Ick - Editor
When Ash was seven, she had a mole removed from the back of her hand near the base of her left thumb, performed by her physician with a local anesthetic. Her anxious mother kept her own eyes squeezed shut while assuring Ash that it would all be over soon. They both left with lollipops, Ash itching to get home and away from watchful eyes, so she could peel back the bandaging and prod at the numb gouge in her hand.
As soon as she could, Ash hurried out of the back door of her family's two storied home, her lemon cream pigtails swinging until she stopped at the furthest corner of the yard. With her back facing the house, she plopped down on her knees and sat back, dirtying the ankles of her white socks and blue Mary Jane shoes. She panted heavily for a few moments, though she had not travelled fast or far. This once surprised her, but it had become normal over time; no more swimming, it made her shoulders sore.
Ash marveled at the complete lack of feeling in her hand as she pulled at the tape holding the gauze cover in place. Her stuck skin jumped in time with her tugs, but she didn't feel even a tickle. Ash imagined that the doctor had chopped her hand off at the wrist and swapped it with someone else's, that this other person felt the pulls and tugs she administered. She grinned at the idea and wondered at the horrible things this other person might do with her swapped appendage.
The wound was still fresh, red but no longer pooling blood. She remembered her mother's warnings about infection and dirty fingers, so she kept herself from poking directly at the hole. Instead she plucked a blade of grass and pricked at the area, giggling at the missing sensation.
She peered around her, in search of a more interesting tool to test her numbed limb, but nothing else was nearby. The tool-shed would be locked, she knew, as she was not allowed inside without a parental escort.
A white butterfly flitted about, but after a short chase, Ash knew she was unlikely to catch the flighty insect or convince it to land on her skin. She slumped to the soft grass and frowned, but movement nearby filled her with mischievous hope.
Ash kept her eyes wide open so as not to miss a movement with an ill-timed blink. The spider circled the back of her hand, inched forward, and finally set a leg into the red gouge. Then another, and another. The spider's full body sat inside the cone shaped scoop, it seemed to dig, to burrow, and to Ash's great astonishment the spider became smaller, until only the back tip still appeared. And then even that was gone. She held her hand right up to her eye but couldn't catch sight of the spider anywhere.
"Uh-oh," she worried. She looked again and found a small mound just to the right of the gouge. It inched further and further toward her wrist and then stilled.
She watched the mound under her skin and considered for a moment what would happen if she squashed it dead. Would it fall out? Would it stay dead in her arm forever and ever? Would she have to have it poked out by the doctor at her next appointment, and if so, would he give her another lollipop? To her delighted surprise the mound shifted, and the idea was abandoned. It shifted again, and again, until the spider had tunneled so deep into her arm that the skin returned to a smooth flat surface.
Ash hunted around the yard until she found another crawler, she coaxed the arachnid toward the gouge and watched it disappear. She found spider after spider, and stopped only when she heard her father's car pull into the driveway. He would want to hear all about her trip to the doctor and the hole in her hand, though she figured she'd keep quiet about the spiders.
That night was full of bustle, as Ash woke with a full body ache and a fever. Her mother broke into tears and her father hurried about with cold compresses, fretting over which medication would be best. Her parents didn't used to become so concerned with her colds or flues, but they had both been behaving oddly for some time. She fell asleep in their bed snuggled between the two of them.
She slept through to the afternoon and woke feeling much improved. The following day she felt better still. For a few days more she woke to find dead spiders on the mattress, but she was glad to know that they were still in her arm at all, having worried that they had decided to live elsewhere while she wasn't watching.
The mole was malignant, the doctor said. Ash's mother wept and insisted that melanomas were only for older people. The doctor held her mother's hand while Ash looked on, wondering at all the new M words. Days were spent being prodded and poked, inspected and tested; no one would listen when Ash insisted that she was fine. She tried to prove it by running again, jumping rope, it wasn't until she was caught balancing upside down in a handstand that her parents began to wonder at her claims.
A new doctor was found and new tests performed and her parents stopped agonizing quite so much over their only child, smiling more and cuddling instead of those frightfully tight squeezes. Her tests came back normal and her parents were unsure whether to call it a miracle or just be glad for the initial misdiagnosis.
Ash was certain that her spiders had fixed the trouble, eating up those M words and leaving her better than ever.
As the months wore on, Ash and her parents noticed not only an improvement in her health, but also a vast change in appetite. Her sweet tooth had transformed into a constant craving for meat, and she no longer flew into a tizzy over the many vegetables on her plate. She did not eat quite as much as her father, but she now ate well more than her mother at every meal.
Ash wondered just how spiders reproduced, because it seemed she hosted far more than she had initially invited to live under her skin. She often noticed them shifting in her body. When her mother called her to the table for dinner, she could feel prickles from head to toe, as the spiders hurried to her stomach. She understood why she had to eat so much, some was for her, and some was for them.
The girls at school screamed when Ash fell from the jungle gym, they all heard a distinct crack. She sat for a minute, baffled at the terrible angle of her lower limb. She shivered through an unexpected full body spider scramble. In short moments her leg straightened, mended and bound by freshly spun spider-webs. The girls screamed even louder when a handful of dead spiders seemed to fall from the sleeve of her pink and yellow striped sweater. There had been no pain throughout the whole ordeal; the spiders had eaten that.
When flu season arrived she was coughed on at school, by evening she found a spider dead on the dinner table. Another was found the next morning on her pillow. She was glad to be one of the few students to remain healthy, but sad that eating the flu was so harmful to her eight legged protectors.
When Ash ate a spoiled piece of fish she felt fine, the spiders feasted on the bacteria. When her family went camping and mosquitoes swarmed her hungrily, the spiders absorbed the saliva. When she sampled a handful of holly berries, the spiders consumed the poison. And when that man in the grocery store tried to put his hand up her skirt, the spiders devoured him, too.