On balance, I would say that being able to switch your mind into the body of a spider has more advantages than disadvantages. Crawling up walls is really fun, and until you’ve experienced a body different than your own you can’t really appreciate all of the little stupid things the human body does that are so awesome. Like having to go to the bathroom. I love the feeling of having to go to the bathroom, now. It is so very…mammalian. On the other hand, spiders break their legs a lot. It doesn’t hurt exactly – they don’t really experience pain, and I don’t experience pain when I am sharing their body – but it is damn disorienting.
Plus there are the food cravings. Oh man, those are terrible. They transfer over really badly, too. It is unpleasant enough to crave insects while I am a human. Humans can ignore their cravings. Humans can ignore almost anything. People wonder why serial killers are so driven to kill their victims, why they can’t just not do it. Spend a couple of minutes as a spider and you will totally understand. Spiders aren’t always hungry, but when they are it is the only thing they care about in all the world. Think about that.
I mean, even when you are really hungry, you can still think tangentially about the fact that you love your family and have aspirations for the future. Even people who are legitimately starving rarely feel the kind of single-minded intensity spiders feel when they are casually peckish. This is kill-your-loved-ones-for-a-snack kind of intensity. When I am a spider and I want to eat a fly, it is manageable. I can get flies. There are usually things I would rather be doing with my time, but I won’t lie. Eating a fly is satisfying in a way I will not even attempt to describe. Even if I describe it successfully, it is pretty gross. But when I am a spider and I have a serious hankering for a bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado sandwich? Talk about frustration. Maybe serial killers just have a little spider in them.
What is my favorite memory of being a spider? Man, that’s hard. I mean, can you name off the top of your head the most fun you ever had going to the movies? Or the best sex you ever had? I think only people in the movies can do that. I took a writing class once and the first assignment was to list your “most precious childhood memory.” That’s not only hard, it is also stupid. I dropped the class. If you want me to think of some of my favorite memories of being a spider, I can do that.
I first got the power when I was eight, and I mostly used it for one thing: scaring boys. Eight year old boys are all such little bastards who like to tease and torment little girls. At least, the ones I knew were. Your mileage may vary. The worst of the worst was Tommy Jenkins. It’s funny, because when I talk about it now it seems like the perfect name for the brattiest brat on the block. If you were making up this name of the boy who tormented me and my friends, you would name him Tommy Jenkins. Probably he would turn out to be my first kiss, too, as we sparred for years and eventually all of the tension turned into passion. He wasn’t. My first kiss was at fourteen, from the same boy who took my virginity. I’ll get to that later.
Tommy Jenkins liked to throw mud at me and my sister Jan and my best friend Matty. That was his big weapon: mud. The nicer the outfit we went out in, the more likely Tommy was to throw mud on it. I have this memory of a complicated campaign of mud-based gorilla warfare, where Tommy would hunt us down at neighbors’ parties in the dead of winter when it was bone dry and there was no mud to be found. Probably that didn’t happen. It was still a problem. One that required spider-based revenge.
Even when I first got the power it didn’t seem weird. No, that is not quite right. It seemed weird that I had it at all. That sort of thing is not supposed to exist. But it didn’t feel weird. It felt natural, and I instinctively knew how to do everything. I knew how to move my spider-body around and how to switch back and forth. Maybe that knowledge comes with the territory. Maybe it is just really easy, and anybody who got the ability could figure it out. It only took me a few days of playing around to get it really nailed down. By then, I was ready to use it. I knew just what I wanted to do.
It was May Day, and Jan and Matty and I were all going to the local May Day celebration in our brand new spring dresses. Jan hated wearing dresses. She liked pants. I think her first word was “pants!” screamed at the top of her lungs. She still prefers pants. Now she races bikes professionally, so I guess it makes sense. I always preferred wearing dresses or skirts, even then. Now it is an absolute necessity. I think because the idea of stuffing all eight of my legs into pants makes me uncomfortable. That is one of the things. When you are a body-switcher, it all bleeds through, all the time. You learn to live with it.
