A Thing About Spiders

     Roger woke after two hours sleep, listening. Footsteps? Engine ticking itself cool? Anything? He let out his breath long and slow. Only a dream.
     Just to make sure he grabbed his shotgun and removed the black-rubber knothole plug at the front of cabin. The road leading up from Santa Cruz was quiet. Checking peepholes in windowless walls two and three showed more of the same. Well, there was a black-tail about fifty feet from wall two, a four-point buck begging to be hung on a wall, but the last thing Roger needed was game warden hearing the shot and stopping by to check permits.
     There was no need to check the fourth wall in the bedroom. He was pretty sure they weren’t sending frogmen after him.
     Full dawn was still an hour off, but there was enough light seeping through the cracks in the redwood-plank walls to make sense of the room. Roger had gotten in around three, hid the car behind the deadfall, and stumbled around the cabin until he found the cot in the back. He was relieved now to see Daniels had been telling the truth. A standalone bookshelf at the back of the main room was well stocked with canned food and some fruit put up in jars. The food and propane canisters beside the stove were more than he’d use in the week Daniels told him to come up and cool off for.
     “Go. It’s too hot for you here now. I’ll bring my boat over on the Sixteenth.”
     Something snapped outside. Roger checked for the deer; it was gone. Nothing else.
     Before the day was fully light Roger went out and retrieved the duffel bags from trunk of the Tempest. He tossed them on the cot and set to clearing off the bookshelf. Once it was empty save for one jar of what looked like peaches that had broken and stuck fast to the wood, he humped the six-foot mother-lovin oak monstrosity across to the front door.
     Roger found the black widow spider when he went back to clean up the junk that had been behind the shelf. He took off his boot and was set to turn it into a curious stain when a better idea came to mind. He grabbed a pie tin from the cupboard above the stove. Keeping an eye on the spider he dumped a jar of cherries into the pan and then rinsed the Mason jar out in the sink.
     “Here’s a new home for ya Widder Johnson,” he said, scooping up the spider and most of her fly- and crud-clotted web. “I hope you’ll like it.”
     Roger screwed on the lid and gave the jar a couple good shakes to give his guest the nickel tour of her new accommodations. He pried a nail from one of the walls and drove four holes through the metal lid, using his boot heel as a hammer. He had a week to kill; no need for his new bunkmate to expire prematurely.
     Humming “The Girl from Ipanema,” he improvised a two-step back and forth across the room as he restocked the shelves blocking the front door.
There were six guns crammed in the duffel bags along with Roger and Daniels’ share of the bank robbery. A seventh, his shotgun, leaned against the wall where he’d seen the deer. He retrieved the guns and set to cleaning them, lining them up in front of the trapped spider on the table.
     “Perhaps your relations up in San Francisco—mentioned me at the odd Christmas gathering. Ehh, you liss’nin?”—he tapped the glass with the barrel of a .45— “Roger McCormack. My mother-lovin brother used to lock me out in the shed with about a hundred of your sort. Maybe not all widders, but enough. Didn’t care for it.”
     He put the gun down and shook the jar. The spider fell from her web and rolled around in a little ball. Roger laughed. “Didn’t care for it at all.”
     At lunchtime Roger had a can of hash and noticed a couple flies crawling around the cherries. He stunned one, then shook the spider down to the bottom of the jar and sealed the fly inside with it.
     “Bon apetit.”
     By his second helping of pork and beans at dinner there were three flies buzzing around the airholes inside the jar. Two more were bundled into snug little shrouds.
     “No more, Widder, your hips are wide enough as it is.” He flushed the cherries down the toilet. “And these flies are driving me nuts.”
     That night he alternated dreams of police cars rolling not-quite silently up the moonlit drive with dreams of an empty jar on the kitchen table and a houseguest who could be anywhere.
     He didn’t get any sleep the next night, either.
