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The not-so-famous author was pac­ing near the win­dow when the side­walk gate clanged shut. His incred­i­blyfamous author wife wad­dled up the lane, dressed in dark clothes from shoes to hat, look­ing every bit ‘the queen of mod­ern hor­ror’. Van­i­ty Fair’s term, not his. With shak­ing hands, he placed the box on the kitchen table. Inside his chest, his heart trem­bled like a caged bird.

“It’s show­time,” he mut­tered with a sneer.

She burst through the door like the mis­er­able hur­ri­cane that she was, wear­ing the same dour expres­sion she’d worn for the last thir­ty years. He forced a smile to his lips and ush­ered her to a seat at the table. “Hap­py birth­day, my dear,” he belt­ed out with all the fake enthu­si­asm he could muster.

She glared at him spite­ful­ly and lift­ed the box’s top. Her foul mood seemed to lift when she saw the mag­nif­i­cent cake inside. Choco­late Deca­dence with white but­ter­cream frost­ing. Her favorite.

“Tell me all about the book sign­ing,” he said in as sug­ary a voice as he was able while mak­ing care­ful knife strokes through the cake’s moist lay­ers. “Were the peo­ple awful again?”

Her book sales out­num­bered his a hun­dred to one, but her con­tempt for her fans had always been one of their secrets. She indulged him with a sto­ry about one “par­tic­u­lar­ly hor­ren­dous” woman who had all but ruined her day. “She want­ed me to auto­graph twen­ty books, all of which she’d brought from home.” She shov­eled a fork­ful of cake into the hole between her tremen­dous cheeks. “Can you believe it? The books were in a deplorable con­di­tion. Why, one was even bereft of its cover.” 

She paused for a moment, and some­thing caught her eye. The top of the cake was shiv­er­ing. Her eyes widened at first with curios­i­ty and then with hor­ror as sev­er­al spindly legs poked through the frost­ing. Inside the con­fec­tion, some­thing was mov­ing of its own accord—something alive. Sud­den­ly, the cake col­lapsed upon itself. An enor­mous spi­der emerged from the dark spongy crater. It hauled itself out of its deli­cious prison like a zom­bie hand escap­ing a choco­late tomb. 

Her fork clat­tered to the table when the thing reared back on its haunch­es. It seemed furi­ous to be there, and espe­cial­ly furi­ous about the sticky goop coat­ing its cor­pu­lent body. With a click of its jaws it scut­tled toward her with ter­ri­fy­ing speed, leav­ing an ugly brown smear on the table­cloth. At the edge of the table, the spi­der leapt toward her. 

She jumped to her feet, and her chair fell back with a clat­ter. The spi­der plopped onto the linoleum, but by then the dam­age was done. She sucked in a breath to scream but it stopped abrupt­ly. A look of con­fu­sion set­tled on her face. A gut­tur­al grunt sound­ed deep inside her throat. She grabbed the base of her neck with her hands crossed at the wrist—the uni­ver­sal sign for choking.

 His voice dripped with sar­casm. “My dear, is some­thing wrong?” 

 Her eyes bulged with pan­ic. Crim­son splotch­es explod­ed across her cheeks. She grabbed a near­by chair and slumped across it, cen­ter­ing the back­rest direct­ly beneath her ribcage. She heaved her body down once, twice, try­ing to clear the obstruc­tion from her throat. It was no use. She dropped to her knees, then flopped onto her back. She wig­gled around like a dying fish for a long moment before grow­ing per­fect­ly still.

He smiled down at her swollen, pur­ple face. 

“Gotcha,” he said.

•••

The spi­der was a Goliath Bird­eater, one of the largest taran­tu­las in the world. She’d been a world-class arachno­phobe for as long as he could remem­ber. Throw in a recent case of heart dis­ease, and, well… the com­bi­na­tion was a time bomb wait­ing to hap­pen. He’d hoped for a heart attack when she saw the spi­der. Chok­ing had been an unex­pect­ed out­come, but one he’d hap­pi­ly accepted. 

The arach­nid had cost him a cou­ple thou­sand dol­lars on the inter­net. Now that it had com­plet­ed its mis­sion, he didn’t hes­i­tate to squash it with a broom. Whack! He swept the man­gled crea­ture into the trash, along with the rem­nants of the ruined cake. In its stead he placed a sec­ond cake, an exact repli­ca of the first, save for one minor detail—the new cake was miss­ing the secret com­part­ment in which he’d hid­den the spider. 

He cut him­self a mag­nif­i­cent slice, but only allowed him­self a sin­gle bite. He suf­fered from a touch of arrhyth­mia him­self, so it was best to watch what he ate. Now that she was gone, he intend­ed to enjoy his life for a long, long time to come. The rich choco­latey fla­vor sat­is­fied him deeply. He sighed bliss­ful­ly, before flush­ing the rest of the slice down the dis­pos­al. A moment lat­er, he dialed for help. 

“911,” the voice on the phone said. “What’s your emergency.”

