“It’s the web again. I can feel the woven baby carrier I am swaddled in swaying gently in the larger hammock of silken cords. It’s soothing in a way, probably because there is nothing I can do and the cumbersome burden of an internal locus of control is removed.
“There are jarring vibrations now and then as the other guests struggle vainly, but those are comforting too. They mean that my turn is delayed even further. But then some part of me is jealous of their release and wonders if I am distasteful for some reason.
“None of these thoughts ever disturb me, and I have come to realize that the venom must contain a kind of powerful and calming psychoactive substance in addition to the paralyzing agent. I even have a fondness for my captor and get a thrill from seeing its silhouette through the veil of my papoose. Or has this fly developed Stockholm syndrome after so many repeated visits to the arachnid’s parlor?
“But that is an overused and trite little turn of phrase, isn’t it, Doctor? And you head spelunkers hate it when we try to self-diagnose, don’t you? Well, I am paying you plenty and I think that I have earned the right to intrude upon your area of expertise and use the vernacular of your kind when I am in your parlor.”
Thomas stopped to gauge the expression on the shrink’s face, but it was pointless. His countenance was just a bushy mustache and pince-nez glasses attached to a blank and eternally neutral mask. The fingers that intermittently scribbled at different rates were probably the only window into his soul. Presently. the pen was jumping around like a seismograph during an earthquake.
“That was an amusing and insulting comparison: likening me to a spider and my patients to doomed insects stuck in my web! But I am entranced by arachnids, I must confess, and I enjoyed your commendable attempts at psychoanalysis. And ‘papoose’ is a derogatory word for the child of an Native American, for the record.”
Dr. Bach smiled in an uncharacteristically smug manner and leaned back in his creaky leather chair. To be clear, he always seemed discreetly smug to Thomas. He just never made it this overt.
“But tell me Thomas, what experiences have you had with spiders throughout your life? What is the overall impression that you get from them and how do they make you feel in the waking world? You certainly are no arachnophobe! To the contrary, you seem to be a little bit of an arachnophile…”
The smile broadened.
“Well Doc –”
“Please, call me Fidel.”
“Okay. Well, Fidel, I can say that my late father was an entomologist that treasured all arthropods and never allowed us to even stomp on a roach. I once got lectured for swatting a mosquito that was biting my arm! No joke.
“Yes, he instilled a powerful respect for lifeforms and a kind of resentment too, because sometimes it seemed like even bed bugs were more worthy of his attention than I was!
“But it was sweet how tender he was with the things he studied, and he taught me how to handle them with care and to tend to their needs. It was a very positive thing, the way he taught me to be nurturing and fatherly to such fragile and minuscule organisms. I got over my jealousy by the time I was six and came to love bugs by the time I was eight or nine.
“But spiders in particular? I used to catch grasshoppers and leafhoppers in my yard and feed them to this massive orb weaver in my neighbor’s yard. If you place them in your palm and give them a little fright, they will leap straight into the web, with a little positioning and practice.
“It fascinated me, the way the spider would get all excited and ‘listen’ to the vibrations when the impact occurred. They know the difference between a leaf or bit of grass that you try to fool them with and the real thing. Sometimes you can get them to start running, but they always stop and turn back if it doesn’t make the web jump and jerk in the right way. Thrashing motions of tiny critters are different from inanimate objects blown by wind, and larger or more dangerous things like sticks or red paper wasps are obvious.
“Unwanted detritus or threatening captives get cut out of the web and dropped below, but all the others get the same treatment: a bite to paralyze, a quick wrap into a white burrito, and the draining of all fluids until naught but the dried husk of an exoskeleton remains.
“If you keep feeding them, you can see their excitement taper off after three or four grasshoppers. They lose the pep in their step and they will stop draining, but they still paralyze and wrap. Surplus meals get stashed away in the web for later, and you can see the little lumps wiggling.
“Guilt-inducing but mesmerizing. When I think of spiders, I get a flash of that web and the wiggling lumps, but there is something else.
“I think about how the young burst from their egg sac and begin eating one another as they spread outwards through the world. The ultimate in sibling rivalry. As I was an only child, I had to compete with bugs for my father’s attention, but no one else. The thought of having hundreds of murderous and ravenous brothers and sisters with which to compete always creeped me out, even though I could let the blighters crawl on me without flinching. Is that irony?”
Dr. Bach didn’t continue. A long interval of awkward silence ensued.
“Intriguing? I just practically wrote a love sonnet to spiders and that is all you have to say?”
“Forgive me! My stomach does not agree with me quite suddenly.”
The good doctor stood and made a hasty, sideways retreat into the adjoining bathroom.
Thomas was dejected. He had scarcely given the shrink anything to work with for weeks. Now that he had laid bare an integral part of his childhood and his relationship with his father, the man gets queasy?
It occurred to him that perhaps there was a closet arachnophobe in the building after all. A wicked smile graced his face and he darted from the room with all the stealth he could muster. Returning a minute later, Thomas placed the realistic plastic spider from the waiting room Halloween decorations right on the center of Dr. Bach’s chair.
And he deserved it, in Thomas’s eyes. The nightmares had only started after he began to see Dr. Bach… now that he thought about it. Maybe it was just the stress of being scrutinized and dissected that was to blame, and not “dream manifestations of his shadow self” or whatever malarkey the quack had spouted.
Some deep grunting from Dr. Fidel Bach caused Thomas to blush.
But then door to the bathroom burst open and a seven-foot-tall brown recluse exploded into the office. What happened next was gruesome and not at all like the methodical procedures of that orb weaver so many years ago.
This story previously appeared in Fiction Writers Group, 2021.
Edited by Marie Ginga
John Mansfield is a disgruntled warehouse manager who longs to do something else. He lives with his wife, two kids, and mother-in-law near Atlanta, Georgia. Someday, he will escape to a farm in Vermont and live happily ever after. For now, he will settle for people reading his sloppy fiction stories. Only one story of his has been published so far (“Flotsam” was made into a podcast on The Other Stories Podcast, episode 78.3). He eagerly welcomes feedback and you can contact him at: [email protected].