“Brodie. Psst. Hey, Brodie.”
Sam tapped her finger on the side of Brodie’s desk, attracting his attention. He glanced at the front of the class, where the biology teacher droned on about the animal kingdom, then over Sam, who offered a wide, toothy smile, just as she’d seen actors do on TV. She ran her fingers through thick, beetle-black hair.
“Sam?” he asked, furrowing his brow. “Is everything okay?”
She hunched her shoulders, whispering. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well . . .” Brodie looked around. “You and I never really talk.”
Sam devolved into an uncontrollable fit of giggles, covering her mouth so the teacher wouldn’t hear. Through her tearing eyes, she saw Brodie raise a concerned eyebrow.
“I know we never talk. I know that,” Sam insisted. “But I want to. I . . . I like you, Brodie.”
Brodie’s face went white. “What?”
“Yeah.” Sam nodded. “We should hang out more.”
“What did you want to–”
A small, black spider interrupted Brodie, descending from the ceiling on a thin, transparent thread. Leaning forward, Brodie clapped his hands around the spider, crushing it. As he brushed his hands against his pants, Sam felt her smile falter, forming a furious scowl. She quickly used her fingers to push her mouth back up into the face she’d approached the boy with.
“What did you want to do?” Brodie finally continued, looking up at her.
“Maybe you could come over for dinner tonight?” Sam responded through slightly gritted teeth, her smile stretching wider.
“I’d have to ask my parents,” he said. “Would yours be there?”
Sam giggled again. “My what?”
“Your parents,” Brodie pressed. “Will they be there?”
“Oh, yes,” Sam closed her eyes, recalling the home she’d left this morning. “I have . . . a mom, a dad, and a little brother.”
“Okay,” Brodie said uneasily. “I’ve never seen you act like this before.”
“I thought we never really talk?” Sam shot back, pleased with herself.
He blushed and rubbed the back of his head. “I mean . . . Sometimes, I . . . Might watch . . . Never mind. What time should I come over for dinner?”
Sam put a finger to her chin. “How about eight o’clock?”
Exiting the school bus later that day, Sam skipped merrily down the driveway, bursting through the front door of her house. “Mom! Dad! Shawn! I’m hoooooome!”
An older, stout woman stumbled into view, fatigue painted across her face. She made an attempt to smile at Sam, but the gesture was thin and empty, betraying her fear. Sam rolled her eyes.
“H– hey there, Sam,” her mother stuttered. “How was school?”
“I talked to a boy today,” Sam cheerfully answered. “He’s coming over for dinner.”
“For . . . dinner?” her mother asked hesitantly.
Sam nodded. “At eight.”
“Well,” the woman continued, looking around helplessly, “I have a turkey I can cook. It’ll be done close to eight.”
“Thanks!” Sam chirped. “Where’s dad?”
“He’s in the living room,” her mother replied, voice shaking. “Sam, could we let Jimmy out of the basement now? He’s only six. He has to eat.”
Sam’s grin fell. “Did I say he could leave, mom?”
Her mother backed away, cowering a little. “No, no. You didn’t. I’m sorry.”
Sam smiled again. “That’s okay.”
She turned and skipped through the house, entering the living room. “Hey, dad! Mom’s making a turkey for a friend tonight. What kind of vegetables do you want?”
Her father, a burly, bearded man, turned away from the couch, glaring. “I don’t give a fuck.”
Sam trotted around the couch, stepping in front of him. She leaned over until her nose almost touched his, her grin widening. “No bad language, dad.”
His eyes narrowed. “Fuck you. You aren’t my–”
Sam grabbed the man by the neck, twisting her body and hurling him across the room as if he were made of papier-mâché. He struck the opposite wall with a dull thump, leaving behind a crater in the plaster and slumping to the floor.
“Sam! Please!” Sam heard her mother plead from the entrance to the living room. She turned to the woman, who wore a terrified expression. “He didn’t mean it. Don’t hurt him.”
Sam glanced back at her father, who slowly pulled himself to his feet. “Don’t forget, dad. There’s more of us than there are of you.”
“The turkey’s in the oven,” her mother continued. “Please, let’s just have a pleasant night.”
Ignoring her, Sam exited the room, walking to the basement door. She cracked it a little, peering into the darkness. The black shapes squirmed a little, and she smiled again.
A real smile this time.
“Not much longer,” Sam whispered. “Be patient.”
Hours of tense silence passed as Sam’s parents prepared dinner in the kitchen while she sat at the dining room table. As eight o’clock approached, she heard them whispering frantically, though she couldn’t quite make out the words. Sighing, Sam stood, wandering into the kitchen.
“What are you guys talking about?” she asked, mustering up an innocent tone.
Both of their faces went white, and they turned to look at her, smiling. She saw through the gesture, though. She’d had plenty of practice with fake smiles.
“You’re not going to ruin our dinner, are you?” she questioned, her voice low and threatening.
Her parents traded glances, the room silent save the sound of vegetables in pots, bubbling in boiling water. After a moment, her father clenched his jaw, turning to his wife.
“Baby, this thing isn’t going to give Jimmy back,” he said. “We have to save ourselves.”
“Dave, no, don’t!” his wife whispered.
Sam glanced behind them, in the hallway that led toward the basement. The darkness from that room trickled into the kitchen now, flowing like water toward her father’s foot.
Unaware of what approached him, Sam’s father snatched a kitchen knife from the countertop, lunging at her. Moving so quickly that she became a blur, the girl grabbed his wrist, halting the attack. In one sharp twist, she snapped his arm out of its socket, and he cried out, dropping the knife. As she released him, the darkness on the floor covered his foot, pulling him to the kitchen floor.
