“Ah!” I yell as a sharp pinch on the back of my left-hand yanks me out of my daydream and causes my arm to involuntarily shake. A small black critter runs between a crack in the skirting board. Fuck a dog in the arse. My worst fear has just happened; I have been bitten by a spider. Yet I don’t feel fear, I feel confused and surprised- but not afraid. I may die. I have no idea what kind of spider that was; all I know is that very poisonous ones live here. Why I am I not afraid? My whole life I’ve been irrationally afraid of spiders, if I had have seen it before it bit me, I’m certain I would have felt petrified. That’s it! I’m not afraid of “being bitten by a spider” I am afraid of “being about to be bitten by a spider” I am afraid of seeing a spider crawl up my limb and watching it drive its fangs into my skin while feeling powerless to stop it. But that is not what happened, I did not see any of that and therefore I felt no fear or anxiety. It’s like when getting a needle; I feel intense apprehension, but as soon as it’s over I feel like the fear was unjustified. Well, now it’s good I’ve come to some sort of understanding regarding my arachnophobia, but I still have the problem of potentially having deadly venom flowing through my veins. I must find Abbi (I can’t pronounce his real name, but the other palefaces and I have settled on calling him this). The bite hurts a little and I feel kind of nauseous, but I can’t tell if that’s just because of the adrenaline rush.
“Abbi, I was just bitten by a spider, what should I do?”
Abbi is involved in some task involving muddy water and a clay pot, he slowly turns from his preoccupation and says, “Did you see what kind of a spider it was?”
“It was small and black.”
He pulls out his phone and eventually brings up an old school looking webpage with broken image links and squiggly characters around an excel table containing some photos of spiders.
“Did it look like this one, or this one?”
I am looking at two nearly identical black spiders, one has a more rounded abdomen and the other has a kind of figure eight looking one.
“Ah, it’s hard to tell, I didn’t get a good enough look at it, maybe the one on the right?”
“Are you sure?” he says, “it’s very important to identify the correct spider, one is not that poisonous, the other is deadly.”
My heart drops, the fear I should have felt earlier is slowly starting to rise, although I feel disassociated from it.
“You will get very sick either way,” he proceeds to inform me, “but one will cause your body to die.”
He says all this slowly with eyelids half drooped down and I can tell he just wants to get back to his brown water and clay.
The nausea increases and I start to search my body for feelings of death. I am reminded of all the acid trips I took back in the day; sitting there probing at different parts of my body and consciousness like a yogi for signs that the trip is beginning. I feel something, and get excited for a second when I realize at this moment in time I want to feel no signs of being under the influence of anything. I look back at the photos of the spiders. I really did not get a good look at the biter’s abdomen. A message comes through on Abbi’s phone in squiggly lines and he takes it from my hand and smiles to himself as he reads the message. He is more animated than when I told him about the bite. I walk back up the longhouse corridor to my quarters to see if I can’t find that spider. I feel quite sick. I’m still not that afraid though and I tell myself that it is actually quite rational; if I had have felt fear before the spider bit me maybe I could have prevented it; feeling it now won’t help anything.
I awake seated in my quarters to Abbi’s feminine rapping on my doorway.
“Can you show me the bite mark?”
That’s right; I am bitten. I produce my hand and he knits his brow as he inspects the wound. My focus is drawn to the injection site as well, as it seems to have worsened quite a bit since I fell asleep. Two purple lumps stand on the back of my hand, about 1/2 a centimeter apart. The longer I stare the more I am drawn in, until the summits of these discolored mounts tower over me like the peaks of some grotesque flesh Everests. They smolder and dark red vapor billows out and green magma erupts from the crater flowing down to the pink forest at its base.
“It doesn’t appear that bad yet,” Abbi breaks my daydream and adds, “still, I will call on my friend, he is a kind of doctor in these parts. Go back to sleep and I will wake you when he arrives.”
