THE SPIDER JOURNAL
I met an old spider named Cliff today.
Cliff was dying when I found him. He was curled up on the floor, his legs tucked in, looking so crazy small. He was hard to understand, but seeing as I was the only guy around, I stayed and listened to him talk.
Cliff seemed compelled to tell me—with, like, total old-guy certainty—about a world outside this one. He kept saying: “There’s an Outside, son.” And I’d say: “Okay, Clyde.” And he’d say: “It’s Cliff.”
And then he died.
But what a thought, huh? Outside the House.
Anyway: RIP Cliff.
Woke up thinking about the Outside. Probably just dying-guy nonsense, but still.
There has to be more than this, right?
“This” being: another day of just hanging around. Not really living, you know? Just existing.
There I go, waxing all philosophical again.
Mom used to tell me I talk too much. You have eight eyes and one mouth, Nelson. Use them accordingly.
That’s why I keep this journal. Get the ol’ thoughts down here, so I don’t go jibber-jabbing to Doug with a bunch of existential how-comes when all he wants to do is kick back and chill.
But, you know? Like, do others ever feel this way?
Like, you spread your neat little gossamer in the corner of the Hallway, you munch a fly, you nap, you chat with Doug, you maybe head out with him for a bit but usually don’t ‘cause you’re tired, then you go to bed.
Nothing to write home about, as they say.
It’s like the web masterpieces I spin just for funsies. Nobody else gets it. Or maybe I don’t get it.
Another Mom classic: A spider’s purpose is to be a spider. (She always followed that up with: And that’s why I ate your father. Pretty sure she was joking?)
Also: the gnat I had today was kind of dry. Oh, well.
K, so, the Outside. I mean, infinity is hard to imagine, even for a big-noodling kind of spider like myself, but let’s give it a go. The Walls are the edge of all we know, yes, yes, yes. But … something has to be outside them, right? Like, even if it’s The End, what’s after The End? Even if it’s nothing, nothing is something, right? Hurts the brain, doesn’t it?
Or maybe old Cliff talking about, like, an afterlife? Like a metaphorical Outside? That would make sense. Dude was dying, after all.
Who friggin’ knows? Not this guy.
But: what if there is something outside these walls?
The idea is intoxicating. Makes me crazy. What if that is the scratch that my itch is begging for? To see the great Outside?
Told Doug about Cliff and what he’d said. About the Outside. Doug knows I can get a little meh with the same ol’ same ol’. He said not to worry my brain about any Outside. That I just need a better outlook is all. He said we are, in fact, lucky. Some spiders live in that brutal, bright, clean hellhole we call the Kitchen. Others live in the Bedroom of the Beasts. “Well, they don’t live for long,” he said.
I suppose he’s right. I’m lucky. The Hallway is dark, and the Beasts don’t spend too much time here. I have Doug nearby, and not much farther is the Guest Room, where there are some other arachnids who are alright, including the two girls Doug and I try to talk to when we’re feeling full of it. There are always plenty of bugs that fly into my web, too. Never go hungry.
Doug is right. Life is good, and I should be grateful. I am grateful.
Tried Operation Grateful today. Still bored. Bored a lot. Blah blah blah.
Blah is my theme song.
When I’m bored, AKA friggin’ all the time, sometimes I sneak over to other Rooms and hide in a corner and just watch the other spiders. See if I’m doing something wrong. But nope. Everyone else seems super cool with the same ol’ same ol’. Not that I want to overthrow the Beasts and be king of the House or anything. I just, you know.
Anyway, watching other spiders. They literally just hang there. All the time. Like, whooo. Carpe diem, baby.
Me, I can’t just hang.
Mom used to say: Nelson, if your legs don’t stop twitching about, I’m going to turn you into an insect. Translation: she was going to rip off two of my legs. Funny lady. She said I had Restless Leg Syndrome. Not sure if that’s a real thing or not.
But said restlessness is probably why I end up making all these crazy elaborate webs, instead of the ol’ base model. “Why put in the extra work?” they ask. “Catches the same amount of grub, right?”
“True,” I say. “But isn’t it sick?”
