Arachnophobia Comes to Cleveland
They promised Billy a pet when they dragged him away from his friends in Omaha.
“You are going to love it in Cleveland. They’ve got the Browns, the Indians and a Great Lake. And we’ll have our own house. You’ll have your own room, and you can have that pet you’ve always wanted.”
“What’s so great about the lake?”
Moving is tough on an eight year old kid. The pet idea was just one of the many carrots Fred came up with to induce Billy to give Cleveland a try. The younger children, Carri and Matt, were less attached to the old neighborhood and exhibited far less resistance to being uprooted.
Billy was, well to be generous, an “unusual” sort of a little boy. How unusual? He preferred the Weather Channel to cartoons, enjoyed school and disdained summer vacation, had no interest in sports or outdoor activities, loved to read, and spinach ranked high on his list of favorite foods. Fred and Carol should not have been all that surprised at his choice of a pet.
“How about a puppy? It would have to be a small dog because the yard is small.”
“I’m afraid of dogs. Don’t you remember when that kid in my school got bitten by one?”
Fred hated cats, but that seemed to be next up.
“Well, how about a nice little kitty?”
“They’re sneaky, suffocate babies while they’re sleeping, and I hate ‘em.”
“A bunny rabbit?”
Carol took a shot at it.
“I had a couple hamsters when I was little. They’re kind of fun to watch.”
“They’re rats, Mom.”
“A nice big aquarium with lots of colorful fish?”
“Well, what did you have in mind for a pet, Billy? Have you given it any thought?”
“I’ve already decided.”
“What is it?”
“A tarantula, a big one.”
Puzzlement, shock, with a heavy dose of regret for promises made. Carol was barely able to remain vertical. Fred finally found the words.
“A tarantula? A big spider? Why would you want a spider? I think you’d love a nice little puppy. You could play with him, he could sleep in your bed, he…”
“Dad, a tarantula. You guys promised.”
Carol had trouble sleeping the first few nights. The compromise location for “Fangs” and his comfy, spacious terrarium was the basement . Carol threatened to go back to her mother’s in Omaha if the damn thing took residence in the family living quarters, and Carri and Matt hadn’t seen the basement since the fuzzy creature arrived.
Fred would not admit it, and he certainly didn’t think of a tarantula as good pet material, but he thought the darn thing was pretty cool. He and Billy would toss in a couple of grasshoppers and watch with great interest as Fangs did its thing. At first Fred thought the experience was a bit too gruesome for entertainment value, but since it was the first real bonding activity Fred had with his young son, he went with it.
Billy had no fear of Fangs. With heavy gloves, he would even pick him up, while Fred limited his interactions with Fangs to tossing in an occasional meal. Carol’s only interest in Fangs since his arrival was a Google search on the life expectancy of a tarantula.
Fangs proved to be a true friends magnet. Every kid in the neighborhood, boys and girls, wanted to see Billy’s giant spider. The word spread quickly and the legend of Fangs grew more fantastic with every exchange.
“It’s as big as a basketball”.
“Its teeth are like knives!”
“It killed a cat once! And it ate the whole thing!”
The adult population was far less enamored to have this frightening creature in their midst. Parents feared for the lives of their children in the den of the monster, and soon the Fred and Carol household was off limits. Rumors ran rampant. The newspaper boy flung the paper from the sidewalk, and the mailman sprinted to and from the house with a can of mace at the ready. The home was blacklisted by Door Dash, Jimmy Johns and Domino's. Even the Jehovah Witness folks were willing give the devil his due in this abode as they dared not approach this house of horrors.
The reality was considerably less terrifying. The large glass terrarium was nicely fitted was a snug fitting, escape proof screen. Billy would lift the screen, move it slightly to one side, and send grasshoppers, flies, meal worms, and crickets to their doom. On occasion, late at night after all the others were in bed, Fred would sneak down to the basement and toss in a couple of bugs himself. Sometimes he’d have a beer or two and enjoy the spectacle, much in the mode of Nero relishing in the lions taking down a few Christians. This night he had five of his favorite brew, perhaps more than appropriate for a caretaker of children…or a basement dwelling instrument of fear.
“Fred, honey, before you leave for work could you bring the step ladder up from the basement?”
“Of course, my darling.”
As Fred grabbed hold of the ladder, he saw the most horrifying, most terrifying, most disturbing, scariest sight ever seen in that 65 year old basement- a dislodged screen cover atop Fangs’ enclosure. Fred nervously set the ladder down, and slowly, cautiously, moved toward the terrarium.