     “Oughta shoot you right now,” Roger said the morning of the Thirteenth. He walked over to the cabinet where he kept a .45 at the ready inside the pie tin plates and brought the gun back to the table. Drawing a bead on the spider, her red hourglass dead center in the sight, he imagined the sheriff’s knock on the door. Roger lowered the gun. “Looks like you get some more time after all. Let’s get that sand flowing again.”
     Roger flipped the jar over, thought it looked dangerously unstable, righted it again. The last of the flies ended up caught in the web.
     That afternoon the heat built up inside the cabin. Roger lay on the cot in his boxer shorts, trying to ignore the fly buzzing the sweat in his hair. Trying to ignore the imagined sounds of cars rolling up from Santa Cruz. Trying not to think about the shed in San Francisco. He was unaccustomed to failure of late—the bank job having gone so well—and not being able to just focus his attention on the surf breaking on the beach below the cabin grated on him.
     “That’s a hell of a blister on your backside, ma’am.” Roger got the .45 again. “Maybe I oughta pop it.”
     The heat broke the next evening, and Roger padded around the cabin removing the knothole plugs. Cool air streamed in. He went to bed for the first time without shaking the spider jar goodnight. He dreamed of being trapped in the shed during an earthquake—garden tools, bags of fertilizer, spiders as big as hams fell down on him.
     He got up and shook the spider jar. “Knew I forgot something.”
     The fog never burned off on the Fifteenth and Roger was tormented by the thought of cars purring up the drive. Cars he couldn’t see if they didn’t have their headlights on. And they never did in his imagination. He empathized with the flies in the silken cocoons from which they’d never emerge.
     One of the flies in the jar looked like was still struggling for escape.
     “You and me both.”
     Before bed Roger pulled the bookshelf two feet away from the door. Far enough he’d be able to get out with the bags in the morning. Not far enough that a police raid could get in easily. “Night, Widder,” he said, giving the jar a shake. “Big day in the morning. Pack. Kill you. Take a little cruise. Sleep tight.”
     Roger retrieved all his guns and stowed them while the coffee was percolating. He tucked the .45 in the small of his back, packed the shotgun he had carried in the car.
     “Well, dearie—looks like this is it,” he said, sitting down at the table with a metal cup and the coffee pot. One of the dark gray shroud balls had a blown-out side. “Aah look, little bugger got out of your web after all.”
     Roger lifted the jar and peeked through the glass for the fly. “Where’d he get to?” There was no fly hiding on the inside of the lid. Roger turned the jar looking for the fly, seeing nothing but the black widow in the middle of her web.
     And the dark lines traced on the glass.
     Roger rubbed a finger across on of the lines. It smeared, then rejoined. Then started tracking up the back of his hand.
     He looked close. Dozens—hundreds—of tiny spiders.
     Roger dropped the jar and drew the .45 before the glass shattered on the floor. He tracked the black widow for a second. Fired. And again. And again. How many babies can a spider have at once? Roger grabbed the pot of coffee off the table and poured it over his hand where the spiders had been. Then up his arm in case any had crawled up that far.
     Then he remembered he had drawn the gun with that hand. He rushed to the sink, pausing only long enough to shift the gun from his right hand to his left as he yanked the shirt over his head.
     A second later he realized that he’d drawn his gun with the hand that had been holding the spider jar, and he might have transferred babies onto his shirt in the process—baby spiders that were now starting to nest in his hair. He turned on the water, rinsed off as well as he could. Grabbed a dishtowel and rubbed the coarse linen across his back, shoulders, neck.
     He decided he better take a quick shower just to be sure he got them all. He sat on his bunk, went to pull off his left boot. The black widow was making its way across the arch of his foot.
     He pulled the shotgun out of the duffel and fired off two rounds before his screams turned from fright to pain.
     He had no trouble hearing the boat idling offshore a half hour later. Or the sound of the surf crashing on the beach a half hour that when the boat motored away.

© 2007, 2024; first appeared in print in Fear and Trembling, February 2008

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