Sometimes I make webs in places where I know bugs won’t even go. Just to make ‘em. I’ll spin these wild geometric bastards. Webs that look like butterfly wings. Webs like blooming flowers. Webs that I don’t even know what they are. Crazy-ass designs, not symmetrical at all. Very avant-garde, I say.
This lady passed by one of my wackadoodle creations the other day. She had this abdomen that I couldn’t stop staring at, me being so awkward, so I just looked at the floor. “What is that?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said, suddenly beaming. Suddenly realizing that my web had stopped her in her tracks. Suddenly realizing that I was pretty impressive indeed. “Art, I think.”
“Seems like a waste of time,” she said. “Sorry.”
I wasn’t beaming anymore.
But still. I get more enjoyment out of my worthless webs than I do hanging there waiting for my 12 months to pass by. If only she could have seen that.
Told Doug what that lady said about my web. Got all boo-hoo about it, started spiraling about what I said, and so on. Whenever I talk like this, Doug always rolls his eight brown eyes. Big drama queen, Doug. “You think too much,” he said. Maybe he’s right. Probably he’s right. Just like with the Outside thing.
Didn’t drop it, though, and Doug smiled, putting a couple legs around me. “You’re always thinking, fam,” he said. “Love that about you. Big brainiac guy. But maybe, like … it’s the thinking that sometimes gets in the way. If you just chilled and made a normal web, that lady might have stuck around. Just saying.”
I smiled, a little sadly.
“Hey, I dig your differentness, bro,” he said. “I do. But you gotta realize: some spiders are scared of different.”
Doug pretends to be so non-sentimental and straight-shootery, but he can be very deep when he wants to be. Great guy, Doug.
Made a really cool web today. Maybe coolest yet. It crisscrossed under a chair that nobody ever sits in, and I used a spiral pattern I had never tried before. The way these golden spears of light from the Living Room window danced off the silk all crazy… really something. Showed Doug, and he rolled his eyes at first, like always, but then said: “You know, that’s actually pretty dope.”
“I wish I could save them,” I told him. “Make a web museum.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“But they all fade away, no matter what,” I said.
“That they do, my friend.”
Does everything? Yes. Do we? Yes. Life is short, they say. If things go well, you get about a year in the House. Barring you don’t get swatted by the Beasts or anything.
After that: an Outside? Old Cliff, you there?
Doug’s furry little fangs curled up in a smile. “I promise you,” he said. “I’ll remember this one.”
Good day today. Doug and I went on a long walk down the hallway, chatted it up with some spiders down there. Made another cool web, this one curled all around a lamp in the entryway. Felt active. Felt fulfilled.
Doug wanted a Corner Day, so I thought I’d give it another go. Stayed posted up all day, just hanging there like the other spiders. Really boring. Brought back that whole thought spiral of time ticking away, and here I am, just sitting here. Made me think about the Outside again.
Had a decent midge for dinner though.
Dreamed about the Outside. About the walls disappearing, and me, about to see what’s out there … but then I woke up. Asked some other spiders about the Outside. Figured someone might know something. They all shrugged and seemed about as interested in discussing it as if I’d asked about the health of their silk glands. I’m going to bug Doug about it again tomorrow, though. Prepare for eye roll. Ha, ha.
Bug him about the Outside, not his silk glands.
Doug died today.
He was whacked with a rolled-up grocery store mailer.
I saw it from my corner. I yelled, but he couldn’t hear.
To make it worse, Bruce the Cat ate him when he fell to the floor.
Don’t feel like talking about it. Writing about it, I guess.
Empty but for the silk, as they say.
Sorry for not writing. Haven’t really been feeling super motivated.
Sorry to who? Don’t know. Me, I guess. Future generations, I guess. I’ll try to write. Gotta keep on keeping on. Climb up the spout again, as they say.
Nobody talks about it, but hard not to think about it. “It” being: where’s Doug now?
No sense dwelling, but also, can’t help. I think of Cliff. His belief in Outside.
I hope Doug found his Outside. That afterlife one. I hope old Cliff was right.
Made big decision today.
Maybe biggest ever.
Just can’t get Outside out of the brain.
Combine that with the fact that there’s nothing really for me in the House anymore.
