Dreameater spiders are, in no uncertain terms, a pain in the collective ass of humanity.
People see the 'silk' in stores and the fancy clothes made from it and don't realize what went in to not just making it, but harvesting it and carting it back to the manufacturer. Not to mention all the effort that actually goes in to processing the stuff. They just see the pretty.
There are two kinds of Dreameater spider.
Dreamweavers look innocuous enough, I'll admit. They're the ones who make the 'silk'.
Commercial weavers are kept in special silk harvesting facilities where everything is very safe and authorized and smiled upon by the health inspector. The ones not settled inside a nice, safe facility where I can't get to them will usually find themselves a nice crowded home.
They get themselves situated in their little corners and, when the family is sleeping, they absorb their dreams. The more dreams they get, the bigger, stronger, and better looking the web. Different kinds of dreams make different kinds of web.
Most people catch on before the bastards get too troublesome, but they're hard as hell to kill and even after they're gone, their unprocessed webs can have some nasty effects on people's sleeping patterns. Especially kids.
This is one of the reasons why my crew and I exist. We kill spiders.
If you don't notice the weavers are there, they'll keep sucking the life out of you. Eventually it won't just be dreams. Memories start to go. Eventually just anything that might've made you you. It'll suck the sense out of you until you can't remember which way is up and all the while that web is getting bigger. By the time it's big enough to start hurting, you'll be so far gone that you forget the web is there as soon as you stop looking at it. You forget to feed yourself because you forget you're hungry- if you haven't gone totally off and forgotten what food it. Forgotten that there's a 'you' to feed.
We've had a few nasty cases where we've had to cut people out of the webs and- my God, was it unpleasant. People who'd gone into such a fugue state that the spider had just webbed right over them as they stood around like empty husks, slowly starving to death without noticing.
And those are just the little ones. The daddy-long-legs of Dreameaters. The ones who have the decency to at least just stay put.
Today we were out hunting the big boys. They've got some long sciency name with a bunch of Greek-and-or-Latin references in it, but we in the business just call them feeders.
At their smallest they're the size of a particularly fat house cat. The largest on record was about St. Bernard sized. Unlike the weavers, the feeders do not stay put. Unlike the weavers, the feeders don't make silk or webs. Unlike the weavers, the feeders actually go out and hunt for their food. And unlucky for homo sapiens, we are the prime thing on the menu. Sure, they'll go after dogs and stuff if there aren't any people around, but given the choice between carrying off Rover and carrying off Rover's master, they're going to go for the thing on two legs.
While the weavers are happy to just sit around waiting for their dinner to fall asleep and dream on their own, the feeder's are a little more proactive. They've got nasty venom that can knock a grown man out for twelve to sixteen hours. During that time, the feeder will hang around and feed off them continuously. As soon as the victim starts waking up, the feeder will just bite them again. Rinse and repeat until the person they're feeding on has died of dehydration.
* * * * *
My team and I were in the swamp-assed side of nowhere, scouring the place for any sign of feeders. There had been feeder on the prowl sighted around the outskirts of town, which meant we'd been called in to investigate.
"It was weird," the local sheriff had said.
"I saw it myself- I was the one who went down there when we got the call. It was a prowler all right, but. . . "
"But it ignored us. Me and Bill- he's the one who saw it first and called it in- were watching from the house. But instead of trying to break in through the window or somethin', it went hanging by the fruit tree."
"I saw it myself. It went up and took a few peaches off, then scarpered."
I wrote that down into the report book. "Odd. Anything else?"
"It ignored the dog. There was a dog sleeping on the porch. It walked right by."
I'd stopped writing. That was odd. "Thank you for your assistance, sheriff. We'll be sure to let you know how it turns out."
* * * * *
So now here we were. Six guys in the swamp looking for a spider. Three groups of two, because none of us were stupid enough to go looking for a feeder on our own. Me and Rich were combing the north bank, our readers blipping peaceably until we went a little ways deeper into the woods. The blipping of our readers sped up from a casual blip. . . blip. . . blip into a concerned blip . blip . blip.
