The Shaft

(a 1053-word short story)

“Maine’s Other Author”TM
Tim Greaton

I fell at least thirty feet.
It's hard to tell exactly how deep this shaft is, but that's my best guess. I mean, a man couldn't survive a longer drop. Could he?
A furry limb brushes against my cheek. I don't bother to push him away. I call him Harry—no pun intended. It's like we're friends now. I think he's been hurt, too.
I pull the new piece of webbing from my face. It's a thick, sticky string. I roll it up between my palms. It reminds me of Mr. Salbury's class where Eric and I used to roll up balls of masking tape and throw them at each other whenever he wasn't looking. That was fifteen years ago. I toss the web roll against the stone wall beside the others. How much longer can Harry keep making this stuff?
I didn't know they came this big…spiders, I mean. I had to pull Harry out from under me after the fall. He must weigh five, six pounds.
I hear him move down toward my legs.
I'm a little hungry, but mostly thirsty. A soda would sure go good. My leg hurts.
It's pitch black here, blacker than I've ever seen. Many times, when I was a child, I thought I was in the dark. Now I realize I wasn't. When I hid in closets, light always seeped in through the cracks around the door. And those times me and the other kids held séances in the basement, light always made its way through the makeshift drapes we stapled over the squat windows. But the bottom of this shaft is truly dark. This blackness doesn't even carry the memory of light.
I knew my leg was broken in several places by the way my right sneaker was pressing against my left ear when I came to. I must have passed out a dozen times before I was finally able to push the shattered limb back where it belongs. Still crooked, but….

I struggle to a sitting position. I'm really hungry now and I'd die for a drink. Harry and I are friends, but I think he knows what I'm thinking; he doesn't come near my upper body any more.
He's done a good job with my leg, though. Wrapped it real good. It hardly hurts at all. I've been pulling off any webbing higher than my upper thigh. I think the lower part is completely cocooned now.
When we get out of here, I'm going to put Harry through medical school. He'll like that.
I don't expect anyone will find me here. I came alone. Me and Julie had a fight just before, so I didn't tell her where I was going. Hell, I didn't even know myself. Just grabbed the flashlight and started walking.
I used to come into these caves a lot when I was a kid—
I feel a sharp pain in my right shin.
"Cut it out, Harry!" I shout. Echoes of my croak fill the cool, stale air. "Be careful, will you? You've got the worst bedside manner I've ever seen."
It's been over forty years since they stopped mining here. I heard there never was much gold anyway, just enough to tease old man Winters into bankruptcy. No one else was stupid enough to pick up where he left off. Been abandoned ever since.
I don't feel much now, just the chills that occasionally sweep like a Canadian wind up and down my spine. It's as though my nerve endings finally gave up, excepting only the sporadic checks to make sure I'm not dead yet. It's just a matter of time….

Too tired to sit anymore, I'm lying with my head propped on a rounded stone. A few jagged shards of rock poke at my back, but they don't bother me now. Funny, how a person can get used to things. Another pain shoots through my leg.
I kick Harry.
He was attempting to wrap my left leg at the time. It's not that I mind. I know he needs the practice for med school, but….

I only take two of his legs this time.
He crawls away.
I think he's mad.
Seems fair to me. After all, I did give him one leg and mine are bigger. I suck the juice from the furry limbs then chew through the fur to get at the stringy flesh. Reminds me of the frog legs we used to eat at Range Pond Camp Ground. We never had frogs this big, though.
With food in my stomach I drift off to sleep, barely noticing as Harry again begins work on my left leg....

I hold the rock tightly in my right hand. I rub my chin with the other and feel the stubble has turned to almost a beard. I wish I could get at my comb to run through it, but Harry's got me webbed just above the waist.
He’ll definitely be a credit to the medical profession: pain in my leg's completely gone.
I hear him sliding across the floor. Now that four of his legs are missing, it's much easier to hear him. He's real careful not to come too close to my arms.
Suddenly, I pitch the rock.
A satisfying thump announces my success. Everything from my waist down is wooden. It takes me the longest time to maneuver my body close enough to grab him.
A tear runs down my cheek as I rip two more legs from his plump body. I'm worried that I hurt him with the rock.
After I've eaten, I hug his body and fall into a deep sleep….

My right arm is still free. In my hand I hold a small round stone. I promised Harry I wouldn't hit him with a big one again.
I listen carefully for any sound of movement. Harry's having a tough time getting around, only one leg and all. I don't know how he's going to make out when I take the last one. It's only fair, though.
I hear him scurry. My rock flies….

I hug Harry tight, a furry ball against my cheek. He's shivering. I don't think he'll make it much longer. I feel pincers breaking the skin on my neck as I drift into the land of dreams.

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