SHAME ON YOU
Kayla feels terrible. As though all her rationalizations have drained from her with the peristaltic shudders of her orgasm.
Kemba buries his face in her neck, resting atop her, still holding her wrists. She closes her eyes, waiting for him to roll over beside her. She gets up; fumbles one-legged into her jeans.
“Where’rye going?” he mumbles sleepily, pulling the pillow towards him. Guilt rises in her like bile. It isn’t only her husband she’s wronged. Kemba wants and deserves more than a married woman could give - and they’d held off for so long before giving in. Why? She asks herself. Because you’re tired of feeling empty, she answers, and then another voice amends that, refusing to sugarcoat it: because you’re selfish and horrible.
A shiver sends her skin into goosepimples; for a moment, she feels the brush of spider legs up and down her spine.
“I… have to get back home. Before it gets too late.”
He props himself on an elbow – despite his physique, an unironic pose. Kemba isn’t built for arrogance. “You could stay over…” he offers. “I make some mean crepes.”
“You know I can’t.” She yanks on her brown sheepskin, picks up her purse. “Sorry,” she whispers, and means it for more than the abrupt departure. He stands to walk her out, kisses her at the door. She resists the urge to tighten her lips chastely at the touch of his. Too late for that.
Hunter is typing on his laptop when she returns. He doesn’t even look around at the sound of the door. Doesn’t ask where she’s been, doesn’t ask how her day was.
“I’ve got a ton of work to finish tonight,” he says pre-emptively, as though she’d already asked something unreasonable of him by coming through the door. He’s incredibly successful as a businessman, but she suspects it’s because he’s a psychopath, or at least a sociopath. He’s handsome and magnetic – especially when one meets him for the first time. But when you aren’t of use to him, he has no use for you. Kayla feels her molars grinding, feels tears sting her eyes. She feels doubly ashamed: not only for the sex she’s just had but for falling for the shiny veneer of his charm all those years ago.
She was raised Catholic. That isn’t helping. You’re pathetic, a voice in her head tells her. She agrees.
The next morning, she calls Claire.
Her girlfriend shrieks into the phone. “Yes, girl! How was he? …How many times did he make you come?”
“Claire, Jesus!” she says. Then, biting her lower lip. “Four times.”
Claire giggles. Then she puts on her wise woman act, full of sagacity. “You deserved this, Kayla. You know you did.”
Somehow, this makes her feel worse. You’re such a bitch, her conscience whispers. Running to your friends for validation. To make you feel like what you’ve done is okay – progressive, even.
“But Hunter didn’t.” She can almost hear Claire’s eyes rolling. “And neither did Kemba.”
“Kemba?” Claire retorts. “Shit, woman - that boy’s not complaining. And he ‘aint about to. How long has he been after you? Two years? Come on, Kay. Give yourself a break.”
She doesn’t understand. She’s going to hurt Kemba – she knows it. And whether Hunter is horrible or not isn’t the point. She took a vow. She promised in front of everyone: ‘til death do us part.
“You don’t understand,” she repeats aloud. Her voice sounds tired.
“Damn straight I don’t.”
When she hangs up, Kayla lights her first cigarette in eight years. It burns her throat. She doesn’t care.
Kayla’s pinned down underneath Kemba’s strong arms, legs wrapped around his waist, when Hunter walks in. His face is a cool mask, and she tries to shove Kemba off of her, but he keeps right on, oblivious. She has to look Hunter right in his eyes – her own desperate and apologetic – as Kemba finishes.
She jolts awake in bed. 4:44am, the clock reads. She looks over at Hunter, but he’s sleeping the sleep of the innocent.
A skittering sound, like dry twigs scraping on concrete, scrambles across the floor of their bedroom.
What the fuck…? She grabs the baseball bat beside the bed and follows the sound. The hallway is pitch black, and her skin prickles as she hears the rasping scratches retreat into the living room. A rat? It sounds a bit like rat’s claws on the hardwood. The living room is blue with slanted moonbeams, and she creeps in slowly, bat held like a samurai sword, high and straight.
She holds her breath, afraid to make a sound.
She takes another step into the room. The wood creaks, cool, under her bare foot.
She looks for movement. She glances fearfully into the shadows that pool in corners. Once in college, a man had entered her dorm at night and she’d woken up to find him staring at her from the foot of the bed. Just a silhouette, watching her. She’d been terrified of burglars since then, of being raped in her bed.
You’d deserve it, her conscience told her savagely. You like getting fucked. Don’t you?
“Jesus,” she says out loud. Cut yourself some slack. Why is she being so horrible to herself?
