Dani sat uncomfortably across from her date wishing that she were anywhere else in the world. She wished that she were somewhere quieter; somewhere she didn’t have to wear a ridiculous skirt and make-up. Anywhere it wasn’t over 90 degrees in the evening. It had been a long time since she had been on a date, a first date anyway, but she was sure that guys liked it when you listened to their stories and laughed at their jokes. It was hard to focus. She wanted to not only listen to her date, but to care about what he had to say.
She had met Carl on a dating website and after much encouragement from friends to “get back out there” she had agreed to go out for drinks. Only drinks.
“Hey, you wanna get out of here?” Carl asked softly, leaning in and placing his hand on her knee.
Dani’s body tensed. She did want to get out of there but she knew in her heart that she was in no place emotionally to “get out of here” with any guy.
Dani quickly moved her knee, tucking both legs under the small table. “It’s actually a little late for me.”
“But the night is young,” he said playfully.
“Well I’m not. If I don’t get my full eight hours of sleep, I can’t function. It’s a sign of getting old.”
“Your profile said you’re twenty-six. Did you fudge the numbers a little?”
Dani smiled. “No I actually am twenty-six, but a very old twenty-six. I’m usually in bed by this time; face cream on and curlers in my hair,” she said with a smile.
“Do you have one of those diving bell night gowns that buttons all the way up to your chin?”
“Fresh!” she said coyly as she playfully smacked his shoulder.
Good banter, she thought. She certainly appreciated the verbal foreplay but knew that it was time to go home alone. “OK, I really need to go now if I want to catch the Tram.”
“At least let me drive you to the station. I’m parked in the garage next door.”
“Thanks but I need the fresh air. These drinks are going right to my head.” She stood to leave and felt more lightheaded than expected and felt like she was walking on a trampoline. Surprised by how intensely the two mixed drinks had affected her she realized that she hadn’t eaten, only a quick snack of shrimp crackers at home while she dressed. The vodka on her empty stomach must have been a bit more than her petite body could handle.
As she swayed she felt Carl’s hands around her waist guiding her through the crowd. Her mind drifted as she reveled in the sensation of a man’s strong hands on her body.
Through the haze, she thought she spotted her ex, Andy. She had broken up with Andy only a month prior when she realized that he was not ready for a relationship and most likely would never be. Their relationship had stagnated after 2 years and upon confronting Andy about their future Danie had realized it was best to part ways before she let him hurt her down the road. As she took another step, guided by Carl, she realized that Andy wasn’t a trick of her mind but a real-life fresh hell that she was slowly walking toward. Before she could avoid him, Andy looked up and locked eyes with her and smiled.
Dani attempted to smile casually, but she was unable to control her features. Sending a conscious direction to her facial muscles, “smile damn you!” she thought as Andy stepped away from his friend and took the five steps to be face to face with her.
“What are you doing here?” he asked with a knowing smile. He knew that large clubs with loud music had never been her scene.
“Of all the bars in all the world,” Dani slurred.
Andy smiled awkwardly. “I was just talking about you earlier tonight. We went and saw that new Meryl Streep movie, and I mentioned how much you love her.”
“I still do,” Dani said. Before she could say anything else, a young lady sidled up next to Andy, wrapped her arm around the small of his back, and whispered in his ear before laughing wildly.
Andy smiled and motioned to Dani. “Vickie, this is Dani. She’s the one I told you about.”
“What have you been telling this whore of a skank about me?” Dani thought.
“This is Vickie.”
Dani extended her hand noticing it felt amazingly heavy. Vickie shook it with one solid pump. Dani cringed silently as she felt Vickie’s ice cold hand–like grasping a rubber glove filled with icy twigs.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Dani said politely before losing her balance and falling against Carl.
Andy’s furrowed his brow. “You OK?” he asked.
Before she could respond, Carl spoke. “Hi, I’m Carl, Dani’s boyfriend.” Dani smiled. Her knight in shining armor had come to her rescue, saving her from embarrassment. “Dani and I have been celebrating tonight. I’m going to take her home now, but it was a pleasure meeting both of you.” Carl shook both Andy and Vickie’s hands before turning and quickly guiding Dani out of the bar.
* * * * * * * *
Dani’s legs were like limp pasta. Her head was a boulder threatening to roll off down the slopes of her body at any moment. She was disoriented from the drinks and seeing Andy with another woman had drained her will to move or to speak. She blacked out.
* * * * * * * *
Where am I? Dani thought. The parking garage. Carl had opened his car door and was gently guiding her into the back seat. She felt the cold leather on her thighs, it burned as Carl dragged her roughly across the seat. She blacked out.
