Cletis and the Duct Tape Spider

Note: This was originally a blog at http://cletis.blogspot.com. It was an experiment in writing at least 200 words a day, on the fly, every day for a month. Each installment was written in one quick sitting, with no preplotting and virtually no editing -- in other words, raw feed. To see a current experiment of mine, check out Storywords at http://storyword.blogspot.com.

[10/17/2002 6:07:51 AM | Jay Lake]
{1} The spider hung huge in the barn rafters, like a squirrel with some horrible tumor. Cletis stared at it, trying to convince himself it was just an old pumpkin gone to rot. "Shit-fire," he muttered, "now I'm gonna have load up some bird shot." As he turned to walk away, there was a ripping noise. Cletis glanced back to see the spider dangling from a long, dark web much thicker than normal. The ripping happened again, then the spider landed on the barn floor with a thump, making the straw dust bounce. A long strip of silver and black twisted in the breeze. Cletis snagged it with the toothy end of a busted rake. It was duct tape. The God-damned spider was spinning duct tape. "Light my shoes and call me quick," Cletis shouted. "I'm in the money now! Who needs the God-damned lottery? I got me free duct tape." He quickly found a bushel basket, taped the holes with the spider's own output, then used the busted rake to herd the spider into the basket. He topped it off with an old feed bag, duct taped tight, and stepped outside with his burden, whistling "I've Had Too Much of Not Enough of You."

After a certain amount of experimentation, Cletis determined that the spider would live happily at the bottom of a 55-gallon oil drum as long as he kept it fed. The duct tape served as a natural trap for small- to medium-sized rodents, and he found he could vary its strength by running some of his old tires through the wood chipper and mulching the spider's oil drum with the resultant rubbery mess. It seemed to eat the stuff when it got tired of squealing rabbits, and settle down inside the gunk for naps otherwise. That worked fine until Cletis accidentally fed a Western Auto steel-belted radial to the chipper and burned up the motor. After that, he mostly scavenged on US 183 for retread fragments off eighteen wheelers.

[10/17/2002 9:10:11 AM | Jay Lake]
{2} Well, Cletis decided to haul the duct tape spider into town one day. He figured he'd go down to the Broke-Eared Jug and make a little money off the boys in the pool room out back. It was always smoky in there, and the click of the balls and the rattle of the coins and crack of the beer mugs against the Formica bumpers of the pool tables were like a symphony in old man minor. Cletis figured he and the spider would introduce a few new movements.

He got outside with the busted bushel basket and commenced to trying to get the spider out of its oil drum. Now Cletis and the spider had come to something of an arrangement, but they were a long way from being friends -- sort of like when he dated that stripper from Luling. The sex might be great, but he never knew what would come up next. Cletis didn't figure the spider for having any gun-toting boyfriends, but he did reckon it had other ways of making its displeasure known.

The thing had swole up on the diet of retread tires, kittens and rabbits Cletis had been feeding it, until it was about the size of a basketball. Them legs were big and hairy, like claw-tipped wire brushes, and while he was harvesting eight, ten yards of duct tape a day -- which went a long way -- he never got too close to the business end of the spider.

So here was Cletis with the bushel basket, a rusted metal spatula and a pair of oven gloves on, trying to herd that fat old spider out of its oil drum. The spider wasn't having none of it. It sat at the bottom of the barrel and sort of clattered at him, like the valves on his Plymouth Valiant used to. He gave it a swift poke with the spatula, which resulted in a v-shaped bite being taken out of the end. Cletis was not a man to be lightly discouraged, but he was at something of a loss. He stood there in the knee-high weeds of his side yard, considering the duct tape spider's eating habits.

"Rubber," said Cletis. "The damned thing likes rubber." He had six, seven feet of surgical tubing holding the passenger door on his Datsun pick-up shut. Cletis grabbed a bowsaw from where it lay tangled in a volunteer pumpkin vine, walked over to the pickup and cut off about four feet of tubing, leaving the door in great peril of a new career in the freelance auto parts business. He walked back over to the oil barrel and dangled the tubing down just above the duct tape spider's head.

It snapped at the tubing, which Cletis jerked back up. The spider clawed against the walls of the barrel, trying to raise its body to get at the luscious, soft rubber. Cletis duct taped the other end of the tubing to the inside of the bushel basket, flipped the free end into the oil barrel, and tipped the barrel. The spider came out of there like a cat on fire, plopped into the bushel basket, which Cletis promptly covered with a trash can lid.

He was ready to go to town.

[10/17/2002 7:49:23 PM | Jay Lake]
{3} Cletis headed down County Road 61. From his place, the gravel road dipped through a bus wallow, ran several long dog legs through some pastures dotted with cows and pecan trees, and spilled out onto pavement in the town of Dale. From there he could pick up blacktop all the way to Lockhart and the Broke-Eared Jug.

The Datsun ran rougher than normal, as if resenting the loss of its surgical tubing. The passenger door made an ominous thump if Cletis got over about twenty five, but since only the emergency brake worked anyway, he didn't see call to go much faster than that. With the duct tape spider on the front seat in his bushel basket, Cletis sang at the top of his lungs, belting out "You Took the Home Right Out of Our House" until the spider started rocking the basket back and forth in protest.

As he ran over the bump where the gravel met the blacktop, the door finally gave way, swinging out with a delighted squeal. Cletis killed the engine and worked the brake handle until the Datsun slewed to a stop, at which point the abused hinges gave up, dropping the door in a mirror-smashing screech of metal. He got out his side, went around, and picked the door up to lean it against the fender. "This just ain't right," he muttered.

There was only one way to fix this.

Duct tape.

Cletis leaned into the cab of the truck, nudging the bushel basket. "Need some of your stuff, old girl," he whispered to the spider inside. He wasn't so keen on sticking his fingers in there, not after the spider had taken a chunk out of his spatula earlier. He looked around the bar ditch next to the road for something with which to distract the spider. There was nothing but a cracked old two liter Big Red bottle. Cletis grabbed some tin snips out of the bed of the truck, sliced the bottle into five roughly equal ribbons, sort of like translucent dill pickles in distress, and approached the bushel basket with caution.

