12+ Cassie lay perfectly still in bed, staring at the shadowy shape on the ceiling overhead. A bulky body and eight legs, a spider, but this wasn't Incy Wincy. It was a huntsman with long hairy legs, needle-sharp fangs, and a jump so powerful that if human, it could win gold at the pole vault without a pole.
"Stay still," Cassie reminded herself, having read somewhere how huntsmans have poor eyesight but can detect the movement of large objects. If only the "large object" of Peter, her ex-boyfriend, was sleeping beside her. Cassie could elbow him awake and ask him to relocate the spider to the balcony or oblivion.
"I'd rather you didn't do that," a silky voice invaded Cassie's head.
"What!?" she internally retorted, now frozen with fear and no longer needing to remind herself to stay still.
"I'd rather not end up in oblivion," the voice in her head repeated.
"Are you talking to me?" Cassie asked silently, wide-open eyes fixed on the shadowy shape.
"Yes," the huntsman's voice replied. "And please don't kill me because I don't intend you any harm, and I'd like to stay alive."
Cassie's mouth felt dry, and she was glad they weren't talking aloud because she could only manage a mute croak. Oh, how she wished Peter was here to despatch the huntsman.
"Peter had a phobia about spiders, too, remember," the voice said. "And he would have hidden under the doona."
The huntsman was right. Peter was a coward with creepy crawlies and slithery creatures. Cassie recalled the singles Thailand tour where they'd met and how Peter wouldn't pose for the group photograph with snakes draped around their necks at the Bangkok temple.
"So you're afraid of spiders but not snakes, why?" the huntsman asked, reading her recollections.
"I don't know," Cassie replied voicelessly. "Maybe it's your hairy legs and sharp fangs?"
The huntsman bobbed up and down as if nodding. Or was it preparing to launch itself onto her? Cassie let out a panicky squeal.
"Relax," the spider said, stretching the sibilance of the "ex" like an invocation of a calming meditation mantra. "I won't hurt you."
Cassie had heard that before. Peter had promised something similar when he'd told her about his reunion weekend. "Relax, nothing will happen. I'm just meeting up with old friends." And an old girlfriend, Cassie thought bitterly.
"You used to be brave," the voice in her head interrupted her melancholy.
"How would you know?" Cassie shot back suspiciously. "I've read huntsman spiders only live for two years. You didn't know me before Peter moved in."
"Ah, but you're not allowing for innate knowledge and memories," the huntsman replied. "No one teaches spiders to spin webs. It's an inherited skill."
"But huntsman don't spin webs!" Cassie retorted, still wary.
Cassie experienced a strange sensation in her head. It was vibration, like a massage machine gently relaxing a tight muscle. And then she realised it was the huntsman spider, chuckling.
"You were brave and curious, Cassie," it said. "Before you met Peter."
The huntsman was right again. Cassie had been more independent before meeting Peter on the Thailand tour. But he'd been her first serious boyfriend. And changing her ways and bending to his wishes seemed to be the rites of being in a relationship.
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Without knowing why, Cassie started explaining this to the huntsman, and at some point during their long conversation, she crossed a line and slipped off to sleep.
And when Cassie woke the next day, the no-longer scary spider was still there, but she had despatched sad thoughts about Peter from in her head.
© 2023 Robert Fairhead
I wrote In Her Head for the Not Quite Write Prize for Flash Fiction in July 2023.
The challenge for the competition run by the Not Quite Write podcast hosts was to "create an original piece of fiction based on two typical writing prompts plus one anti-prompt".
The 600-word story had to:
- Feature the word RITE - in full with no spaces or interrupting punctuation, or within a longer word providing the original spelling was retained, e.g. SPRITE or TRITE
- Include the action of "crossing a line", though it wasn't necessary to use the exact wording
- Break the rule "avoid all adverbs".
And writers had 60 hours to write and submit their stories.
I found the prompt to break the rule to "avoid all adverbs" challenging. And I kept confusing adverbs with adjectives.
But the prompt gave me a huntsman spider with "long hairy legs" and "needle-sharp fangs" for my protagonist to stare at, frozen with fear, on the ceiling over her bed.
Then it occurred to me, what if they had a conversation? Would they speak aloud or in her head? And this gave me my title, storyline (satisfying the other two criteria), and callback denouement.
And while I may have failed the adverb challenge and my story didn't win or get longlisted for the prize, I loved writing In Her Head.
By the way, the huntsman spider in the photo accompanying this story is from my house. And, as I've done with dozens of huntsmans over the years, I carefully relocated it to the back garden. (Phew, a final adverb!)
N.B. You can listen to In Her Head on the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast. You might also like to read one of my short stories that got longlisted for another writing challenge, Stuck in Time.
Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.
Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.