MANTULA Part Fifteen: An email from a saint

Mant-15

I wasn’t sure what to make of the emails at first. It had been a quiet week for the most part up until today. First the reporter Kip Mooney comes knocking, then we discover my stalker Diana Sturgis (who I can’t stop thinking about) has been combing the neighborhood in search of a tarantula riding a quail, and then I find out some strange dude is bombing my inbox with emails talking about how he knows I live inside the body of a tarantula.

The whole thing made my head spin, but at the same time I felt a flutter of excitement somewhere deep in my belly, or what passed for it in this hairy, ugly little body.

This guy, Maximilian Kolbe, might have an answer or two. He might even have a solution, being he is who he says he is. Considering my predicament, I figured anything was possible. So I read the email.

_________________________________________________________________________

From: Maximilian ‘Raymund’ Kolbe

Subject: I know you’re a tarantula

Date: August 5 2014 05:46 PM

To: Doug Lansing

CC: Dymphna Gurrll

Sending you endless emails is getting a little tiresome. I will likely not continue doing so much longer. Your refusal to reply to these emails, when I know you are home, when I know you have your cell phone nearby, not to mention a desktop computer, has caused my eyes to roll in their sockets on more than one occasion. I am pasting in the rest from other emails I sent, but wanted to share my frustration first.

You have been reborn in the body of a tarantula. We don’t know why, but we do know why you are different than the others. It’s this difference that has started a subtle shift in the others as well, particularly in the one named Glenn Hardy with whom you are in constant contact with. Prior to meeting you, Glenn and the others wandered, barely able to snap out of the primal instincts brought on by their new forms. When he met you, however, his humanity bobbed back to the surface like a cork. You are different because, unlike anyone else afflicted by this malady to date, you suffer equally from a mixture of both depression and addiction. While I am the patron saint of addiction, and journalists (go figure), depression falls under the purview of Saint Dymphna, who I have copied on this email. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a reply. The mixture of both afflictions caused a cancellation in the overall intent, leaving you exactly the same mentally, but trapped in a body not your own. It’s possible you may be the lynch pin that can undo this entire event. At least I hope so. I didn’t ask for a herd of bugs and birds dumped at my doorstep, nor did Dymphna ask for a posse of reptiles and rodents. And before you reply back with lame questions, yes we both live in Sedona. Many patron saints live here actually. We just don’t broadcast it. I used to work in radio. Trust me. People would make our lives unbearable if word got out, so keep it zipped.

As to what we can do about your predicament, we’re working on it. We’ll get back to you.

Maximilian Kolbe

Patron Saint

“God dwells in our midst, in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.”

 (Story continues below)

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Auschwitz.

“Holy crap!” ManQuail gasped behind me. “That’s the guy. Just like on the coin that we both had! He’s a real guy!”

I turned to see Glenn behind me on the kitchen table. I was so absorbed in reading the email I didn’t hear him fly up. “I take it you read the email? Apparently he’s been sending them for days.”

“If a Catholic Saint doesn’t know what happened to us, then who does?” ManQuail cried. “Does God know? You would think God would know.”

I was thankful to see my bird companion in better spirits. Seeing his old dealer had upset him pretty bad. And, after reading Kolbe’s email, I realized I was to blame for him reverting (at least mentally) back to a human train wreck.

“All it says is they’re working on it,” I replied.

ManQuail read over the email again. “They’re real. I cannot believe it. We could be turned back in no time.”

“If that’s what we want,” I said. “You were a meth head, remember? What if turning back means you go back to that life?”

ManQuail shook his head, making his black plume flop. “No. I’m cured of that I think. No matter what. Are you going to reply to him?”

“I sure am.” I said and set to typing my response.

_________________________________________________________________________

From: Doug Lansing

Subject: Re: I know you’re a tarantula

Date: August 5 2014 05:51 PM

To: Maximilian ‘Raymund’ Kolbe

Go to hell.

MANTULA Part Fourteen: Hey, Dopeman

Mant-14

“Find that he’s slapping you, all the time.

But that’s okay ‘coz he’s so rich

And you ain’t nothin’ but a Dopeman’s bitch.”

  – N.W.A.

The reporter, Mooney, and Diana Sturgis wandered off together after agreeing to exchange phone numbers. I turned to go back inside our crappy little apartment, still holding the man’s business card. I doubt the card mentioned his side job as a drug dealer anywhere on it. Glenn hung back for a moment, staring sideways at the two. I stopped at the windowsill and waited for him.

