Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Devil Has Eight Legs - A (True) Horror Story

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "Random Musings" and "Travel Stories"

Warning: Contains mild, spider-induced foul language and descriptions of creepy spider snafus. Discretion advised. 

Spiders. Arachnids. Little eight-legged creatures. There are approximately 2 billion creepy-crawly insects on earth per each human being, probably more, so why is it that so many people have issues with spiders,* in particular? People like me.

I hate spiders; they set my teeth on edge. At the sight of them, my lip curls and icy cold shivers run up and down my spine. There's a ridiculous dance I do when I discover another eight-legged roommate. It involves weird jerks and stomping and usually a shrill shriek. I'm not proud.

I remember a childhood summer in Oklahoma, visiting family and camping around Lake Tenkiller. On a hike, one afternoon, we came across a tarantula on the pathway, swear-to-god it was the size of a softball. I froze in place, it stopped to face us. My cousin threw a rock at it, but all that did was piss it off. It reared back on four legs, front legs waving menacingly, and it hissed. The others wanted to go around it, but I refused. Hell no! I stood there waiting patiently in the sizzling Oklahoma sun, and I let that bastard cross the path in its own damn time.

Then, fast-forward a few decades, and I've moved to the UK, a spider's paradise, because here, in Great Britain, they don't kill spiders. Uh-uh. The English people I know run around with cereal bowls and slips of paper, and they try to catch the little beasts so they can go out into their gardens and let those crawly denizens of hell go!

I first witnessed this in one of my Spanish classes, at the local university. I caught sight of some speck or debris floating in the air in my peripheral vision. Before I even turned my head, I knew - it was a sneak attack, an aerial invasion. It was a spider sliding down on a silky line. Along came a spider, I thought, then I jumped up and screamed.

A dozen or so English faces eyed me with a mixture of disgust and amusement as the teacher grabbed the silk spider thread and used it to ferry the spider out a window. I choked back a dry-heave as she wiped a stubborn bit of spiderweb on her skirt. In a shaky voice, I asked my classmate to my left, "Why didn't she just kill it?" and she looked at me as if I'd farted loudly in church.

Later that day, I recounted my close encounter to my English buddy James**, hoping for some local insight into this strange behavior. James informed me that English people don't kill spiders indoors as it is considered bad luck. He then told me the most horrific story I've ever heard. This is my version (paraphrased from memory) of what he told me:

I was on holiday, far away from the tourist scene, staying in a small hotel in rural Mexico. It was a small stucco building in the Spanish style, and I'd just checked into my room after a long and hot journey. All I wanted to do was take a cool shower and put on a clean shirt, but as I sat on the edge of the bed, I noticed something fuzzy scurry across the floor. Great, I thought, a mouse. But, as it moved from shadow to light and back to shadow, I caught a glimpse of too many legs. At least, too many legs for a mouse.

Well, that's a relief, I thought. Not a mouse at all, but a spider. I looked around the room for something to scoop it up with, but all I could find in the sparse room was a half sheet of laminated paper with instructions for making local and international phone calls. It would have to do.

Armed with my small rectangle of paper, I approached the spider. Now it was facing me, backed into a corner. As I approached, I began to think twice about my spider-retrieval plan. The spider was too big for the laminated paper and it certainly wouldn't hold the spider's weight. Furthermore, I'd have to to keep the spider from leaping off the paper, and I didn't want to squash it with my hand.

On a small table in the hallway outside my room there had been a small, decorative bowl, about the size of a large cereal bowl. That would be perfect. I'd plop the bowl over the spider, then slide the paper under the bowl and spider to keep it tucked safely inside for relocation.

A few seconds later and I was back in the room, bowl and paper at the ready. But, the spider was gone. Damn. I looked around for several minutes, under the corner table and beneath the tattered luggage rack. I looked under the bed. Nothing. I thought perhaps it had followed me out, escaped when I went for the bowl, but then I caught a flash of motion out of the corner of my eye, this time, at shoulder height. It was on the wall.

