Thursday, October 22, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
“The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout.
Down came the rain, and —” the kids sang.
“Die, spider, die!”
Whack. Whack. Whack.
“Aunt Pammie!” Bella and Nick said.
“I’m sorry, but the only good spider is a dead spider,” Pam said while carefully holding the newspaper with spider guts as far away as possible. “Uhuhuhu-uhuh.” She shuddered.
“Mom said we don’t kill spiders. They eat other bugs.” Nick frowned. Pam could tell he was wondering if, somehow, he was going to get grounded over it.
“That’s insane, Nick,” Pam said.
Bella shook her head. “Don’t be stupid, Nick. That’s not it. Everyone knows if you kill a spider its mother comes back and steals your soul.”
Pam sighed. “That’s even more insane. What is your mother teaching you guys?”
Both kids skipped away, laughing. “The truth, Aunt Pammie, the truth,” Bella shot over her shoulder.
A whisper, a breath, woke Pam. The clock blinked 3:01 a.m. She brushed at a stray hair as it tickled her cheek.
“Shit!” It was a spider.
With a flip of her wrist, Pam sent it onto the covers. She stumbled out of bed, falling as her leg snagged on the covers.
Twined around her leg, sparkling in the moonlight, was spider silk.
“What the …?”
She hit the floor and beneath her spiders of all shapes and sizes scattered and reformed. Like an undulating furry blanket they covered her.
Oh God oh God oh God.
Choking, she tried wiping the spiders off while ripping at the web on her leg. It wouldn’t come off as she scrabbled up and onto the bed. A line of spiders the size of her face skittered toward her. Each one was covered in iridescent fur and stared with bottomless eyes.
Oh God oh God oh God. They’re after my soul.
She squashed two as she rolled across the bed toward the door. When her bare feet hit the floor there was crunching and something warm and thick oozed between her toes. A faint, high-pitched scream wrapped around the room.
“This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening.”
The screaming went on, grew in pitch as she stumbled to the door. It was coming from the spiders, and Pam slammed her hands over her ears as the screaming grew into something else.
“One of us. One of us,” the spiders chanted.
Oh God oh God. Have to get out. Have to get out!
The door was blocked—covered by webs woven over and over each other. As she shook the white silk, thousands of tiny red-spotted spiders burst out and ran up her arms. Above, stirred by the reverberations from the door, tarantulas dropped from the ceiling.
Pam’s screaming couldn’t block out the spider’s words.
“One of us, one of us. You killed one of us,” they said.
She spun, eyes wide, trembling all over, short of breath.
“Please,” she sobbed. “Please. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. Please. Oh, God.”
Don’t take my soul.
Skittering, flittering, chittering, twittering—black furry bodies swarmed. Up and over her eyes, they blinded her. Up and into her mouth, they drowned her.
“One of us. One of us,” they sang.
Pam stared unblinking at the man. “You don’t understand,” she said. “You can’t. You really really can’t. Do you know what’ll happen? I mean really really really happen? They know and they have friends. Family. Lots and lots of them. You wouldn’t know just looking at them but,” Pam laughed until tears rolled down her cheeks. “I don’t know anymore. Is the only good spider a dead one? Or is the only good spider a live spider?”
Movement behind the locked window casement caught her eye. A brown spider with spindly legs wove an intricate pattern on its web.
“SSSSSSsssssssssshhhhhhh.” She tried putting her finger to her lips, but the restraints held fast.
“They’ll hear me. If you listen you can hear them. Can’t you hear them?” She said to the man who shook his head and approached with a half-filled syringe. “Can’t you hear them?”
The needle entered her arm and the world’s edges blurred. The spider winked. Pam smiled.
It hadn’t been her soul they’d been after at all.
Monday, October 19, 2009
A boy crouched in the shadows of moonlight, his blue eyes glittering.
