by Shane Page
We walk together in the dark. I am awake. Sometimes porch lights turn off and on. Sometimes little bats fly by. Sometimes spiders with wiggly legs tap dance on people’s porches, and their arms are humanoid but cartoon, and their hats are straw with red ribbons. I feel their beady eyes follow us. They wait for our backs to be turned.
The yards are full of spiders, big spiders, living a nightlife somewhere between vaudeville and Alabamian roadside circus. Spiders on skateboards, bikes, rollerblades, unicycles. Spiders socializing and smoking, sharing weird talents and cocktail party knowledge. They are as tall as me. My dog, Samwise, and I keep walking. Samwise’s stethoscope hangs from his collar and scrapes on the sidewalk; his head mirror lights our way.
Here is how we walk:
I found this yellow radio you could attach to your belt if you wanted, so I did. It has a headphone jack, but the only compatible headphones are these huge gray ones that look like anti-tank landmines with a curly cord. It also has a flashlight built in. It’s burnt out. The radio hangs from me, big as a toolbox, its cord reaching up to the twin pans on my head, making my shadow look like something alien.
Samwise’s short legs click, tictactictac. He is half Scottie, half Schnauzer, and has black fur. His collar has skulls on it. He is small and fat. He sounds like Louis Armstrong.
“Do you think they want to eat us?” I ask him, as he walks in front of me without a leash and looks both ways before crossing the street. A spider with no special skill skitters in front of us. It is not lifting two-ton weights or dancing the can-can or juggling bowling pins.
“I think some of them want to eat us,” Samwise says as a spider bigger than a kitchen table scurries up a tree. “I think others just want to have a good time.”
The worst thing about the neighborhood spiders is how quiet they are. Here they are on everyone’s porches: drinking, dancing, singing. Everything they do is as loud as a whisper. They are only here for an hour each night. If you listen closely you can hear the ones in the trees spinning their webs.
I knew I was in for some trouble when I started seeing spiders in my bed. Not little house spiders scrambling across my sheets to find a new dark corner. These were tarantulic beasts, thick legs, fuzzy black bodies, walking with careful steps as if trying not to wake me, each appendage folding out and back to edge closer and closer to me like a rickety, obsidian eight-fingered hand.
They weren’t real. It was only after they’d melted into my blankets I became afraid. A hypnagogic hallucination, a vision associated with sleep paralysis. Some people see spiders floating in the air or playing violin or driving little cars, others see spiders inches away from their eyes on a pillow. Some people’ve got beds full of snakes, demons on their chest, dead relatives gathered at the foot of their bed, watching, bluish, malicious.
The thing about sleep paralysis is you accept everything like an idiot. The horror comes seconds later. And I think back, realize the thorax of the spider wasn’t a solid body, but overlapping lines of Sharpie scribbles, a tornado of ink. And the legs were sewn together miniature cotton balls. Maybe they only wanted to crawl by and say hello before melting away. The slow, relaxed tarantulas, walking and melting, walking and melting.
So when breathing exercises and sleeping pills didn’t do much, I started taking old Samwise for nighttime walks, and we met our nighttime neighbors.
“Are you tired?” I ask Samwise as we pass a group of kid spiders throwing rocks at a stack of milk bottles. The adult spider next to the bottles whispers, “Knock ‘em down, win a prize. Knock ‘em down for a jar of flies.”
“No. Are you?” Samwise looks back at me, and the light from his head mirror is blinding.
“You have to sleep sometime.”
He’s right. He is a good doctor.
When the sun starts to rise, the spiders scamper away. They lift sidewalk slabs and burrow underneath, crawl into small attic windows. They untie their skates, kiss goodbye, and carry large, webbed sacks of collected bugs on which they will dine.
A spider up ahead cleans up his yard sale. Everything Must Go, his sign says, Prices Negotiable. He is not like the others with their hats and ties and corn cob pipes. He is just a black spider, the size of a PT Cruiser.
While we pass, he says, “Want anything? I need some money.” His voice sounds like a Hollywood demon. He looks at me with eyes like green olives packed into vats of vinegar. His chelicerae glisten in Samwise’s light. Samwise mumbles, “Just keep walking.”
But the salesman is desperate, and he springs over his wares and blocks the sidewalk. He begs, front legs mocking how humans beg, pleading with us to buy something. He’s got kids, thousands. We try to pass, but he always runs ahead of us. I hate the way his legs sound on the ground. Thick, soft taps.
He implores, he needs this. Samwise, though he is thirteen years old, assumes an offensive stance to protect us. The spider spreads his eight legs wide and snaps his fangs together. Syrupy venom oozes to the ground. The sun is rising and the grass is slowly changing from blue to green. I flip on the radio on my belt. It cycles through morning shows. Good morning, rock fans. Before we get to the news. Before we get to the next song. There’s a traffic jam on I-55. Little spider children round up their toys and climb into trees. One of them drops his baseball.
“I’m sorry,” I say to the spider. “I’ve really gotta get home.”