We found the girl huddled in a storm shelter. She was younger than George and older than me. George fumbled in his pocket. As he spoke, nicotine curled out of his mouth. “What’s your name?”

We'll pretend she said "Wendy."

"Congratulations, Wendy," said George. "You're in good hands."

"It's raining," she said.

I agreed. "And there's a storm coming."

"Then I'm safer than you." She invited us into her shelter to wait out the worst of the storm. George tapped out his cigarette and -- grudgingly -- followed her down the steps.

I spotted two of the beasts behind the horizon. The clouds parted with their breath. I reached out to tap George on the shoulder, but he had already disappeared. I darted after him.

The cellar was lined with shelves, and the floor was covered in empty bean cans. I whipped my flashlight around. Cobwebs decorated the ceiling. Most of the webs contained spiders the size of my hand. I wasn't worried about the spiders.

A rotten door at the back failed to conceal a mattress. It was old. It was worn down from years of overuse.

"How long have you been living here?" asked George.

"Maybe a week?" she said. That seemed about right. Her clothes and face were still reasonably clean. She hadn't been broken yet. Of course, that meant she wouldn't be able to fight, and George knew it. I shot him a look -- back off -- but he didn't seem to notice. His eyes darted hungrily to the untouched cans of beans on the shelves.

I distracted him. "This looks like where we found your brother last year."

"Yeah," said George. "All twenty pieces of him."

"That's horrible," said Wendy.

"Not as much as cleaning it up. Is there a bathroom around?" George tapped the shelves with his wrench.

"No. I go outside. There's a sink but the plumbing's broken."

"I'm not gonna ride out a storm with my legs jittering. I'll be back in two minutes." He climbed up the stairs and unlatched the doors. Light leaked through.

As he clambered out, I said, "They're close."

He called back. "Are they? Damn, I'll be quick." Then he was gone.

Wendy pulled out two chairs. She sat in one and gestured for me to join her. I did. She crossed her legs. I crossed mine. If it wasn't for the dirt on her face, she'd be pretty.

"You two aren't brothers," she said.

"No, just friends. Well, um, for as long as I can still see the beasts."

"How old are you?"

"Sixteen." Approaching seventeen.

"Then you don't have long. I lost my ability to see them a month ago." She cracked each of her fingers, one by one, on both hands. "I hid it well. It took her weeks to figure it out."

I tilted my head.

She paused, then said, "My sister."

"Ah. And you didn't tell her?"

"No, I just pretended I was seeing them. We kept running straight into the storms and then we found this place, and she abandoned me here."

I flicked off my flashlight. The shelter went dark, except for the weak beam of light shining down the stairs. "It's not a bad place."

"Yeah, it has food. I can stay here for a while, so don't worry about me. Unless you want to take me with you, wherever you're going."

"We don't know where we're going."

"Shame. Nobody does. But I'd like to come with you anyway ... if that's alright."

"Once the storm has passed," I said. The unearthly hum of the beasts had become audible. They were headed in our direction and it wouldn't be long until they blotted out the sky.

"Of course."

When the wind picked up, George hopped back into the shelter and slammed shut the doors. He heaved in and out as if he had run for miles and miles without stopping. The mere presence of the beasts had sucked the energy out of him. He leaned against a wall; one of the spiders retreated into a dark nook.

He took out a spray-can and shook it idly. It was a way of relieving stress.

"You alright, George?"

"I'm alright." He wiped the sweat onto the back of his hand and, by instinct, reached for his lighter. "Dammit." It was missing. He must have dropped it outside. "Hey Wendy, you got a light?"

"No, sorry."

"I guess I'm heading back out." He turned to leave.

"Don't," I said. "They're closer now. I can hear them."

George snarled, but he came back. "You never told me what they sound like."

"I can't really explain it," I said.

Wendy was happy to explain. Her memory was fresh. "They sound like the hum of a bowstring."

"Do they," said George. His skepticism was not well-masked.

"It's like the world's a violin, and they're sliding along our strings. I think that's the best way to describe it."

"I've never heard anyone play a violin," said George.

"Shame," she said. "It's beautiful."

Water droplets the size of my head pounded against the ground above us.

The doors weren't watertight, but the wind was moving too fast for any of it to sink through. If we were outside we would have been picked up and thrown away like insects. The storms were natural but the beasts were not; they repelled existence itself. The physical world fled in every direction, and the world stormed for years on end, unceasingly, forever, leaving brief windows of reprieve for little bands like us to stalk through at the slightest opportunity. Without me, George would not have made it this far. He would have been trapped in the storms, just like everyone else.

