"How many were there? Sandy asked. Her shoulder-length black hair stuck to the sides of her pretty face, forming near-symmetrical swirls across her features.
Brian slid the deadbolt into place, spun around, and collapsed against the door. "You don't want to know," he panted.
"Did you find Barky?"
"No. The spiders must have got him."
Sandy fell to the grime-coated floor. "He's gone?"
"I'm afraid so." Brian said. He hated to be so frank with her but their lives were at stake, and as far as he was concerned that was more important than a dog.
Sandy began to cry. Barky had been her pet, a lovable, energetic little pain in the butt. And now he was gone, killed by a ravenous horde of giant spiders that were foot across, sometimes bigger.
The thought made her blood stick to her guts.
Brian, still angry with himself for risking his life over a dog, turned around and pressed his face to the eyehole in the door. At first, he only saw the driveway and his old but reliable Mazda parked on it, but the more he looked, the more things seemed to change, the edges blurring, drifting from the realm of reality into the nether-regions of imagination.
Sandy stood up. She wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. "Are you okay?"
"Can you see anything? Are they still out there?" She really didn't want her questions answered.
Brian rubbed his eyes. His head hurt, most likely due to the stress of what he'd seen since the nightmare began, but he couldn't shake the feeling that it was something else.
He scratched the back of his neck with a sweaty hand.
"I don't see anything, but it doesn't mean they're gone. They could be anywhere. He eyed his car in the driveway. We should get outta here, head into town, find the sheriff.
Sandy stepped up behind him. She wanted to wrap her arms around him but didn't dare. They hardly knew each other, being forced into hiding to escape the spiders, so showing any signs of affection might lead to trouble.
The spiders were hairy, fanged, bloodthirsty things that seemed to emerge from every shadow, every crevice, every corner. They looked like normal spiders, but obviously they weren't. Normal spiders didn't behave like these did.
"Do you think we should?" Sandy asked. She fought back the urge to embrace him. The only thing she felt as badly as fear was loneliness.
"Yeah, I do," Brian replied. He continued looking outside. "We'll have to eventually." He turned around, nearly bumping into Sandy. "Look, there's nothing here. No food, no water, nothing but dirt and trash." He gestured to the debris-strewn floor. "If we don't leave soon, we'll die here. Our phones don't work and we don't have any weapons. We need to go now."
Sandy weighed that option against the spiders.
"I've gone out before and made it back," Brian added. "We could be driving away in no time." He pulled his keys out of his pocket. "You stay here and I'll start the car and pull up to the door. Then you can…"
A dog barking cut off the conversation.
"Did you hear that?" Sandy asked. She scooted over to a small window and pulled aside the tattered curtains. "It's Barky! He's alive! I can see him by the car!"
"Easy, Sandy, we have to be sure…"
Sandy ignored Brian and ran to the door, shoved him aside, and flung it open.
But she didn't heed the warning and stumbled outside.
Immediately she sensed something was wrong. She saw her dog poking his head out from behind the Mazda but could tell that he looked strange somehow, as if he wasn't alive, as if he was being manipulated like a…
"Barky! Here boy!" The words fell from her mouth like heavy stones sinking in the water: a slow, graceful descent that bordered on fictional.
The dog inched forward on seemingly mechanical legs.
He stepped out into view.
Sandy screamed when she saw that it wasn't her dog.
A tarantula, a full two feet across with an abdomen the size of a bowling ball, was wearing the dog's face like a mask. Sandy could see jagged bloody lines where the flesh had been cut. Tufts of gore-streaked fur dotted the edges.
The thing charged. It still wore the mask, but had abandoned any further attempt to hide its true form.
Brian rushed up behind Sandy and shoved her into his car. He didn't speak, instead motioning her to sit tight. He then ran around the car and jumped into the driver's seat.
"Hold on," he shouted as the engine roared to life and the car spun sideways before it finally caught traction on the cracked cement of the driveway and fishtailed down the road.
