As Charlie sped to her opening shift on a single speed road bike, the heavy rain was pouring. Her front bicycle tire caught itself on the main street's tram tracks—thwack!—and Charlie flew over the handlebars. It was 5AM and the street was quiet; no one was around to witness the embarrassing tumble. Save for a few scratches and a big bruise on her elbow, Charlie was fine, limping back to her bike to continue the trek to the coffee shop. She started to pedal and heard a monstrous wheezing laugh from the corner. The laugh became more maniacal and Charlie pedaled faster.
Bagels arrive at Charlie's cafe much earlier than she does, and they greeted her at the front door, still warm. She grabbed them as she unlocked the front door. The cafe was dark and the hum of the refrigerator comforted her. After turning on the lights, she heard the espresso machine pump click on, familiar yet always a little jarring. But half way through its cycle she heard an unfamiliar chk-chk-chk-chk. Before she could investigate, the pastry delivery arrived.
“We ran out of almond croissants, so I took them off your invoice,” the tired driver said.
Charlie could already hear the complaint of her “large coffee and Washington Post” regular but shrugged it off. “Can't win them all,” she muttered, signing the invoice during a quick count of the artisanal muffins and loaves. Charlie took out the pastry trays and began to stock the bag of bagels when she noticed the bag had been ripped open. It looked as if someone took a bite of a cinnamon raisin bagel and put it back in the bag. Looking a bit closer, it almost looked like…was it blood? She put the rest of the bagels on the tray anyway.
The final muffins were placed and her co-worker arrived. Charlie started to dial in the espresso. “This coffee is two weeks old,” she complained, thinking about her manager's over-zealous coffee order. This espresso sucks, Charlie thought. I'll just add a little chocolate to the bottom of the drinks this morning. Whatever.
Customers started coming in off the street. “Aw, no almond croissants?”
The teachers from the school across the street started to line up, as did Charlie's queue of drinks. Steaming some soy milk for a large latte she heard the same noise from early in the morning. Chk-chk-chk-chk. The steam wand seemed a little weak this morning, but the machine kept chugging along, so Charlie didn't really think anything of it. Her scrapes from the morning's fall started to itch beneath her hastily wrapped bandages. She thought about what she'd eat during her break. Definitely not the bagels, because those were probably tainted and bloodied by whatever tore into the bag.
Her coworker started to play a Kate Bush album and Charlie loudly protested “NOOOOOOO”. She turned on her favorite Mogwai record instead. Love fuckin' Mogwai.
The third barista came on at 9 and the cafe was full of wet, unhappy people. The floor was slippery and a little Australian girl tripped and started crying. The mother yanked the child up by the arm and sleepily demanded a babycino. When the barista tried to charge her $1 she looked shocked. “The owner never charges me for a babycino!” Charlie despised these two. But before she could mutter her disgust out loud, the machine made that terrible sound again, this time louder. Chk-chk-chk-chk!
Charlie cleaned her milk pitchers and brushed espresso grounds on the floor she turned to her coworkers and asked them to take over while she took her break.
Charlie sat with a ham and cheese croissant in the back on the tiny chair wedged between the ice machine and the mop sink. The mop head was disgusting. Just then she heard the Australian child scream: “MOMMY, BLOOD!” The little girl started to cry again as the mother investigated her bloodied bagel with cream cheese and yelled, “WHAT DID YOU SERVE TO MY CHILD?” Charlie's coworkers looked dumbfounded. Charlie sank into her chair and let her coworkers deal with it. The customers stormed out of the cafe.
After Charlie's ten-minute break turned into fifteen, she came back on the floor and kicked her coworker off the machine. “I'm not gonna deal with customers today,” she explained.
The busy morning waned and Charlie's wounds began to itch again. She looked down and noticed something underneath the espresso machine. Something moving.
Underneath the sopping milk rag, she could see a dozen or so tiny black things scurrying. Taking a closer look Charlie realized what they were: baby spiders. “Oh my god…”
She looked down at her arm and saw more baby spiders, some finding warmth beneath her bandages. Going into full-on panic mode, she realized that her milk pitchers were crawling with them. The machine erupted with baby spiders, pouring out from underneath and from the sides. The chk-chk-chk-chk! started up again, only this time it didn't let up. Suddenly a hiss came out from the steam boiler. There were little fuzzy spiders everywhere.
A customer screamed, “THERE ARE SPIDERS IN MY CHAI!”
The espresso machine snarled and hissed and the chk-chk-chk-chk turned into a CHUNK CHUNK CHUNK. The top of the machine violently shook and the top burst open, sending a warm chocolate bottle and demitasse flying in the air. The few customers that remained in the cafe and Charlie and her co-workers watched in horror as a large fuzzy arm crept out from the top of the machine. One by one, eight disgusting arms revealed themselves, followed by the beady black eyes of an enormous brown spider. Everyone was frozen with fear.
The spider hoisted itself up, egg sacs still hatching from its behind.
It pulled out a tiny top hat, dusted it off, and put it on while asking the cafe in a deep spider voice: “What's everyone staring at? I need the Wi-Fi password. I'm just trying to get on the web!”
Frozen in horror, Charlie heard a voice respond to the spider—and it was her own, intoning a phrase she'd repeated countless times to other customers.”Actually? We don't do Wi-Fi here, but we have some art books and I think there's a library nearby.”
The spider let out a terrible scream. Its hairy legs began to twitch.
The spider babies began to swarm the cafe, wrapping their victims in a sticky translucent goo. The large spider laughed a deep, hideous beast-laugh. As Charlie felt the warm web wrap around her, she recognized that laugh. The wheezing laugh from earlier!
The spider put on a record and began to feast!
There's a city, draped in net
And in the half light, in the half light
It looks like every tower
Is covered in webs
Moving and glistening and rocking
It's babies in rhythm
As the spider of time is climbing
Over the ruins…