Not that George would dare acknowledge this. After all, he was the older one, twice my weight, towering a foot above my head. He told himself he was doing me a favour.

"What are we gonna do until the ... the storm goes away?" asked Wendy. From her eyes I could see she already had an answer, but she was too embarrassed to suggest it outright.

George said, "Dunno."

I said, "Well, what would you like to do, Wendy?"

She paused, bit her lip, then said, "Never Have I, uh, Ever. It's a game."

"I heard of it," said George. "Ain't that for little kids?"

Wendy smirked. She looked at me, as if thanking me for the support, and she said, "Doesn't have to be."

After a while George agreed, making sure that we understood how disinterested and unattached he was. He said to me, "Soon as I get bored I'm catching as many fuckin' winks as I can, got it?"

"Those winks will be quaking in their boots," I said.

We began the game by forming a circle on the concrete floor. Wendy pulled her skirt around her knees and sat pretty on them. I sat cross-legged. George put one knee up and supported himself with one hand behind, putting on an air of nonchalance. "I'll go first," he said. "Do I have to say the stupid words?"

"Do whatever you want," said Wendy.

"I've never fired a gun."

Neither had I. Wendy paused, then she nodded. She held up one finger, then she grabbed her pack. She dug out a lukewarm bottle of spirits. Vodka, presumably, since the label had been torn off. She bit her lip again and said, "Got any cups? Glasses?"

"Naw," said George, grinning. "But I like the way you think. Straight from the bottle, eh?"

"Eh," she agreed. She twisted off the seal and took a sip. The taste made her cringe. Licking her lips, she said, "Never have I ever killed someone."

George motioned for the bottle. She passed it to him. He drank. Then he passed it to me on instinct. I drank.

I said, "Never kissed anyone."

George drank. Wendy drank.

Wendy said, "Never have I ever, you know. Never done it."

George drank.

George said, "Never played like, fuckin' checkers. Never played checkers."

None of us drank.

I said, "Never knew my mother."

Silence. George looked at me. Wendy looked at me. And I thought to myself, should I have said that? George knew, but he'd assumed I kept it bottled up, never allowed it to brim to the top, never push the surface tension and never let the tension show at all. Now I've said it like a natural flow of conversation, just normal, as if I thought nothing of it and he was surprised. And Wendy wasn't sure what to think. Because she didn't reach for the bottle like George eventually did. She just stared at my face, trying to gauge if I was lying. So I stared back at her big wide brown eyes and I told her through my own eyes, don't worry, I understand perfectly. I know you, and you know me.

George said, "Hey. You. Wendy." He snapped his fingers. "Your turn."

We continued for another half hour before we couldn't think of anything else to say. By that point the bottle was empty, and we were drunk. Bunch of lightweights, the lot of us. The storm was still ripping up the ground outside like a linebacker in a cricket match. We weren't even past the halfway point. If the beasts passed directly overhead, we'd have a period of calm for a few minutes: eye of the storm, et cetera. It was unlikely this would happen.

In a drunken haze, George grinned a sloppy grin and said, "Let's play truth or dare. We be doing this kid stuff, ain't we? Let's do the whole, the whole thing. Truth or dare. Wendy, you go first -- truth or dare -- go -- say it -- choose one -- do it."

She grinned as well. "Truth."

"Kinda gun was it?"


"When we were playing I said, never fired a gun. You drank, so you fired a gun. Ain't that right? Kinda gun was it?"

"I don't remember," she said. "Took two hands. Long shooty tip. There was a scope on the end, I was supposed to hit the man with the hat but I missed, hit his dog instead, it was ... sad? I shot a dog. Okay, you, what's your name?"

She addressed me. I tried to focus on her face. Little bit difficult. "That's a truth question. I choose dare."

"Okay I dare you to, uh, okay I hadn't thought of a dare. Gimme like one moment? Sorry."

"I've got a dare," said George. He gestured aimlessly at the spiders on the wall. "Pick one up and crush it in your hand. Pick up one of the spiders."

I did.

Its fangs sunk through my skin.

Its blood squirted between my fingers. Its legs snapped and crackled.

Its eyes popped.

I dropped its corpse on the ground. My hand swelled from the bite, though the harmless venom graciously dulled my nerves. I pulled a rag out of my backpack and dabbed away the bug's juices. "Easy."

Wendy said to George, "Okay I guess I'll do you now, I mean sorry that wasn't ... say truth or dare."

"Dare," he said. Confidence.

"Kiss me," she said.

