t believe him tomorrow. He was surprised she’d let him off the hook last week.
The roar of the plane was deafening. It penetrated the covers and his hands and bored its way into his head. This wasn’t normal. He wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. The noise was giving him a headache. There was a dull throb in the back of his head.
Any moment now, his parents would rush through the door, grab him and take him downstairs to hide together for whatever was happening. Any moment now.
But nobody came.
A part of him wanted to go down first, but another part was afraid. The stairs were a popular breeding ground for spiders. The steps would be crawling with them by now. He would never reach the ground floor without being bitten.
He could yell for his parents, but they wouldn’t be able to hear him in all this noise.
No choice but to wait it out. It would end eventually, wouldn’t it?
Under the covers, eyes closed, the most terrible thing that could have happened did indeed happen. Another blue spark interrupted the darkness.
But his eyes were closed!
He threw back the covers, screamed and jumped out of bed. Spiders or no spiders, he was going to his parents right now.
He opened the door of his bedroom, ran down the stairs without encountering any eight-legged horrors. He reached the door, busted through it and was welcomed into the living room by an audience’s laughter at a late-night sitcom.
But what about the power failure? The lights were off, the whole house was dark, the television wasn’t playing yet it produced sound.
“Colin?” Mom asked. “What’s wrong?”
Her voice was a mere whisper in the roar of the plane. Colin looked around but couldn’t see her. Why was she sitting in the dark? She could have lit a candle or something.
“The lights,” he screamed. “What happened to the lights?”
“What do you mean?” Dad asked, barely audible. “There’s nothing wrong with the lights.”
“But … there is! The lights are out! The … the lights …”
“Colin, why are you screaming? Stop playing games and go to bed.”
Couldn’t they hear the plane? What was going on?
“But … I can’t. The noise …”
“What noise, Colin?” Mom asked.
A shiver ran down his spine. His parents were acting as if nothing was wrong, as if the lights were on and no plane was coming down on them.
Then he realized it wasn’t a shiver. It were tiny, hairy legs running across his back. He jumped, tried to get rid of the spider on his back. It must have landed in his neck when he was running down the stairs. He reached behind him but his arms were too short.
“Get it off!” he screamed. “Mom, get it off!”
“Colin!” Mom tried to shout but her voice didn’t even come close to normal volume. “Colin, what’s wrong? Why are you acting like that?”
“The spiders! Mom, the spiders! Get them off! Mom! MOM!”
Suddenly the darkness exploded in a gigantic blue spark. He fell forward, crashed into the coffee table but didn’t feel any pain. His headache was gone. The roar of the engine was gone. The last thing he heard was the voice of his dad, speaking normally again. “Jesus! Call an ambulance, he’s having a seizure!”