ROBERT, out of breath, had run all the way down the street to invite me to go on a vacation. I was sitting on my back steps sorting my baseball cards. Robert is my best friend. Our parents call us inseparable. But Florida? Was he kidding? He wasn't.
``Two whole weeks,'' he said excitedly, tugging at his earring. That's right, he wore an earring - skull and crossbones. The day was hot and sweat dripped off his nose. His bowling-ball stomach stuck out; he smelled like his dog.
Florida - wow! But wasn't Florida an oven in the summer? What would traveling with his parents be like, people who ate octopus and squid for breakfast, and grew mushrooms in their basement? Would his teenage sisters, Birdy and Neecy, be going? We called them the ``puffers,'' on account of their hair style.
``How'll we get there?''
``In our van. Saturday. Your mom already said yes.''
He made a face. ``We won't have to spend much time with them. Mostly the ride down and back.''
How long a trip was it, New York to Florida?
``Couple of days.''
A couple of days in a hot van with the puffers! Was it worth it - a vacation in Florida? You bet it was.
We arrived late Sunday afternoon.
``Incredible! I shouted, when I saw where we'd be staying. ``Two whole weeks.''
It was incredible. The beach was practically right outside the front door, water and sand as far as you could see, a snack bar only a block away, an amusement park, bicycle rental, mini-golf - everything!
The landlord, a wrinkly stringbean, showed us our apartment on the second floor. ``Anything you need,'' he told us, ``just ask.'' He could've been 90.
It took Birdy and Neecy about a minute to find something wrong. Typical teenagers.
``Hey,'' they both whined at once. ``There're only two bedrooms. Where's everyone gonna sleep?''
Horrors! Rooming with the puffers'd be a nightmare, as much for them as for me and Robert. No way.
But Mrs. Mack had it all figured out.
``Adults will share one bedroom,'' she told us. ``Girls and boys flip a coin. Winners get the other bedroom for the first week, losers the living-room couch and a cot, then switch. Agreed?''
Sounded OK to me.
We flipped and ... the boys won.
Mrs. Mack said, ``You boys take your suitcases into the bedroom and hang your clothes in the closet. Use the dresser.''
Sure, but I better tell this part of the story in slow motion. I got my suitcase and, along with Robert, went ... into the bedroom ... put my suitcase ... on the bed ... opened the closet ... heard this noise ... FRRRRITTTTTTAFRRRRITTTTA! ... looked down ...
Trouble with a capital `S'
A spider the size of a man's hand ran out of the closet, almost over my foot, and under the nearest bed. It was black and hairy, thick-legged and ... heavy. So heavy it made that noise on the bare floor - FRRRRITTTTTAFRRRRITTTTA! - sort of like the rustle of dead leaves.
Robert, not ready for my vampire scream, jumped a foot.
``What's the matter!''
We were eye to eye. ``Robert, the largest spider in the world just ran under that bed.''
Like that, his whole face changed, the color disappearing like dishwater down a drain. His eyes got wide. However scared I was of spiders, Robert was worse. Arachnophobia.
``H-How large is it?'' he mumbled.
I held up my hand, fingers spread apart.
``This large.'' In truth it was larger.
I said it again, ``This large.''
``This large!'' I shouted, coming to my senses. ``Do you think we should kill it?''
Robert was dumbstruck. He finally said, ``No I don't think we should kill it.''
Only one things left to do. We got our suitcases and went back to the living room, just as his parents and sisters were returning with the rest of the stuff from the van.
``Er ... '' Robert cleared his throat ... ``we think that coin flip was really unfair. Tell you what, you two (he meant Birdy and Neecy) can have the bedroom to start. OK?''
You could almost see the antennae shoot out of his sisters' heads. Was this some sort of trick? Even Mrs. Mack looked skeptical.
``Are you sure, Robert?''
He told her he was, and a minute later, suitcases in hand, Birdy and Neecy went into the bedroom. I've never seen two girls look happier.
The middle of the night
I was sleeping on the cot in the living room, a sheet pulled up under my chin. Robert was snoring away, loud as a rock band, on the nearby couch.
Suddenly - maybe this has happened to you - my eyes o-p-e-n-e-d, and I said to myself, ``Why am I awake?'' Sometimes it's a noise; unfortunately not this time.
Outside the sheet I felt it on my ankle - a pushing in, a wiggle, ever so soft. I don't have to tell you that I was scared. Spider ... THIS LARGE! Up it came, ankle to shin, shin to knee, knee to ...
I lunged backward and snapped on the light.
The spider was gone.
My feet hit the floor in an instant. So did Robert's. He looked the way anyone would who'd been screamed out of sleep: dazed and in shock. My heart was a punching bag.
Two bedroom doors slammed open at the same time, and Mr. and Mrs. Mack, Birdy, Neecy, bathrobes and pj's, came running into the living room.
``What on earth is the matter?'' Mr. Mack growled. He wasn't happy to be awake. No one was.
I blurted out, ``That spider was crawling on me.''
Everyone looked confused, even Robert.
``Spider?'' Mr. Mack said. ``What spider?''
``Oh,'' I said, recovering. ``A spider.''
``A spider?'' he scratched his head. ``Well, let's look for it.'' You could tell he wanted to go back to sleep.
We looked and looked ... to no avail.
``Back to bed boys,'' Mr. Mack ordered. ``It was all a bad dream.'' Birdy and Neecy made faces at me. Ugly faces.
Bathrobes and pj's disappeared; bedroom doors slammed shut. Robert got back on the couch. I did what anybody'd do: checked the cot. Whew! No spider there. ``That was no bad dream,'' I said to Robert, climbing in and pulling the sheet up to my chin.