"No." George was gay.

I looked Wendy straight in the eye, as lucidly as I could. "Dare," I said.

She understood. "Kiss me."

I did.

Her lips were chapped like a canyon.

I snaked my way between her teeth. Our tongues curled.

Her eyes popped open.

"Dare," she said.

"Kiss me," I said.

She did. Harder this time. We toppled onto the concrete.

Every day I stared down my mortality. I saw the other side of the infinite abyss and I realized what that little adjective meant. Escape life with death but never escape death, stupid squeezing grip on your stomach ripping you into horrid shreds of hate and dismay and the agony that was so much better, inevitable, you were wrong, there was nothing, there was only the endless abyss we've thrown ourselves at with nary a thought.

That's what they sound like.

Wendy's screams woke me up.

She was covered in spiders, each the size of her hand. She screamed and swatted at them but they squirted webbing and clung to her.

George stamped on the ones crossing the concrete. They were pouring out the walls. Their long legs and coarse hairs textured the wall like paint. One stabbed its little legs through the back of my hand. I smacked it away. Two more dug into my ankles. Wendy covered her mouth with her hand, still screaming into it as hard as she could. George hit them with his wrench. He sweeped the ground, scattering them. The storm shelter was filling up -- we couldn't walk without squashing two and collecting four more. They skittered up my legs faster than I could shake them off. Wendy was glad her mouth was covered because they started to feel around her face, touching and scraping and caressing with eight spindly spiked feet each.

Before the spiders could reach my face I shouted, "Do you hear the storm?"

"Fuck no!" shouted George, but caught himself as he realized the implications. The storm was over. It was done. We'd slept through the worst of it.

I crawled up the stairs and kicked open the hatches. Surprisingly, they swung open. The wind was strong but the skies were clear, and the wind wasn't that strong after all. Dying down. And I was wrong: the skies were only as clear as the darkness of night permitted.

It was dark.

I launched myself out. Strings of stale air sent the spiders spiralling off. I peeled them away from my legs and arms and back and stomach and watched the wind take them tumbling far away, carried off beyond their control, never touching the ground. I braced myself so I wouldn't tumble after them. The wind nearly ripped the hair from my head but it also ripped away the spiders. Good.

George extended a hand. I yanked him up, in the process allowing several to leapfrog from him to me. But they too were sent into the wind. George carted Wendy on his shoulder like a perfect gentleman. A thick sheen of spider blood adhered them together. He peeled her off and shook her until she responded. Most of the spiders sailed away. She brushed the rest off and squished a few stragglers. Her skirt was stained blue-green with juice.

We stood far away from the storm shelter as wave after wave of spider came barrelling out of the opening, into the night, only to be taken away like all the rest. Anyone downwind of us would not be having a good time.

Soon, the spiders were gone.

The wind died down completely after that. And we celebrated. Wendy kissed me, and I kissed her, ignoring that she'd eaten part of a spider not ten minutes prior. Then. I spotted a glimpse of sunlight. I spotted it through the blackness. Right between the empty stars. And I realized I wasn't looking at the night sky.

I was looking at the beasts as they passed overhead. They blotted out the sun.

I screamed at the sheer madness of it all but I couldn't hear anything. Couldn't hear anything at all. George knew the signs. He'd seen kids go absolutely inconsolable after seeing the beasts from a thousand miles away, and he knew from my expression what I'd seen, he knew that they were overhead, he knew that the worst had come, that we were in the eye of the storm, not the end, that by sheer misluck the beasts had passed over us as if punishing us for having the hubris to think they wouldn't, and he knew as well as I knew that the storms would return just as strong as they always were, quicker than we could react. They're above, see them, they're above and they're screaming about the meaning of infinity and I can't comprehend I said I could but I can't I can't they're screaming they're right above us run, Wendy, run as fast as you can this isn't a world you survive because it'll rip you apart.

The wind picked up.

I couldn't hear Wendy but maybe she said we can't go into the shelter, there are still spiders, they'll come back and they'll crawl inside of us and kill us, but there's a farm, a farm still upright, basement at least, torn down but basement still there, we can hide in the farm come on this way, George, this way.

We ran towards the farm. I couldn't feel the ground hitting my feet. I couldn't hear my breath or my heart. The bite on my hand bubbled and swelled and spewed venom but I was too numb to do anything but observe. I noticed more bites, on my arms, on my cheeks, pushing through the arch of my shoes. Harmless but expanding, probably not real, probably just a side effect of the beasts.

When we'd collapsed into the farmhouse, my head cleared. A little.

