The Spider Inside Her

 Dark Encounters, Book #1

It’s in her nature.

As the manager of a domestic abuse shelter, Loréal Ingram is making half the salary she’s used to, behind on her mortgage, and has lost faith in being an advocate for victims after three die on her watch. When a job offer lands in her lap, she wants to take it…until a curse changes her into a humanoid spider. But that’s not the worst of it. She’s forced to share her mind and body with an insect spirit who thrives on death.

The arachnid, her Mr. Hyde-like personality, is fueled by vengeance, and the handler who should be managing her kills sucks at his job. One abuser after another dies and the trail leads to Loréal. She learns that the handler has botched the curse and unleashed The Spider Inside Her upon wrongdoers. If she doesn’t find a way to lift the curse soon, the arachnid will take complete control of her body and kill anyone who crosses her path, including her boyfriend.

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Chapter 1

“Such a sad child,” a deep, sinister voice said. “Alone in the wild.”

My eyes opened. A figure sat next to me, cloaked in a black hood. His fingers were a corpse gray with long black fingernails shaped like sickles. I wanted to scream. Wanted to run for my life. Wanted to…

My body remained lying on the ground without an inch of give. Only when I calmed and cleared my throat did I hear my timid voice. “W-w-who are you? W-what do you want?”

Like me, the shadow man didn’t move. Just sat there like he was crossed-legged, a small mountain of darkness with obvious edges that looked like shoulders that angled down to elbows.

“Disturbing things linger in these woods. Sinister. Frightening. All of them ready to devour a tender morsel like you.”

At first, fear struck me like the electric cord whelps that my grandfather had lit across my legs, because I had accidentally left the chicken coop open. Of course, he and my grandmother would beat us kids for just about anything these days, including walking across the floor too loud.

“What does it matter?” Defeated, I stared at the trees overhead, leaves rustling with the breeze. My biggest fear wasn’t what lay outside. It was what waited inside, that horror house we called our grandparents’ home.

The stranger glanced over his shoulder. “You want them dead, don’t you? I can smell it. Like the stink of those sows you have slumbering in your barn.”

“And you stink like…” Well…I didn’t know what he stank like exactly. In fact, there wasn’t a smell at all. Not surprising, considering my dreams didn’t have odors.

“Lots of anger, too. Tell me, child. Unburden yourself.”

“I’m not burdened. I’m fifteen.”

He chuckled, low and sinister. The complete opposite of jolly, old St. Nick. “I meant to say that it would make you feel better if you talk about it. I’ve tried that with your grandparents, but…” He sighed, his shoulders shrugging. “Well, you don’t need me to tell you the results of that. I’m sure you’ve felt them across your legs.”

Again, the pain licked across my skin. There had to be at least a dozen marks, if not more. “I ran out here around sundown. We finished our slave chores, and I was the last out of the chicken coop. I was tired and hungry. I just didn’t think. It wasn’t like the chickens had gotten far. My brother and sister and some neighborhood kids helped me round them up. We had them back inside in no time. But that wasn’t good enough. The second I walked inside the house, he closed and locked the door on my siblings and friends and beat the crap out of me. I got away and ran out here. Been here ever since. I’m not going back inside. No way.”

The hooded figure leaned close. His breath stank of old gym sneakers that had been festering in a locker for hours. “Why don’t you tell your parents? They know, don’t they?”

“They do, but they always talk to us about not antagonizing them. They promised us things will get better, and we’ll never have to spend summers with them again. That this is only temporary. I believe them. Our parents wouldn’t do anything to hurt us, if they could help it.”

“But they—”

“Don’t have a choice.” I scowled at the figure, wanting to tear into his shrouded face if he said anything bad about them. “They sent us here for the summer so they can work double shifts. So we can have new clothes and things when school starts. Whatever is left over goes in the bank for the bills. They’re always higher in the winter. My folks wouldn’t have to work so hard if our grandparents had grown kindness instead of corn. Instead of helping my parents, all they ever do is remind them what failures they are. Mom and Dad are paying their dues for the good of us all. So we can be a family again. Just like we are now.”

He raised his hands, though I couldn’t tell for sure if they were really hands, since he sat in the shadows. “Fair enough. Besides, we’re talking about your grandparents now. About their greed and hatred toward you and your siblings. It’s almost like they blame you for even being alive.”

They did more than that. They blamed us for our parents never having anything. Said we were a drain on their wallets and should have been given up for adoption. Better yet, aborted.

Still unable to move my body, I tried to turn my head some more to make sure I had a good view of the mysterious man. “How do you know so much about my family?”

“Like I said. I’ve been talking to your grandparents for years. I know them better than you do. I know their innermost secrets and desires. I even know what they want to do to you.”

If that was supposed to scare me, it didn’t. I turned my attention back to the trees again.

The creature shifted. “Don’t you know what they have in store for you? Don’t you want to get them before they get you? I can help you with that, you know.”

A few blinks fought a flood of tears from slipping across my temples and into the roots of my hair. I shook my head. “In all honesty…I don’t care what they do or what happens to them. They aren’t my family. They’re monsters, who should rot in hell.”

A cold finger slipped from my temple to my cheek. It wasn’t the kind of cold like ice or snow. It was the kind of cold where only evil things grew, slinking their filthy roots into the heart of mankind.

Something squeezed out of the pore just above my brow. Cold, tiny pricks stepped across my skin. A twig perhaps? No. Not a twig. A fucking spider. Ohymygod! And…I can’t move. Holy shit, I can’t move!

Panic flooded my blood. I screamed. Screamed loud enough to ache my temples and burn my throat.

I bolted up so fast that I never noticed the spider webs encasing me. Anxiety ate through me a second time, inciting a shriek from the bottom of my lungs. I leaped to my feet and began swiping at the horrifying mess, batting my hair in case the eight-legged monsters were looking for a place to build a nest. Freed, I swept my hands up and down my arms and stomped my feet a few times just to make sure.

A painful twinge brought my hand to the back of my shoulder, one more painful than my whelped legs.

Flames caught the corner of my eye. My stomach sunk to my kneecaps. The chicken house burned against the night sky with the last of the fiery chickens bouncing in a frenzy before giving up and letting the horror consume them.

A hand grabbed me, whipping me around. I stared into the face of my fuming grandfather. Dirt and soot covered his clothes, but it was the thick stick he held above his head that scared me into pissing my clothes.

“Set the hen house on fire?” he yelled. “Burn my property, you little shit. I’ll show you!”

The stick came down across my back.