Flash Fiction: The Death Webs by Alex Westhaven

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The Death Webs

The hardest part was not giving in to the panic.

As she was dropped into the pit, Amy held her limbs stiff, twisting her body slightly when needed to adjust her course. It was imperative that her face and hands remain free. Her only hope. 

The first web was just below, and she leaned away to avoid the sticky ropes. She wasn’t sure how many there were – no one was save the judges, and she had to catch one or be killed by the fall.
And yet, the farther she went, the more speed built up, which meant more vibration of the web when she landed.

The handbook said vibration was bad.

Two more webs passed by each bearing a white rope cocoon. The condemned, their sentences slowly being carried out day after day. It was believed that the longer one survived on the web, the less painful their punishment in the afterlife.

The light was fading. She’d have to catch one soon while she could still see the next one below. They were getting smaller too, perhaps because less of the condemned made it this far? Smaller was bad too. Less time to work.

There were those who said the pit was bottomless, and those who speculated it ended in water or sharp rocks. A bottomless pit made no sense, and water or rocks or regular dirt would all mean her end at this rate of speed, so it didn’t really matter. She could die immediately at the bottom, or take her chances on a web. The web was the only option that still offered a sliver of hope.

Amy was hopeful. She’d read the handbook. She had a plan. 

Finally choosing a web below, she gave herself a final twist and braced for impact, sinking deep into the sticky net with more speed than she’d felt during the fall. The ropes stretched down, down, down, farther than she’d hoped they would. She spread out her legs and arms, careful to keep her hands free as she struggled to keep one side of the web from touching the other over her body – a situation that would certainly seal her sentence.

Relieved when the ropes contracted again, she winced as she shot upwards like some sort of reverse bungee jumper, her hair pulling hard at the back of her head, her whole body stuck as she hit the upper limit of the arch, and fell back down again. She didn’t bounce more than twice, the webbing holding her tightly as the fibers recovered from the addition of her weight.

She worked to quiet her breathing, listening for the slightest scratch of claws on rock or the telltale chittering of sound that only the Executioners made. She had to work quickly with as little movement as possible, and suddenly what had seemed like such a simple thing in her cell didn’t seem simple at all.

Curling the fingers of her right hand into her sleeve, she worked the sharp metal blade out of the cuff, drawing in a sharp breath at a sting on the tip of her finger. Unable to move her head, she closed her eyes and prayed it was only a prick from the blade rather than an Executioner’s taste.

Working her arm up through the generous sleeve, she sliced the side seam of her shirt, her motions awkward and far more twitchy than she would have preferred. Finally reaching her neckline, she reached across and sliced the other side of her shirt open, faster this time. Using her other hand to support her own head, she started cutting off her hair in chunks, until she could lift her head. Putting the blade between her lips, she rolled the front of her shirt down and contracted her abdominal muscles to raise up into a sitting position, her skin puckering as the cool cave air wafted across it. It was all she could do to keep from shivering, but the smaller vibrations would be worse than what she was about to do, and she couldn’t risk the attention. It took nearly all of her strength not to rock the net as is, and she still had much to do.

Working carefully, she took the blade and sliced off the front of her pants. Tying the legs together, she twisted around to gauge the distance from her position to the rock wall, and froze.

Eight round balls glowed at her from the cavern wall above her web. A glint of light twinkled from the corner of her left eye, and she swiveled just enough to see eight more balls glowing from the darkness.

She was out of time. There had to be another way. If she could just slow down, think this through…

The web swayed slightly and she instinctively put a hand out to steady herself. The ropes felt surprisingly dry and cool to the touch, and for a moment she thought maybe she could just climb out. Then she tried to raise her hand.

It was stuck. Of course.

One set of eyes dropped lower on the wall. She yanked at her hand, a sort of numb terror beginning to fog her brain. There was just enough light to make out the fuzzy body as long legs worked their way to the edge of the web.

The Executioner was smaller than she’d expected – about the size of a large dog. The handbook had made it sound like they were massive creatures. The second one joined the first, and they seemed to be communicating by touching their long, hairless legs together.

Then they turned toward her.

Her instincts told her to fight, to struggle, to tear the web apart. Maybe if she sliced through the ropes she could swing down to safety. She set the blade on the rope near her hand.

It stuck in place.

Her only hope now was the last suggestion in the handbook. When approached by an Executioner, if one lay perfectly still, the creatures might simply leave. Easing herself back down, Amy laid back on the remainder of her clothes, closed her eyes and took shallow breaths. She felt the gossamer silk wrap her body, soft and smooth and warm against her skin. When they covered her face, the damp, musty smell of the pit disappeared, replaced by a sweet, mellow fragrance that enticed her into a deep sleep.

She didn’t feel it when they started to feed.

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2 Responses to Flash Fiction: The Death Webs by Alex Westhaven

  1. Carol says:

    The webs, those eyes . . . it doesn’t matter what name you give them, my mind sees the “Executioners” as ginormous spiders. If I have nightmares tonight, it’s your fault! 😛

    This story just keeps getting better with every reading. 🙂

  2. Ardee Eichelmann says:

    Well, if the “executioners” are not ginormous spiders then what are they? Ardee asks in response to Carol’s comment. What a wonderfully creepy story! My skin is crawling!