By the window, a crystal swung from the ceiling. It glistened in moonlight; in twinkled in starlight. When the sun shone bright, it sent rivers of color splashing across the walls. Only in the cloudiest and darkest of nights would the crystal blacken, hanging shiny and still, as dead as the mother of Tommy the spider.
Tommy worked in the corner, swinging the first threads for his web from wall to wall, wall to ceiling, and ceiling to wall. It was an ambitious design for a spider as small as he: it spanned four feet and stretched halfway down the wall.
That's when he heard a rustle and then a sound. Not a snap: nothing so loud as that. It was a sound so small, it was almost a non-sound. It was such a tiny sound for the ripping of limbs. Tommy twirled in the air on his thread, unable to find his feet for footing.
Or, at least, two of them.
The blue-eyed boy giggled, holding up two of the spider's legs to view in the moonlight. The spider scurried up his thread. The boy climbed on his bed, careful to first fold Tommy's legs in a tissue and place them in a small, beat-up box on his dresser. The spider watched the boy's glistening blue eyes until they shut, disappearing into darkness.
Tommy spun his web as the boy slept, working until the radials made a thirteen-pointed star. It was not easy work, but he found he could manage with only six of his limbs. He imagined his long legs calling from the box, begging him to finish, to give reason for their removal and imprisonment.
It was morning before Tommy began to work in circles and spirals around the middle of his web, stretching his long legs from radial to radial. He worked all day; his mother would have been proud. With every trip around his web, his ease with being a six-legged spider grew.
But as evening came, so did the boy with the twinkling blue eyes. Tommy heard him when he stepped below. Tommy spun at the top of his web, certain the boy was too short to reach him.
The boy was not.
He plopped a chair beneath the spider’s web and crawled on top. Tommy felt his one leg stretched as far as it would go. He gripped his web; his leg snapped off. The blue-eyed boy screeched in joy, then plucked another leg.
As the spider, in agony, folded its four remaining legs to its belly, the boy jumped off the chair. He ran to his nightstand and repeated the ritual with Tommy's legs, the tissue, and the box.
Tommy flopped on his silk. He imagined he clambered higher up his cord, but it is not easy to climb when you're not sure which legs you have and which you don't.
The next amputation was quick: the boy giggled gleefully, running around the room with a spider leg between each thumb and forefinger. He jumped on the bed, then turned those blue eyes towards the shivering spider.
Tommy could hardly look at those brilliant blue orbs, so afraid he was. As he clung to his web by thread and two legs, he kept thinking of the first time his mother had taught him to spin a web. If she would've been there, she would've said, "Just two more circles to go, Tommy. Never give up!"
The blue-eyed boy rolled the legs back and forth on his hand, then twirled one in between thumb and forefinger. (His third leg? His sixth leg? Tommy didn't know.) Finally, he smushed the spider’s legs in his palms, until they were nothing, until it was as if they had never been.
Tommy tried to climb a little ways up, but his body was too heavy for his two remaining legs. And so he hung. He dreamt his six lost legs danced in circles around him, demanding Tommy finish the web. The spider waited as the crystal cast colors, then diamonds, then colors, then diamonds.
Only then was his shriveled body light enough for his two legs to carry him. He slowly crawled up his balancing line. It took all night long to make the last two circles around his web.
When morning came, the boy stood below, his hands on his waist, his mouth slightly open. His blue eyes glowed in the purple sunlight of early dawn. He dropped a pile of books on the chair, then climbed up.
Tommy waited for the plucks: he was done with his web, after all. The boy stretched both legs as far as they would go, until Tommy feared his body would be torn in half. The two legs tore off, and his black body spun on his silken thread. He blinked at his tormentor, who now was not looking at him, but at the spider's web.
If the spider had ever been in a museum (he had not), or if he had ever visited the Spider Pavilion in the Natural History Museum (the greatest and grandest collection of webs from spiders spun), he would have known that his web was neither the finest nor the commonest. Tommy's web was museum-quality art, but it was not remarkable amongst masters.
Without the crystal, that is. For now his silk weave glowed with every red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple in the spectrum.
Then the spider, only a shiny black orb, stilled. The blue-eyed boy wrapped the dead spider in a tissue, then placed it in his treasure box.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Stacy grumbled a non-response and rolled over.
"Come on. Your father's been looking forward to this all week and the weather's perfect for a hike." The gray clouds overhead promised a cool day, and if they were lucky, rain.
Steve ambled to them and nudged Stacy's foot. "Let's go! I found a spectacular view the last time I was out and I want you to see it."
Stacy rolled her eyes. "Is it as exciting as the mound of dirt you dragged me to last weekend?"
"No, this is like nothing I've ever seen before." He shook his head. "Trust me, you've got to see it to believe it." He peeked up at the sky and smiled at Sheila. "Perfect."
Fifteen minutes later they were finally out the door on their way. Raindrops pelted them as they crossed the field near their home. Dry riverbeds sprang to life, carving new paths through the lush field and carrying branches and discarded junk from those who'd passed there before them.
Steve kicked at a piece of plastic drifting in the current. "I hate to see this. Don't they know how long this stays in the environment?"
The brush grew dense and Stacy slowed to a crawl.
"Don't stop now, we're almost there," Steve called over his shoulder.
"Where's there? All I see is this field and that huge dark cloud."
But that wasn't sky up ahead. What looked like darkening clouds was actually a dark gray wall.
They stopped at the base and waited for Steve to give instructions, but he just smiled.
Sheila gasped. "We're not…?"
"Dad, are you serious? You just made me hike for miles and now you're telling me we have to climb a wall?"
"I'm telling you, the view is worth it." He placed one foot on the wall and pulled himself up. "It's not so bad. Just take your time."
Up, up, up they climbed, until Steve pulled himself over a ledge and looked down at them. "This is it," he whispered.
Sheila and Stacy scrambled to join him, and their mouths dropped open. From their spot on the ledge, they overlooked a vast open space, wider than anything they'd ever seen before. Sheila moved closer to Steve. "What is it?"
Acres of blue grass spread across the horizon, dotted with lush black mountains and strange wooden monuments that stretched the length of the field. A low rumbling in the distance made Sheila take a step back.
Steve sighed. "I had to ask around, but one of the guys had seen something like this before." He looked between them, his eyes shining. "It's a living room."
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Megan had already found a bee, a ladybug, a sulphur butterfly, and a grasshopper. She really wanted to make honor roll this semester.
Mr. Gunson had handed out the list of required bugs in 3rd period. "You must include one of each insect on the list to earn an 'A' on this assignment. Don't tell me you can't hurt a butterfly. This is 7th grade, people, and I expect 7th grade work."
That evening, Megan stalked the fields behind her house with her brother's old butterfly net in one hand and a mason jar in the other. A backpack over her shoulder hid the implements used for the actual killing: her mom's nail polish remover and a bag of cotton balls from under the sink.
She repeated the same steps each time she caught something in the net. Transfer bug from net to jar, add toxic cotton ball, wait.
It was usually over pretty fast, but this time was different — the lubber grasshopper was taking a lot longer to die than the other insects had. He was desperate to get out, jumping against the jar lid mightily and persistently.
Megan was captivated by the sight and sound of it, the futile industry, his tenacious grip on life. His large stony eyes seemed surprisingly full of pathos; she kept wishing for him to die so it would be over.
"Whatcha got in the jar, a leprechaun?" Megan sat up with a start to see her neighbor Allan standing only an arm's length away with Nugget on a leash by his side. Allan was smiling.
"Oh, no. It's just a, just a school thing." Megan reached out to stroke Nugget, keeping her eyes on his soft muzzle, his little pink tongue. "I have to collect bugs for Mr. Gunson's class."
"You're too pretty to be collecting bugs." He looked at her with dark, shiny eyes. Megan felt her face flush.
Allan stood silently watching her pet Nugget, and Megan felt stupid for having been so engrossed, for having looked startled in front of him.
