Father was the first to spot the crumpled black mass in the corner of the living room. “Up there,” he told Mother, pointing to the ceiling. The blue light from the television illuminated their pinched faces as they searched through the shadows, the whites of their eyes flickering wildly in the blue light.
Sister tugged on Brother’s arm. “Don’t look at it,” she murmured urgently. “You’ll have bad dreams.”
“It’s just a spider,” Father announced in a relieved voice. A sense of calm swept into the television-lit room. “He’s not bothering anyone.”
“I don’t like it up there,” said Mother. “Not when we’re watching the television.”
Father licked his lips. He leaned forward on the couch and squinted up into that impossibly dark spot where the television’s light could not reach. “You know what, it’s too big to be a spider,” he said, sitting back. “Look at it up there.”
“Don’t look,” said Sister to Brother, frantic again. “Close your eyes.”
“I don’t know,” said Mother. “It has to be a spider. Look at it just hanging there. It’s disgusting.”
“It’s gross,” said Sister. Brother shut his eyes.
Father grunted. “It’s as big as a man.”
She crossed her arms. “I don’t care what it is. You’ll have to get it down from there.”
“Before the commercials end,” he said, trying not to mumble or sound petulant, like it was something he’d be glad to do.
Mother nodded. “Before the commercials end.”
Father groaned his way off the couch and into the kitchen.
“Don’t turn on any lights,” she called out after him. “You might scare it off and then we’ll never find it. It’ll hide in our bed for all you know.”
Flatware rattled in the cabinets. Father cursed the plates and then he cursed the cups. “The cups are too small,” he yelled out from the dark cloister of the kitchen.
“You’ll have to make one work,” said Mother. “They’re all we have.”
Sister pulled Brother into her lap and put her hands over his eyes. “Don’t watch,” she said.
Father returned, glass cup in hand. He held it up and eyeballed it against the black mass in the corner. “That’s not a spider,” he said. “It’s as big as a man. It has to be a man.”
“I don’t care,” said Mother. “Take it outside.” She shifted uncomfortably on the couch. “Hurry.”
Father, sighing, pulled the ottoman away from the couch and positioned it beneath the thing in the ceiling’s corner. A man, he was sure. Not a spider.
“Hurry,” said Mother. “It’s about to start. I don’t want to have to tell you what happens.”
Father struggled up onto the ottoman and tapped up at the dark thing with one brave finger. “Excuse me,” he said.
“Ow,” said the bundle of rags and shadows. “What’s this about?”
Father turned back to the couch, his face beaming with how right he’d been. “It’s not a spider,” he said, triumphantly. “It’s a man, you see, I told you.”
“I’m Barry,” said the man.
Mother put up both hands. “I don’t care, Father. Take it outside.”
Sister nodded from her place on the floor, Brother in her lap. “Take it outside,” she echoed dutifully.
Father sighed. “Won’t you get in this cup?” he said, turning to the man clinging so desperately to their ceiling. “I need to take you outside, you see. The commercials are almost over and our show is about to start. You can’t stay here, Edward.”
“Barry,” said Barry, his voice tight and defensive.
“Barry,” said Father. “So, the commercials are almost over.”
“The commercials are almost over,” agreed Barry from inside the huddle of rags from the corner of the ceiling. “I was hoping to catch this episode, too, you know. I haven’t seen it.”
“Neither have I,” said Father. He turned back to Mother and gave her an apologetic look. “Barry hasn’t seen this one,” he said.
Mother clucked disapprovingly. “Well, don’t name it.”
“Please,” said Father to Barry, “won’t you get in my cup?”
Barry shook his head. “It’s too small. Just look at it.”
Father looked down at the cup in his hands and saw that yes, the cup was too small. Barry would never fit.
“He won’t get in my cup,” said Father to Mother. “He’s too big and the cup is too small. I told you so, didn’t I?”
Sister tightened her grip around Brother’s eyes. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “Just don’t look.”
“Then you’ll just have to kill it,” said Mother. “I don’t want that thing in my bed. I don’t want it in Sister or Brother’s bed, either.”
Brother gasped at this. “Will it get in my bed, Sister?”
“No,” said Sister. “Don’t listen.”
“Listen,” said Father gently to Barry. “It seems I’ll have to kill you. Either you get in my cup, or I’ll have to put you down.”
Barry’s bright eyes shifted in the television-colored darkness. “Will you do it quickly?”
“Yes,” said Father. “I’ll make it fast.”
“Don’t look,” said Sister to Brother. “Don’t listen!”
Barry’s crumpled body stuck to the ceiling after Father was done with his smashing, and at the next commercial break, he buried him in the backyard. Mother said it was a waste of time, and that he’d miss the next part of the show, but Father was insistent that Barry be given a proper burial. But not only did Father miss the airing of their favorite show, but because digging a grave is a massively time-consuming activity, he also missed the entire airing of the next show and then the one after that, too.
Afterwards, when Brother and Sister had gone to bed and the remains of Barry were washed from the ceiling, Mother consoled him. “They were only reruns.”
Amanda E. Phillips is a speculative fiction writer based in Sacramento, CA. Her unsettling stories explore the darker corners of the human experience. (Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/amanda_e_phillips/)