My last apartment had a problem
They warned me when I moved in that there was "a bit of a roach problem" in the building. I shrugged it off. I lived in New York for years; I know from roaches, believe you me. They really were not kidding, though. I remember the first day I encountered one of the things. I flicked on the kitchen light, and for a second I thought I'd left a shoe on the floor somehow. Then it buzzed like a phone on a coffee table and launched itself right at my face, and I screamed like a little girl and batted it out of the air.
These were apparently related to Asian or German cockroaches. They fly a lot better than the ones up north, and they're attracted to light instead of fleeing from it. They were also friggin' huge, like the size of my hand, I swear. They grow 'em bigger down here, I guess.
Anyway, there weren't actually that many of them, all things considered. (They were so big, they probably just couldn't find enough food to get their numbers up.) Once you got used to them, you just put down some traps or a spray every now and then and you didn't have much trouble. Like I said, I can deal with roaches, even giant mutant ones that jump at you like a movie scare.
The laundry room for the apartment building was in the basement, along the same corridor where all the chickenwire storage areas were. Mine was basically empty except for my bicycle, which I couldn't even use much anymore because my new job was too far away, but some of them were full enough that the wire walls bulged out so you had to duck away to get past them. The whole thing was festooned by cobwebs that dangled from the ceiling like curtains, sagging like waterlogged acoustic tile. Everything above about the five foot mark was coated in fuzzy gray webbing, with new webs built across the hallway every time you went down there, and all lit by like one thirty-watt bulb on a string. Between my intermittent claustrophobia and constant arachnophobia, it was basically my own custom-designed hell that I got to visit every week to run my piddly laundry so I could have clean shirts for work.
Last month, I ran into the super on my way down. She asked me if I'd seen a white Pekingese anywhere. Said it belonged to a tenant on the second floor and had gotten out during the day somehow. I told her I'd keep an eye out for it, and then braced myself for the trek into the That Fucking Basement.
The light switch turned it from pitch black to a sort of light charcoal gray, and that was about it. Luckily, by then I'd learned enough to carry a flashlight with me. I got a great one from the military surplus store, a giant beast with a cushy rubber grip. It weighed like five pounds and put out enough lumens that it was just shy of being classified a laser. I loved it dearly. In the gloom, with all the dust and webbing, it looked like I was holding a lightsaber, just a solid column of white in my hand. I put it on top of my laundry basket and started sidling down the cramped corridor to get to the washing machines.
That was when I heard a rustling noise off in the darkness, down by the storage units. I was startled and jerked, and my flashlight fell off the clothes pile. It didn't break – I think it was designed to be an emergency weapon, honestly – but it rolled a little ways away, sending shadows jumping and jittering. I cussed a little and leaned into the laundry room to shove my basket of clothes onto the counter top, then hustled to grab my light before it rolled into someone's storage cage and I had to have a weird conversation with my neighbors.
As I knelt to pick up the light, I thought I saw a flash of white, like a dustmop on the floor. It was only a glimpse, but I thought for sure it must be the missing dog.
"Hey, poochie!" I called out softly. Then I coughed and spat because I'd inhaled some nasty, dust-covered webbing. "C'mon, little guy. Someone wants you home."
I headed forward into the musty-smelling dark. My light swept across the floor, but there was nothing there, not even any pawprints. Or footprints, for that matter. How long had it been since someone came this far down into the basement?
I heard the clatter of little doggie toenails off to my left and swung my light around, but there was nothing. I made little kissing noises with my lips and crouched down a bit, tried to look less threatening. (Plus, it kept me clear of the cobwebs, which were seriously a hazard at my head height.)
Up ahead was the end of the hall and one really egregious storage unit. It was so full that the chickenwire had pulled loose from the wooden frame and was curling down from the ceiling. Looked like it was full of boxes and cannisters; metal ones, not cardboard, and oddly shiny under all the dust. On top of those was what looked like bags of clothing, or maybe like a bag of soccer balls, like someone used to be a youth coach or something? I thought I heard movement in there and started forward, but I stopped when I stepped on something that crunched. I looked down.
I'd found the Pekingese. White fur, but instead of a happy, plump doggie body, it was just dry skin stretched over bones, and wrapped in spidersilk like it had been mummified. The skin was so tight that it made the poor thing's face looked like it was screaming in pain.
"Jesus fuck me in the ass," I muttered. I reached out to touch the fur-covered skeleton.
That's when the spider jumped at me.
It came from the broken chickenwire, a ghost-white, multi-legged monstrosity. Its abdomen was the size of my head, and its legs stretched out as wide as my arms could reach. In the split second before it flew at me, I saw black fangs as thick as my fingers that glinted in the light from my flashlight.
I reacted instinctively. I swung my flashlight with both hands. Lightsaber, baby. Fucking Obi-Wan.
It hit with the sound of a baseball bat slamming a watermelon. The spider slammed to the wall and dropped to the ground. Its legs flailed wildly as it tried to flip itself over. Before it did, I booked it the hell out of there and never looked back.
It was a little annoying having to buy new clothes. And I do kind of miss my bike. But I have a new apartment now, one with a laundry hookup, and there is nothing on this green Earth that could make me go back to that building, not then and definitely not now, months later.
Because, see, I like to read about the things that scare me, like amateur desensitization therapy. And I've seen a lot of pictures of spiders in all sorts of situations and portions of their life-cycle.
You know what kind of looks like a bag of laundry, or maybe soccer balls?