We weren't safe. The wind was strong again. Curling waves of dust and dirt sprayed out of the Earth in the opposite direction as before. The farmhouse's supports that had withstood the wind one way now felt themselves twisting the other and they groaned in agony. A beam detached from the ceiling. It crashed close by, straight through the floor into the basement below. George said, "..." but this time, I couldn't hear him because of the wind, not because my ears had simply stopped working. George grabbed me and pulled me close to him. He shouted at the top of his lungs into my ear, "d-o-w-n" and I understood. Follow that broken beam before the others come crashing down as well. I pushed past him and lowered myself through the hole.

I dropped down to the basement. Unfinished flooring: more concrete. Pain shot up through my feet when I landed. I quickly rolled out of the way; George came down next, then Wendy. Another beam came crashing down just like we'd expected, right where we'd been standing before. It punctured through the basement ceiling but didn't quite penetrate. The sound was deafening. The wind was deafening.

Wendy screeched, shrill as a whistle, "d-e-e-p-e-r" and I understood her too. There was shelter, underneath the foundations. I didn't question how she knew. I followed her.

The farm had held its frame for years as the storms blasted it from every angle. It wouldn't survive this last storm. It wouldn't hold together with the beasts so close. If we made it through the storm, and if we emerged from the wreckage, we would find nothing left. No wood, no steel, no girders or frames or plumbing or evidence that a farm had ever existed beyond what laid underneath.

A door in the concrete wall rattled -- savior door, answer to our grace and prayer like a lightning bolt sent from an ancient forgotten deity, slaughtered goats and sheep and calves and animals made of gold and locked-up silver rusted from years of decay -- so we opened it up and yes, yes it does lead further down, just as I hoped, a black staircase to nothing.

Two steps down. We three crowded just behind the door, slamming it behind us just as the farmhouse collapsed on itself. Dust and dirt and broken homes splattered against the other side. The door was strong. Thank you, door.

"You alright, Pete?" asked George.

"I'm alright," I said.

We coughed and choked from the smell. Something below us, in the darkness, was dying. Or many things, having already died. "I'm not alright with this," said George. "You're alright, but I'm not."

"You'll be alright," said Wendy. "There can't be anything worse than the beasts."

But I looked down those stairs and all I imagined was a familiar monster, looking up with dead eyes, taking it one step at a time, taking its time, coming up underneath the steps. Claws bristling, teeth gleaming in the beam of a flashlight. Eyes dark. Unreflective. Its dead eyes locked on mine. One claw forward, dragging itself upwards, two claws to the next step, knife-like movements switching to the wall, then the ceiling, then it's on top of me and I can't move. Nowhere to go but through its teeth. I pushed the imaginary monsters out of my mind and placed my foot on the next step.

These steps were without a back. They opened up to a space underneath. And my mind adapted its monsters, reaching through the gaps with skeletal fingers to grasp at my feet and pull me under.

George walked calmly past. At the bottom he said, "Hurry up."

I smirked. These monsters I'd made up scared me more than the tangible spiders. I tugged Wendy along behind me and reached George with ease. "What do we do now?" I asked. My words barely came out. The smell of rotten meat had smothered me.

"Give me your ..." he coughed. "... Flashlight."

I complied.

He waved the beam along the floor. I felt Wendy squeeze my hand harder, presumably out of shock: the entire floor was covered in rotten meat. Flies scattered away from the light. They began to buzz inconsolably.

"Mother of fuck," said George.

"Damn," I agreed.

Wendy said nothing.

George pulled out a rag and tied it around his mouth. He held it close to his chin and spoke through it, softly, muffled. "Go back up the stairs. Far away from this shit as you can, got it? Far as you can, but not into the storm, got it? Go!"

"Got it," I said. I turned around and noticed that Wendy was gone.

But she still held my hand.

No, it wasn't Wendy holding my hand. I was holding onto skeletal fingers.

I yanked my hand away. Sharp nails sliced through my skin and the flies buzzed around me, lapping up the blood. The skeletal hand retreated behind the staircase. "Flashlight!" I shouted. "Here, right here! Give it to me!"

George placed it into my outstretched hand. I glanced at him briefly to make sure it was really him -- it was -- then I jammed the flashlight into the space between the steps. Nothing. Just cobwebs and rotten meat and bugs. And a door. Another door, ajar. The door slammed shut. Someone whimpered on the other side, a young female voice.

George slammed his wrench on the rotting step. After two cracks it gave way, and he broke another, and then a third, and then we had enough space to crawl through.

