Richard shifted nervously from one foot to the other as he stood on the drab light grey stone steps of Lillian’s house. His hand hovered over the shiny brass knocker, the only bright spot on an equally drab darker grey door. All the other houses in the street were the same. Shoulder to shoulder they stood, their sullen edifices overlooking the tarred road outside. Fleetingly Richard wondered how such a dull exterior could hide a person as vibrant at Lilian. In his right arm, he cradled a large bouquet of dark red roses. That and the date – the 1st of January – made up the excuse for his presence on her front steps. Usually, an uninvited visit to the home of someone of the opposite gender would have been something that Richard would have shunned with a rush of goosebumps down his spine. But Lillian was different. Lillian made taking the risk worthwhile.

Lillian, prescient as ever, opened the door before he had completed the knock. “Oh Richard, what a delightful surprise. And what wonderful flowers. Are they for me?”

Muted by a sudden onset of panic, Richard thrust the bouquet at her. He summoned up all his courage and managed to stammer, “Y..yes. Umm … happy New Year.” Clamping his mouth shut in fear of saying of saying something inappropriate, he studied her face nervously, hoping for that radiant smile which always caused a warm glow to rise from the pit of his stomach to his face.

The smile did indeed appear, but only for a moment. Then Lillian’s face paled and she stared down at the roses with an expression that could only be described as shock.

Richard leant forward a little to look for the cause of that change. He felt his own face drain of colour and his mouth opened in an expression of silent horror.

Before their widened eyes, a huge black spider clambered laboriously out from among the blooms, scampered down the dark green stems and hopped with what looked for all the word like glee, straight onto Lillian’s bare forearm.