Story by Steve Malandro
Written By Steve Malandro and P. Sebes
“After the division, the two parts of the human, each desiring their other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one, they began to die from hunger and self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything apart.”
–Aristophanes from Plato’s Symposium
My name is Edgar McMillan and I am terrified of spiders. I am 36 years of age, 5’7″ and weigh 135 pounds. I have a bigger than normal nose, but at least my ears are in the right place. I wear glasses. I have salt and pepper colored hair. Bit of a resemblance to George Clooney. My hair that is. Wish our faces looked similar. If that were the case I may have found life more enjoyable. Wonder what Clooney’s parents were like?
My dad drank vodka with his orange juice every morning. If we were out of orange juice he’d put it in his cereal. I’d later discover this is the behavior of an alcoholic. As was treating your son like a punching bag for no apparent reason. If my mother were around I like to think she’d have loved me enough to stop him. Although, she didn’t love me enough to stay, so who knows? I know nothing about the lady. I hypothesize when faced with motherhood, she saw the equivalent to hell on earth. Which is why she left. And her leaving is why my dad mixed Smirnoff and Rice Krispies. Snap. Crackle. Then came the Pops.
We had that house on the street that people would drive by and either laugh at hysterically or be moved to tears of pity. It’s an excruciating kind of embarrassment when the place you call home is viewed in that light by the majority of people you know. It’s an open, gushing wound to the public that I, as a child, couldn’t do anything to heal. Had my dad been able to hold a decent job, we might’ve been able to save up and get out of that piss hole. Sadly, his biggest skill was being smashed by 9 in the morning, and that doesn’t look great on a resume.
If I sound like someone that didn’t have many friends, that’s not true…I didn’t have any friends. I used to entertain myself by playing with old circuit boards. I imagined that I was a genius scientist that could build a bomb to blow up my house. I would also use all the things people make cookies with to make faux poisons. Other kids pretended to be cowboys and indians. I pretended to sneak toxic liquid into my Dad’s OJ.
Before I get into all that, I should tell you a little more about the person I am today. I live in Seattle. Home is a one-bedroom apartment. One-and-a-half bath. My living room is quite spacious. As is my kitchen. I have lived there for a little over 10 years and recently received tenure. The high-school I teach at is walking distance from my home. I’m excited to go to work everyday and teach others about something I am passionate in: biology.
My favorite thing on the syllabus is cell theory. Teaching budding minds about the building blocks of life makes me giddy. We’ve begun dissections. Insects. Frogs. Spiders. I always have a substitute fill in on “Spider Day.” I mentioned earlier that spiders terrify me. This is not an irrational fear. I was bitten by a bad one. It wasn’t an accident either. Rather it was a vicious, deliberate attack on me by Andrew Nicolas. Around the time Andrew became my first enemy, I also made my first friend…Julia Ellie…the other half to my original whole.
In my 9th year of schooling, she moved to the area. I tried with my eyes, but I could only observe her with my heart. 5’1”. Green eyes. There was a orange-yellow rim around her pupil that looked almost like a solar eclipse. 34 adorable freckles scattered on her face. I would rush to lit class to sit behind her. I formed an addiction to the smell of her long, brown beautiful locks.
To my horror, she caught me one day, sniffing them. I immediately tried to run, but she grabbed my arm and pulled me back to desk. To my surprise, she was smiling, not screaming. “You’re a weirdo,” she said. I looked down ashamed. That’s when she cut off a chunk of her hair, handed it to me and said, “I’m a weirdo too.” Easily the best moment of my life…and the worst moment would be shortly thereafter.
I never thought I’d see the villain after we finished school, but a las, I bumped into Andrew Nicolas just the other day. Actually, he bumped into me. With his elbow. Maybe it was an accident, but it probably wasn’t knowing him. He didn’t recognize me. How could he not have recognized me? He held that disgusting creature over my face long enough for his memory to take a snapshot.
I noticed immediately that he was overweight. Smelled like a gym bag, but dressed in a suit. He turned back to his red Corvette and hit lock before heading into the grocery store. Before following him in, I grabbed a cart and pushed it on a fast track to ram the Corvette’s front left headlight. It missed.
