When a Stranger Calls

On eight hairy legs, The Huntsman comes, softly through the shadow of the evening sun.

Most people look forward to summer. Summer means the smell of sunscreen, grass and sand under bare feet, the embrace of the ocean and a brilliant light that not so much illuminates as penetrates and impregnates. Everything glows with it. Faces blush with heat, cheeks are round and pink, foreheads are radiant with rivulets of sweat. Life returns in full. People shed their winter layers and emerge soft and clean. Oh, summer.

And yet.

There is something else crawling from its exoskeleton when the Earth tips its face toward the sun.

He returns.

The Huntsman.

Every year I dread the end of spring. The jacaranda trades purple for green again. Storms turn the Queensland sky from blue to purple. The rain thunders down, plants go from brown to green and insects get the green light to breed and thrive again. The Huntsman has a buffet in the garden, but it’s not decorous for him to dine in the rain, and so he comes inside. Inside! Into my house. My territory. He cannot do me the courtesy of declaring the invasion. One day, he is just simply there. Fixed upon the wall like a grotesque. Unmoving. Watching. Waiting.

And I, too, am paralysed.

I cannot say why I fear him. A previous trauma, perhaps. There is the time I woke in bed, thinking I felt something upon my face. I turned my head and saw eight eyes gazing back. That gaze. Like a black hole, nothing escapes it. Eight black holes. Your own face, contorted in terror, reflected back at you, eight times over.

There is the time I tried to shoo him out with a broom. As the bristles touched his back legs, he whipped around, mounted the broom and scaled the handle towards me. My own weapon had been turned against me.

There is the time I greeted guests at my door, and he dropped from the ceiling onto my shoulder. And so, quite rationally, I tore off my top and flung both spider and shirt away. In the chaos, one boob popped from its cup.

But perhaps – and I think this may be true – I was born afraid. The shape of him, the look of him, the way he moves – like a crab stripped of armour to reveal haired flesh – strikes a chord upon the very fibres of my cells. It is an ancestral memory, a ghost from the haunted homes of my foremothers, something kept by my body and not by my brain. Whatever the cause, I knew it was more than a passing problem the day he stationed himself sentinel at my door, and I could not leave to go to work. I’d lost the battle.

I needed help.

The psychiatrist told me the spider was not my enemy – I was. I needed not to face the spider, but myself. How do I face myself? I asked.The answer was exposure therapy. You must face yourself, he said, by facing the spider. By facing the spider. There must have been panic in my face. Start small, he said. Look at a picture of The Huntsman. Imagine yourself in a room with him. Watch your fear as it rises. If you do not flee, eventually the panic will not rise. It will peak, and it will fall. The more you do it, the less anxiety you will feel. If you prepare in increments for the final encounter, one day, when you come to the door, you will be able to walk through it, despite the spider.

Despite the spider. And so I print his portrait. I pin it up. I meet the eight eyes. I imagine The Huntsman is really there. I sweat, my eyes tear, my mouth goes dry, I tense every muscle I didn’t know I had. My throat squeezes so I cannot breathe. I feel his legs upon me – I flinch! I jump. I tremble. He is not really there, I tell myself. And slowly, slowly, my muscles go soft. My throat opens. I breathe.

I do this every day, and I wait for the day to come.

And it does.

When I sit upon the toilet, I realise my fatal error. He is there. Hidden behind the door, waiting for it to close, to ambush me at my most vulnerable. Oh!

No, I think. No: I hear the voice of the psychiatrist. This is an opportunity. This is the final showdown. I fix upon the umbra of one cold eye and I release my bladder.

I sweat. My eyes tear. My mouth goes dry. My throat and muscles squeeze. The last drops plink plaintively into the bowl. I move cautiously for the toilet paper. He does not move. My muscles soften. My throat opens. I blink.

There is silence between us. It is not thick or taut or oppressive. It is companionable. A moment has passed between us. I am confused, but – in some small way – optimistic. I feel confident enough to turn my back on him to press the flush button – but nothing happens.

This happens sometimes. Occasionally the flush lever disconnects from the button. All I need to do is open the cistern and replace it. I take the cistern lid in both hands – it is ceramic, and heavy – and turn it over.

And he is there. Twice as big. Twice as dark. Crouched and ready, crammed up in the lid, waiting for me. I drop the lid and scream. The lid strikes a tile and they crack like lightning, twin bolts breaking both ceramic squares in two. All the exposure therapy – wasted! My fears exposed. The spiders streak to the door and squirm out – the spiders. It is a family. There is a line of succession. There are two of them.

The Huntsmen.

By CR Noakes, a doctoral student in creative writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

First published in edition #602.

Illustration by Grace Lee.