Atlachnaphobia

Ever since he could remember, Jim Campbell had been deathly afraid of spiders. Indeed, his earliest memory was of one of these horrible hairy things scuttling malevolently across his crib, ascending his tiny body with its creepy-crawly legs and finally light upon his bawling, tear-streaked infant face.

Then, when he was a precocious nine years old, he was running across the field and failed to notice the web of the fat garden spider barring his path at nearly chest-height. He caromed recklessly into the clinging sticky strands and, stunned at the dragging sensation which pulled at his little body, fell to the ground. And there wasn’t just that one spider either, but a whole teeming nest of them which he had toppled directly onto. The feeling of those fat black-and-yellow ping-pong ball-sized bodies scurrying everywhere across him as they bit him in their certain fury made him swell up like a giant purple balloon — and served to him nightmares well through his childhood years and even to the present day!

And even in those nghtmares he found no surcease from his waking terror. In his dreams he often found himself pursued by nameless things across a dark, rocky plateau, the end of which terminated abruptly at a yawning chasm of nigh-infinite depth. Having no choice but to try and avoid the horned Men of Leng — for surely he felt he must do so, at even greater peril than he could scarce imagine! — he was forced to venture out onto the not quite completed web-bridge spanning the gulf, though it were crawling with literally thousands of teeming spiders. And at its nether end he spied a dark, fat, monstrous shape squatting menacingly there — dancing and pulsing hypnotically — as if lying in wait for him. But, mercifully, he always awoke at this point before meeting his loathsome adversary.

And always from this very dream he awoke with a strange cry on his lips — one which held no earthly meaning for him — Atlach-Nacha!

And if his adolescent years had been an ordeal of terror, his mature adult years were even more so; indeed, for he no longer had his mother around to whom he could appeal to . . . nay, beg, to kill the hairy intruders that so often entreated upon his everyday life.

But then it seemed that for Jim Campbell salvation was at last at hand, in the form of professional help; for he had read an article in the Braving Bulletin on a new psychiatrist in town — one Raymond Thulask, who came very highly-recommended (if seemingly from nowhere), according to testimonials cited in the article. Dr. Thulask claimed to be able to cure any and all ills of the mind without fail.

Just now he found himself in the waiting room of Dr. Thulask. He sat impatiently, scanning the magazine before him rather aimlessly, for his mind was not upon it.

He had just begun to read a movie review which had actually caught his interest, when he found his eyesight wavering reluctantly. Something had caught his eye! Something had moved!

Sure enough, he saw a hairy, huddled shape crawling steadily across the thick weave of the carpet, heading (as they always did, as if they could sense his anxiety at their presence!) in his direction. His flesh began to crawl and he felt the nigh-irresistable urge to run screaming from the room as he watched the malignant invader scurry towards him. Indeed, he was on the verge of bolting for another chair when something dark and heavy descended from above to squish the spider flat.

“Mr. Campbell,” the stocky, powerfully-built man said, not bothering to wipe the minute multi-legged corpse from the bottom of his shoe, “I’m Raymond Thulask.” He proffered his hand, which Campbell took gingerly, and the doctor shook it firmly. “Please, sir, won’t you step into my office and tell me what I can do for you?”

In the spacious comfortable room within he proceeded to tell Dr. Thulask all about his phobia: his experiences, his fears, his dreams. He had meant to measure his words carefully, but in the presence of this awe-inspiring man he felt secure. He felt he had found someone to confide in, someone who would understand him and wouldn’t laugh at him, wouldn’t call his fears foolish and irrational. It all came pouring out in a rush: not unlike that time he’d found the sizeable purplish lump on his ankle and had squeezed it tentatively . . . and had nearly fainted dead away at the sight of that loathsome wave of newborn spiders escaping from their fleshy womb in his leg. They had been tiny, clear things — or at least would have been had they not been covered in his blood!

Dr. Thulask listened patiently to his virtual rambling, then allowed the patient a moment to clear his thoughts and compose himself once more. Then, in a deep soothing baritone, he said: “Tell me about the dreams.”

Dr. Thulask’s fingers were steepled beneath his black-bearded chin, but as Campbell told him about the web-choked gorge the doctor’s powerful hands gripped the armrests of his chair and he anxiously sat forward at the seat’s edge. When the patient had finished his narration he was surprised to hear the doctor mutter nearly under his breath something about ‘Leng Spiders’ — for Campbell had not mentioned the dream plateau’s name to Dr. Thulask!

The doctor sat a moment longer, evidently deep in thought, then he rose purposefully from his chair and crossed the room to his bookcase. Campbell was surprised he hadn’t noticed the bookcase before now, for it was stuffed near to overflowing with a multitude of weighty, ponderous tomes!

