The Labyrinth of the Spiders

by Franc

Preface

Julius Bourdain, an American doctor arrives at the town of Álamos, Sonora, in the northwestern state of Mexico. He soon discovers upon his visit, the horrible truth behind the mysterious contagion that has killed most of the townspeople.


A terrible heat had begun to swathe the extensive landscape of the semiarid desert, in Sonora, Mexico of the year of 1928, as I was traveling south. I had reached an estate near the town called Álamos, beyond the Sierra Madre, to shelter me from the brunt of the change in the temperature. The state of Sonora was located in the northwestern part of Mexico. I had managed to find the adjacent estate that was several miles outside of the town's perimeter. There, I descended from my automobile and was greeted by a servant, who had escorted me inside the home, where I met the enigmatical proprietor and widow, Señora Anabel de Montebello. She was wearing an antiquated black bustle dress, with coat sleeves on the sides. The skirt and cuff were trimmed with silk velvet, and the bodice opening was trimmed in cotton. Her hair was in a noticeable coiffure, and I could not see her eyes, because she wore dark spectacles that shaded them.

"My name is Julius Bourdain, and I have been on the road, since I left Northern Arizona Señora de Montebello, a day ago. Pardon me for the unannounced intrusion onto your property, but as you can imagine, the heat of the desert was frankly, too unbearable to continue!"

"Oh, there is no need for an explanation señor. I understand, but if I may inquire, what has brought you to Mexico? It is not often that visitors come this way, in particular Americans, since the mines were functioning!"

"If you must know, I am a doctor and am on my way to Álamos, to treat a sudden outbreak of an unidentified contagion. I am supposed to meet a local doctor there, by the name of Don Patricio González. Do you happen to know his acquaintance?"

"I am afraid not! I don't travel much outside of the estate or to the town. Unfortunately, my eyes are extremely sensitive to the light. You see Dr. Bourdain I am nearly blind."

"My God! I did not know that disturbing revelation; although I had assumed that the dark spectacles were for a specific reason."

"Oh, there is no need to pity me, for I am quite adaptable. If you want, you could stay the night, as my invited guest."

"I am much obliged señora, and I hope that I do not impose on your daily affairs!"

"Not at all doctor! If you will please excuse me, I must go now. I shall have Raul escort you to your room!"

The Colonial Mansion had numerous bedrooms, fireplaces, patios, a garden, an artisanal built furniture, mosaic tiles, 6 foot walls, and an underground cistern. The whole area in circumference was approximately 5000 square feet of the ample estate. The heat had begun to descend to a bearable degree and allowed me to enjoy the natural breeze of the summer, at leisure.

At first, my immediate concern was concentrated on reaching Álamos, but the unique composition of the estate had started to gradually intrigue my fascination. Soon, I would take notice of the particular attachment that Señora Anabel de Montebello had with the history of the mansion. The mansion I was told had belonged to her family for decades. The de Montebellos were one of the original settlers of Álamos.

I took dinner in the dining hall as a guest, but I did alone. I was informed by one of the servants that Señora Anabel de Montebello had dined already and retreated to her room, for the night. This information I had thought nothing unusual, since I realized she was a widow. Her drear attire was common in her time of profound sorrow and commiseration. Thus, I saw no sign of irregularity in that developing detail. Once I had finished my meal, I decided to step outside and see the magnificent view of the sunset of the Sierra Madre. I had seen the town of Álamos from afar as I passed, but I was curious to reach it and offer my assistance to the afflicted inhabitants. I thought that I would go in the morning to the town and converse, with Dr. Fernández at once.

That night, the whistling wind of the desert was heard from outside my room. I was aware of the unusual effects of my approximate surroundings, but I was not prepared for the absolute image that I would confront and experience. I was in the guest room seated at the table that was near the bed, when I had listened to a scratching noise that was audible to my ears. I suspected that it was perhaps an insect or rodent outside in the corridor.