* * * * * * * *
Dani was alone in the dark back seat of the car, lying on her side. The next moment she was sitting upright with Carl by her side. She spoke, but heard her voice trickle out in murmurs and slurs. She blacked out.
* * * * * * * *
Dani came to on her back. She could feel Carl’s large hands pushing up her skirt and tugging at her underwear. Dani shook her head slowly and tried to raise her hands. She felt like she had sandbags strapped to her wrists. Through the fog, Dani could see Carl’s face, still as stone, his breath deep and rapid as he greedily traced his fingers up her inner thigh. She screamed out but the sound came as low, guttural whimpers. Carl had pulled her underwear down and she could feel his rough and calloused hands prying her legs apart. Carl crawled on top of her and began whispering comforting words as if talking to a child or attempting to coax a frightened animal.”Be a good girl. Shh. Shh,” he whispered softly.
“You are not going to let this happen,” a voice in Dani’s head demanded. “This man is going to get nothing from you. Nothing. Now make it stop. Now!”
Dani once again tried to raise her hands and her knees in defense but had no control over her own body. She was certain she’d been drugged. Once again she tried to scream at him, or scream so anyone could hear, but the sound came out a garbled choke. “MAKE IT STOP!” the voice demanded again. “MAKE IT STOP, NOW!” Dani attempted to speak again, feeling the bile rise in her throat. Unable to move her arms or legs, she lurched forward, her head falling across Carl’s back. She felt her stomach lurch and immediately tasted vomit in her throat. Dani’s mouth fell open as the two drinks and partially digested salty snack spewed from her throat, spilling across Carl’s neck and hair.
Dani felt her head slightly clear, relieved by expelling the contents in her stomach. Although her vision was still blurred and her head was swimming, she could once again feel her limbs. She forced her hand to rise to the handle of the car door and throw it open. With all the force she could muster, she pulled herself out of the car, falling face first onto the concrete.
“You stupid bitch!” she heard. Through the haze and glare of the overhead lights, Dani could make out the faint outline of Carl’s body rounding the car and coming toward her. He looked shocked and disgusted. Still warm vomit covering his head.
She tried to stand to defend herself or run away. She had to do neither as Carl simply stepped over her to the car.
“YOU STUPID FUCKING BITCH!” he screamed from the driver’s seat. He started the car, tires squealing as he raced off around the corner of the parking structure.
Dani waited for the taillights to disappear before she pushed herself up. She rose to her feet and stood, attempting to get used to balancing upon her shaky legs. She walked out of the garage one step at a time, like a large baby taking its first steps. Shielding her eyes from the painful glow of the fluorescent lights, she followed the painted arrows to the exit.
* * * * * * * *
Never had she seen a Manhattan street so desolate. Not one body occupied the block. She wanted to run to someone and tell them what had happened to her but feared that a stranger may do something worse than Carl had attempted. All she needed was to be home, safe in her bed behind a locked door.
She began to walk, guided by muscle memory. She avoided eye contact from passersby; keeping them in her peripheral vision. After walking for what felt like days, the illuminated sign for the Roosevelt Island Tram filled her blurry vision.
Normally she despised the slow, dangling boxcar as a mode of transportation, but at that moment it was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen. Dani broke into a staggered, awkward run.. She pushed through the door to the station as the Tram doors opened, dutifully awaiting her. She barely made onto the tram before the doors slid closed behind her.
She threw herself into the seat and laid her head against the wall, breathing deeply. The Tram began to shook as it departed the station. It slowly rose on the cables, carrying her across the East River–toward home.
* * * * * * * *
Home. Dani felt a great and frantic anticipation. She concentrated on images from her apartment to calm her causing her muscles to relax and stop shaking. Her eyes fluttered as the chemicals coursing through her veins once again began to overtake her. All of the fear, tension, pain and anger started to dissipate from her heart as she fell into a light sleep.
She was in the canopy bed that she had slept in as a child. The blankets smelled of fabric softener. A gentle breeze pushed through the open window bringing in delicate tendrils of flowers that floated on the breeze in summer. She called them “fuzzies” when she was a child. A wind chime softly played cacophonous yet soothing melody. Dani suddenly sensed that she was not alone. Something under the bed? She curled her body into a ball, tucking her feet under her nightgown. She knew that if she moved, she would be taken away. Something was there waiting. Watching and waiting for her to move so that it could grab her and take her to its cave from which she would never return.
