The Spider Lion
by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson
“The cleaning lady has been eaten,” said Gunni on the phone, looking at the leftovers, and added in a lower tone, “Again.”
It was very dark in the basement. He and his fellows, Thordhur and Benni, had to use flashlights to see where they were going.
“Cleaning lady!” he corrected who he was speaking with on the phone.
His partners looked up.
“No, I’ll fix this myself” he said and shook his rifle. “I’ll shoot that mutant twerp before it causes more damage!”
He turned off the phone
“Are you sure that’s a body?” Thordhur asked. “It kinda looks like vomit.”
“And it smells like vomit,” said Benni.
“That is a body. That thing, for example, is definitely a foot,” said Gunni and kicked a foot that lay in the gunk. “And there’s another, more complete one,” he said and pointed.
They had stumbled upon this when Gunni’s phone had rung. It was a large puddle of foul-smelling gunk that had been stepped into and spread around a bit, and there were tatters of clothing to the sides, along with those two foot-parts and assorted bone fragments. On closer inspection they found a piece of a hand.
“Let’s get out of here. This smells disgusting” said Thordhur.
They walked further along the dark corridor, Thordhur and Benni with their flashlights in one hand and their rifles in the other, but Gunni trailing slightly behind with his rifle in both hands.
“What is this creature, you say?” asked Benni.
“A spider lion. A lion-spider hybrid,” Gunni answered.
“How will we know it when we see it?”
“It mostly resembles a lion, except it is blue and has eight eyes,” said Gunni.
“Are there blue spiders?” asked Thordhur.
“I don’t know,” answered Gunni, “but I know the spider they used for this wasn’t blue at all. Nobody knows why this creature is blue; it just is.”
“And what does a spider lion do?” asked Thordhur. “Are we about to get stuck in some web?”
“No. As far as I know, it does little other than eat cleaning ladies,” said Gunni.
“How does it catch them?” asked Benni.
“Dóri lets his pet out at night sometimes, and then it goes down into the basement where it’s warm and cozy and just snatches one if she happens by. It wasn’t always like that. He let the first one enter the animal’s cage.”
“Why’d he do that” asked Benni.
“To see what’d happen, I suppose. You’d have to ask Dóri.”
* * *
Dóri stood by the elevator on the third floor with Pétur.
“If it comes toward you, use this whistle,” Dóri told Pétur as he handed him the top part of a recorder. “We always use this to call it when we need to feed it its medicine.”
“And how do I recognize it?” asked Pétur.
“It is large and hairy, sort of like a large cat,” said Dóri.
“Why do you call it a spider lion?”
“It’s some African word,” said Dóri.
Pétur accepted that.
The elevator opened.
“Well, I got no time for this. You just go downstairs and whistle a few times, and keep the elevator door open until the animal arrives,” said Dóri, reaching into the elevator. He pressed B for basement, and 6 for top floor, and smiled to Pétur before he left.
Pétur calmly waiter for the elevator to descend to the basement. He felt it a bit suspicious that the lab-test animal had escaped down there, sort of suspecting that Dóri was playing some prank on him, which in turn made him curious about how that prank was supposed to play out, so he just went with it.
The elevator stopped at the basement, and the door opened. The only light came from the elevator. Pétur stepped out a little to have a look around, but there was nothing to see. The hallway disappeared into darkness in both directions, and there was total silence apart from the din of the air conditioning. There was a light switch on the wall. Pétur pressed it. Nothing happened.
Pétur situated himself in the doorway and sighed. Then he needed only whistle a few times and see if some animal didn’t turn up. He grabbed the whistle from his pocket and blew it. The basement echoed.
Pétur stared into the darkness. It was very dark indeed, and could have been filled with all sorts of stuff, but none of it emitted enough noise to overcome the air-con.
Pétur whistled again. He liked the sound of the flute, so he blew it a few more times, wondering if he could make a tune with it. He figured that would be easier with the lower half attached. Sometime back in the day he had learned to play the recorder, and could have recalled some old tunes like “Smoke on the Water.”
He messed with it for a few moments, and was in his own opinion getting a hang of it. Then he decided to have another try for that lion. He put the flute in his pocket and stared into the dark.
He thought he heard some footfalls, but couldn’t be sure. It was impossible to detect any movement in the dark, but if he stayed still and held his breath, then he detected a vague patter coming from somewhere in the hallways. It could be footfalls. And voices.
Pétur blew on the flute again. He listened. The voices became clearer. There was no question, there were at least two men moseying about down there. Pétur stared into the dark to spot those men he figured would soon emerge. Then there was that footfall, like a dog with its claws on the linoleum. It came from the other direction and closed in.
Pétur heard it well and turned around. He was shocked to his core when he saw the creature appear from the shadows. It was far larger and uglier than he had been told to expect. And its jowls...
