Skip to main content



The Evening Spider

February 20, 1998
Rowan College
Rowan, VT


All of the doors in Davidson Hall had a distinct creak—like a dog groaning in his sleep, and then waking with an excited, rasping half-yawn.


A friendly old dog awakening upon your arrival.

It wasn’t a ghostly sound, exactly, but more one of old-timey warmth. Revered building. Strong wood. Strong doors. Old hinges.

Welcome home.

That’s how I felt about every corner of this campus. More like home than any place I’d ever been. But Davidson Hall most of all. It was the oldest dorm—maybe the oldest building—in the entire school. I loved its musty stairwells and its clinking, steaming radiators.

My stomach growled as I climbed the stairs to the second floor. I couldn’t get Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” out of my mind. I’d just gotten an A on a political science paper and whenever I had little victories, my head wanted to play through its favorite songs from when I was ten. Pop metal was apparently hard-wired into the pleasure centers of my brain.

Two doors from the stairwell. Number 202. My high-healed loafers were pinching my feet and I couldn’t wait to get out of them. I turned the loose doorknob and pressed against the Einstein-with-his-tongue-out poster that hung above it.


After the sound of the door, I noticed a silence in place of the sluggish “Oh. . . Hullo” that usually greeted me at that time of day.

The silence was not coming from an absence, however. It was coming from the figure on the bed—with the familiarly pale and knobby knee poking out from beneath the lilac afghan.

I approached the bed and touched the knee. Despite its cold, I was able to swallow the sensation of horror, because this could not be real. This only happened in movies, and not to regular girls like me and certainly not to drippy girls like her.

After I jostled her arm and saw her face, that horror came back up my throat as a scream that I could not stop.



Haverton, Connecticut
December 1, 2014



The sound followed so immediately after my daughter’s cry that I didn’t even open my eyes.  Lucy was doing her saddest cry—the jagged, choking one that normally sent me flying into her room. Tonight, though, I could remain in bed, warm under the down comforter.  Even over the fuzzy secondhand baby monitor we’d been using, the shushing sound was distinct and assured. Chad had apparently heard her first as I’d slept uncharacteristically deeply. A welcome role reversal, if only for a night.

Sweet, I thought.


I smiled, wondering if Chad had picked up Lucy or was trying to settle her with just patting and reassuring from the side of the crib. It was a fool’s errand with our live wire daughter, but we still tried sometimes—in hopes that she’d one day learn how to fall asleep somewhere besides our arms or a car seat.


I tossed from my right side to my left.Upon landing on my elbow, my gaze met the familiar hill of my husband’s back. He was clad in his robe—probably because there were no clean pajamas. Lately, I’d been better about doing Lucy’s laundry than our own. The thought I need to pop in a load of shirts and underwear one of these days somehow registered in my brain just before this more alarming one: If Chad is here in bed with me, who is in there shushing Lucy?


I wasn’t dreaming.

I threw off the covers.

“What? What is it? Wantmetogo?” Chad mumbled.

I jumped out of bed and raced down the hall—a hall whose blue-lit carpet and wall seemed endless and unfamiliar as I ran toward the sound of my pulse and my daughter’s cries.

When I reached into her crib, I swiftly snatched her up. I heard a thunk as I did it, but a few seconds later, after my heart stopped pounding, it felt like the sound had been a product of my nervous imagination. Lucy was in my arms now. That was all that mattered.



Northampton Lunatic Hospital
Northampton, Massachusetts
December 20, 1885


Five years. That’s how long it’s taken you to come see me. Did you forget about me, dear brother? Or did you think—do you still think—they would not—and will not—ever let me out? Did you not want to hear my side of things, for fear I would be too persuasive?

Fear not. I barely know why I am even here—though over the years I have developed some theories. Don’t I always have theories? Yet none of those theories quite explains your absence or your silence until now.

Were you afraid you might find me bald and naked in a cage? Certainly it happens here, somewhere in the back halls of this monstrous brick building—far behind the grand front rotunda and these front parlor rooms. I hear the screams but I tend not to put pictures to them in my mind, lest I begin screaming myself and end up back there with them, joining their terrible chorus. If one can manage not to rage and wail, one stands a chance of a sedate existence. Did the nurse tell you that I occasionally work in the greenhouse? It is my favorite time, if it is possible to have a favorite of anything in this life. Many of the nurses have remarked on my delicate touch with the seedlings.

Surely, though, you did not come to hear about that.

You wish to know my side, truly?

Very well, then. Since you have taken so long to come and find me, I think it best to tell the whole story. I shouldn’t want to leave anything out, since perhaps you won’t return for another five years? Ten? For eternity? I have been waiting some time to tell it to you, so if you’ll indulge me, I shall go back to the very beginning.

The Evening Spider
by by Emily Arsenault