Updated: Oct 27, 2021
The man in the faded orange John Deere cap pointed at yet another hill they had to climb. The sun glinted off a small enameled American flag his
wife had pinned to the back of his cap. She had felt it gave him more of a good-ole-boy look, some conformity.
His partner, who’d started wheezing six or seven hills ago, stopped, doubled over, and cursed. Padre the Bull was amused at how Jerry’s utterances were so unlike his usual rumbling bass voice. He’d have jived his pal, but he himself was pretty winded as well, he needed to conserve his breath to keep plodding through the high grass and bushes.
“Wait up!” roared Jerry. Apparently, he’d summoned a bit of his infamous bravado.
Padre the Bull stopped gratefully, “C’mon Jerr, it’s just over this hill.” He was afraid that if he stopped too long, he’d never get going again.
“Up yours Bull! You said that half a mile ago.” rumbled Jerry. He stood upright slowly.
Bull was somewhat aghast at the sight of his pal. Jerry’s moony face seemed rounder than usual, nearly beet colored, with pale grey spots. Creeks of sweat cascaded down the pockmarked fleshy map of his face. The veins in his roman nose stood out blue in the bright sunlight and his grey-bristled triple chins jiggled as he bellowed. “I didn’t sign up for
Bull said calmly, “It’s part of the job, you know that. Not my fault you’re so fat.”
“Shut yer pie hole, I’m not in the mood…”
Bull was relieved to see Jerry get control over his locomotive breath. He’d started to worry about the guy.
Bull had found them this job and felt responsible for him. He wasn’t in the best shape either, but in comparison he was superman. Padre the Bull was as tall as Jerry- nearly 6ft- but much leaner. The salt’n’pepper hair under his JD cap, hung dense and straight, between his bony shoulder blades. Under the cap, his once black hairline came to a neat widow’s peak; his wife used to call it ‘vampire hair’ way back when life had beheld a shiny yellow
Bull’s nearly black eyes squinted up at the hill, the eagle’s feet at the corners prominently cracked to his temples. His tanned weather-beaten face was the face of his Native American mother. His height and prominent knobby bones where all his white dad’s. For someone so giraffey, he actually moved like a gazelle, like his mom, whether picking his way along rough terrain like now, or huffing his golf bag up a fairway.
Once, a fellow at One-Eyed-Jack’s had commented on the way he glided around the pool table, something about “fairy toes.” And it was just that once, he’d made sure of it.
Jerry clamped his sodden ball cap back on his fat head, over his silvery buzz cut. It read, “Kiss my Bass” on the front, the lettering curved around a grinning cartoony fish. His grimy white tee was practically see-through now, all 300 pounds, a stinking radiator- a corona of heat atmosphering a planet. Man-boobs flopped against his dunlap belly.
Now was definitely not the time for that oldie but goodie, “it’s called dunlap cuz it done lapped over yer belt. Yuk yuk.”
The two men fell silent to save their breath as they climbed the hill.
At the top they stopped, Jerry bent over, swaying slightly. WHEEEEEEZE, WHEEEEEEZE, WHEEEEZE…
Padre the Bull took a few deep satisfying breaths and said, “Take a gander at that sight my friend.”
The panoramic view was breathtaking. The sparkling green snake of the river wove in and out of view to the horizon.
“That’s a beaut fer sure. Almost a shame to destroy it.” Jerry said, uncharacteristically scrupulous.
Padre the Bull shrugged, “Job’s a job. Man’s gotta eat. Feed his family.”
Jerry scoffed, “Pay yer bar tab’s more like it.”
“Haw haw. Speakin a which…let’s mark these trees and head to the Jack. Got me a mean thirst!”
“Talkin my language Pal!”
Padre took a can of spray paint from his backpack and skied down the dusty slope to the tree line at the river’s edge. He sprayed large round spots on six old pines standing sentinel by the glistening burbling water. Bright fluorescent orange. He took a moment to lean against a boulder and admire the river.
