by Mark Andersen
The man behind the meat counter, tall, stooped and old, was Dilbert Cunningham. I’d been seeing him behind the Elton’s Groceteria meat counter for almost ten years. Dilbert was grey and pasty, a perfect match for the tubes of deli meat he was always sliding across the meat slicer. He was a dull, flat person who had never offered anything interesting to notice until the day I saw him cut open young girl’s face.
I was behind her in the line, which was parallel to the counter, so I was able to see the event clearly. She looked to be about twelve, but who can tell with kids? She seemed normal enough, messy blond hair and a sunburn, purple shirt, a face where her face should be and the normal number and proper placement of limbs and eyes.The waddling woman ahead of her shuffled off with her slices of mulched flesh and the girl stepped to the curved glass display. She stretched up onto her toes to see over it.
“Sir," she said in a flat voice, “can I please have four ounces of your finest mortadella."
Dilbert squinted his eyes, tilted his head and looked at her. He leaned forward until they were eye to eye then plucked a long curved knife from under his apron. Dilbert swung the knife around in a wild haymaker arc and it crossed the girl's face, bifurcating her cheek and opening her left eye. Rather than the blood and gelatinous goo I’d expect to flow from a young girl’s cut open eyeball, there was a dry eruption of tiny black spiders.
“I knew it!" Cunningham roared as he vaulted over the low section of the counter, flipping the knife to a backhand grip in mid-air. “I knew it!"
By the time he landed, her mouth had already stretched down to her chest, her chin and neck utterly collapsed inward. She sprayed a fountain of the spiders up in a spout that spread and flowed weightlessly. The black wave engulfed Mr. Cunningham, swarming over him and floating ethereally around him on strands of web. In seconds his gangly body was lost in a dense cloud of twitching darkness. As the black mass crumpled and folded, he was still screaming “I knew it! I knew it!"
Having voided herself, the empty shell of humanity that had been the girl crumpled like a dry, discarded snake skin after the molt. The spiders streamed away from the wet remains of Dilbert Cunningham and seemed to simply evaporate. What was left of the corpse was puffy and red, slick with web and a thin sheen of blood and sweat.
I walked forward, carefully avoiding the remaining spiders as I stepped over Dilbert. I gingerly made my way to the display counter and looked hopelessly into the depths of the meat department. There was nobody else back there, just stainless steel counters and machines, a filthy yellow bucket, bottles of cleaner and cardboard boxes.
“Shit," I said, “now who’s gonna get my boudin?"