The landlady took a long drag from her cigarette. She leaned against the windowpane and watched the sun set over the funeral home across the street. There was a chill in the air. She held her matted yellow robe closed. Behind her, Shrek and Donkey each raised one eyebrow and flashed a smug grin.
Every inch of the storefront window was covered in faded movie posters, mostly for kids movies and big-budget sequels from a decade earlier. The small sign on the glass door read:
EAST WEST VIDEO
FOR 22 YEARS
A brown Cadillac pulled up to the curb. Det. Sarah Martinez stepped out of the driver’s side. She gave the store the once-over, then pulled her badge from the inside pocket of her sportcoat and flashed it at the landlady.
“Ma’am.” she said. “You called about strange noises?”
Det. Jake Bolland, Sarah’s partner, went directly to the store window without acknowledging the woman. He peeked in-between the posters, stroking his neatly-trimmed mustache.
“Repeatedly. I live upstairs.” The landlady glared at Jake. “The other two have been in there for three hours.”
Sarah pulled a walkie-talkie off her belt. “Adam four, code four. Respond.”
“I can’t be doing this all day,” the landlady said. “I work the night shift tonight. I’m supposed to be asleep right now.”
No response on the radio. Sarah shook her head.
“They’re in the store?” Jake turned to the landlady. “Have you checked on ’em?”
“After the sounds I heard this morning?” She tossed the cigarette butt into the gutter. “I’m not going in there.”
She went in the door next to the video store entrance and up the stairs to her apartment. Sarah and Jake exchanged a look.
Thin strips of sunlight bled through between the posters, blanketing the video store in an uneven grid of dusty illumination. Along the walls on either side stood white bookcases lined with empty cardboard VHS covers. Each movie had a little orange sticker in the corner with a handwritten number on it. At the center of the room, two smallish metal racks full of DVDs. At the back of the store, a wooden counter, with a cash register and an old tube monitor. Darkness loomed beyond. Since the sun was shining in that direction, the back of the store seemed darker than it ought to.
“Police!” Jake didn’t get a response. He and Sarah crept deeper into the store, watching that back area. “What do you think?”
“Something ain’t right.” Sarah pulled out a flashlight and scanned around the ceiling. “Posters in the window are from the mid-2000s, right?”
“What, Shrek?” Jake picked up the box for a horror movie called Ghoulies, frowned at it, and put it back. “Probably. I guess so.”
“Seems like a lot of spider webs.”
“What spider webs?”
Sarah looked at him. “You don’t see-“
“Welcome to East West Video.”
The two cops jumped, reaching for their guns. A pale woman stepped out from the shadows behind the counter. Long, straight black hair covered most of her face. Sarah aimed the flashlight at her.
“If you need help,” the woman said, “Let me know.”
“God damn, lady,” Jake relaxed, fixing his shirt. “What are you doing in here? You scared the-“
Sarah grabbed him by the collar and yanked him towards the exit. Once they were safely outside, she leaned against the door, panting.
“What are you doing?!” Jake said.
“You can’t see the spider webs.”
“What spider webs?!”
Sarah put her hand up, calming him. “What did you see behind the counter?”
“Skinny woman. Long black hair. Seemed to think the store was still open.”
“Did she have a body?”
Jake started to answer, then stopped. He sighed. “Is this one of those things?”
“It is.” Sarah pulled out her phone. “Let me call my guy.”
Jake closed his eyes and pressed his forehead on the glass door. “Not him…”
Ben Carter, pet care specialist, struggled to free himself from the tangle of leashes. The four gray miniature schnauzers at his feet — Rosie, Josie, Posie and Rex — were in a state of chaos. Rex, the only boy, was doing a handstand while peeing on the apartment building next to him. Rosie tugged hard on her leash from the other side of a tree, unable to comprehend why she couldn’t move forward. Josie circled Ben, wrapping her leash around his shins. Posie was pooping. As Ben knelt down to pick up the poop, the dogs all turned and yapped at him.
“Yep. It’s me.” Ben muttered. “I’ve been here this whole time.”
The mini-schnauzers had been yard dogs for years, having just started going out in the world a few weeks ago. They were used to hanging out on the lawn and barking at everything that went past. Their walking skills were negligible. It took forty minutes just to go a few houses down. These were also, it should be said, not usually Ben’s dogs. Kaylee, another walker, had an interview. Or audition. Improv show? Something. Ben was covering for her. He was actually a little surprised she’d asked. Kaylee didn’t like him very much. She was always kind of cold and rude to him.
Ben stood, flipped the poop bag closed and checked the color-coded leashes in his hand.
“Rosie, Josie, Posie…” There were only three. He looked up. “Rex!”
