Lester noticed the spider—an ugly one—watching him as he lay on the basement floor. Though distracted by it, he continued his set of dumbbell presses.
Still, he broke proper form, turning his head on the rug to watch the spider’s eight eyes with both of his. The graininess of the cement foundation, he realized, seemed just as fitting for bugs as the stony, dank air. The little lumps provided millions of footholds for the crawl toward sustenance—any food that lay on the floor.
The close view of the floor frustrated him, as did everything after spotting his spindly stalker. The dumbbells pushed down more heavily through his arms and burned his whole naked torso. He felt a burst of sweat in his jogging pants and the whole world pushing up on his back.
Mostly, though, he felt the spider waiting for its chance, waiting for a fatal bench-press accident with the barbell on Wednesdays or a fluke fall down the stairs. Though unlikely, it would leave a bachelor’s body for the flies, and the flies would feed a thousand such spiders.
It sat and stared, perched proudly on a stack of 10-pound weights. It certainly hadn’t paid for any of them. Lester set down his dumbbells and rose. He paced, panting, and checked the watch he had placed on a vice on the workbench. He had a minute and 20 seconds until the next set, and the spider hadn’t even flinched at his vigorous, swinging shadow.
“You can’t lurk around here,” Lester said to the spider. “You make messes with your webs, and you haven’t paid any bills.”
He turned and stretched. Despite the warning, the spider remained on the plinth of weights it had claimed.
“Oh, I will wait here until one of us dies,” the spider said.
“You won’t get a free lunch out of me,” Lester said, “not on top of free shelter.”
“No, I won’t eat you,” the spider said. “But the flies will surely eat you, and I will eat as many of the flies as my web can hold.”
Lester checked his time again. He felt his blood pumping hard, his lungs heaving through a break already ruined. The spider’s platform of stacked weights looked annoyingly distant. The trudge over there and back would leave little rest time between chest exercises.
“You’d watch and chuckle as the maggots eat my whole body, huh?” Lester asked.
“They will waste much of it,” the spider said. “But I will watch their mad scramble. They’ll wriggle in the slop of decay. They’ll make a mess of you much bigger than my life’s work of webs--a bigger mess than whatever you can make of me.”
Lester glared. He picked up the watch and considered taking it with him to the spider’s little stage. Of course, he’d still have to walk back to the rug for more weightlifting. The endeavor would feel distracting like a forced pace, not like his casual, relaxed ones.
“Well, you’ll never see me die or get devoured,” Lester said. “You won’t get any of the juicy bugs that fatten up on me, even if I drop a weight on my head and kill myself. I’ll just come over there and kill you right now.”
“But I have brothers,” the spider said, “relatives I have never seen. And they will take my place. They will get you someday when your coffin rots and the flies eat the worms that get in.”
Lester’s panting turned into heavy sighs. “What a horrendous thought,” he said.
The watch showed he had 32 seconds left—plenty of time to lie in position, ready the dumbbells, and do one more little task beforehand:
Lester walked over and kicked the spider away. Half crushed, it bounced into a corner and curled up like a crumpled ball of paper.
“I will have my body cremated,” Lester said. “Not one bug will ever dine on me and reach any web in the world.”
Just before it wriggled its last, the spider spoke again:
“But you have brothers, too.”
NICHOLAS STILLMAN (stillmanscifi.com) writes science fiction with medical themes. His work has appeared in Total Quality Reading, The Colored Lens, Helios Quarterly Magazine, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Not One of Us, Silver Blade Magazine, and the Wavelengths anthology.