“Are you alright?” I asked him.

He didn’t answer right away. Finally, he sighed and started back into the apartment. “I suppose so. It’s just weird that I’d bump into him. Brings back a lot of memories I haven’t thought about since I woke up in Sedona.”

He looked back a second time before ducking back into the apartment. Once inside, I could tell he wasn’t his usual bored, excitable self. ManQuail walked slowly across the living room without saying a word. He was almost dragging his little quail feet as he went.

I didn’t want to play the role of counselor, but I got the feeling ManQuail needed an ear. Turns out I was wrong.

“You want to talk about it, Glenn?”

The bird shook his head. “Not right now, man. I think I’m going to lay down for a bit,” he answered.

“Maybe we need to get out a bit,” I suggested. “What about trying to see your parents? You’ve talked about them pretty often. We could try and get a ride there somehow, go see how they’re doing?”

ManQuail walked into the small hallway leading to bedroom and disappeared from site. “No thanks. They’re doing better without me there. I know that much. Good night, Doug.”

He’d no sooner disappeared into the bedroom, and actually shut the door (which he never did), when I heard thumping sounds in the apartment below, followed by raised voices. The downstairs neighbors. I recalled they had just moved in a couple days before I woke up as a tarantula in red rock country. Apartments were never very quiet.

I couldn’t make out what the two were shouting about, only that the loudest yeller came from the man. His wife sounded quiet and terrified. With any luck, someone would call the cops on the two. I wasn’t sure how ManQuail would sleep with the ruckus they were making. I thought about banging on the floor myself. It would shut them up, but it might also bring the man upstairs to pick a fight. A better idea would be to keep quiet, I told myself. (Story continues below)

She-Wolf drawing by Doug’s son.

- Illustration by Ben Whitehurst.

The cops never came, however, as they likely had better things to deal with in Cottonwood than domestic violence calls. Nonetheless, the two eventually settled down and I drifted to sleep on the couch. I dreamed of my son and woke with a heated start after seeing him wave goodbye from the school bus as it drove away. I felt hot, feverish almost, but soon began to cool off.

A storm had rolled in for the night, creating a lightning and thunder over the inky Verde Valley night. I found myself staring at another of my son’s drawings when I opened all of my eyes. I remembered he called the female coyote he drew a “She-Wolf.” At the time I thought it looked like a character out of Pokemon. Today it reminded me of Diana Sturgis. I kept picturing her face, her body, in my mind. I tried to bury it, forget the thoughts, and forget seeing her pull her panties over her feet. Don’t think about her. I definitely didn’t want Glenn picking up on the fact that I couldn’t stop thinking about her. She-Wolf. I decided I’d get on the computer myself and Google her. If anything, I would tell Glenn that we needed to more about the people looking for us.

It didn’t take long for me to track down the Flight Services, L.L.C. website. Using the mouse and the keyboard took a little bit of work, even with my eight legs, but I soon had a headshot of her on the screen, with details on her background listed in bullet points beside it.

Sturgis was born and raised in Cottonwood, but spent most of her life attending school and living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’d only returned to Arizona two years ago to open her drone business and take care of her dying mother, who passed away a year ago, the website said.

After staring into her eyes for a few minutes, wondering what it would be like to actually sit and have coffee with her, what it would be like to be a real man in her bedroom, I could hear ManQuail stirring in the other room. I jumped over to the mouse and clicked on my Gmail account. I had no interest in checking my email actually, but I didn’t want the bird to see Diana on my screen.

He came into the room just as the account loaded on my screen. I found that I had a ton of unopened email, but the weird part is they were all from the same guy. There were at least thirty messages from some guy named Maximillian Kolbe, just like the Catholic saint on the coin sitting atop the coffee table. Not only that but the emails all had the same subject line.

They read, “I know you’re a tarantula.”

MANTULA Part Thirteen: The stripper comes back

Mant-13

It didn’t take Glenn long to check his email, but he busied himself for a couple days by surfing the Web.

He’d been a quail for a year, so most of his friends had long ago given up on hearing from him. As he told me, many had given up on him once he starting playing around with meth anyway. Therefore, his Gmail account, had very little to keep him occupied. He had a good time reading news and reading about the movies he’d missed over the last year however. He was bummed to read all the bad reviews on Hangover 3. That was one he’d been looking forward to seeing, he told me. Not that I cared about anything he had to say.

