When a shrill scream shocks me from sleep, I work on auto-pilot. Possibilities run through my head and with them the implications. If Kara’s fallen out of bed, her mum will analyse every bruise and bump when I take her back home and she’ll hold it against me.
On my way through the hall I stub my toe on Kara’s toy buggy and I stifle a yelp by biting my knuckle. I hurriedly hop the rest of the way, expertly swerving through the maze of doll’s accessories.
I switch on Kara’s light. She’s in bed. Phew.
Kara shields her eyes. Her hair is bedraggled with strands pasted in tiny ringlets to her forehead. She has her teddy-bear in a tight headlock, squishing him against her cheek.
“What is it?” I ask as I step over the toy ponies which clutter her doorway. A good parent would have tidied before bed. “Bad dream?”
“Stop!” she screams and scuttles along the bed, closer to me.
I stop. “What is it?”
“A spider!” she cries, shivering.
“That’s nothing to worry about, pet,” I say and hurry to her.
“Get on!” she says, urging me with tears forming in her eyes.
I sit on the edge of the bed. “Calm down,” I say. “A spider can’t hurt you.”
Kara pulls my legs up onto her duvet. “It was ginormous.” She stretches her arms apart, as wide as they’ll go.
“Where’d it go?”
“Under the bed.”
I hop off and as I’m about to bend down Kara grabs me.
“Don’t.” She’s trembling. Tears roll down her face. “Don’t let it get you.”
“I won’t,” I say. “I’ll grab the hoover and suck him up.”
She shakes her head. “He won’t fit.”
“He can’t be that big.”
“I told you, Daddy,” her voice drops to a whisper, “he’s ginormous.”
Between Kara’s sobs I pick up a soft rapping sound coming from behind us. Dappled shadow stains the wall.
Kara sees it over my shoulder and gasps. She squeezes her teddy-bear with one arm and puts her thumb in her mouth.
I turn to see a moth fluttering in the light-shade.
“Is that what scared you?”
“No, Daddy, that’s a moth. Can I sleep in your bed?”
“Sure,” I say and pick her up. She’s heavier every time she stays. As I step over her toys she drops the bear.
Kara squirms and almost slips from my arms, so I keep moving. “I’ll go back for him in a minute,” I say, dashing carefully across the hall. I lay her on my bed and place the covers over her.
“Teddy,” she says.
As I head into the bedroom the moth flutters past me, attracted by the brighter hall light. I look down, but Teddy’s gone. Scanning the room I see its fluffy paw under the corner of the bed. That’s not where it fell. As I step towards it I hear a scraping sound. I bend down and reach towards Teddy but something long and as thick as a broom handle emerges from under the bed; it’s black and hairy and like a spider’s leg only… ginormous.
Big. Huge. Massive. Enormous. Gigantic. Ginormous. Those words aren’t interchangeable. There’s a strict rank to them when you’re a kid. When she said it was ‘ginormous’ I should have believed her; you don’t amalgamate enormous and gigantic if the subject doesn’t deserve it. Not when you’re six-and-a-half.
“Daddy,” she calls from my bedroom, “where’s Teddy?”
“One minute.” I get down onto my stomach. I can feel the pizza, heavy in my gut, and when I see the light glistening off the spider’s eight enormous eyes I fear it’s not going to stay down. As I scramble backwards, it works a couple of legs around the bear and takes it further under, its eyes always on me, its fangs pulsing, warning me to stay back.
“Daddy,” calls Kara.
I could buy her a new bear. And board up this room. Maybe set it on fire. Or run away, as usual.
“I need Teddy.”
If I don’t get him back she’ll never stay again.
“Getting him now, pet.” I scan the floor for a weapon. I toss a pony, but it bounces off the bed-frame. I throw another, but it’s too late, the spider has disappeared into the darkness under the bed.
I stand up, grab hold of the bedframe, and count down from three. I can feel my hair pasted to my forehead with sweat. Three. My heart is racing, it wants to get out and run. Two. I can hear the spider making a clicking noise under the bed. One.
I yank the bed away from the wall and jump onto it.
The spider reels up on its back four legs, and somehow supports its fat, hairy body as the other four legs stretch forwards, challenging me.
I reach down and grab a pillow and throw it, but the spider is too quick and scurries into the corner, over Teddy. I grab the end of the duvet and pick it from under my feet and hurl that into the corner, covering the spider and Teddy. It’s trapped. I step down onto the duvet, and I can feel the beast trying to squeeze away between my feet, leaving Teddy behind. I pull back part of the duvet and grab him, but he’s stuck. I pull again, and see a thick strand of web attached to him.
It moves again, back towards Teddy, and back towards me.
With my other hand I reach for the pillow. As its legs emerge I shove the pillow and push it against the floor. I can feel it struggling, so I let my knees sink onto the pillow, and I feel a pop. Teddy’s free. I clamber over the bed, tug off the webbing and take it to Kara.
She smiles at me and hugs teddy tightly. “Daddy,” she says, and looks up at me with loving eyes. “Can I have my pillow?”
Benjamin Langley teaches and writes in Cambridgeshire, UK. He has recently finished an M.A. in Creating Writing at Anglia Ruskin University.