(20’s, Nevada) When you’ve spent most of your life in the desert, you develop a cavalier attitude. Sure, the desert is filled with things that can kill you, but let’s face it—-it’s probably not going to happen.
I know people who are terrified of black widows. Absolutely terrified. But, honestly, they’re not that bad. Unless you’re very young, or very old, or very sick, a black widow bite isn’t going to kill you. Chances are, you’re not going to get bitten in the first place. Not unless you do something stupid, like stick your hand in a gardening glove that’s been left out overnight. But people who live in the desert know better.
Even rattlesnakes aren’t that bad. They’re startling, sure. But unless you’re way out in the desert without any hope of getting to a hospital anytime soon, you’re probably not going to die from a bite. No, you won’t die, you’ll just have a crazy story to impress people with. Remember, that one time you got bitten by a rattlesnake?
And sure, people have been known to die from the heat itself. Bodies have been found with their insides melted. But for the people who live here, the extreme heat is just part of it. Experience enough 115-degree days and you don’t even notice it anymore.
Yes, it’s very easy to be cavalier about the desert. It is for me, anyway. With one exception: scorpions. I know they’re no worse than anything else in the Mojave, but I’ve never seen one. I know people who find scorpions in their homes as routinely as I find black widows in the yard. But it’s never happened to me. And with every scorpion-less year that passes, I become more afraid of actually seeing one.
So afraid that I’m even dreaming about it.
I wake up in the middle of the night needing to use the bathroom, pretty normal. But this night feels different somehow. Something feels wrong from the very start. Ominous.
I creep through the dark bedroom, turn on the bathroom light before entering. I expect to see something waiting for me there, I’m already flinching, pulling back. But the bathroom is empty. Everything is normal.
It’s not until the toilet is flushing that I see it. In the corner of the bathroom there’s a tiny scorpion. My stomach sinks. I start to sweat. There’s a scorpion and I have no idea how to get it out of my house. You can’t just swat or stomp on it.
And maybe it seems like it should be less scary since the scorpion is so small, but I know better. I’ve been raised in the desert, after all. It’s the little ones you need to look out for. They’re the most venomous. The most likely to kill you.
It’s one of those milky-clear scorpions. Which makes it seems worse for some reason. I could handle it better if it were black, or dark brown. There’s something more alien about this one. And sneaky. It almost blends in with the bathroom tile.
I’m terrified and I don’t know what to do. But I’m also relieved. I’ve spent so long dreading this moment that I feel almost powerful now. There’s something liberating about knowing the thing you’ve been fearing has already happened.
I guess that’s what makes me do it—-the sense of power, sense of freedom. Instead of trying to kill the scorpion, I find myself reaching out to it. I slide my hand along the bathroom floor. Closer, closer. It moves towards me. I inch my hand forward. And soon I feel eight tiny legs moving across my palm.
I stare at the scorpion in revulsion and wonder. I bring my hand closer to my face, examine the creature closely. The segmented tail, the poised stinger.
Then I see movement from the corner of my eye.
I glance down at the bathroom floor. And realize my mistake. My scorpion had not been alone.
They’re swarming from a crack in the wall. Tens of scorpions, maybe hundreds. I try to move back and stumble. My hand closes in a fist. That’s when I feel the first sting.
I wake up suddenly. I’m in bed. There are no scorpions. But my hand still has the memory of a sting.
I need to use the bathroom, but decide I can hold it until morning. It was just a dream, but you can never be too careful. The desert is full of things that can kill you.