By: Andrew Thomas Prenger
It was the little boy, Shadrach, who found his sister’s body first. At eight-years-old it was almost a miracle that he made it that long before seeing his first corpse. Shame that it had to be his one-and-only kin. What made it worse was how he found her.
He woke up early that day to bring her breakfast in bed. It was her birthday. He opened her bedroom door to find the lamps still burning from the night before. She was sitting up in bed, naked, with her stomach blown out from the inside like somebody shot her in the back with a scattergun. All the deputies wanted that to be true, though it didn’t explain the lack of blood and organs.
Shadrach wouldn’t stop screaming. Understandable, given the circumstances. His parents died when he was young, leaving his sister to raise him. This lead them to work in a hotel where the boy did general cleaning while his sister worked ostensibly as a maid. Truth be told she made most of their money by whoring. She was with a client the night she died, though nobody could quite remember who she was with.
They kept asking Shadrach if he knew, but the boy already moved from hysterics to catatonia. The sheriff and his men were so puzzled by the death that not one of them thought to move the boy from the room and the grisly scene of his dead sister. They left him trembling in the corner while they poked at the body and cursed to themselves.
Shadrach was in the same spot minutes later when “the specialist” arrived. Shadrach dimly remembered early on the sheriff sending a deputy off to fetch him. Whatever the man was a specialist in the boy had no idea. He looked like he was forcefully dragged from bed. He was half-dressed in a plain white shirt and gray pants. He had longish black hair tussled in places and stuck up in others from sleep. He had a smear of lipstick leading from the corner of his mouth down his neck.
The boy pegged him as the type of man who frequented girls like his sister. He took an immediate dislike to the stranger. It looked like the deputy had, too. Both he and the stranger had matching black eyes. There was a crust of blood under the deputy’s nose.
The boy wasn’t just emotionally distrustful of the man, but also physically wary of him as well. The hair on the back of Shadrach’s neck stood up. His skin crawled so hard it felt like it was going to pull off his bones. All the other men looked to be having the same reaction. None of them wanted to be near the specialist. The deputy who brought him in walked off rubbing his hands as though he were trying to get some grime off.
The sheriff was the only one who, if he was repelled, didn’t show it. He stood next to the specialist as they looked at the corpse.
“What do you think, Abacus?”
“I think this is a helluva way to be woken up.”
“Sorry ’bout that. Had to be done.”
“Could you send one a’ your boys back ta’ my room to make sure Isabelle doesn’t steal any a’ my stuff? I like her, she’s decent. It’s not that I don’t trust her…but I don’t trust her.”
“Can do. Jed, go roust Izzy and make sure she doesn’t leave Abacus’ room with nothing ain’t hers.”
“Will do, sheriff.”
Abacus walked forward and leaned in so he could get a better look at the wound. He looked to be completely at ease with the situation. The deputies had blanched whenever they got near the body, but Abacus didn’t bat an eye. Perhaps their claims that he was an expert were true although he didn’t look like any sort of doctor the boy had seen.
Shadrach watched with horrific interest as Abacus reached into the gaping wound. There wasn’t anything to stop him. Bodies were supposed to be stuffed full of organs and blood, but Abacus managed to fit his arm in up to the elbow with no trouble. When he pulled out his arm it was completely clean. Abacus had something pinched between his fingers that he peered at for a few second before he muttered, “Shit.”
“What’s the problem?”
“I found a spider.”
Abacus wheeled about to face the sheriff, “You don’t think that’s a little weird?”
“I’ve known you a long time, Abacus. First time I met you, you were gettin’ rid of a gremlin infestation. Two days ago you helped me and my boys kill that chupacabra that was killing our livestock. So, yeah, it doesn’t seem that weird.”
“Fair news, Justin. But look, there was a spider in her chest.”
“Big deal. It musta’ crawled up there. Spiders are all over this town.”
“I gotta’ feeling I know who caused this. No blood is weird, but missin’ her organs is more suspicious. Guess that’s why you sent for me.”
All the men in the room stared at Abacus in wide-eyed silence until finally the sheriff muttered, “Sure.”
“You lazy sons-a’-bitches! Just sat here with your thumbs up your asses and got me so ya’ didn’t have ta’ do any work.”
“We didn’t want to mess up the scene. I know you’re protective when you decide to use your investigating skills.”
“Go fuck yourself, Justin. My point is that she’s almost completely hollowed out. Someone took all her organs and blood.”
