It was that special time of year when everything was right with itself. When young hormones are racing inside and you feel like you could take on any and all obstacles. When every man, woman, and beast comes alive! Spring!
That's probably what led her to him. She saw his big strong hairy legs, his over anxious eyes, his strong jaws and thought, `What was there not to like?' He was four times her size and had just had a very long boat ride from Down Under. Adding to that the season and a delicious meal of ripened grapes he found on the docks, he was in the mood.
His very large size did put a little fear into her, at first, but her curiosity overcame all her inhibitions.
He wasn't one of her kind and she wasn't one of his. A crime against nature you might say. If you were to see either of them by themselves you would never put them together. No one would believe they would "become an item" in a million years and this would probably never happen again.
She was tired now from carrying her load and had not the time nor the inclination to worry about how this all got started many weeks ago. All she knew was that it was time. Her babies would come soon enough and she had to be ready. A quiet out of the way place with plenty of food for her and "the children" was what she had been looking for. Tomorrow she would find it.
Fred Davis was in that part of sleep that everyone has had before. That feeling of not quite awake and not quite asleep. That wonderful feeling of knowing it's past your daily morning time of having to get up. After you've hit the snooze alarm button three times and if you don't get up now, you'll be really late for work! But today was different. Even though it's Saturday, a day of work for most retail workers, today was the beginning of his one weekend a month off.
Yes, hiring Buddy full time after he finished his two year degree at that local business school was a good idea. At first, he wasn't too sure. Mr. Peterson was getting close to retirement age and Fred felt he was next in line for store manager. Six and a half years as Assistant Manager of
Peterson's Hardware was long enough for a man thirty nine. He was really pushing forty three, but he didn't tell anybody because Ruthy said he looked and performed like a younger man.
Just last night, as a matter of fact, and not because it was Friday either. They did it at least twice a week whether he wanted to or not, and he usually did.
Thinking of Ruthy, he could smell her coffee and, was that bacon? Not for breakfast but for the sandwiches she was making for the picnic. They hadn't been on a picnic since they first started dating.
She promised to let him sleep until she had fed the kids breakfast, fried the chicken for the rest of the family and made her fantastic tuna fish salad sandwiches. He had told her the chopped sweet pickles, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh bacon bits were her secret ingredients. No one made it any better, not even close!
Thinking of that first picnic reminded him of how they first met at the hardware store. She had come in to purchase some screening for her back porch door. She had on a pair of denim cut offs, a white halter top and sandals. Her long strawberry blonde hair was in a pony tail and her dark tan stood out like a beacon in the night. Some might say at thirty she was okay for her age but to him Cupid sat on her shoulder and drove all his arrows into his heart that day.
When he approached her, he was afraid Mr. Peterson was gonna blow it with his snickering 'cause of what Fred said.
"Excuse me, Miss, but is your screen door handle on the left or right side?" He looked very serious and knew he had her when she looked puzzled.
"I think it's on the left side as you go in the porch from the outside. Is that what you mean?" she said.
"Yes. Do you own a left handed screen door hammer? If not, you'll need one to install that screening on your porch door. They are expensive and you probably won't ever have a use for it again." He paused to allow what he had said to sink in. Then he moved in for the kill.
"But, if you'll allow me, I have a better suggestion. I own one and would be glad to install it for you? If you'd let me. No extra charge unless you want to toss in a home cooked meal? I promise nothing funny will happen. Mr. Peterson, my boss, will vouch for me. A regular pillar of the community." He felt that went very smooth.
"Could you do it this afternoon? My dog recently had pups and I keep them out on the back porch. You might even want one for a pet. I only have two left but they are both healthy and have had their first series of shots." She smiled.
Well, he was hooked from that moment on. Six months later he moved in with Ruthy and her two boys, Mike and Jeff. It had been the best thing that ever happened to him since his first wife left him for a younger man eleven years ago.
Enough reminiscing. It was time to rise and shine. A quick shower and shave was all he needed to revive him and get the ol' blood flowing. Besides, the smell of Ruthy's tuna fish had reached his nostrils and it was making his mouth water.
Running down the stairs, he bounded into the kitchen with a "Hey, everybody. Look who's up!"
