The Cryptid in the Break Room
by Charles C. Cole
Right after college, I briefly held a paid internship with a well-connected “mobile think tank.” We were sort of like a M.A.S.H. unit for manufacturers. We’d been invited to a gypsum plant in the jungles of Indonesia for a three-day RESULTS! summit. Our goal, through detailed process mapping, one-on-one interviews, standardization and “Americanization” was to help the newly acquired plant leap forward into the 21st century, to attain sustainable productivity increases.
Less than 24 hours after our arrival, our team was gathered in a makeshift “war room” with tools of the trade: laptops, PowerPoint presentations and inspirational videos. We had taken over a simple break room, one with a painted concrete floor, a plywood-covered pool table for our workspace, and two humming Coke machines for white noise.
There were large open windows along the outside wall that looked out on a dense jungle a hundred yards away. Beyond the front of the building, big loud machinery, with eight-foot high tires, cut and moved ancient trees to create a new private airfield for easier shipping and “world access” — meaning travel convenience for the CEO and his financiers. It probably doesn’t do the scenario justice to say I felt we were industrial missionaries.
We were all sitting down with our imported bottled water. The air was warm and humid: sticky. We’d already been having problems with the overhead projector. As Jill Devereau toggled the stubborn light switch, she suddenly let out a dramatic yelp. I quickly covered my mouth with both hands in an instinctive effort to appear less squeamish than I felt.
A spider, the biggest I’ve ever seen, bigger than my hand, not a tarantula but smooth and amber, had climbed in through a window as if it was trying to get away from the trucks outside or knew its way. It didn’t seem particularly interested in us but was focused instead on walking up the interior wall on its quest, I suspected, to a bird’s nest overhead in the rafters.
We were momentarily derailed by nature, caught up in this close encounter with a very large arachnid, transfixed. But we weren’t being paid to gawk at exotic native fauna. It was then that the boss of the factory, a no-nonsense businessman named Fred Tuggle, joined us from the plant floor.
Jill, indicating the invader and probably hoping to diffuse our fish-out-of-water shock with humor, asked, “Does this happen all the time?”
Fred said, simply and without emotion, “Nope, that’s a genuine first.” Then he slipped off his shoe and smacked the enormous bug flat, just like that: case closed. He tossed the remains into an empty oil drum being used as a trashcan. The rest of us refocused our efforts, some more effectively than others.
Later, while we were taking a “bio” break, I joined one of the locals, Julius Raslan, outside while he smoked. I was trying to connect, to see these workers “out of uniform” as it were, hoping to gain cultural insight with casual and indirect inquiry. Julius was the plant foreman. He generously offered me a cigarette but I declined.
I said, mostly to break the ice, “Julius, you witnessed what happened earlier in the conference room.”
“Can I ask, does that sort of thing happen all the time here? If so, why would you leave the windows open? I mean, I guess I wouldn’t wander far from the plant if I were you.”
Julius considered a moment and responded, “Charlie, I’ve lived in this country all my life. My grandparents were from the jungle not far from here. And, I have to tell you, we’ve seen it all. My uncle actually collects exotic specimens for labs and universities — for money. And I’ve never seen that type of spider before. I’ve never even heard stories of that type of spider. I would have heard stories if people knew about it.
“This is a hard place to live, with lots of tropical diseases as well as creatures not found anywhere else on earth. You know the Tree Man, Dede Kosawa, was from a village not far from here. I bet a live spider like that may be worth at least five thousand American dollars. Maybe more, if it’s as rare as I think it is.”
“That’s a lot of money,” I said.
“Yeah, but it’s not a dependable income,” he countered, “this hunting for cryptids, as they’re called.”
“You don’t think it’s a bit romantic, not to mention scientific, to discover something unknown and share it with the world?”
“It doesn’t pay the bills,” said Julius, shrugging for emphasis and looking away.
Just then, Fred Tuggle found us. He was primed to resume our data mining and analysis. “Come on back, you two. Time is money, even here.”
“Just moping over dead spiders,” I offered.
“It couldn’t have been helped,” said Fred. I raised my eyebrows. “You’re from Maine, right? What would your dad do if he surprised a timber rattler in the woodpile?”
“There aren’t any timber rattlers in Maine any longer,” I said. “Officially, they’ve been extirpated.”
“But what would he do?” he asked.
“Honestly? Probably take a shovel to it and get on with his chores,” I said.
“Okay then. That’s what we did,” said Fred. “Besides, take a look around you. You don’t think that was the only one, do you?”
We went back inside.
For the record, in our remaining time there, no other giant spiders were sighted. Though I never told anyone, I hid a small section of the leg of the creature in my luggage and mailed it to myself when we returned to civilization. I still have the sealed envelope on my dresser, as a kind of dark memento. I have never opened it, but for some reason I feel I have to keep it, maybe as proof that I once saw something few others will ever encounter.
Copyright © 2012 by Charles C. Cole