“Vampires! It’s vampires!” a deputy shouted with a wide grin.
“Good effort, but no. A vampire woulda’ ripped off a chunk a’ the neck or wrist. Greedy fuckers lap up as much as they can as fast as they can then run. There woulda’ been blood everywhere. I also never seen a vampire who wanted anything to do with a stomach or liver. No, I believe this ta’ be the work of the the King a’ the Spiders.”
“You’re just making things up now, aren’t you?” The Sheriff said, eliciting chuckles from his deputies.
“I’m serious. That’s what he calls himself. From what I know he’s some sort a’ shapeshifter. He’s not actually a person, he’s made outta’ thousands of smaller spiders. He can separate and crawl around like that then come back together. Makes it easy for him ta’ break inta’ houses or banks.”
“So he just snuck in here and killed this girl? Is he crazy? Just killin’ for fun?” a deputy asked.
“No…no, this is different. When he splits inta’ the smaller spiders some them go missing. Some get stepped on or eaten by a dog. Whatever. So he has to go out and reproduce. He finds a girl and they have some fun like everybody else, but she gets pregnant and instead a’ bein’ a bouncing baby boy she’s got a womb full a’ spider eggs. They hatch, devour her from the inside out and then they burst her stomach open and rejoin the main body. Our boy, King a’ the Spiders probably left here a much bigger man than he arrived.”
“You seem to know a whole hell of a lot about this guy.”
“I was hired by a rich farmer years back to kill the King because he did the same thing to his youngest daughter. I’ve been tracking him off and on, when I get the time. Spiders…kinda give me the willies so I haven’t been too keen on gettin’ too close to him. Best I’ve done is gotten close enough to shoot him a few times. He’s always managed to break up and get away.”
Shadrach finally felt the need to speak, “That don’t sound too brave!”
Abacus jumped at the shout from the corner, “Who is this?” he asked, pointing at the boy.
“This is the brother of the, uh, deceased.”
“Justin, you are the biggest idiot I’ve ever met. Ya’ didn’t think maybe it’d be a little traumatizing for him to be in the same room as his murdered sister? You didn’t think maybe, just maybe, ya’ should’ve escorted him out before you called me inta’ dig around her guts?”
“Wait just a damned minute! We tried! Little bastard wouldn’t stop screaming. I tried to pick him up and he bit me. Finally he quieted down and…I guess we forgot about him.”
“You unbelievable assholes,” Abacus muttered. He leaned down close to Shadrach. Looking straight at Abacus he saw that there was no color in his eyes, only pure black. The boy shuddered. Abacus said something to him that he didn’t hear. Looking into those eyes Shadrach found that he couldn’t concentrate. He wanted to run, hide, scream, yell, bite, piss. When Abacus reached out to put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, Shadrach lost complete control.
He lashed out at Abacus, blackening his other eye. Abacus fell onto his back with his arms crossed trying to protect his face. He kicked out with his legs and caught Shadrach in the chest. That didn’t stop the boy from screaming, though it did interrupt it with racking coughs.
“That’s why we left him there,” Justin said as he helped Abacus up.
“Little bastard nearabouts put my eye out.” Abacus gingerly touched his eye. Like his other it was swollen.
“It’s not that bad.”
“Not to you. You’ve got two working eyes. Between the kid and your deputy I’m nearly blind. Not gonna’ be able to do any monster hunting if I can’t see shit.”
“I’ve seen you shoot, I’m pretty sure being blind is a step up.”
Abacus was looking into a mirror, “I look like a raccoon,” he turned around and looked from the boy to the body and finally back to Sheriff Justin. “Well, that’s it. That’s all I got. Mind if I go back ta’ my room and pass out again?”
“What’s your plan?”
“About what? What plan?”
“All this! The dead woman, this King of the Spiders!”
“You found the body! You’re the sheriff! Far as I can tell this is your problem.”
“You’re the one who’s already hunting this thing.”
“And I already explained ta’ you that I’m doing a shit job of it. Four years I been after this guy. I’m never gonna’ catch him. You should do it. You know, maybe get some fresh blood on the trail. Maybe you’ll think of something I didn’t.”
“You’re being lazy.”
“That may be, but you’re being cheap.”
“Explain that logic.”
“You want me to do it because you don’t want to pay someone else ta’ track him down. You know I don’t work for free.”
