SPIDERS FOR BREAKFAST by Stephanie Morch Overbey
“I’m headed to the grocery story, Ian, and I’m dropping your brother off at his meeting. Back in a couple hours,” called his mom from downstairs.
“Okay! Oh, would you pick up some more beef sticks? I’m almost out,” Ian yelled down from his room.
“Sure, kid. You got it,” she replied cheerfully, closing the door with a thud behind her.
Ian sat back down in front of his three computers. He stretched back dangerously in his chair to almost its tipping point, rejoicing in the idea of two hours without interruptions from his Mom or creepy little brother. He pulled open the bottom drawer of his desk and grabbed a couple spicy pepperoni sticks.
“Ah, and now back to writing the killer code. Yeah, I’m a nerd, I admit. And I’m talking to myself, which makes it that much better,” he mumbled. “Okay, got to get this finished.”
His phone buzzed loudly next to him. It was his best friend, Allen.
“How’s the game going? Done yet???” read the text.
Ian grabbed his phone, scowling as he punched in a reply. “NO! And it won’t be if you keep bugging me!” he wrote.
“LOL GOT IT TTYL”
“Great, now I’m distracted and thirsty,” he thought, whistling as he skipped down the stairs to the kitchen. “Time for the hard stuff,” he laughed as he grabbed a Mountain Dew and bounded back upstairs. He was in a good mood. Life was excellent—he was at the top of his class, president of the robotics club, and he had finally talked to the cute girl who had the locker next to his.
As he got to the top of the stairs, he peered into his brother’s room. The warm glow from the terrariums inside cast an eerie shadow on the wall. Fear gripped Ian as he moved closer to the open door. One of the tarantulas was moving slowly across the cage in search of a new spot to hide in. The knot in Ian’s stomach loosened up a little, and he was thankful that the large arachnid was inside the tank. His brother’s spiders had a talent for getting out, something that Jake seemed to rejoice in since it gave him the upper hand over his older brother.
Ian wondered how he and Jake were related, and furthermore why his parents gave in to his weird desire to keep tarantulas as pets. The two brothers couldn’t be more different: Ian was reserved, well mannered, brilliant with anything that had to do with coding or computers but most of all, he hated the outdoors. Jake belonged to the Young Entomologists Club at school, was loud, outgoing, and loved fart jokes. Ian hated to admit it, but Jake had terrorized him on many occasions with those damned creatures. He couldn’t wait to go to college where he could live a bug-free life on his own.
As Ian turned quickly away from the nightmare in his brother’s room, he heard an explosion in the distance. Suddenly, the power went out, and there was a loud buzzing sound in the air. The house filled with a sour smell that he couldn’t put his finger on.
“Whoa, what the hell was that?” he said, forgetting this time that he was the only one in the house. He stumbled into his room and grabbed his phone. Whatever it was had knocked out his network too. As he pulled his shades open, he noticed a haze over the streets that seemed to block the sunlight. There was no movement on the roads, but the buzzing had stopped.
His heart was starting to race. He remembered something about the different stages of panic in an emergency, and he did not want to become immobilized with fear. After taking some deep breaths, he grabbed a flashlight and his old transistor radio and headed out of his room, coming back in a few seconds later to put a bandana over his mouth just in case there was something in the air. Ian went to the third floor where his parents’ bedroom was. There would be better radio reception up there, hopefully.
As he entered the master bedroom, he looked around slowly. A chill ran down his spine as he thought of the spiders, one floor below him. He moved carefully to the window and raised the old radio’s antenna towards the sky. As soon as he turned it on, he heard the disembodied voice of the announcer telling everyone to shelter in place and that there would be updates every hour, but there was no mention of what had happened.
“Okay, shelter in place. I can do that,” Ian said to himself.
He scurried from room to room, checking windows and closing vents. He stuffed towels under doors and brought his sleeping bag, radio, flashlight, and cell phone downstairs to the living room where he would lock himself down until his parents and brother got home. It didn’t occur to him that they might not come back. Exhausted from his work and the excitement of the impending apocalypse, Ian fell asleep on the couch.
Waking at dawn, he listened for the sounds of his family but was met with dead silence. Ian pulled the flowered curtains back slowly, hoping to see something that would give him a clue about what was happening, but the only sound was his stomach growling. It wasn’t often that he missed dinner and Ian was starving.
