Until very, very recently, I lived in my family’s old house, on the outskirts a small town. I’d been living all on my own for a while, ever since my mum died. Her death, while very saddening, wasn’t really surprising; she was 86, after all, and not exactly the healthiest woman. I found her one morning, at the base of the staircase, with a very tortured look on her face, and already stone cold. Neither me nor the emergency workers that took her away could think of an explanation for why she was even down there, as her bedroom was on the second floor, but I chalked it up to her age at the time. She had been going a little senile, after all, and may have just been wandering around the house without knowing where she was or where she was going. If only I had known then what I know now…
With mother gone, I was now all alone in a house far too big for just one person. Back in the early 18th century, five families used to live here at once, and now it was just me. Three stories, a garden I had no interest in tending to, and an oppressive weight of emptiness. I would have moved out right then and there, but I was never great at managing my money, and the house was not in good enough shape to just sell outright. So, for the next year or so, I made attempts to clean the place up and get it off my hands. It didn’t go so great. See, I work… worked as a computer for a living, I hadn’t the first idea on how to renovate a home, I was barely able to move a shelf, so my progress was almost non-existent to begin with. And what certainly didn’t help was my increasingly poor sleep.
At first, I thought it was just house noises. There were creaks and groans, and sometimes something that could maybe have been very soft footsteps, but whenever I went to check, nothing was there, and nothing was any different from how I left it. I figured I was just getting a little stir crazy. I even went so far as to invite people over, something I’m not usually comfortable doing. I’m not good with parties. And, you know, it did help. After a night of getting to socialize and have a few drinks, I found I slept a lot better, without being woken up by… well, nothing, in the middle of the night. So, whenever I heard something in the night, I told myself it was all in my mind.
However, telling myself that didn’t stop that uncomfortable, oppressive feeling from growing stronger. That sensation of not being safe in my own home. I was chastising myself whenever I felt a cold chill go down my spine in the evenings, telling myself that I was acting like I was four years old again, scared of a shadow on the wall, that there was no reason to be this nervous. But, obviously, that didn’t make it go away. As time went on, I started genuinely losing sleep, going to work exhausted, and coming home with a heavy rock in the pit of my stomach. One day, after almost getting into a car crash because my thoughts were occupied with worry and seemingly irrational fear and my brain thought that driving the tin death can wasn’t worth focusing on, I decided that it couldn’t go on like this. I took a week off work, and I was going to use that time to finally buckle down, renovate the house, and, with any luck, find the source of my constant trepidation. Or, failing that, at least get it into a sell-able state, so I could at least run away from the problem.
Since I’m not exactly handy, as I mentioned before, I decided to start by clearing out the cellar, since anything that ended up down there over the years would not be missed if I broke it. They were almost entirely old, broken things stacked on cheap shelves and coated in spiderwebs, and so they went directly into the trash. It was exhausting labour, but I was fine with that, as it meant I would have an easier time going to sleep. During my many trips from the cellar to the trash cans outside, occasionally swatting an overeager spider off my clothes, something caught my attention. Our cellar was made up of several small rooms, one of which contained the central heating, as well as a boiler. We put the boiler in there because this room had a small sewer grate surrounded by a slight decline in the floor, which meant that if the boiler ever broke and spilled water all around it (which had happened on multiple occasions), that water would eventually drain away. My eyes only fell on the grate accidentally, but when they did, I suddenly felt my heart leap up in my throat, and I dropped the stack of broken flowerpots I was carrying. After I finished cursing myself and the universe, heart racing, I turned my attention back to the grate. I hesitantly went and took a closer look. I really can’t tell you what I thought I saw; a flicker of movement, maybe? A slight glint of light? I don’t know, but my subconscious mind recognized something there, something my conscious mind didn’t understand. Investigating it now, I couldn’t see anything unusual. It stank pretty badly up close, but that was to be expected. Shining my flashlight into the darkness unveiled nothing of interest, either, just old stone bricks and the water’s surface some ways down. I think I sat there staring down that hole for a solid minute before finally convincing my subconscious brain that I only imagined that face it thought it saw. I closed the door and got back to my work, cleaning up all the pieces of flowerpot, now with a constant sense of unease creeping down my back.
That night, my back ached, my arms were sore, and I was dying to finally crawl into bed. I took a hot bath and had a rich dinner, and when my head hit the pillow, I was ready to go out like a light almost immediately. I rolled around once and settled in comfortably, closed my eyes and… waited. Waited for sleep to come. An hour passed, then two, and still no sleep in sight. I cursed myself; it was like I was a child again, thinking about scary monsters creeping around my room and making myself more and more petrified with fear. Although I was mad at myself for it, I still rolled over, reached for my phonograph on the night stand where it peacefully sat, and put on something relaxing to drown out the silence. I would almost definitely be mad at myself for it in the morning, as this strategy always led to subpar sleep, but right then, the choice was between subpar sleep or no sleep at all.
