Prose Header

Raising Hackles

by Anastasia Kalos

It is rare to encounter a pyramid outside of Vegas, Egypt, Central America, or the Louvre, in Paris, but this glass structure caught my imagination. It rose out of the arid landscape like a temple. I rode toward it.

It’s a tendency of mine to investigate new places. It’s been my life since human complacency gave a virus a piggyback ride. It evolved into a super-disease that wiped out more than two-thirds of every nation and eradicated smaller island populations. A mutated form of Ebola, Marburg or SARS? No one really knows.

I clock up many miles each day, taking various routes, looking for scrap to sell. This day I tried Route 19, over the Georgia state line. I’d lost track of the miles when the distant reflection of glass caught my eye.

Despite my fatigue and minor sunburn, I pedaled until I reached an abandoned base of some kind. I stopped a few feet away and walked the rest.

Around me, signposts with faded words such as ‘military,’ ‘biotechnology’ and ‘research’ marked plots of buildings that had become flattened out like cardboard packing boxes.

Upon closer inspection of the glass, I noticed the shapes and colours of various leaves and flowers but also small perforations that allowed air to pass in small quantities. It was new to me, and I continued, my mind stroked by curiosity. I pressed my face against the glass and relished its warm kiss against my cheek.

Moisture collected on each diagonal pane in small, silvery beads, and various plants adhered to panels. With my face against the warm glass, I inhaled deep and held my breath, thinking that I detected the fragrance of chlorophyll and moist earth.

This pyramid could have been another bio-dome experiment, which would be great, I thought. It would be better than the old Costco freight container I shared with three strangers. It was time to focus on the positive, and roughly estimate this potential house, for I already pictured myself living here happily.

I began to walk the perimeter, found a clearer glass pane and shielded my eyes to minimise glare. Light streamed in from the upper side and fanned out in thick beams that danced with the greenest leaves I’d seen in a long time.

When I spotted a handle jutting out of a glass panel at waist level, my excitement rose. As I pulled it toward me, the glass panel opened like a chute. Opened fully, the space could easily accommodate a human adult. But there was plenty of time for internal exploration. The paneling held my attention for the way it redirected light.

I followed the light to its destination and saw scattered bones with human signifiers: a pelvis, two femurs and a damaged skull. Gooseflesh broke out in the dry heat. So much for the bio-dome, I thought, but maybe whoever had died here, had perished from illness or starvation.

A tapping, scratching sound interrupted that thought. The tapping had to be imaginary, much like moments when you begin to drift into blissful sleep, for that impact in your head, like a thunderbolt jolting you out of your languor. I looked around and laughed at my paranoia, but the bones dangled in my mind like wind chimes. I told myself that I could easily move the bones and move in.

A twitching sound, the kind that raises the hackles, brought me round. One sweeping movement threw me off balance. I looked up and a jewel-like array of eyes stared back. Two saucer-wide eyes pleaded, while the lower row of four smaller eyes glared blankly.

The creature’s patchy face looked like it had undergone twenty rounds with a mallet. Its front legs tapped the glass. Each tip resembled a fused human hand. Its black and rust-coloured bristles were a few inches wide and as long as a feather duster. I could see each individual fibre twitching.

Its other legs followed. Judas priest! I thought. It had eight legs and shifted fast, to display shiny black fangs. When the fangs met the glass, a clear viscous fluid dripped from each tip like a strand of pearls.

A little smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle, this creature appeared to frown like a human. Its frown, fused hand-like leg tips and muscularity pointed to the human curiosity and scientific ingenuity that accompanied old phrases like ‘super foods’, ‘fountain of youth,’ ‘future warfare’ and other futile endeavours.

As though sensing my suspicion and rising fear, the spider turned to display its bulbous rear. Its back legs rubbed against its body, releasing bristles that flew off like bomb shrapnel. Some bristles hit the perforated glass pane with an audible metallic clang.

My heart pounded, and each pulse churned more adrenalin. I watched the creature’s slow elegant movements, my mind still in partial disbelief at the hideous scene before me. I’d almost forgotten about the glass panel barrier. So did the spider, for it lunged and gripped the pane until its four legs splayed out.

My limbs felt like jelly, but I did move eventually. My bike was less was three feet away, yet it felt like an eternity and I almost fell trying to grip the handlebars.

I backed away, muttering some gibberish. I’m not a crying man, but tears soaked my cheeks. Words tumbled out of my mouth, as if I’d regressed to infancy, but that didn’t last long. My feet operated automatically, locating the pedals.

As I pedalled away, trying to flush the image out of my mind, I thought I heard a primal shriek. This was impossible at such a distance, through the small perforations in the glass, but I eventually put it all down to the intrinsic survival instinct.

I pedalled faster, until my thighs screamed from the build-up of lactic acid. Even at speed, the dry stillness prevailed. Coughing in response to the dust, I briefly pictured the spider’s hairs hitting the glass. It was only when I was a few miles away, as sweat coated my back, that I relaxed a little. There were a few red-tailed hawks overhead. Each bird descended toward a distant spot and I followed, to discover a lake.

Call it hope, excitement or intrigue, I took out a near-empty water bottle from my rucksack and refilled. The hawks flew away after they had rehydrated, leaving me to gather my thoughts.

I watched larger than usual dragonflies hover over the lake and considered the concatenation of economic crises, population changes and climatic rebound over three decades of my life. Computer networks had caved in and servers dissolved after numerous patch-overs failed, yet here I sat, relishing the stillness.

I realised that I’d live out my days like an old-world adventurer who took the good with the horrifying. Despite humankind’s pernicious habits and resulting desolation, life progressed at a pace that would have made Darwin proud. This thought burrowed under my skin as I pedalled away from the lake and followed the orange-magenta glow of sunset, knowing that the path ahead would open out to adventures that stretched further than the sun.

Copyright © 2015 by Anastasia Kalos

Proceed to Challenge 610...

Home Page