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.


  1. As a kid, every night before bed I carefully inspected all four walls and the ceiling (paying special attention to the corners). If I caught even a hint of a spider, I'd call my parents. We never killed spiders, always moved them. I think they are really cool, but they *do* creep me out a bit. I don't like them crawling on me.

    1. Yes - bed-time spiders were the worst! I forget which Star Trek had the earwig / mind-worm scene, but after seeing that, I developed a phobia of spiders crawling into my ear as I slept. I took to sleeping with a pillow over my head.

      Then some "friend" in school found out I hated spiders and told me that the average human eats (something like) 8 spiders a year in their sleep, and I thought I'd never sleep again.

      I actually appreciate spider webs...from a distance. My car has this resident spider in the side mirror, and this winter, I went to the car one day to find the web sparkling with frost. It was gorgeous. Should have taken a picture, but I was in a hurry...