She swallows hard, flees back to her room, locks the bedroom door. Crawls back into bed next to Hunter, and starts sobbing. She cries quietly so as not to wake him. She’s never felt so alone in her life.
Kayla wants to confess her sin. Facing Hunter’s anger – it will be cool, she knows, not hot – is preferable to the feeling of guilt that has grown from a shameful coal in her belly to a flickering fire that licks at her face, making her flush whenever she thinks about Kemba. Every touch, every caress, every thrust is now like the jeer of a watching crowd.
She hasn’t changed out of her pajamas yet. She’s called the hospital and switched shifts, told them she’s sick. She’s ignored Claire’s call, and Kemba’s. Instead, she finds herself in the cold light of the bathroom, staring into the medicine cabinet.
WARNING: do not take with alcohol.
Side effects include a heightened state of emotion, mood swings, irrational feelings of guilt.
She almost laughs, but there’s no humor in her. Isn’t this what I’m trying to avoid? she asks herself. I guess if I take enough of them, I won’t have to worry about the side effects.
I wonder – if Hunter took these… would he feel something? Could they make even him feel fault and shame? It’s the only way he’d experience any emotion, she knows - if it’s drug-induced.
Not an excuse, the voice in her head reminds her. Don’t justify your behavior. You’re filthy. She puts the pills back and pours herself a shot of whiskey instead. Two. Three. Has another cigarette.
This time, her mother and father walk into the room while Kemba’s writhing on top of her. That part never changes. It’s immutable. He fucks on imperviously, and her eyes grow bigger and more horrified as she sees her Mom’s shock, her Dad’s disgust. And in the hallway behind them, are her aunts, her cousins – family friends. It’s too much. She wants to die, right there. But she can’t even close her eyes. She has to watch them watching her. It’s like an orgy of shame.
She comes awake to the sound of dry twigs on concrete. Scraping. Her eyes adjust to the dark and her throat constricts at what she sees in the shadows. In the corner.
It’s not real, she tells herself. It’s a trick of the light. It’s just clothes, piled up on the armchair.
And then it moves. This thing that’s hunched up and horrible. It’s not clothes, it’s not shadows, it’s not her imagination.
It’s a spider. A body black and chitinous and shiny, absorbing the moonlight. Eight thin legs, like polished slivers of black glass. One of the front ones lifts slowly and she can see it’s giant, swollen abdomen, the joints to which its legs attach.
It’s a nightmare. Its proportions make it seem more alien than familiar. Its movements are like that of an automaton, jerky, twitchy, like a broken wind-up toy.
Kayla is paralyzed – she can’t scream, she can’t move. The legs shift up and down, scraping on the floor as they move towards the foot of the bed, until all the legs are curled in a row like long teeth. Its belly bobs up and down, pulses. And then it crawls forward into the moonlight.
This spider, it’s presence as tangible and real as the armchair in the corner, has a human face. It’s as pasty and pale as the body is black – like a moldy wheel of cheese. Like a handful of maggots. Its eyes are hooded, but she can see its mouth. Its lips are as thin and jagged as a knife slash.
It smiles at her.
Kayla finally finds her voice. She screams a scream that comes not from her chest but from deep in her guts, in her groin. It tears her throat, it blinds her eyes with tears. And the whole time she screams, the spider stands at the foot of the bed, smiling at her.
Hunter shoots awake, stumbles out of bed, hits the lights.
“Jesus! Fuck!” He looks around frantically. But there’s nothing to see.
“What the fuck, Kayla?” he asks. “What is wrong with you?”
She whimpers, points, hand trembling as if she were wrapped in ice instead of blankets. Her voice comes out in jerky spasms. “Spider,” she manages, but this only infuriates her husband.
“A spider?” he spits. “That’s what you were screaming bloody murder at? Fuck, Kayla,” he repeats, and picks up his pillow. “I’m going to sleep on the couch.” And he does, leaving her alone in the bed, covers pulled up to her chin like she’s a little girl who’s just seen a monster.
She has, after all. And she spends the rest of the night staring at the foot of her bed, ears straining for the scraping sound that means he’s coming back.
Kayla’s eyes are gritty. Her fingers are cold all morning, her palms clammy – the kind of chill that comes from exhaustion and despair. What is wrong with me? she wonders. But on some level, she can’t work up the energy to be worried. Nothing has been right since she threw away her beliefs, her very identity by screwing Kemba.
Claire calls and she picks up more out of automation than interest.
“Why’ve you been dodging my calls, Kay?” she asks. “I’m worried about you.”
She knows her voice sounds grey and empty even as she tells her friend about the nightmare spider that was no nightmare. Claire’s voice gets hushed.
