Friday Flash: The Human Web

This week, Chuck Wendig challenged us to go to Flickr, click the link for cool images of the moment, and use one to inspire our stories. I clicked a couple of times, and this one leapt out at me, both for the photo and the title--which I borrowed for my story. Thanks to photographer Mark Fearnley for the inspiration!

The Human Web

You know what a spider web is. A human web is different—and yet the same. Let me explain.

A spider web is created by a spider, to catch bugs. A human web is created by a human, but humans have little interest in bugs. You do the math.

I walked down the long corridor, wary, without choices. The structure of the place gave me the creeps. That grid reminded me of something, tickling my mind without revealing the source of my unease.

Perhaps it was simply the man I was going to meet. I didn’t need a sixth sense to know that it was dangerous to approach Drengo Stanlinger. Trying to sneak up on him was as hopeless as trying to sneak up on a spider in its web, and for much the same reason. That was when I realized what the corridor reminded me of, and I knew that it was probably right, at least in one sense.

A spider knows by the vibrations when a fly touches the web, however small. This webbed corridor, I had little doubt, had signaled Stanlinger long since. I would be expected. That wasn’t all bad, or so I told myself. Any surprise would be limited and short-lived, so losing that element wasn’t the end of the world. That it might be the end of me was a possibility. That was a risk that went with my job.

I continued down the web-corridor, resisting the urge to brush away imaginary spiders from my neck. That I was a fly deliberately entering the web did not escape me. The corridor was ringed with sensors. I wondered what they were recording about me, beyond my mere presence. I was pretty sure that by the time I reached the heart of the web, Stanlinger would know my shoe size and underwear brand, what I’d had for breakfast, and the fact that I’d upchucked when I’d gotten the assignment and found out where I was going.

Okay, I didn’t mean to tell you that part. I’m not a coward. But you see what kind of spider Stanlinger was. No one walked into his web and walked back out again, not unchanged, anyway. If I came out, it would either be feet first or as his pawn, unless I was very, very lucky. I didn’t feel very lucky.

So I was walking down that web-tunnel corridor and thinking about spiders and their prey. If a big enough bug flew into a web, it could rip it to shreds.

I didn’t think I was that big. So what else could an operative do when sent in to take down the biggest spider ever?

Poison. Let the web catch me, and poison the system from within. I might survive it, though I’d be inside for a while, because this wasn’t a matter of a simple assassination. I’d have to find a way to corrode the system and corrupt the network—both the web that was getting closer and closer to me even as I mused on the subject, and the humans who carried out whatever of Stanlinger’s plans his computers couldn’t.

It was getting hard to move. The walls were only inches away, and the air felt thick. Sticky. I knew what that meant.

I would know in a few minutes if I would be spider or dinner. Then everything went black.
When I woke up, it was pretty clear I was dinner, not spider. The strands that bound me were, in fact, surprisingly like spider silk, on a huge scale. Slightly sticky, and wrapped tightly around me, they left me just enough room to breathe, and none at all to do anything else.

I promptly wet myself. That was partly because I really needed to go—how long had I been out?—and partly to see if the threads would be damaged by it. Don’t judge: it was the only weapon I had. And even though my job was to infiltrate, I had been instructed to make a good show of trying to escape.

The truth was that I wanted nothing so much as to escape. I didn’t think that new recruits were wrapped in web and hung up to dry, so I had to figure Stanlinger had twigged me.

The reek from my escape effort was reaching my nose—the only part of me not wrapped in webbing—and I hoped that they’d take me out of my wraps pretty soon. I felt myself swinging and realized I was moving.

I’d been hung up in my cocoon from something that I now realized was a conveyor belt, and it had started moving. With the web wrapped right over my eyes, I couldn’t see where I was going, and pretty soon the motion combined with the stink made me sick. I have a sort of delicate stomach, at least for some things, and I’ve never liked air travel. After a few minutes’ fight, I lost it.

Fortunately, they’d left enough room for the vomit to trickle down inside the web, so I didn’t choke. Now I stunk of pee and puke, and wondered if they’d kill me for smelling so bad, or just toss me out, in which case I’d probably die slowly, but might escape. I wiggled my legs experimentally, and thought the webs had loosened just a little. I kicked harder, until the motion stopped and I heard—rather dimly, because that web stuff was in my ears—an exclamation of disgust.

The web fell away from my face so I could see and hear. I was still hanging from the ceiling, and Stanlinger sat looking at me, a no doubt perfumed handkerchief pressed to his face. I gave another kick, and a bit of the web tore, but he only laughed.

“You have spirit. You’re hired.”

I was in. All I had to do now was stay alive until I got my opportunity.

I’d worry about that after I’d found a bath and some clean clothes.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016


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