The Tangled Web by Patrick Hurley

I don’t think I died last night.

At least, I’m pretty sure. I remember running across the street to grab a snack at the mini-mart. I remember freezing in panic as a semi-truck’s headlights flashed in the road. I remember scrambling up the sidewalk as the truck sped by, blasting its horn.

But I could also picture, pretty vividly, what would have happened if I hadn’t been quick enough. The truck would’ve run me over, crushing my skull, caving in my ribs. I would have had time to think “shit” and “so this is what dying feels like.” I could see myself lying on the asphalt, blood pooling beneath my crushed body, staring up at the stars, in agony, afraid.

It wasn’t the first time I’d imagined this. Since getting dumped and fired from bartending by my boyfriend/manager, life had become an epic saga of shitty risks.

Half the mini-mart burrito I’d risked my life for was still in the fridge when I stumbled into the kitchen. My morbid fantasy faded a bit as I microwaved it for breakfast and was forgotten by the time I stepped outside. It was a beautiful fall morning. The sun glistened off my bus stop and lit up the nearby trees. Some crusty dude with missing teeth was already there, shuffling and humming a tune. When he saw me, he grinned and said, “Hey, dead girl!”

The semi’s giant headlights flashed in my mind. I steadied myself against the bus stop wall. When the world stopped spinning, I looked up to see the guy examining the contents of his backpack like nothing had happened.

“Why did you call me that?” I asked. My plan had been to go online at the library and search for a new job, but suddenly that didn’t seem important.

The man regarded me with alarm. “Didn’t call you nothing.”

The truck’s horn blared in my memory. My eyelid twitched.

“Why did you call me ‘dead girl’?”

He stepped back, grimy hands raised. “Lady, I’m just waiting for the bus.”

Before I could respond, the aforementioned bus jerked to a halt in front of us, it’s loud rumble making me flinch back. Before I could get my bearings, he jumped on and I watched dumbfounded as the bus took off without me.

“He really doesn’t remember what he said to you. The psilocybin he just took altered his perception, allowing him to briefly cross reality strata, but he forgot the moment he said it.”

I glanced around, but couldn’t see anyone else on the street.

“Up here.”

A large web glittered with morning dew in the upper corner of the bus stop shelter. A tiny spider crawled across it from strand to strand.

Was I finally hitting the rock bottom my ex-boyfriend claimed I was spiraling toward? Making sure no one was nearby, I quietly asked, “Did you just talk?”

“I thought this form an appropriate metaphor. You one-wayers have legends of spiders imparting wisdom and kindness. Plus, there’s a bug in your operating system. Spiders remove bugs, do they not?”

So this was what a breakdown felt like.

“One-wayers?” I asked weakly.

“Translation glitch. Your kind possesses a primitive sort of sentience, yet only perceives time in one direction and one reality. Hence, ‘one-wayer.’”

Sweat beaded on my forehead. Losing my job, relationship, and now… this. It was too much. “Hold on. ‘One reality’?”

“For true sentients, there are… many. It allows us to experiment with various potentials.” The spider crawled across its web. “You shouldn’t have remembered the shift that granted you continued existence, but some part of you did. Likely due to your depressed state and morbidity obsession. In any event, I’m here to complete the transfer.”

 “So I actually died?”

The spider lowered itself so it was right in front of my face. “Not in this reality.”

It felt like this reality was melting around me. “So why are you here?”

A gentle breeze caused the spider to sway on its web strand. “I’m here to ensure you forget your previous incarnation. You won’t remember in your conscious mind, but let me give your subconscious some advice: be more careful.”

I giggled. “Why? A talking spider just told me I have infinite lives!”

The spider landed on my shoulder. Before I could move away, it tapped my face with its tiny leg, and my brain felt like it had been cracked open with lightning.

This was not the first time I’d died. Not even the hundredth. Every stupid risk I’d ever taken while driving, biking, going for a stoned hike, every time I did the exact right thing to avoid getting killed… I hadn’t. Hit by a truck. Stabbed by a mugger. Stumbling off a cliff. My life was a glowing web and every time I died, a strand was cut.

If I hadn’t been in the grips of recalling numerous fatalities, I’d have thrown up.

“As a sentient being in the multiverse, you have multiple lives,” said the spider. “I never said they were infinite.”

The bus honked, and its door opened with a gasp of compressed air.

“You getting on, lady?” the driver asked.

Why was I covered in sweat and trembling? Hadn’t I’d just been talking to someone? I jumped on the bus and handed the driver my fare. For some reason, a crusty dude with missing teeth flinched as I walked by. As I sat down, I noticed a glittering spider web in the upper corner of the bus stop shelter. From out of nowhere came the thought:

I need to be more careful.

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