Combine that with the fact that, if you look through this journal, I don’t exactly write epic poems of joy regarding my day-to-day in the House.
Combine that with the fact that grief can make a dude pretty reckless, I think.
All that leads to the big decision. Which is this: I’m going to the Outside.
With Doug in whatever spiritual Outside awaits, it just seems right for me to seek the living one.
And that’s that. First light tomorrow. My hypothesis is: when the Beasts open the door, that space acts as a portal of sorts. Been watching. They come and go all the time. In and out. Never thought much of it—but never thought much of the Beasts in general, except they mean Death.
Anyway. When the Beasts open the door tomorrow, I’ll be waiting above it.
Door opens. I scuttle through. Door shuts.
Then I see what there is to see.
I write this very frantically and I fear it is my last entry but I want to get my words down as all I can do is wait anyway.
Death is coming, dear reader.
Stupid to go to Outside.
First thing first: Outside exists.
Second: it is hell.
In a crack in dead log. Chased here by bird. Red belly. Yellow beak. Death’s eyes.
Can see bird now.
Bird is standing above crack. Long black tongue searches crevice. Soon will find me.
Will devour me.
Should have stayed in House.
Only matter of time.
Not true. Good I didn’t stay in House.
To see and to know is worth it.
But still. Hope I don’t die.
Correction on above: Outside is not just hell. It is more.
Here is what I saw: a whole world of motion. A whole world of color. More beauty than all my life in House.
But then: bird.
Goodbye, if it is.
Oct. 7 – Part 2
I am not dead. In fact, you could say that I’m more alive than I’ve ever been. Probably part on account of being so close to dead just a few hours ago, part on account of everything that has happened since. Which was:
The devil bird got bored and left my log. After I built up my confidence, and my wiry legs stopped shaking long enough to hold up my fat ol’ abdomen, I peeked out.
Then: I ran.
Boy, did I run. Through thick, firm grass, towering a full two inches above me. And then—the grass turned to ferns, nearly as big as Dining Room chairs!
How do I know the names of such wonderment?
A worm, of all creatures.
An earthworm named Phillip. Pink and slimy and nearly faceless—just a mouth, to be honest—with a hundred rubbery belts around his mid-section. He emerged out of the dirt and we chatted. Nice guy. I told him I had just entered the Outside for the first time. Phillip, see, has never been anywhere but the Outside. Fascinating! We have agreed to meet again tomorrow.
Phillip told me that I was at the edge of a realm called the Forest. He led me inside, and it was just straight, hundred-percent WHOA. More whoa than I could have imagined. All beauty, here.
The Forest: a world made of worlds.
Every millimeter: bursting with damp, sticky life. Vibrating with miracles and things without names. Swelling with sights and sounds and smells that seem to be invented on a whim in real time, right before me. Long, diagonal slices of thick sunlight, reflecting off waxy leaves that grow from any surface they please.
It’s like I’ve been living my life, all honky-dory, and then the Creator said: “Oh, my bad, Nelson, I forgot to turn your senses on.”
Like a fissure in the sky had cracked open and zap-fizz-boom, another dimension flooded in and you see that the universe you knew had only ever been just a piece. Like you had been living in the Bathroom, not knowing the rest of the House existed. But the House does exist, of course, and let me tell you: an infinity exists beyond it.
Flowers. Insects. Even other spiders. All life, here.
Above everything, though: trees. Trees with rough wrinkles and slits and slabs of bark that make the hardwood floor of the House seem like smooth water, like an unfinished thought. Their branches gnarl and twist and jut out at the most un-chair-like and un-lamp-like angles, and my mind glowed orange with possibility: the kinds of intricate, revolutionary, awe-inspired webs I’ll spin. Oh, the webs I’ll spin.
A thought came to me just now, as I finally rest for the night, high above the ground in one of these trees, these soul-bursting trees: if the Outside that Doug found is anything like this place, I think we’re both going to be alright.
* * *
Erik is an award-winning advertising copywriter living in Seattle, and is also working on his first novel. When not writing, he’s probably meal-prepping with his wife, talking to his dog or trying to fix his slice.