“Now you’re just greedy! You want me to pay you for a job someone else is already paying you for!”
“It’s been four years. I doubt he’s still willing to pay me if he’s even alive…I really should check. I ain’t too keen on fighting a man made a’ spiders if there’s no money in it. The only time I work for free is when someone fucks me out of my payment.”
“You act like we’re even gonna’ investigate. She was just a whore. She’s not worth the manpower.” Sheriff Justin winced right as he said it, remembering her brother was still in the room. He glanced over at the wide-eyed boy and mouthed “I’m sorry” at him.
“Nice ta’ see that in this town you get justice only if you were deservin’ of it.”
“Don you put words in my mouth…what I meant ta say is that I can’t put my own men out there. With more people striking gold every day there are more people coming through town. I need all my men here to prevent more things like this from happening. That’s not to say I am against hiring someone to go after this man, or monster, whatever he is. You up for it?”
“What’s the payment?”
“Same deal as the chupacabra. Payment on delivery of proof of the man’s death.”
“I take it there’s no desire in me bringing him in alive.”
“Hell, no, spiders give me the willies, too. Just kill him.”
Abacus shook the sheriff’s hand, nodded at Shadrach then walked out of the room, leaving the deputies to set about taking the body to the undertaker’s. While they were busy rolling her up in a sheet Shadrach crept out and down to his small room in the back of the kitchen. There he dressed properly for the day. Once he was done he gathered up the few items he owned into a sack and slung it over his shoulder.
While the cook was pissing, Shadrach went into the kitchen and shoved a wedge of cheese and some biscuits into his sack. He was almost out when the cook returned. He was angry, squeezing Shadrach’s wrist in his hand before Shadrach managed to explain what happened to his sister. The cook calmed down, he knew that something had happened the night before, but didn’t know the details. His anger turned to pity.
The boy’s plan was to follow Abacus and see justice done for his sister. The cook thought it was foolish, but held his tongue. He could see that Shadrach was determined to see it through. Besides, there was nothing for Shadrach at the hotel anymore. The owner only allowed the boy to work as a favor to his sister. Without her there earning as much as she did there was no reason to have a half-competent cleaning boy.
Shadrach scurried through the streets to the hotel on the other side of town. He figured that was the most likely place for Abacus to be staying. After nearly an hour of hovering in an alley watching the front door he grew afraid that he had missed him. If that happened then the boy didn’t know what he would do. Any direction he went would be a guess. He had no skills for anything and had very little money. If Abacus was gone then Shadrach would be left to beg or steal for the rest of his life.
Just as he was about to give up all hope, Abacus emerged from the hotel. The boy almost didn’t recognize him. The man basking in the sunshine on the steps seemed like a far more successful version of the wretch who investigated his sister’s murder. He wore almost all gray except for black boots and a black gun belt. Abacus was now clean shaven and had a fresh haircut which explained the length of Shadrach’s wait.
The boy noticed as he looked at Abacus’ clean-shaven face that his eyes were no longer blackened. Thoughts rattled around his head. Did the sheriff hire some sort of dandy to hunt down his sister’s killer? A man so vain that he put on make-up to hide the bruises from a fight?
Abacus tossed a bag over his shoulder then set off down the street towards a nearby stable. While he walked he whistled a song Shadrach thought sounded familiar but couldn’t quite place. As he strolled down the street, Abacus seemed oblivious to the other people scurrying out of his way like he was a leper. They were all experiencing the same unpleasant feeling Shadrach had that morning in his presence. What was it about Abacus? He couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the man that caused those feelings.
At the stable Shadrach expected Abacus to emerge atop some great steed; a fearsome beast that breathed fire and inspired the same fear as the man himself. Instead Abacus emerged from the stable leading a skinny donkey by a rope bridle. Abacus waited until he was out of town before he mounted up and rode out into the desert at a pace slightly slower walking. This didn’t seem to bother Abacus as he continued his energetic whistling.
Shadrach spent the better part of the morning alert. He kept his distance from Abacus, hunkering down and darting from rock to rock like a lizard so that he would remain unseen. It didn’t matter. Shadrach slowly realized that Abacus wasn’t like any bounty killer he’d met in his short life. Abacus seemed oblivious to his surroundings. He never really looked around, never investigated strange noises. He just sat on his donkey and whistled his stupid songs.