Advancing on my quarry, we were now eye-to-eye (or eye-to-many-eyes). It looked even larger. I hefted the bowl and sized up the spider. The bowl might cover its body, but the legs would be a problem. I tried to hold the bowl over it, to get a better measure, but it waved two legs at me and it hissed. This was something I'd not encountered before, but I was tired and I wanted the whole ordeal over with, so I advanced anyway. Besides, the bowl was my only option.

I lunged at the spider, but it scrambled away and I only managed to slam the bowl against the wall. It was on the move now, and I gave pursuit, lunging and missing until we had moved halfway around the room. I followed it over the bed and across a nightstand. It ran for a small tapestry on the wall and I smacked the bowl against the wall again. This time, I caught its leg and it turned on me and lunged. I shouted and jumped back, alarmed, and dropped the bowl. It shattered into a dozen, useless pieces. The spider hissed once more than ducked under the tapestry, forming a small, darting lump.

Then it hit me - use the tapestry, so I slammed my forearms against the tapestry, trapping the spider in a confined space. Now what? There was only one thing I could do, so I scooped the rough fabric around the spider and yanked it free from the wall. It came away easily (along with a chunk of the wall) in a cloud of loose plaster. I was sweating now, the moisture dripping into my eyes, but I carefully wrapped the spider into a bundle and headed out the door, down the hallway and out to the courtyard.

I burst through the patio doors, red faced, sweating and covered in white plaster and came to a halt. Several men were seated around the patio, sipping drinks, some playing cards. I paid them no mind. I flipped the tapestry open and out flew the spider. It landed in the middle of the patio. Everything stopped for two heartbeats, the spider hissed and every man, without exception, sprung to their feet and ran from the patio. They stopped and cowered just outside the tiny courtyard gate and peered back at the spider. One man shouted something to me in Spanish - it might have been something about poison, I've never been sure. The spider gave one final waggle of its front legs, then scampered away. I didn't bother to see where it went. After giving the tapestry one final shake, I turned on my heel and returned to my room. 

*   Yes, I know spiders aren't insects.
** Name changed to protect the utterly bonkers.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Linkity-Link: News & Noteworthy from the SFF World

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Sunday Paper: SFF Links"

Science Fiction (and Science Fact):

For the Science Fiction comic fan: a full-color, hardbound collection from Simon & Kirby.

In defense of Tom Cruise and his Sci-Fi movie career: an interesting article, here. I must confess I have a love-hate relationship with Cruise, myself, and the author makes some good points.

A Science Fiction film from Chile - the trailer looks interesting.

Space Elevators! Going up?

Scalzi's fans bring him...buttercream frosting? Love it. Ah, to one day have such fans as these.


A nice two-part article from Fantasy Faction on the history of the Fantasy Young Adult genre. If you are a YA fan and/or writer - this is a good one to read.

A three-part series on women authors of Fantasy Fiction. If you read the genre, you probably know these names, but there might be some new authors to add to your list.

Fantasy Faction has a lot of nice, in-depth articles on the genre (this the second link from the site in today's Fantasy links). Here's one on creatures from Greek mythology.

Publishing News

The publishing industry's plans for a new year. Are things looking up or is it just the calm before the storm? In any case, here's what some of the Big 6 have to offer in 2013.

Short write-up on Amazon Publishing's new dedicated website.

Kuttab Publishing out of the UAE helps those with special needs or disabilities to get their stories printed. Read about this wonderful project, here. It is a new venture, one I've not heard of before, but it seems like a great idea.

New Chief named for independent, queer publisher Cleis Press. Interesting writeup about the "largest independent queer publishing company."

Bric-a-Brac for the Reader and Writer

Need something inspiring to hang over your Writer's desk? Serious Penguin book fan? I always love book-themed prints and this one looks interesting - whether you're a Reader or a Writer.

Looking for some short Fantasy fiction? Lois Tilton reviews a couple of anthologies, here.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Brendan O'Connoll Had Better Watch His Back

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "Travel Stories"

The Cashel Dancers- Rowan Gillespie
The trip to Ireland was fantastic. I always enjoy my time there. The people are great, the pubs lively and the landscape is magical. And, I always seem to come back with a random story or experience. 