On this particular day, Jan had acquiesced to wearing a dress. It feels weird to use a word like “acquiesce” when talking about a memory from when I was eight. I was pretty smart, but I don’t think I knew what acquiesce meant. Oh well. The fact remains that Jan did acquiesce to the dress. It was her first May Day celebration where she was allowed to dance around the May Pole. She was very excited. Mom told her that meant she had to wear a spring dress. It was a suitably persuasive argument. Mom was like that. Jan and I were both really stubborn, but mom could talk us into wearing our shoes on our heads if she really wanted to.
Matty and I were too cool and mature to get excited about the May Day dance. We were eight now. We had already done this twice. Mom had agreed we were old enough to walk the three blocks from my house to Woodlawn park where they had the May Day festival unsupervised and to bring my little sister. We had arrived.
I was actually super excited about the festival, even if there was no way I was going to say it out loud. I loved dancing. I thought the park would have different kind of spiders in it from my house or our backyard and I was looking forward to going inside of them. Matty had other things on her mind.
“Oh no, Angel,” she said to me on the way to the festival. “Tommy Jenkins is coming. I know he’s going to mess up my dress.” Sure enough, not three seconds later Tommy Jenkins walked out from behind Mr. Sandep’s tool shed. Jan did that sort of predictiony thing all the time. I think she might have been a little bit psychic. I think that sort of thing about people a lot. I’m usually wrong.
“Well well well,” said Tommy Jenkins with a sneer. “If it isn’t Devil and Bratty.” He wasn’t very creative. But he was eight, so what do you want?
“Go away, Tommy, you jerk!” said Jan defiantly.
“The little devil is there, too,” said Tommy. “I didn’t see you, cause you’re so small.”
“Am not!” said Jan. Zing.
“Just get out of here, Tommy,” I said.
“He’s going to mess up my new dress!” moaned Matty.
“Are those new dresses?” Tommy smirked. “I didn’t know that. They’re really ugly.”
“You’re ugly!” said Jan. Go get him, sis.
“You had better get out of here, Tommy,” I said. “Or else you’ll get it.”
Tommy forced a laugh. “Are you going to punch me?”
I tried to smile an evil smile like on TV. I can only assume it worked magnificently. “It’ll be worse than that. I can control spiders, and you have a big hairy one on your face.”
“Ha ha very funny,” said Tommy. “I’m not going to fall for that.”
Then I did it. There was a spider on the tool shed Tommy leaned against. A big Daddy Long Legs. I leapt into it. That’s what it feels like, to body-switch. It’s like I gather something up in my chest and hurl it at the spider. It is worth explaining at this point that when I am inside a spider I can still control my own body. It feels like I control each of them separately, at a different time, only it all happens at once. It is hard to explain.
As the spider, I leapt onto Tommy’s hair, and crawled towards his face.
“Can you feel that?” I said as my girl-self. “Crawling on your hair.”
Tommy flinched and pawed at the back of his head. Spider-Angelia was too quick. I crawled right onto his nose, and brandished my legs at him. My spider-senses could feel the panic in his body as vibrations rather than see it. He swiped at his face wildly and yelped in alarm. He ran off back where he came from.
“You better run!” Jan called after him.
I don’t know if Tommy was afraid of spiders. He was a least a little, by the end of that summer. But you don’t have to be afraid of spiders for a spider on your face to freak you out.
Matty tilted her head and looked at me. “You can control spiders?”
I smiled at her. “I’ll explain later.” I could have explained then, but I wanted to seem Mysterious. I did tell her about it later that day. She was the first person to know. We still talk about it, whenever I see her, which isn’t very often.
The May Day festivities were fun. Mostly I remember the spiders.