I enjoyed being back at my crappy little apartment for about five minutes. But I found that, no matter how many of my DVDs I stuck in the player, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the drawings on the wall over the kitchen table. Luckily ManQuail could never tell what I was looking at. And I’d gotten more adept at hiding my thoughts from him. He could hear my mental voice when I wanted him to hear me, but not when I didn’t. It took a few days, but I was glad to master that particular skill.

After a while, it seems, Glenn finally got around to reading some of the local news he liked to peruse when he was a man. Shortly after that is when he yelped with surprise and called me over to see what he had on the screen.

There I saw two news stories all about me, a fact that made my tarantula stomach turn a couple tricks. The first mentioned my flight off Coffee Pot Rock in Sedona, which had been captured by a drone running a test flight over the area. I’d see that drone again, not less than an hour later, after I tried to flee ManQuail while holding my hundred-dollar bill. The damn thing had followed me. Seeing me with money, however, wasn’t mentioned in the article. Not sure why it wasn’t mentioned.

The next article had to do with us running across State Route 89A last week and the three-car pile up we’d cased. Both articles had a photo of me, the first showed me falling through the air (I thought I’d go splat around that time I recalled) and the second photo showed me riding atop ManQuail, stupidly waving around my hundred-dollar bill.

“Dude, you’re making a big name for yourself!” Glenn exclaimed happily. “How the hell did that drone get a photo of you flying through the air like that? And look at me. Man, that is one nice looking quail if I do say so myself.”

I was dumbfounded. Finally, I replied, “How can one little bug get into so much trouble. Guess it’s good we’re here. Can’t get into much trouble inside an apartment I hope.”

I know sooner mentally spoke than there was a knock at the door. Checking the clock on the wall, I saw it was just shy of 5:30 p.m. ManQuail stepped back cautiously from the keyboard, afraid his clawed feet might accidentally hit the keys too hard and be heard through the door. I made my way to the window in a flash. Silently, I peeked through the opened slit.

The heat of the day throbbed against my furry spider face as I peered over to see a tall, lanky man knocking politely on the door outside. He looked like a middle-aged hipster, black skinny jeans, an untucked western shirt, bushy brown beard flecked with grey and black-rimmed eyeglasses. I didn’t know the guy from Adam.

“Not sure who he is,” I told my roommate. “He’s leaving a card in the door though.”

(Story continues below)

Doug peeks over the balcony

of his crappy little apartment.

Once the hipster made his way down the stairs to the parking lot, I darted outside to snatch up the card. The card was no sooner in my hand, however, when I heard the tall man call out to someone.

“Hey there!” he yelled. “What are you doing in this neighborhood?”

A female voice, which sounded a bit nervous, not to mention a little familiar, replied, “Do I know you?”

“I’m Kip Mooney,” he told her. “The reporter with the Sedona Daily Reader. We talked on the phone about your drones and that tarantula that fell through the air. Remember? I’m sorry, I recognized you from the picture on your website.”

“I see,” the female voice replied. “Nice to meet you in person, Mr. Mooney.”

I crept further to the edge of the door, then leapt to the railing at the landing, and glanced down to the parking lot. The hipster stood with his back to me. Standing in front of him, dressed this time, stood the woman who caught us watching her take her clothes off a week ago after we’d snuck a ride in her car. What the hell was she doing outside of my apartment? And what was the guy, whose articles ManQuail and I just read, doing out there too?

“I did another tarantula story near here about a week ago. The whole thing has me fascinated really, so I had some free time and I thought I’d follow up on it, see if anyone saw a spider riding a quail around here,” Mooney said.

“I read that story. I’ve been taking walks in the neighborhood myself actually, wondering if I would see anything weird,” she told him. Did I hear flirtation in her voice?

The hipster attempted a laugh. “Your drone might come in handy for that!” The man paused for a second. “Wait a minute. You don’t think this is the same tarantula the Sedona Eye filmed, do you? That was all the way over in Sedona.”

“It’s the same one. I know it,” she told him. “This isn’t for print, Kip, but my drone operator was so curious about the falling tarantula that he followed it with the Eye. When it landed, the tarantula hid under a bush, but came out a while later holding a one-hundred dollar bill.”

Mooney gasped. “Just like the one that caused the crash on 89A! But that’s impossible. How did it get all the way into Cottonwood. Did it ride that quail the whole way here?”

