A Fight To The Death

Like most phobias, arachnophobia makes no rational sense. But also like most phobias, the fear of spiders comes from some dark, hidden corner of the psyche. It’s primal. Just the suggestion of something hairy and eight-legged is enough to make the average arachnophobe gag, scream, or even leap out of a moving car. This is well before the rational part of the brain kicks in and tells us that ‘it’s a harmless little spider’. I can only speculate that somewhere in our prehistoric past, our ancestors ran from a now-extinct, man-eating species of cow-sized spider, and that this distant memory is locked away in our subconscious.

I’ve been aware of my arachnophobic impulses for many years now, and I’m proud to say that I can override the urge to hysteria in all but the scariest of spider sightings. A recent encounter, however, came when I was at a physical and emotional low, and I reacted a little badly. To put it bluntly, I was left shattered and highly embarrassed for days afterwards.

It was a Thursday night. All week, I’d been suffering from a nasty stomach pain. I felt sore and bloated. My appetite had all but disappeared. My head and back were aching and I was very tired. It was as though all my systems were falling apart.

I been visiting my daughter, but felt so sick, I decided to leave early. I didn’t feel like doing anything other than getting into bed.

That was when things started to go very wrong.

Upon getting home, I went straight to my bedroom, flicked on the light, and was about to throw myself onto the bed, when I caught sight of the largest, ugliest, hairiest huntsman spider I’d ever seen. It had arranged itself above my bed like a wall ornament. Like the severed hand of some alien creature now displayed as a trophy. I’d frozen – my mouth hanging open and my limbs stopped dead, like one frame of a moving picture – a runner caught mid-stride.

I did the right thing at first. I didn’t run out of the house screaming, or start waving my arms or rolling my eyes. I calmly thought things through. My plan was to brush it onto the floor with a magazine, then either catch it in a jar or, if I had no other choice, squash it with my shoe.

But as I took one step towards it, a magazine curled in my hand, the spider ran, with astonishing speed, down behind the head of the bed.

I gasped as a spasm of repulsion rippled through my body. ‘It’s on my bed,’ I whispered, swallowing the urge to hiccup violently.

I peered reluctantly into the crack between bed and wall, the creature’s hideous body a silhouette in the sliver of light. It was on the bed head, about level with the pillows. A terrifying chant echoed in my head. ‘There’s a spider on my pillow, my pillow, my pillow. There’s a spider on my pillow, my pillow…’

Again, I suppressed the inclination to panic. As calmly as I could, I attempted to lift the foot of the bed and swing it away from the wall. But the bed – queen-sized and solid wood – was so heavy I could only move it a few centimetres. Looking into the crack a second time, I could still see the spider, but it had crawled onto the mattress. There was no way I could even get close to it, forget about swinging a magazine.

Maybe I could lever the mattress from the bed? If the spider clung to the mattress, I’d be able to get to it. If it jumped onto the bed base, I’d also stand a better chance of getting to it without the mattress in the way. Either way, I’d get a shot at the monster.

By now, I was getting weary. The little energy I’d had was dribbling away, as were my feelings of compassion. All thoughts of rehabilitation had dissipated. It was now a fight to the death!

The mattress was no easier to move than the bed. It was big and heavy and awkward, and it was only after much swearing that I was able to get it on its side, standing like a wall across the middle of the room. But now that it was in that position, the spider was nowhere to be seen. I looked carefully around the bed head, and then, reluctantly, squatted on the floor and peered underneath. There it was – clinging upside-down to one of the slats forming the base of my bed.

The wooden slats were not nailed or bolted into position, but merely slotted into a groove in the base. I carefully manoeuvred the slat loose and lifted it, hoping to expose the beast. But as soon as it was visible, and my magazine poised to swat, the spider leapt with great skill onto the next. As I lifted the second slat, it did the same again, and kept on doing it until all the slats were loose and stacked in a ramshackle pile next to the bed.

