The nightmare ambushed me in full daylight in the middle of Science class, of all places.
One moment I was hunched over the surprise quiz Mr. Darning had sprung on the class, my stomach in knots because I couldn't answer a single question, and in the next reality took a sudden sharp left turn.
Under my hands the test paper rippled. Black ink became variegated, shading from gray-black to raven. From flat to three-dimensional. I pulled back in alarm as the small spider diagram at the bottom of the page gathered its eight legs up from under it and crawled across my desk.
The spider was as big as my hand and gross looking. Repulsed, I watched as it used a line of silk to drop down onto the floor, and then scuttled towards the nearest corner.
Because my dad was a Forest Technologist, "Step on a spider, and it will rain," was something of a catchphrase with my sisters and me, especially during dry years like this one. It instantly became imperative to kill the spider.
I stretched out a foot and stamped down, but missed.
The spider curled itself into a protective ball, and I recognized the red hourglass shapes on the underside of its abdomen from a report I'd once done. Oh, crap, it was a Black Widow. I drew back, fearful of its poisonous bite. But I still wanted--needed--to kill it. I had to make it rain--
Then I forgot all that because the spider molted. Its exoskeleton split in half and fell away. A new spider emerged from the old. Holy hell. It had tripled in size--it now came up to my knees--and was heading my way. None of the other students seemed to see it. They remained bent over their tests, oblivious. Vulnerable.
I grabbed my stool and hurled it at the spider. I bowled it over, but did the freaky thing die? No. Instead another fracture line appeared on its body, and it molted again. This time when it got up, it was as big as a horse.
For a second fear paralyzed me, and the Black Widow took eight steps forward. "That's a good girl, Brianne," it croaked. "This won't hurt a bit." Silk spewed from the spinnerets on its huge abdomen, and it used the comb-like end of one hind leg to sling a loop of web at me.
Unh-uh. No way was that thing going to touch me.
I ducked under the table to avoid the sticky silk and came up in the row on the other side. I sprinted between the black tables, dodging still oblivious students and stools, while the spider clattered along behind me. I glanced back to see how close it was--too close--and veered towards the door. I didn't see its web until it was too late; I hit it full tilt.
The gauzy-looking strands gave under the impact, then snapped backward like a rubber band. Desperately, I tried to free myself, but drops of glue on the silk stuck to my arms and legs, holding me fast. The more I twisted, the more entangled I became. I began to pant. Not good.
The spider approached and examined me with eight cold, black eyes. Its stare hypnotized me. "It's not going to rain, Brianne. Your only chance to make it rain is to kill me. That's why I'm going to kill you!"
It reached for me with its front appendages. I screwed my eyes shut and turned my head aside, waiting for the Black Widow's fang to pierce my flesh and inject me with venom.
Something touched the back of my neck, and I screamed. I pushed violently away, but the web was no longer there, and I fell over backwards, still shrieking. I hit my head on the edge of a hard surface just before landing on my tailbone. Something thunked beside me, and I screamed a third time, certain it was the spider--except, why wasn’t I already dead?
I cautiously opened one eye and saw a ring of avid faces peering down at me. No Black Widow spider, no web. I was still in Science 20 class, sprawled on the lab-room floor. I seemed to have fallen off my stool.
My face flamed in mortification, but I fought the tell-tale reaction, hiding my emotions as I'd learned to just over a year ago at my last school. If my nightmares were returning again, making a fool of myself in front of the entire class was the least of my worries. Grimly, I began to pull myself to my feet.
Someone grabbed my hand and helped me up. "Thanks," I said. A sense of inevitability rolled over me when I saw that the hand belonged to Benjamin Harper. It would have to be him; the absolute last person I wanted to see me like this. Kill me now. I braced myself, waiting for the curiosity, the what's-wrong-with-her look.
But Ben's face showed only concern. "Are you okay?"
I could have drowned in his blue eyes, and I was a shade slow in letting go of his hand. For a second I felt light-headed and not because of the blow I'd taken on the back of my head. Benjamin Harper was worried about me. Ben with his great smiles, friendly “Hi's,” wavy brown hair, and tall, muscled body.
"I'm fine," I said automatically, then realized it was a lie. My head hurt, and my body was sore from the fall.
My speech, short as it was, opened the floodgates for the rest of the class to have their say.
"What happened? Why was she screaming?"
"Beats me. One minute Mr. Darning's talking, and the next she's screaming."
"Maybe she saw a mouse," one of the popular boys, Rex Tremont suggested, and laughter followed.
I gripped the solid edge of the lab counter with one hand and felt the back of my head with the other. No blood, but I felt nauseated, and the memory of the spider's hairy leg touching me made me shudder.
Then I saw the open textbook on my table. I glanced around. All the tables had open books and binders. No tests, face-down or face-up. The surprise quiz must have been part of the dream, too, not just the spider. Talk about your small blessings.