* * * * * * * *
A loud noise woke Dani from her dream. Shaking, she scanned the tram for the source. She was not alone in the carriage. An elderly man, obviously homeless by the state of his clothes and haggard appearance, was sleeping at the opposite end of the Tram. His arms hung limp at his sides, his mouth hanging open. His head slowly rolled from side to side in tune with the movement of the hanging carriage. On the floor by the man was an open suitcase. It was not a rolling suitcase like most New Yorkers carried on the tram, but a very old-fashioned, hard shell case with a handle. The kind a regular traveler would have once placed colorful stickers on; showing off all of the destinations they had visited. This particular case was bare, scuffed and marked with streaks of dirt. She could see a pair of gabardine slacks and a white shirt, alonng with a slew of shredded newspaper. There was a trail of the shredded mess leading more than three feet across the tram floor to the case.
Dani wiped the sleep from her eyes. The tram made a succession of indefinable noise. She immediately recognized them as the sounds that had awoken her. There was a rapid “click-clack” like several screwdrivers being jabbed into sheet metal. She recalled a recent story in the news. Before she had moved to Roosevelt Island, the Tram had stalled in the middle of the cable, leaving passengers suspended above the river for hours. All Dani wanted was to be home, in her bed, safe and fast asleep. She wanted the Tram to arrive on the island safely so she could walk the two blocks to her front door. She was so close to being home!
She heard the noise again and looked up, attempting to find the source. She wished she could see through to the wheels and cables above her to prove to herself that nothing was wrong. As Dani stared upward, the movement of a dark shape caught her attention. She quickly turned her head back toward the sleeping man, but the sudden movement caused her eyes to swim. She had to concentrate and squint to focus clearly. All she could see at first was a dark shape near the man’s calf. The shape moved slowly and began to ascend the man’s leg. She looked harder, not sure of what she was seeing. Dani’s breath came in ragged gasps as she finally made out the details.
It was the size of a coconut crab, an animal which Dani had only seen in pictures. Its body was covered in thick, course hair that stood up in most places and was matted down in coarse patches in others. I had eight legs like a spider. Where the legs met the creature’s body, they were as thick as her wrist, but tapered to needle-sharp points at their ends. It had a thin phallic head like a turtle, and jagged, visible fangs. An entire mouthful of fangs that chattered like the thing was shivering from cold.
Dani watched in terror as the thing made its way up the man’s legs. It’s legs pierced his skin as it pulled itself up along his body. She could see his pants tearing and blood dribbling out of the cuffs.
Her body was telling her to run, but she knew there was nowhere to go. She was trapped in a twenty-by-ten tram car and she was helpless. Dani could only watch as the thing crept up the man’s legs and into his lap. The creature lowered its turtle head to the man’s abdomen, extended its neck and pushed its face into the shirt as if sniffing him.
Dani heard a wet crunch. It tore through the fabric and into the man’s stomach. The head began to thrust in and out of the wound, making a sickening slurping sound as it feasted on gore.
Hot tears ran down Dani’s cheeks. The man just sat, his only movements in response to the creature’s thrusting. He must have been incapacitated or dead before the creature joined them.
Forcing herself to quickly glance away from the creature, Dani could see the dim lights of Roosevelt Island slowly approaching. In about two minutes the tram would stop, it’s doors would open, and she would flee. Leaving the spider-like creature to finish it’s feast.
The creature burrowed deeper still. Viscous blood flowed around the thing’s neck, staining the dead man’s light-colored shirt. The creature’s neck swelled as it swallowed bits of gore and viscera. Sluuuuurp. CRUNCH! Dani covered her ears and winced.
The animal withdrew its head from the man’s stomach cavity. It was enrobed in gore. The thing whipped its head to the side then rested its black eyes directly on Dani. Hisssssss. It leaped from the man’s legs and onto the Tram floor. Click-clack reverberated in the metal tram car as it skittered rapidly toward her.
Dani leaped from her seat. The sudden movement caused her head to swirl. Her legs went limp, bringing Dani crashing to the floor. The click-clack grew closer as Dani pushed herself up with her arms. She pulled her knee toward her chest beginning to right herself when a sudden weight pushed her to the floor. The side of her face planted against the cold linoleum as the beast weighed her down. It was heavy. Either much heavier than it should have been based on its size or Dani was much weaker from being drugged than she had previously thought. The tips of its claws pierced through her shirt.
Dani screamed as she began to thrash about in an attempt to throw the monster from her body. She felt hot blood trickling from the punctures in her skin, staining her shirt and leaking to the floor. Thick hair brushed her neck and she could her a present chattering. She felt intense heat on her back, like a red-hot knife. Screaming became wailing as the pain seared through her body. She threw her body up and twisted in the air, bringing herself down onto her back. Power-slam. A rush of relief washed over her as the needles withdrew. In a flash she pushed herself away, pulling herself backwards across the floor, keeping a watchful eye on the thing. Its legs flailed about. Then it used its weight to roll over completely, landing on the points at the ends of its legs. It stood motionless, its head pointed directly at Dani. The thing slowly bobbed up and down on its legs, its body tense and ready to spring.
