“Can you get it sorted, please?” she said into the phone. “Look, I have to go, the kids are screaming about something. Call me tomorrow.” She thumbed the phone to hang up, plunked it down on the coffee table and strode over to the French doors leading to the back garden.
She squinted into the sunlight, searching the glare for the shape of her son. Little Ken — or probably today Captain Ken of the fearsome pirate ship Fantasticness or somesuch — was running towards her from the bushes. Close behind flew his first mate, Doug, who she was recently informed was also the captain of his own ship Dadscar, the ‘coolest’ ship upon the seven seas. Yet these two Terrors of the Tides seemed quite distraught at whatever they had unearthed in the treasure-filled cove that lay between the garden shed and Mrs. Cruston’s leylandii.
“Mum! Mum!” yelled Ken as they cannoned into the living room and performed a volte-face upon the faded carpet. “The crocorpions are coming!”
“Crocorpions?” Eyebrows gently raised while the boys tried to hide behind her and each other at the same time. “I suppose that’s a cross between…”
“There! Right there on the side of the shed!” Her eyes followed along the line of the five-year-old finger that extended outwards away from the back of the house. There was something there. Some darker smudge on the shed’s wood panelling, indistinct to tired middle-age eyes straining against the sun.
A shadow from the trees?
She took a step out onto the patio. Hand raised to forehead to shield her eyes.
“What is it, Mrs. Wilbourne?”
“I’m not sure, Doug. Maybe it’s just a…”
The shed was painted light green, and there was a small window cut into the wooden panels. On the panel next to the window, about the size of two hand spans… did it just move slightly?
A large spider?
It had been a jerky movement, sudden, too quick for something cute, not like a shadow waving in the breeze…
She stepped onto the lawn. She felt the cool grass curling up over her sandals. A few more steps forward. Behind her, the boys were rooted to the carpet, unmoving, barely breathing, imaginations concocting trauma like runaway trains.
Then she realised her own breathing had stopped, lungs and chest tight. A tremor in her arms. A few more steps brought more definition to the alien shape. Dark red, but the sunlight reflected a little somehow, giving it an indistinct appearance. It did have legs, too many of them. They suggested the ability to move more quickly than should be allowed, intimating a scuttling motion that would penetrate tonight’s nightmares. A thick body too, perhaps a carapace. She searched the corners of her vision for branches or some other offensive weapon, now not daring to move her focus from the creature ahead.
It was watching her in return. She could tell, somehow. Perhaps it was tensed, prepared for flight… or attack… was it playing dead or preparing to strike? She stood perhaps two metres away now. She could make out black pincers and a barbed tail.
She turned her head to say something to the boys, then Ken yelled at the top of his lungs. She whipped her head back in the direction of the shed. The shape was no longer there. The creature had vanished… no… jumped. Sprung towards where she stood. A dark blur fell among the blades of grass not two paces from her toes.
A cry loosed itself from her throat and she backpedalled, then turned, but the images came with her. That fearsome scuttling motion, and a jaw, hinging upwards, rows and rows of bright white teeth.
Not a scorpion then. Something else.
Just three paces back towards the house and her brain kicked in. Don’t lead it towards the children. She broke left and looked back, as it mounted the patio tiles, but mercifully changed course away from the door and towards her.
Parental strength rose through her and she stabbed her right foot out and down, aiming over the teeth for the head. The barbed tail jabbed forth and she felt a sharp pain in her thigh. She fell to the side and landed heavily between two plastic garden chairs, one of which she grabbed with outstretched palm and flung in the monster’s direction. It grazed the tail but missed the body, at least giving the creature pause, a high-pitched hissing now emanating from between those gleaming white fangs. It shook, and jerked to the left and right, then stood still, eyeing up its prey.
“Boys!” She cried, gathering her muscles to leap to her feet.
Then a wooden slab – a cricket bat, in fact – arced through the air and landed heavily upon the thing, squelching out a liquid that oozed further with two repeated strikes.
She looked along the cricket bat to the handle, saw wrinkled yet wiry knuckles, a floral printed sleeve, a small circle of pearls, and finally the face of Mrs. Cruston. Half smiling, half crying. Fear, glee, horror, triumph.
“Come along, Mrs. Wilbourne,” said Mrs. Cruston, holding out her other hand. “There are more all around. Let’s get inside.”