“It’s here, I can sense it,” I said from the front passenger seat of the Toyota Hiace Powervan which Firelighter had just parked near a paddock.
“You can sense it?” she asked, though it wasn’t a real question. She was being a dick. Firelighter will often ask a question but it’s just the set-up, so she can be a dick to you.
Undaunted I continued, because it was true. “Yeah, you know, it’s, like menacing. Foreboding.” I made my right hand look like it was screwing up an invisible ball of paper. “There’s something off.”
“Do you not think that being called out here to deal with a monster, and then seeing the woman who called us get trampled to death by cows, do you not think that might be what’s tingling your spider sense? Maybe?”
I thought about it. I mean, she had a point, but so did I. I didn’t want an argument. And I’d thought of something which I was pretty sure was funny. Too soon? Yeah, maybe, but I had to say it. “Hey, that old woman, she won’t need a coffin, she’ll need a… you know? A poster tube!” I smiled. I didn’t want to actually laugh at my own joke, and so I kept it to a smile. It wasn’t easy. My smile was really trying to turn into a laugh in the back of my throat.
“You know, one of those tubes, cardboard tubes, for posters.”
My actual smile faded away completely, though the sides of my mouth were still turned up a bit. “Because she’s so flat. Rolled up.”
“Where’s Sub?” she asked, ignoring my dark humour, which is only my way of lightening the mood in serious situations, no offense intended.
I thought about lying, then didn’t. “I think he pissed his pants. But don’t say anything. His zip was stuck.”
“I could do with expelling some urine,” said Tan from the back of the van.
I exhaled rapidly through my nose.”Don’t say shit like that, save it for your Dungeons and Dragons group.”
“I could probably go too,” said Firelighter and I exhaled noisily through my mouth.
“Next time you’re all going to go before we leave. It’s fu… it’s ridiculous.”
“I didn’t need to go then,” then Tan. I shook my head with my eyes closed.
We carefully made our was across the gravel yard from the van to the front door of the granite farmhouse. The gravel made walking stealthily impossible. Tan had his laptop balanced on his forearm, a bit like a waiter balancing a plate of dim sum. There was no doorbell that I could see. Firelighter went straight for the door knob. It turned. The door was unlocked.
“Hello!” she shouted and I winced. If she wanted to attract the cowolf then she was going about it the right way. She looked at me with her head cocked and her jaw clenched and shook her head. She repeated the call. Nothing. Silence. Perhaps a clock with a large mechanism was ticking somewhere from inside, but there was no sign of life.
As I waited impatiently for Firelighter to go in first there was a thud. It was behind us. I swore, grabbed Firelighter’s shoulder, pulled her back, and tried to throw myself through the front door and into the farmhouse. “It’s Sub!” said Firelighter. I was inside now. She was outside “It’s just Sub.” I looked over her shoulder. Yeah, it was Sub. He’d landed behind us and sounded just like a cowolf getting ready to attack. Firelighter was looking at me with an expression somewhere between disgust and even more disgust.
“Come on, come in!” I said, standing aside and making it seem like they were just being slow coming in. I’d come in the right speed, they were dilly-dallying. Sub has his old suit on but I pretended not to notice. We stood there, just inside the door, on the edge of a cosy looking living room. Traditional. That’s how I’d describe it. Wood and stone and cushions and blankets. “I feel like Goldilocks,” I said and then wished I hadn’t as I looked around thinking of something else to say.
“I’m going to find the toilet,” said Firelighter, eventually.
“Hurry up,” said Tan and Sub and I sat on a long burgundy couch. Tan sat on the arm.
“Sub, did you see anything?” I asked.
“It loves the darkness,” I said. “That’s the wolf part of it.”
“You know a lot about nature.”
“Yeah, I watch Autumn Watch,” I replied. I’d seen two episodes.
“I saw a program about the Red Arrows last night,” said Sub and I nodded. “Did you know-“
“Look what I found!” said Firelighter from the doorway. The happiness I felt at the curtailment of Sub’s boring story about the Red Arrows was curtailed when I saw that Firelighter had her hands cupped together.