“Got to feed the beast,” he said to no one in particular, as he rubbed his stomach.
He took two steps forward and stopped in his tracks. It struck him that he was alone, in a disaster with no power and no clue about where the rest of his family was. There were still no emergency vehicles on his street and no neighbours showing any signs of life. His stomach lurched in a mixture of hunger and panic. He needed to find something to eat.
It took some time to move the chairs and coffee table away from the living room door. He had done a fine job of securing the room, but it was a lot of work to get out. He may need to rethink his living situation, but now something to eat was way more important. Ian shuffled into the kitchen and scrunched his nose up in disgust, remembering that the power had been out overnight. He guessed the food in the fridge was already going bad.
Finding the cabinets empty of the food that he considered palatable, he recalled that his Mom had been on her way to the grocery store when she left. His family didn’t do much in the way of home cooking, favouring pizza deliveries and dinners at the Chinese place around the corner instead. The shelves were bare, except for some old canned peaches and cranberry sauce! There were no potato chips or sugary cereal. Not a hint of teriyaki jerky or cheese balls. Even if there was food, there was no way to cook it.
“Pepperoni sticks!” he exclaimed, not caring anymore that he was talking to himself.
He took the stairs two by two, thankful as he opened his desk drawer. He had five salty, greasy beef sticks left, plus he still had a six-pack of Mountain Dew downstairs. Life was good again, at least momentarily. Back in his parents’ room, he sat and listened to the emergency broadcast on the radio. The beef sticks had not been enough to satiate his teenage hunger, and he only had one left.
“What to do? Think Ian, think!” he mumbled as he paced the floor.
Discouraged he went back to his safe room downstairs. The sky had a yellowish green hue as if there had been a chemical attack, but it looked as though it was breaking up. He thought he saw someone running from a house a few doors down. Without thinking, he ran downstairs and out the front door and shouted for help. As he inhaled, his lungs burned with searing toxins. Coughing and choking, he staggered back inside, stuffing towels and sheets under the seal of the door as he took panicked breaths.
Another three days passed, and his anxiety began to go into the red zone. Not knowing if his family was dead or alive was one thing but having nothing to eat or drink was all he could think about. The leftover sweet and sour chicken in the refrigerator had already gone bad, and he wasn’t going to risk food poisoning no matter how hungry he was. His head was pounding, and the clenching pain in his belly reminded him that he was starving with each passing hour. Despondent, he climbed the stairs to search for food in his brother’s room. He was just too hungry at this point to worry about the spiders.
Upon entering his brother’s room, he did a quick check and could only spot one of the hairy beasts in its tank.
“Well, that’ll have to do,” he thought as he proceeded his hunt for candy or anything else that Jake might be hoarding.
He gobbled down an old candy bar that was on the bookshelf, and carefully chewed a piece of gum that he found on the bedside table. Frustrated, he sat down on Jake’s unmade bed. Staring at nothing, his body instinctively froze as he realized that Bonzo was casually sitting at the end of the bed. Bonzo was his brother’s very large Mexican Redknee.
As Ian’s arachnophobia began to rise like a wave over his body, something more primitive pushed it aside. Flashbacks from a documentary he’d watched at school about food delicacies flooded his brain, and as he looked at his brother’s pet spider, his fear was overtaken by his inner caveman’s need to survive. Making his way carefully to the closet, he grabbed a wire hanger and quickly converted it into a spiky weapon. Without hesitation, he drove the makeshift spear through Bonzo’s midsection.
Feeling giddy now with a sort of tribal power, he waved his prize around the room, letting out a short howl of victory. As he considered his catch, he realized he had no way to cook it and to eat it raw was out of the question.
“The camp stove! Yes, why didn’t I think of that before!” he thought as he headed quickly to the garage.
After not eating for several days it felt like Christmas. While digging for the gas stove, he had found his Dad’s secret stash of beer and grabbed that to accompany his exotic meal. Either he would get very sick or enjoy a mouth-watering delicacy—at this point, he really didn’t care.
Grabbing a pan, salt, and some olive oil, he threw the tarantula in the pan to fry. It sizzled and pops, emitting a meaty smell that excited the teen’s senses. It was all he could do to keep himself from picking it up like fried chicken and devouring it one big bite, but he wanted to savour this protein-packed arachnid.
