Like the time you put the shoes on you hadn’t worn for maybe two years but you just saw there in the corner of the closet and you wondered why you’d stopped wearing them since you kind of liked who you were that summer or at least you remember that summer favorably, and these shoes were definitely part of it, so, trying to maybe live a little bit of that time again, you hauled them out, stepped both feet into them, right first then left, like always, only what you didn’t realize but should have considered was that maybe a dark forgotten shoe-cave like that in the way back of the closet might be the perfect cool musty place for a tarantula to sleep one off for a month or two, however spiders live or hibernate or do whatever they do, which is to say, not some normal little spider going golden-pale in the winter from no food, no blood, but a full-on hairy-legged tarantula, which generally makes you kind of freak the hell out anyway and climb whoever happens to be standing next to you, that kind of spider, the one that usually just nests in the back of your mind, waiting for a slack moment to pounce, and your toes in your right sock didn’t just blunder into this suddenly very real spider, they pretty much crushed it, and cranking the laces down tighter probably only hurt it more, six of its eight legs surely cracked beyond saving, the other two crammed behind it, useless, but in the last moments when it sensed its death coming down through the mouth of its perfect cave, it had enough time to turn to face this attacker, your foot, your toes, such that, when it was dying, and before you could untie the knot in your laces you’d blundered into because your fingers were having the panic attack of all panic attacks, that desperate lashing-out tarantula had time to bite into your longest toe six times, lacerating the tip, each incision another wasp sting at least, except worse, because your mind was working fast, you knew exactly what was in this shoe, you knew you should have shaken it, tapped its heel on the floor, maybe paid to have an x-ray shot just in case, but spiders are soft tissue, that would have been stupid, only its sharp little mandibles would have shown up, or whatever it was biting you with, its rack of shiny eyes wheeling in the darkness, its own juices soaking into the white of your sock, and because you hadn’t gotten the shoe off yet to look, to see, this was still just a “spider,” and for all you knew, because this was just your luck, it was probably a brown recluse, why not, the king of all brown recluses, meaning your foot was going to go necrotic, you were going to have a crater of rotted skin where your toes used to be, and no more sandals now, no more bare-footing it to the mailbox, those days were over, summer’s gone forever, you’re in winter now for the duration, and you were hopping backward across your bedroom with all this reeling through your head, you were yipping and starting to cry, and when the knot still wouldn’t come out, was only getting worse and tighter—another bite, sting, whatever spiders do—you went on the attack, kicked the side of the bed with your hurting foot, then the wall, then the frame of the door three times hard which started the dog barking in the other room but screw him, he should have found this monster in your shoe weeks ago, he should have sniffed it out, chewed it up, and then Sid’s footsteps were pounding in from the kitchen because what is all this clamor about, and the main thing in the world you were wishing for right then please please please was a button you could push to take back the last minute, you were wishing you’d donated these stupid shoes, you were wishing that, that—you were wishing that summer hadn’t been a good enough summer that you’d want to remember it by slipping into a shoe from that time, and that was when the coldness tunneled up from your foot, along the inside of your thigh, across your pelvis and into your heart, the back of your throat, your eyes, your memory, and it was poison, you knew it was poison, that it was traveling along nerve pathways or hormone highways or it didn’t matter, but then it went cold enough that your foot suddenly didn’t hurt anymore, was just numb, which you assumed was some kindness nature had programmed into this venom, some way of calming the prey so as to make the end soft, ease it—you—into death, and maybe part of that was your senses dulling, because now the dog wasn’t barking anymore, and now Sid’s footsteps stilled, and the smells of dinner were somehow gone too, meaning your nose and your ears were fading, probably meaning your vision would be next, hold on, you’re about to fall backward into some forever black void, and instead of spending your last few rods and cones on Sid’s worried face coming down the hall for you, you looked down to this guilty shoe, this traitor of a shoe, and your fingers, calmer now that you’re accepting this death, they finally beat that idiot knot and you slung the shoe away with a yell, one that’s probably going to stop Sid cold in the doorway, because you’re not supposed to get mad enough to throw things anymore, you’re supposed to be past that, only . . . she should have been there by now, and the dog should have been here even before that, which made about zero sense now that you were thinking about it, so to prove to her that she should have hurried to save you, to at least witness whatever violent thing was happening in the bedroom, you padded over to that shoe, flipped it upright with a coat hanger and tapped the heel on the ground to pour the spider out, but when it didn’t pour like a dead spider should you angled the shoe up, held the tongue out of the way to look inside, and there that tarantula was, bunched up in the toe like you knew it would be, hairy legs and all, and it was glaring hard at you with its eight eyes, with its eight unburst eyes, which is when you finally clocked that all its legs were working and functional too, they’re what was holding it there against your tapping, they’re what was keeping it from shaking out, so, holding this shoe as far from you as possible, you carried it in to the other room like evidence, already forming the story for Sid, making it even more dramatic and terrifying than it was, only, only—not only had she not made it to the bedroom yet, but neither were the black and white barn photographs all along the hallway, the ones she brought when she moved in, and the dog she’d brought’s raggy bed wasn’t by the sliding glass door in the living room anymore either, meaning your place, you had to realize, had to admit, was pretty nearly what it was before you even met her, which was . . . that’s why that summer was so great, that’s the summer you met her, that’s when you first had these shoes, except, just now, in a fit of pain and rage and shortsightedness, you wished on every star you’d ever seen or would see, you offered your soul and more in trade, anything to stop this pain, this abject and all-encompassing terror, and for once, maybe because you were so desperate, so insistent, or maybe because something with a sense of humor was listening, you wished this pain and terror away just like you wanted, just like you needed, only, doing that involved going back and back to why you were going to have put that shoe on in the first place, and now that magical summer, it’s gone, you’re now in a branch of your life where that summer passed uneventful, like all the summers before, like all the summers waiting up ahead, and the only thing you got for that is that the second toe on your right foot never got bit into by a spider, and when you looked into that shoe for that spider again, to wish harder, to wish it all back, please, undo this trade, it was gone of course, never to return. Like Sid. Like everything.
Hairy Legs and All
Published in Feb. 2021 (Issue 101) | 1500 words
© 2021 by Stephen Graham Jones.
Stephen Graham Jones
Stephen Graham Jones is the author of twenty-five or so novels and collections, and there’s some novellas and comic books in there as well. Most recent are The Only Good Indians and Night of the Mannequins. Next is My Heart is a Chainsaw. Stephen lives and teaches in Boulder, Colorado.