"Okay, girl, here ya' go." He lifted the trash can lid, slid the first plastic slice in, and fished around for some duct tape as the spider crunched on the plastic. His fingers snagged the familiar rough-textured stuff, and he tugged at it while slipping another plastic slice into the basket.

A length of duct tape came slithering out of the basket like worms from a dog's ass, while the spider screeched. Cletis jumped back in surprise, tugging the tape with him, and the spider screeched even louder. He stumbled over something to wind up lying flat on his back in the bar ditch, clutching about ten feet of loose duct tape and staring up at Deputy Hardegree of the Caldwell County Sheriff's Department. He had tripped over Hardegree's polished boots.

"Cletis, old boy," said Hardegree slowly. He paused to spit an stream of dark tobacco juice into the grass. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Fixing my truck?" Cletis asked, trying to get the duct tape off his hands.

[10/18/2002 5:10:12 PM | Jay Lake]
{4} Deputy Hardegree leaned down, grabbed Cletis' wrist, and jerked him to his feet by main force. Cletis just grunted and bit his lip -- everybody knew Hardegree had come back from Desert Storm a few altos short of a choir, as Cletis' momma used to say. The deputy was pale as a shaved goat, and twice as twitchy as a chicken.

"You drunk, Cletis?" Hardgree asked, leaning so close in that Cletis could tell from the smell that he was chewing Skoal Wintergreen.

"No sir, Roddie, I'm just fine."

"Twelve feet of duct tape in your hand rolling in the bar ditch ain't exactly fine, Cletis." Hardegree grinned at his own wit, which cued Cletis that it was time for him to laugh, too. "I think I'll have me a look-see inside your truck. You ain't running no Mary Jane around the county?"

Marijuana was the last thing on Cletis' agenda these days, but he didn't want Hardegree getting near the duct tape spider. He stepped over to stand in front of the open doorframe where the passenger door had fallen off, only to hear the spider rattling inside the bushel basket.

"Hmm..." Hardegree got his serious look on, the one he usually used for writing tickets to people with out-of-state license plates. "Now get away from that there door, Cletis, or I'm going to have to get uglier than you."

"I'm sorry Roddy, but it ain't a good idea. I've got a sick raccoon in here I'm taking to the vet in Lockhart."

"Since when you been concerned with animal rescue?" Hardegree grabbed Cletis by the shoulder, and yanked him out of the way.

The next couple of seconds went by like one of those Hong Kong chopey-sockey movies on late night satellite TV over at Omar's house. Hardegree opened the basket, the duct tape spider came flying out with screech and caught him in the face. Hardegree went for his gun as the spider began spinning duct tape with a whirring noise, like a forty pound trout pulling out a twenty pound line. The gun went off, twice, then the deputy was on the ground, trussed up like a duct tape mummy with just his nose showing, the spider crouched on top of him, hissing and clattering.

"Oh my stars," said Cletis. "I'm going to jail forever."

[10/19/2002 9:42:32 PM | Jay Lake]
{5} Cletis stared down at Deputy Hardegree. Hardegree's nose was getting purple, where the duct tape spider had bit him, and he was thrashing around inside the duct tape mummy the spider had made of him. His big cream-colored Stetson lay in the grass beside him. Cletis could hear the radio crackling from the open door of Hardegree's cruiser, parked a few feet behind his Datsun.

"Crap," said Cletis. "I need some help." Glancing around to see if anyone was looking, he grabbed Hardegree's feet, lifted him up by main force and rolled him over into the bed of the pick-up. Hardegree made a lot muffled noises, until Cletis jammed the Stetson over his face, duct taping it down with a few feet of stray tape stuck to his own thigh. He threw the damaged door into the back of the truck next to Hardegree, seat-belted the spider's bushel basket into place, then hopped in and headed over to see his twin brother Clevis.

Momma always used to say that Cletis got the brains of the family and Clevis got the good looks. Cletis figured that meant they were pretty much screwed from the get-go, but life on his little farm didn't require a whole lot of brains, and Clevis could handle his own looks. Clevis lived in a tarpaper shack out behind the abandoned Dale school, and worked a series of odd jobs while endlessly auditioning for commercials up in Austin. He was trying to cash in on those looks Momma loved so much, but it was like trying to make change from a dime -- Clevis just didn't ever get very far. But if Clevis had one virtue left in his hard-drinking, high-hoping soul, it was family loyalty, and Cletis needed help he could trust to get his skinny butt out of the heap of trouble it had landed it.

Cletis idled the Datsun through Dale. He didn't want Flora McDaniels, the postmistress, asking embarrassing questions. With luck, no one would notice the missing passenger door. He crept around the stand of live-oaks that marked the corner of the old school yard and turned down the gravel track to Clevis' place.

Only Clevis was standing right there by the road. Cletis stalled the Datsun to a halt, laid his head on the wheel and moaned. Clevis was all made up for an audition of some kind. Problem was, he looked like a cross between that Eye-talian opera clown the stripper from Luling had dragged him into to Austin to see one time -- Piggly-Itchy or something -- and a tramp coming off a three-day drunk.

"Christ on a rototiller," Cletis said quietly to the hole in the dashboard where the speedometer used to be. Trust was only going to get him so far, and this was too far already.

"Hey there, Cletis," said his brother, sticking his head in the missing door of the pick-up. "You all here to give me a ride?"

[10/20/2002 8:44:39 PM | Jay Lake]
{6} "I got enough problems in this life," said Cletis, "without having to look at you dressed for a rodeo clown. What the heck you painted up so nasty for?" His hand brushed the bushel basket. "And mind the basket, it bites."

"You bet," said Clevis. He hefted the spider's basket, slid into the seat, dropped a small gym bag on the floor of the truck, then set the basket down on his lap. "Jimmy Earl was supposed to give me a ride into Lockhart, but I got to be there by two, and he's late."

Cletis threw the Datsun into reverse, crept back out onto the blacktop, then ground it into second without touching the handbrake. The truck bucked as the wheels screeched, then they rattled on down the road. "Happens I'm going there myself," said Cletis. "Need to take care of a few things."

"I can see that," said Clevis. He waved one arm out of the side of the truck. "You saving up for a door here, or maybe expecting one for Christmas?"

