The Boy was accustomed to insects. He’d grown up on a farm. Barnyard animals, bails of hay, stacks of pallets upon which countless cobwebs were spun. He was not afraid of it, but the feeling was not mutual. It was a defensive mechanism that no one seemed to be aware of – the tarantula rubbed its abdomen and released a cloud of tiny barbed hairs, embedding straight into The Boy’s right eye. He screamed like he had never screamed before. Flushing station, saline drops, useless. There was nothing his father could do to alleviate the burn. Urticulating Hairs. That’s what the doctor kept calling them. Potential damage of vision, he kept telling them. Permanent.
“Don’t let it take me!” followed by a high pitch shriek.
This was the third time now. They had tried every day to give him as idyllic as a childhood as possible. Which is why she didn’t understand where his sporadic, almost un-childlike outbursts kept coming from. It was as if, at random intervals, he was re-living the attack over and over.
His head laid in her lap in the backseat. She tried to soothe him, to pull his hands away from rubbing his eye and making it worse, but he was inconsolable. He would whimper and calm, then let out terrified outbursts seconds later.
In the 5 years that she had raised him, never had she seen him in such distress. She kicked the seat in front of her, a frustrated mother.
Her husband pumped the gas pedal. He obliterated the speed limit, not that anyone was around to notice. Wyoming was large by area, but least populous of the 50 states. They lived in the middle of nowhere, by design. For now, anyway. Their nearest neighbor was a mile and a half due east and the closest hospital was a half hour away in the opposite direction.
It was his favorite thing about where they lived. The endless expanse. She wasn’t sure how long they would stay in the Midwest. But while they were here, he kept using some hockey expression. We need to give our boy room to play. Where they could pitch a tent in their own backyard, even if it was only twenty feet away from the house.
That was the scene of the crime. Their boy had just turned six, he had a couple friends over. Joseph was a little dim. He cried over everything. Adam was a thoughtful one, but a terror on sugar. Her son was a little mischievous, a little strange, a little…. off. But definitely the smart one. Each boy had their own plastic lantern and sleeping bag for their backyard camping excursion, stomachs full of birthday cake.
She and her husband left them to tell each other scary bedtime stories in the tent, while they cleaned up in the kitchen. Unbeknownst to them, the boys had come across the tarantula burrowed in their field, taken one of her mason jars and brought it into the tent with them.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“What if it bites us in our sleep?” asked Joey, still tentative around it. He had cut eye and mouth holes from a brown paper bag and had it over his head, like a protective helmet. Joey looked dumb, but the birthday boy stopped himself from saying so.
“Or crawls into our mouths, lays eggs and we puke out baby tarantulas?” added Adam.
“Do we even know if it’s a girl spider or boy spider?”
“My dad says that spiders should be more afraid of us than the other way around.” The birthday boy supplied as further reassurance. “We’re too big. Make too much noise. You know, we snore and stuff.”
“I can see that.” Adam agreed. “We’re like big rocks to them, part of the scenery they gotta climb over to get to their web houses.”
Emboldened, Adam unscrewed the jar lid and tilted it, inviting the tarantula to crawl up his arm. “Are you going to eat me, or am I going to eat you?”
“Watch it, guys.” wavered Joey, “What if this one is like, a radioactive spider?”
“Then, awesome. I’ll be able to crawl up buildings and shoot sticky gunk from my wrists.”
The birthday boy extended an upturned hand, wrist up – as if daring the spider to bite him there. Adam transferred the spider over. Knowing it would make Joey squirm, the birthday boy brought his face right to the level of the eight-legged furry creature. Up close, it looked like an alien from another planet. Maybe it was. Maybe it had come from Mars and had something to tell us.
They had a staring contest. Who would blink first? What did he look like to something with eight eyes?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The tarantula stared its captor down. Air pushed in and out of two holes below its eyes. It could be crushed at any moment.
“What do I look like to you?”
“A big, vibrating boulder.”
“Are you hungry?”
“No. I can live two years without needing to eat.”
“Why do you imprison me? It demeans both of us.”
“Well, you aren’t in the jar anymore.”
“I’m still in the clutches of your grasp.”
“Tarantula, what do you want to know from the People of Planet Earth?
“I do not think you are of this Planet. I think that you might be from mine.”
Big Boulder vibrated and bristled at this, did not appear like this answer. He leaned forward, threateningly close. Time to plan the escape.
“Are you afraid of me?” was Big Boulder’s final question.
“Yes. Why aren’t you afraid of me?”
The tarantula re-positioned in its captor’s palm, then kicked its barbs from its abdomen at the big boulder’s eye, creating a cloud of prickly irritation. The hairs pierced in and hooked onto the big boulder’s pupil. Big Boulder recoiled immediately, screaming. The other boulders recoiled and screamed in empathy and fear.
The tarantula made a hasty retreat out of the tent and back into the grass.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The hairs were too small to pull out without permanent damage. It was too early to know, said the doctor. Keep him under observation, make sure he’s treated for the right venom. The tarantula had destroyed his vision. Would he be blind for the rest of his life? Why then, could he still see, even with his eyes closed?
Why did he keep seeing a reflection of himself? Only with eight eyes? Eight almond-shaped black eyes. And that voice calling for him. It was not his mom or his dad but it had the same authoritative tone. It was the tarantula’s.
“Birthday boulder, it’s time to come home.”