The venom had not worked its way out of his system yet. He slept hard, his eyes closed just above the edge of the silk. She laid herself across his body, wrapping her limbs around him one at a time and tucking them loosely under his back. He felt like warm sunlight beneath her. But the days were shorter already, and even though it was early, a night breeze floated in under the door and filled the shed with the scent of honeysuckle.
Lifting a tapered foreleg, she gently loosened the silk strands that covered his mouth and pulled them down. His lips were pale pink, parted slightly. She traced their edges. Smeared them red with still-damp blood from her last feed. Imagined a kiss one more time. But a kiss was an impossibility—physically, emotionally, anatomically.
She had grown far larger and faster than should have been possible. Her joints cracked open almost weekly to reveal a fleshy new exoskeleton pushing through. Moist grey tissue to start, each new shell dried harder, blacker, and bigger than the last. To calm the hunger that dug into her incessantly, she hunted cattle from the nearby fields at night. Her venom paralyzed but did not kill, and the animals woke later in the shed, wrapped up tight. Some gave in to panic and died early. Some made it a few days alive, and died only after she had punctured their soft bellies and drank till she was full. She thought of little else than satisfying her appetite. And yet the kiss had taken hold.
It started in the spring. He lived in the nearby farmhouse. She watched him for hours, peering out at him from the space where the shed door hung away from a crooked frame. With little else to occupy her attention, he came to dominate her days, walking from the house to the barn to the house to the barn. In the lazy warmth of early summer, she began to imagine a kindness in his actions, seeing grace in the way he brushed flies from his skin, generosity as he lifted worms from puddles. By the heat of August, it was his routine and not the sun that marked the beginning and end of each day.
But September arrived unusually cold. One night near dawn, an early snowfall surprised her. A dusting of tiny snowflakes, the kind that never stick and scatter like leaves at the slightest breeze. Except there was no breeze, and the snowflakes stuck to her. As they did, her body temperature plummeted. Her joints grew rigid. One on top of the other, the snowflakes enclosed her carapace, her abdomen, and each of her legs inside a thin crust of cold. Her limbs began to contract involuntarily toward her center. Moments before the morning sunlight saved her, she understood what the coming winter meant. When she watched him walk past the shed door a few hours later, she understood that she wanted to survive it.
Her abdomen was starting to swell with eggs. Another sign that the year was growing late. To live through the fall and into the cold of winter, she had to stay warm. As she watched his skin flush red in the sunlight, an idea came to her. She would need to act quickly.
She took him in the evening on his way to the barn, when the air was purple-grey and the vague darkness between shadows and objects expanded enough for her to hide within it. A quick bite was enough to catch him by surprise. He fell against her easily, and she carried him to the shed. Once inside, she worked instinctively, spinning skein after skein of silk and wrapping it around him. Then she placed him gently in her web, positioned so that he could not see what lay in the rest of it. Not at first anyway.
Now she rested on top of him, soaking in the warmth that seeped up through the silks and into her body. He would wake in a few hours, and then she would make him understand everything—the coming cold, how without his help the snow would pile over her until she was invisible, how perfect he was. Only a few days ago he caught a small jumping spider very near the shed. She saw delight in his face as he watched it spring from one hand to the other. He could understand this.
She angled her body so she could see his mouth with most of her eyes. It was beautiful. Holding back her saliva, she lowered one of her mouth parts to touch his bottom lip as gently as she could.
If they could just lay like this, with his body against hers, they could survive the winter together. She drifted off to sleep, and dreamt of snowflakes landing on her abdomen, melting, and rolling harmlessly down her sides as water.
Visit our shop and subscribe. Sponsor us. Submit and become a contributor. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.