I stared up at the giant before me. This construct of wood and empty space, left open to the elements, led to a summit just outside my range of sight. I may not know what lies in wait, but I knew I only had one shot at this.
Nobody lived in the big house. At least, we had never seen a living soul enter or exit. There was a wooden fence and a huge yard that separated two one-bedroom cottages from that house. I was barely tall enough to look over the fence on tiptoes. The other side of the fence by no means forbidden; Mom would often let us play in the yard, as long as we latched the door in the fence. I still carry a scar from the one time we forgot to.
But we never ventured too close to the house. Even though no one lived there, the house was bigger than four of our cottages combined. And there’s nothing welcoming about a silent, looming building that blocked our morning sun and vanished against the black of night.
Around the back of the house, there was an exterior staircase leading up to the second floor. Just as we were never told to avoid the big house, we were never explicitly forbidden from climbing these stairs. The steps were merely too high for us to climb.
They were still too high for us. But we knew Mom would be busy bathing our baby brother, so my sister and I stood at the base of these massive stairs, determined to climb them today, pretending the creaking wood and the gaping holes big enough to fall through were no big deal.
The journey took hours, wind speeds increasing as we climbed. My sister, with her stubbier legs, fell a couple of steps behind. Every now and again, I paused to check back on her, alternately wondering how we’re going to get down and why Mom hasn’t called for us yet. But at last, the summit appeared. The potted plants peeking over the top step came into view.
A blood-curdling scream ripped through the air. I froze. Where was it coming from?
Someone screamed again. I twisted over my shoulder and saw my sister sobbing on a step three below me, facing off against the biggest spider known to man. Its legs spanned the gap between two steps, swaying menacingly in the wind flowing through the void. What do we do? We didn’t think to bring weapons on this expedition! Do we go into battle, or do we retreat and get help? In her terror, my sister refused to budge, so I had no choice but to leave a man behind.
I have no memory of how I got down the stairs, and very few memories of the rest of this episode. I do remember tearing through the fence, yelling, “Mom! Mom! Mom!” convinced I had left my little sister to die. I do remember a chubby face peeking out from a towel my mother was carrying. And I do remember, when I finally got my mother out of the house, seeing our neighbor striding down the path towards the gate, carrying my very not-dead, but still crying sister. For some reason, our neighbor was also carrying a towel.
I don’t know what happened between my sister and the spider. But after facing down death, she found the courage to go out and conquer the world, while I, befriending guilt and worry, built a fortress and amassed an arsenal to hold down the fort.