Behind one of the houses we lived in was a dark and formidable forest. The trees were enormous and it seemed as if the limbs and branches intertwined, creating a canopy that blocked out every drop of sunlight. The darkness ran deep and long, probably forever. There was no telling how many children had been lost in this woody abyss.
The only thing that separated our yard from the woods, was a simple chain link fence. We played in our yard constantly but always wondered what it was like on the other side of the fence. On the days my brother and I walked to school, we followed the fence line as the imaginations of a nine and an eight year old boy ran wild.
Could there be wild animals in there?
What about an undiscovered, lost tribe of people?
Maybe even mystical creatures like a unicorn or dragons?
There was something scary but magical about the wooded area that seemed to beckon us. It was as if we could hear it saying, “Come in, if you dare.”
If we did go in there, what if we got lost? No one would ever see us again. Our youngest brother would get our room all to himself. It was just too risky.
But every day the draw got stronger.
Resistance was futile and an excursion was imminent. It was no longer if we were going, but when and how were we going to get back there.
Gathering a couple of the more adventurous neighborhood kids, my brother and I told them “Today, we are going in the forest! Who’s with us?” All we were missing from this scene were some horses, swords, spears, blue warpaint, kilts, and Mel Gibson. Okay, so we had nothing.
Everyone agreed to go, so we headed off in the opposite direction of our normal school route. This was unfamiliar and uncharted territory.
From the safe side of the fence, we traveled along the perimeter looking for a point of entry. Eventually we happened upon a section of fence where some of the links were detached. Some bold adventurer had breached this area before us.
Who could have done this and how long ago?
Did they ever make it back out?
Would we stumble across their bleached bones, with arm outstretched and finger pointing back to the entrance as if warning us, “Get out while you still can?”
Despite these fears we went in anyways. Probably because we had so much testosterone in the fifth grade.
The darkness was damp and smelled of grass, moss and decaying leaves. None of us thought to bring a flashlight, rope, Rambo knife, food or water. We kept going, figuring we would just stay in for a little while.
After walking for what seemed like an entire day and traveling many miles, I turned around to see our progress. There, about fifty yards away was our house. I could have sworn we were much deeper than that.
As we came to some sort of clearing, I noticed a large piece of plywood laying on the ground. It must have been at least ten by ten feet. As we all got closer to investigate, we could tell that the plywood was a makeshift roof placed over a massive hole. One of the corners of this roof had a square section cut out of it.
Wondering how deep it was and what was in there, I peered into the opening. What I found was the top of a ladder leading down in to the pitch dark depths of the hole.
As a group, we discussed the situation. “If there is a ladder then it can’t be that deep, right? Can we all fit in there? Who wants to go first?”
It was killing us not knowing what was down there, so I decided to be the first to go. As I stepped into the hole and on to the first rung of the ladder, I looked at everyone for the last time, wondering if I would ever see them again. Digging deep into my adolescent bravery, I descended the rest of the way down the ladder.
As I was being swallowed by the darkness, I noticed that the temperature was cooler and there was kind of an earthy, mildew smell. When I stepped off the ladder, my foot landed on something soft. When I hit the bottom, I found myself standing on a large mattress.
Why was this here?
Was this some hobo’s home or something?
Who made this place?
The hole was deep enough for me to stand up and not hit the plywood ceiling. It was still pretty dark but the light coming down from the opening revealed that the hole was square, with four walls. Looking up to the opening, I could see my brother and some of the other kids, trying to see me.
“Come on down!” I called out. “It’s safe.” I reassured them.
My brother came down first and the others followed him down the ladder one by one. We were all amazed that someone had dug this into the ground. We really weren’t sure what to make of it or how it could be used.
Maybe it could be our secret hideaway?
Or it could be a place to have club meetings?
We could bring stuff down here that no one would ever be able to find.
As my vision started to adjust to the dark, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.
A small movement. Near the roof.
Then some more movement.
Was the entire ceiling moving?
Straining to make out what was up there, I felt something tickling my wrist. When I looked down, a daddy-long-legs was making it’s way up my arm.
With chills running up and down my spine and my hair standing on end, I let out a blood curdling scream that sounded like a little girl, who just had her dolly taken away, and I brushed the spider off of my arm.
Everyone looked my way with fear in their eyes wondering what had happened.
And then I realized what was on the ceiling.
The entire sheet of plywood was covered with daddy-long-leg spiders!
“GET OUT!!!” I screamed.
With the speed of Flash, the neighborhood kids flew up the ladder. As each person made their way up, they smacked and bumped the plywood. This caused hundreds of thousands of spiders to rain down on my brother and me.
My brother was the second one down and so he was in front of me. Fate would have it that I would be the last one in line to climb out. If I could have ran through the other kids, I would have.
Once we broke through to the surface, I saw my brother trying to remove the hundreds of daddy-long-legs from all over his body. As if he was on fire, he employed the stop-drop-and-roll technique.
I would have rather been engulfed in flames than to have masses of spiders crawling all over me. Not having a flame thrower, I mimicked my brother. There was a lot of flailing across the forest floor, while emitting a girly high pitched scream.
Arachnophobia doesn’t describe the trauma I was left with that day.
I can reassure you that we never went back down that hole again.
It took about 35 years to get over my fear of spiders.
Only click this link if you think I was exaggerating and you are very brave!