Ruthy was the first to acknowledge his presence. "Okay, guys. Load up the van," she said. "I want to be at the lake by noon. Let's get a move on."
After she got the kids in motion, she gave Fred a quick kiss on the cheek and then they all loaded the van, dogs and all.
As she fell off to sleep, her mind drifted back. He wasn't much for foreplay, she remembered. A circle or two around her and then he approached. He first had to wrap her legs in his webbing so as not to become an after sex meal as he was sure his predecessors did. Then, without any pomp and circumstance, he had his way with her. Being as large as he was, you'd think he would have killed her, but, in reality, he was very gentle.
His proper name was an Atrax robustus, or Sydney funnel web spider, a mygalomorph (a very, very large spider!). Hers was a Loxosceles reclusa, which has acquired a number of common names, the more appropriate of which are the brown recluse and the violin spider, the last name occasioned by the violin-shaped mark on the cephalothorax.
Little did she know she was his last "romantic interlude". A few days after they were together, he boarded a gardener's truck parked at a diner at the end of the docks. When it stopped again, he got off and, shortly afterwards, accidentally became mulch for a nearby golf course!
Fred, Ruthy and the kids arrived at the lake right on time. However, it took Ruthy almost
twenty-five minutes to select a good spot. Finally, Fred spied one close to the woods and yet a stone's throw from the water.
"Okay with you, or should we walk around the lake a half a dozen more times?" His sarcasm was in rare form, as usual.
"Yea, it's just fine. You and the boys go get wet and I'll set up camp. After you help me put down the bedspread and blankets." His punishment for his sharp tongue.
"Last one in loads the van by himself!" Fred screamed.
As they finished with the blankets and towels and ran down to the lake, no one noticed the dark clouds starting to form off in the distance.
"Are you gonna stay out of the water all day like a beached whale or am I gonna have to come and drag you in here," Fred yelled.
Ruthy hurried as fast as she could. She didn't want him coming after her as he had a tendency not to care if her bikini top rode up on her, revealing more than her tan lines.
Let's see. Fried chicken in the middle, potato salad, pickled eggs, and the chips to the right, the olives and the pickles to the left, iced tea in the cooler in the back. She saw him coming for her as she finished up, so she tossed his damned tuna fish salad sandwiches towards the back of the over-sized bedspread behind the cooler. One of the sandwiches' wrappings partially came undone.
A second later he was there and they went running off towards the lake, not noticing their uninvited guest at the edge of their picnic sight.
She had awakened that morning knowing she had to find her special spot soon. Nature was not willing to wait much longer. The freshly cut area she had found would not do. Her search would have to continue. The sun was already high in the sky and loud noises could be heard everywhere.
Wait! Finally, a break in the cut grass. Scrub bushes and much higher foliage. Staying close to the edge, she wound her way to what she felt was an appropriate spot. A shading of sorts, coolness nearby, and a moist place to lay her eggs, the scent of fish surrounded it.
The task of laying the last of her eggs took longer than she had planned as a substance foreign to her was in the way, but, after much time had passed, her task was over. A short rest and then a fine layer of silk to cover and protect them until they hatched.
Little did she know the pending storm now overhead would change all her plans. Her "children" were about to take a journey like no other before them. A ride to the death. But, there were hundreds of them. What would be the odds that some would survive? Even if it were just one.
The storm was a whopper! Gale winds were reported later that night on the evening news of up to 35 miles an hour. The lake area was no exception. Fred, Ruthy and the boys hurried to get everything back in the van before the skies opened up. But Fred's hunger pains and overwhelming desire for one of Ruthy's famous sandwiches had to be taken care of. First things first. He grabbed the nearest one and, without noticing that the wrapping had all but come off, "wolfed" it down without taking more than three or four bites.
"You wanna help us or are you gonna just stand there and feed your face in all this pouring down rain?" Ruthy was a bit perturbed at his way of ignoring the obvious sometimes.
"Okay, okay. I'm coming. I just wanted to taste one of your world famous...".
"All right already. Enough about the food and on with the work! Get your butt moving, will ya?", Ruthy said with great disdain in her voice.
Back at the van, all seemed forgiven. The trip home took longer but, thank God, it was uneventful, thought Fred.
