Author : Cael Majin

There was a spider on his ceiling.

It hadn’t moved for as long as he’d been staring at it, which was… probably an hour now. Maybe two. He wasn’t knowledgeable in the acclimate taste of arachnidkind—were there brown recluses in this area? There’d been hoards if the damn things at his parents’ house—he’d found three of them in the bathtub at once one summer, fat ugly little monsters that hadn’t resisted in the least when he’d trapped them in a cup and flushed them down the toilet, accepting their dismal fates with motionless passivity…

If he moved, his bed creaked. It had always annoyed him, but it didn’t matter now because he didn’t want to move, not for anything. He decided to match the spider on his ceiling, will against will—he’d leave when it did, and they’d see which of them survived.

The sun set behind his unwashed cotton curtain, and he counted the remaining lights. One from his computer on standby mode, one from his state-issued laser pistol, flashing red as it charged on its cable, one from the newly-installed medical monitors, ready to alert him if his body began to change. The streetlights outside his window cast a sick yellow halo around the curtain. The spider cast a three-inch shadow.

At some point his cell phone vibrated on the table by his head, and he looked at it tiredly. It fell silent after several seconds of lonely beckoning, and remained so until a feeble beep let him know he had a voicemail. A few more minutes passed before he gathered the willpower to listen to it, setting it to speaker and letting it fall to the mattress, utterly unsurprised to hear Charley’s voice practically singing to him.

“David, you butthead. I know you’re there because you’re not here. Pick up!”

He shut his eyes and envisioned Charley, worried out of her mind about him. She and Zach had been killing him with kindness since that particular physical, falling over each other as they tried to figure out what to say, how not to offend—now it seemed they’d opted for the “just ignore it” tactic.

Which suited him fine.

“All right, fine. But you better be asleep, because we’re picking you up at the crack of two in the afternoon tomorrow. We’re going to act like five-year-olds all day. It’s going to be great.”

Zach had pulled a string and gotten them all off-duty the night before deployment, and they were tripping to the ramshackle amusement park erected in the civilian area. It had seemed fun at the time, because there was nothing like a couple of close-knit quasi-adults and the possibility of roller-coasters, but the thought of it now – being out among strangers, as if they’d see into him and see the illness – burrowed into his guts and squirmed around.

Charley’s voice stalled, losing a bit of its synthetic cheer. “Seriously, get some rest, D. Look, it’s not… it doesn’t change anything, alright? Nobody is afraid of you. See you tomorrow.”

“To erase this message, press seven. To save, press—“

He let the machine politely blather on until it disconnected itself and his phone went dark. The streetlight outside flickered a little—or had the spider moved just the tiniest bit? He watched it carefully, commanding his eyes to transform the silent speck into a living creature, whose life pulsed powerfully inside even as it clung there, motionless, for hours.

He would let it live, he decided slowly, even if it was a brown recluse. They’d shared this evening in silence and stillness, and he suspected he’d win this battle of patience. He’d probably still be lying here, drained of strength, by the time the creature disappeared back into the safety of its shadows.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows