It was much, much worse. Light filtered through broken walls and missing windows to fall in strong, hard pillars that splashed against the wood floors. The floors themselves creaked like any good haunted house, and everywhere I looked I saw deep shadows which no doubt hid slavering madmen with rusty saws and serrated knives. Ghosts walked the halls and traversed the stairs, quietly observing intruders until they could be caught alone somewhere, and then the cold fingers of death would wind around throats and pull out screams and souls with glee.
"How do you catch them?" I asked, my voice a mouse squeak under the heavy threat of the place. His eyes gleamed in the filtered light and his smile was slim and malicious. "How do you think?" He held up an empty mayonnaise jar to me and showed me his own, then he stalked off like the Crocodile Hunter, moving with stealth and surety toward a corner of the manse where the wall met the staircase. Threads of other webs, abandoned and shredded, dragged their touch against my face and exposed arms, finding my flesh as easily as a butcher.
He stopped and pointed. "This one's easy," he said in a matter-of-fact, serial killer tone. "You just reach in and take her."
There she was. Fat, glistening, motionless in her snarled and knotted web. Black widows do not create symmetrical masterpieces to live in, they don't spin or knit or spiral artistic constructions, they shit out chaotic, frenzied confusions. She sat at the edge of her trap as if she were dead. Greg pulled out a flashlight and shone its sputtering illumination across the web, revealing its true size and that she was not exposed at all, but surrounded by her home while she awaited her next victim. The strands looked dim and dull, like cotton that had been stretched too far. Her shadow bulged against the wall and danced in a way that she did not, bouncing and swelling with death.
Greg was enjoying this. It was why he collected them. He loved the spiders, probably, but he loved this more, seeing the panic in someone, watching them sweat and pale as the blood sank inside. He reached out and plucked the web and she retreated a little – tentative until she sensed the size of her prey. Was it something she could suck the fluids from, or was it something that could stomp her out of existence? Her eight legs rested against the threads and she waited, motionless again, using her remaining senses to discover the intent of this intruder.
Greg laughed at her evident stupidity, or perhaps at mine. I was spellbound and frozen, and suddenly felt as if spiders were everywhere, that the house was absolute with them, their webs were holding these walls together, there were black widows even now crawling across my Chuck Taylors and Sears Husky jeans, dozens of them, hundreds, like Soviet soldiers on May Day in Red Square, marching in tight rows, their millions of legs all in step.
The jar slipped in my sweaty palm and I was snapped back into reality. I did not want to do this. I didn't want to be here, and now, and next to this insane kid, trying to prove I was just as insane as he. "She's a big one," he whispered. "Just put the jar over her, she'll go inside. Then put on the lid really fast and you've got one. It's easy."