The doctor drew one of these from the collection and flipped it open, but he shook his head and replaced it, then repeated this action with another book, muttering: “No, not in Von Junzt nor Prinn.” He drew forth another. A smile crossed his dark, almost saturnine face.

“Ah yes, here it is, Busch’s The Widow’s Kill.” He turned its pages reverently. “This is the one!” he nearly shouted.

He carried the volume with him to his desk, and sat down. He faced the patient again, a new light shining in his dark eyes. He spoke softly, yet powerfully.

“You see, Mr. Campbell, the spider-goddess Atlach-Nacha is rather picky in her choices. Hmm? What’s that? Oh well, I don’t really expect you to understand, Mr. Campbell, and I mean that as no insult, for you are actually much better off in your ignorance of her. Actually, to understand, one has to have the Mark of the Widow, which entails . . . well, let’s just say that they have to be initiated.” He sighed heavily. “But to the problem at hand.

“Atlach-Nacha is one of the Great Old Ones, and as such has certain powers and bestowings at her disposal. She flaunts them as she wills, and the spider-goddess makes her choices known by certain sendings. And she has chosen you, Mr. Campbell, for whatever purpose I could only hope to hazard a guess at this point. I feel that these encounters you’ve experienced over the years are her sendings to you, sir. And you are quite right to be apprehensive concerning them — for in my own past dealings with the Mistress of the Web I’ve come to know her dark temperament far better than I would ever have wished to.

“As to why she hasn’t been able to establish contact with you directly . . . perhaps she’s had her wires crossed, so to speak. Even the Great Old Ones themselves are not infallible after all.”

Campbell started to protest, but Dr. Thulask raised a hand to stop him. “Wait, sir, for your own sake, please hear me out.” “Mr. Campbell, I don’t expect you to believe all of this, or even comprehend it, but that need not have any bearing on your present situation. You want to be rid of the sendings — the spiders — and I think that I can help you there. I’ve never actually tried this procedure, and it may likely be very risky . . . but what do you say, Mr. Campbell? Shall we try the Ba-Kroth Ritual?”

Ritual? This Thulask was a madman! thought Campbell. But then he thought of the alternative: the continued unwelcome scurryings awaiting him for years and years to come. Weakly, he nodded his head.

“Excellent!” exclaimed the doctor. “Now just let me brush up for a while on the lore of Atlach-Nacha, or Arachne, as Busch mentions she was known in ancient Greece. Why don’t you go across the street, to the delicatessen, and have yourself a light lunch. Come back in an hour or so, and then with this very book of his, The Widow’s Kiss, we’ll begin our . . . er, exorcism.”

***

It was all a lot of clap-trap to him, this occult mumbo-jumbo, but he went along with it and repeated as best he could the uncouth phrases and syllables, as the doctor had directed him. Toward the end of the litany it appeared that all was not in vain: a hole had opened seemingly in mid-air in the space before them and the two men found themselves gazing upon that web-choked abyss of his dreams. But his time he could make out clearly the web’s horrible occupant. It was worse, much worse, than all of the others combined! He nearly bolted again then and there, and could not believe his eyes when Dr. Thulask stepped directly into the hole in space and reverently approached the squatting figure. Steeling his gaze, Campbell forced himself to look on. Dr. Thulask and the horror called Atlach-Nacha seemed to be conversing!

After a few moments — or was it hours? Time seemed to have no meaning just then — the doctor bade the web-goddess adieu and stepped out of the hole in space and back into his office. Then the hole closed again, and that was that.

Dr. Thulask led Campbell to his chair and eased him into it, then crossed the room and poured an amber liquid from an ornate decanter into a glass and proffered it to the patient. “Here, drink this,” he suggested, “it will help to calm your nerves.”

Sitting down in his own chair, Dr. Thulask again steepled his hands beneath his thick goatee and took a deep breath before continuing.

“Yes, I was right,” he began, “Atlach-Nacha did have the wrong subject in you. But she did seem sorry, and said that she would correct her mistake. She assured me you’ll never see spiders again.”

Satisfied, Jim Campbell paid the doctor a very nominal fee, considering, and took his leave. And in the weeks to come he truly never saw spiders for the rest of his life.

***

He never saw any spiders — but just because he couldn’t see them it didn’t mean they weren’t there! Atlach-Nacha would correct its mistake, Dr. Thulask had told him, and in the last few moments of his life — with the feeling of the vast multitude’s frenzied scurryings and bitings upon him driving him mad — and as he finally felt his life squeezed out between the monstrous mandibles of Atlach-Nacha herself — Jim Campbell knew this to be true.


Leave a Comment