Introduction (Songs of Experience)

“Tarantula” stems from the Italian tarantola and, in turn, the word tarantola is derived from Taranto, a large town in Renaissance Italy. Taranto was famously home to Lycosa tarentula, the wolf spider. Taranto’s inhabitants believed that a tarantola’s bite would cause tarantism, a wicked disease that one could only cure by performing a dance known as the tarantella. The ritual paid homage to the dance a male tarantula performs when trying to seduce a prospective female. Once foreign explorers reached the New World and discovered the mygalomorphs for themselves, the cult of belief surrounding the tarantola shifted to a darker paradigm. This was in large part due to the discovery of the female’s tendency to kill its mate post coitus.

Chapter 1: Jorōgumo and the Border

Vāsava could not stop his tongue from revisiting the blood that dyed his teeth. Nor could he stop running.

Mica brought the van to a halt beside an abandoned ruin of a one-story house surrounded by nothing but wasteland. He is on the younger side of middle-aged, but one would never guess. His cheeks were hollow and sallow skin hung from his decrepacy. Veins protrude and pulse in his arms and legs. A faded Virgin Mary and a skull beset by a snake weaving through its eye sockets juxtapose on the flesh of his forearms. Bible passages and gang signs are on his back. His hair is slicked back with the blood, sweat, and tears of others, and his mismatched eyes always seemed too big. Mica never blinks. His hands won’t tremble when he grips the worn rubber steering wheel with his right and a tequila-scented chrome flask with his left. Mica makes his money by smuggling any willing passenger across the Mexican border into America. He makes his money on the side by robbing them blind once they get there. He opened the vehicle’s rear double doors for the second time since Vāsava had bartered passage in Tijuana.

“Ven aqui!” Mica barked at Vāsava and the stranger sitting in front of him.

The pair exchanged glances before advancing cautiously from within the van’s sweltering gut. They stood at attention before Mica, who glared back at them menacingly. He periodically stole sips from his flask. Behind Vāsava and the stranger, a shrieking wind sliced through the brick remnants of the small house’s decaying foundation. All exterior paint had been stripped by the ceaseless tornado, and all that the house owned had been robbed by the outside world. All that remained were holes where the houses’ varmints and somethings had once lived. Mica tilted his flask almost ninety degrees back, in coordination with his neck. He relished his last sip and stared into the dark void that began at the rim of his makeshift grail. He cast it into the dirt.

“Dinero,” growled Mica.

Vāsava was dumbfounded. He had already given Mica everything valuable that he owned in order to make his journey, everything the cartel hadn’t already stolen.

“Nada,” said Vāsava, displaying his empty pockets, still half=unaware of what was happening.

Mica grimaced and shoved him aside. He began patting down the stranger like a police officer performing an illegal search.

“What the fuck are you doing?” said the stranger in an American accent.

Mica continued down the man’s arms toward his blazer pockets.

“Fuck off!” shouted the man.

The stranger shoved Mica back. In his drunken stupor, Mica grasped the pistol tucked into the waistband of his jeans. He felt his hand close in on the gun’s grip as he stumbled. He drew the revolver wildly. Mica accidentally fired a shot: it whizzed past Vāsava’s head and another shot landed in the dirt beside the stranger. Mica froze for a second as his booze-addled brain processed what had just happened, and in that moment, the stranger picked up a portion of brick lying beside the rubble and descended upon Mica’s cranium with all the fury of recent betrayal and desperation of jeopardy. The first few blows forced Mica to the ground and his right eye out of his socket. The stranger jumped on top of him and continued hammering away at his face. More strikes, now with two hands clutching the brick. A fountain of blood erupted. It soaked all in its radius.

That’s when Vāsava started running. He continued to gaze at the stranger. Caught. He realized now that he was in the same position that Mica was when he died.

“What’s your name?” Vāsava asked the stranger.

Jorōgumo, replied the man.