Sandy sat back in her seat. She would never see her dog again, and that fact dragged down the little hope for survival she still clung to.
"They're smart," she mumbled. "That thing tried to trick me. It had Barky's face. It tried to trick me." She was shaking her head the whole time she spoke. It was her instinctual reaction to what she'd seen. "It actually tried to trick me."
Brian kept his eyes on the road and his hands on the wheel." I know, I saw it too. We need to get into town." He rubbed his face with a sweat-slicked hand. "The sheriff, he can call for backup, get some scientists in here to figure out what those things are."
Sandy's attention was diverted toward Brian. The car was swerving ever so slightly, but enough to be noticeable. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Not really, but good enough to get us into town. I'll feel better when we get something to eat."
Sandy didn't totally believe him, but she had no other choice. He was driving and it was his car. All she could do was keep a close eye on him.
"So, what do you think they are?"
"Well, they're not spiders, that's for sure."
"I hate spiders. They're creepy. When I was a little girl one bit me. It was a big yellow one, you know, those house spiders that look yellow."
"It just crawled up my arm while I was watching TV and bit me. Gave me a welt that itched like crazy."
Brian nodded. "We're here," he said as they passed a sign that read: Warren city limits. "I'll head straight to the sheriff's office. It's just past Avon Road."
Sandy felt relieved. She was hungry and thirsty, but that didn't matter. They needed to get help first, then they could find a party store or restaurant.
However, she did notice that the town looked deserted. "Where is everybody?" she asked.
"Who cares? We just need to reach the sheriff."
Brian's reply struck Sandy as odd, particularly given the circumstances, but again, she was in no position to argue with him. He was right, after all. Get help first, that's what mattered.
Her thoughts were interrupted when they pulled into the Sheriff Department parking lot. Brian didn't say a word as he slammed the car into park and jumped out of his seat. He wavered on his feet for a few seconds, righted himself, and walked into the building.
The only person in the room was a heavyset bald man who was seated behind a cluttered steel desk. He was going through a stack of papers.
He remained seated and looked up. "May I help you?"
"Are you the sheriff?" Sandy blurted out.
"Yes I am. Sheriff Willington. I'm here solo; my deputies are out on other matters."
Sandy rushed forward. "We need your help! There's these spiders, only they're smart, and they killed my dog!"
The sheriff stood up, but stayed behind his desk. "Easy there. You need to calm down."
Brian came up behind Sandy. "She's telling you the truth."
"I know that you know, and you did a great job."
Sandy looked at the sheriff and then back to Brian. "What did he say?"
"I said he did a great job bringing you here," the sheriff said. "He didn't know it until a short while ago, probably when he was driving here, I would guess."
"What? I… I don't understand. What…"
"Shut her up," the sheriff commanded in a stern voice that matched his dour expression.
Brian quickly wrapped a hand over Sandy's mouth.
"Good, that's better. Now get her prepped, I'm getting hungry."
Sandy felt a sharp prick in the back of her neck. She struggled to free herself from Brian's grasp but was already feeling the effects of the venom. Her vision started to blur, occasionally dipping into darkness, and then back to the foggy outline of the sheriff. She couldn't see him clearly anymore, but could tell that he was moving closer to her, slowly, deliberately inching closer and closer to where she was held by Brian.
His voice, now muffled and slurred, cut through the haze with its dire implications.
"You see," he said, "I found it is far easier to have my minions bring meals to me instead of going on the hunt." He chuckled, revealing oversized yellow teeth. "Lazy? Perhaps, but I prefer to think of it as being efficient. I have a great deal of patience, so it doesn't bother me to wait."
Brian pushed Sandy forward into the steel-like embrace of the sheriff.
"And now," he growled," it's time to eat." And with those cryptic words he ripped off the mask of the sheriff to reveal the predatory face of a spider beneath it.