*This week for #52Weeks52Stories I was focusing on setting and description. I know my “creatures” in this story are not perfect yet, but I will continue to refine them*
I could feel the knots in my muscles climbing up my shoulders to the back of my neck. As I wove my way between the throngs of pedestrians outside my busy office building, I rubbed my temples hoping for a bit of relief from the pressure mounting inside the four walls of my job and from inside my head. I needed a change of pace. A change of scenery. Anything. I walked the quick two-blocks to the park, my personal refuge when life got a little too crazy.
Just looking at the entrance to Tawny Hill Park allowed me to breathe a bit deeper. This park stretched out before me in its quiet, green brilliance; if I could find peace anywhere in the concrete chaos of my day, it would be there. I walked down the main pathway arched with rose-covered trellises, the flowers in full bloom. A few butterflies flitted from blossom to blossom, and bees buzzed, heavy with pollen. No one else was in the park, and I reveled in having nature put on her beautiful show just for me. I breathed deeply and let the warm, scented spring air settle at the bottom of my lungs. I could feel a change in my posture and felt my shoulders relax. Finally, the knots began to unwind themselves.
Ahead sat an aging greenhouse, its exterior a combination of copper gone greenish-blue from years of sun and rain, and curved glass panes, which reflected the midday sun back to me. I’d walked past it a million times, but it had always been empty and overgrown with the surrounding bushes and low-hanging tree branches. But not today. The grounds outside had all been cut and trimmed. The front door donned a fresh coat of paint, and on it hung a sign: Butterfly Exhibit Open Today 12pm-1pm. I checked my watch: 12:30. I had enough time to go inside, enjoy the exhibit, and still make it back to work before lunch ended. The thought of returning to my office gave my heart a stab of grief, but I shoved it out of my mind, swung open the door, and stepped inside.
In spite of being made of glass, the greenhouse held little light inside. Large trees with leaves bigger than my head obscured the glass and only thin strands of light trickled down between the thick branches. Broad ribbons of dark, green moss roped across the ceiling and hung so low it nearly touched the coneflowers and daylilies, which nestled among giant ferns. Giant red flowers on heavy stalks leaned their heads down toward me as I walked as if listening to my footsteps.The air felt heavy and moist–almost suffocating–and for a second, I thought about just turning around and leaving. But I hadn’t seen any butterflies yet. And there wasn’t a butterfly in sight. Maybe I had misread the sign? Maybe the exhibit was not really open, and I had wandered in at the wrong time? I was the only person in there–I had to be mistaken. I turned to leave, but in that same moment, three bright blue insects–the tiniest of butterflies– greeted me and danced about my head. I held out my arm and the trio gracefully alighted. For a second, they stared at me, unmoving, through their black orbs for eyes. Once again in flight, they circled me and then darted past me toward the interior of the greenhouse. I followed.
A bit more light filtered down inside at the center of the greenhouse. There were fewer trees and plants here and instead, up above, a mass of white web-work stretched beneath the topmost panes of glass. The web glittered in the bits of sunlight that fell onto it as if it were made of diamonds. From its center depended what appeared to be four massive cocoons. Are they supposed to be there? How long had they been in this greenhouse? What was in them? Was someone here watching over them? Maybe that’s what happened to all the butterflies.
I moved ahead for a closer look at the web.
“Hello?” I called out in a voice barely a whisper. I cleared my throat. “Is anyone else in here?”
No reply. Only a slight stirring from inside one of the cocoons. The entire web shivered with its movement.
I wandered a bit further back into the greenhouse and found a metal spiral staircase leading up to a catwalk that sat just below the glass ceiling and behind the dangling cocoons. Maybe whoever worked here was up there, I rationalized, as I took the first step. My footsteps clanged against the metal of the stairs and the sound reverberated around the interior; I felt like all the flowers and trees leaned towards me to listen, happy to have their silent void finally filled with some sort of sound.
When I stepped out onto the catwalk, a sense of relief washed over me. From up here, I could survey the entire greenhouse. The greenery seemed even greener, and the bright blues and reds and yellows of the flowers almost hummed in the humid air. I not only had managed to sneak out of my insane job and take a break with a change of scenery, but I had found this intriguing building full of life and solitude. l felt such a tremendous difference from the negative emotions that had consumed me only an hour before.
A rustling from the cocoons snapped me from my moment of reflection. First, one cocoon began slightly swaying side to side, and then the one next to it began to bulge and contort from the inside, pushing against the pulpy exterior. Soon all four cocoons began to move and squirm and split, and small fissures developed in the bottoms of each one.
I cupped my hands to my mouth and called out to the plants down below.
“Hello!? Something is happening here! Anyone? You might need to see this!”
I held my breath in anticipation. I’d never witnessed a work of nature of this scale! First, long, spindly antennae appeared. Or maybe they were legs? I wasn’t sure, but my heart beat faster with anticipation for the big reveal. No. They were definitely legs. Four of them, twiggy and thin. And then another. All four cocoons rocked as the appendages dangled from the bottom. The web groaned with movement. And then a human leg. And foot. It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. And then another. Spider leg. Human leg And another one. I leaned in closer. Then feet. And then the raw, pink flesh of human torso.
The awful creatures broke free, latched on to the outsides of the shredded cocoons and pulled themselves up on the web. Four half-humans, slicked with mucus, waxy stares, naked bodies, their human arms and legs dangling lifelessly amidst thick, hairy spider legs. Atop their human heads stared two huge eyes, mostly human, all pupil surrounded by white; six more, the small and dark eyes of spiders, wrapped the circumference of their heads. I froze in horror as the creatures scuttled along the web. I tiptoed the length of the catwalk back to the metal stairs to escape, but their reverberations betrayed me, and at the clank of my footstep, the creatures dragged their listless human parts towards me. As they got closer, my eyes connected with one of the spidery humans. The gray eyes set in blanched skin looked straight at me, and the mouth formed one word.
I scurried down the next few stairs, but each of the spiders cast their strands of sticky silk in my direction. I resisted but to no avail. The thick silk strands wrapped around me and pinned my arms to my sides and looped around my legs. I fell hard on the stairs, sliding a stair or two before my body was lifted, dangling on the end of a strand and raised up to the web above. Once on the sticky netting, I quickly found I couldn’t move. My arms stuck, and then my legs, and the more I fought to get away, the more the glue covered me and solidified, and the more stuck I became. Down below me, the greenhouse was still empty except for the three butterflies, which clumsily moved among the flowers. The creatures continued to cast their threads, and I tried to work my head free, to move my neck, but my hair became tangled in the web. I tried to scream, but I was completely immobilized as the syrupy thickness became hard.
My head, now stuck to the web, focused on the glass panels above. Outside, a thousand tiny blue butterflies fiercely beat their wings against the glass. There they are. They’d been there all along peering down at me, the butterfly exhibit.