The creature jogged into he elevator, pushing him inside with it. Pétur held his hands above his head so as to not touch the beast, so awful was it to behold, and so large that there was no way he could push it away or do anything with it.
The beast placed itself in the middle of the floor and sat down. Pétur swallowed. What was he supposed to do now? He saw that the elevator doors were closing. He could maybe get out. He jumped toward the door, but it was too late.
The elevator closed.
* * *
“Was that the elevator?” asked Gunni all of a sudden.
“What?” asked Benni.
“That sound, didn’t you hear it?”
“I heard it,” said Thordhur, “that was definitely the lift.”
“Didn’t everybody know about that animal down there?” asked Gunni.
“I think not,” said Thordhur.
“Maybe the critter has just figured out how to use an elevator,” said Benni.
“A creature that has a brain that’s just the average between a lion and a spider?” asked Gunni, and added, “I think not. Some idiot has just sent the lift down to the basement.”
He ran off, and the others after him. They came around the corner early enough to see the elevator doors close. They looked around and saw that the animal they were looking for was definitely not there. Then Gunni picked up the phone and called.
* * *
Dóri waited by the elevator for it to arrive, in a relaxed mood. He saw the counter slowly tick up. He looked at his watch. This seemed to be taking forever.
Finally the elevator arrived. Dóri situated himself in front of the doors as they slid open. Then the phone rang. Dóri took it and said, “One moment.”
The spider lion sat in the middle of the elevator and watched him. Pétur stood in a corner, looking rather dishevelled, still with his hands raised.
“Come, Depill,” said Dóri, and waved at the animal.
Pétur stood motionless in the elevator and stared at what was happening. Dóri was petting and cooing at this wondrous creature. He stumbled to the door.
“Is that thing named Depill?” he asked Dóri.
“Yup, he has to have some name,” said Dóri, looking up. “How pale you are,” he said when he saw Pétur. “Is something the matter?”
“No, just... your pet,” said Pétur.
“You can’t have thought he’d eat you?”
“Truth be told, yes, the thought occurred to me,” said Pétur.
“That was nonsense worry,” said Dóri and smiled, “because Depill has already eaten.”
“Fine. I’m gonna go get me some coffee,” said Pétur, and walked away.
“Come, Depill,” said Dóri, and walked before the animal, which chased after him. Then he remembered the phone. “Hi, are you still there? Ah, you are... correctly heard, I have the animal... Hmm... no, I cannot allow you to do that... Just do that... No, I can’t be bothered speaking with you more. Bye.”
Dóri hung up and put the phone in his pocket. Then he found the stairs leading up to the roof.
* * *
“The damned twerp has taken the animal to the top floor!” said Gunni, considerably annoyed.
“What do we do then?” asked Benni.
“We wait for the elevator,” said Gunni.
“We could go up the stairs,” said Thordhur.
“I don’t want to,” said Gunni, “and that’ll just make us tired. Maybe we’ll need to drag the carcass somewhere. I don’t want to do that after running up some stairs.”
“We’ll just leave the carcass,” said Thordhur, “Anyone interested in it can keep it.”
Gunni gave him the evil eye.
When the elevator arrived they hurried inside and pressed the relevant button. And the lift took off. It stopped on the third floor. Some office lady entered. She was a bit surprised to see there three men who looked like they were on some kind of a safari but tried to keep aloof as they ascended.
“Are you hunting reindeer?” she asked.
They looked at one another.
“No, lion,” said Gunni most seriously.
The elevator stopped on the top floor and they exited.
* * *
Dóri could not find stairs leading to the roof, so he pushed Depill up through a skylight instead. That was quite the workout, as the critter weighed well over 120 kilograms. But he still succeeded, and Dóri hurried out after it, because he thought he heard Gunni and friends approaching.
The roof had a slight incline, enough for water to slide off but not so much as to make it difficult to get good footing.
“Well, Depill, let us see if your string works or not,” Dóri said as he rubbed his palms together.
He found the animal’s silk-glands, situated on the rear, and dragged from there a thin, sticky thread. He pulled out a length of it, tying the end around the skylight from which they had emerged. Then he led Depill to the roof’s edge.
“Well, Depill, I don’t know how you feel about this altitude, but...” he could not think of anything more to say. Depill just stood still and seemed to observe the city, but it was hard to tell, since he had eight eyes that each pointed in its own direction.
Dóri kicked him over the edge. He rolled over, but did not go far, dangling in the air until he got footing against the wall, and started to walk in a calm and orderly fashion down the wall. He had gone all the way down when Gunni stuck his head up through the skylight.
“There you are, you villain,” he said when he spotted Dóri.
Dóri looked at him and grinned. It didn’t take Gunni too long to clumb up, but when he’d arrived to the edge, Depill had gotten himself loose and was walking away from the building.
Luckily, not many were around, as usual for the area, and the critter made it rather far before Gunni spotted it. Gunni aimed his rifle at Depill, but couldn’t get him in his crosshairs soon enough, and he got into cover before Gunni got a clear aim on him.
