The Winter Wolf Spider

Shannon M. Ortiz

       It all began, not out of love, but instinct—an innate need for survival of the species—to pass along genetic code; a tangled dance of sixteen nimble legs and the fertilization of a hundred eggs. Mother wound a taut silk sac around these eggs and attached them to her abdomen until they grew and hatched. Two short weeks later, Mother split the seam of the protective silk sac to release the hundred tiny spiderlings. Yet, they would remain, clinging to her strong back and legs for a little while longer. Learning the hunt excited them, for they were skilled hunters by the nature of their breed. After a full month’s time, each spiderling dispersed from Mother’s protection and made their way to a new territory, journeying on to find their own adequate sources of food, water, and shelter so that the cycle could be repeated for all eternity.

       One of these spiderlings sought to build his shelter in a nearby human structure: a garage with cool concrete floors and shade from the unforgiving summer sun. The Wolf Spider considered this space ideal because it played host to other small bugs he’d learned to hunt from watching Mother: ants, beetles, and crickets… or, if it was necessary, other spiders that threatened to intrude upon his territory. None but one of his own kind could be a match for his natural skill, and here he would reign alone. The hunt was easy in this place, and as far as he’d observed, it had gone undisturbed for quite some time.

       Just before the end of summer, a roaring truck screeches to a stop on the long concrete slab before the garage. A young couple emerges from the truck, and they begin unloading their belongings into the home. The Wolf Spider, awakened from a deep slumber by this loud disturbance, peers from the top of his hidden silk hole and watches sleepily as the couple swiftly moves boxes, furniture, and supplies to and fro. They work tirelessly for hours, stopping only momentarily to wipe sweat from their brows or for water and soon leave the home once more. When the couple returns a second time, they bring with them two small children, two plastic animal crates, and brown paper bags full of food.

       It is late in the evening now; the sun is setting and the Wolf Spider is ready to assume his nightly hunt. Though the Spider is still somewhat small, he is unbelievably hungry. He obsesses over the hunt greedily consuming more than he needs in a single night. His quick legs make short work of stalking down a trail of ants along the wall. He eats his fill and begins exploring his surroundings for other small bugs and water. The Wolf Spider crawls out of the same hole from whence he first came in and drinks the remaining moisture from a puddle that had nearly all evaporated in the sun. On his way back to his hole in the garage, he eats two shiny black beetles and a small chirping cricket. Overstuffed and satisfied with his sport, the Wolf Spider climbs back into his home and resumes his slumber, so he can expand and swell and grow until he is so large that his exoskeleton must be shed to accommodate his new and fantastic size. Every night this was the life of the Spider, gorging and growing until he reached a size worthy of adulthood and a mate.

       The first chill of autumn stirs a fascinating scene in nature. The Wolf Spider continues to eat and grow, now quadrupling the size of his average prey. Leaves turn auburn and plummet to the yellowing grass below. Peonies and daylilies shrivel, the geese flock south, but the search for water comes more easily as the earth tilts away from the scorching sun. The Wolf Spider, now a considerable size larger than any other spider or bug within his dwelling, has exchanged carpenter ants for large flies, crickets and garden spiders. This proves to require more effort and skill; the hunt takes longer, but the reward is a bountiful and filling feast.

       Aside from the occasional evening walks that call for the couple to fetch their stroller from the garage, the spider doesn’t see much of the family. As the temperature outside continues to drop, the small bugs that the Spider used to observe outside begin to make a shelter out of the garage as well. When the man sees the sudden increase of bugs one day, he returns with a canister of white powder. He shakes the powder along the cracks and crevices of the walls, door and floor, sweeping the remainder away and leaving the Wolf Spider once more.

       The poison works quickly, destroying the lines of ants and stray beetles that were, one moment prior, still scurrying along. Another spider of the web-dwelling sort sees this as a great opportunity to eat. Within minutes, the spider, like the ants and the beetles, is flat on its back, thin legs slowly curling in on themselves. To his dismay, the Wolf Spider sees he can no longer obtain easy meals within the confines of this structure without the risk of being poisoned. His hunt will now be a longer and more difficult task because he has no choice but to leave his home every night to do so. Still, the Wolf Spider prevails, learning to hunt larger prey and bringing all his extra kill back home.

