Fungal Halo

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Not To Be

The spider isn’t Real, of course. You won’t find it in your bathtub, nor in your kitchen, nor in the shadowy corners of your poorly-lit basement. You won’t clean any web it doesn’t leave up attached to your ceiling.

It lives in your dreams.

Like any other spider, to notice it somewhere for the first time is to find that it has already made itself quite at home there.

You dream of visiting a nice restaurant with friends, and you find it squatting on its small web in the center of your table, ruining the meal.

Every dream on every night thereafter, you see it.

You’re back in school again, and its web clings to the whiteboard.

You’ve forgotten your hotel room number, and when you look for help, a spider awaits you at the front desk.

You dig through your purse for your missing plane ticket, and your hand comes away with sticky threads attached.

You kiss a beautiful woman at a bar, and she slips something into your mouth. You spit the spider out and watch it scuttle away.

Somehow you know it’s the same spider each time, growing fatter and larger each time you see it.

When your nightmares find you running from some terrible creature, your limbs don’t move as fast as they should. Something clings and pulls and traps you.

You turn to look at your pursuer. It is also caught—in a web larger than any you’ve ever seen—and you feel relief as you watch your fear struggling as much as you do.

You relax into the web that holds you and allow your eyes to drift closed.

The spider is not Real, but you see it even in the waking world now.

You catch glimpses out of the corner of your eye, darting just out of sight, the size of the cat you are reasonably sure you never kept here.

You close your eyes and see threads dancing behind your lids.

Your dreams grow quiet and dark. Peaceful, even. You awaken feeling more rested than ever before.

Your waking life, too, feels increasingly dreamlike. Drifting from moment to moment without transition, rationalizing from context where you are, becomes your norm.

Cobwebs that nobody else notices seem to follow wherever you go. Friends worry when you interrupt your conversations to brush phantom strands out of your face again and again.

But then you are somewhere else altogether, the conversation over. No need for an excuse.

Wait, no. You’re still talking to them, but the scene has shifted from the restaurant to a bar down the street.

They talk around you. They don’t react to your words or your attempts to get their attention. They treat you as no more Real than the spider cradling your mind.

You wander away from them, drifting through the crowd, feeling almost like floating.

Something hurts inside you. Something like an emotion but not quite—scraping the inside of your chest like longing or doubt or worry—cries out for release while you drift in a placid fog.

The bartender does not notice you any more than the patrons do, but one lonely girl at the end of the bar sipping a whiskey on the rocks catches your eye.

She looks right at you. You approach and strike up a conversation.

She’s hot, she sends all the right signals, she even orders you a drink that you leave untouched while you wrap each other up in conversation and soft laughter and a haze of not-quite-there.

Without transition, you find her kissing you, her lips soft and gentle and eager.

That strange feeling inside you wells up, climbing higher and higher, pushing itself forward until you feel it scuttling over your tongue and pushing past her lips.

Does she notice? It doesn’t matter. She’s yours now.

The kiss ends with a blinking, embarrassed realization that you are not Real.

The woman flushes at how vivid this fantasy of meeting someone here felt, feeling all the more embarrassed for ordering another drink just to know what it was like to buy one for someone else.

She finishes the drink she ordered for you, pleasantly tipsy when she closes out her tab and leaves for home. On the journey back, she replays the fantasy of kissing you again and again, lips tingling with imagined sensation.

That night she dreams of a spider.