Article from The Layton Times – ‘Town residents evacuated after toxic gas leak from chemical plant’:
The recent flooding has left many people with damaged property and vehicles, some even being forced to leave their homes and move in with friends and relatives in neighbouring towns. While the townsfolk are showing a strong sense of community spirit, helping each other to recover from the flooding, the chaos looks to be far from over.
Workers in a chemical plant owned by the Breakthru company on the outskirts of Layton were thrown into panic after the power outage caused by the flooding. The chemicals in the plant need to be kept at a certain temperature, and the containers of the chemical burst into flames after the cooling systems that kept the temperatures stable were switched off. A toxic gas was released into the air, and homes within a 1.5 mile radius of the plant were evacuated.
Luckily no one has been reported to have been affected by the gas leak. A Breakthru representative issued a statement claiming that the workers at the plant did everything possible to prevent a gas leak but the scale of the flooding was unprecedented.
“I’m afraid it’s very bad news.”
There’s a surprise, Ken Anderson thought. He was used to hearing bad news. He was sat in Doctor Harris’ office, feeling very uncomfortable in a plastic chair and thinking about what food he was going to buy in the supermarket later.
Ken and his wife Evelyn were two of the residents who had to leave their homes due to the flood. For the past couple of weeks they’d been staying with Evelyn’s parents. They were nice but every time he saw them Ken could feel them watching his massive frame, judging him.
“You have superior mesenteric artery syndrome, or SMAS for short,” Doctor Harris revealed. “It would explain all the symptoms that you described to me. In order to avoid those symptoms you won’t be able to digest solid foods. You may need to undergo surgery to realign the duodenum, which would make bring your digestive system back to normal, but for the time being I’m afraid you will need to go on a liquid diet.”
No. No no no no no. Not being able to taste his favourite foods would be like walking in a desert with no water. It wasn’t just that Ken loved food; he used food to control his emotions. When he felt sad or angry he comfort ate, and would feel better, but the feeling wouldn’t last and he’d find himself eating the same foods later. After a binge he’d feel guilty or ashamed, but keep doing it nevertheless. When Ken was trying a new diet he’d be irritable and very easily become down. He’d given up telling Evelyn when he was going on a new diet because he’d tried and failed diets more times than he could count.
Evelyn herself was overweight, except unlike Ken didn’t care about how she looked. She had deep blue eyes, which Ken remembered being captivated by the first time they met, and thick blond hair which ran in waves to her shoulders. Ken rarely saw her with make up on, except when they went to a restaurant or met up with friends, and even then only wore the minimum amount. She wasn’t one of those women who press for their partner to go on a diet and shape up because she’s worried what her family and friends might think.
“How soon can I have the surgery?” Ken asked.
“I need some time to see what the best option to take is,” Doctor Harris replied calmly. “As soon as I know I will let you know.”
Ken didn’t know whether to scream or cry. “Thank you for all your help; at least now I know why I’ve been feeling like a victim of the Plague.”
“A liquid diet would be miserable for someone who has a healthy relationship with food, so I can only imagine what it will be like for you,” Harris said. “I’ll do all I can to help you. SMAS is a horrible condition and someone like you doesn’t deserve to be suffering from it.”
On leaving the doctor’s Ken drove to the supermarket and bought what Evelyn had asked him to. Seeing all the foods that made him feel happy and not being able to have them was worse than the most horrendous medieval torture method. The sadness was already starting to follow him around. He bought liquid alternatives to his meals and left the supermarket in a hurry.
Outside, the sun was shining, but it made no difference to Ken’s mood. It was like a black cloud was hanging over him and no one else. He clambered into his car and headed home through Layton.
The destruction the flood had left behind was evident all around. Cars were strewn about like toy cars a child had carelessly thrown away, some dented or crumpled, others upside down. Uprooted trees lay across the ground, some blocking the road while others had fallen onto buildings and crushed them into piles of broken brick. Fences and garden sheds were now stacks of rotting wood.
Evelyn was inspecting the house when Ken walked through the front door, hands on her hips. “All the carpets are gonna need refitting,” she said, “and half the furniture’s ruined.”
Ken nodded and went into the kitchen to put the shopping away. He didn’t want to think about repairs to the house at that moment. His stomach rumbled loudly. His middle felt empty and his head drained of energy.
“Are you alright?” Evelyn asked from the hallway, eyes betraying concern.
“No I’m really not,” Ken replied. Evelyn was the only person he could be brutally honest with about how he felt. Thank God he had her. He told her what the doctor had diagnosed him with and what the short term implications were.
Evelyn hugged him tight. “Bastard,” she said.
“Who’s a bastard?” Ken asked.