The woman named Diana Sturgis went silent. After a moment, she said, “Trust me. It’s the same one.”

“Well this story is getting weirder and weirder,” the reporter said, shaking his head. “Maybe we should combine forces on this, Mrs. Sturgis. I’ll let you know what I hear, you let me know what you hear?”

Sturgis laughed. She was flirting, I could tell. “It’s Ms. Sturgis, Kip. I’m not married.”

At this point, ManQuail joined me on the ledge. Silently, the bird dipped his head over the railing to get a look. He pulled his head back quickly.

“That’s the guy who wrote the news stories? I know that guy, Doug.”

I detected a hint of nervousness in the quail’s mental voice. For some reason, the reporter made him a bit nervous.

“What is it?” I asked. “Where do you know him from?”

“Remember when I said I got my drugs from a guy in Cottonwood. He’d drive out to Camp Verde to hook me up? That’s the guy. He was my dealer!”

Kip Mooney was right. Things were getting weirder and weirder.

MANTULA Part Twelve: Super Doug

Mant-12

Doug explores his inner strength.

     Surprisingly, there was something different about me compared to most tarantulas. I had skills those others could only dream about.

     There was also the depressing fact I am a man, containing the intellect I possessed back when I had two legs and two arms, a neck, and a belly button. That’s not what I’m talking about, but that kind of sets me apart too.

     The strength is what I’m talking about. That was something that set me apart in a way I didn’t realize until we’d made our way from Sedona to Cottonwood, and not until I’d found my crappy little apartment. The place was a safe haven for us, and I’d paid for the rental through October, so we were set for some time.

     The super strength, I now realized, was as supernatural as my predicament.

     I could lift the coffee table with one leg. Balancing the thing was tough though. I nearly killed ManQuail with it. Luckily he can run out of the way pretty fast.

     The super strength, I also realized, undoubtedly helped when I’d stumbled feverishly to Coffee Pot Rock, climbed to the top, and tried to leap to my death. I could probably take down a human in a fist fight if I tried to fight someone. It might look weird, but I’d be able to do it. And knowing I had that kind of strength really helped me get around the apartment.

     In the week we’d been there we ordered a pizza online using my debit card, which still had a chunk of change on it-mostly thanks to the hefty life insurance payout. “You only live once,” Glenn said after we ordered it, parroting another of his tedious, and painfully overused euphemisms.

     We ordered online, with instructions for the delivery person to just leave it at the door and knock once when he arrived. Glenn and I also ventured out one morning with the idea maybe we’d meet others of our kind, though ManQuail had taken on the assumption (finally) that I was somehow different than all the others. None of them, as far as he was aware, himself included, possessed the same level of strength they possessed when in their human form. He’d finally come around to believe me when I said that I had not changed. Had I been addicted to anything, I didn’t know about it–nor had I been cured of it. We didn’t come across anyone with our particular affliction, but a scorpion very nearly stung ManQuail when he started flipping over rocks in the yard. Luckily he’s a fast bird. Not good at long distance flying, but quick on his feet.

     Carrying a pizza into the apartment, with my man muscles, was no problem. Eating it, on the other hand, wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Not that I didn’t try.

     The experience led me to learn a thing or two about my new body, however. I’d never been much interested in how my stomach worked. With the pizza and everything else, I had to turn it to goo first. I balled a pizza slice into a ball. After that I sort of mounted the sucker like a bull humping a turned-on heffer and sank my spider fangs into it. When crap started pumping from my chest into the middle of the ball, I was a bit surprised. But I let my body take care of business, trusting it would do the right thing. And it did, only it wasn’t eating like I’d known before. The inside of the ball of pizza turned into a sort of liquid goo that I sucked up like I was drinking through a straw. It had an acidic flavor, but believe it or not I could still taste the mozzarella, pepperoni and sauce. And it was damn good. ManQuail didn’t have as hard a time as me. He just pecked at his slice until it looked like a casualty fresh from a BB gun war.

     What’s funny is we still had most of the pizza, like more than two-thirds of it, left when we both announced how full we were. Later we decided to try alcohol and raided my cabinet for what was left of my Crown Royal. Following that embarrassing episode, we slept for a day or so and woke up feeling like we’d been dragged behind a big rig down Interstate 17.

