I knew this kid from school named Toby. He and his parents planned a European vacation for the Christmas holidays, so he asked me to take care of his pets until they returned. He did not know I had arachnophobia.

He offered to show me how to take care of his pets, but I was busy with final exams. Since I had a dog of my own, I did not think it hard to feed his pets and clean their cages. When I told my friends David and Sam that I volunteered to take care of Toby’s pets, they laughed.

When I said he was going to pay me $1,000, they laughed even harder. “A fool is born every minute,” David said as he walked away.

Toby left an envelope with instructions and a DVDs with my big sister Kate. I agreed to stay in the guesthouse for the Bakers. Toby’s dad owned a biomedical engineering company. Though I had never visited Toby’s house, I knew he lived in a stately house at the top of the hill.

I asked myself again “How hard could it be?” Besides, I already spent the money on a new laptop.


When I arrived at the Bakers, a squad of gardeners trimmed the hedges in front of their Colonial mansion. The oak and spruce trees lined the narrow asphalt road that wound its way up the hill, their branches like black insects stretching their black exoskeletons into the pewter sky. The yellow, thinning grass was partially covered with dead brown leaves left from autumn.

A security guard dressed in a gray uniform in a small wood guardhouse the size of a phone booth let me onto the property after first checking my driver’s license against a list of names on his clipboard. As I drove up the tree-lined winding asphalt road to the main house, security cameras swept the property.

I parked my car by the marble fountain and walked up the steps to the portico. An inlaid stone mosaic depicted Athena and Arachne in a weaving contest. I slung my back pack over my right shoulder and carried my clothes and toiletries in my gym bag. Before I could ring the doorbell, a voice from an outside asked me my name.

“A security guard will escort you to the guest quarters,” the flat voice said.


Toby was strange, but I did not know just how strange. I was new to the school, so he was the first friend I made. Toby was a loner but so was I. He was a white kid with a blue afro. Who was I to judge?

He always talked about his pets Elmar, Shelia, Duffy, and Friedrich. I would meet them and his other pets soon.


The security guard, armed with a revolver and radio on his right shoulder, told the voice that we had arrived at the guest house, a small white two-bedroom rambler about a half-mile from the main house. The security guard looked at me behind his gold-rimmed mirrored sunglasses.

When he spoke to me, his bushy brown mustache heaved up and down. He was tall and broad-shouldered, about a head taller than me.

He explained to me that I was to go nowhere without an escort and that I was to stay in the guesthouse until it was time to leave. Anything I wanted or needed would be provided for me. All I had to do was call.

“One final thing, sport,” he said through his mustache.


“I will need your car keys,” he said.

I hesitated. I stretched to my full height of five foot eight. I had just started to lift weights at PE. I was able to bench press 120 pounds.

He smiled contemptuously, feigning politeness. “Your car keys, please,” he said.

I handed them to him.

“Your meals will be delivered to you at 8 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. The kitchen will call you beforehand to ask your preferences. There are snacks, lunch meat, and sodas in the fridge.”

He handed me a key card with a magnetic stripe to open the door. “You will find the refrigerator well stocked,” he said. “Any questions?”

“Yes,” I said. “Where are Toby’s pets?”

“In the basement, sport.” He grinned. He then turned on his heels and left.

“Wannabe border patrol agent,” I said to myself after he left. “Security at the mall probably turned him down. Sport? Who does he think he is, anyways? Jay Gatsby?”


The interior of the house was nice. The foyer opened into a hallway; the kitchen was in back and to the right. Everything was white: the walls and ceiling were white, the carpet was white, the furniture was white.

The cleanliness was a big relief to me. One thing I can’t stand is dirtiness, especially rodents and insects of any kind, but particularly spiders.

I set my backpack and bags on the floor and plopped down on the cream-colored leather settee. I opened up my backpack. I turned on the giant black plasma television and inserted Toby’s DVD in the player. Images of tarantulas paraded across the screen as Jim Stafford sang “Spiders and Snakes.” Their hairy bodies made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. Their long fangs set my teeth on edge.

“Hello, sport,” Toby said affably into the camera. Another Jay Gatsby. “Thank you for agreeing to take care of my lovely pets Elmar, Shelia, Duffy, and Friedrich.”

I feared his pets were the tarantulas in the DVD. “I hope you love spiders as I do,” he said, smiling under his blue afro. “This DVD will show you how to take care of them.”

“I only own tarantulas,” he continued. “Chill. Yes that’s right, tarantulas! And I have about a thousand.

“They are a little poisonous, so you will have to be careful,” he said. “Their bite is venomous, but it cannot kill you…as far as I know.” He chuckled.“In any event, too late to back out now. I see you cashed your check.”

He showed how to feed and water the spiders. Toby had all kinds of tarantula varieties  he kept in glass aquariums: a foot-long Goliath, a Pink Zebra beauty, a Brazilian Black and White, two Arizona Desert Blondes, a Guatemala Tiger Rump, a Cobalt Blue, a Pumpkin Patch, three Kilimanjaro mustard Baboons, an Asian Fawn, a Philippine orange, two Chaco Golden Knees, and a Mexican Blood Leg.

