A Short Story: An Unexpected Delivery - Part One
When the first tarantula crawled up on the galley table, I squashed it with a frying pan.
“It’s a ‘pider!” he announced with the usual childish gift for understatement.
Sam gave the mature eight-year-old response of an exaggerated oh-yuck face. “Ew, now there’s bug juice all over the place.”
“Squash first, ask questions later,” I said. I scooped Ellie out of her highchair and she stopped crying mid-yell, wiping her face on my already stained shoulder.
“Bummer.” Sam poked the dead spider gingerly with his fork. He probably would’ve preferred trapping it in a bucket and feeding it leftovers to see what it ate. I was a terrible mother for not encouraging his curiosity.
“’pider, ‘pider, ‘pider,” Jake recited. “Big ‘pider.”
“Where’d it come from?” Sam wanted to know.
“From the bananas, I guess,” I said.
But we both knew it shouldn’t have been that obvious. Organic cargo underwent mandatory irradiation to get rid of nasty little problems like tarantulas – and anything else standing too close. Off-world colonies hanging on by their teeth in unfriendly ecosystems didn’t like unexpected stowaways.
Slinging Ellie onto my hip, I made a dash for the cockpit. “Jem! Cargo scan right away!”
The voice from the wall speakers was even more grouchy than usual. “Why?”
“Sometimes I dream of a respectful interface,” I said, plopping gracelessly into the pilot’s couch.
“Yeah well, shop clearance and you get what you get,” the computer said unsympathetically. “Are you going to keep your young from re-configuring the drives?”
Ellie was happily pushing buttons on the main control board. I had them locked and Jem knew it, but she never passed up an opportunity to grouse. “Do a complete cargo scan,” I repeated. “Look for anything alive."
“Mom squashed a really big spider,” Sam said from behind me. “I think it was a tarantula.”
“We don’t have the scanner density to find life-forms that small,” Jem said.
I scratched the back of my leg and snuck a peek at the floor, trying not to imagine something big and hairy with lots of legs crawling around down there. “It wasn’t that small and landfall's in fifteen minutes. We don’t need another surprise.”
There was a burst of static over the speakers - Jem’s version of a sigh. “Fine.”
“Where’s Jake?” I asked Sam.
“Eating the last of my pancakes,” Sam said. “Probably yours too.” He picked up the datapad I’d left on the console and began tapping on it. “If we find another tarantula, can we keep it?”
Just as I suspected. “You realize how much trouble we’d be in if an inspector found one on board?”
“No one would have to know,” he said. “I could keep it under my bunk. Inspectors never look there.”
Probably a good thing, too. Sam always managed to stash a collection of something under there. My favorite was the box of chicken bones he’d been hoping would turn into fossils. Like most eight-year-olds, he wasn’t particularly worried about eau-de-rotting-meat in the pursuit of discovery.
“’Tarantula. Member of the Theraphosidae spider family,’” he read aloud from the pad. “’Mildly toxic. Usually shy and non-aggressive.’” He looked up, white-blond hair falling into his eyes. “I bet Dad would like to see one.”
He was probably right. “Dad would like us to get back without a lawsuit,” I said. “We better hope there isn’t another one for you to catch.”
“There doesn’t seem to be anything in the hold except bananas,” Jem interjected. “Though the scanners—“
“—probably can’t find anything that small,” I finished for her. “Can we tweak them?”
“Not in time,” she said. “Your best bet is to monitor for movement.”
“My best bet?” I raised an eyebrow at the fish-eye lens mounted above the control yoke. “Don’t you mean your best bet?”
“No," she said. “I have a sealed titanium core. Bugs, shmugs."
“Point taken. For the sake of us mere mortals, would a movement scan catch what a life scan can’t?”
“Then do it.” I stood up, Ellie squawking in protest as she was deprived of her favorite toys. “We have to pass this inspection.”
“’A tarantula hunts prey instead of spinning webs,’” Sam read. “’It’s appearance is worse than it’s bite, which is similar to a honeybee’s sting.’ They're really not that bad, Mom.”
“If we have tarantulas on board, we have to get rid of them. I’m sorry, buddy.”
He sighed. “If we find one, can I look at it before we squash it?”
“Sure.” I ruffled his hair and took a deep breath, wishing David was here. “I better go see—“
A piercing squeal echoed down the hall.
“Got something,” Jem announced.
A little late, I thought.
Author's Note: I wrote this years ago for a short story contest my sister @annaleigh was having. It may still be published online but I'm not sure. I've broken it into three parts since it's too long for one Steemit post!
Photo Credit: http://www.birdspiders.com/gallery/index.php/Tarantulas/DSCN2797
Hello @lturner, thank you for sharing this creative work! We just stopped by to say that you've been upvoted by the @creativecrypto magazine. The Creative Crypto is all about art on the blockchain and learning from creatives like you. Looking forward to crossing paths again soon. Steem on!
Howdy lturner! This is a great story! Wow, in my mind it's like watching a tv show or movie! Excellent writing.