The creepy sound was enough to make me investigate the incident. I opened the door and saw what had appeared to be a giant tarantula feeding, on a helpless rat that was on the ground. After a minute there appeared more tarantulas on the scene. Quickly, I had remembered that I was in their natural habitat. Instead of them encroaching upon mankind, it was we human beings, who were inhabiting this area. For a moment, I was not certain, whether they would enter the room. As I had stood observing keenly the predation of the arachnoids, I heard another peculiar noise that arrested my immediate intention. It was coming, from beyond the corridor directly. Gradually, I walked toward the staircase, and when I did, I saw Señora Anabel de Montebello standing before me, with a placid gesture of a smile on her countenance. Naturally, her presence surprised me, since it was late in the night. She was still dressed in the familiar black melancholic dress that I thought was inusitate. When she spoke to me, her words were odd as well.

"Dr. Bourdain, I hope that I did not startle you!'

"I must admit I was not expecting to see you standing in front of the staircase so late, señora! If I may ask, what were you doing?"

"The same question can be asked of you."

"Of course! I was in my room, when I heard a strange noise coming from outside."

"A strange noise you say, such as?"

"A scratching noise! I stepped into the corridor and saw giant tarantulas."

"Tarantulas doctor. Oh, they are common in this part of the desert."

"Yes, you are right! Perhaps, I am overreacting in my description!"

"Did you know that spiders spin such beautiful webs? The webs for example of the Latrodectus?"

"You mean the deadly Black Widow?"

"Precisely!"

"To answer your question, I enjoy the night and its fantastic wonders. Therefore, it is a common whim of mine to breathe and absorb completely, the beautiful night. Do you not share that belief, doctor?"

"I suppose, I can interpret such statement, as a philosophical argument."

"Sometime, it is better to rely on instinct than pure thought. That is the reason, why spiders have always remained elusive to man."

"I see, but to what degree can a spider remain instinctive?"

"Oh, they are adaptable to any circumstance!"

"Perhaps, but I would dread to rely solely on my instinct and not my intellectual ingenuity, as a being. But then again, spiders are as complicated as we men, I reckon!"

I had abated the interesting conversation we shared and excused myself, knowing that I had an urgency to repose and reach the town of Álamos. I had returned to my room thereafter and Señora Anabel de Montebello to hers. I could not so plainly dismiss at all her incisive words and the bizarre occurrence demonstrated. However, I was fatigued from the trip that I slept the remainder of the night, without another incident provoked.

When I awoke in the following morning, I was extremely eager to go to Álamos and see the horrible extent of the contagion mentioned. Señora Anabel de Montebello had offered to have one of the dutiful servants escort me there, but I had refused her generous offer-stating that I would take my automobile instead. There was this haunting omen that prevailed over me, as I left the estate of Señora Anabel de Montebello. In fact, her last words uttered to me, before my departure were indeed vague and mysterious.

"I hope you return soon to the estate doctor. I hope that what you find in Álamos does not terrify you. You are always welcomed here!"

As I was driving through the solitary patch of dirt road, I saw a pellucid image of dead cattle that was scattered on the ground. Immediately, I had stopped to investigate and when I did, I saw all the deceased cows were covered in giant cobwebs, like ancient mummies wrapped up. Naturally, as a man of medicine and science, I had questioned the actual origin of this inconspicuous abnormality. Something of an immense nature had caused their death. It would seem from my studious observation that the sticky cobwebs were produced by the spiders. But, were they killed by them or by the unknown contagion that was rapidly affecting the townspeople of Álamos? I had studied enough biology to understand that an uncommon thing had occurred with the cattle. I returned to my automobile perplexed with the discovery of the cattle.

When I had reached and entered the town, there was a ghastly sight of largifical cobwebs covering the buildings and adobe homes that seemed totally abandoned. There were none of the local residents of Álamos to be found or seen within the circumjacence, at first, until I rode passed the 17th-century church by the square. There inside, I had descried another horrific image, innumerable persons covered in cobwebs of cocoons and fourscore tarantulas that were everywhere. I was absolutely aghast, with the unbelievable discovery that I froze in my initial reaction. When I had reacted, I stepped into the main office of the priest and discovered his dead body that was covered entirely, in viscous cobwebs and menacing tarantulas with hairy features. Their huge fangs penetrated through the carcasses of immoveable humans. I had scurried out of the office and the church. The next thing I did was to attempt to locate someone who was alive, but there was no one to be seen in the town. The devouring spiders were on top of the tall, arched, covered verandas of the buildings and shutters of the houses.