"Hey, back off a little," Ben said, frowning at Rex. "Can't you guys see she's a little upset?"
That was such an understatement everyone laughed again. Mr. Darning shut them up. He was the principal as well as the science teacher, and his voice held unmistakable authority. "Everyone back to your seats. Do questions 1 to 13 on page 103." Then to me, in a lower tone, "Can you walk, Brianne?" I nodded, but he didn't wait for an answer saying, "Ben, you help her to the nurses' office." My throat dried up.
A teacher was hurrying towards us, and I could see a few curious heads peeking around doors up and down the hallway. "Everything's under control," Mr. Darning brusquely assured them and continued walking.
I tried to prepare myself on the way. What should I say? That I fell asleep and had a nightmare? That would seal my fate for sure in Mr. Darning's class. I slowed, and Ben took my arm in a firmer grip, helping me down the hall.
The school nurse checked my pupils for signs of concussion then took a look at my head. She parted my short brown hair away from the swelling with her fingers and tsked, "You've got a nasty bump, but the skin's not broken."
My head had started to throb, but I kept that off my face, too. I looked at Ben instead. He hadn't left the room as he might have, and I watched him until he caught me at it. Blushing, I looked around the sickroom. There wasn't much to it, just a cot and some cabinets.
I flinched. Up in the farthest corner hung a spider web, its threads glistening in the sunlight.
The nurse apologized, thinking she'd touched a tender spot, but I barely heard her. A scream tried to fight its way out of my throat.
C'mon, Brianne. Calm down, it was just a dream. And that's just a spider. A normal everyday spider like you see all the time. My nails dug into my palms as the spider moved. Just a dream. Sure. Just like all the rest were. Right?
Wrong. My dreams had a nasty habit of coming true.
Not that I was really expecting to be chased by a giant spider in real life. But the test? Oh yeah, that was coming, and the spider part would come true, too, in some twisted way or another. Of that I had no doubt.
All too soon the nurse pronounced me fit, and Mr. Darning was looking at me across the desk in his office. "So Brianne," he said, "what was that all about?"
"I, um, was startled and lost my balance. I'm sorry about all the fuss." I offered him a weak smile. I wasn't a very good liar, but the truth was out of the question. Last year's fiasco had taught me that if nothing else.
Mr. Darning looked openly skeptical. "What, exactly, startled you? Why did you scream?"
"I saw a spider." My voice came out sounding hoarse.
Mr. Darning's eyebrows rose. "And are you in the habit of screaming at Arachnids?"
I coloured. "No."
"It was a big spider," Ben put in unexpectedly. "I saw it, too."
I sent him a silent Thank you.
Mr. Darning flicked Ben a look, and he shut up. "Brianne, was it a real spider or a plastic one?"
I suddenly saw where Mr. Darning was going with this and suppressed a sigh of relief. I was tempted to tell him that someone had dropped an ugly plastic spider down my back, but I restrained myself. "It was a real spider. I'm sorry. I know it was... silly, but it startled me."
"That was quite a scream you gave over a spider." Mr. Darning didn't look like he believed me. "Rex Tremont sits behind you. He didn't do anything? Play a trick of some sort on you?”
I shook my head.
Mr. Darning sighed, but didn't press it. "Do you feel up to returning to your classes, or would you rather I phoned your parents?"
I thought first of the questions and curious stares I would face from my classmates, and then of the other set of questions I would get at home. It was an easy decision. I'd given my parents enough grief for a lifetime last year. I stood. "Class."
"Very well." Mr. Darning paused. "I trust this episode will not be repeated?"
I nodded emphatically. While the secretary nabbed Mr. Darning, I escaped out the door after Ben. "Thanks for backing me up," I said as we walked down the hall.
"No problem." Ben grinned. "That was the most interesting Science class we've had all year."
"Glad to be of service." I smiled back at him. I wanted to prolong the conversation so I said, "I can't believe Mr. Darning let me off so lightly." Mr. Darning had a razor-sharp tongue for students who stepped out of line.
"Mr. Darning's okay," Ben said.
"He's fair," I agreed. "But he sure doesn't cut anyone any slack." I gave a mock shiver.
"That's what I like about him," Ben said.
I blinked at this odd comment, but before I could ask him what he meant, we reached the classroom door. "Ready to go in?"
I straightened my shoulders. "Sure. Just do me a favour and let me know if I doze off again." Because Ben had been so nice, I wanted him to know a portion of the truth. "I think I must have had a nightmare."
Ben looked puzzled. "Usually when people fall asleep during class, they're resting their heads on their desks. You must have been really tired to fall asleep perched on one of those narrow stools."
"Guess so," I said. But a chill swept over me, because I hadn't been tired, and the idea that a nightmare could descend on me without warning at any time scared me worse than a dozen spiders.