The Tarantula Cure
by Harrison Kim
I rock my head from side to side on a remote Mexican beach south of Puerto Escondido. My whole body is possessed by the need for a fiery burn. We all have our demons and mine’s Tequila. I’m staying with a rugged-faced man named Brugo who lies in his hammock all day and at night paints snake art on the walls of his beach casa. Murals of serpents twine and slide over each other against artistic backgrounds of the cove below his house. He’s kind of strange and different, but I like that.
I’m a piano musician, haven’t played in three months, because everything is about the booze now. I met Brugo in Puerto Escondido. He offered to trade his hat which said “Don’t Tread On Me” for my T-shirt on which was written “World Wide Web.”
After hearing my drinking stories, Brugo invited me out to what he called his magic beach. He said, “A man like you needs a transformation, and a man like me needs company.” He said he’d only charge twenty American dollars a day. That sounded like a great price for seaside lodgings and an undisturbed place to drink.
So far, I’ve spent my Mexican holiday blanked out and blasted, staggering around Puerto Escondido spending my inheritance money on booze and mescal. Now, I’m at Brugo’s lonely beach, the sun is going down, and I’ll take just a few more gulps before I slide into my sleeping bag. It’s a beautiful white sand beach with palms waving and the sea ebbing and flowing with a gentle rhythm. It’s the best place to be drunk, watching the sunset, if it all wasn’t swaying like land in an 8.5-level earthquake.
Brugo told me, “The beauty will cleanse you. And beauty isn’t always pretty.” He, himself, is impressively ugly: fat beetle eyebrows and scars across his face. I fall asleep thinking about those scars, how he touches them as he speaks. I picture him as the beach sways. The last thing I see are the serpent murals all over his “casa” walls.
I awaken with black night touching my face and something furry poking itself across my eyes. Feels like felt, and it’s wiggling. Soft at first, then bristly, it slips down my cheek, I try to swat it away and find I can’t move, except for my eyeballs and tongue. My arms and legs don’t work at all.
I flick my pupils to one side and observe a black disc-shaped thing that ups itself and waddles back across my mouth. Lots of legs, hairy mandibles. A tarantula. In fact, judging by the tickling under my arms and through my crotch, there could be dozens of them in my sleeping bag. There’s the sense of hairy feet and legs pattering and scratching all around my belt and up my pants. I still have all my clothes on, being too drunk and lazy to remove them last night. That doesn’t stop the spiders.
After some tickling around, there’s a prickling and then it seems they crawl under my skin because I can’t detect anything except a series of jabs, like being poked by very sharp needles. It feels like they’re burrowing themselves inside me, and my next observation proves it. If I could move, I’d be leaping like a dervish: “Get them off! Get them off!” but I’m stopped in both body and mind.
I put it down to the venom, there must be a narcotic within it, to make sure the prey doesn’t flop around too much. The tarantula on my cheek sinks into my jaw, from the corner of my eye I perceive it vanishing. I feel more prodding from under my elbows. “They could be intelligent,” I think. “It seems like the effort of a whole nest.”
These are socialist tarantulas, I imagine. They’re taking away my personal body wealth and redistributing it among themselves. I have the material goods, the blood and the nutrients. I’m a stretched skin holding liquor and vitamins. I should be screaming, but here I am thinking politics.
Maybe it’s simpler than that, perhaps the spiders just want to get drunk. It’s a funny thought, but I can’t laugh. My mouth can’t move and my voice comes out in a cough. I’ve always been terrified of spiders. I roll my eyes from side to side amazed at my calmness, or maybe it’s the effects of paralysis.
Then again, I’ve felt so unbalanced, so full of alcohol for so long now, that the addition of tarantulas and their poison is merely the equivalent of another bottle of Tequila. They make me slightly more woozy. I’m pickled, preserved, and now possessed by eight-legged hairballs.
The tarantulas continue to merge into my skin and vanish, I can’t feel much, but there’s fewer messing around, only the occasional leg sticking itself in my belly button and sinking through. I stare up at the stars cascading silver across the sky and wonder what’s going to happen now that I’m full of poison.
