In the basement the whirring of filters and fans greeted me, and the hum of the lights that threw jagged shadows up on the walls. I walked down the far aisle between long walnut tables and laid the terrarium beside those of the other desert spiders and plugged in its sun lamp.
The Ummidia Stellarum had not stirred, but his eyes revolved upward at the sudden blaze of light. Sweat was beading on my forehead. Even as Eboli was telling me about this spider, I had known what I was going to do. Slowly I lifted open the terrarium’s metal lid and slid my left hand in toward the spider. He didn’t move. My hand was steady as I walked my fingers onto the rock and nudged him. Still no movement. After all, he had been handled before. But, then, for months I had been handling spiders too, and I knew something about it now. Quickly I slid the rock out from under him, and he jumped, scurrying for a hole in the sand. I blocked his way, then forced him into a corner, trapping him with my palm. Still my hand was steady as I closed it over him. And it remained steady when I felt him panic, fluttering and scrambling, and finally, deperately, biting me - a minute jab as from the corner of a razor blade, at the centre of my palm. I knew this was the fang at the tip of his jaw that was a conduit from the poison gland. After a moment, I raised my hand, opening my fingers, and the Ummidia Stellarum darted through them, across the sand, and disappeared down the hole.
Suddenly there was a hot pulsing in my palm that moved through my wrist into my arm and shot rapidly upward. When it reached my chest, the jolt I experienced was far more powerful than I expected, but I felt no fear. Seconds later I stopped sweating and my head grew cold. My tongue was dry and my lips numb. My fingers and toes felt numb too, as if they had been injected with Novocain. I put my index finger to the vapor that had condensed on the outside of the terrarium and drew a face with hands clapped over the ears, no mouth, and closed eyes. Before I could dot in the tears, I spun around, certain I had heard a rustle on the stairs. Had Eboli, in his silent slippers, been watching me? I rushed over, but there was no one. Later, I wasn’t sure that I had closed the lid on the spider’s terrarium. I wasn’t clear either, on how I managed to drive back downtown, my hands so numb they felt ice-coated and my head swimming.
But one thing I never forgot. As I climbed the steps from the basement in Zaren Eboli’s blue house, the darkness deepened and I saw stars, thousands of them coming clear before me in the high stairwell, until they glittered sharply.
—— extract from A Trip To The Stars by Nicholas Christopher