The jester spider (Venenum beatus) moves sufficiently fast that we cannot perceive it. As humans have proven too large for it to digest, the jester spider always flees before a foot can tread upon it in the backyard or a finger can corner it in an old work glove. Sometimes, however, it will mistake a sleeping human as a stable hunting ground—preying on other arachnids, mosquitos, and house centipedes, which are drawn to the warmth of our skin and the blood beneath. If the human shifts, this will occasionally provoke the jester spider to defend itself. The ensuing bite causes no pain and leaves no identifying marks. It is also, without exception, fatal.
Death by jester spider venom proceeds through four discreet stages. The immediate effects consist of several nights of deep and often dreamless sleep, with little to no tossing and turning. Victims wake feeling refreshed, with a general feeling of heightened well-being, though this can be interspersed with episodes of sadness or mere contentment. Scientists have determined that this mistaken embrace of one’s own secure vitality is a result of the venom manipulating our parasympathetic nervous system. Often people in this stage refuse to believe that they have even been bitten, and will go so far as to deny the very existence of the jester spider, despite all evidence to the contrary.
After an indeterminate amount of time—in some cases, years after the victim has been bitten—this initial response is replaced by the second stage of poisoning, characterized by periods of light to severe depression. Trouble sleeping, constipation, excessive and disturbing dreams, and headaches often occur and are usually falsely attributed variously to side effects of medication, allergies, breakups with long- or short-term partners, multiple cloudy days in succession, or the fear that achieving one’s life goals will not necessarily ensure a decent living or personal fulfillment. Interestingly, children bitten by the jester spider, no matter how young, almost never reach this stage before puberty. Tests exploiting possible short-term antibodies have, however, failed to produce a viable vaccine.
It is during the second stage that sightings of the jester spider most often occur. Usually the victim sees the arachnid during normal REM sleep. Typically the spider appears disguised as a former boss or deceased relative, during dreams of tests unprepared for, of loved ones murdered. The awake but unfocused mind will sometimes experience a “negative sighting,” marked by shadows seen to move just beyond the visual periphery, skin-crawling responses containing no apparent stimulus, or a strong feeling that the victim wanted to say something but is unable to remember what it was. However, these various sightings are by no means guaranteed, and in fact many victims of jester spider bites remain asymptomatic throughout the first two stages.
The third stage, on the other hand, manifests in nearly every victim. The body, sensing it might not survive the effects of the venom, implants in the conscious mind the desire for procreation. While the infected individual rationalizes offspring as innately joyful and even necessary to human fulfillment, the body instinctively operates on the collective-unconscious theory (since scientifically verified) that jester spider venom cannot be sexually or vertically transmitted, and that offspring might therefore be a means of surviving, in a sense, the otherwise lethal bite. The production of art and architecture can similarly appease this instinct, as can the creation of any business or charity that may continue on after the individual has perished. In controlled laboratory settings, third-stage victims have attempted to found entire religious sects.
Individuals who reach the fourth stage without succumbing to one of the many cancers, heart ailments, or lapsed-focus accidents resulting from jester spider envenomation now begin to manifest a unique form of cellular degeneration known as scurraeism. Hair loss, muscular atrophy, breakdown of joint cartilage, varicose or “spider” veins, and various moles, wens, and liver spots are only a few of the forms scurraeism can take. Frequent urination is a vain attempt by the kidneys to excrete the poison, which by now has become undetectable by any medical means, having essentially merged with the body. By the end of this stage, the venom has entirely assimilated the organism, so that a human victim is no longer, strictly speaking, human at all, but is instead a near-perfect replica of a human, composed entirely of scurraeitic tissue. This might account for Capgras Delusion as well as the pervasiveness of “undead” myths across countless cultures throughout human history.
At last, after as many as eight decades, the completely envenomed individual can no longer continue to function and all circulatory, respiratory, and metabolic operations cease. In articulo mortis, the victim will invariably perceive a final pneumatic ejection from the failing corpus, proceeding upward toward an immense light. This is often accompanied by the sensation of being enveloped in the embrace of deceased loved ones, angels, or some other form of religious psychopomp, and of being guided or returned to a matrix of eternal connections with the whole of humanity and the universe. Scientific possibility and spiritual immortality have now been reconciled by the jester spider venom. With this final consolation, the individual succumbs.
As the body ceases to function, pheromones are released. These pheromones often trigger a concentrated stage-three response in nearby individuals, most notably those who share a portion of the victim’s DNA. Statistics have shown that in up to 80 percent of cases, the resulting creative endeavors mirror the victim’s final images of the sublime, most often via metaphor. Thus the lethally poisoned victim transcends into the aesthetic beyond. As for the unbitten, the best we can hope for is life.
James Will Brady (Scriptus vulgaris) spends his days embracing the third stage of envenomization, completely oblivious to its destructive effects. He lives in Iowa, with an amazing First Reader, in a house filled with very helpful spiders. He probably does exist.