I don’t like spiders.
Well, what does that mean, really? I should paraphrase and say that I don’t like things larger than about an inch across, that are brown or dark brown, and that move rapidly from point to point, out of the corner of my eye. The visuals are of primary importance, and although of course sound can be terrifying, too, the revolting susurrus of chitinous legs scrabbling around the cornices of a room and across my expensive electronic equipment is usually drowned out by the dull, terrified beating of my heart.
Are you with me yet? You can see how this fear encompasses mainly huntsman spiders and the big, bloated imported German cockroaches of Australia, both of which are colloquially referred to by me in my house as, ‘FUCK!‘ This is also a useful collective noun, as in, ‘Oh dear gods there is a FUCK! of FUCK!s in the pantry.’
We won’t even contemplate the haptic joys of these things.
This particular spider encounter begins in the late evening with a determined call from my son’s room. Marcus is almost 8, on the Autistic spectrum, and has been watching gaming YouTube videos in his bedroom for about half an hour. As my wife and a friend are printing t-shirts downstairs, and I’m only writing/bumming around on Twitter, it’s up to me to perform this sacred duty.
“Dad, there’s a spider,” he says in his American accent. His voice is the modern world equivalent of learning to count on Sesame Street. Every sentence out of his mouth is culled from breathless American gaming commentaries on YouTube. I assumed, for some mad reason, that this spider wouldn’t be particularly large, since I heard no note of terror in his voice.
Of course, he processes emotions differently to ‘regular’ folks. His call to arms was purely pragmatic, as when I arrive upstairs I find the spider clinging happily to the ceiling, out of his reach. It’s only a little huntsman, perhaps three inches across, with a smallish body. It doesn’t immediately terrify me, as it isn’t moving (if I may refer you back to my particular subset of phobia-triggers at the top of this story).
Confident the beast isn’t going anywhere (I believe I once read some propaganda that they’re lovely, placid monsters), I rush downstairs to find my trusty can of poison. For reference, in the Great Spider Incursion a week earlier, when a bona fide Kaiju-class huntsman invaded our home, this poison did nothing. Nothing. Huntszilla was repelled by it, but thoroughly coated and unaffected for a good fifteen minutes, before stumbling once and falling victim to my ‘Upturned Plastic Bowl’ containment stratagem.
Remember that; the ‘Upturned Plastic Bowl’ containment stratagem is what’s going to lull me into a false sense of security, soon.
Now, I make no excuses for employing chemical warfare on anything that might leap out at me; I will tell the International Court I was merely protecting my children, if necessary. Worse, I realise intellectually that these lemony-scented death clouds are merely placebo. The victims are scared away by the hissing and terrible smell. I’ve never seen a legitimate death from these poisons; they merely weaken and distract.
Nonetheless the half-full can is a totem to me. I hide behind it, it’s my shield. At full spray, it can push back even a charging Huntszilla in full arms-up-to-hug-me-like-Medusa mode. I only have a half-can left, but this FUCK! is only little.
Upstairs my son is now happily watching videos on the bed, because the task of bringing the spider to ground has been delegated to his erstwhile father. Oh, if only he understood the sacrifices I make for him. The spider hasn’t moved, so I line up some placebo poison and spray the damned thing. As expected, all this does is push it away. It gathers its wits, and is now scurrying towards me, clinging upside down on the ceiling, but I have enough spray to push it back if necessary.
A second cloud convinces it I’m serious, so now it’s rappelling from the ceiling. Oh that’s right, my lizard brain reminds me, these FUCK!s have spinnerets to provide instant safety nets well perhaps some more POISON will assist. And indeed, the spider swings at the end of its tether under the next blast. This is when whatever toxin the lemony spray hides creeps through its armour plating and the spider decides that the only way is back up. It starts to clamber back up its lifeline, reaches the ceiling again, but is overcome.
The little black dandelion ball spirals down on its final journey but manages to throw its legs wide to land like Black Widow (there’s an Avengers movie spider reference right there, free of charge). At this point I’m comfortable because it can’t get to me quickly enough, and I don’t need to spray it much more, if at all, because it’s clearly puffed and about to give up.
This is my son’s cue to get off the bed and walk towards us holding a plastic bowl. “Dad, can I help?”
He’s holding the bowl the right way up, which for the purposes of the containment plan is upside down. But we had a bowl over Huntszilla downstairs for a few days (she was huge, ok?), so I can see he’s probably going to apply my stratagem, flip it at the last minute, and save the day. Good work son! I stand back for the peaceful containment protocol to be applied.
“I’m going to SQUISH YOU!” he yells, and brings the clear bowl’s base flat down on top of the spider. BAM. I flinch. The spider is seriously fucked, one leg up in the air like a drunk man waving for a refill in a bar. I can almost see its tiny little eyes spinning. “What the fuck was that?” says the spider.
BAM! He smashes it again. BAM-BAM-BAM! “Gods stop it! STOP!” I’m yelling now as he smashes that spider repeatedly with the bowl. It’s going to make a mess in the carpet. The spider itself is long dead.
“That’s enough! Go back to your bed.” Marcus takes his bowl and goes back to bed. I take a deep breath, trying not to look at the dead ball of spider at my feet. “Good job Marcus,” I manage, and he says, “Thanks!” perkily.
My heart is still pounding in my chest when he comes back with the bowl, presumably to provide a more dignified casket. The bowl is upside down this time, you see. What could possibly go wrong?
I take a step back and he comes over and puts the bowl over the top. I can see the dead spider through the base. He doesn’t let go of the bowl though. He starts sliding it backward and forward, like he’s trying to scrub the carpet. The goddamn spider is rolling in and out. Legs fly off. I’m screaming.
Marcus stops. I tell him to get back to bed. I wander down the stairs in a daze and explain the situation to the two adults working on printing t-shirts downstairs. The spider’s battered carcass is still upstairs. No way am I cleaning that thing up.
Life returns to normal, and a good thirty minutes pass before I remind my wife that there is a dead spider in the doorway of our son’s bedroom, so she should be careful not to walk in there recklessly. I’m not suggesting she clean it up, of course, because I have a healthy respect and understanding for her own disgust at these creatures who’ve been on the planet approximately 300 million years longer than we.
At this point my wife’s t-shirt printing friend—a lean, supremely muscled, flamboyantly gay world-title holding poledancer*—offers to clean up the scary, scary spider for us, and we gladly accept. He goes upstairs, only to return with news that my son has already picked up the carcass and dropped it into the toilet. I’m shaking at the thought of having to touch his little spider-tainted hands tomorrow.
I thank him. I check upstairs. There are still two spider legs trampled into the carpet. I don’t touch them.
I walk away.
*no, I’m serious, check him out.