Rex cheesed it down the sidewalk, leash dragging along behind him. Ben tried to follow but the other three dogs were all facing different directions, oblivious.
“Son of a-! Rex!”
Just as Rex reached the end of the apartment building, two arms scooped him up.
“Hey, you! Where are you going?” Kaylee held the small dog. Rex’s nub of a tail wagged as he licked her face. “Did Ben forget how to do his job?”
The other mini-schnauzers swarmed Kaylee, silently wagging. She set Rex with the others. Her reflective bracelet flashed. She always wore reflectors on night walks. It was a perfectly practical choice, but very dorky. Ben handed her the leashes.
“I don’t know how you do this every day.” He fished the key to the mini-schnauzers’ house off his key ring. “How was your thing?”
“Terrible.” She said, giving Ben zero hints as to what she did. She pulled her hand away as he went to give her the key. “Let’s go on a date this weekend.”
“You and me?” Ben said. “With each other?”
She laughed. “Yeah, playing hard to get clearly doesn’t work on you. This is the direct approach.”
Ben thought, then smiled. “Ok. Sure.”
Kaylee plucked the key out of his hand. “I’ll text you.”
“Text me.” he repeated, slightly dazed, as Kaylee led the mini-schnauzers back towards their house. His phone buzzed in his pocket. The screen showed a Shiba Inu silhouette in a yellow circle projected on a dark night sky.
“Oh, hey,” Kaylee said, turning back, “Did you give them-“
Ben was gone.
“Alright.” Jake checked his watch. “It’s been long enough. I’m going in.”
He started towards the video store. Sarah tried to stop him.
“You can’t go in there!” She said. “This is beyond our capabilities! You can’t even-“
“We have a job to do! There are police in there!”
A cherry red Hyundai stopped in front of them. Ben got out of the back seat. He had what looked like a cricket bat strapped to his back.
“Sorry I’m late!” He ran around to the front passenger door. “I had to wait for someone that would drive a dog.”
He opened the door. A chubby Shiba Inu looked up from licking his crotch and regarded the cops with a blank expression.
“Toby!” Sarah said. “Who’s good?”
The dog gave her a slight wag. For Toby, that was a lot.
“What’s the situation?” Ben said.
“Spiders.” Sarah said. Ben made a yuck face. “And a lady. I only know it’s a yokai problem because Jake can’t see anything. There are two unresponsive cops in the back somewhere. You still don’t have a car?”
“I’ve been busy.” Ben drew his weapon. Small ebony blades dotted the edges of the flat wooden bat, which was engraved with holy symbols from a wide variety of religions.
Toby hopped out of the car. He trotted over to the video store door and peeked in through the video return slot.
Jake crossed his arms, glaring at Ben. “What does that do?”
“It’s the Onislayer, Jake.” Ben swung it around a little. “Demons burn at its touch.”
“Uh-huh. The landlady complained about noise. Can you do…whatever it is you do quietly?”
Ben smiled. “Quiet as a clam.”
He knocked over a rack of DVDs immediately upon entering the store. Plastic cases clattered to the floor. Dust clouded into the air. The sun had gone down since the cops were in here, and the streetlights outside provided much less light through the cracks between the posters. Ben aimed the Onislayer at various points in the room. He saw shelves full of VHS boxes and an empty counter at the back.
There was no sign of immediate danger. He lowered his weapon. Toby sniffed the dust-filled air and sneezed.
BAD SMELL. Toby’s thoughts bounced around in Ben’s mind. BUG STINK.
“Your nose works a lot better than mine, buddy.” Ben stepped a little further into the room, carefully avoiding fallen DVD cases.
Toby was looking up. Ben followed his gaze. The surface of the ceiling was covered in a thick mesh of spider webs, which held three globular web pods the size of beach balls aloft.
“Shit. Are those eggs sacs?” Ben exhaled through his teeth. “I’d better take care of those.”
He turned to the bookshelf next to him, found a good place to grip, and climbed up a level. The bottom shelf groaned under his weight. Toby turned to the VHS cover next to him and sniffed at it.
Ben swung the Onislayer upwards through one of the pods. It crackled, glowed slightly, and fluttered to the ground like tissue paper as it turned to embers. It was empty.
“We’re too late.” Ben said.
The VHS cover Toby was sniffing shook. He growled.
Suddenly, all the VHS covers in the store started rattling in place. Ben hopped down from the shelves and clutched the Onislayer tightly in front of him. A shadow formed around Toby in the shape of a bigger, meaner Toby. The dog hovered at the shadow’s center, a few inches off the ground. Tentacle-like shapes grew from the shadow’s surface.
