Fear is not the natural state of civilized people.
-- Aung San Suu Kyi
If the morning had been anything other than unremarkable, I might have been better prepared for the terrible onslaught that was to come. As it was, however, the sky was neither clear nor cloudy, and the temperature inside was maintained at 75 degrees. I'd eaten my oatmeal, selected something caffeinated from the fridge, settled into the ergonomic chair at my desk, and slid into the quotidian business of checking e-mail and scanning headlines. While purging the night's accumulation of spam, I sensed movement in my periphery. Tearing my gaze away from the computer screen, I located a gossamer strand catching the light. One end was floating in the air, and the other appeared to be attached to the far side of a dust-covered copper sphere -- part of a small fountain that has sat inactive on my desk since the water evaporated a year ago. I watched the silky string dance in the air for a few minutes and then brushed it away with a Max Mara catalogue.
Sometime between cnn.com and the Drudge Report , I again sensed motion, this time to my right. A miniscule spider, such a light green that it appeared transparent, was traversing a credit card statement. I'm no Jain. What little guilt I occasionally feel for murdering insects, bugs, and other pests is fleeting. My weapon of choice -- a pad of paper -- was the closest thing I could grab. I set it gently atop the wispy creature and returned my attention to the words on the screen. I must have been too gentle, for a minute later I glimpsed my victim scrabbling over a stack of papers a few inches away from the pad that was supposed to have killed it. Without a second thought, I lifted the pad and struck the bug with a resounding slap. It was then that I noticed the remnant of spider that had already been under the pad. The first one hadn't survived after all. The vision of not one, but two little squash marks instilled in me a hint of trepidation, but I shook it off and retreated, yet again, to the Internet.
As a touch typist, my eyes remain on the screen while my fingers do their thing. I was updating my blog when, like a snowflake, the silhouette of another spider drifted down in front of my screen and landed squarely on the "7" key. I jerked my hands back and gaped at the invader. As I stared, momentarily paralyzed, two horrific realizations burned at the forefront of my mind with the icy heat of liquid nitrogen: 1. There are many of them; 2. They are above me.
Had he been home, I would have screamed for David. Instead, I held my breath and considered my options. I crushed the creature with a piece of paper when I saw it make a move toward the "6" key. Releasing the air from my lungs, my sigh became more and more vocal, until it reached a desperate whine. It occurred to me that, if these things were dropping onto my desk, they may very well be dropping onto me . Thus, I tore my ponytail loose and flailed wildly at my head with both hands.
After this brief and violent episode, I sat and stared at my keyboard, resisting the knowledge that the only way to gauge the severity of my predicament would be to look up. I was convinced that the moment I tilted back my head, their little leader would give the signal and my face would suddenly be covered by hundreds of bloodthirsty spiderlings. I fought hard to convince myself that the reality couldn't be as bad as the B-movie version playing in my imagination. I knew I had to look before another one fell, but my head wouldn't budge. It wasn't until one of the diminutive green devils, whose silk had caught a puff of air and floated right to left past my face, that my mind checked out and my body reacted. Like an overdose victim who'd just been jabbed in the heart with a needle full of norepi-nephrine, I jerked to a standing position and my head snapped backward.
I was relieved to see nothing but the white ceiling and the tops of the sage-colored walls. But then, after my eyes had adjusted to this new perspective, I began to distinguish them -- dozens of moving, microscopic dots -- from the shadowy, spackled texture. There were only a few on the ceiling. Most of them lined the 90-degree crevice where ceiling met wall, as if they were taking up positions in preparation for a SWAT-team-style assault. I was surrounded.
I can't remember if I screamed as I ran from my office to the closet that houses the vacuum. I must have been making some kind of noise, because I do recall the vibration in my throat and chest. Touching my ankle is painful confirmation that I dropped the vacuum on my foot after I fished it from the closet; and a dull throb in my head is a constant reminder of how many times I bumped it as I fumbled to attach the long hose and find a suitable stool to stand on.
Armed with household appliances, I scrambled around the room, jabbing every inch from corner to corner with the broomy end of the vacuum hose. I lifted the blinds and shrieked when I found more baby spiders on the window. I could feel the sweat beading on my brow from my exertions, but I could not rest. Not until I knew they were all dead. Then I saw it: a huge, shriveled exoskeleton lying on the floor at the base of the window, next to a bundled up ball of what looked like flimsy gauze.
Fragments of scenes played through my head -- all of my spider associations colliding in a hodgepodge that included bits from the cartoon movie Charlotte's Web , the horror flick Arachnophobia , and hours of Nature Channel documentaries. Finally, the pieces joined to make one solid conclusion that I could have sworn was spoken aloud to me in a British man's voice: "The mother spiders are devoured by their newly hatched spiderlings, after which the young will climb to the highest point and let out their silk, letting the air carry them away." I extended the hose in my hand as if it were a sword, and sucked up the sac and carcass.
I don't know how long I stood in the center of the room, vacuum in hand, nostrils flared, eyes wide and darting every which way. I sighed a breath of relief when I heard David at the front door. He paused at the entrance and then followed a trail of detritus that had fallen from the closet and been dragged down the hallway to my office by the vacuum's cord. David stopped at my door and looked around the room. Furniture was overturned, hoses and cords were scattered about, and my desktop was disheveled. My eyes were crazed and stuck wide open, and my hair was deranged from having been let down and slapped silly.
"Something traumatic happened while you were gone," I said, by way of explanation.
Looking me up and down, David smiled and choked back a laugh. "Let me guess," he said. "It involved the vacuum?"