Deputy Hardegree had found a new position in the back and began thumping against the bed of the truck. Cletis strained to keep himself from looking in the mirror. The last thing he needed was Clevis asking stupid questions. "Big words for a man without a car. It's being fixed, so shut your pie hole. What the heck are you doing in that stupid costume anyway?"

Clevis stared at the bushel basket on his lap. "Can't rightly say."

"You're dressed like a clown, and you can't say why?"

"Not supposed to. Mack Fisher made me swear not to tell."

Crap on a hubcap, thought Cletis. Mack Fisher was trouble coming, going and stopping for a Coke. He'd been tough in grade school and he was tougher now, twenty years later. Cletis asked a question he didn't really want to know the answer to. "What would Mack Fisher want with a clown, anyway?"

"Oh, hell, I can't lie to you, brother." Clevis' twenty-dollar grin broke out, even through the smeared greasepaint on his lips. It had scored him more girls in a summer that Cletis had slept with in his entire life. "Mack's got a plan, and it's a sure thing." He rummaged in the gym bag and came out with a short-barreled .38, which he waved in Cletis' face. "We're gonna to rob the Caldwell Savings and Loan."

[10/21/2002 9:53:21 PM | Jay Lake]
{7} "Jesus H. Christ on a sticky bun!" Cletis shrieked, nearly running the old Datsun into pecan tree. He fought the old tires back onto the highway. "Momma didn't raise us that stupid, Clevis. What the hell's the matter with you?"

Clevis' face fell, as only a clown's could. His red nosed popped loose, bounced off the trash can lid on the duct tape spider's basket, and went flying out the missing door. The spider rattled the lid, trying to get out.

"Hold on to that tight, will you," Cletis said absently. He was trying to decide if he should kill his brother before or after Hardegree got free of the duct tape.

"Cletis, man." Clevis' voice was small and tight. "You don't understand. I need the money, real bad, and it's a sure thing. Mack has a plan. A good one."

"Plan my left butt cheek," muttered Cletis. "Ain't you ever seen those movies where them fellers in the dark suits and the skinny ties have a plan and some fat donut-sniffer always brings 'em down? He wouldn't have to leave the drive-through to catch you. And don't talk to me about no money. I ain't had no money ever, and I do alright. What you need money for anyway?"

"I got me a dream, Cletis." Clevis clutched the bushel basket to his chest, resting his chin on the trash can lid, where it left pale, greasy streaks. The spider rattled harder inside, thumping against the lid to get out again.

"Yeah?" Had his brother given up on being an actor?

"I'm gonna emigrate to Mexico and be a masked wrestler." Clevis tore the trash can lid loose from the bushel basket and brandished it at an invisible enemy. The duct tape spider swarmed up his chest, going for the throat. Cletis shouted incoherently, let go of the wheel, and body-slammed the spider into the dashboard as the Datsun crossed the center line.

[10/22/2002 10:47:27 PM | Jay Lake]
{8} It was as bad as when the duct tape spider had attacked Deputy Hardegree. The spider crawled on Clevis' face, smearing the clown makeup and getting caught in his ruffled collar. Cletis grabbed on to it, pulling the big bug off, and the spider began spewing duct tape all over the inside of the truck. Struggling with the spider, Cletis snagged the steering wheel with his elbow and yanked the Datsun back to the right just as the air horn of a semi blared with a smoking squeal of eighteen-wheel brakes.

"Get off!" shouted Clevis. He fired the .38, shattering the pick-up's windshield.

"Put that damned thing away," Cletis said, blinded by fluttering duct tape. He shoved the spider up onto the dashboard with one hand, grabbed the wheel with the other hand, and yanked the Datsun out of the bar ditch it was drifting into. "Hold the wheel."

Cletis let go of the wheel, grabbed a duct tape streamer, and anchored the spider to the dashboard. He wasn't sure it was going to work -- spiders didn't generally stick to their own webs as far as he knew -- but the situation was starting to get out of hand. The angry spider kept spewing duct tape, which Cletis grabbed and wound around its legs and body as quick as he could. He anchored the tape to the wipers through the shattered windshield, to the front of the dashboard, even to the rear view mirror on the driver's door.

By the time the spider had slowed down to spitting a last few sticky shreds, Cletis had it firmly stuck down. It sat on the dashboard and bobbled with the weaving of the pick-up truck, like some malevolent plastic Jesus bringing damnation to the unworthy world. Duct tape prayer flags fluttered all over the cab of the pick-up.

"Heckfire and hazelnuts," said Clevis, letting go of the wheel to lean back with a sigh. "What do we do now?"

"Feed it something," Cletis replied. "Something plastic. Quick."

Clevis began to pick flecks of tan plastic off the heat-crazed dashboard, feeding them to the spider by sticking them in the end of his gun barrel and shoving it toward the spider's clicking mouth. The duct tape spider stopped straining so hard against the duct tape as it ate.

"I'm getting our happy asses into Lockhart before anything really bad happens," Cletis said, as Hardegree began thumping with renewed vigor against the walls of the pick-up bed.

"What's that?" asked his brother.

"Roddie Hardegree," said Cletis. "Hitchhiking in back."

Clevis' mouth hung open for a moment. "You brung a deputy sheriff to a bank robbery?"

[10/23/2002 6:35:29 PM | Jay Lake]
{9} Cletis fumed. Hardegree was getting pretty frisky in the back of the pick-up, when meant that the spider's bite wearing off. His brother still stared at him open mouthed, the pistol held loosely in one hand as if Clevis knew what the heck he was doing with it.

"You are dumber than chitlins," Cletis shouted. "What the heck do you think I'm doing with a deputy sheriff in the back of the truck? Going to Sunday school?"

"Well..." said Clevis. "For one thing, it's Thursday, so, no."

Cletis batted a streamer of duct tape out of the way and hunched over the wheel, squiting against the breeze through the bullet-shattered windshield. "First of all, there ain't gonna be no bank robbery. Momma's already spinning in her grave like a bad air compressor. Second of all, even if there is a bank robbery, you ain't gonna be in it, on account of family pride and the sheer Aggie stupidity of the entire God damned idea. Third of all, keep feeding that damned spider before it gets growly."

Clevis nervously shoved scraped-off bits of dashboard into the spider's mouth with the barrel of his pistol. "What about Hardegree?"