I could not find Dr. González at the hospital, for the hospital was also covered in abundant cobwebs and inhabited, with crawling tarantulas. Miraculously, I found his journal within his disheveled office and took it with me. I knew it would ultimately reveal the shocking sequence of events that began the madness of the tarantulas. I knew as well that if there were plausible answers to decipher, then I would find them contained in the pages of this journal. Thereafter, I was fortunate enough to avoid the spiders and escape the inimitable horror of the labyrinthine cobwebs.

I got into the vehicle and left the town of Álamos afterward, with an incredulous disbelief and stupefaction. The nearest towns were La Aduana, Minas Nuevas and San Bernardo. Hermosillo was 34 miles away. I had stopped in the middle of the road to read the journal and as I read, I would be bemused by the riveting content. According to Dr. González, the terrible contagion was caused by the intrusive invasion of the huge tarantulas that came from the desert. He had described the situation direful and desperate, by the end of the first week. The townspeople had spotted the spiders, but had neglected the severity of the ordeal that was developing. Therefore, when they began to get bitten, it was too late, the poison of the tarantulas had taken a deadly effect. First, they preyed on the weak, the children and elders, then the women and men had gradually succumb to the tarantulas. It was not known how the poison of the tarantulas was sufficient enough to kill a human being. Something inexplicable had occurred in Álamos that was more than the spread of the tarantulas. Dr. González had written in his journal that the origin was connected to the old mines of the town and the de Montebello family. With immediacy, I had thought of Señora Anabel de Montebello, and apprising her of the ineffable horror of Álamos and my urgency to speak with her, about the journal too.

I drove to her estate with an unnerving sensation that was becoming, a swift apprehension by the moment. I tried to compose my thoughts and think rationally, but the accumulative terror that had happened in the town of Álamos and its people was still fresh and vivid in my memory. As I was driving on the road, I came across several persons of the town, who had survived. They had terrified gestures on their faces and the image of the hairy tarantulas evoked sudden fear in their eyes, as they shivered uncontrollably. There was not one among them who spoke sufficient English, but I fully understood the word tarantulas uttered. I had learned their names were Carmen Fábregas, Gonzalo Almeda, Humberto Medrano, and Ramón Ocampo. There were tarantulas in every direction to be seen. Quickly, we had all entered the automobile and left. When I had finally reached the estate, Señora Anabel de Montebello had greeted me at the front door, with her customary salutation.

"Dr. Bourdain, you have returned, but something is troubling you!"

"Señora Anabel de Montebello, you would not believe what I saw in the town of Álamos. It is a ghost town, but worse, the town is full of cobwebs and hairy tarantulas. They were everywhere."

"I know Dr. Bourdain!"

"Why did you not tell me before? Do you not consider what has happened to the people of Álamos, as a tragic occurrence? And more importantly, why did you not tell me of the daunting and perilous tarantulas?"

"Of course, but I thought it was better for you to witness what a horrendous tragedy has occurred at Álamos."

"The deadly contagion is more of the spread of the tarantulas and their hostile invasion. But how did this begin, and why have they not attacked your estate? If we are to destroy the contagion, we must without a doubt, destroy the tarantulas also!"

"That will not be an easy task doctor!"

"What do you mean by that statement?"

"There is much that you do not know. The tarantulas are attached to the history of this region, as well as other spiders."

"I was not aware of that, but surely, you will agree that we must destroy them. According to the journal of Dr. González, the mines were the key to solving this mystery."

"The mines you say? They have been abandoned, since decades!"

"Is it true that the mines belonged to your family?"

"Yes, that is accurate! The mines have belonged to the de Montebello lineage, for over a century, since Mexico gained independence. My family came to this area originally from Spain, in the 17th century."

"Where are the mines located?"

"There are near the mountains of the Sierra Madre."

"Then, it is there, where we must go now!"

I was not totally cognizant of what was transpiring with the unfathomable phenomenon of the tarantulas, nor the relation with the family of Anabel de Montebello. The enigma was compelling me to unravel its definite distinction. There was not much time I had perceived, since I was not convinced of the totality of the sheer danger and its consequential nature.