Fred’s heart sunk as he studied the empty cage. Fear and guilt immediately took off in a disturbing competition to control Fred’s emotions. Fred froze as fear took the lead. Where was Fangs? Fred shot a furtive glance at the floor- no Fangs. He slowly, ever so slowly, tilted his head back to sneak a peek at the rafters above, fearing a Fangs-in-his -face end to what had been a pretty good life.
Fangs was nowhere to be seen. Fred looked at the stairs and debated his best option, a slow, stealthy retreat or a mad dash fueled by hair-raising screams. Then guilt made its move. Guilt and its dreaded partner, responsibility. Carol would hear the screams, and he would have to fess up sooner than he would prefer. That would be…unpleasant.
Fred needed time to come up with a story. He knew Carol would be terrified. She would immediately leave the house, perhaps even book that flight back to Omaha. Billy was at school. but she would get Carri and Matt out of the house, and they wouldn’t return until Fangs was found and returned to a secure location. Oh my God, what if Fangs were never found? How could they possibly ever sleep in that house again knowing that any night they could be awakened by furry legs scampering across their faces? It was a tossup as to which Fred feared most at the moment, Fangs or the tongue-lashing he’d get from Carol.
Wait a minute. Eight year old kids are always doing dumb, irresponsible things. Billy is eight. Carol loves Billy. She knew that Billy would be upset about Fangs’ disappearance. She would show compassion and understanding for Billy, whereas Fred would likely get no such benefit. Hmm.
Shame on you Fred.
Fred crept out of the basement with the commodity he needed most- time. Billy wouldn’t be home from school for hours, and the likelihood of Carol, Carri or Matt venturing into the basement to discover the empty cage was absolute zero. He had time to sort this all out. Unfortunately he forgot the ladder.
“Fred, where’s the ladder?”
Oops. The ladder. Oh my God, after having made his harrowing escape, Fred would have to return to the lair of the killer spider.
“Oh yeah, the ladder. Silly me.”
There has never been a faster retrieval of a ladder in the history of ladder retrieval. Fred took a deep breath, skipped most of the steps on his way down, made a mad dash to the ladder, grabbed it, and frantically scurried back up to the kitchen with the ladder banging steps along the way.
“Fred! What’s the big hurry?”
“Uh…no reason. I just thought you needed it right away.”
Having cheated death twice, Fred could focus on the struggle at hand, a push and pull of accepting responsibility or dumping it off on your little boy. An angel was perched on his left shoulder while the Dark One found firm footing on his right.
“Fred, you can’t do this to Billy. You did it. Accept responsibility for your actions.”
“Don’t be a fool. You’re going to be in deep doo-doo with your wife. She’ll go easy on the boy. No one will ever know.”
“Don’t listen to him, Fred! He is the master of deceit. He only wants company in that miserable fire pit he calls home.”
“Take a hike, Miss Goody-Two-Shoes. Fred, Carol will bring you hell on earth if you fess up.”
“Shut your mouth, Beelzebutt, or I’ll order up a few lightening strikes to close it for you.”
“The kid will be okay. You’ve got to look out for Number One, Fred.”
“Here’s a number for you, Fred- nine. The Ninth Commandment, ‘Thou shall not bear false witness’. That’s a big one, Fred.”
The battle moved inside Fred’s head. The easy way out versus doing the right thing. What to do, what to do. Whatever the consequences, Fred couldn’t get himself to throw Billy under the bus, and he finally chose the path of righteousness. Unfortunately, his execution of his Spartacus moment left much to be desired. Some might call it not well thought, even clumsy. Seated across the kitchen table from his wife, he decided to bite the bullet and get it over with.
“Honey, have you seen Fangs around anywhere?”
Oh my God, Fred, a small child could have come up with a better opener than that. Carol’s face went blank as she fidgeted in her chair.
“Fred…why are you asking me that?”
“Well…last night I figured Fangs could use a little snack, so I dropped a cricket in his cage. Yeah, he was hungry alright. He…”
“Well, the thing is…somehow the cover didn’t get put back on his cage…and he’s gone.”
Fred’s prediction proved accurate. Carol called out for her children and headed for the door.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?!”
“Fangs has escaped, and he’s on the loose!”
Carol flew out the back door, children in tow, and ran into her neighbor’s yard where she encountered Evelyn who was watering her petunias, a lovely array of purple, pink, red and blue.