Despite the slow pace Shadrach found himself growing weary by the afternoon. The desert sun beat down mercilessly on him. He stopped caring about being spotted, all he focused on was putting one foot in front of the other. Normally when it was this hot he could sit in the shade the hotel provided where there was a nearby stream that cooled the breeze. The distant memory of that coolness seemed to intensify the heat the boy felt.
Were it not for the incessant whistling Shadrach would have thought Abacus died. Just like he never looked around he never did anything for the heat. His overcoat remained on and he never so much as wiped the sweat off himself.
Shadrach doubted that he would be able to continue on much longer. It wasn’t even close to being the end of the first day and he felt like he was going to die. The only thing pushing him on was that whenever he closed his eyes he saw the violent image of his dead sister. He tried to substitute that image with one of her in happier times, but that last image of her stomach burst open kept all good thoughts at bay.
It was like the murderer had not just killed her, but killed everything she had been.
Finally when it was dark, and the sliver of the moon was high in the sky, Abacus stopped for the night. Or rather, was forced to stop. In what little light there was Shadrach saw Abacus hop off his donkey, walk to the front of it and pull hard on the rope. No matter how hard he pulled, the donkey wouldn’t move. Abacus kicked the donkey so it sat down. Abacus started swearing at the donkey, a whole new verse of curse words Shadrach had never heard before. Abacus continued on for minutes longer than Shadrach expected him to.
After he finished yelling at his donkey Abacus set about making a fire. Shadrach couldn’t believe it when Abacus pulled a single stick from his bag, kissed it, then threw it in the dirt. The stick burst into a healthy, roaring campfire.
Shadrach couldn’t believe his eyes. He nearly started crying. He was afraid that he spent too much time in the sun. He’d seen it before, working in the hotel, men who stumbled in, red as rock, skin peeling off, their brains baked from the heat and raving about the incredible and frightening things they’d seen. Shadrach didn’t want that to happen to him.
He laid down in the dirt and curled into a ball. He cried into his knees. Soon he started to shiver. His teeth chattering broke up the sobs. It seemed crazy that he would be this cold now after a day of sweltering. He believed he existed under a cruel god who would answer his prayers for relief from the sun with freezing cold.
“Boy, what are ya’ doing freezing in the dirt? You simple?”
Shadrach was so concerned with not freezing to death that he hadn’t noticed Abacus walking over from the fire. From his position Abacus looked like a demon towering over Shadrach, the firelight making him into a shadowy specter. Shadrach screamed.
“Christ, boy, I am sick a’ your screaming. I know you’re having what you think is the worst day a’ your life, but it’s gonna’ be your last if you keep giving me a headache with that shrieking. Now do you want ta’ come sit by the fire? You’re likely ta’ freeze to death out here.”
Shadrach shook his head furiously. Abacus threw his hands up in defeat.
“Whatever, kid,” he said as he stalked back to the fire. It wasn’t long before Shadrach gained enough courage to creep up to where it was warm. Abacus had skewers of meat cooking over the fire. He offered one from the boy who refused. Abacus shrugged and jammed the end of the skewer in between him and the boy. The boy waited as long as he could bear before his rumbling stomach got the best of him. He snatched up the skewer and chewed noisily on the meat.
“Are you a witch?” Shadrach asked as he wiped grease off his chin.
“What? No, that’s stupid.”
“Then how’d you start the fire?”
“Oh, yeah, that. That was a fire stick…I stole…from a witch. Some enchanted thing. I don’t have any powers a’ my own.”
“Then how come you were able to travel all day without stopping? I nearly died out there.”
“That’s because you’re an idiot. I saw you darting around behind me. Good way ta’ tire yourself out. I have a donkey. That’s how I was able ta’ travel so far and not die.”
“Watch your mouth. You’re right, that’s a lie.” Abacus reached into his shirt and pulled out a blue oval stone tied around his neck with a length of leather. “I got this off a witch I had a few dates with, different from the one I stole from, and she was fond a’ me. Makes it so I can survive in the desert. Barely have ta’ eat and I can go for days with only a drop a’ water.”
“That’s pretty handy. But why wouldn’t you just bring water with you?”
“Says the kid who nearly died today. Do you know how often I get chased outta’ towns? Regardless of if I did anything wrong? Lots. I don’t have a lotta’ time to prepare. Today was one a’ the rare occasions where I got to leave peacefully with none a’ my blood shed,” Abacus dropped the necklace back into his shirt, “I keep this thing on and live to fight another day.”