“The condition. Why do these things always have to happen to us?”
“It’s just bad luck,” Ken said, and he was right. It was bad luck that he had a slow metabolism, bad luck that he wasn’t born that clever, bad luck that he was in the same year as a gang of sadistic boys at school.
“Are you gonna be okay?” Evelyn asked.
“I’ll have to learn how to live with it,” Ken said after a moment to think. “Doctor Harris is tying to find a way to get rid of it, at least that’s something.”
“I’ll cook all my own meals and I won’t eat in front of you,” Evelyn offered. “If you can smell the food I’ll eat in the garden.”
Ken ran a hand through her hair. “I’d really appreciate that. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“I found a massive cobweb in the garden,” Evelyn said. “The biggest one I’ve ever seen.”
Spiders are just what I need right now, Ken thought with a shudder. He had never liked animals, insects especially, but he loathed spiders. They were the creepiest, nastiest creatures he could think of; they had too many legs and eyes and he hated how fast they could crawl.
Ken stepped out into the little garden. The shed, which had been there before they bought the house, lay in ruins, the garden tools spilled out across the grass. They didn’t have any plants or flowers. A few plants here and there would make their home look nicer, but plants attracted insects.
The fence remained pretty much intact, though the wood looked like it was starting to rot. Between two posts was a gigantic spider’s web. It was the biggest one he’d ever seen, too. The intricacy of the weaving was impressive. Several dead flies were stuck to the web, victims of a nightmarish monster.
That night Ken couldn’t sleep. Hunger and anxiety were keeping him awake. Just a sandwich, or a chocolate bar, and he’d feel better. But he couldn’t have anything because it would make him vomit or suffer stabbing cramps, and even Ken knew the temporary pleasure wasn’t worth that much pain. He had experienced other consequences of overeating, but they were just about manageable. There was the obvious weight gain, but Ken’s job as a bus driver wasn’t psychical so he could still manage it. The more he weighed the more tired and lazy he became, and he had to be up early in the morning, but again, for the time being he could just about manage it… just.
Evelyn was snoring happily beside him, hand clutching the book she’d been reading. Ken was worried after he’d gained a noticeable amount of weight that she’d no longer be attracted to him and might run off with a man who had a far better body, but instead she told him she loved him for who he was not what he was.
He went to the bathroom for a piss and saw a spider hiding in the shadow of the toilet bowl. Ken back into the bedroom and found a small box. When he went back into the bathroom the spider hadn’t moved. Ken stepped slowly towards it, holding up the box ready. As he was about to slam the box down the spider extended its legs and shot across the tiles. Ken panicked and grabbed the scales and squashed the horrible creature dead.
He relieved his bladder, then turned the scales over to remove the dead spider. Sticky yellow stuff oozed out of it. Ken wiped the stuff away using toilet roll. Some of it touched his skin and he felt a small sharp sting. He ran to the sink and washed it off. He picked up the spider, feeling the hairs on its long legs as he did so, and threw it in the bin.
Ken felt thirsty suddenly and walked downstairs to get a glass of water. When he turned on the kitchen light he saw another spider on the wall. It was the same size as the one in the bathroom. As he walked to the sink he noticed three more spiders, two climbing up the cupboards and one on the floor.
Give me a break, Ken thought irritably. It would be pointless trying to trap them all, so he searched for the bug spray. The can was empty, so he decided to drive to the nearest petrol station, where he’d go to when he was in desperate need of comfort food and all the other places were shut.
On the way Ken passed a billboard advertising Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The colours were loud and the photo of the food as seductive as a beautiful woman. He gripped the wheel in frustration. A Coca Cola truck overtook him as he was approaching the petrol station. It was early November and the company was already advertising for the Christmas season. Ken’s vision was consumed by the giant image of Santa Claus holding a bottle of Coke wrapped in a red bow on both sides of the truck. He remembered when he first heard that Santa’s colour was green originally, but was changed to red so a figure popular with children could help sell more Coke. That must be the most depressing fact ever.
A young couple stood in front of Ken in the queue for the checkout. They couldn’t seem to be able to stop giggling, drunk on love and happiness. Ken recalled that as a teenager there was nothing he hated more than seeing happy young couples. Every girl he felt something for rejected him, despite his efforts to win their affection.
They couldn’t seem to see past the fact that he was fat. He wanted to be thin, but stuffing his face was the only way he could feel happy at the time. A group of boys at school, led by a very cruel and childlike boy, taunted Ken on a daily basis, calling him ‘lard boy’, ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and countless other names. The leader would try to get as many people in class to join in the name calling as possible, until Ken felt like everyone was out to get him. The leader’s mates would point their fingers and stare at him as if he was a murderer, making him feel guilty and worthless. He wanted to go up to them and bend their fingers until they broke. Even some of Ken’s friends left him and joined in the daily taunting. Without the leader they wouldn’t have started teasing him, so he wanted to grab him and punch and kick him so he’d be hurting for days afterwards. Then he’d know not to mess with Ken and shut his stupid brattish mouth and leave him in peace. But Ken never went that far; what would people think and say about him if he showed a very angry, ugly side?