He put a ton of vegetables and fruit in his cart. If he was on a diet, it didn’t show in the slightest. The thought of him chewing made me gag. I grabbed a pack of gum and stepped behind him in the check-out line. He looked to be about 6 feet tall now. I became nervous as Andrew glanced over at me. He stared at my gum and said, “You can go ahead. I got a whole cargo here.” He smiled. Normally I would return a smile at a kind gesture like that. Instead I froze and began thinking about dissecting him. The daydreaming was interrupted by him saying, “I’ll try again, do you wanna jump in front me?” Hearing him say “try again” lit my body on fire and rapidly unfroze me.
That was his line, “Try again.” He’d ask me a question and no matter what answer I gave he’d smugly say TRY AGAIN……
Who was Anne Boleyn married to?
Uh…King Henry The Eighth.
Haha. Try again mate.
But…but, that’s the answer.
Christ, you’re dim. Try again!
He smacked my head. Julia appeared heroically and retaliated for me, slapping Andrew ten times harder across his head. “Stop with this shit!” she shouted at him as she pulled me to safety.
Later that night I imagined making a bomb and sneaking it into his lunch box somehow. The look on his face when he opened up his lunch and saw it would have been priceless. Not to mention I would have maybe taken out two or three of his asshole friends. I decided if I were to go through with it I’d poison him first, then blow him up. He’d see me across the cafeteria laughing, confused why his throat and chest felt as if a volcano was erupting in there. Then I’d click the detonator. Snap. Crackle. Boom.
I followed his red Corvette all the way to a nice house. It was 7pm and pitch black inside. He clearly wasn’t going home to a family. I thought about how lonely he probably is and it made me joyous. Alone and constantly dealing with the guilt. You’d think he’d have put up a fence or gate or even a moat to protect him from all the people he has been a dickhead to…
The Hobo Spider is a member of the genus of spiders known colloquially as funnel web spiders, but not to be confused with the Australian funnel-web spider. The Hobo Spider does not bite unless forced to protect themselves. Because I was squirming frantically it had no choice but to sink its fangs into my forehead when Andrew dropped it.
About 15% of envenomated persons are poisoned severely enough to require hospitalization. Luckily I did not experience any necrotic lesions or dermal necrosis. Which translates to my skin practically dying due to a failure of blood supply. I did however experience dry mouth, nausea, dizziness and visual disturbances, otherwise known as hallucinations. The things that I saw will haunt me forever…things like Julia’s dead eyes…but they weren’t a hallucination.
Andrew waved two Hobo Spiders over my face and body that day as his friends held me down. He dropped one on my face and the other on the ground. That was the one that made it’s way over to Julia’s calf as she knelt down to console me. In order to protect itself, the spider’s biological design told it to bite Julia and so it did. The spider wasn’t making a choice. Andrew on the other hand chose to bite that day knowing the wrongness in it. That choice led to Julia having a severe allergic reaction to the bite. She went into shock and died within minutes. Andrew was the cause of her death…and I intend to be the cause of his.
I no longer concoct poisons with vinegar and flour in an imaginary lab. I have a real lab and real tools. This is what I used to help me replicate the venom of the Hobo Spider. After a few weeks it was complete. I needed something to test it on. One of the other teacher’s had a pet iguana in her classroom. Before keeling over, the iguana went berserk and bounced around its cage like it was possessed by Satan himself…in other words, test successful.
I drive over to Andrew’s house and sit in my car anxiously. I watch his house for 10 minutes. Sweat runs down the lens of my glasses. I don’t think anyone is home. I decide to get out and head to the house. I walk around the side and into the backyard. He has an amazing pool with a rocky waterfall and even a putting green…hm.
I approach the backdoor and peer in through a window. No sign of life. Suddenly, my forehead starts to itch something intense. It’s in the exact spot the bite occurred. I scratch and scratch. It won’t stop itching. I notice something move inside the house. I run and duck down quickly behind the…what is this…a tiki bar? Maybe he isn’t lonely. Maybe he has millions of friends and they cheers and do shots together here…I need to blow up this tiki bar.
After waiting a few minutes I peek my head up. Nothing. Could’ve sworn I saw something move. I stay low and scurry back over to the back door. I reach inside my bag for Dad’s old lock-pick-kit. He used to thieve a bit from neighbors when money was low or he didn’t feel like going to the liquor store. He had me steal for him when he didn’t feel like leaving the house. That being said, I got a lot of practice.
I’m sweating profusely and my hands won’t stop trembling. I keep dropping the pick. With each failed attempt to open the door I can hear Andrew yelling, “Try again! Try again! Try again!” Finally I get the door open and silence the figment of fuck-face Andrew and step inside.
The only sound I hear is a grandfather clock ticking. His home is very tidy. Smells like caramel apples. No pictures on the fridge. No pictures anywhe-oh wait. Framed photo on the coffee table. Wide-shot of the tiki-bar. Andrew’s in the middle surrounded by 23 friends. I believe it to be his birthday since he’s holding a cake. How has he fooled so many people into thinking they should celebrate the day of his birth…I really need to blow that tiki-bar up.
I walk past a mirror and catch a glimpse of my reflection. My forehead is bleeding in the spot I was scratching at. I wipe the blood away. I look awful. I don’t remember the last time I looked at myself. I look disgusting. Did I eat today?
I continue into the hallway, but stop dead in my tracks when I come face to face with my dad. He’s sitting there on his favorite recliner in Andrew’s hallway. I blink many times frantically to make the bastard disappear. Instead his presence is confirmed further as he glares at me and says, “Snap.” He gets up and begins walking towards me. But my Dad’s dead, this can’t be happening. “Crackle,” he continues. I’m hallucinating. I have to be. “POP!” he yells and punches me across the face. I go straight to the ground. I shield myself, prepping for the ensuing routine blows, but nothing comes. I look up. No Dad. No recliner…I really should eat something.
I find some cherry Pop-Tarts in the pantry. They taste better than anything I’ve ever put in my mouth. Seriously, when did I eat last? I continue pondering the question as I enter Andrew’s bedroom. Clothes are scattered everywhere. Black satin sheets on a king size bed. Bat near the bed. Protection I assume. He really should’ve opted for the moat.
I hear a noise. Is it real? Shit, I don’t know. I hear a key enter the front door. Real. I run and hide in Andrew’s massive walk-in closet. He’s on a phone call and talking about what sounds like a surgical procedure…a Doctor? No way. He’s a moron. “He can’t be a fucking doct-,” I realize I’m talking out loud and stop myself. My forehead starts to itch again. I itch at it and simultaneously see Andrew enter his bedroom. I can’t help but smile knowing his end is near. The itching stops.
I slowly pull out the syringe full of Hobo Spider venom. He ends his call, tosses the phone on the bed and removes his shirt. He heads towards the closet. I hold the needle back and high. He opens the closet and I speed the needle at his forehead. Bullseye. He wails and manages to punch me once, sending me to the ground. Andrew jumps backwards and pulls the syringe out of his forehead. “What the shit?!” he screams in confusion. Andrew rushes for the baseball bat, but loses the ability to walk before he reaches it.
I exit the closet. My vision becomes hazy. I think it was from the punch. Andrew is mumbling indecipherable words as this is a clear sign the venom is in full effect. I remember perfectly what it he is experiencing at this moment. He’s now in a place that is deeper than the infernos of hell. Everything around him coming into focus larger or smaller than the reality of it all. It’s as if he is looking through a kaleidoscope of dread.
The excruciating screams start after that. I put a pillow over his face to keep my ears the only ones privy to his cries. He’ll become frantic soon. I improvise and use the bat to break his knee caps. This will prevent him from getting rambunctious like the iguana. Instead he thrashes around on the carpet violently. It becomes hard to watch. However, the thought of avenging Julia makes it easy to watch again. He goes still. I walk over slowly and pin Andrew down. I stare at him. He thinks the climax of his torture is long past, but it’s just about to start.
The Bullet Ant. According to the Schmidt Pain Index it describes this insect’s bite as a “pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch rusty nail in your heel.”
Andrew is still in a state of incoherence, but a small part of him should be able to hear me. “Remember me now, Andrew?” I ask. His eyes continue to rattle, but eventually lock onto my face. Not ringing any bells. I pull out a tube of Bullet Ants and hover it over Andrew’s face. “You did a similar thing to me with a Hobo Spider,” I say. There it is. I now see in his fright-filled eyes he knows who I am. “These are gonna hurt way more,” I explain and proceed to dump the Bullet Ants onto his face. They drop and crawl into his mouth, eyes, nostrils. He wipes at his face desperately. He attempts to scream, but the pain has rendered his brain unable to locate the scream function. He passes out. Good. That should make it easier to strangle him.
I dump a bottle of water on him to drown and wash away all the ants. I place my hands around his throat and squeeze. I think of all the bad he’s done to make my grip tighter. I remember Julia’s limp body in my arms. I begin to cry uncontrollably and shake his neck wildly until it snaps. I open my eyes to get a look at the lifeless Andrew. It’s a stunning sight.
I hear something…ringing. Andrew’s phone. No one will ever be able to talk to Andrew again. I look at his phone and see that “Julia E.” is calling him. Julia…E? Hm. I don’t answer, but I do listen to the voicemail:
“Hey, it’s Jules…please let’s just…quit this shit out and come to the reunion…it’d be…really nice to see you…I won’t make it awkward, if you don’t make it awkward…I miss you…and you’ll probably be mad at me for saying this last bit, but…I still love you…more than ever…please call me back.”
One part of the voicemail makes me uneasy. “Quit this shit out.” Julia said that a lot. My Julia E. Don’t be silly. It can’t be My Julia, she’s dead. The villain Andrew Nicolas killed her and I just made him pay painfully for it…I’m proud of this act of vengeance for a mere second longer until I begin to feel something creeping into the projector of my mind…my gut immediately tells it to, “Fuck off,” but it’s persistent on playing. Whatever it is feels heavy and forces me to sit on the edge of the bed…
Suddenly it’s as if I’ve been stung by 1,000 bees. Their venom by way of clarity and coursing fast through my veins. My breath is taken away by the paralysis of bewilderment…I watch as my memory plays the past instead of pretend…
I’m in the school library, studying. I have a bandage over the bite. It starts to itch. I scratch at it and go back to studying. Blood begins to drip on my homework. I need to change the bandage. I go to the bathroom. When I open the door I see Julia’s beautiful brown locks hanging in Andrew’s face. Julia’s face is an unusual, reddish color. Her breathing, intense and rapid. Andrew’s breathing moves in a similar rhythm and volume. Her breasts are small and pale. Why can I see her breasts? I feel sick. Why do I feel sick? I want to puke. Why? I want to cry. Why?
In school we read Plato’s Symposium a few months before I met Julia. There’s a section where Aristophanes talks of his thoughts on “soul-mates.” He explains humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Zeus is frightened of the potential power of this being and splits them into two separate parts. Two parts born together, torn apart against their very nature and destined to spend their lives in search of their other halves. If they are fortunate enough to discover one and other again the two are lost in an amazement of love, friendship and intimacy. From that point forward, they will be unable to be out of the other’s sight, even for a moment. I think Aristophanes goes on by saying upon reuniting, “The two halves will be entwined in mutual embraces.” That didn’t happen right away after “reuniting” with Julia, but I was positive that entanglement would soon take place between us…
I have a powerful imagination…but…I never would’ve been able to imagine the image of Julia and Andrew having sex in front of me…my love entwined with my hate. I wanted to move away, but no way Dad was moving. I’d have to wait until he dropped dead and be put in a home or something…then it occurred to me…why wait until he’s dead?
It was easy to make an alcoholic look as though they asphyxiated on their own vomit.
My forehead itches. I scratch it. I stare at the spider I just squashed. His bite punctured my reality and filled it with a venomous falsity…he spun and dizzied Julia into his web and then killed My Julia…..yes….what I’ve done here is the just punishment…that’s the truth. She was my birthright and he was my deathright…….My Julia……exactly……My Julia.
I can probably blow up that tiki-bar by sunrise.