Jerry caught up to him and said, “You look like that ole Injun in that commercial on tv.”
“You’ll call me a fool…” said Bull, “…but sometimes, in places like this, I hear the voices of my ancestors. And they are not happy with me at all. No sir-ee.”
“Pah! You’re takin care of yer kin just fine.”
“Nevermind.” Resigned Bull, knowing some things were like 747s to Jerry- far, far over his balloon of a head.
Their work truck sat in the shade of the first of the spotted trees. It was a dented white GMC, going on fifteen years old, with diamond plate toolboxes in the back and the green and gold company logo on the side, “Dam Fine Concreteworks, Inc.”
It rumbled and jostled jaggedly on tired shocks down the rocky dirt road, leaving Hiroshima puffs in its wake.
As the men had stood under the last marked tree for removal, a small black body had ziplined straight down to a branch directly over them. It’s eight, two-inch long legs skittered daintily forward until the spider sat directly above them. Her legs were thin as embroidery floss, with knobby joints, and spiked with shiny black hairs, they ended in tiny black claws, dainty as pointy-toed, spike-heeled shoes. The spider’s twelve beady red eyes glistened wetly and her pedipalps agitated like windchimes in a gale. She was Maidra, she listened and observed- more than unseen- unknown.
After the humans left, she ascended on invisible strands as if she were a drone lifting straight up. She tap-danced over to the lumpy round egg sac at the bottom of her web, where it tethered to the branch. She caressed the sac, feeling each individual baby bump, inducing a feeling of euphoria that only a mother can know. They pressed their tiny bodies to the sac wall, eager for her caress. “Not on my watch, little ones, not on my watch.”
Padre the bull’s wife had dozed off on the orange and green plaid couch while watching The Rockford Files. In the gnawgahyde Lazy-Boy knock off next to her, her mother-in-law was determined to stay awake. Enola preferred Hawaii Five-O, not so much for Jack Lord, he was just as smooth and handsome as Garner, but for the exotic location she hoped someday to experience for herself. She’d never even seen a real palm tree before, let alone a volcanic sand beach or clear turquoise waters tumbling in gigantic white topped waves.
Halfway into the 11 o’clock news, Enola was yanked from a dream in which she was speeding along a tropical coast at sunset in the driver’s seat of a shiny gold Pontiac Esprit, listening to Grand Funk’s “Some Kind of Wonderful”.
The cacophony had been complete with a metallic crunch and the pistol crack of splintered wood.
“Damn. That’s the second mailbox this year.” She thought with a sleepy growl.
Daisy Fire Horse put down her knitting and sighed. “At least he made it home.” Tired words, spoken often.
Disgusted and angry, Enola stormed off down the short hallway to the bedroom at the end.
She waited until she heard Padre come in. The front door creaked its familiar complaint and then the sound of a vibrating thud as he stumbled into the wall. When she was sure he was all the way in the front room, she slammed the bedroom door.
“Oh-oh…me eesh in trooooouble.” Padre the Bull slurred, he giggled, then said, “Couch, make way…” as he belly-flopped onto it. The ugly old sofa bore his collapse with an angry squawk and a sprong.
Daisy sighed, stuck in the middle as usual, and said to her son, “You need to eet. There’s a plate for you. You’re too theen.” She rolled him onto his back, took off his work boots, and propped him up on an olive-green fringed pillow.
“Mama. Leave me be. I’m tired.”
“Tired- Pah! Drunk as a rat in a keg you mean.” She got up, stretched her popping back, and shluffed to the kitchen in her worn pink slippers. Her once graceful deer-like walk crippled by the heavy boulder of old age. She brought his plate and set up a tv table. She remembered to place a waste-bucket next to it, just in case.
Back in the woods by the river-with-no-name, about a mile down the river from Maidra’s web, Serhoni, her sister, clung to her own web. Every twenty minutes she checked and caressed her own baby sac, just to feel their tiny pulses say ‘hello Ma.’ She crooned lullabies and hovered protectively over them, like an alien War of the Worlds vessel. This was her second sac.
