Read an Excerpt from: S.P.I.D.A.R.
My upcoming horror novel S.P.I.D.A.R. is one that will scare you. I tried hard to scare you. It is my first true, straight-up horror novel in a while and it deals with something that a vast majority of the world finds scarier than death.
The town of Whittier is isolated in Alaska and the people all live within towers once used by the military. The tourist season is over. Winter is coming.
Then a body washes up on shore. A body that says it's from the government facility across the sound at Esther Island. With a storm coming, the citizens of Whittier have to deal with this on their own. They put the body in the basement of the towers, but their doctor (Doc Fenner) wants to find out what killed this man. Was it a disease? How dangerous is it?
Then the horror begins. This is where the excerpt below starts.
Carter Pressley was young and had lived most of his life in the building that housed Whittier. He, like so many here, had very little desire to live anywhere else. He liked the life inside the walls. He preferred to stay inside all year around and the cloistered feel to it. He was, however, not a young man without ambition. No, he was taking university classes online for a marketing degree and he did odd jobs around the building.
Most recently, he had become an assistant to the very popular Doc. Fenner.
That morning he headed into the doc's office and found that the lights were off and a note had been placed on the door. It was not in the doc's handwriting, so he was very confused for a bit.
HEAD DOWN TO THE BASEMENT. NEED YOUR HELP.
Hm. OK. That was a good thing. There was a light down there that had been on the fritz as of late and he was supposed to fix it. He hoped he didn't electrocute himself doing so.
So, he grabbed the tools that the doc let him keep in the office and headed down. It was creepy down in the basement. He didn't like being down there, but he could hear voices. One of them sounded like the grouchy old man Buddy Clapp.
"Hey, doc! It's Carter. You down here?" he called.
"Yeah, Carter, I'm in here. Come on in."
Carter stepped into the far room and saw the blinking light in the corner. He set down his tools and then took in the two men standing near the open freezer. Why were they standing near the open freezer?
Then he saw the dead body.
"Oh man, who is it?" he asked.
Doc Fenner smiled that reassuring smile he had. "No one from the building. Buddy found this near the docks and his boat this morning. Guy carries Esther Island ID with him. I need some help getting him up on this table. The assistants we had with us had to get moving and Buddy and I are not strong enough to do it on our own."
Carter did not like the idea of lifting a body, but the doc always tipped him well and he liked helping out a doctor. He shuffled over and he and the doc lifted the body, which felt as if it weighed roughly eighteen tons. Buddy, of course, being the irritable and irritating person that he was, just stood there and watched.
The body was so heavy. Carter had never lifted one before. The guy looked very bloated, but his face was gray and ill. Did this guy drop dead from some disease? If he was from Esther, who knew what it was? He wondered if he should have worn gloves or something and the moment they got the corpse onto the metal table in the middle of the freezer he wiped his hands on his shirt. Fortunately, Doc Fenner appeared with hand sanitizer and he squirted a hefty amount into Carter's hand.
"Don't worry, this guy looks to have drowned," Fenner said.
"Say, guys, can I go?" Buddy asked, as if either of them had asked for him to hang around.
"Yes, but stop by the store and get that prescription filled," Doc replied. "Thanks for everything, Buddy. Take care of yourself during the storm."
"I'll be fine, doc. Just let me know what happens here with this fella. I'm curious now."
In typical Buddy Clapp fashion, he utterly ignored Carter and didn't even say goodbye. Carter just stuck his tongue out behind the man's back as he walked away.
"Now, Carter, be nice. Buddy's a bit rough around the edges, but if you had been out at sea in this area as much as him, you would be, too."
"Hey, I grew up here, too."
"Yeah, but in the tower. Not the same thing."
Carter had no desire to keep debating this particular topic. Clapp was an annoying, rude, jerk and there was no changing his mind. He focused his attention on the body. "Do you need help with this? Are you doing an autopsy?"
Carter's eyes lit up. He had always wanted to see one of those.
"No, I don't really have the tools or authority for that, C. I am going to inspect the body, though. Do you have to fix something?"
Carter realized that Doc Fenner was looking toward the tool box. "Yeah, that light out there is on the fritz and I wanted to see if I could fix it."