“Carol! What’s wrong?!”
“The killer spider is loose! Fred let him out of his cage!”
Evelyn, appropriately dubbed the “Nervous Nelly” of the neighborhood, looked in the direction of Carol’s house and imagined the beast within. Then she noticed the basement window.
“Carol! Your basement window is ajar!”
Nervous Nelly ran into her house and grabbed her phone.
“Hello 911! There is a killer beast roaming the neighborhood!”
Meanwhile, a disconsolate Fred remained seated at the kitchen table, mindlessly stirring his Corn Flakes in meaningless directions. He might have remained that way the rest of the day had he not heard the sirens.
Fred’s heart sunk, and his mind swirled when he peeked out the window. Only Nervous Nelly’s ranting hysteria could have elicited such a response- 3 squad cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck. Fred could hear more sirens in the distance.
Oh my God. What have you wrought, Fred? His mind went numb, then blank, then numb again. He was paralyzed by the enormity of it all. His next move escaped him. Maybe he could barricade himself in and never face the music. Maybe he could go down to the basement, find Fangs and coax him into delivering a good bite to end it all.
Fred slowly opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. Police were stringing yellow crime tape around trees, fences and lamp posts. An animal control truck pulled up, followed by the guys from TV 6. A helicopter hovered overhead. Fred, zombie -like, shuffled his feet to the sidewalk. In a scene reminiscent of Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, a police officer was on the radio trying to discern the average speed of a tarantula over dry land in order to establish a search perimeter.
Neighbors flocked to the street only to quickly retreat to their homes after learning of the tarantula on the hunt. Rumors flooded the neighborhood.
“Tommy saw it climbing up the side of Joey’s house!”
“It will hide in the trees!”
“It’s already killed two squirrels and a dog!”
A news reporter stuck a microphone in Fred’s face.
“Sir! I understand you’re the one who turned the poisonous, deadly tarantula loose. What do you have to say about all the panic you’ve caused?”
“Well… I…I only had a beer…maybe two. I didn’t hit any of the hard stuff, and then the screen…it somehow got moved. I don’t know.”
“Look at all these crying children and their terrified mothers. Knowing that you caused all this, how does that make you feel?”
Fred was saved by a police Sergeant, pen and notebook in hand.
“Excuse me, sir, but I understand you’re the perp.”
“Perp, the perpetrator of the deed, the responsible person, the one we can hang a little liability on.”
Herb hadn’t thought it was possible, but he suddenly felt worse.
“So, are you the guy that turned the killer spider loose on the community?”
The voice of the angel was still echoing in his head. Fred spoke firmly, boldly, with conviction.
“Yes, I am the perp.”
“Are you aware of our laws regulating the keeping of dangerous animals?”
“Do you mean like tigers or an alligator, something like that?”
“Exactly, and viscous, killer spiders. You are required to keep them under lock and key. You better hope no one gets hurt…or killed.”
“I feel bad about all this. Does that help my case?”
“Not so much.”
Reported tarantula sightings flooded the 911 call center. Backup supplies of tarantula bite antidote were being rushed to Cleveland. Cities as far away as Seattle were broadcasting information on prudent steps to take should you spot a tarantula or, God forbid, be bitten by one.
Chaos, absolute chaos. The entire neighborhood was in turmoil. Streets blocked off, traffic rerouted, satellite radio trucks dotting the scene, the nearby high school in lockdown, people huddled in their homes, SWAT teams roving the neighborhood. Carol was holed up in her sister’s house, along with the teary eyed Carri and Matt. Herb sat on his front porch, oblivious to the possible danger, only hoping it would all go away. He agonized over his decision to provide a tasty snack for Fangs the night before, and regretted downing beers number three, four and five. At least he had done the honorable thing by owning up to the deed.
As Herb surveyed the scene that he had brought to Cleveland, he remembered he had yet one more painful moment looming on the horizon. He would have to tell Billy he let his beloved Fangs escape.
The moment of truth arrived. Herb saw the school bus at the end of the street and the children gathered at the barricade waiting be escorted to their homes by parents and SWAT team officers. Herb walked slowly in an effort to put it off as long as possible.
“Dad! What’s going on?!”
Herb put his hand on his son’s shoulder and led him toward their home.
“Your Dad has something to tell you, Billy. You know how I’ve always said it’s important to tell the truth and to accept responsibility for the things you do.”