The first was swallowed by a whip-poor-will, as if it were simply a canape. She had summoned her sisters then for comfort.
The snacking bird had flown across the river, far from the bountiful web. As the light of dawn softened the night, her eyes closed shut. She snuggled into her nest with her spider-full belly. A hairy shadow, as silent as death itself, had floated down from the branches. Another floated by like Poe’s pendulum, and alit an inch from the sleeping bird’s beak. A third came from below, her web being in a bush under the canopy of pines. The surrounded bird awoke to the tickle of a teeny spiked heel on her beak. By the time night fell, her body was a shriveled husk.
After hearing this sister summons, Serhoni hustled her way up the pine tree bark to the top, her signal powerful by the light of the strawberry moon. She and her sisters had an extra set of pedipalps above their mandibles, though they were actually antenna, like rabbit ears on television sets.
Only, for her family of arachnids, the signal was a thousand times more powerful. The telepathic spiders, called telemooners, were deadlier than any other breed. A single pin head sized drop of telemooner venom was all it took to induce body paralysis within twenty minutes. It was all over at that point, every nerve in the body sizzled and popped. When the optic nerves were hit the eyeballs burst, leaving the subject blindly begging for death, while feeling hot runny jello sliding down their cheeks. The heart was affected last, a full twelve hours later.
The spiders learned of tvs, and microwaves, and telephones thanks to brave kin whose hearts were full of wanderlust. In every egg sac, at least ten to twenty young telemooners made it into human homes. Though it seemed reckless and selfish to some of the elders, most felt exploration necessary for survival. This breed had a gift, one not to be wasted.
Some made their way to nest in barns, some in cellars or attics. The bravest made homes under cribs or couches or desks.
The vacuum, a clever human weapon of destruction, was found in nearly all human homes. Telemooners were mistaken for other deadly spiders: wolf, recluse and sac most commonly. When spotted, out came the creature with the ear-splitting high-pitched voice! It ate every arachnid and insect in its path- poof! Gone. Even the meanest tempered dogs cringed in fear!
There were humans who knew of the telemooner spiders. Not only did they not kill or vacuum or eat them, but they worshipped them and built beautiful stone alters for them! The alters were of a stone called spider marble- white and veined with black and silver-like webs.
This native American tribe called themselves Tikanuknuks, in their language it translated to Telemooner. To preserve the deadly spider species, they kept them secret. The few
remaining Tikanuknuks lived along the great winding river, as fearful of their own fate as that of the spiders.
Now, high in the sugar pine, Maidra’s antenna vibrated and hummed, like the barely audible sound of an energy efficient refrigerator.
“Hello sister. What’s going on? I feel a great deal of anger in your telesend. Fear too.” sent Serhoni.
Maidra replied, “Men today, land clearers, I fear they plan to dam the river by my tree.”
That will destroy our worshippers’ homeland! It will decimate populations of wildlife-”
“Yes I know,” Maidra replied impatiently. “We have to do something!”
“I will communicate with the good humans, and alert them of this danger.” This was a new voice, Maidra’s older cousin, who lived closest to the tribe.
“Thank you Veroshi, that’s a start. Keep us posted.” Sent Maidra.
“I’ll alert the sisters further on up. Goodnight Mady.” And Serhoni signed off.
Daisy Fire Horse went to the river by her tribe’s tiny but charming cabins scattered there, nestled in the woods, above majestic river-worn stones.
She sat on a boulder and put her feet into the clear, green-tinged water. “Aaaaaahhh” she sighed and closed her eyes. She raised her high cheekbones and proud nose to the sun, her silken white hair softly wafting in the breeze behind her like steam from a kettle. Veroshi descended from a branch and alit without fear onto this woman’s shoulder.
Daisy tee-heed with delight and stood, the spider her passenger. “Come my friend,” she said, and walked along the river’s shore to their spot.