"I got to get him out of that duct tape without him killing me for it." Cletis shuddered. "I don't want to go to jail, Clevis. I don't want you to go to jail. I don't want nobody to go to jail, except maybe for Mack Fisher, who can jump up my butt and mine for diamonds for all I care about him." He glanced over at his brother, whose ruffled clown collar was flapping in his face from the breeze through the windshield and the missing door. "You wanna be a masked Mexican wrestler, that's fine. But you know what? We're gonna do it right!"

[10/24/2002 7:25:33 PM | Jay Lake]
{10} The little pick-up truck coughed its way into the alley behind the Dollar General. They had come into the edge of Lockhart and Cletis wanted to think carefully about his next move. He was pretty sure Deputy Hardegree was going to cut loose of the duct tape soon, and he wanted to be prepared. Clevis, in the seat next to him, had one hand wrapped around the windshield pillar while feeding dashboard chunks to the spider with the other. His pistol was wedged between his legs, and he was grinning like a monkey, humming mariachi songs under his breath.

"Alright," said Cletis with more authority than he felt. "We're gonna go stop us that bank robbery. First thing we do is you put that damned pistol away."

Clevis frowned, but he stopped feeding the spider and tucked the pistol back in the gym bag. "I don't know, Cletis. Mack had a pretty good plan."

"My plan is better. You and me, we get a re-ward, Mack goes to the pokey for some prison bitch slam dance, and everybody's happy."

"That ain't a plan," muttered Clevis into his ruffled collar. "That's a wish."

"We're gonna make it true, though."

"How?"

Cletis popped the Datsun into gear and putted out from behind the Dollar General. "We're going to the Broke-Eared Jug and finding us some old drunks."

[10/25/2002 11:38:25 PM | Jay Lake]
{11} The Broke-Eared Jug pretty much looked like its name. Relic of an earlier generation's dubious taste, the front of the bar was built in the shape of a moonshine jug, the neck perhaps thirty feet off the ground like a steeple on the church of the inebriate. True to the name, the ear of the jug was broken off, legacy of a very ill-advised bar bet involving a misappropriated Lockhart Fire Department ladder engine and two sorority girls down from Austin. The ear's shattered remnants gravelled the walkway bridging the door and the parking lot.

Cletis had been there that day, in his younger years when dedicated drinking seemed to be called for. Now he mostly came down when he cashed his irregular paychecks to lose at the pool tables and warm a stool in the company of other smelly old bachelors. Today, his mission came first. He eased the Datsun up the building, laying off the accelerator so the pick-up bumped into the wall just hard enough to stall out. "See," he said to his brother, "a smart man don't need no brakes. You get Hardegree, I'll get the spider, and for God's sake, leave that damned gun in the truck."

"He's gonna be heavy," complained Clevis.

"You wanna carry the spider?"

His brother shook his head. Cletis scooped up Hardegree's stetson off the floor, tore some strips off the seat where the seams were busted loose, and dropped them into the inverted crown. Then, making sweet little kissy noises, he teased the now-quiescent duct tape spider loose from the dashboard and nudged it into the hat, which it overflowed like a turd in a dixie cap. Cletis dumped Clevis' gym bag out on the floor, then slipped it over the top of the spider, hat and all. He eased his way out of the truck to find his brother standing there, his clown suit not too much worse for the wear, with the duct tape-wrapped deputy sheriff slung over one shoulder like a mummy from the Wal-Mart hardware department.

"He is heavy," said Clevis.

"Just dump him on the back pool table when we get in there." Cletis hitched up his pants one-handed and walked through the door, stepping on the ruins of past glories.

[10/26/2002 11:33:05 PM | Jay Lake]
{12} Inside, the bar was same as it ever was. Silent televisions flickered NASCAR and college football like blue-green ghosts in the darkness. The floor was littered with peanut husks. Lute Morgensen was behind the bar, wiping down the taps, while a handful of strangers in off the highway huddled in front of him, carefully separated by empty stools. In the back, where the beer signs buzzed, Patsy Cline wailed on a juke box and the pool balls clicked. Sometimes Cletis thought those balls were like the pulse of Lockhart -- if he ever found the bar quiet, he'd figure the Rapture had come.

"'lo, Lute," Cletis said politely as he strolled past the bar with the inverted gym bag in his hands. Clevis huffed along behind him, a clown carrying a dark gray mummy.

"Boys," said Lute with the guarded pessimism of any experienced bartender, giving a single nod before going back to his taps.

In the back, there they were, the old men on the stools, the pool hounds, the heavy drinkers and the just plain lazy. Cletis walked to the back table and waved to Clevis to dump Hardegree on it, disturbing Johnnie Oatman's game of eight ball with Victor Armendariz.

"Cletis," said Oatman into the quiet pause that followed. "It ain't like you to disturb a man's game."

"It ain't like me to assault a deputy sheriff, neither, Johnnie," said Cletis over Hardegree's frantic moaning and groaning, "but there's worse things about to happen. Your sister's kid works over at Caldwell Savings and Loan, right?"

Oatman leaned on his pool cue and gave Cletis a narrow-eyed stare. "So?"

"Mack Francis is fixing to rob that place in about twenty minutes. I aim to stop him. I need y'all's help."

"What do we got to do?"

"First thing is keep him from killing me," said Cletis, pointing at Hardegree. He reached over and yanked several strands of duct tape off the deputy's face.

Hardegree screeched, the leaned up a little to catch Cletis' eye. He looked like a caterpillar almost gone into its cocoon. "You white trash son of bitch, I'm gonna tear your arms off," he hissed.

Johnnie Oatman tapped Hardegree on the chin with his pool cue. "Not yet, you ain't. Listen to the man, Roddie. We both want to hear what he has to say."

[10/27/2002 9:40:22 PM | Jay Lake]
{13} "This better be good," said Hardegree, "or you'll be getting a trial by coroner instead of a trial by jury."

"Big talk," Oatman said with thump of his pool cue to Hardegree's duct taped chest, "for deputy King Tut."

"You planning to be an accessory to assaulting an officer of the law, Oatman?"

"Shut up," said Cletis, "or I'll sic the spider on you again."

Hardegree shut up.

