Five And A Half Minute Hallway
by Nicole Clevenger

The hallway was dim. Looked like the kind of place where nervous people locked their doors with deadbolts and did anything they could to avoid their neighbors in the hallways. He wondered why she lived here. How she got here. Where she came from.

There were spiders crawling in the corners, watching him with their multiple eyes. Slowly, slowly, slowly they began creeping toward him on their thin bending legs. Ronnie tracked their progress over the walls; he knew if he looked away, they could be on him in an instant.

You're wasting your time here, boy.

"My time to waste."

Wrong. Our time. She'll never want you.

"This isn't about that." Ronnie shifted, folding his arms across his chest and leaning against her door. He kept his eyes on the spiders.

No? The Shepard's voice sounded just as it always did. The way water sounded sliding over metal, like a baking tray held under a faucet. Ronnie had always pictured the water running red. What is this about then?

"I just..." He ducked his head, flipped his hair out of his eyes. "I just want to see her again, that's all."

So that you can further make a fool of yourself?

The spiders were inching ever closer. Black bodies detaching from sticky shadows. "I didn't --"

Perhaps we can find more food for you to throw at her.

In his mind, he saw fluffy white popcorn kernels scattering through the air. Ronnie winced. "I just want to talk to her some more." He remembered the way her face shifted when she smiled. The way her eyes came alive. "She's so pretty..."

She smells like Death.

Ronnie shook his head. A couple of the spiders were close enough now for him to count their individual legs. "No. You're wrong."

Am I? You can't trust her, boy.

He shrugged, unable to keep his gaze from darting past the spiders to the end of the empty hallway and back. She still hadn't appeared, but he'd been right -- the spiders were now much closer then they had been seconds before.

Couldn't ever take your eyes off of spiders.

"So what if she sees It? It doesn't mean anything."

Or maybe it means everything.

"You don't know what you're talking about."

The Shepard laughed; Ronnie wrapped his arms more tightly around his body. One of the bigger spiders dropped from the ceiling, landing silently on his shoe. He shook his foot, but the spider refused to be dislodged. There seemed to be no other choice but to look back and forth between it and the others, to try to keep them all in his sights. He wasn't sure how long it would work.

Boy, I always know what I'm talking about. I've gotten you this far, haven't I?

It was true -- there was no more consistent a presence in his life than The Shepard. Going as far back as he could remember.


The spiders hissed an echo. ~See...~

"I just want to talk to her some more," he repeated. It was important that The Shepard liked George. Ronnie knew the amount of trouble he could cause if he decided that she was some kind of threat. "Maybe she knows why It's been following me. Maybe she --"

She what? Do you think she can help you?

"Maybe." A glance showed the spider on his shoe tickling at the ragged end of his jeans. One narrow leg reaching, testing... Then two. Three.

The laugh came again, rolling over his shoulders and down his spine. And what will you do if you find that your pretty girl is the real reason Death is after you?

Ronnie blinked hard, his eyes stinging and dry after too long without sleep. He had considered the possibility that by being around him she might too be in danger, but he hadn't yet thought it might work the other way. A large spider dripped from the ceiling on a glistening line to dangle in front of his nose.

He wasn't sure how much longer he could stay there. He wasn't sure if he could leave without seeing her again.

"I thought it'd be nice to spend time with someone who sees the things that I do," he whispered to the spider. It twirled slightly in the faint breeze from his breath. He hadn't meant to say it, but felt the truth of the words as his throat closed tight around them.

I see. No one else will ever understand like I do.

"Someone outside," he said. The one on his leg had made it as far as his knee. They were on the floor now, too -- on the floor and the walls and the ceiling. Any minute now she would come around that corner. Any minute now she'd be at the end of the hallway, and she'd smile for him. Any minute.

Ronnie felt the first small body land in his hair. He heard footsteps coming from the stairs.

He saw the toe of her sneaker first, then the bag in her hand. The feeble light danced over her hair just before she looked up; the spiders melted back into the dingy gloom as her eyes appeared.

But she didn't smile when she saw him.

Remember, boy: I warned you.


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