No one really knows what thoughts go through your mind as you are born, yet some say they can recollect back to a very early childhood. She was born in a very dark place with surroundings not common at all to her normal habitat. Moist, yet firm. She had but one instinct: to survive. That led to her first initial movement: to feed! Now, when something is hungry and there's no one there to tell it what to eat and what not to eat, how does one know right from wrong? She started with her first "home", the egg. Small meal for such a ravenous appetite. She had laid there in that shell, dormant, but growing, for several days. Yet she didn't think twice about what she was eating, only that she wanted more when she finished.
All of a sudden the "sky" seemed to open up. She was bombarded by all sorts of debris, all totally unknown and foreign to her. She dug in with her claw-like feet, holding on for dear life. Little did she know that her new found home was going to be a virtual paradise for substance, some of which she or any of her kind had never seen the likes of. Of course, there had never been any of her kind before now. Starting a whole new species of arachnid mattered little to Fred's new "roommate". She did, however, like what she found to eat. Meat would become her main source of nutrition. And meat and its by-products would help her to grow!
She grew like wildfire! She adapted to her environment. Tiny sharp knifelike barbs jutted out from her legs, getting thicker and larger at the bottom. Her jaws became vicelike and extremely muscular, being able to rip large chunks of food into tiny shreds suitable for digesting. Her venom became powerful enough to be able to stop the quivering of Fred's esophagus and the occasional eruption of his stomach when she secreted her body waste. On paper, they had become compatible to one another. Fred was eating more and more meat and the spider was eating up this maker of cholesterol, this destroyer of the arteries. In theory this was a perfect union, but in reality, it was a living, breathing hell!
Several months after the picnic, Ruthy noticed a change in her Fred. And, as most loving wives, made a point to mention it to her husband.
"Honey, are you taking diet pills or exercising behind my back? Your losing weight!"
"I don't understand you, woman. I gain weight, you nag me. I lose weight you nag me. Is there no pleasing you?"
Fred had never talked to her this way, not even in jest. "I was only saying that you looked a little, well, I don't know exactly how to put it... peaked! And your color..."
"What do you mean my color? What the fu....."
"Don't you use that word around me, Fred Davis! I'll slap you where you sit! I was just saying you look, I don't know, ..gray! All the color, and not just your tan, has gone out of your face. And all you want to do is sit and watch TV. That's not like my outdoors' man, I don't understand it. You seem to be eating more but your loosing weight.
Maybe you should go see that doctor friend of yours, the one you USED to go fishing with?
Come to think of it, you don't go out any more at all like you used to."
"Now your bitching at me 'cause I stay home. You used to nag when I went hunting and fishing all the time. Make up your mind, will ya? And I'm not goin' to any quack doctor, either. You can just get that notion out of that pinhead of yours right now."
Before she could react to Fred's latest bombardment of abuses, she noticed he had taken off his bathrobe and had exposed his onetime hairy chest. It was almost completely void of any hair at all!
Then, she noticed a rather large lump between his breasts! And what happened next she was never prepared for: It moved!!
"Oh my God, Fred! That thing on your chest.. It moved! What the hell is it and how long has it been there?"
Fred knew she was upset because Ruthy never swore. Not one time since the first day he knew her. And she flew off the couch as if her pants were on fire. But, for some reason, he didn't seem to care. It just made him that much angrier. The hatred boiled over and he exploded. He then did something he had never done his entire life, he slapped her.
Everything sort of just came to a standstill. They could have heard a pin drop. As the tears of disbelief and shock welled up in Ruthy's eyes, Fred reacted first.
Grabbing his coat, he screamed at her over his shoulder, "I'm outta her, bitch!"
In the car, Fred thought out loud. "I should go back. But why? I was right and that conniving little wench was wrong. She probably already made an appointment with some doctor without consulting me. I'll show her. Who needs her anyway."
As he drove away, he felt the growing thing on his upper body and felt it move again as he had many nights now.
Again, he spoke aloud, "Don't you worry, I'm not gonna let anything happen to you. Over my dead body."
The next morning, Ruthy made a phone call. "Bill, this is Ruthy. I know your getting ready for work, but I really need your help."
On the other end, her puzzled brother listened. "What is it, Sis? One of the boys missing?" He had noticed the urgency in her voice, so he was serious instead of his usual jovial manner.
