The giant spider has human skin, flaking like eczema, and its eight legs look like long fingers with three or four extra knuckles. It is half Ben's height and is crouched over something that is twitching, eating it slowly. It spits a sticky, grey, foul-smelling fluid through a soft rubbery sphincter, and then waits while the liquid cures the meat and softens up the next mouthful. It is hungry and scared and angry. It's getting angrier, but it doesn't know why yet. It is feeling more with each mouthful. It is growing fast. Its many eyes twist wildly around the room. It sees the door and knows it will take what's inside it soon.
The smell is strong enough that Ben has to force himself not to gag as he stands shaking one room away. He feels the sudden urge to throw up, which may be fear, but is also because of the twelve bottles of beer he drank at the party last night, with no food all day. He'd taken five ibuprofen before he went to bed in a drunken moment of inspiration, and his stomach is burning.
He tries to be calm, but of course he can't be calm, there's no way. He's sweating; a dirty alcohol sweat that sticks to his body and makes him itch. He sits down on the edge of the bed and concentrates on not panicking. But then he throws up suddenly and as he's retching he sees the shadow under the door as the spider reacts to the noise. He's trapped.
Only about an hour ago he had been woken from drunk dreams by the smell, which in his morning haze he had assumed was because he hadn't taken the kitchen bin out the night before. He spent a long time lying there, coping with it, vaguely planning to get up quickly and then go back to bed for another three hours but not quite being able to bring himself to, and at the same time he was thinking about the night before, the pathetic attempt at seduction of that hot South African girl, the embarrassed dancing as if the rejection didn't matter, the drunk dialling, the bad fuck, the guilt. The guilt was what had eventually made him decide to get out of bed and go to the kitchen.
But then it had been there, on the floor by the television and he had screamed and at the same time he had tripped on something. He didn't have time to look at what it was as the spider darted towards him, so silently and quickly for something so big, and his first reaction was to run back into the bedroom and shut the door behind him, holding it with his back as he reached for the chair and then shoved it beneath the handle.
So stupid he thinks. He could have run outside instead of here. Why didn't he? If he can just make sure that the spider won't be by the entrance, he might just have time to run out. But he doesn't dare to open the door yet and now his brain is going over and over what he tripped over. It couldn't have been - could it? But what if it was? Alice.
He takes a breath and holds the door handle with one hand and the chair with another. He has to go out there now. He owes her this at least, after last night. Stupidly he starts to think about who he'll have to tell if that thing has eaten her. Her annoying mum who still calls her Baby Alice even though she's 37, her ridiculous ex-husband, the people from work. For some reason he imagines telling them earnestly around the photocopier and them nodding sympathetically. It won't ever happen.
Alice, my Alice, he thinks, as though taking ownership of her will make him braver, but he can't move. He's paralysed. Finally he forces himself and weakly calls "Alice?"
The smell of it oozes under the door and he knows it's close. He gags again, but he's empty now and groans. The spider groans back.
And then- "Ben?"
It's Alice. "Alice?" says Ben through the door. "God, are you ok?"
"Ben, I'm fucking scared. Open the door."
He puts his hand on the door handle again and stops. "What is that thing?" he says. "Where is it?"
"I don't know Ben, " she says, saying his name too much like she always does, as if to make up for something missing, to pull him closer and then push him away. "Please, just open the door."
He wants to be braver, to be able to do it. But his imagination has taken over and he starts thinking about what's out there. Stupid ideas from fairy tales, Hansel and Gretel, with Alice in a cage forced to tempt him out or the spider will cook her in a pot. He knows it's ridiculous, but it doesn't stop him.
No, he can't stay here forever. What's it doing to her? He has to do something now. He imagines himself as a hero, tackling that thing, pushing it away, saving the girl, saving the world. He takes a breath and pulls out the chair quickly, trying not to think or hesitate. He takes the chair in both hands as if ready to use it as some sort of weapon. The door is still closed as he stands still in fighting pose. He'll have to change position and open the door.