“Uh…sir, why…why would you get chased outta’ towns?”
“Stop with the stupid questions. You know why. You feel it.”
Abacus jammed his skewer into the ground and leaned forward. He opened his black eyes and stared directly at Shadrach until the boy looked away.
“Exactly. You’re only here because the pain in your belly is worse than the fear in your soul. You hate me right now more than the man who killed your sister. You’d strangle me dead if you thought you could. Or shoot me if you had a gun. Word a’ warning: you try ta’ kill me and I will kill you right back.”
“You’d…you’d kill a child?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Both of them sat in silence and ate their meal. When they were done they sat and watched the fire. Abacus pulled out a pouch of tobacco and set about rolling himself a cigarette. He puffed on it. “Don’t worry. I’m not gonna’ kill you. Probably not… I ain’t planning on it.”
Shadrach didn’t sleep well that night. Every time he was close to drifting off a noise would startle him. He’d bolt upright, a scream strangling his throat. Each time he awoke he looked at Abacus who slept peacefully with a small smile on his lips. Whatever dreams traipsed through his head seemed to be pleasant.
Shadrach was envious of Abacus. His nightmares were so bad that when he startled awake he was actually thankful to be free of them.
The boy looked awful in the morning. Abacus looked down at him with a little bit of pity. It was cold and the boy shivered. His eyes were sunken in his head. After a small breakfast Abacus let Shadrach ride on the donkey, bundled up in a blanket.
“Where are we going?” Shadrach asked at noon. By then he was too warm and walking alongside Abacus. His legs were stiff from the previous day. Abacus told him it would be good to walk out the pain.
“Is that where the Spider King went?”
“How do you know he went this way?”
“Then we could be going the wrong way!”
“Then we should turn around and go the other way.”
“That could be wrong, too. If you wanna’ be a monster killer then you have to rely on your instincts. My gut says this is the way ta’ go.”
That ended it. Shadrach asked no more questions. They went on walking until the boy mumbled, “I don’t wanna’ be a monster killer.”
Abacus thought about this, “Then you should’ve stayed in town.”
They didn’t speak for two days. It was only when they saw a settlement on the horizon that they would reach before the day was over when, finally, Abacus broke the silence, “You got any marketable skills?”
“Any way a’ making money? Talents? In case it escaped your notice I been the one feeding you the last few days. Now I been doing it outta’ kindness for what you been through, but my charity ain’t endless. You caught me at a rare time when I’m well-off. In a couple a’ days I’m likely ta’ be penniless and unable to feed myself, let alone you. You better be able ta’ make some coin.”
The silence resumed all the way until they hit the town. It was a much smaller town than the one the boy grew up in. A solitary street with one-story buildings. The only building that stood above all the others was the saloon. Abacus made a bee-line to it. He hitched up the donkey outside next to two horses, un-slung his rucksack and walked inside without waiting for Shadrach.
The boy stood outside, fearful of going in. In the hotel he had worked at children weren’t allowed in unless they were there to fetch their dad. Shadrach didn’t want to walk in only to be slapped out. He crept up to the door as quietly as possible. He snuck up to the wall and peered in through the swinging doors. Abacus looked like he was the only person in the bar. Not too shocking considering it was the middle of the day.
Shadrach milled around outside for a good while before his stomach started rumbling. They hadn’t eaten yet that day. He went to a well in the center of the town and pulled up the bucket. He drank as much water as he could, his belly swelling up over his belt. That satisfied the hunger for only a little bit. Shortly he grew hungry again. Hungry enough that he dared to enter the saloon.
Abacus sat at the far end of the bar talking to the bartender, a cute woman about the age of Shadrach’s sister. The two were laughing so much at something Abacus said that they didn’t notice Shadrach until he walked right up to them.
“Who’s this cutie? Your son?” the bar maid asked.
“Good God, no. This is…a kid. Just a kid. Somehow I ended up with him. You know how that happens.”
“Sugar, I honestly cannot say I know how that happens. I mean, other’n the ways I know how to make a kid.” she winked at Abacus, “You look a might hungry. Fancy something to eat?”
Shadrach desperately wanted to say yes, but remembered what Abacus told him a few days previous. He looked at Abacus pleadingly.
“Alright, you little bastard, one last free meal and then you have to start making your own coin for your meals.”