“Is that a fucking spider?” I said, in my most authoritative voice, using Tan’s shirt to help me stand up. I backed away. “Don’t fuck around, Laura, it’s not funny.” I banged my calf into the coffee table as I tried to round it while reversing, all the time not taking my eyes off Firelighter. God, she can be such a dick sometimes. “Just don’t!” I instructed. I mean, I was 95% certain that she was just fucking around and her hands were empty. But that left a 5% chance she was going to bung a spider at me. I held up my palms and began to plead with her. She kept advancing. Sub eventually stood up and also backed away. I don’t think he knew why. Tan’s not scared of spiders. He just sat there on the arm of the couch, watching the show. And then I saw the black thin legs feeling their way out from between Firelighter’s finger. “Go away! Go Away!” I growled. Firelighter drew her cupped hands back and thrust them forward and I flailed my hands in front of me and turned and howled like a heartbroken woman in a black and white film.
“Fucking hell,” said Firelighter. I opened my eyes, She was still there with her hands cupped. “Look,” she said and slowly uncupped her hand.
“Don’t!” Then a cute little mouse thing popped its head out, like it was hatching out of an egg made from slightly chubby fingers. It could have been a shrew. I’d simply imagined the horrible probing, feeling, searching, thin black legs! “Aw, it’s-” Firelighter tipped it onto the table and that’s when I saw it for what it was. I could sense shouting but couldn’t hear it. The world started ringing – not just in my ears, my vision too, it was sparkly – and I leapt onto the couch and over it with the grace only imbued to those who are in mortal danger. I leapt up onto the larger table which was beyond the couch, my thigh muscles working at more than their limits to haul me up. I spun on the polished wood. I was crouched on the table. My hands placed above my knees. The top of my head rubbing against the ceiling. Sub and Tan were running around the room in what seemed slow motion. The mouse spider scuttled back and forth across the coffee table. I thought about making a run for the van but if the spider mouse got off that table…
Firelighter was laughing and for a split second I felt a hatred for her that was so deep it was beyond satanic. I watched as she picked up the creature from the coffee table and, still laughing, carried it over to the front door. I slowly spun with my heels planted on the big table to keep her in view at all times. She opened the door with a rolling motion of her elbow. Opened the door fully and then casually drop-kicked the abomination out into the moonless night. I was aware of just my panting until she closed the door. I couldn’t really believe what had happened.
“You’re safe now!” said Firelighter. “I really wish I’d filmed that!”
“Are you fucking mental?” I asked, still breathing heavily. “You kicked it to the van.”
“That was nothing. It was a little tiny mouse with weird legs. You three are pathetic.”
“I only ran because he did,” said Tan, nodding at me. Sub just looked confused.
“Yeah, right, anyway, wait until you see what else I found,” said Firelighter, cocking a thumb over to the doorway she’d come in from. I jumped down off the table. My hair tickled my neck and I punched at it a few times.
“What have you found?” I asked.
“You won’t believe it,” she replied.
“Just say!” I said.
“Did you find the toilet?” asked Tan.
“Yeah, I’ll show you,” said Firelighter. We went down the hall. I was at the back. I held Tan’s laptop while he went for a wee.
“It’s not a horrible bug, you promise?” I said as behind the door the toilet flushed.
“It’s not a…” said Sub. Firelighter and I stared at him to see if he’d come up with something. He didn’t. The toilet door opened and I handed Tan his laptop.
“It’s not a horrible bug,” she said. Firelighter is a dick but she’s honest. It’s like she can’t be bothered to lie. She doesn’t care enough to lie. So when she says something, you can trust her.
Actually that’s not true at all, she lies quite often. She wasn’t lying this time, though. There were no crawly bugs in the room that she’d found. The room at the end of the hall. None that I could see. What there was was arguably worse. Probably not worse for me, if I’m honest, because I fucking hate bugs. But I could imagine a lot of people would find the room’s contents far more unsettling. In public I’d say that I found it sickening. But I really do hate bugs. So, no bugs that I could see was a good thing, but when I gazed around my eyes somehow managed to fix upon things that were increasing in their abhorrentness. “Holy fucking shit,” I said.