I didn’t meet anyone else with my ability until I was thirteen. There are a fair amount of us out there. Body-switching isn’t as rare as you might think. There is a group of eight of us who meet in a bowling ally once a month to talk about it. And also to bowl. One of the group drives all the way up from the peninsula to come, and that’s almost two hours away. There are body-switchers all over, but from talking to people online it seems to be a little more prevalent in the Pacific Northwest. Like autism rates I guess. A group of eight that can meet regularly is pretty rare. I have never actually met anyone else who could go into spiders, but there are a few people online who say they can do it. You can never really trust anyone online. That’s always true, but it’s especially true with body-switching. Most of the people online who claim they can do it can’t really do it. Probably most of them don’t even know that it is a real thing that people can really do. Kind of like people who say they are real vampires.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no such thing as real vampires. Then again, how would I really know?
We screen everyone who wants to join our group. They have to demonstrate that they can really do it. That meant meeting at the zoo in the case of Jorge, who can switch into monkeys, and Isabella, who can switch into any mammal as long as it is an albino. Jorge spends a lot of time at the zoo. Isabella finds doing it very unpleasant. I don’t know if that’s because of the albino thing, or just something unique to her. It differs from person to person. Only me and Jason, who switches into birds, can operate our human bodies fully while we are switched. The only thing common to all of us is that the urge to do it is very strong. Isabella stays away from albino animals whenever she can.
As I was saying, I was thirteen when I first met another body-switcher. Talk about life-changing.
I was at the train station, watching the trains and walking around as a spider. Pretty much my favorite things to do. I was an Eris Militaris, a bronze jumping spider, which was fun because they have badass rear legs and can leap very well. I was crawling along the ceiling above the rails, and leaping from spot to spot. I could see the top of the trains from up here. It is not a view you normally get, and it was fascinating. I had never crawled this high in the train station, and the rush from the height and all the leaping was exhilarating. On days like this I really loved being a body-switcher. Plus the spider I inhabited had recently eaten. This was good, as in my human form the soft-pretzels from the cart nearby smelled awfully good to me. I did not really want to spend my time as a spider with the undeniable urge to crawl over to the cart and hunt for errant crumbs.
I crawled around up there, reveling in the view and the leaping when I saw a lizard crawling towards me. I groaned. Inwardly, of course. Spiders can’t groan. It is no fun to be eaten, and it took me a long time to crawl this high. I could find another bronze jumper and come back, but dying inside a switched body usually kills the mood. It doesn’t hurt exactly. My consciousness pulls out just before the moment of death, so I’ve never experienced it directly. I think it is like pulling your punches when you hit something, or closing your eyes when you sneeze. It’s a protective reflex. I probably could make myself do the metaphorical equivalent of holding my eyes open, but why bother? I don’t really want to know what it feels like to die as a spider. Plus, I know your eyes probably don’t pop out when you sneeze with them open, but do you really want to test that? No, dying kills the mood in the same way that eating too much of a bland food makes you not want to eat anymore. The experience of getting there wasn’t bad, per se. You just don’t want to do it any more right now.
As the lizard approached, I did what I usually do. I flailed about wildly. More often than not, if you act really different than a normal spider, predators get freaked out and go away. This lizard paused and stared at me. Lizards pause a lot. It stayed there for a long time. It just hung from the ceiling and stared at me. I flailed my arms wildly. I trampled to and fro in a pattern that was too consistent for a normal spider. I leapt back and forth between two small outcroppings. The lizard just stared. What was going on here? Usually lizards either ignore my flailing and just eat me, or run away once I start acting un-spider-like. This one just stared. There was something strange about the staring. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was not until a minute later, when the lizard charged forth and scooped me up with its mouth, that it clicked. If I didn’t know any better, I would have sworn that the lizard was amused.
I puzzled at that one all night. I barely slept. It is lucky that I did my homework before I went to the train station. It would have remained undone. I was in the middle of a Mercedes Lackey novel that I really enjoyed. I didn’t touch it. I did not watch TV, and I barely ate. All I did was puzzle. I puzzled till my puzzler was sore, as Dr. Seuss would say.