Ken dealt with the misery the leader caused by staying indoors where it was safe and eating. Around the time the bullying started his dad celebrated his birthday, and his mum bought a home made cake for the occasion. The cake was spongy and the icing was irresistible, and every evening Ken would cut himself a big slice and eat it while watching his favourite TV programmes, taking time to savour the tastes and the good feeling they created.
The memories seeing the young couple had brought back darkened Ken’s mood. He made a diversion on the way home to a car park on the outskirts of town, which he knew would be vacant. He sat in the car for a few minutes, then let out the loudest scream he could. It was the only way toget rid of the madness festering in his mind, clawing away at his sanity. One scream wasn’t enough, so he screamed again and again until his throat hurt too much and the madness had quieted down.
Ken’s phone lit up in his pocket. He stole a quick glance at the screen: his boss had texted him about coming back to work. The bus services in Layton had stopped when the flooding became severe, and Ken was looking forward to getting back to work. It would be a good distraction; he liked catching up with the regular passengers and meeting new people. There were all kinds of people Ken had met during his rounds: people from all over the world, children, pensioners, poor people, rich people, people who loved their job, people who hated their job… Ken enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life and hearing their stories, their opinions and their goals. At least for a while he’d be taken away from the madness of hunger and cravings for sweet tastes.
When he arrived back home Ken opened the front door to find countless spiders crawling along the walls. All of them were the same size and had very long, hairy legs. He gripped the spray can and killed as many of them as he could. He then went into the kitchen and sprayed like mad.
Just when he thought he’d gotten rid of all the spiders, Ken felt something on his back. He could feel the creature’s pointy legs digging into his skin. Quick as he could he grabbed it and threw it across the room. It landed under the radiator, curled up in a ball. Ken took a deep breath and felt slightly faint. Without warning the spider flipped over and crawled towards Ken. He had just enough time to aim the bug spray. Even after being sprayed the spider wriggled like a helpless child, determined to stay alive. He heard it squeak, and eerie, weird noise. Another big spray just about managed to kill it.
Ken checked the rest of the rooms downstairs and didn’t see any spiders. Before going back to bed he checked every room upstairs and luckily didn’t see any.
Evelyn had switched her bedside lamp on and was looking at him with a confused expression. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
He told her about the spiders. “I won’t be able to sleep for the rest of the night,” she said. “I’m guessing it’s because of the flood.”
“I hate spiders,” Ken said through gritted teeth. Evelyn must have seen the madness growing in his eyes, and she gestured for him to climb into bed and cuddle close. “Don’t worry; we’ll fix the problems the damn flood’s caused, and I’m sure Doctor Harris will be able to sort out the superior messionic– whatever it’s called.”
Ken managed to sleep despite seeing all the spiders downstairs. He kept the can of bug spray on the bedside table.
Ken was driving a packed bus around Layton. The day was especially hot and he loosened his tie as he started to feel light headed.
He stopped at a bus stop in the town centre and a group of teenage boys clambered on before any of the passengers had a chance to leave. They were very loud and sat right at the front of the bus. As Ken began to drive, minding his own business, the boys started shouting “Go faster” and “Are we there yet?”. Ken tolerated them at first, thinking that they might be intoxicated with drink or drugs. Then the insults started getting personal: “Come on, fatty” and “What’s the matter, is your belly stuck in the wheel?” Ken gripped the wheel and tried to control his growing irritation.
It was no use. He slammed on the brakes, walked over to the group of boys and grabbed the loudest one. He punched him to the ground, surprising him and the others. He kicked and punched him, growling “That’ll teach you not to be so rude, you ignorant prick.”
When Ken got control control of himself he looked up to see everyone on the bus staring at him in disbelief. The regulars couldn’t seem to believe that he was capable of that much rage.
“Ken. Ken, wake up.”
Ken opened his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief when he realised he was in bed and not on the bus. He saw Evelyn sat up in bed, her eyes wide with fear.
“Over in the corner,” she whispered. Ken’s relief switched to panic as he looked and saw the biggest spider he’d ever seen. Its legs were a foot wide and were digging into the carpet. Its entire body was extremely hairy. Ken could feel its eight eyes staring right at him. Evelyn and he froze in place.