I remember that I had come in here to look for the spider; it ran into the east facing skirting board. Ordinarily I would feel quite apprehensive about doing any damage to walls of a place hosting me, but here I don’t think it matters. And besides – these are extenuating circumstances. I go to the kitchen and look for something to pry the skirting boards loose. Best I can find is a large cleaver and a tenderizing mallet. I go to work very quickly, and the board falls off the wall after one not-that-hard tap on the handle of the knife with the mallet. There is a small hole in the wall behind where the crack in the skirting was. I shine my phone torch into the hole but am unable to see anything useful. I move my eye closer and stare harder. The hole expands and I peer into dark purple vortex with swirling cobwebs and cicada shells. I start walking down the corridors of the spider’s lair and look for clues. I cross my fingers that I find a round abdomen-ed spider. Oh wait, Abbi never told me which was the deadly arachnid. I must remember to ask him so that I can hope for the right one. I walk further down the corridor, and it takes a sharp left. The light around the corner is brighter and I can see the walls more clearly. Covered in ancient webs and other detritus. As I stare at the walls, I notice that their once random seeming patterns are starting to appear to me as artworks, or even as hieroglyphs. There’s a message here. How does one decode the cryptic language of spiders? Would it even be possible? And most importantly: would it answer the question I so urgently need answering? The effeminate rapping on the doorless entryway once again ejects me from my fantasy. Abbi is here with his doctor friend: a man many years younger than me wearing a blazer over a Cannibal Corpse t-shirt.
“So, you have been bitten by one of our many-legged friends? Let me take a look at it.”
I should find his joviality inappropriate and offensive, but it actually relaxes me. I say, “Sure doc, I was bitten” and extend my hand. I look away this time lest I be taken back to base camp.
I start thinking about why it was that I ever decided to come to this strange land. In my early twenties I travelled to fun and exciting big cities: Tokyo, London, Moscow, New York, Paris, Brisbane, Berlin and Hanoi. I guess I got it in my head I needed to “go back to basics” and spend some time in a dilapidated village; maybe this would ground me. But for the most part I have been overwhelmingly bored here and have spent most of the time looking at my phone on the super slow internet. I don’t even fully understand how my phone is connected to the internet right now. When I arrived I asked the head of the longhouse how I would go about acquiring a SIM card; he just motioned to some young boy and said some jibberish and 15 minutes later the lad had returned on his moped with a greasy SIM card already popped out of the large credit card thing they usually come connected to. I simply put it in my phone and I had internet. I don’t even remember paying anyone for it. I had expected I would spend my time here digging wells, building shelters, or helping the locals with their English, thus engendering a sense of gratitude in myself for how good I had it, whilst simultaneously allowing me to see the beautiful humanity on display in simpler communities. Every attempt to help the locals has been met with rude hostility; every time I suggested a more efficient method for building something, or corrected their English, I was given scornful looks and eventually they asked me to stop coming to the work sites. So, I have just been biding my time until my flight back. I have considered leaving early a few times, but thought that maybe transcendent enlightenment could be just around the corner, waiting for me in some unanticipated form.
“Okay, so it doesn’t look too bad yet, how long ago were you bitten?”
“Ummm, I don’t know exactly, sometime earlier. Abbi- when did I come to your room?”
Abbi is engrossed in some activity on his phone and I had to repeat the question to get his full attention.
“Maybe an hour and a half ago?” He says lacking confidence or interest.
