Ethan could finally cross something off his bucket list, but the roles were reversed.
Welcome to the Outback!
Ethan tipped up his glass and let the last gulp of his rum and coke slide down his throat. His spirits were high about flying into Sydney, Australia, for the first time. It had been a destination on his bucket list for over fifteen years, and with his managerial position at Amazon, he finally made it come true.
Soon after the flight captain announced their descent into Sydney, the flight attendant cruised down the middle aisle with a pleasant, relaxed smile asking if the passengers had finished with their drinks. She was a looker, too. She had started the flight with her hair up in a neat bun, but somewhere over the Pacific, during the fifteen hour flight, she'd let it down and allowed it to drape over her shoulders. Her makeup and disposition remained as fresh as when he first boarded. He was aware her job was to make the passengers comfortable, but he found her very approachable and hoped he'd see her outside Sydney's airport terminal during his stay.
Once in his hotel room, he found the leather-bound book that contained all the information about the hotel's amenities. At the moment, he was in search of room service. I nice thick hamburger with pickles and some fries should last him the rest of the night. Then he'd hit the hotel's bar for a few more drinks before bedtime.
After eating, he entered the bar and took a seat at a table by the wall. A gorgeous woman approached in a tasteful uniform and asked him what he pleasured. Inappropriate thoughts scrambled through his head before he contained them and requested a Screwdriver. She laid a small square napkin in front of him and turned away with an innocent smile. He raised an eyebrow and considered his journey so far. It had been totally stress free up to now. An unusual occurrence for him. During his many domestic flights, something always went wrong, and he expected the same thing to happen during this excursion. But so far, everyone's been pleasant, the women were beautiful, and he enjoyed being by himself.
The waitress placed the drink atop the napkin, and he pulled out fifteen dollars.
"Keep the change."
"Thank you, sir." Her smile was even sweeter this time!
He took a sip and bared his teeth. The drink had a nice bite to it. That bartender wasn't stingy with the vodka. Not one bit. Overhead, popular music rained down upon the bar's sparse population. At the table next to him, two older gentlemen were talking about their travels into the Outback region. He overheard them discussing the wondrous sights and sounds they encountered. One of them mentioned a snake had nearly bitten him because he wasn't paying attention to where he was walking. He also mentioned the many tarantulas he'd seen, and that they didn't bother him.
Ethan laughed to himself. That guy must be dumb as a bag of rocks. You always pay attention to everything when you're out in the wilderness. Ethan was sure that would never happen to him. He'd been hiking most of his life and never had a severe mishap. Sure, there were some close calls, but he overcame all of them. Preparedness was the key. He continued listening to his neighbors while he worked with his drink. Tomorrow, it would be his turn to explore the Outback.
The next morning, Ethan met up with the tour group for his first Outback adventure. Everything he'd possibly need was stowed in his backpack. He scanned the other people joining the tour and shook his head. Some were wearing sandals with no socks. Others wore sneakers and short pants. These were the people that would have a bad time if they ran upon something they didn't expect, but who was he to tell them what they should do? They were on their own.
His three-day tour would take him to the famed Uluru, otherwise known as Ayers Rock. He'd seen tons of pictures of the massive sandstone rock in the middle of the Australian desert, but he desired his own pictures. Plus, the tour was a partially guided one. He could stray off on his own for a few hours to get the full experience, and he couldn't wait.
Once Ayers Rock peeked above the horizon up front, oohs and aahs were heard throughout the entire extended van. Some folks tried to take photos while the van moved while others ducked and craned their heads around the people in front of them to get a view. With the sun almost directly above, the colossal reddish monolith stood out above all other features. Ethan marveled at the sight himself, but didn't let himself get carried away. He'd take some stunning photos once everyone unloaded from the van.
It wasn't long before the van came to a stop very close to the rock. Even Ethan didn't expect to be so close. Fitting the entire edifice in his camera's viewfinder would be difficult at best. People disembarked almost immediately. Ethan stepped onto the thin layer of reddish sand in the parking area and let his eyes behold the spectacle. As he shifted positions to get a full view of the rock, he noticed a small trail off to his left. Some from his group had already started hiking along the trail which disappointed him. He chose to make his own trail. There was no way he could get lost in such a flat area surrounding the bulbous rock.