Ken wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that, but it felt like an eternity. He envisioned himself running out of the room, down the stairs and out the front door, but he couldn’t move.
The spider blinked and drool escaped from its mouth. Evelyn leapt up and shot towards the bedroom door. The spider sped across the room like a lightning bolt and climbed onto Evelyn’s back and stuck its fangs into her skin. Evelyn screamed and grabbed two of its legs and pulled it off of her and threw it across the room. The spider hit the wall and landed next to the bed. Evelyn leaned over Ken on the bed and pushed his bedside cabinet over. The cabinet squashed half of the spider. “Let’s go,” Evelyn said, grabbing Ken by the arm and hauling him up.
“You were brave,” Ken said as they hurried downstairs. “Sorry, I was useless there.”
“I nearly stayed frozen as well,” Evelyn said. Ken saw blood trickling down her back from the bite mark. She stumbled down the last few steps and collapsed suddenly. Ken just managed to catch her before she slammed her head on the wooden floorboards.
As he was trying to wake her he heard the ripping of the carpet from upstairs. He looked up. The spider was at the top of the stairs, its eyes like eight glass spheres. The micro second Ken saw its legs begin to move he bolted out of the front door and rant to the car and locked himself inside.
The street was empty and deathly quiet. The sky was clouded over, obscuring the stars and moon. Ken sat in the dark, frozen again. He couldn’t stop himself from shaking. He knew that he needed togo back inside the house; Evelyn had been bitten by a species of spider he’d never seen before, which could be carrying a deadly venom. The size and power of the creature kept Ken frozen where he was. It was like he was living in a nightmare.
Just go in, grab Evelyn and drive to the hospital. The plan was simple, but Ken didn’t have a clue where the spider might be lying in wait. If he could draw it out and trap it somehow he’d be able to go back inside. There might have been other spiders, but none of the others he’d encountered had been anywhere near that big and vicious.
Ken took a deep breath, pulled his thoughts together and thought of a way to kill the monster. After a few minutes he found one. He pushed the car door open, but couldn’t step out. He cursed loudly, frustrated with himself. He thought of Evelyn dead from the spider bite because her coward of a husband couldn’t face a few nasty creatures. He’d be laughed and sneered at, and he would’ve lost one of the few people who had treated him kindly.
Evelyn didn’t judge him for his looks, his mistakes, what he had and hadn’t achieved… She loved him because he deserved to be loved, and gave her as much of his time and energy in return. If she left his life… the thought was enough to drive Ken out of the car and to the garden where the garden tools were spilled across the grass. He grabbed the longest pipe he could find, stuck one end in the exhaust of the car and the other in the passenger seat window. He then grabbed a broken wooden board, stripped the end of his T-shirt off, tied it round the end of the board, grabbed the lighter from the glove box and lit the clothing. Before the went back to the house he started the car’s engine.
Ken opened the front door, holding his makeshift torch at arm’s length. Evelyn was still passed out on the floor. The spider was halfway up the wall. “Come on, come and get me!” Ken said. Its eight eyes widened and it began to crawl towards Ken, who ran to the car.
The spider sprinted to where Ken stood by the passenger door, but stopped when it saw the fire. Ken swung the torch at it, circling it, closing in, forcing it to retreat inside the car. He slammed the passenger door. He watched with satisfaction as the car filled with smoke. He ran inside the house, dipped the torch in the flower vase and tried again to wake Evelyn up. She still wasn’t responding.
Ken phoned for an ambulance, then fetched a pillow for Evelyn to rest her head on. “Please be okay,” he thought aloud. The car engine was revving outside. He grabbed the largest knife he could find from the kitchen and went out to the car.
The spider must be dead by now. Ken opened the car door and killed the engine. The spider was curled in a ball on the passenger seat, as lifeless as a rock. Smoke escaped into the cold night air.
Ken stepped away from the car, coughing from the poisonous gas. He looked back at the house and the next thing he knew the spider had wrapped its legs around his middle and had sunk its fangs into his ribs. He tried to pull it away by its body but that just made it sink its fangs deeper. He gripped the kitchen knife and hacked away at its legs. They were thick and hard to cut through but Ken was driven by a wild mix of terror and rage. After the spider had lost three of its legs it let go of its grip and fell to the ground. Ken made no hesitation in stabbing its body again and again and again.
Leaving the blade stuck in the damned creature’s body and covered in sticky yellow stuff, Ken ran back to Evelyn and waited for the ambulance to arrive.
Ken and Evelyn survived their ordeal and whilst in hospital heard of other reports of very large, aggressive spiders in Layton. For weeks after the event, Ken checked the whole house for critters before going to bed. He still had his medical condition to deal with, but after recent events he had decided to take life one horror at a time.