“No, no, not Dave, please,” her mother sobbed. “Take me instead.”
Sam snapped her fingers, and the darkness pulled her father, screaming, out of the kitchen. A series of distant thumps announced his arrival at the basement as his body was pulled down its wooden steps. The basement door creaked shut, muffling his cries.
As Sam’s mother dropped to the floor, sobbing, the doorbell rang.
Sam rushed to her mother, jerking her to her feet. “We are going to have a pleasant dinner, mom. There’s no reason to upset our guest, is there?”
Wiping away her tears with shaking hands, her mother nodded.
Sam happily turned away, skipping to the front door and opening it. Brodie stood on the other side, dressed in a blue, button-down shirt and black slacks.
“Aw, you didn’t have to dress up for me,” Sam said, her smile widening.
Brodie shifted nervously. “I . . . I wanted to.”
“Well, come inside.” Sam stepped to the side, gesturing for him to enter.
They walked together into the dining room, where Sam’s mother set a series of food-filled dishes. The ceramic containers rattled against the table as they made contact, and Sam shot her mother a sharp look.
“The turkey needs a few more minutes,” her mother said, staring at Brodie. “Do you want me to show you where the bathroom is so you can wash your hands?”
Brodie took a step forward, but Sam placed her hand on his shoulder. “He’s fine on his own. It’s just down the hall.”
Nodding, Brodie left the dining room, turning the corner toward the bathroom. The moment he was out of earshot, Sam’s smile fell. “Mom, were you trying to warn the boy?”
“No. No. Of course not,” her mother shakily responded.
Sam’s smile returned. “I didn’t think so.”
Brodie re-entered the dining room, taking a seat. “Gosh, I’m starving.”
“Me too,” Sam said, making eye contact with her mother.
“So, Brodie,” her mother interjected, “what kind of food would you like? We have corn, broccoli, mashed potatoes . . .”
“Honestly, I’d love a little bit of everything,” he answered.
Sam eyed the boy, her mouth watering. “Same here, mom.”
In the kitchen, the over timer went off, buzzing throughout the house.
“Okay, I can’t do this,” her mom whispered.
“Can’t do what?” Brodie asked, concern washing across his face.
“Get out,” the woman murmured. “That isn’t Sam. Not anymore.”
“Mom,” Sam hissed through gritted teeth, “don’t make jokes like that.”
Reaching into her apron, her mother revealed a snub-nosed revolver, aiming it at Sam. “Brodie, it’s no joke. Leave before she kills you. Or worse.”
Sam stood from the table. “That’s enough, mom.”
“You’re not my daughter!” the woman cried over the oven timer, squeezing the trigger.
The muzzle of the weapon flashed, and a sharp crack filled the room. Brodie flinched, diving to the ground as a bullet struck Sam in the center of her chest. The force of the projectile staggered the girl as it tore a hole through her body. She heard black matter splatter on the floor behind her, wriggling.
“What is that?” Brodie yelped, staring at the ground.
Sam calmly turned around, watching as a dozen black, golf-ball-sized spiders regained their composure, skittering toward the girl. They crawled their way up her leg, entering the hole in her chest until amorphous blackness filled it. Returning her attention to the gun-wielding woman, she smiled, a real smile this time.
“You should’ve aimed at my head.”
She grabbed the dining room table and shoved it forward effortlessly, the edge striking the woman and knocking her backwards into the kitchen. The gun clattered to the floor.
Brodie jumped up and sprinted past Sam, toward the front door. In the background, the oven timer still droned.
Sam followed him at a slow, steady pace, rounding the corner to reveal the front door covered with a swarming mass of black spiders. Brodie recoiled away from it, crying out in disgust, and turned around, fleeing further into the house. Sam’s real smile grew wider.
Redirecting her pace back into the kitchen, she reached the former mother as she rose to her feet. Before the woman could react, Sam took her head in her hands and twisted, snapping her neck. As her attacker fell lifelessly to the floor, Sam hummed cheerfully.
“Help! Someone!” she heard Brodie cry over the oven timer.
Humming louder, Sam skipped through the house, hunting for the boy. Doors opening and closing alerted her to his location as he sought for an exit or a place to hide. She passed the threshold of the main hallway just in time to see him reach for the basement door. He twisted the knob, throwing it open.
“Oh my God,” he squeaked, stumbling away from the wriggling darkness enveloping the basement. Sam had reached him, however, and she grabbed him by the waist, throwing him inside.
Brodie flew into blackness, but was suddenly arrested by thick, white threads. Through the web, Sam saw billions of her babies quivering with excitement, filling the floor, walls, and ceiling. At the foot of the steps, a man and a boy lay wrapped up in white cocoons, also covered in the golf-ball-sized spiders that nibbled at their fleshy extremities.
Struggling against the web, Brodie twisted around, wrapping himself tighter as he faced away from the basement and toward Sam. “What are you?”
“Me?” Sam grinned her real grin. “I’m you. Or, I will be. Just as soon as we hollow you out.”
As she spoke, she felt eight long, thick spider legs sprout from her neck, tickling her shoulders. The legs applied pressure to her body, separating her head from it. The world grew taller as she landed on the floor, slowly crawling toward Brodie. Behind her, the rest of Sam’s corpse collapsed, and thousands of black spiders hurriedly skittered away from the neck stump.
“Please. Please,” Brodie begged, his screaming incoherent over the oven timer.
The thing inside Sam’s head looked at a nearby hanging wall clock and smiled, the human flesh falling away to reveal the monstrosity underneath.
“Eight o’clock. Dinner time.”
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