He holds the chair awkwardly with his left hand and takes the handle with his right, pulls the door open.
The Alice-spider spits something hot at him and he falls backwards. She spits again and it hits his mouth. He feels his tongue and his teeth and his gums disintegrate. The spider screams. A human jaw juts out now from beneath the spider's eating orifice and it speaks with Alice's voice.
"Ben I'm sorry, Ben. No! I don't want to do this Ben. I'm so hungry. I'm so fucking angry with you, the way you fucked me last night, as if it's even worthy of being called that and you treat me like shit, but I keep coming back and I'm hungry. You're a fucking pig" and a human hand at the end of a leg scoops into Ben's dissolving stomach and pulls out the meat. It shoves it into the speaking mouth and she's still trying to speak as she chews and swallows, and when she does a membrane of skin behind the jaw breaks and the meat falls back down to the floor and then she's speaking again. "You knew how I felt. I want you. I've just never said it before, but now I know how. You knew the pain I was in after that cunt left, but you've never cared. You've never once cared. You just see me as an easy fuck. That's all. And that's fine. I pretend that's fine, but it's not. Oh fuck Ben. I'm sorry, I don't know what I am. I don't know. I need to eat. Something happened Ben. Ben!" And suddenly the voice seems aware that Ben is beneath her and trying to move, to scream, but can't because his mouth is gone.
Ben looks at her speaking and feels strangely calm now as he waits for everything to end. He can't move and he thinks slowly and rationally for the first time since he saw it, the effect of whatever was in that poison sedating him, but keeping him awake too. He realises, weirdly, that being eaten is actually quite nice. No pain. And this thing, these words she's saying. She's right. He has treated her badly, and maybe he doesn't deserve to die for it, but he deserves some sort of punishment. Who would have thought, all this time, that Alice was really a spider woman? It's so silly! And the thought makes him try to laugh, but of course he can't. And then he thinks again and he doesn't think she was always a spider woman. And it doesn't matter what he thinks anyway. He wants to laugh again as he sees her scoop more of his intestines out with another hand and put one lot of food in the talking mouth and one in the eating mouth. And then he sees her spit on her own hand and her own hand melt away! And he's sure he's laughing now: this must be new to her, she's so bad at it! Oh Alice. This is hysterical! And then she spits on his eyes and he doesn't see anything, but he's still there, laughing, or thinking about laughing, and it doesn't matter.
Then there is nothing left but the noise of spitting, sucking and chewing.
Ben listens and laughs and then he stops listening and stops laughing and he begins to feel again. And he realises this is probably the last time he'll ever feel and tries to take it in. Fear again now, but what else? Pain? No, no pain. Cold? Yes, so cold. He wonders why. Hunger? Yes. He feels hungry. He feels very hungry. Time? Time suddenly, or not suddenly, doesn't mean anything. He's beginning to get lost.
The chewing stops. He thinks about himself as if he's floating above, the body left on the floor, no good to consume anymore. He thinks back to childhood and suddenly thinks of something he hasn't thought of before. Of being lost in the supermarket and not being able to find mum. Then of the relief as he runs over and hugs a familiar pair of legs in a familiar coat and then looking up and seeing it's not mum at all. Being so shocked and crying and crying and he's crying now because this isn't his memory. It's like a splinter in his head. It shouldn't be there and he wants to scream. And he does scream.
And now he knows what it's like to be on the receiving end and the giving end, to fuck and be fucked, and to be fucked over. And he knows about things he never knew, about finances, and gardens, and television, and star signs and philosophers and the history of art and the 1980s and what it's like to need to eat to survive, to feel hunger like it's all you are. And to feel shy and ashamed. And to feel drunk and hungover. And he knows what it's like to be 37 and for your husband to have left and just to have to pick yourself up and get the fuck on with it because that's just how life is. And he knows what it's like to grow. And he can feel himself growing. And he's angry and he's scared, but he doesn't know why yet. He opens his eyes and looks around the room.