Something rustled up ahead, in the branches of a tree straight ahead of us. Something big.
blip blip blip
"You ready?" I said into my mic. Through my helmet's shaded sunglasses-esque visor, I saw Rich bob his head stiffly. I secured the clip hooked onto my pig-sticker and we set off.
The closer we got to the spider, the more insistent the blipping got on our reader.
"You want to do the honors," I said, "or should I?"
Rich pressed a button on the side of his helmet and his visor slid up, revealing a crooked nose, a lot of freckles, and a beaver-tooth grin. We took the safeties off our stunners and got ready for a fight. Now that the visor was down, Rich's tasty tasty brainwaves were exposed and the feeder would launch out of the tree and be all over us.
Only it didn't. The branches rustled and went still.
Blip blip blip blip. . . blip. . . blip. . .
We waited a moment in stunned silence.
"Did. . . .did it just-?" started Rich.
"Run away?" I finished. "I think so." I checked my reader to make sure it was working right.
"Has that ever happened before?"
"Maybe it's injured?" I said, holstering the stunner. It was unlikely. Feeders have been known to try taking down full grown men while injured and bleeding.
Rich's voice crackled in my ear as he went on the mic again. "Attention, attention, Agent's Richardson and Jameson here. Just saw the feeder, but it ran-"
"It ran?" said Davidson.
"It ran north-west. Engaging pursuit- everyone see our beacons?"
My eyes flicked to the little blinking light in the bottom of my helmet's visor that signified my tracker was working. Anyone with an issued helmet rigged up to our frequency would be able to find us.
"Yeah, we all got 'em."
"Good. We're off, meet us there."
* * * * *
We must've tracked that sucker halfway around the swamp. That's what it felt like, at least.
Three hours later we found it, just in time to see it go skittering down a hole in the ground that lead to its burrow. We went up to the opening and found it big enough for us to go through if we wanted, and (a quick check with our flashlights told us), deep enough to hold God-only-knew what.
"You wanna go first?" said Rich, "Or should I?"
I grinned though I knew he couldn't see it and jumped in.
It was dark and cramped to start with, but opened up a little ways in into an outright muddy cavern. Our helmets shifted to night-vision automatically and we got a good look around.
"Shit," Rich and I said at the same time.
The spider wasn't alone.
They were in a burrowed out spot near the back of the cavern, the spider and his latest meal.
It was hard to tell, even with the night vision. Male, maybe late twenties-early thirties, pretty scruffy and looking like he hadn't seen a shower in weeks. The little groove they were in was littered with empty water bottles and a few bits of rotten fruit. The feeder completely ignored us, despite the fact that we were standing right there.
I watched as the feeder placed the peach on the floor, picked up a rock, and then proceeded to mash the fruit up. When the peach had been reduced to an unrecognizable pile of mush, the feeder then scooped up a bit. It went over to the vic, opened his mouth, and then put the mush inside. Rich's voice crackled in through the airwaves.
"Jameson, you getting this?"
"Yeah," I said, feeling about as well as the peach. "It's feeding him."
It was feeding him. The damned thing was feeding him. And if the water bottles were anything to go by, it had been making sure he drank, too. It was intentionally keeping him alive.
"Guys?" I said on the general channel. "We found the spider's hole. We got guy down here. We're going to need a medic."
"On it," said Anderson.
We crept up to the spider, half expecting it to attack.
It wouldn't get off the guy. It crouched over him and hissed at us, but it didn't move. When we got too close, it would lunge forward, then once we'd hopped backwards to avoid it, it would dart back onto the guy's torso.
"So do we stun it?'
"I dunno," I said. "I don't want the excess charge to hurt the guy. We got to get it off him first."
"Right," said Rich, unclipping his pig-sticker. "Want me to poke, it with a stick?"
I readied my stunner. "That is always the correct course of action. Distract it, get it off him long enough for me to stun it."
