Dear Gentle Reader,
Why not continue the theme of creepy crawlies in Asia for one last day?
The other day, your humble scribe mentioned a past encounter with the death-dealing spiders of the apocalypse.
This is the story of the wall of the damned and first contact.
First contact was made in the kitchen of my new apartment in Taiwan, the one where the cockroach incident occurred.
The kitchen was a long galley stretching the width of the apartment, just wide enough to walk down. The fridge was at one end, the sinks at the other, with the stove smack in the middle.
The outer wall, above a concrete counter into which the gas burners were inset, was recessed and difficult to reach unless you leaped onto the counter.
The outer wall was also a very strange colour, I'd call it radioactive taupe; it was beigey, taupey, and curiously luminous.
After the experiments in anti-cockroach chemical weapons, I cleaned the house starting in the kitchen. I stood on the concrete counter, on tippy toes, and rinsed the interior wall with water.
I turned around to rinse the outer, luminous wall. The outer wall was more recessed than I had thought, and I lost my balance.
I put out my hand, to steady myself, as I fell, towards and onto the luminous wall.
My hand sank into warm, wet, flesh pudding...
I frantically yanked my hand out of the wall...
...and the wall followed my hand, sliding out of its vertical moorings, thinning as it stretched until part of the wall separated...
The separated flesh of that living wall struck the opposing wall, splattering thickly and pungently.
I later realized that the "wall" was a thick layer of rancid fat or semi-solid oil. There was no exhaust fan in this kitchen, so for twenty years the fat from cooking with the wok simply coagulated and congealed on the windows, never to be cleaned. It was just too hard to reach for people to bother cleaning it, I guess.
The beigey, taupey congealed fat, mixed with particulate waste, formed an opaque surface that was curiously luminous because it covered a bank of windows and it filtered diffuse, indirect sunlight through itself.
All that I figured out later.
At the time, all I knew was that the outer "skin" of a living wall had been breached and both the room and my hand stank abominably. David Cronenberg might have liked it, I did not.
How could I not have been aware of this when I inspected and leased the apartment? Well, the wall had had a perfectly smooth, even surface and colour. It looked exactly like a wall and it was too far back to reach easily. Still...
First, the cockroach legions of Beelzebub and now a moving wall of rancid fat.
Was this the Amityville Apartment?
I cleaned my hand, compulsively and continuously, while I tried to figure out what was going on here. I was never an exceptionally good man, so this could not be a Jobbian contest for my soul.
This living wall was clear proof of a sentient, metaphysical, malevolent realm, or maybe this was the physical manifestation of the maya of existence and illusion that Siddhartha Gautama had broken through. No, that couldn't be right because I did not feel enlightened, I felt defiled.
The reincarnationists must be right, and I had obviously been both very good, and very bad, in my last life.
Criminy. Where was Virgil? I needed a guide.
I have a friend who espouses a Christian theology of grace. Just where exactly do these sort of experiences place me, I wonder, if his theology of grace is correct?
Despite scrubbing and wringing my hand, I could not remove the reek.
I went to my little general sell-all store and bought a metal spatula that you use to apply plaster to a wall, a lot of paper towels, and more plastic bags.
With firm resolve, and a weak stomach, I started scooping fat off the wall and confining the stinking masses into a plastic bag. I swear I could hear it curse and scream as I carved pieces out of that wall of the damned.
I soon returned to my general sell-all to buy rubber gloves and cursed myself for not having thought of that on my first trip.
Kilos of fat later I was at the far end of the once luminous wall now transformed into a bank of deeply recessed, wooden framed square windows with grids of smaller 20 cm x 20 cm (8 inch by 8 inch) square windows inset into smaller wooden frames.
The caulking that had kept moisture and drafts at bay had long since rotted away; fat had been keeping the windows sealed up till now. Now that the fat was gone the windows rattled easily in their rotten wooden frames when they were tapped or touched, no matter how lightly.
The four, large window units were on sliders. I could and did open them a bit so that I could get a breeze going through the kitchen to help carry the rancid fumes away.
I finished cleaning the last window square at the end of the counter nearest the gas gauge. Behind me was the gas meter for the apartment, high up on the inside wall. The sinks were set in concrete, like the long counter, so I had a great footrest.
As I scooped the fat off the last window square, I made first contact.
A massive spider of the apocalypse waited on the other side of that last, small window pane.
You need to know that, at the best of times, I am a bit of a baby when it comes to spiders.
As a small child (slave labour for the parents) I was painting a two story fence at our home (in Lethbridge, Alberta that year) when a spider pushed me backwards off the fence.
OK, I had snuck out of bed and watched a movie called "Tarantula" the night before and was both overtired and a bit freaked out at the idea of spiders that day.
Some people suspend their disbelief when engaged with fiction.
I believe that my imagination banished disbelief from my life long ago. It might have been exorcised and cauterized, along with a few seared sheets, on the ceramic train lamp that I would sneak into bed, under the covers, so I could read through the night as child.
I'm sure some of you will suppose that I simply rolled backwards, in surprise, off that fence. I know, however, that that spider pushed me, and I have not trusted those eight-legged brigands and ruffians ever since, though I remain fascinated by them. But most of us are intrigued by the wicked and the fierce.
So, with that background at hand, you can better understand how horrified I was to have a spider of the apocalypse appear in front of my face.
This spider's body was almost as long as the inset mini-window set into the loose caulking. Lets call it about 17 cm (7 inches) long.
I was transfixed with wonder, staring into those hypnotic, multi-faceted eyes of death.
Its body was about 5 cm (2 inches) wide.
This was a substantial villain. Fearsome.
It looked, although much bigger, just like this...
Fortunately, the spider was on the other side of the window, which was why I could see his belly.
Gripped with the same unshakable impulse that leads supporting actresses in suspense films to answer the doorbell, or wander into the yard, when the background music smirks "danger" in a minor key... ...I reached my hand out tentatively, and tapped the glass right in front of the belly of the eight footed fiend.
Tapping the glass at his belly did more than irritate the spider. He moved from bellicose to berserk faster than my hand could twitch back.
Flexing his lengthy legs the spider of the apocalypse battered the sub-window as his fangs crashed against the glass, aiming to squirt his liquefying poisons deep into my flesh.
This spider might have been the maleficent sprite of this living wall of fat, this wall of the damned, and was plainly seeking retribution.
The spider shook the glass so violently that the pane of window glass shook and clattered in its rotten wooden frame.
Actually, it was not just the small pane of window glass that clattered... No, the strength in the legs of this Schwarzaneggian Spinner was such that the entire wooden frame (one of the four main units) was shaking, and all the little glass panes inside that big wooden frame were tinkling in their loose, lesser wooden frames.
The malevolent spider, recognizing defeat, ceased his futile shaking of the window and his gnashing of fangs. He fixed me in his baleful stare. This was one angry spider.
When I had seen a tarantula crossing the road on a trip down Route 66 in the US with my wife and another couple, I begged the driver to stop the car so that we could all get out and follow the tarantula.
That tarantula looked placid, gentle. Why was the dance "the Tarantella" so named, I wondered? (I admit to being unwilling to be bitten to experience the alleged poison-induced frenzy from which the dance is named.)
Unable to stop myself I tapped the glass again...
That hateful hound of hell with a double complement of legs, on the backside of my kitchen window, dashed his feet against the glass in a frenzied hail-storm of fury.
I now understood the Platonic ideal of the Tarantella dance.
Entranced by the savage beauty of that dance, I tapped the window yet again.
I kept tapping and aggravating the spider to make him move and shake the window.
My hind brain realized that something had been changing with the picture in front of me. The barely contained vibration of hate, caught in the shell of a spider, had been slowly moving out of my field of vision; he was leaving the frame.
The spider was now at the edge of the little window pane.
And then I realized that this was the last window pane,
and that the window was open,
and that those legs had reached around to my side of the window
and were a hair's breadth away from seizing my wrist...
Startled, I leaped back, slapping my head into the gas valve poking out of the wall behind me.
When I regained consciousness, I was lying on the floor with my head under the sink.
I could feel a tickling movement under my neck.
Time did not stand still.
Time kept moving, as did the sensation of a tickling movement...
With herculean force, inspired by terror, I rolled away from the spider under my neck, spinning myself straight into the wall.
I proceeded to jump up on my feet and kept pushing and rolling my back against the wall to crush anything on my back or sides.
This was a contest between us both. Only one would emerge alive.
My feet started to dance a Tarantella to kill the spider, should it fall to the floor alive. What irony, I thought, if I can finish him off with his own lethal dance.
My hands came away from my neck sticky and wet.
I slapped more feverishly until I realized this was not spider ichor, it was blood. My blood.
I look carefully around me. No spider. No spider remains.
I have no idea where that spider went.
There are some who say that he was killed and when he died he went back to wherever his kind comes from.
Some say he developed a taste for blood and waits for the one time each year when he can safely come out, Halloween, to taste more.
I have no idea. I shut that window and never opened it again.
That was first contact, but, as you can see here (death-dealing spiders of the apocalypse), I found his relatives in Hong Kong.
Be very wary is all I can say.
Tschuess and Happy Halloween,
Chris, Regina, and Pommes