Cletis put the gym bag down on the pool table next to Hardegree. "Now lookie here. So far everything's been a misunderstanding. You've been powerful inconvenienced, for which I am truly sorry, but my truck's about been whittled down to four wheels and a headlight. Which may not make you feel any better, Roddie, but I figure makes us even for the day. Only my brother over here," he nodded at Clevis, "tells me Mack Francis and some of his boys are up to some serious no good. Me and Johnnie Oatman and these other gentlemen are fixing to set that serious no good to rights, but we figure an officer of the law would be a big help."

Hardegree shuddered. "For the love of God, don't set that spider on no one else."

"They're gonna rob Caldwell Savings and Loan," said Cletis. "What do you want me to do?"

"What spider?" asked Oatman.

Grinning like a raccoon in a chicken coop, Clevis nodded at the deputy. "You think Cletis did that all by hisself?"

"That's one hell of a spider."

Clevis, Cletis and Hardegree all nodded in unison. "Uh huh."

"Mack Francis has no idea," Cletis added. "Oatman, can one of your boys please cut the deputy loose?"

[10/28/2002 9:19:39 PM | Jay Lake]
{14} It took a little scuffle to settle Hardegree down after Oatman's boys cut him loose from the duct tape, but some persuasion with a pool cue did the trick. "I ain't happy about what you done with my hat, neither," the deputy said, glowering at Cletis, who just grinned back at him.

"We'd better get a move on," Cletis told Oatman. "Mack's gonna to be over at the bank right shortly now. Clevis, grab a couple of stacks of them plastic drinking glasses behind Lute's bar over there. Johnnie, I hope you can drive, 'cause my little truck ain't gonna make it."

Oatman frowned. "Drive, hell, it's three blocks away."

Cletis hefted the gym bag with the duct tape spider inside. "Trust me on this. You will be sore amazed."

They all walked out of the Broke-Eared Jug, Oatman with his hand on Hardegree's elbow. Porky Penrose had a one-ton flatbed Ford out back, so Clevis and Oatman's boys just hopped up on the back while Cletis, Porky, Oatman and Hardegree squeezed into the front. Cletis was so tight up against Porky that when Porky dropped the shifter into reverse it was as much fun as good date.

"Damn, boy, I didn't know you cared," Cletis said.

"Shu-shu-shu-- be quiet," said Porky.

Cletis grinned again. He was enjoying being in charge for once. "Roddie, mash up some of them cups from behind the bar and slip them up under this here gym bag."

"No way," said Hardegree. "Not my fingers."

"Like feeding a pit bull. Hold out a long piece, and don't hang on tight."

Porky's Ford slammed over the kerb and out onto 183, the main drag through Lockhart. Ahead of them, Cletis could see Mack Francis' '75 Olds Cutlass with the scabbed-off vinyl top just pulling into the parking lot of the Caldwell Savings and Loan.

"It's going down, boys. First thing we do, is we send in the clown."

[10/30/2002 12:03:46 AM | Jay Lake]
{15} Porky pulled the flat-bed Ford up just opposite the Caldwell Savings and Loan. The bank was a little cinderblock building with a tacked-on drivethrough window, the kind of shoebox modern architecture of small businesses all over the rural South. Two pecan trees older than the town towered in front of it, last survivors of a greener prairie ecology. Cletis followed Porky out of the cab to grab Clevis off the back of the truck. His twin brother's clown makeup was pretty much gone to seed, and the costume had struggles of its own, but Clevis' intent was still recognizable, mostly by the bedraggled ruffled collar that hung around his neck like butcher paper stuck to a barbecued sausage.

"You're going in, Clevis," Cletis said. "To be Mack's die-version."

"Me?" squeaked Clevis. "Why?"

"It's your stupid plan, turnip head. Besides, think of Mexican wrestling. You can be El Chumpo Grande. It'll lend you strength. We're right behind you, brother, all the way."

Muttering, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." Clevis staggered across all four lanes of 183, plus the left turn lane, to a squeal of brakes and a blare of horns. Cletis turned to the others. "Porky, you and a couple of the other boys take care of Mack's getaway car. I'll follow Clevis in, cut loose the spider. When Mack and them bail out, Johnnie and the rest of the boys can pin 'em down, then Roddie reads 'em their rights. No one gets hurt, and my dopey brother gets to be a hero. Got it?"

The old rednecks nodded like a dashboard full of bobblehead dolls, then they all walked across the highway together after the clown.

[10/30/2002 9:48:57 PM | Jay Lake]
{16} Cletis watched Clevis follow Mack Francis into the bank. The duct tape spider rustled in his hands, impatient with its imprisoment in the gym bag. The old men from the bar were spread out around the parking lot, and Porky had already wrestled Mack's getway driver to the ground while one of his buddies cut the valve stems off Mac's tires with a Bowie knife. Inside, Mack stood in line, with a couple of his buddies behind him. Clevis walked up the line and everybody turned and stared. Cletis couldn't blame them, what with the ruined clown suit and all. It was hard to see exactly what was happening through the glare of the sun on the bank windows, but Cletis figured this was his moment -- Clevis was distracting Mack and nobody would be looking out for the duct tape spider.

Cletis shouldered his way through the door, stepping into the ice cream blast of the bank's air conditioning. Somewhere in the previous few seconds, Mack Francis had drawn a pistol, because people were dropping to the floor all over the bank. "Heckfire," Cletis whispered as Mack turned to give him a funny look, then glanced over at Clevis. Nobody's plans were going right today, Cletis thought. He whipped the gym bag off Hardegree's stetson, cocked his arm back, and hurled the duct tape spider across the lobby like a free throw. It chittered, streaming duct tape behind as it headed unerringly toward Mack Francis, who aimed and fired at the spider faster than Cletis would have thought possible.

[10/31/2002 5:40:21 PM | Jay Lake]
{17} The clown screamed and the tellers dove for cover. The already scattered customers cowered more tightly into the false security of their knees and elbows. The duct tape spider spun as it flew, tumbling into and around the bullets like some preternatural flying tumor writhing through an arc of danger.