By this time, I was white as a sheet and sweating profusely. I may have even been sobbing. The spider itself has clambered onto the foot of the bed and was making its way towards the great wall of mattress. Apart from the mess I’d created from dismantling the bed, I’d also stirred up a disgusting amount of dust that filled the air like a noxious fog.

I sneezed, sobbed and began to whine in the manner of a two-year old. I went in search of a glass of water and caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror. What this the face of a mature 50-year man, or a mentally defective infant?

Upon returning to the bedroom, I spotted the spider making itself comfortable on the upper reaches of my mattress. Suddenly, as though a fuse had blown in my brain, I slipped into a kind of hysterical madness, and lunged at the spider with a battered copy of Mojo magazine. I smashed at the mattress again and again, my blows random and careless, and as I did so I uttered a sort of primitive guttural shriek.

In the end, nothing remained of the spider or the magazine. Although, to my discomfort, I could only finds spider fragments scattered across the room – a leg here, a bit of body there. No complete confirmation of its demise.

I collapsed – exhausted and wrecked. There was no relief, just a sense of embarrassment and shame. Surrounding me was the remains of my bedroom – bits of bed, hastily moved furniture, disorganised piles of paper and magazines.

I found an uncontaminated pillow and slept on the lounge room sofa. Even then, as I closed my eyes, spider-shaped figures crawled across the inside of my eyelids.

 

 

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The Ibis Threat

In a scene reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, a dozen dirty white birds with long blade-like beaks have taken over a small suburban playground. Children don’t play here anymore – they’re too scared.

And while such scenes might be expected in the mountains of New Guinea or the Amazon jungle, this is suburban Adelaide. Growing numbers of these birds have been spotted across the metropolitan area, from Semaphore to Aberfoyle Park.

In Hillcrest last week, a seven-year-old had his lunch taken by a gang of five birds. While in Modbury, a flock of over 30 birds disrupted a church picnic with unruly behaviour and loud squawking.

But what are they? Where have they come from? And what do they want from us?

‘The Sacred Ibis is common across eastern Australia,’ explains Professor Badger-Smith from Coca-Cola® University. ‘But they’re usually found in estuaries and wetlands, not urban areas. And they’re generally timid creatures that avoid human contact.’

Tell that to Aldo Luring, a pensioner from South Plympton. He was returning from a trip to the local TAB when one of Professor Badger-Smith’s ‘timid creatures’ snatched the war veteran’s beanie, leaving a savage scratch mark on the man’s forehead.

‘This is a mutant strain of ibis,’ suggests Hugh Smirch from the Limp River Wildlife Park. ‘Could be global warming, biochemical testing or even alien experimentation. We’ve got a dingo at the Park with three tails – one coming out the top of its head. You can’t tell me aliens didn’t have something to do with that!’

The man with the most chilling explanation for the urban ibis – or ‘urbis’ – is Dr Frank Drell, a geneticist whose book Genetic Engineering For Fun And Leisure was a New York Times bestseller.

‘This type of development is not uncommon,’ says Dr Drell. ‘A relatively harmless species comes into contact with humans – eats human food, watches humans play sport – and begins to take on human characteristics. There are hedgehogs in Sweden that can understand the most complicated mobile phone contracts.’

‘Unfortunately, the animal doesn’t always take on the most appealing human traits,’ he adds ominously.

Indeed, some inner city ibis have been seen queue jumping at city bus stops, while still others have been caught putting recyclable material in with regular garbage.

‘Every ibis in the country should be put on a boat and sent back where it came from,’ declares Independent MP, Olly Swine. ‘There’ll be no queue-jumping in Oliver Swine’s Australia!’

While politicians and scientists debate the ibis issue, nothing is being done, and ever-increasing numbers of birds are gathering in our playgrounds, restaurants and discount pharmacies.

We can only hope it won’t be too late before action is taken.

If you see, hear or smell any anti-social ibis behaviour ring 1800 IBIS HELP immediately.

Max Funt Reporting.