She forced her mouth to work, forced herself to think of something to say. "Does Nugget need another bath? Because I could get the hose ...."
"Nah, not today. She hasn't been out much lately, thanks to the old nine-to-five that turned into a seven-to-seven."
Megan had no idea what that meant, and instead turned her attention back to the grasshopper still clink-clinking against the jar.
"You know, Megan, you're too good to me and Nugget," Allan continued. "You're an angel. Your family doesn't tell you that enough." He brushed his thick, dark hair out of his eyes.
Megan felt warm all over and yet frozen, too embarrassed to look at him. "This grasshopper was easy to catch. He just sat there on that railroad tie." She pointed to a two-by-four on the ground ten feet away.
Allan smiled but didn't correct her. "Isn't it funny? He's trapped in a jar and he doesn't even know he's been caught."
Nugget, tired of Megan, began sniffing her backpack instead. Megan glanced over, then turned back to see Allan's lanky frame leaning down to where she crouched. He was reaching a hand to her hair.
Megan stood up abruptly.
Allan laughed. "A leaf, silly." He held a little leaf between his thumb and a long, thickly jointed forefinger.
Megan laughed too, absently running her hand through her own hair now. "Maybe I'm the one who needs a bath."
"Hey, I was just thinking," Allan said. "What would Mr. G think of an orb spider? Are they on your list?"
"Um, I don't think so," Megan said. "Spiders aren't insects."
Allan smiled. "Good point. Smart girl."
She beamed inside.
"I know a nature preserve where there are thousands of orb spiders. When you look up through the trees, you can see layer upon layer of them, right within reach. Ripe for the picking. It would make for some spectacular extra credit."
Megan considered this for a moment. Extra credit would be nice, but her mom wasn't likely to take her to a park just for extra credit. "Do any of those spiders live around here?"
"No big ones," Allan shook his head sadly. "This neighborhood is too young for good tree cover. All we have is saplings. Maybe your mom or dad could take you Saturday."
At this, Megan's eyes teared a little. She blinked quickly and bit the edge of her thumbnail.
Allan suddenly brightened. "Hey, I could take you over there some time .... I mean if that's not too weird."
"Oh, um ... maybe," Megan faltered.
He playfully poked her in the side. "What, you don't trust me?"
Megan giggled. "No, I mean, I think that would be fun."
Allan put an arm around her shoulder. "I know things have been hard, Meg."
She felt excited to be so close to him. She could smell his aftershave. "Would an orb spider be hard to catch?"
"No, they stay still most of the time. But when they find something to eat, they creep, creep, creep up to it." Megan felt something brushing along her collarbone lightly. "Then they POUNCE!" Allan's hand bounced off her shoulder.
He gave her a little tickle and burst out laughing.
Megan laughed too. She looked down at the jar and realized the grasshopper had stopped moving. She picked it up, studied him through the thick glass.
"Do you think he's dead, or did he just give up on the idea of getting away?" Megan asked.
Allan considered the jar for a moment. "What's the real difference? Once you're in the jar, it's just a question of time."
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Billy Wilder woke with a savage yawp. He bolted from his chair and ran toward the front door slapping at himself with his hands. A black spider, one with a body as big as a jellybean and legs that could span a coffee mug, had been crawling up his chest toward his open, snoring mouth.
When he opened the door and the cold air hit him in the face, he realized that there was of course no spider, not really, that once again his imagination had gotten the best of him.
The terrors usually came at night. They had been coming for seventy-two years now, since he was eleven, and had started during a sleepover with Mike Musselman and Virgil Lamb in a treehouse built from stolen barn wood. Billy had gained admission into the “club,” which had previously included only Mike and Virgil, because he owned a handheld brass telescope his uncle had brought home from the Navy. The telescope, which collapsed and could fit neatly into the pocket of your overalls, was perfect for pretending to be pirates or explorers or beings from another planet. There was no end to the games you could play with that thing, and the three of them got a lot of mileage out of it.