“That is not normal. Seeing things like that? I’m going to make you a doctor’s appointment. Get you a scan or something, okay, girl?” Kayla doesn’t want to see a doctor, but she agrees to shut Claire up. Whatever. You’ve ruined your whole fucking life, the voice in her head tells her. Was it worth it? Numbly, she shakes her head.
She spends the day in a fog. She drinks. She smokes more of Hunter’s cigarettes. She lies on the couch, eyes wide open, listening for scratches. Finally, she opens her laptop.
spider monster human face, she types.
All she can think of are the bloodless lips, smiling from atop the curved legs, the bobbing abdomen. She yanks her hands away in disgust, as though touching the spider instead of the keys of her laptop.
Her fingers tremble as she clicks on the first entry.
Bosheth, demon of shame. Bosheth latches onto a human, stoking and intensifying their humiliation, feeding on their guilt. Once attached, there’s no way to make him release, no way he can release - until you die or he does.
Kayla gives a little shriek, pushes the computer out of her lap. She gets up, frantic, she wants to… to run? But where? Knowing me makes no difference, the voice in her head croons. If you can see me, you must be close to death anyway.
She scrabbles backwards, clawing at her head, tearing at her hair. Is it inside her?
It’s hopeless. She feels like dying.
It wants her to die, so it can go feed off another.
Kayla slumps on the couch, eyes unblinking, tears running down her cheeks as silently as snow falls. She’s empty inside. Hollow. She decides right there: she’s going to kill herself. You deserve it, the voice says, and she can’t even tell anymore if its hers or the demon’s.
She manages to fall asleep that night, despite everything. Hunter hasn’t noticed she’s dead inside. He hasn’t asked her anything. He tolls her about an award he’ll be winning later in the month and then has sex with her. She let him. It was a feeling of being cored out, a hollow feeling, rather than the feeling of being filled with anything. He didn’t notice, or he didn’t care.
This time she doesn’t dream of Kemba. She dreams of killing herself. She takes the small-bladed paring knife from the kitchen drawer and stabs herself over and over again in the stomach. She watches herself do it in the mirror, and her face betrays no pain as the red-black stain spreads across the ripped cotton of her nightshirt. There are no tears in her eyes at all. It feels right.
She sits up in bed. Her heart isn’t even pounding from the dream, because it wasn’t a nightmare. It was prescient. When she hears the skitter and tick of claws against the floor, she looks to the foot of her bed, dread finally welling back up inside her, but there’s nothing there. She stands, padding on bare feet in her nightshirt around the bed where her husband snores, head under his pillow. She walks into the bathroom and opens the medicine cabinet, puts her fingers on her husband’s straight razor. They aren’t shaking. But she moves them up to the bottle of pills.
Side effects include a heightened state of emotion, mood swings, irrational feelings of guilt.
She stares at it, detached, and then replaces the bottle with the razor blade, holding it between her thumb and first knuckle. When she closes the medicine cabinet, she sees that she’s not alone.
Bosheth is in the bathroom, behind her. His giant, jointed legs reach up and curl over her shoulders. His rear legs climb slowly, languorously onto the backs of her thighs and wrap around her waist until the tips of them are pricking her sides. And then, over her shoulder, ever so slowly, like a bulb with a broken filament glowing slowly to life in the dark, his face appears. The smile spreads over it, the cheeks as rancid as spoiled cottage cheese.
It’s time for me to move on, Bosheth tells her, his tongue tickling her ear. I’m hungry.
Kill yourself. You’re nothing, and you know it. You deserve to die. End it, you stupid, horrible bitch.
She can see his eyes now. He doesn’t have any. In their place are two tiny, pleading mouths, filled with needle teeth. She doesn’t feel terror. She barely feels anything, anymore. He’s consumed it all like a leprous street urchin falling on a pile of garbage, stuffing spoiled meat and blackened banana peels past cracked, oozing lips into a hungry mouth.
But somehow she feels one thing, one little spark.
Don’t tell me what to do.
It’s not that she doesn’t want to die. She does. She is going to kill herself. But she’s not going to do it when this demon tells her to. She turns away from the mirror, carries the spider on her back all the way into the bedroom, where she can no longer see it but can feel it’s dry, sharp legs hugging her. And she goes back to sleep.
It’s Sunday. She’s going to be rid of Bosheth today. Forever. But she wants to do it her way.
For all she knows, she’s still hosting it on her back as she gets up and makes a pot of coffee. She imagines its pale face, breath hot on her ear. She pours Hunter a cup. He takes it without saying thank you.