``Turn out the light.''
My answer: ``No way.''
Don't look now
The next thing I knew it was morning. Sunlight. Strange noises. Bangs and scrapes coming from the kitchen. I put on my bathing suit, went to check it out, and found Robert cooking bacon. He was jiggling the frying pan back and forth across the stove. Metal on metal. Noise and grease flying every which way. Did he think it was popcorn?
``Where is everyone?'' I asked him.
``Beach. They're all working on their tans.''
The bacon smelled good, but just as I was about to ask him to make some for me, too, something caught my eye. Making its hairy way up the side of a desk in the back bedroom, black and huge, was the spider.
His reaction surprised me.
Bang! He slammed the frying pan down on the stove, switched off the burner, and wheeled on me, fire in his eyes.
``I'm so sick of hearing about that stupid spider,'' he said, spitting the words out. He pushed past me and on into the living room, threw open his suitcase, and took something you're not going to believe: a rubber flip-flop. Color red. One of those things you wear on your feet in the summer, a small one.
Flip-flop in hand he headed for the bedroom.
``W-Where're you going?''
He gave me a hard look. ``Gonna kill that thing!''
``With that little flip-flop?''
Then I knew. He was so afraid of spiders that any spider would scare him - any. All this time he'd been thinking it was the size of a marble or a ... golf ball, and that I'd been lying. But I hadn't, not at all.
``Where is it?''
I was watching Robert from the kitchen. By now the spider had come to a halt halfway up the underneath side of the desk, sort of where your knees'd be if you'd pulled in your chair.
``It's on the desk,'' I told him.
Which it was. But he must've thought I meant on top, because with a gulp! he went right up to the desk and stood there, eyeing the blotter, flip-flop ready to strike. ``I don't see it,'' he called out after a moment.
``It's not on the desk exactly,'' I told him. ``It's sort of ... under the desk.''
Did I mean on the floor? Before I had a chance to explain, he took a step back, got down on his hands and knees, and ... crawled under the desk. The spider, large as a man's hand, was right next to his face.
``I don't see it,'' came his muffled words.
It was a little funny.
``Robert,'' I said, ``look to your left.''
He did - and could've kissed that spider.
You've never heard a boy scream so loud. ``Arrgghh!'' His head snapped back and banged against the desk. He threw the flip-flop up in the air, scrambled to his feet, and was gone. I looked back in the bedroom. Spider - also gone.
``Robert!'' I shouted from the upstairs porch. He was standing on the front lawn, bent over, catching his breath. ``Are you coming back inside?''
Only one thing to do: Get the landlord.
Robert said to him, ``Do you know that the largest spider in the world lives upstairs?''
His answer was like a sock in the stomach.
``It's lived there for years. Eats all the insects. Won't hurt you. Just stay away from it.''
Huh? That spider was crawling on me in the night.
``We don't care what it does,'' Robert told him. ``We're not going back up there until you get rid of it.''
But he wouldn't. After telling us to relax and go for a nice swim, he shut the door in our faces.
The trick that backfired
``Hey, what're you two twirps doing?''
It was the puffers home from their morning tan.
``None of your....''
I shut Robert up by squeezing his arm - hard. ``Ouch!''
The look on my face had him puzzled. His two sisters, surprisingly cute in their bathing suits, were on their way up the stairs.
``I wouldn't go up there if I were you,'' I warned them.
They stopped. ``Why not?''
``Er, it's about the ... bedroom.''
``Bedroom!'' They looked ready to bite our noses off. ``If you two twirps were in our bedroom....'' Birdy began.
I cut her off. ``We were, but only because....''
``Did you touch anything?''
``Only the desk.''
``The desk! Our stuff's in that desk.''
The two of them were breathing fire.
``We only went through a few drawers,'' Robert said, catching on to what I was up to. About time.
``A few drawers!''
With that they ran up the stairs, beach towels flapping, all set to see what we'd gotten into. Robert and I, matching grins, sat on the bottom step and waited.
``Won't be long now,'' I said. ``Spider meets girls.''
The two of us started laughing and couldn't stop.
Then an upstairs door slammed. ``Is this what you were looking for ... twirps?''
Under the towel?
Birdy held the huge spider in her bare hand, its hairy legs sticking out between her fingers, running in the air. Running and running. Next to her Neecy's face was a snaggletooth smile.
``Want to hold it, boys?'' The two of them - er, three - were on their way down now. I bounced up; so did Robert.
``Don't come near me!'' His voice was a squeak.
They kept on coming.
``Whatsa matter?'' Birdy said, as if she were talking to a baby. ``Scared of an itsy-bitsy spidee?''
She waved the thing in our faces. Robert bolted, backward, down the driveway and into the street. The sun made his earring sparkle. Then he turned and ran, shouting and waving his arms, faster than I'd ever seen him run before. Horns honked and people cheered.
``How about you?''
Birdy had her eyes on me.
``No, thanks,'' I told her, eyeing the spider. I wondered why it hadn't bitten her.
``Are you scared?''
Closer they came, closer.
Like Robert, I turned and ran. Something sailed over my head - the ``spidee.'' Birdy'd thrown it like a discus, all the way across the street, to where it landed with a soft thud on the sandy beach. Was it hurt? No way. No crash landing was going to hurt that monster. The last any of us saw of it it was crawling toward the ocean. Good riddance!
``Wanna go swimming, anyone?''
`Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles will appear once or twice a month, always on Tuesday.