There had been some extortion involved, too, because Billy had seen Mike and Virgil tearing down the dilapidated tobacco barn at the old Schweinhardt place and toting the timbers and planks to their construction site in the woods. Billy had threatened to rat the other boys out if they didn’t let him into their club, so they said okay, he was in, as long as he brought the telescope to every meeting.
One crisp October Friday, the three of them climbed the rope ladder and were taking turns scouting for hostile invaders when Mike said, “Hey, let’s sleep out here tonight.”
“No way,” Virgil said. “Daddy’ll tan my hide if I ain’t in by dark.”
“Me too,” Billy said. “Plus I still got chores to do.”
Mike Musselman, who never let petty annoyances like parents and work and the law prevent him from doing something he considered to be fun, had it all figured out.
“Here’s what we’ll do. Virgil, you tell your folks you’re staying at Billy’s house tonight. Billy, you tell yours you’re staying at my house. I’ll tell mine I’m staying at Virgil’s.”
“Right,” Virgil said. “And when our moms get to talking after Sunday meeting, we’ll be in a pickle for sure.”
“Virgil, Virgil, Virgil. Have you ever known our moms to mention anything as dumb as us when they get to talking after Sunday meeting? They have more important things to cackle about, like how a loaf of bread has gone up to ten cents and such. You know what? I think y’all are just chicken. Bach bach bach bach baaaaaaach.”
Mike hooked his thumbs under his armpits and walked around flapping his elbows.
When you were an eleven-year-old boy in rural Tennessee back then, chicken was about the worst thing another eleven-year-old boy could call you. Either you beat the living shit out of him, or you did the thing he was calling you chicken about. You chewed your first plug of tobacco, took your first drink of hard liquor, hotwired your first car. You stayed out all night, even if it meant a trip to the woodshed with a razor strop the next day.
“I’m in,” Virgil said.
Billy thought about grabbing Mike Musselman by the seat of his pants and heaving him through the doorway like a sack of flour. It was a thirty-foot drop to the ground, and a broken leg or two would teach Mike a little prudence regarding who he called chicken next time. Billy was bigger and stronger than Mike, and could have easily done it.
But he didn’t.
It would have automatically gotten him thrown out of the club, for one thing, blackmail scheme or not, and he definitely didn’t want that. The club had become his sanctuary from the freak show he called home: Mama quoting scriptures a thousand times a day, telling him he was going to roast in Hell if he didn’t repent for his wickedness; Daddy just sitting there quietly reading his newspaper and smoking his pipe until some crazy gauge in his head redlined and he blew ten different kinds of gaskets; big brother Clay, who Billy still had to share a bed with, coming home after work every night with beer on his breath and Molly Herringer on his finger, jacking that monstrosity of his and then wiping it on the sheets.
Billy looked forward to his club meetings with Mike and Virgil, and he wasn’t about to bitch it up over something stupid like this. In fact, a night away from home was starting to sound like a damn good idea.
“Count me in too,” Billy said.
They did the secret handshake and chanted the secret words, descended the ladder and ran to their homes. Billy’s heart raced like a scalded polecat when he asked his mother about staying the night at the Musselmans’ house, but he never allowed himself to lose eye contact. He had become quite the accomplished liar these past few months, a skill that would serve him well through his teen years and into adulthood. Mom finally gave in, but she made him read from the Bible and kneel down and pray before pretending to leave for the Musselmans’ and hightailing back to the treehouse.
The western hilltops glowed red, silhouetted by the dying sun. Billy stood alone, gazing out over the valley, feeling closer to God here than he ever had in church, wondering if any other human had ever witnessed anything so magnificent.
The day slowly faded, and the stars took over by the time Mike and Virgil showed up.
“Where you guys been?” Billy said. “I thought I was going to have to stay out here by myself all night.”
Virgil’s father had made him clean the horse stalls before heading out.
