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I am in my last week of student teaching. I'll be certified, soon, to teach in our public schools... but I found another reason yesterday that I don't wanna teach elementary school.

You see... there are four men in the school building, most school days. Me, an elderly math teacher, and two custodians.

Yesterday, during my lunch hour, I'm settin' up the next week's materials, surfing CNN, and bitterly cursing the District Computer Nazi, who feels that access to message boards and outside email sources should be blocked, right?

And a woman I barely recognize bursts into the classroom, jabbering and gibbering. I vaguely remembered her from the last faculty meeting; she was a teacher there. She knew ME, though, as my own last name was the only thing she was saying that made any sense. It seemed extremely important that I should go with her, though.

As we hustled through the empty halls -- all the children were at lunch -- I wondered what could be so screwy as to drive this poor woman into hysteria. Fire? Terrorists? Bomb threats?

Hmmph. Shooda known.

We arrive at her gaily decorated classroom. Sitting in the large open area towards the front... maybe fifteen feet away from where I stood in the hall... was a large cardboard carton marked XMAS.

The woman, whom I will call "Mrs. Tulip," became even more incoherent at this point, but pointed furiously at the box, and indicated that I should go and do something with or to the box.

I ambled into the room, glancing around for bombs or Alan Rickman with a machine gun, or something. Nothing was on fire. The box was open. I sidled up to it and glanced inside.

Ah. Christmas decorations. Atop it all were three large stuffed toys -- a bear, a penguin, and Santa.

And perched atop the bear's belly was a spider. A HUGE friggin' spider.

Dawn broke over marble head. Ah. THIS is the emergency. But... something didn't look quite right. The spider was posed rather oddly, legs bunched together, front and back, instead of legs spread around her, ready to leap or run. And... her abdomen. Spider that big should have a butt the size of my pinky tip... but... it looked... scooped out, somehow.

The spider had shed its exoskeleton in the process of getting bigger... and was, possibly, still in the box somewhere. Furthermore, the only non-tarantula spiders in this hemisphere that get THAT big are female. A female spider in a cardboard box in someone's shed or garage has only one reason for being there: it laid eggs. Spiders' eggs hatch between September and late November. It was now December. There were potentially hundreds of spiders in there.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of saying all this out loud.

Mrs. Tulip's reaction was kind of interesting. She wriggled, and writhed, and kind of looked like she wanted to turn herself inside out, right then and there. She jabbered some more, and indicated that I should do something about it.

"What do you want ME to do about it?" I said.

"Uggh," she replied. "Eeegh...yecch... you're a MAN," she gagged. "Do SOMETHING!"

I turned back to the box. Carefully, I fished Bear, Penguin and Santa out, one by one, and flicked them to the floor. They did not erupt in a seething mass of arachnoid horror. The dead molt fell to pieces with the impact. Mrs. Tulip wriggled and vibrated.

Beneath the stuffed toys was a mass of plastic pine needles. The rest of the box contained a disassembled artificial Christmas tree.

God only knew what might be hiding in there.

Mrs. Tulip sat and stared at me, chewing her nails. I looked at her. She looked at me. I sighed and turned back to the box. I COULD simply refuse to do it. It wasn't MY classroom, or my Christmas tree, or my problem. On the other hand, I'm still a student teacher, and I'm going to be DONE with this in a week. All I have to do to get my certification is not screw up or piss anyone off...

...and it occurred to me that as wacko as this woman was acting, there was no way she was setting foot in this room until all materials in this box had been examined for spiderlike presences... and, considering where my classroom was and where Mrs. Tulip's was, she had probably gone rampaging all over the school looking for custodians before finally remembering that I existed.

It was noon. The Custodians were across the street at Fatso's Barbecue, having lunch. They wouldn't be back any time soon. If I didn't do something, this woman was going to be standing in the hall gibbering when her children returned from lunch. And how would my evaluation go if I went on record as saying, "Hell with you, lady, this ain't my problem?"

Steeling myself, I fished one of the tree stand's legs out... and carefully picked out one of the branches. I whacked the branch a few times with the tree stand leg. Three dead crickets fell out of it.

I did it again with another branch. Nothing happened.

I did it again.

And again.

And again.

I noticed that about every third or fourth branch had a dead cricket or two in it. Each seventh branch seemed to have a LIVE cricket in it, which always evoked a horrified ejaculation from Mrs. Tulip, still in the hallway.

...and the eighteenth branch had a live SPIDER in it, a good-sized specimen, who came scuttling up the branch to rip my hand off. I flicked him off the branch with the tree stand leg and stomped on him. Mrs. Tulip immediately did this... amazing... thing... with her whole body... that would have done any contortionist proud, except that Mrs. Tulip did it out of sheer horror.

I was not happy. That spider was nowhere near big enough to be the one who'd left that molt on top. That was one of the kids.

The twenty-ninth branch had ANOTHER molt on it. An even bigger one. How long had that mama spider been IN this box? And was she still HERE?

I kept plucking branches out. More dead crickets. A few live ones. Jeez, there'd been a whole ecosystem going on in this woman's Christmas decorations...

And in time, I came to the bottom of the box. Well, almost. The only thing left was the top of the Christmas tree, a largish cone of stiff wire and fake plastic pine needles. There was no way in hell I was sticking my hands in THAT thing. I could beat it with the tree stand leg until the toads came home, and the entire Bolivian army could still be hiding in there.

Perhaps jostling it would provide some information. I carefully knocked the box over. The tree top rattled and rolled out.

And Mama Spider came out, erupting from between the branches like a little snake monster ripping through a spaceman's sternum in a horror movie.

Now, in truth, that spider wasn't THAT big. I've certainly seen tarantulas that were bigger. On the other hand, I've also seen tarantulas that were SMALLER, which gives you some clue as to how friggin' BIG this thing was. I raised a foot to step on it, and hesitated. Man, this thing was BIG! What if it... didn't... DIE? What if it grabbed my foot and threw me across the ROOM, or something?

And then, Mrs. Tulip screamed, a sound like a fire engine might make if it were giving birth to an SUV.

I leaped on the spider with both feet.

Mrs. Tulip had very good lungs, though, and continued. The same scream, too. She only screamed once, but it went on for a while. I heard the patter of feet, as people came running to investigate.

Many of them were children. Fourth graders, as I recall.

...and abruptly, Mrs. Tulip snapped. It was amazing. One second, she is in the grip of total pants-wetting hysteria, and the next, she's perfectly calm, and herding children around. It was like someone had found and pressed her RESET button, right there in front of ghod and everybody.

Teachers have to develop whole new instincts. We don't pay them enough. Particularly the ones who have to deal with giant bugs.

I casually cleaned up the two dead spiders and the scattering of cricket husks, and tossed 'em in the garbage. I then checked the tree top. It was clean. Not that anything alive would have willingly shared quarters with Mama, anyway. Upon erasing the remnants of madness, I strolled away back to my classroom. Mrs. Tulip smiled and gave me a nod, still herding her students, as I passed.

And I betcha my certification won't even have any mention of my heroism or my goin' the extra mile, here....

credit given to original author if known

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