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       Winter is officially upon them, and although food is quickly becoming scarce outside, the Wolf Spider is skilled in the hunt and perseveres. He spends his evenings hunting in excess, partially out of greed but also to avoid leaving the shelter of the garage every night. Leaving requires more energy with the steady decrease in temperature and his constantly increasing size. The Wolf Spider possesses a unique ability in lowering his own body temperature; this prevents him from needing to hibernate in the early winter like the other spiders and bugs. As the air quickly cools outside, he becomes less active but does not become dormant.

       The first snowfall of the season excites the family into action once more. The children, bundled in woolen layers, galoshes, gloves, and hats, storm the garage in search of their winter tools and toys. The man grabs a shovel and opens the garage door sending a sudden icy blast of air through the small space. The woman pulls the children around on a sled and helps them roll giant balls into tall stacks of snow. When the man is finished scraping snow from the concrete slab, he joins the family in decorating the snow balls with sticks and rocks, draping scarves around each middle ball and placing hats on top.

       Soon the family trudges back into the garage, closing the large door and peeling off their wet layers before going back into the home. The Wolf Spider, after taking a few hours to recover from the instant freezing, emerges from his hide-away hole and stretches his now eccentrically long legs. Without attempting to look, the Spider already knows that there are no bugs left outside for him to hunt. The air was too cold for most bugs within his territory to survive and the snow would have buried the rest. Food is gone. Each of his eight eyes scan the garage and stop on the pile of sopping clothes on the floor by the kitchen door. He slowly approaches the pile due to being half-frozen. He drinks droplets off of the toe of a shiny boot and crawls up the laces, over the tongue, and into its insulated lining. Inside the toe of the boot is warmer than his own hidden silk hole between the wooden walls and concrete. He gets to work, spinning a new protective barrier then falls asleep in comfort for the first time in weeks.

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       A jolting shake and a hot gush of air overcomes the Wolf Spider and chokes him from his slumber. Suffocating, he quickly uses his pincers to cut through the silk and climbs back up the lining of the boot. When his eyes clear the leather lip, he discovers he is no longer in the garage. Strange scents he can’t decipher are wafting from a lighted box above him. Two large, furry cats with pointed heads and fluffy tails lie sleeping in front of the box on the floor. The man works around the cats, stirring sticks in small pots and chopping various plants and roots on the counter. The Spider slowly crawls down the boot and creeps across the cold tile floor, hiding under a rolling kitchen appliance rack.

       There is no way back into the garage from here without the door seal being broken. The Wolf Spider has very limited options for movement while the humans and cats are within eyesight. His legs and body tingle from the sudden change of temperature, but he is determined to find a safe place to hide. The woman approaches a nearby container and scoops kibble into two small bowls. The cats are instantly awake at the sound of metal touching the tile. One leaps up immediately, trotting straight to the food; the other takes its time stretching and fanning its sharp claws out, then digging them down into the kitchen mat. It yawns before strolling over to join the first. While the humans and the cats are preoccupied with their own dinners, the Wolf Spider flexes his long legs, attempting to help the feeling flow back through them.

       A moment of stillness—then the hunt is on. The spider springs into action, or so he tries, but his legs can’t keep up with what his mind tells them to do. He wants to run, but his pace is so slow he’d barely be able to catch an unsuspecting ant. He’s already left the safety of his cover by the time he realizes what he’s done. He stops and turns around, but it’s too late. One of the cats is trilling and meowing, towering over him with its head cocked to one side. The Spider freezes in place, trying not to anticipate the cat’s next moves too soon, lest he be captured or squashed. Each eye is focused on the cat as it slowly raises a soft paw over him. He’s tapped gently from the side, but the Wolf Spider plays dead. He wraps his legs in a loose ball before getting swatted back under the rolling kitchen rack.

       The cat trills loudly, following the Spider and groping its outstretched claws in his direction. The other cat, after finishing its dinner, now has its interest piqued as well. The Spider backs himself away from the animals, crawling up the side of the wall while they look for him down below. He scurries across the kitchen wall with the fastest pace his legs can manage before hearing a shrill shriek. He freezes in place again, looking out for its source when he spies the woman pointing in his direction and flapping her arms. There’s an exchange between the woman and man before the man goes to retrieve a broom. The Spider holds perfectly still but is suddenly pawed off the wall by one of the cats from below.