Mike had failed to get permission at all, so he was in essence a fugitive now.
“I’ll take my licks like a man tomorrow,” Mike said. “Tonight we’re going to have ourselves some fun.”
Billy had brought a canteen full of water, Virgil some biscuits from the supper table, and Mike a few strips of dried pork wrapped in cheesecloth. They passed the canteen around and ate some of the food, pretending to be shipwreck survivors bobbing on the open sea in a lifeboat.
“Better save some of these vittles for later,” Mike said. “No telling when we might get rescued.”
They took a vote, and everyone agreed it was best to ration the provisions a little at a time. Billy wrapped everything neatly in the cheesecloth, and stuffed the package into a cracker tin Mike had brought on a previous adventure.
They got bored with the lifeboat scenario after a while, and Virgil suggested they join the French Foreign Legion and snipe on some Nazis with their high-powered rifles.
“That’s dumb,” Mike said. “How we going to see Nazis in the dark? You think they walk around at night holding torches, with big red swastikas painted on their backs? ‘Hey y’all, I’m a Nazi. Go ahead and pick me off like a duck in a shooting gallery.’ You think that’s what they do? Let me tell you something about Nazis, Virgil. They ain’t--”
That’s when a red fireball blazed through the sky, interrupting Mike’s soliloquy about Nazis and changing all three of their lives forever.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
I stared at him, thinking he had made a mistake. That I had made a mistake. I went back through the cards. No mistake.
I couldn’t face him, so I looked out the window at the sun until my eyes hurt. Then I stood up, my back to him. You know, it’s all a hypothetical until it happens to you.
I remember where we were. Exactly. Precisely. Sitting in a restaurant in L.A., and Christopher Reeve was two tables over in a giant wheelchair with all this apparatus, looking more like a Transformer than a person.
“If that ever happens to me,” Micah said. “Kill me.”
“Me, too,” I said, watching someone spoon-feed Superman. I lifted my glass of merlot. “Just put a pillow over my head.”
Later that night, after we made love in our hotel, he spooned around me and whispered in my ear. “I mean it.”
“If we couldn’t do this . . . if I ended up like that, kill me. Make me a promise.”
“I promise,” I whispered. Like promising you will love someone forever, you mean it at the time. I did.
He couldn’t hold me to it. Simple. He couldn’t hold me to a promise. I spun around. “No. I won’t. I can’t. I love you.”
I pulled the chair closer to his bed and sat down. “You’re still here. You can still communicate.”
His eyes drifted to the cards. His face twitched.
I leaned close to him and put my lips to his forehead, letting my tongue trace its way to his black curls. The curls I twined around my fingers. The curls that made me tremble the first time we did it, falling to the floor and tearing off each other’s clothes in a scene that now made me wake up sobbing with the memory.
He could feel my tongue on his forehead. I tried to pretend that was enough, licking the saltiness. Tasting him.
“Why now?” I wanted him to tell me.
He spelled it out.
“Look behind you.”
I turned around. What? What the hell was I looking for that would mean it was time to kill him? Time to die. A picture on the wall of us. The window. What?
And then I saw them.
Spiders. Spinning a web in the corner of the window.
Screaming, I tore at them, killed them one at a time, smashing their guts onto the window panes with my bare hands, shrieking at them. “Get away!”
I faced Micah, sobbing. “Did they . . . climb on you?”
“Well, that’s not good enough, Micah.” I stared down at my palms covered in insect guts and blood. “Not a good enough reason.”
I refused to hold up the cards. Sun set. The room grew dark. I could hear the oxygen filling his lungs, this dependency that would never, ever, ever get better.
Finally, I switched on the light. I stroked his forehead, his face. I placed my tongue next to his eyes and flicked sensuously, begging him. “Please . . . Micah.”
I knew better to argue with him when he was able-bodied. That he hadn’t been able to move anything but his eyelids for a year shouldn’t have mattered.
I held up the cards.
Please, Baby. There will always be spiders.