“I can tell already that you’re all heart, Mr. Jones,” the bar maid said. She went into the kitchen and came out a few minutes later with a mostly-warm plate of sausages and biscuits. Leftovers from breakfast, “Don’t worry about paying, honey, I’ll spot you this one since Abacus there is being a grump.” Her sweet smile brightened up Shadrach’s mood for the first time since his sister was killed. He smiled back then tore into the plate of food.
“See, that’s why I don’t feel like payin’ for him anymore. Kid’s like a locust. He’ll eat you out of house and home if you let him.”
“He seems like a sweet enough boy. You’re bein’ too hard on him.”
Abacus motioned for her to lean in close to him so Shadrach couldn’t overhear them, even though he could anyway “Is there any chance that you need a boy around here for work? The boy doesn’t have anyone else in the world and it’s not gonna’ be too healthy for him to hang with me for much longer.”
“Oh, yeah? Why’s that?”
“I live a dangerous life.”
The bartender’s eyes opened wide with curiosity, “What kinda’ dangerous? You an outlaw?”
“Something like that.”
“I’m sure I can find something for the boy to do around here. How long do you need me to keep him around?”
“That’s a pretty tall order.”
“I know it’s askin’ a lot, but it’s either you keep him and find him work or a werewolf chews off his sweet little face,” at that mention Shadrach looked up from his meal with a look of fear on his face, “and wouldn’t that be a shame?”
“I’ll try, but I’ll be honest, Mr. Jones, this is a small town. I might not have enough work for him. If that happens I’ll have to cut him loose.”
“Fair news. It’s better than the alternative. I’ll leave him with you in the morning.”
“You can’t leave me here! We’re supposed to get the Spider King!” Shadrach shouted, startling the bar maid and Abacus.
“And I will, but I want ya’ to be safe. It’s gonna’ get very dangerous. That…and you are really annoying, kid. I mean, there are times in my life where I get sick a’ being alone because I keep getting run outta’ town and most people don’t like being around me, but you remind me just how much I like being on my own.”
Tears started to flow from Shadrach’s eyes. The bar maid scowled as she pulled a towel out from behind the bar and dabbed Shadrach’s face with it.
“See? This is what I mean. Now I feel guilty as all hell. This never happens when I’m by myself. I’m off for a piss.”
Abacus lurched off the stool and walked out of the saloon to find his way to an outhouse. Shadrach remained at the bar sniffling. The bar maid shuffled around trying to find chores to do. She felt bad for the kid, but didn’t know what else to do with him. She didn’t know what the relationship between the two was. Before Shadrach came into the bar Abacus had been charming as all get out, despite giving her a sense of unease.
In the presence of the kid, however, Abacus turned colder. The bad feeling around him grew worse in the pit of her stomach. It lessened when he walked outside. She hadn’t been aware of just how bad it had been until he was gone. It was like recovering from a cold, when the person didn’t realize that they were over it and not feeling sick until a few days later.
She felt her stomach knot up again and figured it was Abacus returned from the outhouse. When she turned she saw that it was not Abacus, but instead the customer who arrived the previous day. He was a portly man with jowls that hung down and jiggled when he talked. He was a voracious eater and the night before ordered three entrees which he ate one after the other without stopping. She wondered what it was about these two new men that made her feel so sick.
Despite her uneasy feeling she put on a smile. It was slow lately so it wouldn’t do her well to offend two paying customers.
The man ordered enough food to feed four then settled into a table near the wall. He pulled out a book that he proceeded to write in while she set about preparing his gargantuan feast.
While all this went on neither of them noticed the effect the man had on Shadrach. The sight of him turned the boy sheet-white and sweaty.
The man at the table was much larger now, but Shadrach was certain that it was the Spider King. That was the man who he last saw with his sister. Emotions crashed into each other in his head. His first instinct was to rush over to the Spider King and start thrashing away. He knew that normally his tiny body would have no effect on a man that size, but he thought that powered by the hate inside him he could turn it into victory.
Fear tempered his anger. Intermixed with visions of him mercilessly pummeling the Spider King were thoughts of how the Spider King could kill him. He saw his sister’s body again and trembled at the thought of that happening to him, being devoured from the inside out. Shadrach started shivering so hard he nearly fell off the barstool.
Abacus walked back into the saloon adjusting his pants. He immediately sensed something was wrong. The atmosphere in the bar was charged. He saw Shadrach shaking on the barstool then looked around. His eyes fixed on the man writing at the table. If the man noticed him at all he showed no sign.
