The Infinitesimal Machine This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

December 30, 2012
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It's tiny, the spider – the size of a dandelion seed and almost the same shape, but certainly not as downy soft or welcoming. It returns my stare with four times as many eyes, standing completely still on a body supported by four times as many legs. Its legs look like the mechanical framework of an umbrella, or the metal limbs of a dry-cleaning machine, rotating as it transports pressed suits from one side of the counter to the other.

It probably occupies less than one-millionth of the total space in the room, but as soon as it enters my periphery, it consumes the entirety of my attention.

It moves.

I'm not close enough to see, but I can imagine its tiny hooked pincers grinding, the tiny legs creaking, tiny hairs vibrating all over its body. Its movement is quick and rhythmic, like an infinitesimal machine. It crawls, one leg rising off the ground as another returns – fluid, almost graceful – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. Its legs are levers, and as they rise and fall they push the body upward and forward. They are gears that trigger each other in their individual movement.

I imagine this grotesque grace moving over my skin, and suddenly I feel thousands of spiders inside my stomach, moving along the lining of my small intestine. The mere thought of those legs pricking my skin, scratching as they creep up my arms, makes the muscles at the base of my neck tighten into knots. I feel a curiously restless paralysis.

It isn't bigger than an apple seed. It's too far away to see, but I can imagine its eight eyes returning my stare, glistening with a fear and anxiety four times more than even I can muster. Its legs are thinner than black thread, more brittle than crunchy blades of sun-dried grass. One good flick could send it flying off the living room carpet, into the cold marble world of the kitchen floor. A misplaced step could reduce it to a tiny mess of broken black shell and green hemolymph smeared against the soft strands of the carpet. There is no venom on those petite pincers, and I know … I almost know that there is no malice behind the gleaming eyes, no consciousness beyond the present in that permanent scowl.

But I don't believe it. I picture closing my eyes and opening them to find the prickly legs on the tip of my nose. I feel the rhythmic rise and fall of its legs over the sensitive skin of my cheek 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 over and over all over my face, under my clothes, hidden within my hair, the crevices between my limbs, crawling and creeping and skulking and hiding. I imagine it sinking those unforgiving pincers into my bare arms, the bottoms of my feet, the inside of my navel.

It stands almost five feet away from the base of the sofa on which I am sitting. It is a centimeter tall and a centimeter wide, and yet it holds my stare, makes my blood stick to the sides of my capillaries, makes my heart expand and contract with the same velocity as the creature's legs.

A glass sits on the arm of the sofa, droplets of water clinging to the sides. A wild, courageous thought enters my mind. I pick up the glass, turn it upside down. Droplets slither down the side and dot the fabric of my jeans. The insignificant being seems to exude an energetic boundary, and it feels wrong to slide my feet off the sofa onto the carpet. I have to force my legs forward. I am four feet away. Three.

We exchange glances, the spider and I. We are united by a mutual fear – mine irrational, the spider's substantial. For a moment we are both frozen. And then it moves.

Its movement is frenzied: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 faster than before, faster than the monsters of my imagination, but this time it scurries away from me. Before I can allow myself to think, I swoop down and trap its tiny body in the glass cage. Suddenly I can breathe easily again.

The only thing that separates me from the spider's furrowed brow, its corrugated legs, its minute silver pincers, is a few millimeters of glass. Yet I can press my nose against the glass as the spider tries in vain to climb; I can tap at the walls and monitor the animal's frightened response; I can examine the grotesque beauty of the tiny monster's anatomy. It is too weak, too incapable, to make an escape. Its shallow pincers pull its face into a frightened grimace. It lifts its longer front legs and slides them uselessly up and down the glass, pawing at the barricade.

Under the glass, the machine has jammed. The wires are alive with electricity, but they spark and sputter and threaten to cloud the room with smoke.

I watch the spider struggle. After a while of experiencing this queasy, frightened reverence, I rise to my feet.

My escape is the spider's entrapment. Maybe in an hour, a day, a month, maybe when I find its shriveled body curled wrong-side up on the carpet, maybe then will I muster the rationality, the veneration, to set it free.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the January 2014 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.

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