Mack got three bullets off before the spider hit him in the face. The front window of the bank crazed and sagged like clingwrap after a church picnic, but the glass did not give way. Celtis sprinted toward Mack as the spider crawled all over the would-be robber, enraged from the indignities of its day and dancing the tarantella on its latest victim. Mack was already loosely gagged by a wad of duct tape, and the spider was wrapping his head. Deputy Hardegree came bursting through the door, followed closely by Johnnie Oatman, shouting about vigilanteism and keeping dangerous animals within city limits.

Cletis kicked Mack in the nuts. "Don't you get my brother into your crazy bullshit, Mack Francis!" he shouted, then tried to wrestle the spider free.

But the duct tape spider wasn't having none of Cletis this time. It hissed at him, fired a warning streamer of duct tape into his face, and continued to wrap Mack up for dinner.

"Damn it," said Cletis, just as shotgun went off behind him.

[11/1/2002 10:48:52 PM | Jay Lake]
{18} "Nobody move or the clown gets it!" It was Spanky Warkentin, one of Mack Francis' boys, holding a shotgun on Clevis. Roddie Hardegree was down on the ground whimpering, his thighs spattered with blood, Johnnie Oatman slumped beside him. Next to Spanky, Willie Elvis Dupree held a little .22 target pistol, which wavered in his hand like an empty goat udder. Clevis, apparently unharmed, cowered on the floor crying.

Now Cletis was pissed off. "You boys ain't got the sense of a dead armadillo between the two of you!" he bellowed. "This deal's done, you're cooked, and _now_ you're shootin' people? Mack here's gonna die right quick if'n I don't get that spider off him, and you're playing Dirty Harry over there."

Willie Elvis scrunched up his face and thought. "Dirty Harry was a cop," he said. "We ain't cops."

Cletis stepped back a couple of faces to where he was just behind Mack's head, where the furious spider still nibbled on the exposed nose. "You put those guns down right now, or everyone's gonna be sorry."

"Cletis," screamed Clevis from the floor, "do what they say!"

"Would El Clowno be like this in the ring?" Cletis asked.

"Who's El Clowno?" said Willie Elvis, just as Spanky said, "Shut up everyone."

Cletis practically growled. "The world's greatest Mexican wrestler, and he's about to kick your ass from here to Oklahoma."

[[11/2/2002 7:30:30 PM | Jay Lake]
{19} "Mexican wrestler, my hind foot," said Spanky. "I see you, your sorry ass brother, and some old chumps from that jug bar." The alarms were jangling now, and the wail of sirens grew louder outside. "And you fucking blew our deal." He raised the shotgun to point toward Cletis.

Cletis scoopped up the spider by the trail of duct tape hanging out of its ass, whirled it around his head like a cat swung by the tail, and charged Spanky and his shotgun. Startled that Cletis would actually try to pull something, Spanky didn't pull the trigger right away, which gave Clevis time to tackle his ankles, so when the shotgun went off again it blew a hole in the acoustic ceiling, setting off the sprinkler system.

By that time, the spider was out on about three feet of duct tape, and Cletis let it whack into Spanky's head like a bolo. The spider made one short orbit around Spanky, closing up the distance fast, then began spitting a torrent of duct tape out of its spinnerets, actually chewing Spanky's hair and shirt in the process. Willie Elvis finally closed his mouth and tried to take a shot at the duct tape spider, but Cletis wrestled him to the ground, rolling over and over for control of the .22. He looked up to see Clevis kicking Spanky in the back of the knee with his oversize clown shoes, then running for the big display banners advertising free checking and a new chainsaw with each account opened.

"What the hell are you doing?" Cletis screamed over the pounding of Willie Elvis' head against the tile floor.

"I'm gonna feed that spider till it explodes!" yelled Clevis. "El Clowno's on the march!"

[11/3/2002 10:05:50 PM | Jay Lake]
{20} Clevis jumped on Spanky Warkentin's chest and began stuffing torn-off strips of advertising banner into the spider's mouth, heedless of the wild clacking of the spider's claws and the ribbons of duct tape shooting out the back end. He screamed incoherently, his clown whiteface and bubblegum lips tinting his spittle pinkish gray. Flecks of ceiling tile floated around him as the bank's sprinklers poured water down over everyone.

Cletis left off hammering Willie Elvis into the floor. This was looking like a good time to exit the bank, he thought. No one was shooting guns any more, and with the way things were going today, there was doubtless going to be something very bad happening next. "Come on," he yelled at his brother, then ran over to grab Deputy Hardegree, who was groaning and cursing from where Spanky had shot him.

"Go on," Clevis yelled back. "I'll be right behind you." He continued stuffing advertising into the spider.

Roddie Hardegree in a fireman's carry, Cletis stumbled out the door. He looked over his shoulder to see his brother disappearing into a spinning cloud of duct tape, practically an adhesive tornado. Then he looked up the see four sheriff's cruisers in the bank parking lot, deputies crouched behind their open doors with pistols trained at him.

"Put the officer down and your hands in the air," one of the deputies bellowed through a megaphone.

"Aw, crap," said Cletis.

[11/4/2002 11:04:09 PM | Jay Lake]
{21} Cletis was saved from the further embarassment of being shot for the wrong reasons when a stampede of erstwhile customers and employees of Caldwell Savings and Loan erupted from the doors behind him, bearing with them a cloud of sprinkler water, ceiling tile mung and scraps of duct tape. Struggling not to be trampled in the stampede, Cletis staggered toward the scrappy little bushes lining the front of the bank and dumped a groaning Roddie Hardegree down into them.

"Boy," Roddie said through the pain that contorted his face, "when I get through with you, they're going to have to hire satellites to find all the pieces. Double for that clown of a brother you got."

"Don't you poor-mouth my brother," Cletis growled. "He done saved your life, and me, too. I'm still sorry about the spider attack, but you was being a turd to start with. Way I figure it is we're even, and that's before me and Johnnie Oatman saved the bank."

"Saved the bank?" Hardegree was so mad he squeaked. That was when Cletis felt a pistol touch his ear from behind. Down in the bushes, Hardegree grinned, then chuckled through his pain. "You going down, boy."