Abacus got Shadrach’s attention. The boy looked about ready to cry. Abacus held out his arms with his hands down and linked at the thumbs. He wiggled his fingers in what he hoped looked like a spider and jerked his head to the man at the table. To him it made sense since spiders had eight legs and he had eight fingers. He really hoped Shadrach wasn’t as simple as Abacus thought and would give him yay or nay on whether it was the King of the Spiders. The boy nodded wildly.
That settled things for Abacus. He figured it was based on the feeling he got from the man, but was happy to have confirmation. He strode over to the man, drawing his shotgun from the sling on his back as he did. The man turned to face Abacus when he heard the hammers cocking and was looking straight down both barrels when Abacus fired.
The blast punched a very large hole through the man’s head. The bar maid started screaming and Shadrach joined her. The wall behind the man was covered in yellow slime and tiny spider legs. As Abacus broke open his shotgun and fished out the empty shells the rest of the body started disintegrating. The clothing and skin peeled apart, separating into individual spiders. They tumbled to the floor and scrambled in all directions.
That sight shut up the bar maid and Shadrach both. The bar maid scrambled on top of the bar off the floor.
Abacus fished two shells from a pouch on his belt and reloaded his gun. He didn’t know where to aim. He cursed at his stupidity. He should have had a better plan than shooting the King of the Spiders in the face. Though he did find that that strategy always served him well in the past. He figured that it would be his only chance. If he did nothing and tried to formulate a plan he was sure that Shadrach would blow it in some way. This was the closest he’d ever come to the King of the Spiders and he didn’t want him to get away, though it seemed as though he screwed that up.
The King of the Spiders reformed into a man, slightly smaller than he had been, in the center of the saloon. He was confused as to where he was. He turned towards the door and started running. Abacus took aim and shot him through the kneecap with one shot and the other kneecap with the remaining barrel, praising his luck and the spread of a shotgun blast.
The King of the Spiders crashed face first to the ground and burst into the smaller spiders again.
Abacus reloaded, walking carefully around. He aimed at big groups of spiders, but none of them formed into anything. He couldn’t tell where the King of the Spiders would go next. He hoped that they all stayed in the saloon, but that was wishful thinking. He didn’t have enough shells to keep firing like this and making little damage.
“Behind you!” the boy shouted.
Abacus whirled around, firing aimlessly. Two wasted shots. As he scrambled to reload his gun the roiling mass of spiders whipped forward, tossing a ball of spiders that exploded across Abacus’ face.
“Oh, Jesus fuck!” he yelled.
He dropped his shotgun and slapped wildly at his face. The spiders skittered all over his head. Some biting, most falling harmlessly to the floor. Abacus whirled around, dancing and trying to shake all the spiders off of him. He was so occupied with shaking the bugs off him that he failed to notice the Spider King reforming right behind him.
The Spider King in human form now looked skeletal and was a foot shorter. The fat man he was only moment previous was gone, replaced by a wiry, muscled man. He no longer wasted any spiders forming into clothes. He wrapped his arm around Abacus’ throat and proceeded to choke him.
Abacus flailed uselessly at the Spider King just as he had done moments before at the spiders on his face.
Shadrach ran forward ready to help Abacus out, but the Spider King mindlessly backhanded him with his free arm. The boy sailed across the air and crashed against the bar. The bar maid grabbed a full whiskey bottle from under the counter and hurled it across the air. It connected with the Spider King’s head. The shock of the glass colliding with its skull caused the Spider King to lose form just enough for Abacus to break free.
He stumbled away, slapping his face and body. Blood poured down his face from numerous spider bites. He steadied himself against a chair and tried to maintain his footing. Venom from the bites flooded his head and made it hard to see or think or breathe. He shook his head, but that only made it worse.
The spiders all at once dropped off his face and scurried over to the main mass. Even with all the spiders together the Spider King was no larger than a child. He looked around the bar, hissed at his three attackers and turned towards the door.
At that moment Abacus spotted his shotgun on the floor. The breech was open, but still had a shell in each barrel. He reached down to pick it up and promptly passed out, breaking his nose on the floor of the saloon.