Weakened and limp, Dani clung to the vertical pole to her side and slowly pulled herself up. She wanted to glance behind her to see how close they were to the Tram station but could not bring herself to take her eyes off of the monster. They both stood, rigid and motionless, awaiting the other’s action. Her hand tightened around the rail. She would need to hold on for balance should the creature attack. A rush of dizziness washed over her, making her head swim. Not now! the voice in her head said as she attempted to regain control. The heat from the puncture on her back spread through her body, reaching into every muscle. Dani realized she had been stung by the creature just as the old man must have been. Her legs began to weaken and her death grip on the railing loosened despite her conscious effort. “Fight!” the voice in Dani’s head boomed a moment before she felt her entire body go numb, causing her to crash to the ground. A slow wave washed over Dani pushing her into unconsciousness. The blood rushed in her ears but she heard the click-clack of the creature’s claws. The darkness overtook her.
* * * * * * * *
Dani was once again in her childhood bed. There were no familiar smells, no “fuzzies” drifting through the windows, no sound from outside. Only darkness. Shapes and shadows crept across the walls and floors. Everything was silent. Dani sat in the middle of her bed, knees pulled up to her chest, breathing deep and listening intently. The click-clack sound skittered across the floor beneath her bed. Dani knew that if she moved, even an inch, that the monster would be able to take her. She wanted to cry out for help, but she was alone. As a child, in that bed, she had rarely if ever been alone in the house, but she knew that now, as the creature crept beneath her bed, that she was completely alone. No one would come save her. No shining knight would slay the demon. She would surely die alone.
Dani awoke to a blinding overhead light. She squinted and within seconds realized that she was no longer on the Tram, but enclosed within the thick curtains of an emergency room examination area. She pushed her legs to the side and whipped back the covers. She began to stand but feared that the thing was under the bed. She leaned over and cautiously peered under the bed. When the curtain to her examination area was pulled back, Dani jumped and withdrew. She pulled the covers to her neck before seeing an elderly male doctor standing before her. She cried tears of relief.
* * * * * * * *
“When you think about it the dream you had of this monster makes sense. My field isn’t psychology but it would make sense to dream of a monster with knives for legs after being attacked by a man with a knife.” The doctor reminded her of her grandfather.
“But he didn’t have a knife. I’m sure of it,” she asserted.
“You did say you weren’t completely lucid during the attack and there are several cuts on your back. Perhaps you simply didn’t see the knife.”
“I know what I saw,” Dani insisted.
The doctor paused, took a deep breath and nodded. “Have you ever heard of Ockham’s Razor?” he asked softly.
“Is it some new kind of painless hair removal system?” she responded sarcastically forcing a smile.
The man’s own smile broadened as he placed his clipboard across his lap. “No, it’s actually a scientific principle that states that all things being equal, the most logical explanation is probably the correct one.” Dani nodded. “Now when you think about it, which is more probable: that you were attacked by a malcontent from the Internet brandishing a knife or that you were attacked by some monstrous, giant spider creature?” His smile warmed her and made her feel somewhat foolish.
“But what about the dead man?”
The doctor’s smile faded and he nodded knowingly. “The police said that the man had been dead for hours before you boarded. He was obviously stabbed, although they have no idea by whom. Other passengers probably just thought that he was asleep all day.” Dani lowered her head into her hands and visualized every image of her time on the Tram and tried to reconcile the two theories to determine the truth. She shook her head and began to cry. “Honey, I know the mind can play tricks, especially when under the influence of whatever drug he slipped you, but you have to think: is everything equal? Isn’t the most logical possibility truly the most likely?” He placed his hand on her shoulder before Dani buried her face in the doctor’s shoulder and wept.
* * * * * * * *
The next day Dani sat alone in her apartment staring blankly at the images on the television. She cuddled herself under the warm blanket, reveling in the warmth and softness of the fabric even though the temperature made it unnecessary.
The telephone rang and Dani saw the caller ID displaying Andy’s name. He had obviously heard through mutual friends about the event and was calling to check on her. Dani declined the call and went back to her mindless television.
She replayed the events of that night in her head over and over again, trying to determine how one theory could logically trump the other. Each answer led to more questions until she eventually felt as if she would go insane if she thought about it any longer. Dani finally chose to believe what everyone had told her. It was true, that the most logical answer was definitely the correct one. Dani flipped the channel and stared at the images, comforted by the company of late night television. She put the events out of her mind and focused on the entertainment. Sitting alone in her apartment, laugh tracks assuring her that everything was all right. Nothing was coming for her. There was no one, or no thing coming to take her away. Everything was equal.