"I want you to have your fellow police guys look for my missing husband. Don't say anything, just listen."
As his sister told her sad story, he heard disturbance, rather than remorse in her words. Then she added the kicker.
"He cleaned out our bank account when they opened this morning."
"I'll be right over to pick you up. Your boys went to school so we have all day to find him... and we will", Bill said, reassuringly.
It didn't take as long as Ruthy thought it would. That afternoon, Fred's van was spotted at a crummy motel about three blocks from the bank.
They went to the room he was registered to and knocked. No response. They tried again only louder this time. Bill and his partner told Ruthy to stand back.
Ruthy shuddered as they pulled out their weapons and yelled, "Open up in there. This is the police!"
After getting no response again, they broke into the locked room. As the officers entered, nothing could have prepared them for what they saw.
The room was dimly lit with very little light coming in through the windows as the dust laden drapes were drawn securely over them and pinned together at the middle.
As they stepped aside to allow Ruthy to enter, the room was flooded with starch bright light. They first noticed, strewn about the room, what appeared to be empty grocery store meat containers, the kind used to wrap raw hamburger, liver and the like. As the odor of these meats and others of stale air and human body excrement drifted to their nostrils, their gazes then fell upon Fred in a comatose state. He was sitting in an old dilapidated tiltback wearing nothing but
his soiled boxers and socks.
Then part of Fred appeared to "move". At first, Ruthy was happy to see that her husband was still alive. He looked terrible, but one who looks through the eyes of love does not see as clearly as one should. What happened next would clear her vision. It would become crystal clear.
Who were these intruders into her new widening domain? Granted her host had tried to sustain her life by "feeding" her with raw meat, but her constant need for nourishment and continued growth had forced her to expand her surroundings, broaden her horizons, you might say. When the flow of food stopped because "he" had passed out due to lack of sleep and the fact that his body was dying due to her continual injections of her poisonous venom, she "ate" her way out through the walls of his lower chest. She has grown to almost eight inches in width and was very dark in color. She was also partially blind, but didn't know she was supposed to see.
She had all but cleared herself from him when she sensed a brightness to her left and movement. Could this be her next meal perhaps? The shapes were very large but her nature did not allow her to fear them. Then, she somehow sensed hostility. She turned slowly towards the moving shadows and became defensive. She would not let down her guard until her appetite had been fulfilled. She would show these creatures who was superior. After all, she was the "queen" of her kind.
Bill said what they were all thinking. "What the hell is that on his chest? A rat? Should we try an' kill it or just shoo it away?"
At that, Bill's partner, Andy Simpson, cocked his automatic pistol and took a step towards the twosome.
When it reared up on its hind legs and spit something at them, they all jumped. Ruthy thought her heart was never gonna start beating again. It felt like it was in her throat.
Then she saw what was resting on her husband's torso and taking occasional bites off of him. A spider that was bigger than she had ever seen in her life! As she called to her man, Bill took another step towards them.
Suddenly, Fred's eyes opened and he whispered, "Please don't kill my baby!"
No one moved for what seemed like an eternity. At that precise moment, Ruthy's mind flooded with all the thoughts of the past year with this man. She had come to know him as her savior from the clutches of despair and bankruptcy. The one that had brought sunshine back into the eyes of her boys and warmth and tenderness into her heart. She could almost feel her heart breaking. As she looked at that shell of a man, tears streaming down her face, she realized that it was no longer the Fred she knew and loved.
As if in slow motion, she grabbed Andy's gun and watched it explode into that carcass in front of her.
The first hit tore off its left four legs and made movement impossible. It spit venom high into the air in one last futile gesture as if to say, "I laugh in the face of death." Its father would have been proud.
Ruthy emptied all twenty-two slugs into it and Fred, although there wasn't much left of either after the eighth or ninth shot. Fred's body was nothing more than hollow bone and thin skin. He crumbled like ashes, rotted from the months of continual injections of the new highly toxic venom. He was a goner after the first bite.
* "Some spiders have divided the risk to the egg sac of outside predators by putting their eggs in several baskets. They spin a series of sacs and leave them one at a time here and there."
Ruthy and her boys haven't been to the lake since.
* American Spiders, 2nd Edition, by Willis J. Gertsch, PhD