I settled on recordings of comedy plays I had seen so many times that I could quote them from memory; something so familiar it would be easier to blend out and go to sleep. As I put the phonograph back on the night stand to do its thing, my heart once more skipped a beat; that time, it not only sounded like footsteps, it felt like footsteps too. That incredibly minor vibration passing through the walls and floor, in sync with the muffled, silent thunks of feet. I’m not proud to admit it, but I was petrified in fear. Instinctively, I scooted back to the furthest corner of the bed, as far away from the door as possible. After the almost two minutes it took for my panicked breaths to settle, I was once more angry at myself for my reaction. Maybe mum was right, maybe I should have gotten a nice wife and kids by now after all, so then I wouldn’t have to act like a kid myself anymore. I got out of bed, my legs shakier and my hands clammier than I would have liked, grabbed a candelabra for light, and went to investigate. Maybe then my stupid brain would finally shut up and turn itself off.
First I checked the kitchen, and I grabbed my largest kitchen knife off the rack, just to be careful. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, although I cursed myself for once again not finishing my bundle of bananas before they turned brown and gross. Then I checked the living room, bathroom, and my father’s old, abandoned office. My next stop were my mother’s old bedroom and bathroom. I tried not to pay attention to the fact that I was checking literally everywhere else before going down the stairs to the cellar. But as every other room proved to be empty and just as I left it, gathering cobwebs, a thick layer of dust, and a thicker layer of sadness, I eventually had to bite the bullet and creep down the stairs.
An involuntary shudder went through me every time my feet hit one of the stone steps too loudly, creating a very audible fwap that would stand to alert any potential threat to my presence. My rational mind tried telling my instincts that there was nothing to freak out about, but it didn’t help. When I finally reached the bottom of the stairs – those fourteen steps felt like a lot more than just fourteen – my hand hovered over the matchbox hesitantly. My brain couldn’t decide whether the fear of the unknown monsters lurking in the dark was worse than the fear of the intense shock and panic that would definitely ensue as soon as the dim, ancient lamp flickered to life and illuminated the lurking horrors. After a few long seconds of internal chastising, I forced my hand downwards, the warm yellow flame came to life, revealing… well, nothing. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Just dusty old shelves, slightly less overflowing than they had been a day before, a few broken pieces of furniture, and an old, rusty bike. The only sign of life was a very fat spider sitting in a thick web in the far upper corner of the room. Still, I took the time to check inside the ancient, mouldering cupboard, ignoring the fact that nothing larger than a six year old could possibly fit inside, then peered into the tiny potential hidey-holes behind the other junk. Anything to delay having to check the wash room. Sadly, to my utter lack of surprise, there was nothing to be found no matter how deeply I peered into the dusty corners. The only things staring back were mouse turds and dust. I made a mental note to get some mouse traps later in the week while steeling myself for what I had to do next.
The old door to the wash room wasn’t properly set into the frame like, well, a proper door; there was a gap of almost a centimetre between the edge of the door and the surrounding wall, allowing a weirdly potent stench to seep through unhindered. Also, any sound inside should have been able to reach my ears easily, yet there was nothing to be heard. One half of my brain was trying to tell me that that’s a good sign, while the other was busy thinking about a spider, sitting silently in the centre of its web, ready to strike. My hand was clammy and shaking as I wrapped my fingers around the door handle. The old wood creaked slightly as I threw the door open with one quick, jerking motion.
My whole body deflated and a big sigh of relief escaped my lungs when the light hit the grate, revealing it to be exactly how it was, exactly where it should be. The entire room seemed just as I last left it. I stepped inside, and I felt my legs almost give out under me. It seemed the building panic and anxiety had done a number on them. Since I was already plummeting towards the ground, I caught myself and transitioned into kneeling next to the grate. Despite all my weird fixation on the stupid thing, I hadn’t yet examined it closely. The first thing I noticed was that weird stench again. It was horrible. And not just the usual sewer stink kind of horrible, this smell was like nothing I’d ever smelled before, and it immediately made me wretch so badly, I almost threw up right down the grate. The closest thing I could think of is… Imagine the smell of liquorice, except a hundred times more intense, and the liquorice is rotting. There was a strong, sickly note of sweetness mixed in with the usual sewer stink, and it made it so much worse. I took a few deep, steady breaths to suppress the nausea, but it didn’t help as much as I would have liked. My stomach was still in almost painful turmoil, and my eyes were watering. Very slowly and carefully, with my shirt pulled over my mouth, I leaned over the grate to examine it more closely. At first, it looked normal – just an old, rusty grate, rectangular and with ample gaps to let water flow through. I experimentally rubbed my finger along one of the grates, and little crumbs of rust came off – this thing really wasn’t in the best shape anymore. I felt it creaking and moving under my touch, and that’s when I noticed that the whole grate was moving. It looked like the whole thing broke out of the surrounding floor quite some time ago, and was only loosely sitting on top of the hole. I tried lifting it, and it came off without any resistance. There was now an open, wet hole in my cellar, just barely large enough to be a tripping hazard. It was a good thing I never stepped on this grate before while crossing the room to get to the washing machine, the twisted ankle would have been bad enough even without all the thick rust getting into any scratches and giving me blood poisoning. I put the rusty grate to the side and made a mental note to get this fixed as soon as I could figure out who I’d have to call to fix it. Then, I looked back down at the hole, and my heart froze in my chest.
