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The Scrivener: Creatures

Brian Barratt heard a night-time tap-rap-tap at his former home in an outer suburb of an African city.

…Nearby noises without a visible cause are creepier. Then it dawned on me — the weird tapping came from inside my wardrobe. I cautiously opened the wardrobe door. On the back of it, a tiny gecko was industriously trying to swallow a locust bigger than he was…

Brian, whose wonderfully engaging prose ensures that you will read on, rather than running for cover, introduces more creatures of the creepy-crawley kind.

For lots more intellectual fun visit Brian's Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

Winnie’s visits were always a joy, but another visitor created alarm. Rap, tap, tap. I opened the outside door, which had a frosted glass panel. Nobody there. Tap, rap, tap. I checked each of the windows. Nothing there. Tap rap, clunk. Fear of the unknown is primordial.

The house was in a far outer suburb of Harare, then called Salisbury. The noises of the African night can be creepy. Nearby noises without a visible cause are creepier. Then it dawned on me — the weird tapping came from inside my wardrobe. I cautiously opened the wardrobe door. On the back of it, a tiny gecko was industriously trying to swallow a locust bigger than he was. The tapping noise was caused by the unfortunate locust’s head bashing the wooden door, on each slow, jerky, determined gulp.

Night horrors can be worse than that. A few years prior to the gecko experience, when I had a nasty sort of tropical disease, nocturnal visits to the loo were frequent and urgent. That’s OK, you say... but the loo was down at the back of the yard. Clad in pyjamas and hastily donned dressing gown, I rushed from the house, armed with a powerful torch in case there were snakes. No snakes on this occasion, but when I shone the torch on the door of the dunny a huge, furry, pinkish-brown spider was waiting for me.

We called them tarantulas, but I don’t know what they really were. Suffice to say that when you’re desperate to enter the House of Lords in the wee small hours of the morning, one of those things lurking on the door serves only to make your need even more pressing.

When I came to Australia, a kind friend was nice enough to let me know that there are more dangerous creatures in Australia than in Africa. No lions, that’s true. No hippos, the most dangerous animal in Africa. But we have snakes, sharks, spiders, jelly-fish and octopuses that can accelerate your entry to the life beyond or at least make you wish you could go there. You don’t have to go into the bush to find them. Just lift a rock in your back yard, and you could well find a redback spider, or a nest of them. They might not kill you, as such, but they’ll make the next few minutes and months ’orrible, if they bite you.

Memories surged up when I had my first close encounter with a huntsman spider. They’re also huge and hairy, though not as ’orrible as those things that lurk on loo doors in central Africa. When the weather cools down but the inside of your house stays warm, they visit you from above. There’s always a tiny crack between the cornice and the ceiling, just wide enough for them to come in and say Hello. That’s fine. They usually sit there, watching. Sometimes, they make their way round the room over a period of days. That can be a bit scary. But there’s something scarier.

You’re happily driving along in your little car when you become aware of something huge and hairy stealthily creeping up the steering column, its eight eyes gleaming. Yes, it’s nice and warm beneath a car’s bonnet — very comfortable for a huntsman which wants to come in from the cold. Not at all comfortable for the driver, when it decides to take a little walk. While you battle with your primordial phobia, you remind yourself that the creature won’t actually kill you.

In the midst of this fear and trembling, I fondly remember Winnie. She used to visit us during the dark wartime winter nights in England. You remember, ‘Where do flies go in winter-time?’ Well, we knew part of the answer — one of them came to our place. Every time my mother cooked fruitcake, using a wartime eggless recipe, a friendly fly would appear from somewhere and hover round. Oh yes, definitely the same fly. We called her Winnie.

There were no geckos, no hairy spiders, so Winnie was quite safe. Until my mother eliminated her with a fly-swatter. Poor Winnie. She only wanted to share our comfort.

© Copyright 2006 Brian Barratt

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