The nourishment from several mouthfuls and a few swigs of warm beer relieved Ian’s headache and feelings of fatigue. For a fleeting moment, disgust swarmed his psyche, but he beat it down as he licked his fingers clean. There was still one more spider to be eaten, but he would save it for later.
Ian tried to sleep but awoke fitfully with a gnawing desire in his belly. He ran upstairs and threw back the lid of the spider habitat. Ian found Harry next to the rock and speared him the same way that he had done to Bonzo. He cooked Harry quickly, enjoying the flavour of the freshly fried meat, even more, this time.
This small amount of nourishment gave him the energy he needed to get out of the house and search for his family. He was acutely aware of sounds and movements now. As he peered outside, he was ecstatic to see a brown sparrow flitting in the branches of the tree outside.
“It’s alive! It’s alive! There’s life out there!” he yelled as he jumped in the air.
He threw his gear and the last of the beer in his backpack. Thinking for a moment, he stepped into the kitchen and grabbed a sharp knife. His stomach let out a loud growl; he was hungry for more of those crispy critters! With no real plan in mind, he walked out of his front door as he put the bandana over his mouth and nose. Suddenly, it struck him… he would head to the pet store. It was just a couple of blocks away and the owner kept lots of tarantulas in stock there. It would be like an all you can eat buffet!
He picked up his pace and headed to Main Street, but as he rounded the corner, a white van blocked his way. Two men in white protective suits hopped out of the back and pulled him inside.
“What’s your name, son?” asked one of them in a gruff voice that was distorted by his mask.
“Uhh…Ian, sir. I’m Ian Chambers,” he stuttered.
The other man looked at his clipboard as he nodded his head, responding loudly “Yes, your mother and brother are at Jay’s Pet Store, and your dad is at his office downtown. Your family is alive and kicking.”
With a sigh of relief, Jay said “I’m relieved. Thanks for that. What happened anyway? Was it terrorists? How many people are dead?”
“Chemical attack on the town, that’s all we know so far,” the man with the clipboard said calmly. “The government hasn’t said who yet. The main thing is reuniting you with your family and getting you all to a safe zone. We’re heading to the pet store now.”
The two men escorted Ian inside Jay’s Pet Store where his brother, mom, and all his Young Entomologist Club friends had been taking shelter.
His little brother ran to him and nearly knocked him down when he saw him.
“Oh, holy hell! You smell like terrible!” Jake bellowed as he grabbed Ian by the arms.
“Oh, well, it’s nice to see you too, little bro,” he grinned.
“We’ve been having a great time here, Ian! I’m sorry you had to miss it. Jay keeps cases of junk food in his storeroom. We’ve been amped on sugar and talking about insects for days, just like at camp!”
As Jake babbled, Jay waved at Ian, as his mother came rushing over with tears running down her face.
“Ian! I was so worried about you!” she cried as she crushed his ribs with her maternal hugs.
“Ma, I can’t breathe! You’re crushing me!” he winced, secretly not wanting her to let go.
“Dad should be here any minute now, and we’ll all be going to safe zone, whatever that means. Looks like you could do with a shower and hot meal, sweetie,” she said as she pushed his hair out of his face.
“Yeah, I am pretty much starving,” he said as he put his hands on his shrinking belly.
As he talked to his Mom and Jay about the chemical attack, his brother and his best friend ran up to him, each holding a hairy tarantula in their palms.
“Hey, do you want to hold this pretty little girl? She’s from South America, and she’s nice!” his freckled faced buddy squealed.
“Yes, I absolutely want to hold her,” Ian replied as he held his cupped his hands to receive the spider.
Jake and his Mom looked at Ian with wide eyes.
“Are you feeling okay, Ian?” his mom asked. “Last time I checked you had a deadly fear of them.”
“Yeah, what the heck? Did you get body snatched or what?” Jake said.
“I guess I just have a new appreciation for them,” he smiled. “This is a Chilean Rose, right?”
“Yeah, she is,” Jake answered, confused about his big brother’s calm demeanour.
As Ian surveyed the big, brown beauty, he imagined her sautéed in a lovely, butter sauce. His mouth watered as he pictured his next kill.
With a rabid gleam in his eye, he said thoughtfully, “Yes little brother, I really do love these spiders now. I really do.”