THE FEEDING - PART 2

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1952

He found the new spider dealer through a monthly newsletter he'd been receiving since before he was hired at the fair. Rare Specimens Collected at Rain Forest Crater Site, the headline boasted. Rumored to Glow in the Night! The accommodating photo showed a small group of enormous spiders, a few of them Goliath bird-eaters, most of them Brazilian wanderers. The abdomen of each spider glowed with a soft internal light. They looked magical, like nothing he'd ever seen before.

He knew this was his chance.

He stared at the grainy black-and-white image on the top of the newsletter. It would cost him three times the amount of money that he paid to rent the trailer he lived in on the fairgrounds, an expense that would completely drain his savings and leave him to rely on nothing but the success of his acts.

He took a deep breath, then looked up to the sound of the tarantulas scuffling around their cages, restless at the confinement. After a moment, he let them out to roam free around the trailer. They deserved to be stars, he knew. Life was all about taking risks.

"My sweetlings must be fed," he whispered to his tarantulas. "I'll take care of you always."

Not many people had access to this special newsletter. He had found the connection as a teenager, when he'd wanted to purchase a pair of illegal and venomous black widows. The man who ran the arachnid exhibit at the Willows Zoo had a son, Richard, who was just as into spiders as he was, and they often found themselves wandering around the darkly lit area riddled with glass tanks at the same time. Richard had shown him the newsletter from one of the world's top exotic spider dealers in the world.

Now, staring at the newest version of the newsletter, he found himself filling out the attached forms with careful hands. Changing his act could be the first step in changing all of their lives, his and his spiders'. How would the new spider react when introduced to two tarantulas? Would it even be able to train in the way that they had? For a split second, he doubted himself, the pen slowing its dance over the paper.

No, he told himself, taking a long, slow breath through his nose, his eyes squeezed shut. It will love me, just as they do. It will be special, just as they are. It will help me show them. He remembered the little girl's disgusted squeal and frowned. He couldn't let things like that happen anymore. He must force them to stop.

When he finished filling out the forms, he carefully placed them into a business envelope, wrapped around the small stack of cash that was to be used as payment for the spider. Sending money in the mail was funny business, he knew, but it'd worked when he'd ordered the widows all those years ago. Once the money and forms were tucked neatly into the envelope, he licked the gluey strip at the top edge and sealed it shut, pausing just long enough to scratch at the rash on his face and arms with hooked fingers until it bled.

One of his tarantulas climbed up his pant leg, its legs scraping hurriedly across his skin, and he gently shook his knee to jostle the spider loose. It tumbled out of his pant leg and onto the floor.

"I have things to do, sweetling," he cooed as the tarantula raised its front legs in anger. "Places to go, lives to change. Your life, of course, always your life before mine."

The spider didn't seem to calm down any at his words. "All right," he said, positioning himself on the floor to be face level with the creature. He stuck his finger close to the fangs, knowing the tarantula would mistake it for food. Sure enough, there came a sharp sting over the skin, a wonderful sensation to remind him who he was really here for, and who the new spider would most benefit with its marvel.

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