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