You’ve heard of the Law of Karma. What if every death that was on your hands – every death – came back to haunt you?
Helen was writing in her diary about the hopes, joys, and fears of her complicated, eight-year-old life, when she noticed a brown something with eight legs crawling on the paper. She didn’t mean to scream, stand up, and knock over her chair; it just happened. Seconds later, her older brother ran into the room. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Helen could only point. Her brother, rolling his eyes, went straight to the book and slammed it shut. Then, with a grin, he opened the book and admired the slimy remains of the spider. And with Helen’s pen, he wrote a fitting epitaph around it: “Rest in Pieces.”
Helen didn’t finish her journal entry that night, nor did she write anything the next night. Each time before she went to sleep, she would glance at the spine of her diary, which was stowed safely away on a shelf. The spider was dead. She knew her fears were irrational. And yet, perhaps that was because part of her knew that the world didn’t always behave in rational ways. For one, why did certain things have to move on eight legs? No legs at all was bad enough, six was disgusting, but eight?
A few months later, it was a rainy day at Quail Hollow Elementary school. This is a true story, by the way. I was there when … well, you’ll find out soon enough. You see, like all of us children, Helen loved to jump through puddles at recess. And the best part of rainy days – at least according to the boys – was the worms. They were everywhere. Helen, however, didn’t take so kindly to the squishy, little things. Following her older brother’s example, she smashed them beneath her shoe and ground their remains into the gravel. She considered it a favor to humanity to rid the world of as many creepies and crawlies as possible.
A girl approached her. She had unkempt hair, thick glasses, and a wardrobe that never seemed to match. Gloria. Gloria didn’t talk much, and she didn’t seem to have any friends. At recess, she would usually sit in a corner and stare at … well, we never did figure out what she was staring at. So Helen was more than a little surprised when Gloria actually initiated a conversation. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Gloria whispered.
Helen looked up from the flattened worm on the asphalt. “Why not?”
“Haven’t you heard about the Queen of the Flies?”
“Years ago, there was a girl who went to this school who loved worms, bug, spiders, flies … anything that moved. She played with them at recess, and she would get in trouble for bringing them into the classroom. She even let mosquitos drink her blood. If ever anyone tried to hurt a bug, she would attack them. That’s why the children called her the Queen of the Flies. Then one day she picked up a black widow, it bit her, and she died. But her ghost still haunts the school. I know. I’ve seen her.”
“That’s a nice story,” said Helen, “but I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Maybe you should. She doesn’t like it when you kill little things. Remember Anthony Graves, the sixth grader who died of pneumonia?”
“What about him?”
“He loved to step on spiders.”
“That’s very interesting.”
“And remember Diane Fletcher, the girl from our class who disappeared?”
“Her family moved to a different house.”
“That story’s a cover-up. She was also a bug killer, and I heard she was bitten-to-death by centipedes.”
“That’s nice, Gloria.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
After school, Helen stayed for orchestra practice. Then she had a private violin lesson. It was late October, and by the time she was walking home, it was already dark outside, and the street lamps were glowing. She had a long walk back to her house, but with all the puddles to jump in, she didn’t mind one bit. Thinking about Gloria’s silly story, she made a point to step on as many worms as possible. While passing a field, she noticed an ant hill. Without even thinking, she set down her violin case, kicked over the dirt mound, and watched with satisfaction as hundreds of tiny ants scurried in a panic. Pathetic things, she thought. To put them out of their misery, she picked up a large rock and flattened the entire mound. Now not a single ant moved.
There was a lot of fog in the neighborhood. Helen could no longer see the school behind her, and she could barely see two houses in front of her. So it took her off guard when she heard the sound of a singing girl:
Little, helpless, wounded souls,
Poor victims of aggression –
Waiting on the other side
Consumed by an obsession
The voice sounded like Gloria’s. “Gloria!” Helen called into the fog, but there was no response and no one in sight. Still, the voice could have been coming from any one of the houses around her. Helen continued walking.
Through the alley, in the shadows,
Rising from the trash can,
When the moon is high, we’ll send you
Running like a madman.
It had to be Gloria. Had the strange girl been watching and waiting all this time only for the hope of spooking Helen? Well it wasn’t working. “Nice try!” Helen shouted into the fog. But again there was no response.
Helen walked a little faster, glancing back from time to time. At one point she thought she saw a silhouette in the fog, the small outline of a girl. “I see you, Gloria!” she called, but no sooner did she speak the words than the silhouette seemed to vanish. Perhaps she imagined it.