Believe it or not, I doze. When you can’t move, and you’re brimming with insects, there’s not much else to do but forget about it. The creep factor alone could give a man a heart attack. Maybe it’s lucky I’m blasted. “The poison keeps me calm,” I repeat in my head, over and over. Anyway, how best to forget your demons but in sleep?
I wake up again, and it’s still night. I’m coughing and hacking, but I can move. What a relief! First I raise my right arm, then my left. I turn my head from side to side and feel a terrible all-powerful nausea. I stand up quickly and puke a black swarm: thousands and thousands of baby tarantulas. Their tiny bodies shoot out my yap like bullets. I fall down on my knees in the sand and for five minutes continue to vomit up eight-legged babies.
I’m sweating and boiling hot and feel the drops running down my back, but are those drops or more tarantulas coming out of me? The little arachnids scatter all over the beach and bury themselves beneath the sand. The sun is rising behind the distant hills. I raise my head towards it and cry for mercy.
I throw up a few more thousand spiders; there’s a taste in my mouth not unlike overripe luncheon meat. I check down my shirt to see if there are any insects; I notice many red dots. I shudder, rip the shirt off and rub my chest all over to flick off any remaining arachnids. I glance across the sand and there’s the Tequila bottle. The mere sight of it makes me ill. I have to heave up more tarantula babies who, like the others, scatter quickly under the nearest log or piece of washed-up styrofoam.
Then I see Brugo leaning on his stick right beside my sleeping bag; he’s shaking his head. I say, “You wouldn’t believe what’s happening to me.”
“Oh yes, I know what’s going on,” he says. “What was it: scorpions?”
“Tarantulas.” I point to a few still scurrying for the rocks.
“Oh, yes. For me, I found snakes. I’ve always been afraid of them.”
“You had snakes in your sleeping bag?”
“That’s how I got these marks on my face. I held up my hands, tried to stop them from getting in. Several twisted around and bit me. I was a coke and crack addict, so of course I thought at first they were hallucinations.”
“There’s pinpricks all over my body.” I show him a few hundred all over my arms. “It feels real to me.”
“That’s the price you pay, the marks you hold.” He rubs his black-whiskered, bristly chin. “We meet what we’re afraid of here on this beach.” He grins and bends down, grasps my hand. “You’re purged. Exorcised. All that’s left are the scars.”
“This is some kind of detox?”
“It’s a metamorphosis,” Brugo adds with a nod. “A new beginning that comes from the tarantulas’ devouring sick parts that hold you to your base nature. You’ll be able to return to your music, just as I was able to return to my art. This beach brings back true meaning.”
“In being alive,” Brugo explains, “without compulsions and addictions that make us impure and fail.” He invites me up to his “casa” on the hill, pours me water and cactus juice while he talks about the magic beach, and how its hidden organisms can invade and exorcise the dead parts of a living consciousness, make it whole again.
As I gulp down the refreshing liquids, energy flows through me. I think of Tequila and my thoughts turn to images of spiders skittering around in my head. My habit is now food for tarantulas. Brugo says that every time I drink booze or even think about it, spiders will be born from tiny eggs sown deep within me. The eggs will hatch from any imbibed yeast and sugar combination. Spider spawn will then be cast out upon the earth as I spew forth the freshly hatched babies. This will be a reminder. The painted snakes on Brujo’s walls remind him of the consequences of his own former cocaine addiction. “There’s no going back,” he says.
I stay in Puerto Escondido and practice piano three hours a day, then play at coffee houses around town for extra cash. My fingers seem much longer and more flexible. When I play, I imagine I’m spinning a musical web. I perceive the intimate network of every song. Admirers say I can tinkle the ivories like a Daddy Long Legs Duke Ellington.
I’m much calmer, can hang for hours at one location, just drinking coffee and watching people buzz around the cafe. If I meet any boozers who tell me they want to quit. I direct them to snuggle up in sleeping bags on the beach, gulp their Tequila, and wait for a tarantula invasion.
Just talking about booze teases my inner arachnid. It’s fairly inevitable that if I’m talking to a drinker long enough, I’ll start feeling nauseous and spit out a spider. That can be embarrassing. When it happens, my alcoholic acquaintances throw down their glasses and bolt out of the room. They tell me later that seeing hallucinations like those means they’ll never drink again.
Copyright © 2019 by Harrison Kim