I remembered that half-awake moment of confusion very vividly. I groaned, blinked, and moved my mouth around as I blearily stared up at the dark ceiling. There was some sort of weird hair or something on my lip… pulling at it, I felt a subtle slippery tug in my throat, and it took another three seconds to slide the whole thread out.
Disgusted and confused, I held it up to the sliver of moonlight coming in the window. What the hell was this thing? Some unknown girl's hair? No - it was wispier than that, more reflective, and a little stickier…
I felt suddenly queasy as the thought occurred to me that this was probably a silken spider thread. Had I just eaten a spider in my sleep? Jesus christ!
I got up that night, refusing to go back to sleep, but the day's light dispelled my silly fears. If I had eaten a spider, it was long dead by now thanks to the stomach acid generously donated by my night-long anxiety.
A few weeks passed, and I mostly forgot about the incident.
I noticed that, very slowly, I began having trouble exercising at my usual rate. I was sleeping worse, and groggy even when I did sleep. I thought that it might just be the season, or allergies, and I tried to ignore it… until I fell asleep at work, and my boss sternly told me to go the doctor.
I was never one for the doctor, but I was tired of being tired, so I finally manned up and went.
I sat in the stark white office waiting for quite some time. I figured the doctor probably wouldn't have any answers for me - they never seemed to care enough to pursue individual mysteries - but I was hoping for a prescription or something.
I sat still as the nurse did all the usual tests - blood pressure, pulse, and so on. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
She left, and I waited some more.
Finally, the doctor walked in, and greeted me without looking. She asked about my symptoms, nodded a bit, and then used a stethoscope to listen to my chest.
That's when she frowned. "It might be allergies, or even asthma. Sounds a bit scratchy in there."
"That's what I thought," I told her. "I've been wracking my brain. Hell, for awhile, I even thought it was a spider I ate."
She glanced up at me, making eye contact for the first time. "You ate a spider?"
"In my sleep, I think."
She hesitated. "There's this new spider infestation. African, I think. We've had a couple bad reactions to bites. Total longshot here, but if it bit your esophagus or stomach, you wouldn't feel it, but you could still have a reaction. Let's get a soft tissue scan done."
Confused and worried, but hopeful, I followed her advice and went to the next building over in the complex for the scan. The hour queue allowed me to fill out every form and exhaust every magazine in the small waiting room before they finally called me up. I followed the attendant warily into the imaging room.
I'd seen it on television, sure, but the experience was far more intense than it looked. I had to lie still for quite some time, fighting all sorts of sudden urges to itch, sneeze, or cough while I waited. By the time it was over, I felt a built-up coughing fit coming on.
The smiling attendant came in, told me I did a great job, and started checking things. Alright, I sighed. It was over. Time to get up and get out of here -
Another attendant peeked in the door. A doctor stood behind him. They both motioned for their colleague, and I found myself momentarily alone.
I sat up, watching them confer in hushed tones just outside.
The three approached me. "We're going to need you to come with us real quick. It's not an emergency, we just need to speak to you in private."
Feeling hot from my approaching coughing fit, I followed them to a small room, where they directed me to sit and handed me a biohazard waste bin.
"I want you to close your eyes and cough into this trashcan, alright son?" the doctor told me, his tone quavering. "And whatever you do, keep your eyes closed. It's important that you don't look, for, um - radiological reasons - from the imaging machine."
"Yeah, the machine," an attendant echoed, gulping.
Their masked fear had my pulse racing, but I was more than ready to start coughing to ease the pain in my throat. Leaning over the waste bin, I began a heavy, hacking cough, letting out endless choking breaths that seemed filled with weird dust and particulates. Had I accidentally breathed in something radioactive from the machine?
I kept coughing. I tasted a little blood. I paused. I breathed in and out. They urged me to keep coughing, their voices shaking and subtly disgusted.
"Come on, just a little more, son," the doctor told me. His practiced hands trembled on my shoulder.
The last cough seemed to spasm my whole body, and I felt clotted particulates rise up my throat and finally escape. Spitting and pushing more air out through my mouth, I got the last of it out of me.
Feeling much better, I made the mistake of relaxing - and opening my eyes.
The doctor saw me staring down, and gripped my shoulders tight. "Don't panic. You're safe now. It's just that - we saw the note about a spider you ate, and we did look at your stomach, but your stomach was fine. It was… well, they're attracted to moving air, see… and it had made webs, and laid eggs… thousands of eggs… in your lungs."
In shock, I nodded, unable to do anything but stare at the three-inch-thick pile of baby spiders roiling around in the bottom of the waste bin.