The VHS covers stopped. Ben held his breath.
At once, the covers tipped over and thousands, millions of tiny black spiders skittered out. A shimmering wave of arachnids poured onto the dusty carpet and quickly encroached on the boy and his dog.
Ben swung the Onislayer into the bookcase. Flames kissed the spiders in its path. The boxes around it started on fire. Ben went to pull it back, but the ebony blades were jammed in the wood. Ben put his foot on the shelf for some leverage and tried to yank it loose. Spiders wriggled up his pants leg. He could feel them crawling around in there, biting his shins. Ben screamed, jerked the Onislayer free, and pressed it against his leg. The spiders burned through his pants. When he pulled the blade away, there were scorch mark on his jeans where the spiders had been.
Toby hovered above the floor, encased in his larger shadow form. The tentacles of pure darkness growing off his back whipped around, swatting clusters of spiders en masse. When a clump of spiders near him got large enough, he turned and gobbled them up like kibble. As he did, Ben’s leg felt better.
Ben slid his Onislayer on the floor around him, drawing a flaming circle of sizzling spiders. He kept hopping from foot to foot, always keeping one off the ground, so the spiders inside the circle didn’t get him. The next line of arachnids just climbed over the burning ones. This wasn’t nearly as effective as Toby’s method.
“I’m gonna find those cops!” Ben said. He headed towards the back of the store. Toby kept doing what he was doing.
As Ben approached the counter, a woman’s face shot out from the darkness and got up in his grill. The woman had long straight black hair, parted in the middle, covering her eyes.
“I’m sorry, sir.” she said. Ben glanced down. Sarah was right. This head had no body. “This area is for employees only.”
Ben swiped at the floating head. The woman snarled. Her long black hair whipped up in two thick tendrils — for a brief moment, Ben saw solid black eyes and pointed teeth — and sliced the fingers off Ben’s Onislaying hand. His weapon dropped to the floor.
Ben screamed, clutching his wrist, gaping at what remained of his hand. Toby’s front left paw slipped off his wrist and dropped to the floor. The dog sighed, then started eating spiders at a furious rate. Ben’s fingers grew back: bones, then tendons, then veins, then meat, then skin.
“Ah. You have the kakawari.” the floating head said.
“Complicates things, don’t it?” Ben said, wiggling his fresh fingers. Behind him, Toby sniffed his new paw.
The head drifted back into the dark. In an instant, the wooden counter smashed to splinters as a ten-foot-tall spider creature pounced upon Ben, crunching him into the fallen DVD rack. Its eight thick hairy legs stomped around, slipping on DVD cases, avoiding the growing flames. Ben held its huge pincers back as they snapped at his throat. He saw his own panicked face reflected in eight tiny, asymmetrical eyes. A curved stalk grew from the giant spider’s forehead, like the glowing bulb on a deep sea angler fish. The woman’s head bobbed at the end of it.
“Complicate? No. Not really,” said the head. “I’ll just have to eat you first.”
Toby hovered next to Ben. The shadow form around him pulsed and solidified into coarse black fur. What stood there now looked like a cross between a wolf and a bear, with glowing red eyes, massive teeth and a tangle of fur tentacles whipping around on its back. Toby the dog was gone. Only the inugami remained.
“Better do it quick.” Ben said.
The inugami howled, a piercing shriek that made the windows rattle. Ben covered his ears. The spider staggered back, releasing him.
Outside, four different car alarms went off.
“Landlady’s probably going to complain about that.” Jake said without looking up from his phone. Sarah shook her head. She headed for the store.
The inugami leapt upon the giant spider, biting at its neck. The spider managed to catch two of its back legs on counter rubble and it slipped, briefly giving the inugami the upper hand. Ben stood and ducked to the side, avoiding a spider leg and then an inugami tentacle. He picked up the Onislayer.
The inugami rammed the spider into the bookcase nearest to the exit. The wooden case collapsed around them just as Sarah went to open the door. She found it blocked.
“Ben!” she shouted.
“Keep her busy!” Ben said, heading into the dark. The spider rolled, the inugami rolled with it, and they slammed into the opposite wall. The pockets of flame around them slowly grew larger.
As the battle raged on behind him, Ben tread carefully past shelves full of actual VHS tapes in clear plastic cases. There were empty cases strewn about the floor and tapes cracked open like eggs. Bits of black plastic crunched under Ben’s feet. The magnetic tape had been unspooled and removed. There were a lot more spider webs back here. The air felt hot and wet.
“It’s ok,” Ben whispered to himself. “You chose this. This is what you do.”
