I screamed and nearly had a stroke when the black legs and fangs stuck out from the white blanket, the spider screaming like a small child. I even jumped back when it flailed helplessly, and I had thought I’d seen everything already, being a vet for thirty-some odd years. I pointed at the creature in Janie’s hands. “What are you doing with that?”
“It came from an egg I found in the holler,” Janie answered. She handed the screaming pile of towels over to me, hands gentle. “At first I thought it was a dragon, but didn’t turn out that way. It’s cryin,’ though, and I can’t make it stop. It won’t eat bugs, and it poops everywhere. Help me out, doc, and I’ll give you the next paycheck – no, next two paychecks – I get. Please.”
I nodded and reached out my hands to take the child with all the gentleness Janie seemed to be insisting. The spider continued to scream for reasons unknown, the sounds it made breaking my heart despite the terrifying appearance. “Do you have a fecal sample?” I asked.
Brett nodded and held up a canvas grocery bag. “The thing won’t stop poopin,’ Doc. We got you covered.”
“Then you go give that to the technician. Tell her to run a metabolite scan and bring me the results.” I nodded to Janie next, ushering her to the wooden door covered in bite and claw marks from the years of business I’d had in this building. She followed into the exam room, her face paling as I placed the spider in its towel on the steel exam table. It didn’t seem to like the cold table either, but at the time I didn’t realize exactly what I had my hands on.
Instead I unwrapped the thing and, while I gloved my hands in nitrile, looked briefly over its body, finding that it had no distinguishing marks that would let me know what species it was. It lacked the bulbous pedipalps, so I suspected instantly the creature was female. Even though I’d seen tarantulas and camel spiders before, I’d never heard of a spider this size. “When did you say you hatched this thing?” I asked, hoping it was close to dying.
“This mornin,’ real early,” she said. A hand reached up to her face to wipe some mucous from her nose. “I fed it bugs, but it didn’t eat ’em. All I got down it was a vanilla protein shake.”
“Good lord,” I muttered, or perhaps something equally as disdainful. I put my gloved hand up to its body and turned it on its back, and at that moment I felt something I shouldn’t have. I readjusted my hand despite the frighteningly big fang on its mouth, then took a better hold of its abdomen. There was a heartbeat, distinctive as if it had valves, within. With one hand I held the spider down, and with the other I removed my stethoscope and placed it in my ears.
Sure enough, there it was. A four-valve heartbeat. I noticed now that the creature was generating heat, that it was breathing with lungs, that it wasn’t an ordinary spider at all. I eyed Janie while she shivered on the other side of the exam table, and after a few moments listening and confirming that I wasn’t finally going insane, I took the stethescope out of my ears. “What is this?” I asked. “This isn’t a spider, and you haven’t been forthcoming-”
Janie burst into tears. “I found the egg in the holler back in June, and I kept it warm and cozy since then. I listened to it wigglin’ at night, and I…this is mine, Dr. Worthington, and you cain’t take it away. Is it gonna live?”
I huffed. “I’ve never seen anything like this. She’s…she’s not a true spider, not as far as I can tell.” I brushed my gloved hand against the creature’s stomach, and it began to settle down from the crying.
Bare-handed, Janie reached out and stroked one of its legs. I saw the lack of fear in her eyes, the love she had for this poor, pitiful monstrosity. She cooed at the baby girl and slowly picked her up.