short story Thrills

Seven Spiders

In Stella Hervey Birrell's short story, an idyllic campsite seems almost too good to be true. And sure enough, there could be someone be watching in the shadows . . .

by Stella Hervey Birrell

When Annabel heard that the average person will swallow seven spiders in their lifetime, she laughed and said she probably swallowed seven every summer. Two weeks under canvas will bring a person closer to the spider population. Anyway, there were worse things than chowing down on a few arachnids, oblivious, in your sleep. She wouldn’t swap her camping holiday for any fancy caravan or cottage rental, theme park thrills, even a hotel. Her children ran freer in a field.

Alconcester Campsite was the most perfect of them all. Five steps up from a rough car-park, a meadow opened out into the flat, continental beauty of the Fens landscape, distant trees like green cottonballs stacked by a toddler, Oval pitches had been mowed into the long grass, busy with the sound of grasshoppers. There was plenty of space between encampments, so each family were safe within their own domain, while most of the children congregated in a central diamond for dance routines and cricket practice. Only the nerdy kids stayed away from the middle area, and spent the time catching crickets in Lock & Lock plastic boxes.

Two strips of evergreens surrounded the site, like relaxed, accessible fencing: the real fences hidden at the end of eight feet of tall grass. Campers had been asked to stay out of this part of the meadow, though, because corn buntings were nesting, a protected species, and wasn’t it wonderful that they had chosen this campsite, too?

The meadow area was for families, and Annabel had the best pitch, where their big-top sized tent squatted watching the setting sun going down in a haze of pinks and purples every night, that first year. Rain only pattered on the tents for a little while during the night.

There was another camping area, adjacent to the farm track. The bluebell field was for other groups: colleagues, or the couple who had arrived on bikes, or the man camping alone. It wasn’t a field in actual fact, just an undulating hill. For those who fancied fewer spiders, yurts were available for hire.

Beyond the top meadow, square fields stretched out like picnic blankets. Swallows cascaded over and through clouds, like a room full of paper aeroplanes. Birdsong of meadow lark, goldfinch and lapwing began at sunrise and kept them company all day. At night, the owl flew without noise or ceremony across Annabel’s line of vision as she sat out, after the kids had fallen asleep. It reminded her of a white pillowcase, almost too big to be airborne. Her husband was at the showers and missed it.

‘I’m so glad we chose this place,’ she’d said, when he came back. ‘They’ve thought of everything.’

Indeed it seemed so – a wide barn with communal fridge, freezer, and sofas. A separate toilet block, a short walk away from the meadow, made with wood so rustic some of the knots were open to the world. Annabel wasn’t bothered by this, but amused when children, she assumed, stuffed tissue into the tiny peepholes. Kids could be so paranoid. Although, perhaps it had been a game, peeping in at each other. Harmless fun. The showers were even warm. They had been built rough, into slatted huts. Boxes, the kids called them. The box showers. So clever.

“She had been a disappointment, dressed. Buttoned up in more ways than one.”

The following summer, Annabel and her family found it easy to ignore the gentleman staying in the bluebell field. He was situated far from the family-friendly area they had pitched in, and it was just as well – he wasn’t at all family-friendly looking.

I suppose the site is for anyone who can pay, Annabel had thought. Not unkind, she was sure it wasn’t unkind to think that way. He gave her the shivers. This year, she was glad of white toilet tissue, gathered around the open knot of the rugged wood toilet door. He’d been hanging around, but didn’t respond to Annabel’s ‘hello’, and it had ruffled her. It was the unwritten rule of camping. You had to be outgoing. You had to smile. Bond over the hot water running out for the washing up; which birds you’d seen. She’d made lifelong friends camping. Well, friends that she still sent Christmas cards to every year anyway.

‘Stay away from the man in the apple orchard, okay, kids?’ They scampered away, not interested, not even paying attention. They wouldn’t socialise with anyone over fourteen or under three anyway – what was the point of that?

Ethan, the man in the bluebell field, had been staying at Alconcester for three weeks now. But when he had found the place online, he hadn’t searched for ‘family-friendly camping’.

On the third page of the web search results for Aloncester Camping there was a link with very little detail beyond its name: alconcesterdeviantspycamshower.com. Annabel was right – that site was also for anyone who could pay.

alconcesterdeviantspycamshower.com brought in more revenue for the campsite owners than a season of middle-class families intent on the countryside and warm water ever could. Even in the winter, guests could view historic footage from tiny cameras trained on one of the toilets, and Annabel’s favourite shower, which recorded all day during the short summer season.

It was tame for porn, but there is no accounting for taste. Visitors could even upgrade to the live cam, and in the summer months, while swallows dipped and raced across the long grasses, Ethan had watched women showering in real time, suds cascading and all that. He had found his niche at last. All the other fees, for all the other websites –housewivesathome.com, behindmybedroomdoor.com – lapsed. He had spent the whole winter watching historic footage from four seasons of campers.

But it had been Annabel he had returned to, again and again. She loved the feeling of warm water, especially when the tent got so hot during the day. The kids were old enough now to be left for twenty minutes, and the showers from the campsite the year before had been cold. She often indulged in a long, luxurious shower. Ethan’s favourite had been the day she had masturbated, not to orgasm, but just touched herself just a little. He searched for July 18th on his phone and watched her again, her dark hair running over her breasts like a mermaid, her creamy, generous proportions.

She had been a disappointment, dressed. Buttoned up in more ways than one, she made it clear that she didn’t want to socialise. So had Ethan, refusing to even return her ‘good morning’ on the first day they had encountered each other in real life. His breath had caught in his throat and his mouth refused to twist into a smile. It was better this way. He didn’t want her for real.

He just wanted to watch.

Today, though, he had his heart set on the live show. Three weeks of camping, waiting for them to arrive, hoping that they hadn’t chosen another campsite this year. It would all be worth it. He had already identified a tiny slit in the wooden box housing her favourite shower, and cleared the cobwebs from around the area he intended to creep into, like a spider drawn to an open, sleeping mouth.

 


Stella Hervey Birrell | @atinylife140
Stella Hervey Birrell is an emerging writer and awarding-winning poet from East Lothian, Scotland. Her work has appeared in various places, including The Ropes and Frangipani Journals, The Dangerous Women project, and Refinery 29UK. Her first novel was published in 2016. She blogs here, this is her Facebook page. She tweets as @atinylife140 and can be found on Instagram as @stella_hb.

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