He and the young doctor then engage in a dialogue in their language and throw suspicious side glances in my direction several times. The conversation seems to go on for a while and eventually I realize they are no longer talking about me and instead are discussing something much more interesting and amusing to themselves. I start to probe my memory to see if maybe I can visualize the spider’s abdomen. I have about 3/4 of a second of mental reel of it before it darted into the wall. Zoom in, slow down, expand, enhance. I see a blurry creature, most definitely arachnid in genus. Focus on the abdomen. The blurred memory makes it appear both round and figure eight at once. It feels as though I have two frames of the movie that I can go back and forth between; I can’t tell if the overlapping of a round abdomen is creating a figure eight appearance, or if the movement of the figure eight is creating a rounded one. Focus harder! Apparently, everything we ever hear or see is somewhere stored in our minds; it’s just about having the discipline and skill to access the pure uncorrupted recordings. I zone in on the spider. The background drops away. It is now floating abstractly in my mind with a checkered background like an engineering model. Rotate about the Z-axis. The top-down view still shows the superposition of round and figure eight. Suka blyat. The still ongoing conversation protrudes into my thoughts for a second, fortunately I can’t understand a word of it so it’s not too distracting. Come on, the answer has to be inside my brain somewhere. I apply a camouflage skin to the spider. Still no further fidelity. I turn it into a mechanical spider with syringes for fangs. I don’t know why I thought that might help. Rainbow. Crystal. Human flesh. Nothing helps. The memory is corrupted and there is no backup.
I awake seated in the chair. My hand hurts a lot now and the nausea has returned and intensified. I run to the drain in the corner or the room and vomit up a liter or so of smooth gray paste. I delude myself for a second into thinking that I have just expelled all the deadly venom. Abbi and the good doctor look in my direction, finish their sentence and the doctor says,
“I think this might be serious. The hospital is too far if you have been bitten by the deadly spider and we do not have the anti-venom here. The only option in my medical opinion is for you to come to our soul cleansing ceremony. It is a great honor and you should feel very lucky.”
“How far is the hospital?”
“About three hours away, you should have headed there as soon as you were bitten.”
“Abbi! Why didn’t you make me go there!?”
“You were uncertain about which spider had bitten you, the hospital is busy enough with people who DO know what spider bit them; they don’t have time to waste on foreigners who don’t even care enough about their own existence to pay attention to such matters.”
I went to protest more but realized it was more out of a feeling of that’s what I should do, rather than any actual anger towards Abbi. I bowed my head and followed them to the ceremony grounds.
When we arrived, it was dusk and I saw some men building two bonfires in the middle of a large circle with logs and stones placed around as seating. In the middle of the circle between the two bonfires stood an old office chair. I saw a young boy run into the heart of one of the teepees of wood and quickly exit as some fire lighters ignited. He did the same for the other pyre. The sun was setting fast and was gone within 15 minutes. An elderly man took me by the hand and sat me in the office chair. I was given a clay bowl of brown liquid and instructed to drink. I did so without a question even entering my mind. The drums started. I also heard bells, and kazoos. Someone may have even been playing a harmonica, but in a strange way that I’ve never heard before. The drums got louder, but remained slow and steady. I no longer felt any nausea or pain. I closed my eyes but a tall skinny man in Adidas shower shoes with his face painted white clicked his fingers in my face and said “Look!” I leaned back in the chair, adjusted the posture support, and observed a line of people enter the ceremony grounds and start walking around me in a circle. They all had crude primitive masks on that were crafted into grotesque and humorous expressions. The moon appeared large and yellow. The drumming became faster and the masked queue started chanting. They moved around me faster and faster. It became almost impossible to keep my eyes open, yet somehow impossible to close them. The leader of the primitive conga line changed course and pierced through the other side of the circle on his right and everyone followed. He looped back towards the left around one of the now blazing bonfires. He continued diagonally across the center, just past my seat and then hooked right around the other bonfire and joined back up with the end of the queue. The world dropped away from me and I saw a shimmering infinity symbol pulsating before my mind’s eye. It throbbed and turned black. Sprouted legs and fangs. Ran up a chair and bit some unsuspecting fool on the hand. “I remember!” I shrieked. “The spider’s abdomen was a figure eight!”
— Matt Fresta is the head writer and editor in chief of Rango Tango zine and runs a hobby record label called Coward Punch Records