The Husband (hereafter "TH") and I were enjoying a meal in a restaurant in Derry/Londonderry one evening, about halfway into our trip. This was our first night in Northern Ireland, having been to Dublin many times and once before around the Republic of Ireland's coast. We were pretty exhausted by that time, as we usually are due to TH's "climb every mountain" approach to travel itineraries, and I felt a little weary as the Irish trad band started up in the adjoining bar. 

I was two pints in and needed to visit the loo, so I headed toward the back through the bar area to get to the toilets. As I passed the bar, I couldn't help but overhear a short snippet of conversation between the only two men listening to the band. 

It went something like this:

"Can you imagine? What if someone came into their country and acted like that? What do you think he deserves?" a muscular, bald man wearing a white t-shirt said, slurring his words a bit. He was hovering over his mate who was seated at the bar. The guy was pretty beefy - he had no discernible neck.

"I'd thrash 'em," said his companion with a shake of his fist. 

"Exactly. He had no call to act that way. Who does he think he is?"

Needless-to-say, I walked right past these two gentlemen and continued to my destination, glad I wasn't the stupid tourist who had angered the locals. All of Ireland was crawling with American tourists this trip, and I couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't one of my compatriots who had angered the two men. I cringed at the thought. American tourists don't have the best reputation in Europe (as Europeans are always eager to remind me), but the Irish seemed to cut us a bit more slack and even, dare-I-say-it, like us.  I hated to think we were wearing our welcome thin, here, too. Damn - there's always someone to spoil the party.

On my way back to our table, I stopped momentarily to listen to the band, and noticed that the two men had gone. After the song ended, I started back to rejoin TH. We were seated in the front window of the restaurant, right next to the door, and TH's back was to me as I approached our table. 

As I sat down, he looked at me, wide-eyed, with a funny expression on his face. 

"What's up?" I asked.

"Um, I think we'd better go back to the B&B."

"Okay. Are you all right?"

"Yeah, but I think I almost got my ass kicked."

I just raised an eyebrow at this. I mean, my husband is not the type to get into brawls. Ever. "What happened?"

"These two guys came through to the front door, and the first guy stops at the table and shouts something at me. I think he was shouting in Irish."

"What the hell? Are you serious?"

"Yeah, then he storms out the door. Then, his friend opens the door to leave, but turns to me first and says: 'Are you Brendan O'Connell?' I shook my head and said, 'No,' and he said: 'Good. You're lucky,' and then he stormed out the door, too."

"Holy shit. That really happened?"

"Yeah, what the f*ck?" TH shook his head in disbelief.

"Wait, was one of the guys bald and real solid, with no-neck?"

"Yeah, you saw them?"

"They were at the bar talking about clobbering a stupid tourist."

"Oh shit. Who the hell is Brendan O'Connell? It sounds Irish. Do I even look Irish?" Then TH starts laughing.

Sizing up my six-foot-two, olive-skinned husband, with his Roman nose inherited from Italian ancestors, who had not one drop of Irish blood in his body, I shook my head 'no.' "I don't even think you could pass for Irish-American. Who knows what that was all about." 

We laughed it off and eventually returned to the B&B. Even after that incident, I can't say I felt truly threatened. It was bizarre, yes, and random, but not really frightening. Maybe I'm naive, but I feel safer walking around European cities than US cities - even cities with recent histories of violence, such as Derry. Plus, we're not unseasoned travelers - we do our research and try not to act like idiots. 

In any case, after we returned home, I looked up the name "Brendan O'Connell." Turns out there is a football player by the name, who played for several English teams. Maybe they were making a joke?  They were at least a little drunk, so maybe after a few pints TH might somehow resemble this football player - who knows? 

All I know is - Brendan O'Connell, whoever he is, had better be on his p's and q's in Derry.

Anyone else step into a strange or sticky situation while traveling?