Jessica and Latasha agreed on Saturday as the only feasible day to do it before final exams and Christmas break. It was not going to be easy following a trail that was a week old, but Jessica was content to make her test as hard as possible. After all, she was not sure she could follow a trail, even if it was freshly made.
Jessica had her WhAK, her newly named wicked army knife strapped to her belt. It stayed hidden beneath her jacket. What she could not hide well was the bow and arrows. She was not allowed a gun, nor did she want to get tagged for carrying a concealed weapon, even if she was nominally on police business. A bow and arrows, though, was still considered sports for the most part. She was not sure, but she imagined one did not exactly need a permit to carry those.
Latasha carried her ax that she got last year for use against the zombies. Detective Lisa had gotten a cover for it so it did not look like the weapon it was. All the same, Latasha carried it cradled in her arms like a weapon, or perhaps like a baby.
When they arrived at the strip mall with the multi-plex, Jessica first examined the side of the building. She was studying where the spider went up when a young man came out from the back of the building and pulled out a small knife.
“You two got money,” the man said. “Give it to me.”
Jessica looked at the man’s little excuse for a knife and really wanted to say, “That’s not a knife,” and pull out hers. She saw that once in a movie, but Latasha moved too swiftly. She twisted the man’s hand so the knife fell, and then she flat-handed the man in the chest so he crashed back against the side of the building and slid to his seat, moaning and shaking his head.
The girls turned to go to the front and Jessica spoke. “You make that look too easy.” Latasha just grinned.
They had a difficult time convincing the movie theater manager to let them up on the roof. They had to call Mitzy and she sent officer Dickenson to cover. With the police present, the manager conceded, though he considered making them get a warrant first because the lock to the roof hatch was a bear.
Once up, Jessica looked left and right and in three seconds she said, “Thank you. It went back down that way.”
Latasha and officer Dickenson were curious. They saw nothing until they went over to where Jessica pointed and saw a little bit of what could only be called webbing. The officer touched it, and it was still a bit sticky after a week. “How did you see that?” Dickenson asked. Jessica shrugged. She did not dare tell them she could still see the little spider footprints across the roof.
When they got back down from the roof, Jessica picked up the trail and never wavered for an hour and a half. They made their way all around the outside of the University. She was amazed at the signs she saw—things that Latasha never noticed. To her, they were obvious signs of spider passage. She seriously impressed herself, but then wondered once or twice if it would lead to the spider’s lair or if she was just seeing things because she wanted to.
When they got to the Hive, a fancy restaurant that doubled after nine as a student night spot with live, loud music, Jessica knew they were close and they called for back-up as instructed. Latasha pointed out the Channel 5, Eyewitness News truck parked at the restaurant.
“Liquid lunch,” Jessica suggested, but then she pulled her bow and arrows inside her jacket as well as she could so they would not be obvious or attract undue attention.
Dickenson came again and followed in his police car as slowly and quietly as he could through the back alleys until they were outside an old abandoned warehouse.
“I understand there were some major events in these back warehouses last year. I participated in the raid on the zombie lab,” Officer Dickenson whispered.
“No, but it might be a pet of something that does,” Jessica countered in a whisper. She was thinking of the bogyman last summer and his pet bogy beast. And then she added a word of doubt. “I could be wrong,” she said. Latasha touched Jessica on the arm and smiled her encouragement.
“Hold on,” Dickenson said. “I have something that might help here.” He went to the trunk of his patrol car and rummaged around for a minute. He pulled out a canister that was designed to work as a blow torch. Latasha wondered why a policeman would have such a thing in his trunk, but Jessica knew the man understood that this was no ordinary spider. Jessica got the bow off her shoulder and fit an arrow loosely on the string. Latasha kept her ax cradled and covered as she reached for the door knob. The door was unlocked, but when she opened it she found it was booby trapped. Webbing expanded at the door, caught Latasha and zipped her inside and into the dark.