She waits forty minutes. That seems like enough. And then she says to him: “I fucked Kemba.”
He puts down the paper, looks at her.
“And it was good. I came four times.”
His face grows red. He slams the paper down, pushes the chair back.
“You… fucking bitch!” he yells. But it’s not cold. For the first time she can remember, he’s hot. “Why?” he cries. “Our marriage… five fucking years… why would you do this to me?”
She smiles at him. She’s the cold one now. “Because you’re a piece of shit, Hunter. You’re the worst person I know. You care more about your work than you do about me. Marriage?” She laughs a horrible laugh, like dry twigs. Like the spider’s feet on her floor. “Our marriage has been dead for years. I don’t give a fuck about you, Hunter, because you don’t give a fuck about me.” She watches him, waits for a reaction.
To her satisfaction, his eyes fill with tears. He seems shocked, betrayed, as much by his lacrimal glands as by her confession. He wipes them and looks at the backs of his palms as confused as he is upset.
“You’ve done this to yourself,” she tells him quietly. She wants to finish him off, to stab him with these words like she stabbed herself last night in the mirror. “This is your fault. If you weren’t such a worthless, selfish shit of a human being, we might have survived this. But now I’m going to leave you. Forever.”
She picks up her cell phone and opens the kitchen drawer. She takes out the paring knife and walks into the bathroom, turns on the tub.
Hunter doesn’t follow. He just stands there, staring at the floor, shoulders shaking. She hears laughter in her head, but it’s not her own.
Kayla steps into the porcelain bowl, still in her nightshirt. She waits for the warm water to rise around her, eyes empty and staring at the tiles across from her. She picks up the knife.
She’s never considered suicide before. She doesn’t know how to do it. Were you supposed to cut horizontally, or vertically? It doesn’t matter, the voice in her head purrs. Just end your filthy life. She decides that Bosheth is right. Any kind of cut will do. She looks down at her wrist curiously, and then slashes it once, twice, three times. Deep. She puts it into the water and watches the billows of red spurt out. It doesn’t feel like dying. It feels like nothing. Nothing at all.
Bosheth laughs in her ear and she hears the skittering sound of his feet. He’s with her in the bathroom now, face only feet away from her. Watching her die. Until Hunter finally appears in the doorway.
“What… what are you doing?” he yells.
“I’m killing myself. Because of you.” As his red-rimmed eyes widen in horror, she sees the long slit of Bosheth’s mouth stretch into a hidous grin. It scuttles around so it’s facing Hunter, but it keeps its hungry, chewing mouth-eyes on her, a coy, over-the-shoulder stare through its own obsidian legs, past its throbbing belly.
Good-bye filth, it tells her, it’s voice a crumbling whisper. And thank you for the gift. I will torture your husband with your death, and eat him until he is empty. As I’ve done to you.
Kayla watches as Bosheth raises its front claws, probing almost sensually at Hunter’s chest. Then it climbs atop him, legs clasping in succession, and disappears from her vision.
Hunter looks at her wild-eyed. He’s about to bolt from the room – he can’t take the emotions coursing through him, or the revelation of her infidelity, or the blow to his ego. But he reveals his true self in his frantic mutter – “this is going to look really bad when the police get here.” He’s going to run. She knew he would.
“When that drug wears off,” she whispers almost conversationally, “he won’t feel a thing. Psychopaths don’t, you know.” She leans out of the tub, pink water sloshing onto the floor, and bares her teeth. “You can ride him until you starve, demon.”
Hunter scrambles out of the room as she picks up the phone with her unbloodied arm. Even as the life pumps out of her, clouding the water, she feels life pumping back into her, and time is of the essence now. Her hand is shaking as she taps the faceplate of her phone. I’m free. It worked.
Before the static even breaks with the metallic sound of the line ringing, she hears a wild howl of fury and betrayal coming from the front door before it slams and the walls reverberate. She knows the cry did not come from Hunter.
“9-1-1,” the dispatcher says calmly. “What is your emergency?”
“I’m sorry,” she says, salty tears joining the salty blood in the water. “I need an ambulance.”
Seth Wagerman is a PhD professor of Psychology and has written numerous articles and manuscripts that are neither entertaining nor scary. As a result, he started his own critique group three years ago and has been writing only what he wants ever since. Seth was recently a speaker at the Southern California Writer’s Conference in Irvine, CA, and enjoys helping to improve others as much as he likes working to improve himself.
Did you enjoy "Shame on You" by Seth Wagerman? Then make sure you hit the heart button below and let us know! At the end of the year, the most popular Fiction Friday stories will be included in the "Gallows Hill Best of 2019" anthology! Thanks for reading!