We sloshed through the meat and the blood and the bugs and George pounded his shoulder against the door; he nearly fell over when it gave way.

On the other side were two women. Wendy, and another, older, same as George. This other woman stood in front of a pulsating sack of indeterminate origin, as if she were its master or its queen. The sac looked ready to burst.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

We'll pretend she said, "Mary."

But she didn't say Mary. She said she was the queen. She was the queen of death. And her fingers were long and emaciated with broken, shredded nails, the same nails that had carved long gashes into the palm of my hand, and had torn open the spider bite into globules of puss and blood that was no doubt becoming infected as we spoke.

She said she was the queen of death because she had lived here among death for weeks, and she had survived. She was naked from the waist up, emaciated to the point of skeletonization, ribs stabbing through her breasts. George waded through the muck and swung his wrench, but Wendy grabbed him and begged him to stop.

I understood, inexplicably, and I said to Wendy, "She's your sister."

Wendy said, "She's dying."

Mary said, "I'm not dying! I am death! I am the queen and I will rule until the beasts raze me to the sky!"

George tripped Wendy. Wendy tumbled and fell face-first into the muck, screeching and screaming in indignity. I waded through and picked her up. I draped her arm around my shoulder but she pushed me away but I held onto her while she wailed and scratched at my face, and I knew this was the moment we would learn whether we would survive the storm.

As I had done every day, I stared death in the face, and I watched as George roared and broke Death's knees.

But in his wild, brutish assault his wrench hit the pulsating sac, and tore a hole, and out of that sac poured a thousand spiders the size of my hand, chewing on each other and the remnants of their birthplace and the carcasses of animals strewn over the floor like a rug. Tens of thousands of legs stabbed up and down, desperately crawling over one another in a desperate race to consume.

George never killed Mary. It was the spiders who finished her off.

We kicked through the muck as fast as possible, out the first door and behind the staircase, up through the broken hole, climbing onto the steps, carrying each other up one by one, but by the time we reached the top the spiders had already crawled up the sides, through the gaps in the stairs, and they covered the room in a squirming black blanket, dropping from the ceiling, lowering on silent unseen string, fangs dripping.

They barricaded the door but George slammed through them anyway, scattering them, killing them and opening the door and it turns out the storm wasn't over yet.

Like I predicted, the farm had been torn to its roots.

We burst through the door into an empty concrete pit below a brown, black, screaming void of wind and dirt and debris. The wind was so strong it threatened to sweep us under its arm and take us across the country to sights unseen, to tear our eyes from our bodies and show us the universe.

We couldn't leave. It was the storm or the spiders. And those spiders began to consume us once more, covering our feet and our legs in their mass and Wendy screamed but couldn't be heard over the wind. Nothing could be heard over the wind.

Not even George's smile, as he held up his lighter. The wind had recovered it. The wind had thrown it into his hand.

He took out his spray-can, and he burned the spiders away.

We sat huddled at the top of the stairs until the storm finally died down. It took more than a few hours.

"I'm sorry," said Wendy.

George grunted.

I wasn't sure why she was apologizing. "Why do you say that?"

"I'm sorry for leading you here. I thought you could save my sister. She went ... Well, you saw her, didn't you?"

"I saw her."

"Something snapped in her head when I ... finally told her. That I couldn't see the beasts. I was too old to see the beasts and she didn't understand and she locked me in the storm shelter and locked herself here, and there were all these spiders, she said they were her subjects ..."

George said, "It was better that I killed her. There's no point in living like that. There's nothing you can do. It's better to die."

After we were sure the storm had really run its course, we got up, creaking and wobbly, and we ventured outside. I climbed up the concrete wall to the stripped Earth. It was sunset. I peered towards the direction of the beasts in hopes of catching a final morose glimpse.

In the distance I could still see the dust from the storms. But I couldn't see the beasts. Maybe they'd passed beyond the horizon. Maybe I'd lost my sight somewhere in that cellar, amidst the dying and the dead and the spiders.

Looking out at that empty space, I thought about what George had said. It's better to die.

I disagreed. It was better to cling forever. The storms will end if you wait. He was wrong.

Wendy grabbed my arm. I winked at her and she winked back, and she ran a hand along my face, smearing mud and blood all over. I said to her, "We're gonna get sick."

"So let's find some rain. Let's wash it off."

I looked to the clouds. Grey and orange from the sun. "Shouldn't be too hard." I knew we'd never make it to the rain. But we had nothing else to do but try.

"Hey. Dare," she said. "Kiss me."

"Gross," I said.

I did.