“Bother,” exclaimed Gunni when he saw that Depill was out of sight. “You realize what this means, don’t you?”
“Yes, now he’ll live free from barbarians such as you,” said Dóri smiling.
“Yeah, and he can probably eat a lot more people,” said Gunni calmly. “And you probably know what that means, don’t you?”
Dóri just smiled.
“You have already fed him four cleaning ladies,” said Gunni.
“They are called sanitation technicians now,” Dóri corrected him.
“Cleaning ladies,” Gunni corrected back.
“Did you see it?” asked Thordhur, who’d just arrived.
Gunni nodded and pointed. Thordhur looked but saw nothing.
“Benni, we have to go downstairs again,” said Thordhur.
“Each of the cleaning ladies was on salary, about 250.000 kr. a month I think, let’s say for sake of argument,” Gunni told Dóri, “plus another 250K that we have to pay for all sorts of insurance, union fees and what all those things are called, so each and every one of them cost us 500.000 kr. a month.
“But that doesn’t matter, I’ll tell you what this has cost society: the state eventually takes from them on average about 80% of their pay through income tax, sales tax and all sorts of customs and peripheral taxes. That makes 200.000.
“A quarter of that is used just to calculate the tax and move the money about in the system without anything of worth getting done with it, and of what is left after that we can safely assume that at least 10% gets used for nonsense that is of profit for nobody. Given the most optimistic estimates, of course.
“The rest, something between 100-150K goes into healthcare, police, roads... the lot, and that all costs the state at least 30% more than it would have cost a private entity, so we’re probably talking about a loss of something around 100K a month for society as a whole.
“Which means that every year since you gave them to your pet to eat, and until each of them had reached seventy years of age, you have cost society 1.2 million.”
“That was an interesting but irrelevant rant there. You just reduced our sanitation technicians to money. You are a sociopath,” said Dóri.
“Hey, it wasn’t I who let loose a man-eating monster downtown,” said Gunni.
“Depill is no monster,” said Dóri.
* * *
Depill ran unmolested into a suburb. Many saw him, and some phoned the police to report that a horse or polar bear was suddenly loose.
Depill hid in a garage in some cul-de-sac and lay down to sleep under a table, hidden from wandering eyes behind some tyres and a lawnmower.
Evening fell, and the owners of the garage arrived home. The car fit snugly into it despite the chaos. They exited their car and entered their house without becoming aware of or interrupting Depill.
* * *
The police stopped Gunni and company where they drove around looking for the spider lion. Twenty men armed with machine guns showed up, stopped them, broke most windows in their car and beat to a pulp a teenage girl that had been passing by.
When Gunni and his friends were released from custody a week later, they heard of Depill’s exploits.
“He has already eaten an entire family,” said Gunni when he’d read the paper.
“But it doesn’t say anywhere in the paper that he did,” said Benni.
“Yes it does, see here: it says that samples from the scene indicate that a body has been present. Note how they didn’t find a body, just a sample. Or puddles of puke,” said Gunni.
“And what are we supposed to do about that?” Thordhur asked. “The police have confiscated our rifles.”
“Use spears?” asked Gunni.
“I don’t know, I’m thinking about going on an extended holiday,” said Thordhur.
“We have to get this critter,” said Gunni.
“It’s big, fast and spews poison, I’m not going near enough to poke it with some stick,” said Thordhur.
“Me neither,” said Benni. “Look there, they are advertising cheap trips to foreign countries.”
“All right then, go out of the country,” said Gunni and thought about it. Then he added: “I’ll come with.”
“But the spider lion?”
“The police must be able to swing it.”
* * *
Dóri grinned to the ears every time he read in the paper about Depill’s meals. They believed that a mysterious criminal group went into random houses and dissolved people in acid. Sometimes Depill was seen moseying around near by, but he was still mainly nocturnal, and thus seldom seen at all and was never connected to any of those numerous deaths.
Dóri leaned back in his chair. His superiors suspected nothing. They didn’t know what features and abilities Depill had and didn’t know better than he’d been destroyed. There was just one thing that bothered him slightly.
If Depill died from old age and was found, people would start digging around for his origins, and there weren’t many places he could have come from. It would be traced to him in fifteen minutes if the police thought to call the company.
Dóri still took it easy, and gathered money for two years before he moved from the country.
* * *
Of course the mysterious gang of murderers was never found, nor was the strange creature that so many had seen. Exactly two years after they began, the murders suddenly stopped happening, and so did all the creature sightings.
Gunni found out everything in the papers. He decided to wait a year or so before going home, just to be on the safe side, if the critter had gone into a pupa or something. He knew nothing about that species. Not much apart from its diet, that is. It had to eat once a week or so.
And what if it laid eggs?
Gunni put the paper away and decided to relax in the sun a bit longer.
Copyright © 2018 by sgrímur Hartmannsson