[11/5/2002 3:50:04 PM | Jay Lake]
{22} Then Cletis couldn't hear anything at all. It was like the time he'd got his head stuck in the rain barrel, when he was kid, and Clevis was whacking the sheet metal with Pawpaw's jack handle from the busted Studebaker behind the barn, and after a while even the ringing in his ears was like the peal of distant bells. He figured for just a second he'd been shot, until the rainbow rain commenced.

It was a spray, pixie dust and glamor straight out of some Disney movie, flying in a gentle arc past his face. Cletis felt his arms and cheeks sting as the little flecks of rainbow cut into him, drawing streaks of blood behind them in some weird earthbound echo of a comet's tail. The ground shook beneath his feet, and already his blood was mixed with dampness. Sunlight glittered all around him, mixing with the bloody rainbows into a cocktail of light that would have stolen the breath from a statue.

Ribbons of darkness began to steal through the rainbows, sharp, sly snakes cutting the rainbows off at the head, consuming them from tail to top like the shadows of eager moray eels. It brought tears to Cletis' eyes to see such an assault, such a breaching of heavenly beauty by the literal forces of darkness, so many ropes binding the glory of his vision.

Then a strip of damp duct tape slapped him in the eyes.

[11/6/2002 9:40:38 PM | Jay Lake]
{23} The windows of the bank had blown out under a flood of sprinkler water, duct tape, and sheer human stupidity. The strip clinging to Cletis' eyes protected him from the worst of the glass shower as he dropped into the bushes next to Roddie Hardegree. Cletis' entire body was peppered with glass, and he felt a stab of fear for the duct tape spider, then guilt for not thinking of his brother first.

Hearing returned to Cletis as the rain of glass tapered off to lightly scattered showers. It was like listening to the rear end on his old Dodge Power Wagon school bus, that always sounded like it had been packed with sand. The whole world scraped and ground, and dimly, he could hear the deputies shouting. Cletis rolled over in the bushes to see Roddie Hardegree rise like an avenging angel of the law, brandishing his badge and yelling silently through the blood on his pallid face.

"Roddie," Cletis said, "slow down boy, you need some help." His own voice sounded like the squeak of a ballon animal.

Hardegree kicked Cletis once in the ribs, then jumped over him to run toward the parked sheriff's cruisers surrounding the back. Standing up again, Cletis saw Porky and some of Oatman's other boys helping several injured deputies. He glanced over his shoulder at the bank just in time to see his twin brother Clevis run out the smashed doors, naked as a plucked turkey, his big belly wobbling in time to the ruffled collar, panic in his wild clown eyes.

Cletis sure wished he could understand what his brother was yelling about. He figured he'd learn shortly.

[11/7/2002 3:58:52 PM | Jay Lake]
{24} When he learned what had set his brother into a clownlike panic, Cletis was sorry he'd ever gotten out of bed that day. In fact, he was sorry for a whole lot of things he'd done in life, starting with cutting Mary Ellen Owens' pigtail off in kindergarten with them round-nosed scissors, for which her boyfriend slashed his tires ten years later on account of she was still so mad. It was only the one pigtail, and her Momma had made her cut the other off so as to match, and all the kids had called her "Cletis-head" for weeks. He was sorry he hadn't gone into the service before he became too old and fat, 'cause then he could have gone to see the world. He was sorry he drove that 1968 Olds 442 convertible into the San Marcos River, just to get out of a speeding ticket -- that dumb cop woulda never found the roll of mary jane sewn into the passenger seat, which was ruined besides by the mucky water. He was sorry he'd ever dated that stripper from Luling, and sorrier he'd dumped her 'cause he hadn't got laid since. But most of all, Cletis was real, real sorry about the duct tape spider, because right about now it was rampaging out of the front of the bank with Mack Francis dangling in one claw, and it seemed to have suddenly grown to about the size of a gasoline tanker.

Good thing he'd never watered it back at his place, Cletis thought, composing his regrets for his imminent meeting with the Lord as the deputies fired off volleys of ineffective small arms fire.

[11/8/2002 9:24:22 PM | Jay Lake]
{25} Imminent death bearing down on him, Cletis realized he'd never looked closely at a spider before. It's legs were spindly and covered with a forest of fine hairs, even at this scale. Each was tipped with a rattling claw, the same claws that at a much smaller size had taken a chunk out of the barrel of Clevis' pistol. The body was dumpy, like a big black basketball, or maybe football, with a smaller section up front for the head, with two eyes like black stained glass windows. The duct tape spider had two huge pincers up front, clattering like a crab's claws, and even though it didn't have much of a face, what with all the glossy black chitin and tiny, bristly hairs, it still looked more confused than anything. If a couple of tons of raging arachnoid flesh could be considered confused.

"I'm sorry," Cletis screamed, expecting those to be his last words on God's earth as the spider ground to a halt in front of him. It stopped, abdomen quivering, standing in a puddle of shattered glass and sprinkler water. Behind Cletis, deputies shouted into their radios, while a helicopter clattered overhead. Almost daintily, the duct tape spider dropped Mack Francis' tape-wrapped body in front of Cletis. Then it made a familiar hissing noise.

"Oh, shit, boys," he shouted over his shoulder. "It's hungry. Fetch some rubber, and fast."

[11/9/2002 12:55:22 PM | Jay Lake]
{26} By the time some genius thought of hauling the old tires in from Morty Johnson's tire dump just south of town, the duct tape spider had already eat two patrol cars, and a good portion of the asphalt in the parking lot of the Caldwell Savings and Loan. Cletis found himself standing on its head, directing efforts under the watchful eyes, and drawn guns, of two very irritated deputy sheriffs. Three news helicopters circled overhead, along with a fourth chopper that looked like a wasp in Army green. Ready, no doubt, Cletis thought, to snuff the duct tape spider with a few thousand rounds from an autocannon. He hadn't watched the Discovery channel at his old girlfriend's place for nothing.

As the antique flatbed Mack chugged up with a load of tires, the Lockhart police and the Caldwell County sheriff's office were just finishing hauling everyone off to the jail or the clinic, as their condition befitted. Mack Francis looked like the Pillsbury doughboy when they got him unwrapped, and Clevis had to be subdued with strong drink before he rode off in the patrol car, but mostly the great bank robbery was over. Unfortunately, the bank was a total loss, and the duct tape spider showed no signs of slowing down its eating binge.