Looking back, it seems obvious what was going on. But I had never met another body-switcher at that point. For all I knew there were no other body switchers, and never had been. My unproven assumption was that I was unique. A mutant, like in X-men. I spent a lot of time thinking about joining the X-men, and getting all cozy with Colossus. I don’t know why Colossus, exactly. I had a thing for Russian guys. That’s pretty funny, too, now that I think about it.
Fortunately I did not have to wait long for an explanation about the lizard. It happened the next day at school.
It started out as a typical day. I still had the lizard on my brain, but sleep does a lot to soften the intensity of that sort of thing. Part of me wondered if I had dreamed the whole thing. I knew I hadn’t, but the kernel of unreality to the memory helped me focus on other things. Like classes. I did not get a lot out of my classes, but that was nothing new. The only ones I really liked were science and music. I could not wait until the next year when I could take another science elective. By the middle of the day, the lizard incident nestled comfortably in the back of my mind, where it belonged.
Lunch changed all of that.
I saw him from across the cafeteria. I stood in line and he was eating chicken nuggets at a table with his friends. It was like a punch in the gut. He just sat there, with his nerd glasses and his frizzy hair, like nothing world-shattering was happening inside of me. What a jerk. I disliked him instantly.
“Who is that guy?” I asked Matty, who was standing in line next to me. Matty and I weren’t exactly best friends anymore. I spent most of my time alone these days. The addiction of spider-hood took up most of my time. Matty and I were still friends, though. Her closer friends were all seniors, and they ate lunch off campus, so she and I ate together most days. She was the only one I could talk to about my spider stuff. She didn’t like to hear about it as much as I liked to talk about it. But she listened. That was valuable. I did not know it at the time, but I was pretty lonely.
“Which guy?” asked Matty. “The tall one in the blazer? That’s Jeff Johnson. He’s on the basketball team, and…”
“No, I know who Jeff Johnson is,” I cut her off. “Everone does. I mean the nerdy guy in the blue shirt. Right there.”
“Him?” asked Matty, in a tone that said, ‘Why would you want to know?’ I nodded. “That’s Anton Volovich.”
“The guy that won the geography bee?”
“Yes,” said Matty. Matty didn’t say “yeah.” She always said “yes.”
“Thanks Matty,” I said. “You know everyone. Hold my place in line, will you?”
I stepped out of line and made a bee line straight for Anton.
“Wait,” Matty said after me, “what are you going to…” I ignored her, and she let it go.
I walked straight up to Anton and stood next to him. I gave him a hard look. He turned to glance up at me.
“You ate me,” I said accusingly.
“Huh?” he said.
“You ate me,” I repeated.
A girl sitting nearby opened her mouth. Her eyes widened, and she the girls near her started babbling at each other in loud-hushed tones. There was much giggling. It struck me distantly that there was probably a better way for me to handle this. A way that wouldn’t start the rumors that were no doubt already spreading. In that moment, I didn’t care.
“Oh,” Anton blushed. “That was you?”
“You know damn right it was me,” I said.
“Miss Moralis,” said a teacher nearby. “Watch your language.”
“Sorry Miss Johnson,” I said. I sat down in the open seat next to Anton.
“You know damn right it was me,” I whispered at him. “I recognized your slimy body language as soon as I laid eyes on you.”
Anton threw his hands up defensively. “I didn’t know if was you, really. Not until you said something. Listen,” he glanced nervously at the staring faces surrounding us, “can we talk about this later?”
“We can talk about it now,” I suggested.
“Okay, okay, whatever you say. But not here. I mean,” he gestured at the open mouthed girl, who was staring intently with a huge grin on her face.
“Fine,” I said. I stood up, and grabbed him by the hand. “Let’s go, then.” I walked off, dragging me with him. He scrambled to grab his back.
