THE FEEDING - PART 1

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1952

He loved his spiders, and they loved him back.

They liked to crawl over him as he slept, the two scuttling oversize tarantulas that were covered in prickling bristle. They had an odor like moldy leaves, which was caused by rotting cricket parts that gathered in gelatinous clumps over their legs, but he didn't mind. After a while, he stopped noticing the smell.

Sometimes he'd awaken to find his lashes stuck together from a thin layer of webbing, an occurrence that startled him but also warmed his heart. Tarantulas only lay webs over their burrows, he knew, to protect them from ants and other insects. The silk stretched over his eyelids and brows could only mean that they wanted to protect him. Their touch was all he knew of love or intimacy, and he found himself craving it, the heaviness of their bodies, the tickle of their legs.

They shed their hairs over his skin and sheets and clothes, which caused him to have a perpetual rash over his face and arms from the irritation, but that didn't matter, not when he'd be covering himself in paint the next morning for work anyway. The itching became him, a constant reminder that he was alive and feeling. He was grateful for it.

He could never understand why the customers at the fair didn't like his act. Juggling tarantulas without hurting or alarming them was remarkable in itself; to do it while wearing the bulky garments and greasy face paint of a clown was even more impressive.

The tarantulas should have run away or struggled against the carnival act, but they didn't. They only bit him every so often, but whenever it happened, he would let out a shocked little cry of pleasure. The pain was wonderful. It was another reminder, it brought more awareness. The spiders were simply the deliverers of that awareness.

"That's disgusting!" said a little girl, pointing at the tarantula-juggling man.

The clown, certain that he could convince her otherwise, took a bold step in the little girl's direction, causing both her and her parents to jump in surprise and quickly move away. He kept following them, knowing that he could change their minds. Like them, he thought angrily as he beelined after the family, his eyebrows pulling together beneath the paint. Accept them.

"Asshole," the father added over his shoulder as an afterthought, nervousness tingeing his voice. The clown stopped and stared, without slowing the pace of his juggle.

Someday they'd see.

When he'd started performing at the fair five years prior, the man who was in charge of hiring entertainers wasn't exactly surprised with the lack of enthusiasm for the spider clown's display. But a horrified crowd was better than no crowd, and it was for this reason alone that he was able to keep his job. People were much more likely to buy a treat or ride ticket to reassure themselves after seeing the clown's unsettling performance.

Watching the family rush away from him, their steps brisk, the little girl turning twice to make sure he wasn't still following them, he decided he was tired of it.

And with that, he devised his plans. The fall season was about to begin, and even though the fair stayed open year-round, the beginning of autumn was the most popular time for the locals. It would be the perfect opportunity for him to debut a new act, really step it up, show the crowd just how special his spiders were.

He would show them, whether they wanted to see or not.

Now

The first thing Craig noticed about his new hometown was that it always smelled wet. All the kids in his new school wore sweaters and boots, while Craig shivered in a t-shirt and flip flops on his first day. The weather was certainly different here than it was in New Mexico, he thought as the other students looked him up and down with raised brows.

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