He described how each spider had its own personality: some were aggressive, others docile. He fed them live crickets, worms, and beetle larvae with tongs and changed their water.

Some of the tarantulas pounced and devoured their flailing victims, scooping them into their mouths with their arms and fangs. Other would hold their victims in their mouths and suck their innards out as they struggled. Some would only eat dead crickets and worms, running away from live ones.

Toby laughed heartily as the tarantulas ate the insects and worms. “C’mon, sweetheart,” he cajoled. “That’s not very ladylike,” he said as one of the tarantulas attacked the tongs. “Yes, my darling. That’s a good girl.” Creepy.


In the afternoon, a man from the pet store delivered cartons of worms, grubs, spiders, and mice for the spiders. Afterwards, I descended down the basement to feed and water the spiders. A thousand small glass aquariums lined the metal shelves. One by one, I fed the spiders and changed their water in the little glass bowls inside the aquariums.

I picked up the crickets and worms from their plastic containers with tongs and fed them to the spiders. The hapless insects desperately struggled to escape to the spiders as they were caught in the white web carpet spun by the spiders or scooped into the spider’s lair dug into the dirt. Some of the tarantulas ate the crickets and grub worms; others tried to attack my tongs.

Halfway through, I found one of the plastic tops of a spider aquarium was ajar. I opened the aquarium and searched underneath the spider web and into the burrow. The tarantula was missing.

I searched the floor and underneath the furniture, but could not find the spider. Exhausted, I sat down on the leather couch. I looked up at the ceiling. Above my head was a great hairy gray tarantula. My stomach jumped into my heart.

He dropped on my right arm and then scampered up my shoulder. He reared back menacingly, waiving his front arms and baring his fangs.

He then bit my neck. I could feel the hair on his body as he sunk his fangs into my neck. I screamed and knocked the spider to the ground. I then crushed him with my shoe.

Many of the other spiders stared at me my from their glass enclosures. They tapped their front appendages against the glass and bared their fangs.

I ran to the bathroom sink, squeezed the blood from my neck, and then wiped it clean with a paper towel. I put antiseptic and anodyne on the punctures and then covered it with a band aid.


I cleaned up the dead spider and then flushed it down the toilet. I finished feeding the rest of the spiders and changing their water. I could feel their fear and hatred toward me. The last tarantula to feed was Elmar, the foot-long goliath. He eyed me carefully with his eight eyes. I fed him baby mice. Exhausted, I climbed the stairs and locked the basement.

I stuffed my sweatshirt in the gap between the door and the floor and then turned off the lights. Sweat poured from my face. After trying to reach Toby on his cell phone, I sent him an email as to all that had happened.

Somebody from the kitchen delivered my dinner. I picked at the food, but I just could not eat. I could not stop thinking about the crickets and worms being eaten alive by the spiders. I covered my dinner with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator.


I tried to watch a movie to get my mind off the spiders. Arachnophobia was playing on the cable channel. I watched some YouTube videos about baseball on my new laptop. I imagined the spiders eating the crickets and worms and tapping on the glass of their enclosures. I heard my father admonish me for being too nice. “You know,” he said, “nice guys always finish last.”

My neck was swollen where the spider bit me. I kept the light on; I could not sleep. The water pipes dripped, wolves howled, and owls hooted. Most of all, I heard the spiders noisily moving in their enclosures downstairs in the basement.


I trudged to the kitchen to make myself a turkey sandwich and hot milk. Turkey has a chemical that makes you sleep. It must have been around 3 a.m. My neck had become quite swollen. The wind blew, rattling the windows.

After I finished my sandwich and drank my milk, I washed the dishes. As I walked back to the bedroom, I noticed my sweatshirt was no longer blocking the basement door. I put on my shoes, grabbed a broom, and descended the stairs into the basement.

When I turned on the basement light, tarantulas were crawling everywhere. They were walking on the walls, beetling on the floors, and hanging from the ceiling. All their aquarium lids were flung open. The floor and furniture was covered in willowy, white spider web.

A large black and white tarantula scampered up the steps to attack me. I stepped on it, causing its lower body to burst and spatter the wood stairs with its guts. I kicked its body down the stairs.

A hairy, gray tarantula dropped from the ceiling onto my head, discharging its spindles into my face and eyes, making them itch and burn. As I grabbed it, it sank its fangs into my hand. I threw him against the wall, causing him to burst and spatter against the walls like a water balloon filled with red dye.

I frantically began to smash the spiders with my feet and broom. But the faster I killed them, the faster they attacked me, making a loud clicking sound as they masticated. I swept them off the ceiling, smashed them against the wall, and crushed them under my shoes.

The putrid smell of their guts and half-digested meals filled the air as they spattered my shoes and pant legs with blood. I had spider webs on my hands and in my hair.

Elmar, the foot-long Goliath, raised itself on its hind appendages and hissed at me. I retreated up the steps.   I got upstairs and slammed the basement door shut, my back leaning against the door.

That’s when I saw the tarantulas upstairs, too. They were on the white floor, the white wall, and the white furniture. Everywhere, they sprayed their white webs.

I ran out the front door and into the woods, leaving my laptop behind.