“Latasha!” Jessica yelled, heedless of who might be listening. She waited while officer Dickenson burned away enough webbing for them to enter the room. The warehouse room was full of webbing, But Jessica hardly took a step before she called again. “Latasha!”
The answer was faint and distorted, like it was coming through soundproofing and trying to echo off the walls at the same time, but they understood. “I’m alright. It is just going to take me a few minutes to cut myself free.”
“Keep your eyes open for the spider!” Jessica hollered back.
“I wish it would come here. It would save me the trouble of trying to find it.”
“The kind that might get her killed,” Jessica responded while Dickenson burned away more webbing. Three feet into the room and they came to an opening. It was a tunnel through the webbing and it looked like it led to a chamber of sorts.
“Welcome to my home said the spider to the fly,” Jessica whispered. They stepped forward, carefully, Jessica in the lead, when Dickenson shouted. Jessica turned and saw him lifted by a strand of web that came suddenly from above. Jessica bolted for the high-ceilinged chamber ahead and rolled just before a strand missed her and struck the ground. She figured the angle and fired her arrow with hardly a thought. She imagined it got tangled in the web above, but it was the principle of the thing.
Dickenson screamed from above. Latasha and Jessica both shouted to him, but he answered calmly. “No spider. No spider. I just ended up next to a shriveled mummy. Probably the remains of the night watchman.”
Jessica caught her breath. She tried to calm her nerves. But she had another arrow ready and never ceased to scan every direction she could. Something nudged her mind and she jumped. A second strand of webbing from above just missed her, and she spoke to the sky. It was the best way she could calm her nerves. “You won’t get me that way,” she said. She reached to her side and unsnapped her knife in case she needed it quickly. Then she wished Emily and the others were there. She did not feel confident that she could do this alone.
“I’m coming!” Latasha shouted back to Jessica’s words. Jessica hardly heard her because she heard some other words at her back and spun, her arrow at the ready.
“Who are?” it said in a voice that was in no way human. The spider had come down and was at the far side of the webbing cavern where its back was to the warehouse wall. It stood no more than two feet tall and most of that was furry legs. The body was about a foot in diameter, but the fangs looked plenty wide and plenty sharp, and the two big, round eyes looked able to see in every direction but the rear, and at the same time. They looked like little moon eyes—little red moon eyes.
Jessica thought something she never imagined thinking. Artemis, strengthen my arm and let this arrow strike true. She almost lost it when her arms moved without her volition. She was now pointing her arrow a foot above the creature and a bit to her left.
“I am Jessica, Amazon hunter.”
“No hunters,” the spider appeared to spit. “Hate hunters. Hunters kills.” Jessica let the arrow fly and the spider jumped. If Jessica had kept the arrow pointed where she had it, it would have passed harmlessly beneath the creature. As it was, her arrow struck the spider eye, perfectly. It sank into the beast a full three-quarters of the shaft, and it drove the beast back to slam into the back wall which Jessica was sure was not the creature’s intended path.
“Here I am,” Latasha landed, her axe and whole body covered in bits of white stickiness. Jessica pulled out her army knife. She was not sure the beast was dead, though it was not moving. Together, they began to inch forward. The spider charged. It jumped, but Latasha jumped just as high and brought her ax down between the fangs which split the spider head in two, even as Jessica’s army knife punched up and cut a long line in the belly of the beast. Jessica had to move quick to keep from being covered in spider guts, but when Latasha and the spider landed it was clear that this time the spider was dead.
“You finished it. You should get the credit for the kill.”
“No, you tracked it straight here and that arrow. How did you know it was going to jump? It was perfect. I didn’t know an arrow could hit that hard.”
Jessica just stepped up and hugged the girl, and then backed away with the sticky all over her front. “Eww!” Jessica could not help sounding like Jessica. Latasha laughed, so Jessica laughed. They had to release their tension somehow. Their laughter only increased when they heard Dickenson shout.
“Hey! Can somebody get me down from here?”