We headed toward the vicinity of the isolated mines in my automobile. When we had arrived there, the caverns of the mines were closed, with the exception of one cavern whose entrance was open. If the hidden lair of the dreaded tarantulas was to be found inside the caverns, then it was truly incumbent upon us to destroy it at once. The persons who came with us were hesitant to enter the caverns and its numerous chambers. Thus, they waited outside, while Señora Anabel de Montebello and I proceeded to enter on our own accord. The only individual of the townspeople who entered with us was Mr. Ocampo.

Slowly, we had entered through the aperture. I was extremely cautious, as I walked forth expecting to encounter the living nightmare that was the tarantulas. I had a pistol in my hand and there were torches on the walls. I had dreaded that we would discover innumerable spiders that would surround us eventually. I could sense indubitably, the unmistakable vibrations of their movement. Perhaps, it was foolish to enter knowing the imminent danger that we were exposed to, but the tarantulas had to be destroyed. The cavern was dim and damp, but the light of the torches was somewhat effulgent. It was evident that someone had been active in the cavern, since the torches were not obviously lighted by themselves. I began to perceive as we had entered more in depth the cavern, the immediate presence of the tarantulas.

Afterward, we entered a dusty chamber, as the temperature had risen and the oxygen was gradually evaporating. When we entered that chamber, we had discovered the gruesome latibule of the tarantulas. There were a hundred or more crawling on the ground, and wrapped bodies of dead humans in cocoons. The image was unsettling to say the least, and reminded me of the unfortunate fate of the town of Álamos. There was nothing we could have done to rescue the deceased victims. I had promptly suggested that we leave the chamber and cavern, since we were at a clear disadvantage. Señora Anabel de Montebello had concurred with my idea and we exited the cavern.

Once outside, we discussed our next step, amid the others, who were anxious to know what we had seen. The discovery of the cavern and the tarantulas inside had urged us to think of, how we could devise the destruction of them? I had thought of using dynamite, but Señora Anabel de Montebello was against that notion stating the historical relevance of the mines to the town and her family. I had understood her point of view and objection. However, the impending necessity to prevent the tarantulas from causing more deaths and havoc was more important I felt.

One of the persons of the town revealed that he had dynamite. He was a former miner and knew the caverns well. The tarantulas were beginning to sense even more our presence and were heading out of the obtenebrated caverns. The question was, were they heading only for us or somewhere else? There was no real choice in the matter, since the tarantulas had to be stopped, at whatever cost. Therefore, we forsook the preservation of the mines and went to retrieve the dynamite. Señora Anabel de Montebello was reluctant to assist, since the mines had belonged to her family. She had suggested that we close the entrance to the cavern like the others, with massive solid boulders, instead of the dynamite. After pondering her suggestion, I had acquiesced with her. I did not know at the moment, what a horrid consequence was to happen afterward.

When we had returned, the tarantulas were more abundant and dangerous. They had spread onto the arid desert, in search of their wanted prey. The afternoon was ending, and the sunset was approximating, within an hour. Time was not on our side, since it would be too difficult to effectuate our daring plan, in the darkness of the night. Out of the original townspeople I had found on the road, only Mr. Acampo and Mr. Alameda were then determined to help us destroy the tarantulas. We could not allow their unyielding terror to expand onto other nearby towns. This was the main objective I surmised, from among other preoccupations. The boulders were huge in size, but together we could push them near the entrance of the cavern, with a rope attached to my automobile. This was the initial plan we had decided, but I was somewhat skeptical of its effectiveness. How would we be able to eschew the goliath tarantulas outside and inside? I had proposed the idea that we use torches of fire to protect us. I noticed that the tarantulas had shunned the fire of the torches.

Perhaps, the torches were deliberately left by the miners. Mr. Ocampo and Mr. Alameda had brought more torches, in case if needed. As we attempted to close the cavern that was open, we were confronted, with another major problem. How were we to suppose to accomplish the insurmountable task of removing the lethiferous tarantulas that were outside and multiplying? One of us would have to expose himself to the risk of certain death, while the others were in the automobile. We had attempted to pull the boulders together, but we failed in our diligent effort and endeavor. The tarantulas were too many, and had begun to attack the poor Mr. Alameda, who was extremely fortunate enough to reach the safety of the vehicle.