Billy looked puzzled, concerned.
“Well, your Dad did a dumb thing.”
“What did you do?”
“It’s about Fangs.”
“What about Fangs?”
“Because of me, he’s missing.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, I fed him last night, and I guess I forgot to put the cover back on. He escaped, and we can’t find him. It’s all my fault. I’m so sorry, Billy. I feel terrible about it.”
“Dad, the Science teacher wanted to put Fangs in his big cage for a couple days for everyone to see. I took him to school this morning.”
“Oh, never mind.”
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This story is like comfort soup. Good stuff.
Just a random question... Do you live in or near cleveland? I live near Toledo, Ohio so i was just curious.
Nope...My mind floats back to a time many years ago when a local radio guy would refer to Cleveland as "The Mistake by the Lake". (Sorry) So, when I think of a place where unpleasant things might happen, Cleveland comes to mind. I have been to Cleveland...for a short track speedskating meet with my daughter...and Cleveland is actually quite nice. I played shortstop In Little League stuff- I could field and throw, but I couldn't hit to save my life. My dad said hitting a baseball was the hardest thing to do in sports- you have to hit a round ...
omg! I know you said no laughing, but i'll be honest. I laughed. I have been hit so many time in softball, my body is like a freaking storybook of bruises and scars. It's horrible. Last year, I was up to bat, you know, thinking I was gonna hit the ball. Yeah, no. The pitcher had other ideas. The first two pitches were balls. The 3rd however, hit me. Right in the kneecap. So im laying on the ground, howling in pain, and here comes my mom. she looks me right in the eye and says: "You dumbass, why didn't you hit the ball?" And i just looked a...
Oh-oh...3 strikes and I'm out? Strike 1) I laughed at your description of getting hit by the ball (No letup even through "howling in pain") Strike 2) Laughed at mom's lack of empathy Strike 3) Laughed at grandpa's reaction. Hey, at least your mom didn't ask you why you didn't crawl to 1st base...or did she? You have a nice way with words..."storybook of bruises". Helpful hint: wrap yourself in bubble wrap when you're at the plate.
if I could wrap myself in bubble wrap, I would. But I would still find a way to get hurt. Its my hidden talent
Have you ever heard- the best defense is a good offense? Here's what you do- when you're up to bat...1st charge to the pitcher and give her a few good whacks with your bat. Try to get a few good licks in on her pitching arm so when she hits you with a pitch it won't hurt so much. It would be a preemptive strike, an act of self-defense. I'm sure the umpire...and any judge and jury... would understand.
Murray, thank you for the great story. I liked it immensely. I love your diction and eloquent writing. It is a pleasure to read. Thank you. LF6 I got the feeling you went back and forth on the dad's name. Just a few corrections that might help you: folks were willing give the devil his due - maybe missing a word here? Oh my God, what if Fangs were never found? - Fangs was? response- 3 - spacing. Herb sat on his front porch, He agonized over his decision to provide a tasty snack for Fangs the night before, At least he had done the honorab...
The Herb/Fred thing---oops. I usually use "Herb" as my main guy...I thought I'd change it up with "Fred" and inadvertently reverted to Herb...I guess a brain-muscle-memory thing...and maybe age! Proofreading seems to be an art which requires patience and discipline...more than what I apparently have. The fun part of this is the writing, the work part is the proofreading. "Give the devil his due"...I think it's all there...and "if" is a subjective/conditional that gets a "were" rather than a "was"... If something actually happened-was; if it ...
That is awesome! Thank you. Also - please forgive me; I took it for granted. We both knew that was freakin hilarious!
This was very descriptive. I felt as if I were in the scene with all the characters outside their homes, waiting in terror as the authorities looked for the killer spider. It was hilarious! I love the angel/devil on the shoulder part.
Haha very funny story - “Carol’s only interest in Fangs since his arrival was a Google search on the life expectancy of a tarantula.” I would have been the same as Carol! Was a bit confused by the dad going as both Fred and Herb?
Thanks. The Fred/Herb thing- oops. I usually make "Herb" my main character. This time for whatever reason I thought I'd change it up and came up with "Fred". I inadvertently reverted back to "Herb"- it must be a mind- muscle-memory thing...and an age thing! I find proofreading is the hardest part of this. Writing is the fun part; proofreading is the work part. I blame my daughter- she's supposed to proofread this stuff. (Contrary to the prompt, I find it useful to always blame someone else for my screwups.) Thanks!