"Good man. Get to it. I'll call you if I need you."
Carter was about to head out, but paused, studying the body. "This guy sure is fat."
Doc Fenner laughed. Other people would sometimes make fun of Carter, but not the doc. He was just kind-hearted and understood that Carter was smarter than he appeared to most people. If he laughed, it was genuine and not because he was making fun.
"He does, doesn't he? I felt a mass in his guy, though. I think he's actually a lot thinner than he appears. People tend to bloat up in the water, too. We'll see here."
Carter wanted to stay, but it was obvious that the doc wanted to get started, so he grabbed his box of tools and shuffled out of the room. He was soon lost in work, climbing a small step ladder and inspecting the light. It turned out that the situation wasn't as complicated as he feared and he quickly fixed the loose wire. Then, just because he didn't quite want to leave yet, he replaced the light bulbs, too.
Meanwhile, out of the corner of his eye, he watched what the doc was doing. He saw him remove the corpse's water-logged clothing, placing it off to the side, carefully, sliding each item into plastic bags and sealing them up.
"Whoa," Doc Fenner said just as Carter was getting down off the ladder.
That was alarming enough for him to walk into the freezer and see what was up.
"You OK, doc?" he asked.
Doc looked around surprised to see him there. "I'm OK, but look at this over here."
He stepped aside and Carter gasped.
The man's belly was hugely distended, as if he had swallowed a fully-inflated beach ball. There were veins and stretch marks across his abdomen.
For just a second Carter thought the man was alive and breathing, but it was soon evident that it was the mass inside the gut that was moving.
"Christ on crutches, what the fuck is that?" he blurted out before he even realized he had said anything.
"I have no idea, C. I mean, literally no clue. I expected to find a tumor or that he had ruptured something in there and maybe there was a mass of congealed blood. The fact that it's moving is weird. I mean, bodies that are decomposing, often times get bloated because the gut fills with gas. I've seen that before, but this is… weird."
Doc Fenner approached the body. Carter fought the urge to run away. Doc pressed a bit on the bulging and pulsing stomach. Sure enough, the corpse emitted a belch worthy of a kid on spring break in a burping contest. Carter couldn't help but smile.
"Maybe it is just gas," doc muttered. "I think I need to go up to the office and get some instruments and come back down. Maybe I need to open that up and let that out."
Carter did not like the idea of "letting that out" at all. To him, this was just a little too weird and too much like something was alive inside this guy.
"Maybe not, doc," he said. "Maybe we just leave it here locked in the freezer. The state guys can deal with it. I mean, why cause problems?"
Doc Fenner seemed to consider that for a moment. "I can't help it, Carter. I am a man of curiosity and I want to see what's happening there. Look, stay down here and make sure no one else shows up and wants to see the body. You know how fast rumors start around here. We're going to have a line out the door before too long with people wanting to see the dead body. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Just like that he was gone. Carter had just started to protest the idea when he realized he was alone.
"OK, then," he said, lamely.
He looked at the corpse. The stomach was not moving very fast. You sort of had to stare at it a while to realize that it was moving up and down. Slowly. He could not shake the feeling that some animal had crawled up in there and was now trying to get out. Would crabs have gotten in there while it was in the ocean? The thought of cutting that open and having dozens and dozens of crabs crawling out and all over the place repulsed Carter.
He quickly stepped out of the freezer. It took effort to keep the body to his back as he was sure the man was going to rise up and sneak up behind him like one of zombies on that show he watched through the TV streaming device the hacker guy had set up for him. He did not want to become a zombie, but really, this place was the perfect place for a zombie apocalypse to start. Isolated, everyone in one place.
Chomp, chomp, chomp, and all two hundred people in Whittier would be zombies or zombie food.
He set about inspecting the other lights. There were a few bulbs out and he replaced those. Then he began to mop the floor, working his way back into the freezer, and, just as he did so, he stopped.
Something was wrong with the body. He caught it out of the corner of his eye and slowly turned his head, his mouth open.
"What the hell?"
