“Al-khul (Arabic, meaning ‘body-eating spirit’. Etymological root of ‘alcohol’.) – By Alissa Kingham. Alissa can be reached at alknrk@aol.com.

The spider lived on the back of her head. She wasn’t sure exactly how long it’d been there. She only became truly aware of its presence when she first started giving it permission to bite her.

The spider had been with her for so long, it had become so accustomed to her, that it had learnt to whisper in her ear, speaking mistruths in a voice that sounded so much like her own that it became impossible for her to distinguish between its lies and her own thoughts. It whispered to her when she was by herself, and when she was surrounded by people. The spider had no care for what she was thinking, feeling or doing. Her life was lived with the spider’s muted tones repeating persistently, never faltering, like a sinister backing track that only she could hear playing.

Her life was changed from the first bite. And neither the sinking of its fangs into her flesh nor the spread of its venom caused her any pain. It induced a feeling of euphoria, incited a sense of overwhelming tranquility like nothing she’d ever known before. The way she’d experienced both the world outside of herself and her own internal existence up until that moment had been perpetually uncomfortable. It was too bright, too loud, too unpredictable. Every interaction felt jarring. She moved through life in a skin that didn’t fit, every motion requiring so much physical exertion that she’d been exhausted for as long as she could remember. The first bite felt like finally coming home.

The venom flowed through her veins slowly, its warmth crawling languidly through every limb. The spider spun a silken web, gently lowering it before her eyes, dulling her vision until she no longer felt like she was staring into the sun. The edges became blurred, the colours muted, and her perception softened. The fear she carried dissipated, every other importance ceased to matter. She allowed herself to be entirely alone, safe in the knowledge that still she was held.

The spider would only bite her when she allowed it to. At first, she would only grant it permission occasionally. She was suspicious of the ecstasy it bought her, and her craving for its poison frightened her. But it continued to whisper, pouring words into her ear like honey, breaking her resolve until she began to forget why she was fighting it to begin with.

So over time, the bites were administered more frequently. She waited for them and welcomed their arrival. The spider grew bigger, its voice stronger and its influence more powerful. She could no longer distinguish herself from her inhabitor, and she could barely remember the person she had been before it took hold.

Each bite continued to deliver the guaranteed oblivion, but they also started to induce other effects. The area around the wound where the fangs were inserted started to rot. The punctured skin wept and blistered, releasing the unmistakable scent of festering tissue so pungent that she began to avoid being close to anyone else. But the spider thrived on the stench, feasting off of the decay. She didn’t need people near her anyway, it told her, because she was never alone. The only respite from the increasing agony of last bite was the arrival of the next. And so still, infected and in pain, she was held.

She knew where she was headed. Even in the beginning, in the midst of the elation the spider had initially bought her, deep down she’d always known what the outcome would be. She sensed the end, drawing ever closer, and she felt herself running blindly towards it as if the spider had attached its web to her toes and was controlling her forward motion like a malevolent puppeteer. But she didn’t fear the descent. She didn’t fear anything, not anymore. Because she was never alone. Because still, she was held.”

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