The dreams he had over the next three days were strange and disorienting. Memories mixed in with imagery he’d read about. A common theme was Shadrach along turning into his son turning into a demon. He had periods of time when he would awake, lucid for moments before the world melted away again. Several times he believed that he woke up in hell, surrounded by flames and demons. No dreams were worse than the dreams of a man who had actually seen hell with his own two eyes. When he finally did awake for real it was a slow process of him becoming aware of different parts of his body and the room.
The bed he was on was completely soaked through with sweat. The air was rank with different bodily odors, none of them pleasant. He felt his face and immediately regretted it. Most of the swelling had gone down, but he still had dozens of sores on his face. As he yawned he felt a few of them crack and the familiar feeling of blood trickling down his face.
Abacus stood up and nearly tumbled to the floor again. He caught his hand on the windowsill. Using as much strength as he could muster he pulled up the window, poked his head outside and took a big breath of fresh air. Then he threw up into the street below, just barely missing a woman walking down the sidewalk. She grimaced at him and he waved back.
An hour later when Abacus felt he could actually stand for long periods of time he pulled on his breeches and shirt and stumbled down the stairs. He had been in the upstairs of the saloon. The main bar actually had people in it. The bar maid stood behind the bar pouring drinks while he saw the Boy moving between the people carrying drinks or bringing back empty glasses to the kitchen.
Abacus shuffled to the bar, ignoring the strange looks he got from the other patrons and slumped down at one of the stools. He ordered whiskey. The bar maid brought him water instead. After a moment of hesitation he gulped it down and asked for another.
When it died down enough, most of the patrons were only stopping in the town on their way to bigger cities, Abacus got a chance to talk to the Boy and the Bar Maid about what happened.
“Guess once I feel better I’ll have ta’ hunt that monster down again.”
The two exchanged a look, then the Boy said, “Actually, you won’t. We were waiting for you to wake up so you could tell us what to do with it.”
“Do with what?”
“I’ll show you.”
The Bar Maid lead Abacus out back. She pointed at a barrel wrapped in chains.
“When you passed out I flung another bottle at that thing and managed to knock it out. It didn’t turn into spiders or nothing so I found this barrel and crammed it into it.”
Abacus eyed the barrel warily. After a moment he said, “Alright, boy, drag this barrel out into the middle a’ the road. You,” he pointed to the Bar Maid, “I need ya’ ta’ grab two bottles a’ your highest proof liquor and some matches.”
“I have a name, you know.”
“And I’ll learn it later. You be careful with that barrel, boy.”
Minutes later the three of them stood in the middle of the street. The Spider King in the barrel was agitated by the movement. The barrel rocked back and forth slightly. A small crowd of townspeople gathered around to see what the stranger was going to do.
Abacus, who had retrieved his shotgun while the other two fetched their items, fired into the top of the barrel. From inside came an inhuman scream. Abacus quickly snatched one of the bottles of liquor from the bar maid and poured it into the barrel. He lit one of the matches and tossed it inside. Instantly the barrel became a rumbling, shrieking fireball. Everyone on the street, save for Abacus, recoiled from the barrel holding their hands to their ears in an effort to block out the screaming.
Abacus grabbed the other bottle of booze from the Bar Maid and opened it. He took a swig from it, then turned it over and walked a small circle around the barrel. Burning spiders poured from the barrel in an attempt to escape. One of them made it to the circle of liquor Abacus made and started a secondary blaze.
After a while the townsfolk left to go do other things, most of them to gossip about what they had just seen. The only people who stayed to watch the whole thing were Abacus, Shadrach and the Bar Maid. They watched as everything burned down, walking slow circles around the fire in case any spider made it out alive.
“There ya’ go, boy. Monster is dead, evil is punished.”
“Still doesn’t bring my sister back from the dead.”
“Yeah, but it never was gonna’. May as well enjoy this as much as ya’ can.”
Two days later Abacus set out on his donkey. It was a rare time where he had no idea where he should go. No one had contacted him about a new job and he hadn’t heard of any strange goings ons. With the Spider King burnt to a crisp he had no evidence to collect either of the bounties taken out in it. Abacus left alone. The Boy elected to stay and help the Bar Maid. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing and she was nicer than the previous man he worked for. The Bar Maid, named Anna incidentally, agreed since she didn’t want Abacus dragging the Boy to what she thought would be certain death.
Abacus was fine with both their decisions. He set out west, figured he would visit California finally and see the ocean. Swim around it a bit. He didn’t make it that trip, nor did he for ten long years, but that was what happened when you set out to kill monsters.