Cletis shouted instructions to the deputies tossing tires in the spider's clacking mouth, between the giant hairy palps, until he paused to the sound of distant thunder. "Huh," he said, looking up at the clear sky. "What's that about?" The thunder rumbled again, and Cletis realized it was coming from the duct tape spider's swollen abdomen.

"Uh oh."

[11/10/2002 7:01:16 PM | Jay Lake]
{27} Cletis figured whatever was up with the duct tape spider wasn't gonna fix easy, not even with a hundredweight of Tums and a tanker of seltzer water. The spider's gigantic abdomen began undulating, like waves on a black sea, or the world's biggest water ballon, and it commenced to making a keening noise, for all the world like a lost child. Cletis had heard a baby goat tied up in the rain one time crying to be let in, and that was as heart-breaking a noise as any suffering infant, but the duct tape spider, for all that it was as big as a single-wide trailer, somehow touched his heart again. He slid down toward the neck, jumped off, stepped inside the range of the jagged, furry palps each as tall as he was, and gave the spider a big old pat on the side of its head.

"This is all my fault girl," he shouted over the increasingly loud rumbles. "I shoulda left you alone in the barn eating cats or whatever it was you was doing there." Cletis laid his head up against the pebbly chitin of the spider, which added a weird gurgling noise to the ominous rumbles. "It'll be okay," he whispered.

Then there was a noise like the time back in high school when the entire basketball squad filled up on burritos and Lone Star and Clevis had got them going on farting in time to "Yellow Rose of Texas", only it was like every power forward in the state cut loose at once. It wasn't a good noise, either, Cletis thought. No good at all.

[11/11/2002 8:13:05 PM | Jay Lake]
{28} The duct tape spider exploded like a water balloon filled with Elmer's Glue-All. It sort of went, "pop," except the sound was real big, then white goop flew all over the park lot of the Caldwell Savings and Loan. Sticky white goop, like if you'd boiled a whole pot of duct tape and skimmed off the adhesive scum and maybe microwaved it back down again, then the dog chewed on it for a while. There were fibers in it, shreds of duct tape unborn from within the spider's might guts, flinging outward in the explosion like tiny spears from an angry midget god.

Cletis hung on to the side of the duct tape spider's head until it collapsed, folding in the way a circus tent would. He slipped on the goop and fell against the spider's skin, even as flecks of chitin and duct tape rained down on him and every one else. The leaves had been stripped off the pecan trees lining the parking lot, and birds were falling out of the sky, covered in white crap. Kind of like a pigeon bombing in reverse, Cletis thought with a nasty grin.

Then he felt a boot nudge his ribs. Cletis looked up to see a deputy sheriff he didn't know reaching down a hand to pull him up.

"I'm getting up," he said with a groan.

The deputy tugged Cletis to his feet. "I don't know whether to thank you, arrest you, or shoot you on the spot," he said.

"Where's my brother?" Cletis asked.

"Being interviewed on television." The deputy pointed across the parking lot. There was Clevis, still wearing his clown collar, his skinny butt and tubby gut wrapped in an old horse blanket, white goop dripping off his head, talking to three cameras.

"Oh, the spider," said Clevis with a sob, turning to stare at the wreckage of chitin, adhesive and towering, hairy legs. "My poor spider."

[11/12/2002 4:48:18 PM | Jay Lake]
{29} After the television crews and the paramedics got done with Clevis, Cletis eventually collected his twin brother. He was now wearing a Caldwell County Jail jumpsuit, with the ruffled clown collar under his arm. He looked pretty happy.

"Well, that's the end of that," Cletis said. He sighed.

"Sorry about your spider."

"I dunno. I guess it was time. Damned thing got too big."

They contemplated the ruins of the bank, where several biology teachers from Lockhart High School were now picking through the gargantuan remains of the duct tape spider.

"Figure we'll make the National Enquirer?" Clevis asked.

"Hell, no aliens, no Elvis, I don't think so. Ain't nobody cares about no poor, misunderstood giant spider."

Clevis punched Cletis in the arm. "I care. And they told me I got me a re-ward coming, for foiling the robbery and all."

Cletis tried to smile. "Good for you! El Clowno still want to head off for the Mexican wrestling circuit?"

"Oh, yeah..." His brother grinned like a jack o-lantern.

"I don't think my truck'll make it," Cletis said.

Clevis jangled a set of car keys in his fingers. "Mack Francis ain't gonna need these for a while."

"That's grand theft auto!"

"Who the hell cares, in Mexico?"

Who cares here, Cletis thought. He grinned back at his brother. Cheap booze and wild nights were just what he needed. "Let's go, Clowno."

[11/13/2002 11:31:01 PM | Jay Lake]
{30} Cletis slumped against the window of Mack Francis' Oldsmobile, the glass flattening his cheek to pallid ham as the mesquite trees flickered by outside. Clevis was driving, rarely a good idea, especially since the incident with the port-a-potty truck, mostly because Cletis didn't have the heart to deny his brother his victory. They were headed for Mexico with ten thousand dollars in cash and a clean clown suit donated by the Shriner's. Cletis figured the sheriff was so glad to see the twins leave Caldwell County that he wasn't asking any questions about who held clear title to Mack's car. Neither would Mack, unless he ever got out of prison.

"You hungry, bro?" Clevis asked. "Me, I'm more peckish than a mouse in a rain barrel."

"Nah." Cletis kept staring at the flickering trees. He missed the duct tape spider, sure they had some kind of connection despite it all. Some boys from A&M had hauled off the spider's mortal remains for study, and there was a considerable amount of washing down around the ruins of the Caldwell Savings and Loan, and that was the end of the duct tape spider. It made him so sad he'd been off beer for three days.

"I'm a-stopping the next time I see a Whataburger," Clevis warned. "Those tamales this morning like to put me off Mexican food for a while."

"Yeah." Cletis felt tears stinging his eyes. He fished in his shirt pocket for the last gas receipt to wipe his eyes with. His fingers snagged on something. Cletis tugged, and came out with a tiny little strip of duct tape. Very gently, hope dawning like a stripper's nipple just come out of her halter top, he tugged open the top of the pocket.

A tiny spider chittered at him. Cletis could swear it was smiling, but that might just have been his own smile through the tears.


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