It was hidden between boulders only twenty feet from the sandy shore but unseen from the water.
She went to the alter and lowered her shoulder, knowing it wasn’t necessary, but out of respect.
The spider flew through the air in a graceful arc like a diva, and alit upon the alter.
“This must be serious my friend, I feel it in your spirit.” Said Daisy fire horse.
“They are coming. Your species and mine are in danger.” Telepathed Veroshi. “They are planning to clear trees and dam the river.”
“Thank-you little friend. I will do what I can. My life is short now, the brain stealing disease is eating, eating away.”
“I’m sorry.” Said the spider, “We do not have cancer among us. We fear vacuums.”
The old Indian woman found this very amusing and laughed with her worn leather face upturned and her mouth open in a great happy crescent.
She handed the spider a small shiny object.
Padre the Bull jumped back on his barstool as Jerry flopped the newspaper onto the bar.
“Explain!” he rumbled in his sea-deep, cigaretted raspy bass.
Bull said, “Whatchoo meen?”
Jerry said, “It says we’ve been spotted marking trees. The tree-huggin injuns it HAD to of been!”
Bull said, "So what? They can’t stop us. We’re damming privately owned land.”
“That’s not the problem Bull! The last developers died in horrible unexplained ways, murders they call them! Poison!” screamed Jerry, his face
turning that deep color again.
“Jerr- that’s just propaganda, tree-hugger bull.”
“It’s not the first time.”
“Seriously, ten years ago, maybe ’62-63, SAME thing happened. That’s why the river has no name, people stayed away and pretended it wasn’t there.”
Padre the Bull actually laughed at his fat friend. His mother was native to this land for chrise-sakes! “Jerry, what the heck are you sayin? The river’s haunted? C’mon man,” he said as he downed another shot.
Jerry looked clean this night, he’d shaved, and his veins weren’t bulging. He’d even looked like he’d lost a little weight- maybe 10 pounds. “Your mom knows something about this. That’s my point.” He shuffled his feet a bit, afraid his pal would anger. He downed the shot of Old Crow the bartender had spontaneously poured while he waited for Bull’s response.
“She’s old and senile!” laughed Bull. “Total wacko!”
It was not the reaction Jerry had been praying for. “Okay then, Bull my friend, I quit.”
Padre the Bull swayed a little, then peered closer at his longtime pal’s face, like a goldfish in a bowl, “You’ve gone nuts. Completely bonkers! I need this job! I don’t need you!”
Jerry sighed as if the weight of Moses was upon him.
He did feel a bit foolish about all this ‘signs’ and stuff, but his gut bellowed at him to back off this job. He had a large gut after all.
On the day of the tree removal, Padre the Bull drove the excavator over and through the eight hills, levelling the smaller ones, unburdening the taller. He whistled a Bob Seger tune as he did his job. As Padre came upon the trees he had marked by the river, he felt a little prickle on his shoulder, the day was hot, he’d rolled his sleeves as far as he could. He glanced sideways- and shrieked loudly and shrilly like a schoolgirl on steroids when he saw the spider looking back, its circle of eyes glistening red like Bing cherries, its fangs held a droplet the color of absinthe.
He backhanded it off, shuddering at the meaty heaviness of it- plop. And did he feel the floormat vibrate when it landed? Or was this his panicky imagination.? A shadow caught the corner of his eye- 'another creeper! Never seen ‘em so big ‘cept in nightmares!'
He batted it with the wrench by his seat this time, avoiding touching it, but shuddered nonetheless. It dropped to the floor of the excavator and skittered between his boots.
There was a soft thump and rattle, Bull looked at the floor and found his flag pin next to the lefthand joystick. “Huh?” He frantically searched the floor, eyes bulging with terror. He recalled in his feverish mind, snippets of what Jerry had been raving about- poison, dead men...
Padre the Bull’s veins turned to ice as he raised his eyes and found his entire Caterpillar was filled with spiders.