I was a small child when I first found him bent over mother’s bed.
I only saw a tall silhouette before my eyes adjusted to the dark. After rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I caught sight of his white fingers–hooked into Mother’s mouth. Her lips were parted wide, but her eyes were closed. On the back of his hand, I saw little spots of darkness; they moved down his arm, meandered down his fingers… disappearing into the dark void of her mouth.
“One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight.”
He counted, then he drew his hand away.
“What are you doing?” I whispered. I whispered because mother was still asleep. He cocked his head at me, as if my question was strange. After a long moment of silence, he put his hands on my shoulders and leaned down. His eyes were pale yellow, like a ring around the moon; they cast their own soft light.
“Every year you get eight. That’s why I stay.” he said softly. His voice was a pleasant hum, as soft as a sigh. Of course, his answer didn’t really explain. I didn’t understand. “You should be asleep, that’s the rule. I can’t give them to you until you do.”
He scooped me up into his arms– long, segmented arms– he had at least four elbows, and he nestled me comfortably on the crook of them. Rocking me slowly, he carried me down the hall and to my bed. He handed me my favorite teddy bear, smoothing the blankets over me.
“Go to sleep,” it said, opening my closet and crawling inside. He closed the door softly behind him, and I closed my eyes– young enough to dismiss the night’s events as a dream. The memory stuck with me though, so when I saw him again years later… I could make no mistake.
I woke up because of the counting. One, two… his lunar eyes blinked at me. Three, four… something tickled my lower lip. Five, six… my tongue itched. Before he could get to seven or eight, I shoved his hand away. Wet fingers popped out of my mouth, and I quickly sat upright.
Hunching over, I started to cough. There was something in my mouth, something that moved… multiple somethings that squirmed in the small puddle of saliva pooled in my lap. Adrenaline clarified my vision, I was awake without the blurry haze of being half-asleep.
“I remember you,” I wheezed. But this time, I wasn’t a child. “What are you doing?”
“Every year you get eight.” he replied, just as before. I’m not sure why I wasn’t screaming, but perhaps that old memory prepared me to see him. Despite the frightful sight of him, he was… familiar.
But back then, I hadn’t been able to make out those little spots of darkness. I reached for my lamp, flinching at the sudden brightness as I squinted at those shadows. Black things with spindly legs.
“Go to sleep,” the creature said. “I have to start over.” but this time, it did not sweetly tuck me into bed. Instead, it placed it’s wide, pale hands on my face. It pressed its bony palms over my nose and mouth.
“The rent is due.” it said. “I won’t lose my place.”
I couldn’t ask what it meant. I tried to fight, twisting and kicking– but it was a losing battle. I could feel its fingers probing my skin and curling into my hair. Eight scuttling fingers. It seemed this creature had a soft spot for children… but little sympathy or patience for adults. I lost consciousness.
When I woke up with a bruised face and cottonmouth, I tried to rationalize the event as the sequel to an old dream– but when I rushed into the bathroom, vomiting in the sink… tiny legs twitched in the bile, only partially digested.
Have you ever heard the old myth? The myth that every year, you eat eight spiders in your sleep.
Apparently it’s true.