     He’d sensed I didn’t want to talk about my son right off the bat, and kept far from the topic, but that didn’t stop him from pecking through nearly everything I had in the place, which wasn’t much. My largest collection of paraphernalia, actually, was the empty whiskey bottles all over the place. Glenn counted eight of them. Normally I cleaned the place on the weekends, but the week I turned into a bug put me behind.

     At one point during the week, while I tried to watch Die Hard through my eight eyes, I heard ManQuail cry out in my bedroom. I nearly got off my spot on the couch to go check on him when he came bounding into the room with a silver coin in his beak. I recognized it immediately as my addiction medallion, complete with a prayer and a photo of Saint Kolbe on it.

     “I knew it! You said you weren’t addicted to anything! If you aren’t, then why do you have this?” He cried out, dropping the coin on the carpet at the foot of the couch.

     I tapped my foot impatiently. Bruce was just about to run across the glass barefoot on television. It’s one of my favorite scenes. “I used to smoke, Glenn. I got the coin to get me through it.”

     “So you were a smoker? I bet you don’t want one now. That’s the addiction, man.”

     “That was three years ago. I have not had a cigarette since. But to be honest, there isn’t a day that goes by I don’t crave one. Even now.” (Story continues below.)

ManQuail Meme!

     “Well that’s weird. I guess I should stop trying to figure you out, man. It’s funny though, I had a coin just like this. I kept it in my truck. I hoped back then it would help me steer clear of meth, that somehow it would make me drive somewhere other than to meet my dealer. He was from here in Cottonwood, but he’d drive out to Camp Verde just to hook me up.”
     “Guess the coin didn’t help much.”
     ManQuail dipped his head down and retrieved the coin. He took flight for a second and placed it daintily on the coffee table. Being ex-humans, we both still liked to behave like our old selves. And it was after the pizza, after we’d gotten shit-faced drunk, and after we’d played He-Man with the furniture and flipped rocks in the yard, that ManQuail finally asked. “So, what now?”
     “What do you mean?” I replied, thinking after I’d finished “Die Hard” I’d put on a little “Road Warrior.” I had all the DVDs in the closet, enough movies to last months.
     “Well, we know our bodies aren’t left behind when we change. We have a place to stay for a while. What do we do now?”
     “Now we watch movies. Maybe we’ll order some Chinese tomorrow.”
     ManQuail sounded frustrated. “Do you mind if I get on your computer and check my email?”

NEWS: Now everyone can check in

Gagged on pop culture, polluted by depression, comes Mantula! A special fiction series!

Check-In Screen Shot

NEWS: Don’t forget to check in to “Mantula’s Crappy Little Apartment” the next time you happen to be playing around on Facebook while visiting lovely Cottonwood, Arizona.

Maybe you’re having drinks at the Chaparral Bar near downtown, or hooking up with someone on Tinder, or just licking on a cone at the Dairy Queen on Main Street; it doesn’t matter what your awesome adventure is. You could even be geo-caching or wondering about the viticultural significance of the town; they’re all things Doug Mantula and Glenn ManQuail could help you out with.

And if you feel like it, leave a sterling five star review while you’re there!

MANTULA Part Eleven: Touring the Crappy Apartment

Mant-11

We made our way up the wet stairs leading to my crappy little apartment with little incident.

Monsoonal moisture pounded Cottonwood and we were both elated we’d soon escape the torrential downpour pelting the rundown Arizona city. I knew the front door would be locked. I always locked it. Even on a drinking binge, such as had been the case the night before I woke up as a tarantula. The window was another matter. I was pretty sure I’d left it cracked just a hair to let in the cool air from the rain a couple of days ago. Sure enough, as we got to the landing and stared up at the door, which loomed in front of me like a mountain of flat sheet metal, I could see a slight opening in the window next to it.

Unfortunately it wasn’t big enough for even me to get through.

I leaned forward, still riding atop Glenn, while my bird-turned-horse took a look at the window over our tiny heads. “Do you think we’ll be able to crack it open a little further?” I asked him.

“Oh, hell yeah. Dude, we didn’t come all this way just to give up at your doorstep. Right?”

I could hear the conviction in his mental voice. “Maybe if you can hop up there we can both brace ourselves and give it a good push. We just need to nudge it a little.”

Without another word, the quail sailed to the windowsill in a flurry of wet feathers that nearly made me drop my hundred-dollar bill. He balanced himself on the slim stucco ledge, clutching the metal slider beneath the window with one foot. I leaned forward, planting one hooked leg on the window and another against the aluminum sill itself, thinking I would try it alone—just to see what kind of a challenge it would present. With a simple push in both directions, the window slid open wide enough for ManQuail and I to hop in.