Chapter 2: Mica (Coyote)

All eight legs move to an unknown rhythm. On the edge of a dirt track cutting through Mexico in the northeastern region of the Chihuahua desert, a male tarantula is in the midst of his mating ritual. The larger, dreadful female lies in wait, hidden, beneath the mouth of her burrow. Late summer sun’s fading rays are still hot enough to boil blood. The male spider has been spastically flailing for the better part of ten minutes and the chaotic extensions of his limbs are becoming fewer and far between. The female’s hesitance doesn’t bode well for his lineage. The earth beneath the male tarantula’s bistre appendages is the color of carnelian and sharply contrasts with the bright green creosote brush lining its edges. One can see remote desert, littered with pale cacti, as far as the horizon in every direction. Above, an ocean of endless hues borrowed from fire’s paint palette speckled with floating wisps of contrasting colors in the form of clouds. Suddenly, the Earth began to quake and the dancing creature froze. If the spider resumed the ritual and the female continued to reject its advances, its doom was certain. But even if the female did experience a sudden change of heart, the tarantula’s salvation would be short-lived.

“Puta!” spat Mica as the front right wheel of his geriatric was-once-white van narrowly missed a gargantuan spider crawling into a gaping hole on the side of the road. A licentious hula dancer sashays on his dusty dashboard beneath a cracked rear view mirror. A busted stereo system tuned to a static laced radio station does its best to emanate Guantanamera. An ancient .38 Ruger special revolver is sitting shotgun.

“Callate!” he screamed over his shoulder at his victims.

Vāsava perceived the urgency in Mica’s voice and did what he could to nudge the wiry Asian man slumbering on the floor in front of him without outright kicking him in the face. The stranger didn’t budge and Vāsava took the moment to examine his own circumstances. He had given Mica, a shady drunk whom his cousin had tipped him off to seek out in the town of Tijuana, 5,000 pesos, which is cheap for this kind of thing. Now Vāsava owned nothing but the clothes on his back and a neatly folded yellow note tucked into the watch pocket of his dusty blue jeans. Three phone numbers were written on the paper. The stranger in front of Vāsava grunted, shifted, farted, burped, and tried to mumble something inaudible, then threw up in his mouth and swallowed it. The stench of alcohol permeated every fiber of the stranger’s black lampshade mustache, swarthy ponytail, and three-piece faded yellow suit. Its smell coalesced with the odor emanating from pools of sweat accumulating around the armpits and neck of the stranger’s white button-down shirt. The man is missing a tie. He’d been picked up unexpectedly, on the side of the road beside a green road sign detailing the distance to Ciudad de Juarez, after an abrupt stop to an outstretched thumb and a muffled exchange. Vāsava could only catch a glimpse of the sign when the van’s double doors opened, revealing a man so drunk that you could sense the aura of ethanol from ten feet away. When the doors closed, Vāsava nodded at the stranger, indicating a vacant place to sit. The stranger nodded back, then shook his head, opened his mouth to speak, and finally collapsed onto the floor.

“Creo que estamos a la frontera,” said Vāsava.

The man’s eyes gradually fluttered open.

He looked confused and opened his mouth, but Vāsava interrupted and subsequently silenced him, asserting, “We are at the border.”

In sync with Vāsava‘s words, the van stopped. Vāsava heard Mica hop out of the cab and close the driver door. One by one, Vāsava watched the seconds happen. A raging wind made it too difficult to distinguish approaching footsteps. The latch on the vehicle’s back doors turned.

Chapter 3: Viktor and America

“Now I’m going to get up,” began Jorōgumo, “and when I do, I expect you to not go and take off like you did before. You understand me?”

Vāsava nodded.

Jorōgumo pressed his leathery hands into the dirt and used them to push himself off of the caught, timid creature.

Vāsava remained on the ground. He shivered in his ragged, white, short sleeved T-shirt. Goosebumps arose. They crawled all over his exposed arms, at the mercy of the desert’s elements. The sun had died; night was upon them. Vāsava looked as though he might wet himself. Jorōgumo extended a helping hand. Vāsava reluctantly grasped it. Together, they managed to get him on his feet, and only in that one second where all of his conscious concerns had been obstructed by a dominant desire to stand up, Vāsava felt at peace. Once risen, his delusions were again shattered by Jorōgumo‘s odor.

“Say thank you,” said Jorōgumo gruffly.

“Thank you, Jorōgumo,” answered Vāsava, confoundingly embarrassed.

“You can call me Joe. And you’re welcome. Now tell me your name.”