At the end of the tape racks, Ben turned a corner to the right. He gasped. Hanging from the ceiling, less than a foot from his face, were two human-sized cocoons made from a mix of webs and tape. Viscous fluid oozed between the webs. The tape rippled. One of the cocoons moaned.
Ben leaned down. Each cocoon had a human head poking out the bottom. Their skin was pale, their lips were blue, but one of them made a noise, which meant these cops were alive. Ben climbed up the nearest shelf and sawed at the top of one of the cocoons with the Onislayer.
The giant spider charged at the inugami, hissing, pincers pinching rhythmically. The inugami lunged to the side and clamped its jaws onto one of the spider’s legs. The beast twisted its head and wrenched the leg from the spider’s abdomen. The woman’s head, still bobbing up and down on its stalk, wailed in pain.
Ben cut the root of the second cocoon, and it dropped to the floor with a wet sclorch. Ben knelt down beside it. He pressed the Onislayer up to the webs right beneath the cop’s neck.
“I hope you’re not fatter than you look.”
He sliced down the center. A foul stench filled the air, earthy, like rotten cabbage. Ben gagged. As he got close to the end, the cocoon split open revealing the cop’s body. The guy was pretty goopy but not visibly harmed. He didn’t move. Ben grabbed him by the vest and winced at the warm, slimy wetness.
“Hey! Wake up!” He shook the cop. “You’re being rescued! Wake-“
The cop shot up, gasping. His panicked eyes darted around the room until they settled on Ben.
“You alright?” Ben said.
The cop felt around, shook off some of the slime. He nodded.
“Good.” Ben said, “You can help me with-“
The other cocoon began convulsing. That cop’s mouth opened and another guttural groan escaped his lips.
“Shit.” Ben said.
The cocoon burst, splattering Ben and the cop next to him with webs, tape, slime and blood. A mass of tiny spiders flowed out from where the second cop’s body should have been. The awake-cop’s eyes rolled back in his head and he flopped into his cocoon.
Ben dove at the spiders, stabbing with his Onislayer, shouting obscenities.
The inugami and the giant spider were still fighting hard as Ben dragged the unconscious cop back into the front of the store. The flames had grown into a full-blown fire. Smoke filled the room. Boxes and shelves burned. Everything reeked of melting plastic.
“Toby!” Ben said. “Time to go!”
The woman’s head swung into view. “You! Human! What have you done?! Where are you going with my din-“
Slice! Ben severed the head’s connective stalk. The head tumbled through the air and landed, bounced, and rolled over by the counter.
The spider, orange mush now leaking from its stalk, slumped onto the inugami, dead weight. The inugami wriggled out from underneath it, bit through the spider’s exoskeleton and started eating its guts. Ben felt the rush of energy he got when the inugami ate. He shook it off, then coughed.
The smoke was getting thicker. Ben couldn’t see the exit. He grabbed the cop and tried to drag him further, but couldn’t. He fell onto his butt, coughing.
“Toby!” he shouted. “We gotta get out of here!”
Laughter emanated from across the room. The woman’s head propped itself up with spider’s legs made from its own hair. It wobbled on its hair legs, which couldn’t quite handle the weight, then headed towards the back of the store. The inugami turned and dove to attack it, missing, catching only rubble.
“Help!” Ben got up. “Toby! I can’t move this guy!”
BEN GO. Toby snarled in Ben’s brain. His thoughts were always angrier when he was in Full Inugami mode. TOBY KILL.
“I can’t go! Not without the guy!”
He got between the inugami and the escaping head. The inugami growled at him.
BEN GO! TOBY KILL!
The inugami barked in Ben’s face. TOBY KILL! TOBY KILL!
“No! Damn it! Help-” Ben coughed. “Help me save that cop!”
The smoke was completely blinding now. The severed head with the hair legs faded from view. Ben went into a full on coughing fit and collapsed.
Jake tried to calm the landlady, who was outside again, shouting in his face. Sarah waved the approaching fire engine towards the store.
“You burned down my building!” the landlady said. “I’m going to sue the city! I’ll have your jobs for this!”
“Ma’am.” Jake said, hands up, “Ma’am. If you’ll just-“
The glass storefront shattered. Ben, Toby and the cop rolled out onto the sidewalk amongst the broken glass.
Toby, back to normal, shook like a wet dog. Glass tinkled off his fur. Ben stood, screaming, wriggling out of his flaming hoodie and tossing it onto the sidewalk. He stomped on it until the flames were out. He saw Jake, Sarah, the landlady and several firefighters staring at him.
“Hey,” he said.
The landlady pointed at him. “Who the hell is that?”
COPYRIGHT © MMXVII by JACK McGUIGAN
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED