This story is by Susan J. Liddle and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It’s not that bad in here, except for the smell — and I’ve smelled worse. This kybo is so new, I can still smell the wood. I’m enclosed in a small and private space. It’s a relief to sit down in a chair of sorts; even though I’ve been lying down for a couple of hours, my legs are still tired.
I’m alone and it’s quiet, except for a few snores. It’s wonderful.
Everyone else is asleep, worn out from a day of activity in the fresh air and sunshine. I’ll go back to my tent soon and finish my night without having to get up again, with luck.
Moonlight gleams between the boards. I hear small rustlings outside. I let myself relax.
This moment isn’t a poster child for mindfulness, but I savour it. I have no heads to count. I don’t have to re-direct anyone or hurry anyone along. There’s no-one to remind about sunscreen and a hat, no bug spray to apply. Even the mosquitoes have gone to bed. And no-one’s talking to me, at me or around me.
I hear a train in the distance and picture the stars I saw as I walked from my tent to the outhouse. Even with my poor eyesight I could see clusters of stars and the blur of the milky way.
I sigh and turn my head, reaching for the toilet paper. The beam of my headlamp sweeps across the door, then I snap it back.
Is that a leg just disappearing around the door, right beside the door handle? No. Surely I’d have seen a spider that big before I sat down. I always scan the outhouse before entering. I don’t mind spiders existing; I just don’t want to share space with them.
If the leg is disappearing, that means it was in here with me, maybe even hanging on a thread above my head.
I can’t stop a shudder and a small whimper.
What if I yell for help? No. All the Cubs would wake up.
I try to regulate my shallow breathing. I just have to think. I could sure use one of Dad’s giant cans of RAID right about now. I’d sacrifice the environment in ten seconds if it would save me from that monster. (That’s how long it would take to work myself up to spraying in the direction of the spider. I know this from experience.)
My eyes burn, and I realize I’ve been staring at the spot where the leg went. I force myself to blink.
Maybe it’s my imagination. I review the image in my mind. No, there was slow and creepy movement, and something that looked like a leg disappearing around the door. It was definitely a spider.
This is what terrifies me: If the leg is that big, how big is the rest of it? Bigger than my hand? Do we have spiders that big in Canada? What’s the point of putting up with winter half the year if it doesn’t stop things like this from getting too big?
I’m staring at the door again. I remind myself to breathe.
Right. First things first. I reach for the toilet paper, never taking my eyes off the door. After I’m done wiping, I stand up and pull up my pyjamas, then apply hand sanitizer. I force myself to be steady and slow instead of bursting out into the night screaming. It has occurred to me that the spider might have moved, might be anywhere on the outside of the outhouse. Might be sitting right outside the door, ready to leap on me. Even as I think this, I know it is ridiculous. But it still terrifies me.
I square my shoulders. Time to think sensibly and consider my options.
Option 1: Call for help. Wake up a bunch of Cub Scouts, who will then panic and be awake all night. Wake up adults. Those who don’t like spiders will be kind, but all will be irritated and short on sleep tomorrow. No, this won’t do.
Option 2: Phone a friend. No can do. My cell is back in my tent.
Option 3: Prepare to step on the spider. Not an option. My sneakers aren’t thick enough, and my hiking books are at my tent. I long for my husband’s size 12 boots back at home. I swallow a sob. He’d rescue me even though he doesn’t like spiders, if only he weren’t an hour away in Ottawa.
Option 4: Unlock the door, then kick it open fast and run out. This might knock the spider off, and it will crawl into the forest. Or it might knock the spider off the roof onto my head. What if it’s mad about being startled and chases me once I get outside? I scoff at myself even as I picture the horrifying scene.
That’s the best I can do? I’m fifty-one, for heaven’s sake.
I inspect the broom propped up in the corner and grasp it with one hand.
I force another deep breath. Come on. You have to set an example for the Cubs.
I stand there for another minute. I know what I have to do, but I don’t want to.
Option 5: Do what I would I tell a Cub to do in this situation. I’d tell them to count to three and just open the door quickly and step out and away. We’d check around for the spider afterwards, and I’d pretend that I hadn’t been terrified we’d find it. They’d have a great story to tell.
But this is different! I’m here alone in the middle of the night, and there’s no-one to count with me.
What if I just stay here until daylight? No. I’d fall asleep and be defenseless. It could come in and crawl on me.
One more deep(ish) breath. Now. Now I’ll practise.
I reach for the door handle, slow and steady. I touch the handle with my index finger.
A shock runs through me and I jerk my hand away as a leg pokes through the crack, then retreats. I raise the broom, shaking. I want to smash the door with it.
Then I hear rustling noises from a nearby tent, and the sound of a zipper as someone opens the tent door. Two sleepy voices mutter as the campers approach. At least they were following the buddy rule. I could have used a buddy! Relief pours through me at the sound of voices. I’m not alone out here anymore!
Then I realize I have to act now. For one thing, they need the outhouse. And for another, I don’t want them seeing this spider and waking people up with the commotion.
But what if it bites one of them? I don’t think we have venomous spiders here, except for the brown recluse. From what I’ve heard, that one likes attics, not lurking at Cub camp. But then again, I didn’t think we had such large spiders here, either, so what do I know?
I hear the two girls approach and I’m ready. I won’t risk them being bitten or terrified.
I grip the broom in one hand, and with the other reach for the lock and turn the handle before I can count or think. I shove it open and flinch, closing my eyes for an instant, as something makes a tapping noise against the opening door. Any spider that makes a tapping noise is too big.
I’m afraid to see, afraid to look away. My light illuminates the open doorway and the leg. It’s motionless.
I look again, and this time see my spider leg for what it is: a broken branch with twigs on it, hanging from the roof of the outhouse into the doorway.
I blink away tears of relief and take a deep breath of fresh air. I smile at the approaching girls and prepare to step out.