The quail looked up at me, startled. “Holy crap, man! Since when can a little tarantula throw open a window like that? That’s like some super strength crap right there!”

“I’m a little surprised too,” I admitted. “But what the hell. We’re in.”

ManQuail dropped into the apartment. We were finally out of the rain and I was back inside my crappy little apartment. I dropped from my traveling companion’s back and did a quick dash into the middle of the living room. From there I had a good view into the kitchen, where I expected to see my human body.

It wasn’t there.

ManQuail busied himself looking around the place. A sole light, from a table lamp purchased at a dollar store, shone weakly near the refrigerator, bathing the area in a dark glow. The lamp sat atop a round, thrift store kitchen table wedged half in the living room and half in the kitchen area. On top of that sat my refurbished desktop computer. Drawings my son drew covered the wall over the table. For some reason it made me uncomfortable that Glenn could see them. They were all that hung on the walls.

His voice sounded distant in my head. “You have a kid? You never told me that.”

I made my way into the kitchen. A cup had spilled on the floor. The Crown Royal inside it had gone sticky while I’d been away. I’d used a coffee mug with a photo of John Steinbeck to drink it. The mug hadn’t broke, but it was undoubtedly glued by old whiskey to the floor. I found my cell phone next to that. I could see the light over the screen blinking on and off. I had messages. What I didn’t see was my body. (STORY CONTINUES BELOW)

Glenn admires a drawing by Doug’s son.

- Illustration by Ben Whitehurst.

The quail pointed a feathered wing at the wall of drawings. “He drew a spider for you? That drawing could be you!”

Leaving the kitchen, I made my way into the apartment’s single bedroom. There in the corner I saw the single mattress I slept on. No human body there either. I could see my clothes, however, piled in the corner where I tossed them all wrinkled and smelly.

I checked the bathroom next, joined by ManQuail, and found nothing but a toilet that needed flushed. My body wasn’t there either.

“You know what this means,” ManQuail whispered. “Your body turned into the tarantula body. That must mean mine did too. We could change back maybe. Someday. But maybe.”

“I was hoping I’d be here.”

ManQuail’s voice sounded encouraging. “This could be a good thing, man. Think about it. There might be a way to change back.”

Outside, the monsoon grew in intensity. Rain came down in sheets. I could see a few hail balls in the mix, but I wasn’t tall enough to look out the window to see whether they were collecting on the ground. Thunder rumbled heavily somewhere in the distance. I made my way to the small couch against the wall. The end of it touched the round kitchen table, which would make it easy for me to get up there if need be. ManQuail, meanwhile, trotted around the place like a frisky puppy. He seemed happy just to be out of the downpour. I made my way quietly up the base of the couch and settled into a sitting position in the middle of the cushion. I set my hundred-dollar bill beside me and watched the rain fall outside.

“Not a bad place,” Glenn said. “Anything in the fridge? Food or whatnot?”

“If you can get the door open, be my guest.”

He stopped and looked at me. “You could do it no problem. Not sure I could.”

“Give me a minute. I just want to think for a while.”

“Hey, we’re going to be here a long time. Plenty of time to think,” he replied.

He was right, of course. What did I expect anyway? Would the sight of my dead body make me happy?

Would anything?

So I got up to open the refrigerator for ManQuail and decided to test the limits of my hairy, ugly tarantula body.

MANTULA Part Ten: Doug and Glenn cross the street

Mant-10Rain fell in icy sheets the morning we escaped from the crazy woman’s house in Cottonwood. I could feel the monsoonal moisture seeping intomy body and creating a slick, watery layer between ManQuail and myself. Every drop that hit my body felt like an icy stinger shot from heaven itself. The downpour continued all morning, but we were making good headway on our quest to reach my apartment. Rain had tousled the tuft of feathers and down atop my companion’s head, including his black plume, which had fallen like a limp noodle over his right eye. 

The wet bird mumbled. “Are we at Twelfth Street yet?”

“Another block I think. Do you need a rest? Should I get off?”

Water dribbled off his beak when he looked back at me. “No, man. I’m just tired of getting rained on. I would rather get there as fast as I can.”

