Ozark Critters Lurking in Dark Places

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A VG Serial: Hills of Eden

Episode 15

Watch out for those little brown creatures. All of the serious biting of legs and arms, elbows, behind the ears and in unreachable places, is done by coffee-colored, amber, mauve, or tan insects. Some are deadly, some are just down-right irritating.

There is the Brown Recluse spider, for instance. They say this little eight-legged critter is even more toxic than the dreaded Black Widow. I don’t know. I’ve seen a couple of them, and they look deadly enough. I’m glad they’re reclusive.

Then, there are the seed ticks, and the pre-seed ticks. Not long ago, my son Forrest, out here from California, made the mistake of walking through the high grass in the field that borders our front yard. Later, we were working on the computer in the basement when he shrieked and crossed one leg, jerked his trousers up and started scratching and digging into his bare flesh. “What is this?” he screeched, holding up one finger to which was attached a minute, teensy, wriggly thing. The thing was brownish. It looked like a brown chigger.

“Seed ticks,” I said, “but these look almost embryonic.”

“How do you get them off?” he pleaded.

“Wash them off, use Scotch tape…” I never finished my sentence. Forrest was off like a pair of bridegroom pants on the wedding night. I didn’t see him for several hours, but heard the upstairs shower running like Niagara’s Falls in April.

The next day, Forrest bought a mysterious sack of goods from the Quik Mart and later, he reeked of raw alcohol and insecticide.

“Those were just babies,” I told him. “They were just beginning to teeth. Wait’ll later, when they congregate in little clumps on bushes. You walk through the woods and hit one of those bushes, and whop! You look down at your pants and you see a brown stain. It looks like flocking. But, then, it starts to move and if you don’t get out of those pants real quick, you’ve got decimation of the leg bone.”

“What?” he growled, and I could see the beginnings of paranoia in the depths of his eyes.

“They’re all teeth, then,” I told him. “They’re looking for a host on which to gorge. They seem to be of one mind, a single entity, but there must be thousands of them all banded together on a bush, ready to pounce on the first host who passes. Curious. All teeth, Forrest.”

He left the Ozarks some days later, smelling like disinfectant, like the emergency room in a hospital.

The other night, while I was asleep, Charlotte spotted a scorpion in the hallway. She grabbed a piece of paper, stooped down, tried to smash the creature against the wall. It leaped free, arched its tail and stung her on the index finger, close to the nail.

The pain was ferocious. Then, as she recalled for me the next morning, she dashed into the living room where Marc and his friend, Michael Fisher, were watching television and announced in hysterical tones that she had been bitten by a scorpion. Marc’s face drained of blood and he asked her if she wanted to go to the hospital.

“Get the encyclopedia!” Charlotte screamed.

“The encyclopedia?”

“Look up ‘Scorpion!’ Quick!”

Then, Charlotte frantically searched the book shelves for the Handy Home Medical Guide. Marc found the item about scorpions and Charlotte found the medical book. She thought she was going to die. The pain was excruciating. The next morning, our dining room was littered with open books. All turned to items about scorpions. See Spider Bites, one book said, and I looked up Spider Bites, the symptoms, treatments thereof, and chances for survival.

“It’s the Arizona ones that are deadly,” Marc told us.

“Is it? Are they?” Charlotte’s voice quavered and I saw that she was hanging onto the very edge of an hysterical fit, perhaps madness.

“I thought these were Arizona scorpions,” I said reassuringly. “Migrated here. Tourists, you know.”

A dark look from my wife. My smile faded, cracked.

“It was a big one,” she said, tentatively.

“I killed one in the garage the other day,” I told her.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she said.

“I’m telling you now. Maybe you should clean out the hallway. They’re very shy, you know.”

Well, she didn’t die, but her finger hurt for several days. My theory is that she was lucky. She got stung on an extremity, far from the heart, and the fingernail probably saved her from getting a full dose of venom. She didn’t kill the scorpion, so it’s still around here, lurking, like the Brown Recluse, or the flocked seed ticks, in some dark corner, waiting to strike.

Listen, I turn on the lights when I get up in the morning and make a careful scan of the floor. I shake out my shoes and boots and make a lot of noise when I walk into the kitchen to turn on the coffee.

I certainly don’t want to end up a paranoid basket case like some members of this family.

Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.

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