Señora Anabel de Montebello had remembered a mysterious passage that was located nearby the steep mountains, and where the tarantulas were probably less in numbers. Since we had failed to close the entrance to the cavern, we were forced to use dynamite to tumble the sturdy structure of the walls. It had seemed the only viable choice to proceed forth. Señora Anabel de Montebello who had rejected the usage of dynamite before had agreed in the end.

Thus, we headed toward the mountains with a cautious celerity, as we had approached the entrance. Once there, we entered through a narrow and remote passage that was a corridor leading to an endless labyrinth of cobwebs. The image was startling and inconceivable to believe, but it was an undeniable reality for us to confront. I was not certain for how long the cobwebs were constructed or the tarantulas had been in the caverns. There were so many questions that had remained completely insoluble and indecipherable up to that point in time. Time was not on our side, and whatever action we were going to take required precise calculation on our part. Despite the intimidating cobwebs, there was no apparent sign of the tarantulas in the distance. This place of the cavern was their abditive lair. There was no doubt anymore that this secretive place was where the tarantulas had sought their refuge. We began to put the dynamite near the edge of the walls, in spite of the sticky cobwebs. The edge of the walls was the only actual place that the cobwebs were least viscous in substance and the dynamite could be placed effectively.

As we were completing the action, a hissing sound was heard that was audible to our ears. It sounded like the noise made by aggressive tarantulas, who were closeby. Our heightened anxiety increased by the minute, as we had sensed the proximity of the countless tarantulas. It had appeared that they were heading toward our location. After we placed the dynamite, we scurried out of the cavern tearing apart the cobwebs that stood in our way.

We stepped outside, where the tarantulas were approaching in massive numbers. We had lighted the fuse from the entrance to the hidden lair, but something had caused the fuse to not go off. We could not understand the delay. I thought of Señora Anabel de Montebello, who was supposedly back in the automobile, but when I went to look for her, she was gone. Immediately, I thought she was killed by the tarantulas or had escaped into the mountains. I called her name and there was no response. It was impossible to search for her in the desert or in the steep mountains, when the tarantulas were everywhere enveloping me.

I returned to the passage, where Mr. Alameda and Mr. Ocampo were at. However, when I did, they were both lying on the ground, as a large spider was feeding on them both wrapped in a cocoon. It was not a hairy tarantula, instead, a gigantic black widow that was before me that stood taller than me. What happened next was improbable to imagine, but it was as real as I was. When the black widow had perceived my presence, it gradually began to define itself in half human and half spider. Señora Anabel de Montebello had transformed into the large black widow. I saw the reddish hue in her eyes as her fangs rubbed together. She rose up in an imposing posture that had discomposed me, and I descried the distinctive hourglass, as she was transforming back into human. I was horrified by her ghastly appearance that I quickly shot her with my pistol. The bullets had appeared to penetrate and cause damage upon her, but she did not fall to the ground and die.

"Do not kill me!" She uttered.

"My God, what are you?" I asked.

"You don't understand doctor! My species have inhabited the earth for centuries."

"You are not human!"

"I am half human and half spider. We came from the center of the earth, but we were driven out of our lairs by mankind. We have survived in this inhospitable desert, before you humans invaded."

"The spectacles, the black dress, the walking during the late night. These things were not merely coincidental."

"No, they were not!"

"What am I to do?"

"You could go back to your home and let us live."

"No, I cannot permit you and your tarantulas to murder more people!"

"Do you not hear them coming? Do not be foolish!"

As I stood there, the explosion of the dynamite suddenly went off. Anabel de Montebello had finally succumbed to mortal death, and the lair of the tarantulas was destroyed.

I realized that I could not kill the rest of the tarantulas that were in the desert, but I was confident that once I had informed the authorities at Hermosillo, they would destroy the remaining ones. I managed to get back into my automobile and survive the immutable horror that was the labyrinth of the spiders. I left the area afterward and reached Hermosillo, where I warned the authorities of the unaccountable tragedy that had befallen upon the town and townspeople of Álamos. I had the strange sensation that they did not believe my version of the account. Perhaps it was better that they only believed what was ultimately more feasible to them, the invasion of the tarantulas than the fact that Señora Anabel de Montebello was not human as we understand! I was convinced of what I saw and of the inevitable sequence of events that had unfolded.

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