The two woman walked single file down the path, into the trees. The taller of the two talked over her shoulder at the one behind. They were close enough to hear each other but far enough apart that conversation carried down the trail behind them. Had there been someone following at a safe distance, they would have had no trouble eavesdropping.
The woman in the front swung a stick in front of her like a sorceress casting a powerful curse, or perhaps a blessing, on the road ahead when suddenly she shrieked, dropped it and ran headlong onto the woods, beating her hands frantically around her head and shoulders.
The second woman gave chase, struggling to keep her balance from laughing as she ran.
“Let me get it! You are going to run into a tree!”
The first woman stumbled, indeed narrowly missing a tree trunk and using another to break her fall with her hands.
The other caught up to her and approached as if the first had gone mad, hands reassuringly out in front.
“Where is it? Is it one of those giant yellow ones? GET IT OFF MEEEEE!” and nearly took off running again but her friend stood in her path still speaking softly and carefully turning her friend around to brush her off as she checked for spiders.
They had started this hike early this morning, determined to beat the midday heat. They didn’t count on the sheer, overwhelming number and variety of arachnids that built webs across the trail. Some were brown and lumpy and ugly, like tree bark, and others had stripes of red and yellow along their backs. Some of these were as big as the palm of your hand and while they were beautiful, they looked they might actually be sharp if they touched you. Thus, they began carrying the stick so they could knock unseen webs out of the way.
“I’m pretty sure whatever it is, it’s dead or running away shitting itself. I don’t see anything.”
The taller woman slowly turned. “You’re sure?”
“Yes! It’s fine! Anyway it’s harmless. Black and yellow garden-variety spider – only bites if you make it mad.”
Her friend took a shaky breath. “Good. I’m glad you know th – why do you know that? Did you see the fucking thing?”
Maybe the other woman hesitated a beat too long, or maybe it was the tiniest glint of ill-advised mischief in her eyes, but the first woman’s voice took on an edge of hysteria. “Did you see it? Where is it? Where the fuck is it, Deirdre?” She began slapping at herself again.
Deirdre sighed. “It’s just a stupid spider. You are such a chicken shit. Why are you even out here if you are going to freak out over a spider?” She put her hands on her friend’s shoulders and turned her around again. “I saw it on the ground and didn’t want to scare you. Ok? GOD.”
Jenny stared at her for a split second, then turned around and found another stick, and began walking up the trail unaware of her passenger, but not before Deirdre saw the tears in her eyes.
Such a goddamned baby, she thought, as she jogged to catch up.
The spider was still there, of course. It was sitting on the small of her back, (It’s a live tramp stamp!) Deirdre just didn’t feel it was urgent to tell her just yet. She watched the spider hitch a ride for the next twenty minutes, until she saw it begin to move slowly upward. Then she jogged up to her friend and patted her back reassuringly, dislodging the spider in the process. It hit the ground a couple of feet away, and when Jenn turned to smile at her friend she saw it.
Her smile faltered, then faded completely away when she saw Deirdre was fighting laughter. “See? No harm done. Now you don’t have to be afraid, you carried one on your back for a mile!”
Jenn twisted the stick in her hands, again fighting tears and rage. “Why do you do things like that?” Jenn asked softly.
“Because you let me.”
Truth is, Deirdre didn’t know.
She had always been like this.