She was almost to her house, when she felt a tingling on her ankle. She bent down to scratch it, but then the tingling was on her thigh. Speaking of which, do you ever get that feeling that something is crawling … [feel clothes, search for something, contort, and scream at maximum volume. Then reveal a piece of lint.] Sorry about that, it was just a piece of lint. Anyway, like me, Helen realized that she was imagining things, and there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of.
Soon she was back in the comfort of her home. After a nice, warm dinner, some much-needed TV, and goodnight kisses from her parents, Helen brushed her teeth, retired to her bedroom, and slipped on her flannel pajamas. She was about to turn off the lamp, when, thinking of her strange day, she glanced at her diary. She really should write something. It had been months since the episode of the squashed spider, and it was time to move on. So, slowly, carefully, she pulled the book down from the shelf. Then, slowly, carefully, she opened up the book, and …
A brown spider leaped out and scurried out of sight!
Again an involuntary scream escaped Helen’s throat, but this time it was well past dark, and no one came to check on her. Which was fine. No doubt, some other spider had slipped into the pages. It’s not like a squashed spider somehow rose from the dead after months of decay. That, of course, was impossible. Though Helen couldn’t help but think about the words of the song she heard in the fog, something about little monsters rising in the moonlight. She knew that when the moon was high, the tides would rise as the gravitational force of the moon pulled on the water particles. She’d heard fanciful tales of other things rising in the moonlight, such as zombies and vampires, but that, of course was fiction. The moon could only raise tiny things like water particles … and bugs.
No, not bugs. Needing to get her mind off these silly thoughts, she wrote down the day’s events, providing rational explanations for the singing voice and the spider in the book. That is, she tried to, but something kept distracting her. There was a buzzing in the room, and the overhead light was flickering as something swarmed around it. When the fly landed on her cheek, that was the last straw. Helen shoed the thing away, went to the kitchen, procured a fly swatter, and put the pest to its rightful end. She looked at the fly’s crumpled body on her desk. She really should clean it up, but then she really didn’t want to touch it.
Try as she did to finish her journal entry, she couldn’t complete another sentence. So she turned off her lamp, crawled into bed, and closed her eyes. But sleep didn’t come. The room was still bright with moonlight. Moonlight? She glanced at the window. They gray clouds had parted, revealing a bright, silvery moon.
Helen rolled over and faced the wall. Somewhere in this room, a brown spider was crawling around. Not that she cared. It was just a spider. Still, sleep was nowhere to be found. Perhaps an hour went by in silence. Then another. She was wide awake when a little something landed on her forehead.
In a mad fury, Helen threw off her covers, turned on the lamp, and saw the fly buzzing around the ceiling. She reached for the fly swatter … and paused. The crumpled body of the dead fly was no longer on the desk. Helen looked at the fly on the ceiling, then back at the empty desk. She noticed the brown spider on the wall … staring at her. Something was very wrong.
And there was that voice again, coming from outside:
[quietly] Through the alley, in the shadows,
Rising from the trash can,
When the moon is high, we’ll send you
Running like a madman.
Helen looked out the window. There was someone standing on her front yard, a girl she’d never seen before. “What do you want?” Helen demanded. The girl sang on.
Tickles on the neck and
Buzzing in the ears
Little crawling monsters
Awakening the fears
Helen felt something crawling up her leg. An ant. Had she carried it home with her from the field? She flicked it off. Then she felt something else tickling her ankle. She looked down and, to her horror, saw that the floor was crawling with black ants. She ran to her door, but the nob was covered with brown spiders.
Anywhere you go,
We’ll be there at your side.
No matter where you run,
There’s nowhere you can hide.
Helen ran to her bed. Somehow a slimy earthworm had gotten onto her pillow. With disgust, she picked it up and flung it across the room. Then, with a sense of dread, she threw off her blanket. Her bed was alive with hundreds of wriggling worms.
Sneaking through the window,
Eating all your food.
We hope you’ll take offense;
We’re trying to be rude.
There were ants and spiders all over her. On her legs, on her back, on her arms, on her face, and crawling into her mouth. This time, there was no room for a scream.
The longer it’s been dead,
The more of it we’ll take.
And we’ll be back for more.
Make no mistake.
So next time you feel inclined to harm something smaller than you, beware, what goes around comes around.