It took some prodding to get the spider to leave its meal, but eventually it did go after Rich, taking small, swift movements and trying to get the stick. As soon as it was a safe distance away from the guy on the floor, I zapped it. Instead of dropping onto its back, legs curled up, it shook itself off and started after me.
I backed away, and it followed. I zapped it a few more times, and it kept coming. "Rich? Change of plans."
Rich ran up from behind it and thwacked its abdomen. That got the spider's attention back on him.
"Get him out," said Rich, jerking his head towards the man on the floor. "Make sure he's okay. I'll keep it busy."
Rich led the feeder off around the cave, hitting it every time it started to back off, ticking it off enough to keep on chasing him. I went to kneel by the vic and tried to wake him. It's always best to wake up dreameater victims as soon as possible.
"Sir? Sir, can you hear me? Sir?"
Hie eyes fluttered open, wide and vacant. I almost shone a flashlight in his eyes, then remembered that he'd been in a fucking hole in the ground for the past God-knows-how-long, and so would probably not appreciate it. The medics would deal with the 'follow the light' thing anyways, I just needed to keep him alive until they showed up.
"Sir, do you know where you are? What your name is? Can you speak?"
I think he might've been trying to struggle, to get away from me, but he was too weak to do anything but paw like a kitten.
There was a rumble sound overhead. Anderson's voice came in my ear. "Jameson? We're here, but we don't see you."
"We're under your feet, there should be a hole in the ground-"
"Got it. You got the vic?"
"Yeah." I hefted him up in a fireman's carry and went for the burrow's entrance. "You guys are gonna have to pull him out," I said. There was no way I'd be able to get us both out by myself.
I heard the sound of boots crunching dirt and soon helpful hands were reaching down, taking the weight off my back.
"Spider's chasing Rich," I said as they helped me up.
Davidson grinned and turned slightly so I could see his flamethrower. Jefferson, similarly armed, was already heading down the hole. "We'll get it."
The truck was parked a little ways away- that had been the rumbling, I'd imagine. It was soaked nearly up to the windows in mud, despite all the lift modifications and huge tires. Behind it was a trail of crushed plantlife and unnatural vehicle-inflicted flatness.
Thomson was checking on the victim, making sure his head was on right. Anderson was talking to somebody on the phone, his helmet set on the ground so he could hear his cell. I lit a cig and leaned back against the truck. Rich crawled out of the hole a minute later and joined me. A second after that, there was an earsplitting shriek and the air around the burrow's entrance got a whole lot warmer.
"We done here?" I said as Davidson and Jefferson crawled out of the hole.
"Yep!" said Jefferson cheerfully. "How's the guy?"
"He's alright," said Thomson. "I mean, aside from the amnesia, inability to speak, muscular atrophy, being malnourished and having been in a fucking hole for the past several days and-or weeks. But it doesn't look like there's any major organ failure, and provided someone more qualified than I am takes a look at him, he should be fine in a matter of months." Thomson stood up. "I'll need help getting him into the truck."
We all went to help load the man into the truck. he watched us with wild eyes, and I wondered if he'd remember any of this later. Thomson was right, he'd need to see a real doctor. Not that Thomson wasn't the best our division could afford, but there was only so much one guy in a swamp could do on his own.
We all got into the truck, leaving the doors open while we waited for Anderson to finish his call.
"Alright," he said, hanging up. "The nearest hospital is fifteen minutes away and they're expecting us. I just called our department director and informed them of the farmer spider you just killed."
"And they're calling it an anomaly, a mutant, a freak of nature, and they're all very certain it will never happen again."
He got into the driver's seat and revved up the engine.
"Anything else?" said Rich.
"Yeah. We're all under gag orders not to tell anyone about it."
"Of course we are," Thomson drawled.
"Fuck it, let's just get the hell out of here," I said.
There was a general chorus of 'fuck yeah' and we were off, leaving the swamp and the charred burrow of the spider behind us.