       His heavy body hits the floor with a thud, but he soon realizes he can finally run at a quicker speed and takes great strides across the tile. The woman shrieks again as the other cat pounces at him from the side, tearing one of his legs off under its quick paw. He jumps at the cat defensively and it arches its back, hissing before swatting at him again. The Spider sinks his pincers into the tip of the cat’s paw, releasing it and shrinking back as the man swings the broom down in their direction.

       His broken leg lies on the floor, but he doesn’t register the pain. The Wolf Spider’s only objective now is to survive by any means necessary. When the woman throws a heavy boot at him, it narrowly misses and bounces off the kitchen floor, crushing one of the cats' tails. The Spider musters all his strength, leaving his dead leg behind and breaks from the fight in the opposite direction. The cats retreat into their plastic crates and refuse to emerge after the man throws the broom down to console the woman. The Wolf Spider crawls swiftly along the dark woodgrain baseboards, camouflaging himself in his escape. 

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       The trek feels awkward and long with one less leg, but the Spider knows he must find an unoccupied and unfrequented place in the home if he is to survive until spring. He squeezes himself under the first un-sealed door he can find in the home and is submerged into darkness.

       The air here is cooler than in the kitchen: moist and dank. He crawls along the concrete ledge of a staircase, descending deeper into the earth than he’s ever been before. Light here is scarce, but that’s just the way he likes it. When he finally reaches the landing, he finds another smooth concrete floor like the one in the garage. As he climbs, he hears the occasional chirp of a cricket which tells him he will at least have a source of food while he stays here. Exhausted from the attack he just endured, the Wolf Spider skips hunting and searches instead for a private corner in which to construct a new hole.

       After spinning a fresh silk home between a cardboard box and the concrete wall, the Wolf Spider’s greed overcomes him again and he decides that he is hungry after all. Leaving the protection of his new home, he creeps across the floor in search of the cricket he heard on his trek down the staircase. Despite his one missing leg, the Spider believes his enormous size still makes him a threatening new presence in the basement. The Wolf Spider steps right over a trail of small ants, which would have been an easy prey. However, their frightened scurrying inflates his confidence, so he leaves them behind in search of a more sporting meal.

       A few moments later, the Wolf Spider locks eyes on his target. The cricket, though smaller than others he’s hunted in the past, excites him and he prepares to pounce. He flexes his legs, tests the snap of his pincers, and jumps high into the air. The cricket stops chirping as the Spider is suddenly knocked sideways by a force as strong as his own. Taken by surprise, the Wolf Spider drops like a rock to the cold floor. He looks up and sees a mirrored image of himself, the only difference is that this image is a female, and she has all of her legs. 

       Without giving him time to recover, the female is on top of him, snapping her pincers at his head. He exhausts what little strength he has left to keep her pincers at bay, using the claw on one of his seven legs to stab her between the sternum and abdomen. His attempt to knock the wind out of her fails; she is too strong for him. They roll across the floor and the cricket begins to chirp and hop away. Deciding the meal is more important than the fight for territory, she leaps from his grasp to chase the cricket.

       Thwarting his own opportunity at escaping, he trips the female by grabbing onto her back leg. Immediately the female retaliates and sinks her fangs into the Wolf Spider’s head. The venom seeps through him at a remarkable pace. The proof of his injury manifests in blurry sight and the tingle of feeling leaving his legs as he loses control of his mind. The last image the Wolf Spider sees is that of the female capturing her cricket prey and disappearing into the dark corners of his blurred peripheral vision. The Wolf Spider, now alone, closes his eyes for the last time, succumbing to cold death in the center of the basement floor.

Contributor's Note

Shannon M. Ortiz is a Senior majoring in English with a minor in Creative Writing. She is a wife, mother of two, and a Marine Corps veteran. Her career interests gravitate toward anything that would expand her knowledge in humanities but her real dream is to write inspiring and silly stories for children and young adults. Shannon wants to thank her friends, peers, and mentors that have encouraged her to continue writing and submitting work! 

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