He kept his eyes down, watching each step he took as he made his own way through the low-lying brush of the Australian Outback. He paid particular attention to the small, woody heath myrtle shrubs whose branches crisscrossed one another, making them very dense. It's within those plants where dangerous surprises lurked. He had on heavy jeans and thick boots, so his worry was light. Nevertheless, accidents happen, and he was fortunate enough that they haven't caught up to him yet.
While ducking beneath the blue-green leaves of a Blue Mallee tree, he spotted a large hairy tarantula fleeing from him. He stopped and kept his eye on it. It was the first time he'd ever seen one in the wild, and knew if he saw one, there were probably others. The tarantula slipped beneath a myrtle shrub and disappeared. He wasn't too concerned since it ran away from him and believed others should do the same. He continued on this trek.
He was about a quarter mile away from the parking area, and far back enough to fit all of Ayers Rock in his viewfinder. He stood still and began taking pictures. The only noise on the windless plain was the soft sounds of his camera shutter.
Something rattled the shrubs behind him. He looked behind him but saw nothing. He turned back and took a few more pictures. Again, a noise rattled the shrubs behind him. His first thought was that it was a tarantula trying to hide. He side stepped and heard shifting beneath the shrubs again. Three tarantulas scampered out in plain view, running away from him. He pointed his camera at them to catch a photo, but they were too fast.
Then he heard more shifting beneath the shrubs. He must be near the tarantula's nesting or mating area. It's something he didn't want, so he started hiking back toward the van. More tarantulas scampered from beneath the shrubs, making him shudder and a little nervous. He wasn't fond of spiders, and seeing so many large, hairy ones gave him the willies.
Soon, he figured twenty-five or thirty of the large, eight-legged arthropods were out in plain view, scampering away from him. Something wasn't right. He didn't see any during his trek inward. Why is he seeing so many now? Soon all of them had disappeared. Another unnatural situation. At least while they were visible, he could see where they headed. He stopped and drank from the water bottle he kept in his hip pocket. That's when he heard another louder noise.
He turned in a circle, scanning the surrounding area, but nothing came into view.
He took three steps, then froze. His heart leaped into his throat. He'd read about them but had never seen one before. A large Huntsman spider, almost six inches from leg to leg, bolted from the shrubs in front of him. Small tarantulas were fine, but this was the Frankenstein of all spiders.
He didn't know what to do. The spider sat there, unflinching.
He took a step back. The spider shifted all eight legs to face him. He took another step back. Many more Huntsman spiders leaped from beneath the shrubbery. Ethan felt trapped, although he had nothing but space around him. But what else lurked within all that space? Is that the reason the tarantulas made their a mass migration a while ago?
He turned and moved away from the mammoth insects. More shrubs rattled, and many more enormous spiders made an appearance. He screamed for help, and the spiders scattered, hiding within the brush.
Maybe that was the secret!
He kept yelling as he made his way back to the van to force the thick-bodied creatures back into the shrubs. He spoke aloud, reciting anything that popped in his mind, while his eyes scanned the area for more spiders. He stumbled over a rock and fell to the ground. His left knee stung and his hands burned from sliding along the fine sand, but he was okay.
A large Huntsman spider leaped on the back of his hand. He screamed and backpedaled on his hands and butt. More pounced on his pants leg, followed by even more. Panic surged as he got up to run away. Touching those gross things was absolutely out of the question! More pounced out in front of him and on his clothing. They kept coming out until they forced him to swipe at them just to get them off. His terrified yells faded into the wide open Outback, unheard by the others who were over a quarter mile away.
In his haste, he didn't see a large fallen branch from one of the dead mallee trees. He tripped over it and landed hard. His momentum carried him forward until he slid headfirst into a large red stone which knocked him out. A horde of the eight-legged monstrosities emerged, hauling their plump abdomens across Ethan's unconscious body. Each hideous specter plunged its hairy fangs into his flesh to inject their precious venom. Soon, they smothered his entire body beneath a clump of their spiny legs.