The spider that crawled from its hiding place inside the hanging bull’s skull above Michael’s bed was not a tarantula. It possessed no large, slow-moving, hairy arms. It was small, by comparison. But it was faster. Its venom, too, was significantly more deadly. As the brown recluse hesitated on the edge of crossing under the skull, it suddenly slipped from the base of a bony projection of nasal cartilage on the skull. And it fell.
—It landed on Michael’s forehead.
—Michael opened his eyes, although he wasn’t sure why. Then he felt something twitch on the sensitive skin of his forehead, and he froze in terror. The sudden springy impact and a slight spasm in his forehead had animated the spider into a defensive mode. Now, as he slowly raised his hand, the thing darted onto his eyelid, poised and ready. When his eyelid twitched as well, the insect atop it sent a barb of nerve venom deep enough into the fleshy lid to penetrate and mingle its minuscule cargo of toxin with the eye’s surface liquid. Its offensive reaction complete, the spider now jumped into Michael’s hair. Michael thrashed wildly, hands butterflying across his sweaty scalp. He screamed as he twisted, locking himself into his bed sheet as effectively and as tightly as if into a straight jacket. The spider jumped onto the wall just in time to avoid being crushed, and now it waited there, on the hard, unmoving surface, tense and ready for what was next.
—The skull’s eye sockets stared down at Michael in the moonlit bedroom as a silent transformation began. He began to go blind.
—He screamed louder and tossed his pillow away from his head, thinking the pillow had obstructed his view of the twilit room, but it had not. He rubbed his left eye at finding a soreness there–a shooting pain that was almost electrical in nature. He blinked rapidly, rising up in bed, thrashing against his mummy-like wrappings. Once free, he stumbled into the bathroom, and turned on the light.
He stared into his reflection. His left eye was open, but he could only see it with his right. A welt appeared on the surface of the eye. It was a milky white color, as if bulging with puss. He splashed water into the eye, braying out in pain. It was no use.
—The eye was dead. He had a dead man’s eye.
—His face, too, looked dead in the mirror. His clammy skin was ashen, his curly black hair awry. The wrinkles he’d always tried not to notice were deeper than usual, giving a sunken deathmask pallor to his normally well groomed and handsome appearance. He screamed again, then rushed to dial 911. But the phone was dead now.
—The line had been cut.
—He turned to see a figure behind him, now, in the shadows. The glint of a blade. . . He screamed as loudly as he could, and this time it worked.
—This time the scream woke him.
—Only a dream, only a dream, only a–
—Breathing heavily, his heart thumping abnormally in his chest, Michael was staring up at the motionless bull’s skull above him. The dark sockets stared down at him like the eyes of a demon.
He turned to switch on his nightlamp, and saw his alarm clock. It was 2:18 A.M.. He got up, wrestled the skull off the wall, and took it into the other room, where he laid it on his desk. Then he returned to bed, and cut the light. Now it was 2:20 A.M.. Still hours to dawn.
—What would be next? he wondered. What nightmare was coming next? And how bad would it be?
excerpt from “Awakening Storm”