Thinking of the naked woman who’d, only a half hour before, chased us from her home, I decided the rain wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it had a cleansing effect. Seeing that Glenn and I hid in her closet and watched her disrobe, even though I tried to look away, the whole episode had me feeling a bit dirty. And the early morning monsoon did the trick in washing some of that away. If I ever ran into her again, however, I was betting the whole affair wasn’t something she’d easily forgive.

“A little rain is better than a crazy woman in a bathrobe,” I joked.

“She’ll get hers someday, man. It’s like I always say, what goes around comes around. Her bad attitude will bring bad attitudes back on her,” Glenn prophesied. “We just look like a couple of animals. She could have been more chill about the whole thing.”

I admitted that I would have done the same thing were I in her shoes.

“She was crazy, though. You’re just a dude stuck in a tarantula body, but cool besides that,” he said.

We hung a right on Elm, then made our way down Twelfth. The Adobe Apartments were located right across the street from the fairgrounds, a small patch of grass city officials used to hold a majority of their local events. When I’d moved into the place a few months before, the fair had been in full swing. From my little apartment I could hear music, screaming kids and screeching car tires almost all night.

We were only a fewManQuailStarsMeme blocks away, but we’d have to cross Highway 89A, which led from Main Street up to Jerome on the middle of Mingus Mountain. To me, Jerome was about the only interesting spot in the whole of the Verde Valley. Sedona was simply too elitist and pricey for the average Joe, not to mention boring as hell, and they like it that way. Cottonwood is where the people live who work in Sedona–basically the opposite of Sedona, trashy and cheap, but also boring as hell. It’s possible to like both spots I suppose, but not for me. Jerome, while too small to enjoy for long, has a hint of character, a taste of interest that very nearly adds up to a gulp. You can drink it all in after half a day. And I’m not the only one who liked the former mining, turned art, colony. One look at the traffic pouring up and down 89A and that became clear to anyone.

The rain kept most from noticing the wet bird with the equally wet arachnid on his back. Our travels were ours alone. But that would change when we got to the intersection. Cars raced up and down the four lane stretch of wet road leading up to the mining colony. Each passing vehicle sent a spray of water into the air. The mist by this point didn’t feel as cool and refreshing as it would have a day earlier. I was drenched and wanted nothing more than to dry off in my crappy place. I was also curious to see whether or not my human body would be sitting there, or laying there, on the floor of the kitchen. That’s the last place I remembered being, so that’s where I pictured myself. It could be it was already starting to smell, as I was sure I had died. A small part of me thought I could be asleep and that, touching myself, I’d wake up back where I belonged. It was a long shot, but possible.

ManQuail poised himself on the side of the road. “Are you ready, Doug?”

“We’ll have to go fast, Glenn. Wait for a break and run like hell.”

My bird companion sounded a little unsure, so I clutched his downy feathers as hard as I could with my six legs. The other two held the hundred dollar bill tight. “It’s hard to see with all the spray, but I’m thinking… now!”

With that he dashed onto the asphalt. It was like diving into a flood zone. Noise filled my senses. I heard the gargle of water and the screech of brakes, a blaring car horn that vibrated my entire body. Somewhere a dark shape, the size of a whale, sailed inches from us. In my head I heard ManQuail curse. He altered his course. I think we turned back the way we came. Another whale-sized shape blurred before me and was gone in a spray of oceanic water. Horns and wrenching metal filled my head, drowning out the bird’s cursing, and I felt him change course again. For a moment the rain stopped. We passed under a vehicle, hissing steam, and emerged into the flood again. I heard shouts and noticed red lights, brake lights I think, reflected in the water all around us. ManQuail dropped his head and charged forward. We emerged a moment later on the opposite side of 89A. We’d made it across.

Looking back, I saw a pile of cars at the intersection. At least three were clustered there, not moving, with smoke and steam rising from various area of damage. ManQuail kept his little legs peddling. As we made our way toward the Adobe Apartments people began to emerge from the vehicles. One of them aimed a cell phone our way and appeared to be snapping photos.

“Great. Someone’s taking pictures of us. Look at the crazy tarantula riding on the back of a quail in the middle of a rainstorm after causing a pileup on the highway,” I said.

ManQuail shot under a bush in response to the news and we disappeared from view. It kept the rain at bay a bit too, which was a nice break. “We don’t want people to see where we’re headed,” he told me.

Minutes later we emerged onto the parking lot which divided the apartments in the complex. Pools of water covered the place, reflecting yellow spools of light from the globe lamps situated throughout the property. We’d made it home.