“Wait!” he protested as I tugged him out of his seat. “What about my chicken nuggets?”
The whole cafeteria burst into laughter as I marched Anton out of the room. In my memory, they were pointing and laughing in slow motion with their faces all lined up next to each other. I would love to say I was so strong and self assured that none of it bothered me. The fact is I still cringe when I think about it. I don’t know why I did something so idiotic, except that figuring out what was up with Anton seemed like the most important thing in the entire world. Was he like me? Could he do what I could do? I had to know, and I had to know now. Compared to all the other times I made big scenes in high school, that was a really good reason. This one definitely goes in the highlight reel.
I took Anton to the music room because I knew it would be empty. Mr. Chavez was out sick, so music classes were canceled this whole week. I let Anton go and closed the door. I turned to face him.
“Well what?” he said, nervously.
“Care to explain yourself?”
His face took on that lizard-in-headlights look. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
I stared at him as if he had gone crazy. The truth was, I didn’t know what I wanted him to say, either. Something. Something specific, that would make this feeling I had go away, or make sense, or something. I just did not know what it was. So I did what I usually did. I went on the attack. I’ve gotten better about that as an adult. Honest!
“Care to explain why you thought it was okay to eat me last night?”
Anton’s eyebrows raised, and he smiled just slightly even though he was clearly intimidated. Teenage boys.
“I was a lizard,” he said, “and you were a spider. What was I supposed to do? I didn’t know there was a person in there.”
My pulse raced. “How were you a lizard? That’s impossible.”
Anton stared at me. “Um…no more impossible than you being a spider.”
I shook my head. “People can’t do things like that. It’s impossible.”
He gave me a long, hard look. “Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus.” He stepped closer to me and tried to put his hand on my shoulder. I flinched away. “You’ve never met another one, have you?” He looked at me in the eyes. “I can switch my mind into a lizard. And you can switch yours into a spider. We are body-switchers. We are not the only ones.”
A wave of emotions crashed over me. “We’re not the only ones.”
He shook his head. “I’ve only ever met one other in person. My cousin, Jason. He can switch into birds. But there’s tons of us out there. I’ve talked to dozens online.”
“Dozens,” I said numbly.
He nodded. He put his hand on my shoulder. This time I did not pull away.
I looked down into his eyes. His expression was so tender and understanding. I wanted to smack him in his stupid face.
“So why did you eat me?” I said again.
“Jesus Christ,” he threw his hands up into the air. “This again? I was a li zard. You were a spi der. It is how it goes.”
I smiled wolfishly at him. There are wolf spiders. It works.
“I’m not going to let you get away with it again, you know,” I said, still grinning.
“Fine, fine, fine. If you don’t want me to eat you, I won’t eat you. Are you happy?”
“You can try to eat me,” I said. “We’re all poisonous. Do your worst.” He looked like he wasn’t sure whether to laugh or flip out. He shook his head. We were silent for a long moment after that. It was pretty awkward. I don’t know if an adult me would have known what to say in that moment. Realistically, probably not. The teenage me definitely didn’t. If it was a TV show, Anton and I would probably have started kissing, maybe tearing each other’s clothes off. I was only thirteen, but I would be played by a much older actress so it would be okay. Probably Selina Gomez. Ugh.
But it wasn’t TV, so we didn’t start kissing. Our clothes stayed firmly on. It was five months before I first kissed Anton, and nearly a year later that we first took each other’s clothes off.
After a long and increasingly awkward silence, I finally spoke. “So what next?”
He looked at me confused. Then his face broke into a large grin. “You want to meet another one?”
I stared at him, and slowly nodded. For once in my life, I was speechless.
“Oh, one other thing,” he said.
“Um…what is your name?”
That is how I met Anton. There is no way I could have known it then, but that was when things really started to get weird. But you’re right, we are all out of time. This was really good. It is nice to talk about all of this, even the embarrassing parts.
Same time next week?