See, something was looking back at me. The same thing, I realize in retrospect, that had looked back at me before, the thing I convinced myself was just my imagination. It was… Calling it a face seems cruel to other faces. It had eyes, two at minimum, in two deep, sucking sockets, and something that at least resembled a nose, though what looked to be nostrils extended far lower than they should, down to where a chin should have been. Below them, there was a mouth, hanging partially open, in the shape of a V. The thing you’d expect now would be rows and rows of razor-sharp teeth, right, much like a shark? Well, what was ACTUALLY there might have been even more unnerving, because the maw looked almost like normal human teeth. Just… aligned on V-shaped jaws. Maybe a little off coloured. Behind them, a squirming, fold-y redness like a tumour the size of a fist was writhing and glistening, thankfully obscured by the half-darkness and the ripples in the water. Below the jaw, a thick neck that got thicker the further away from the head my eyes travelled, attached this parody of a head to a small, lumpy torso. Its base shape and size was like the torso of a child, only with massive lumps in all sorts of places, giving it the form of a mutated potato. The skin had the same greyish tinge as the face and was covered with flat black spots that looked like open holes. But none of that was as bad as the limbs. Instead of arms and legs where you’d expect them, there were at least a dozen thin, spider-like legs protruding from all around that awful lumpy body. The whole thing looked like a horrendous mixture between a malformed human and a giant spider. Its sucking, empty eye sockets were staring at me. And then, I felt something warm and wet hit my neck. I jerked myself forwards instinctively, rolling onto my back on the rough stone floor. My eyes travelled to the ceiling.
Looking back, I’m sure that I must have at least glanced at the ceiling when I entered a minute earlier, and I definitely looked at the ceiling the last time I’d gone into the room. But from any perspective but the one I was now helplessly lying in, the thing on the ceiling would have looked like little more than an odd pattern of discolouration. This creature, despite being as broad as the entire ceiling and with the skin texture of mouldy bread, seemed to be as flat as a sheet of paper, pressed up against the roof. And as I was breathlessly crawling away from it and it fell out of focus, I was able to watch it turn near invisible before my very eyes again. Something about the angle I looked at it from made it nearly imperceptible. It was clear now that when I thought I saw a face in the grate earlier that day, what I had actually seen was a reflection of something lurking directly above me, without me having the faintest clue.
My back hit something cool and solid, and there was a loud, ugly screech as the old boiler scratched across the stone floor from the impact of my torso. I think it might have been that noise that finally startled the creature into movement, because the next instant, I felt my heart stop all over again. It’s impossible for me to describe just what it looked like, scuttling down the wall a mere metre away from me, with footsteps far too silent for something its size moving with such speed and energy. Even while moving, it seemed to blend in with the background, morphing it into a mere shadow with long limbs emerging from it, limbs that were covered in white, mould-like fur. The mere memory of the image makes me wretch and feel my blood freeze at the same time. Then, these horrible legs slid smoothly into the hole in the floor, causing only the faintest splash, and the impossible body was gone. Gone down a hole barely big enough to fit my arm into.
I fled from the room after what could have been seconds or hours, trying to both run as fast as I could and avoid that cursed drain. I have a big, purple bruise along the side of my torso to account for how well that went in a room that tiny. I flew up the stairs at a speed I wouldn’t have believed I could reach, grabbed my jacket off the hook and flew through the front door, not even bothering to lock it behind me; I just slammed the door and made a run straight for my bike. My keys were still in my jacket pocket, but my wallet with my license in it wasn’t, so I was very lucky no police were out to witness me speeding through the town streets in the middle of the night. I ended up parking outside the home of my closest friend, and waiting there until morning.
When he saw me at his door, pale like the moon and probably looking quite deranged, he immediately took me in. I was composed enough not to tell him what I saw, exactly. Instead, I just told him that I did see something, claiming that I thought it was a hallucination.
He was concerned but understanding, and immediately told me to go seek professional help. I lied to him and said that I would. We went back to my home with his car during daylight hours to pick up my most essential belongings, but when he saw my face outside the house, he went in on his own. I was half certain that he wouldn’t ever come out again, but five minutes that felt like five years later, he came back with my phone, wallet, and a small bundle of replacement clothes. I haven’t been back since.
Even now, three days later, I don’t actually think what I experienced was a hallucination. It felt far too real, far too visceral, and more importantly, ever since that night… I’ve been seeing a lot of spiders. All of them looking right at me. Big, nasty, lumpy things, leaving behind a foul odour after I smash them with a rolled up newspaper. I’ve killed at least thirty already, but they keep showing up. I don’t know what to do. I can’t stay here for much longer, and I have nowhere else to turn to. I’ve half a mind to empty my savings and flee the country, but with every spider I crush, there’s also a creeping, growing desire to figure out how to build a flamethrower and return to my home to either reclaim it, or die trying. That thing is already after me, and I don’t think I can outrun it. Might as well look it in the face.