Viktor,” stammered Vāsava.

“Well, uh, Vick, we’ve got a helluva walk ahead of us, so you best not be hurt.”

Joe paused.

“Are you hurt?”

Viktor shook his head.

Sufficiently reassured, Joe took a few steps past him, but then stopped. Without turning around, he said “I’d ask if you had any questions, but then again, I could give a damn about your curiosities. I’m happy you speak English is all. Let’s get!”

Viktor started following him on instinct.

The two men trudged through the night until they could hear the dawn calling their names. The dawn’s cry reached peak with the accompaniment of reborn light and coordinated with Viktor’s newfound ability to distinguish a collection of small dwellings against its horizon. With renewed vigor, the pair marched double time toward civilization.

A binary grocery store/deli, eleven houses, and a post office that doubled as a church composed Joe and Viktor’s perceived deliverance. Shrill bells chimed on contact with the door as the two men made their way into the store. Each man chose his own separate aisle to walk down, but both passed shelves decorated with long expired processed food and could still hear the other’s footsteps. A small Hispanic man sat perched on a barstool behind the counter.

“Water,” Joe demanded.

The man looked taken aback.

“WA-TER!” Joe shouted as if the volume and rhythm of speech modified its language.

Funnily enough, the man seemed to understand what he was saying this time. His mouth unfurled and a smile spread across his squat head.

Slowly, as if from memory, the shop-keeper diffused Joe’s aggression with the phrase, “Welcome to America!”

Joy. Ecstasy. Relief? Emotions, or hormones, or the Holy Spirit, or maybe all three flooded Viktor’s senses, overflowing the vessels in his bloodstream. He had accomplished what had been described to him as the most difficult—and most dangerous—part of his journey. Those whom he knew that had failed their border crossing were never heard from again. Or worse yet, they were ransoms, deaths…

After a few minutes of stagnant awe, the shopkeeper returned through the beaded curtain behind him, brandishing a plastic tray. On top of it, a translucent yellow pitcher filled to the brim with water and graced with its own miniature iceberg. Joe took hold of the tray, turned his back on the man behind the counter, and walked briskly to the small table outside the shop. Viktor followed. The four-legged table was round, old, and made of wood. The pair sat down in the two equipped and opposite chairs and both stared at reality, distorted through their respective glasses of water.

A white woman dressed in a suit with minimal makeup and her hair pulled back into a ponytail approached the table. Her hair was glossy, her suit was pressed.

“Hi, I’m a reporter working on a story and was wondering if I could ask you some questions. Do you speak English?” said the woman confidently as soon as she reached the table.

“Yes,” replied Viktor

“Great. Are you from America?”

“No.” He answered.

The woman looked upset, and then masked it, feigning sympathy.

“I’m sorry, but you’re really just not what I’m looking for. You see, I need people who were actually born here in America.”

Joe gave her the finger, and the woman lowered her eyes toward him. She made it appear as if she had decided that he wasn’t worth her time, turned around, and exited just as fast as she had entered.

Viktor and Joe walked back inside the store to return the tray, their glasses, and the pitcher. They said nothing else to each other while they drank their fill.

“America?!” exclaimed Joe, in disbelief. He dropped the tray on the counter in front of the shopkeeper. “Just where in America are we?”

The shopkeer pointed to a map tacked to a bulletin board on his left. On the map was a small black ring. It encircled the name of a miniscule town called America, in Mexico, for real.

***

For all installments from 30 Birds, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. “Velvet” by the Bloody Eyes
  2. “Subtle” by Yukio Mishima
  3. “Geronimo Sunset!” by Jun. 27
  4. “My Hero” by Annie Wonoffate Million
  5. “Gender” by Jun. 27, Part 1
  6. “Gender” by Jun. 27, Part 2
  7. “Eel Dogs ‘Til Stupid” by Jun. 27
  8. “Pleasant Town” by Jun. 27
  9. “Daffy” by Herman Barker
  10. “Classic, Ecstatic, and Shocked (My First Kiss)” by John Robert Barnes
  11. I Would/Would I?/Wouldn’t You?
  12. “Fabled” by Jun. 27
  13. “Simpatico Starring Matthew McConaughey” by Harrison Ford