The stomach was split right down the middle. Most of the blood inside the corpse must have dried out or something, as none poured out. Carter didn't know how long it took the blood to stop running out of a dead body, but it was an explanation he could live with. There was a definite split down the middle of the man's abdomen, like an egg with a crack in it.
"Shit," he whispered.
He stepped further inside the freezer. He was terrified, but also curious. What could have caused this? Would gas building up have caused the stomach to burst open like that? Christ, if that was true, then dying really was a messy thing.
It was just a shadow at first. As if something were inside the crack in the gut sticking a tiny hand out and waved.
Carter jumped back. There was a tiny man inside!
No. Wait. It crawled out and stopped the moment it reached the surface.
It was a spider.
A simple, brown spider like the ones that sometimes got in the apartments in the tower. They set up webs in the corners of the rooms and people would call on Carter to come help sweep them and their webs away. Alaska was notorious for their mosquitoes during the few warm weeks and sometimes they welcomed the spiders to keep the population of mosquitoes down. Not in the winter, though, when it was enough to live with the people who were your family without having eight-legged demons in there, too.
Then, just as if it had teleported, another one appeared, right next to the other.
Before long, there were dozens of them crawling from the split in the abdomen. They all reached the surface and took up positions around the first spider, but they did not run away. They just sat there for a moment.
It was repulsive, yet fascinating.
It was the most horrible thing that Carter had ever seen and he could not turn away.
Soon, the entire corpse was covered with the tiny spiders. As he watched, Carter began to get the strangest feeling. Something that made him want to turn and run more than anything else.
It felt as if the spiders were watching them.
They were no bigger in diameter than a standard quarter. At first glance the spiders were brownish, but they had light blue stripes and the legs looked sort of orange. He had never seen spiders like them before.
They just sat there for a long time and Carter could not take his eyes away, as he gazed into the dozens and dozens of eyes on the little creatures.
Then, all at once, they moved as a unit.
It was like watching starling in a flock. Carter had seen video of those, undulating black swarms of dozens and dozens of birds flying as one, twisting and bending back on themselves as if choreographed.
They swarmed out of the split in the stomach, down the leg of the table and then out across the floor. It took several moments before Carter realized that they were swarming right toward him and had spread out in a kind of pincer movement on either side of his feet.
"What the fuck?" he cried out.
He took a step back, and then heard clicking behind him.
He turned around and saw that the wall and above the doorway were covered with more of the spiders. They must have crawled out before he got to the room. When he first heard the crack and the tearing sound, dozens more of them must have come pouring out at once and they had covered the wall.
Something dropped on his neck and Carter flung his hand at it. He felt the spider splat against his skin. Then, a moment later, he felt legs crawling up inside his pants and over his flesh.
Carter cried out and began dancing and swinging around slapping at himself.
The first bite was near his knee. This was followed by another one on the back of his neck.
The pain was intense, like very tiny, but very sharp needles in his skin. He opened his mouth to cry out and then he lost his balance and fell to the floor, the wind rushing out of his lungs and the scream lost.
They were on him in seconds, and before long he had been bitten a third and fourth time.
He couldn't move.
He couldn't move his legs or his arms. His mouth was froze in the scream that had never come and his eyes were locked open as hundreds of legs crawled over him. He could see them, feel them, as they rode up his body. He felt them under his shirt and on top of it. In his hair and on his ears.
The tiny legs caressed his lips and then he felt the first one squeeze into his mouth.
Then four more.
He could feel them in his throat. He waited for the rest of them to swarm him and pour down his throat and choke him, but that never happened.
Instead, the spiders froze where they were. He felt the four that had climbed into him running down his throat. The pain and sensation was enough to drive him insane. He hoped it would end, that the final bite would come, that he would pass out. Most of them rammed their way down his throat and into his stomach.
Two of them, however, reached the back of his throat and he felt them crawl upwards into his sinus cavity. His eyes widened in terror as he felt their legs behind his eyes, pressed against his skull just beneath his brain.
He kept praying that this would end. That didn’t happen.
Instead, he lay there for what felt forever, unable to move. He stared at the ceiling.
Then things got worse.
Much, much worse.
S.P.I.D.A.R. will be published February 23, 2018 in print, ebook and audiobook editions. It will be published by Beacon Publishing.