“My wife,” he said, fak­ing a des­per­ate tone. “Please, hurry.”

•••

“Where were you when it hap­pened?” the first offi­cer asked, star­ing down at the cold body.

“The show­er,” he sobbed, sur­prised how the per­for­mance grew eas­i­er with every pass­ing moment. “We were sup­posed to go out for din­ner. I didn’t even know she’d made it home.” He threw him­self against the wall and wailed in a pan­tomime of grief. “She was eat­ing her,” he paused for dra­mat­ic effect, “buh-buh-birth­day cake with­out me!” 

 The sec­ond offi­cer scrawled notes on a pad as he wan­dered through the man­sion. He gawked in dis­be­lief when he got to her study. The occult items she had gath­ered over the years lined every shelf—totems, can­dles, oils, talismans. 

“Grim stuff,” he said, flip­ping through a book on witchcraft.

 “Research,” the hus­band said. “It’s what set her apart.” 

He refrained from men­tion­ing the strange things he’d wit­nessed since she began dab­bling in the dark arts. Like the eerie voic­es issu­ing from her locked study. The shal­low grave full of slaugh­tered neigh­bor­hood pets in the yard. The night he’d wok­en to find her hov­er­ing above their bed. 

 In the kitchen, a coro­ner zipped up the body in a bag. 

“Every­thing checks out,” the sec­ond police­man explained. “But before we go—” 

 “Say no more.” He hand­ed the offi­cers bags filled with pre-signed copies of her lat­est bestseller. 

“Thank you,” police­man #1 said. 

“An hon­or,” said police­man #2. 

“I also includ­ed a copy of MY lat­est nov­el, in case you’re so inclined,” he said with a smile. “Oh, and a few slices of cake for each of you. Please, enjoy.”

•••

 At the funer­al, secu­ri­ty had to turn away many of her fans at the door. This was fine with him. The ser­vice was already a freak­show. Hun­dreds of weirdos hud­dled in pews in their goth­ic cloth­ing. Their pow­dered faces cast a sick­ly sheen under the iri­des­cent light. 

He nev­er under­stood how so many peo­ple could har­bor an appetite for the themes she wrote about, all the vio­lence, hor­ror, and ret­ri­bu­tion. Their cold stares made him uncom­fort­able. More than once, they point­ed in his direc­tion, whis­per­ing to each oth­er in hushed, secre­tive tones.

He decid­ed they were jeal­ous. She had cho­sen to spend her life with him, and they sim­ply couldn’t stand it.

By day’s end, he’d for­got­ten them all.

His new life had begun. 

•••

A few nights lat­er dur­ing a sum­mer rain­storm he sat in his study work­ing on a new nov­el. The inspi­ra­tion was flow­ing, and words flew from his fin­gers with ease. While a wind picked up out­side and thun­der boomed in the dis­tance, he typed out the final lines of the first chap­ter. He was deep in thought when the front gate clanged shut. Three sharp raps sound­ed on the entryway. 

Who could it be? he thought angri­ly. How dare any­one dis­turb an artist such as he when he was immersed in his work! He expect­ed no vis­i­tors, espe­cial­ly this late in the evening. He had half a mind to curse out who­ev­er it was. In a rage, he crossed the room, and grabbed the door han­dle. With­out think­ing, he swung the door open wide. 

In the pour­ing rain at the end of the doorstep stood a shad­owy vis­i­tor. The scent of damp earth rat­tled his com­po­sure, and he felt his din­ner ris­ing in his throat. A flash of light­ning revealed the knocker’s identity—his dead wife! Her rot­ting eyes flashed with rage. Black bee­tles skit­tered across her sal­low flesh. His blood ran cold when she lift­ed an accusato­ry fin­ger in his direc­tion. “You­uu!” she shrieked.

He stood unable to move, while his pulse pound­ed in his ears. 

In one alarm­ing motion, she charged toward him, her sog­gy shoes creak­ing against the doorstep.

Blind­ing fear assailed his body. He clutched at the sud­den stab­bing pain in his chest. No! he thought. His clenched teeth came down on the gris­tle of his tongue and the brawny tang of blood filled his mouth. Beneath him, his legs buck­led, as he fell to the floor like a mar­i­onette cut from its strings. Slow­ly, he lift­ed his gaze to the night­mar­ish ghoul tow­er­ing over him, before gasp­ing out his final, painful breath.  “Gotcha,” she croaked.

What’s scarier than short horror fiction?

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Con­tribut­ing Author // Author Web­page

Unbe­knownst to Robert Stahl (he/him) his body is an emp­ty shell, tele­path­i­cal­ly con­trolled by a brain in a jar which was buried long ago under the floor­board of his home in Dal­las, Texas. Con­se­quent­ly, his days are filled with the urge to write: sto­ries, let­ters, arti­cles, what­ev­er. At night he lis­tens to music, and when he final­ly drifts off to sleep, the brain laughs, a humor­less, piti­ful sound as it jig­gles alone in the dusty darkness.

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