I don’t know who had the worst day — me or the spider. It began with laundry in the basement and ended in battle for the sanctity of my Rodeo Room.

But first, I have to explain to you what a “rat’s nest” is.

When I was a kid, I had long hair that tangled despite the braids the adults made me wear. I swear my two grandmothers competed for who could braid the tightest (for the record, my mom’s mom Donna could alter my facial features with French braids).

It was my mom who had to comb out the mess I’d somehow made of my braids complete with tangles, hay, and horse snot. She’d grab at the debris with a thick comb and pull. Any knots with dislodged strands she discarded as a rat’s nest.

The tradition continued with my daughters who both inherited my baby-fine hair in thick, copious amounts. One wore her hair in ballet buns; the other allowed me to plaster her scalp in rows of tiny rubber bands. My son escaped the hairy rat race with buzz cuts. Between the three of us with tons of long hair, we regularly choked the vacuum rollers and clogged the bathroom plumbing. One daughter loved to brush her locks outside and make huge rats’ nests to give to the birds; the other buzzed her head like her brother.

To this day, rat’s nest remains a fond phrase. My hair is short and my children grown, but I can still collect masses of fallen hair when I sweep. Sometimes, a rat’s nest will form in the washing machine and adhere to a flannel shirt. I tell you this to set the scene.

Laundry is a basement activity. We live in an old three-story mining house built around 1910 on Roberts Street near the Quincy Mine on the Keweenaw Peninsula. The third-story stairs are now blocked as we filled the top floor with insulation and the second story is where our rooms are — the bathroom, Bird Farts Room (not my room, his), Rodeo Room (my dream sanctuary), and the Unicorn Room for breathing, writing, and office work. To do laundry, I carry my towels, bedding, or hamper down two flights of stairs and back.

In the basement, I hang delicates on a line, fold towels, return bedding upstairs, and the last task is to collect my clean clothes in the hamper. In the Rodeo Room, I dump my clothes onto my bed to fold, sort, hang, and put away. Something I appreciate about domestic chores is how complete the tasks can feel. When I’m overwhelmed, laundry can calm me. I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Everything is neat, orderly, and in its place. A peace came over me as I began to sort and fold on this day.

Right away, I noticed a rat’s nest and chuckled. I don’t see many these days and I wondered if my son will come to know them as an expectant father. For fun, I flicked the rat’s nest from one item of clothing to the other as the pile dwindled. Once I tucked everything away, all that remained was a lavender-scented dryer sheet and a single rat’s nest. But when I tried to pick up the rat’s nest it moved. I froze. The mat of “hair” turned out to be a hairy basement wolf spider. I had been tossing Wolfric (my name for all the hairy spiders that live in the basement far below) from socks to underwear to t-shirts to jammies.

This spider had touched it all.

Wolfric didn’t seem amused. And I had a full-blown bodily reaction, all my muscles quivering like aspen leaves. Bravely, I scooped Wolfric into the dryer sheet and held it softly so as not to harm her. At the Rodeo Room door, I realized the wiley spider had crawled outside the sheet and was moving. I squealed, Mause came running up the stairs, and Wolfric jumped, scampering beneath a dresser in the hallway. No, no, no! Wolfric cannot live upstairs with me!

At this point, Todd wandered upstairs to see what all the commotion was. Mause shook because I did, and I pointed to the dresser and explained to Todd that one of the wolf spiders made it upstairs in my laundry hamper. Mause didn’t understand but she was not happy about the new flatmate either. Apparently, Wolfric had enough of my nonsense and headed downstairs on her own. And yes, I watched to make sure she made it.

This is why Rickety Cricket visits my dreams. The Insect Nation is calling me home. We are all interconnected beings and live in a constant cycle of life and death. We humans are good at blocking what we don’t want in our space too afraid to confront the idea that we are surrounded. Ants too close to the house? Call the exterminator. Grubs in the garden? Break out the pesticide. Spiders and flies in the house? Set off a bug bomb. Japanese beetles on the wall? Move. The Insect Nation wonders why we are so afraid of them when all they do is go about their purpose in life while we invent ways to annihilate them.

The first time I tended Rickety Cricket from dreams, I knew this insect to morph from cricket to praying mantis. In a Zoom session with Dr. Aizenstat at the Dream Institute, he had us go into a meditation and let a dream image animate. It was supposed to be a session on animals in our dreams, but I knew enough to not question why a Rickety Cricket showed up. The cricket became a bee and I grew small and the bee huge. During the shrinking, the bee asked, “Why are you so afraid when we are the ones as tiny as you are now?” The next animation was me on the Bee’s back riding through my front garden. I knew all the flowers by color and scent. We flew so fast that the hues melded into a flowing living painting. The space stretched as if I were speeding through a massive landscape and yet I never left the six-foot by eight-foot plot of garden.

Insect Nation showed me the beauty they witness in this world. Have you ever stopped to ponder what wonders they must see from their size and infiltration of spaces? What must it be to live in soil, to crawl through openings in moss, and to tuck into a flower head? Is it possible that Wolfric enjoyed my playful tossing until I realized the rat’s nest was alive?

I don’t want to shake at encounters with the insects around me. Let’s say I had the worst day because of my limitations. How do I overcome my physical and psychological reactions? Through dream tending to continue to encounter Rickety Cricket in dreams and animations. And to invite you all to write about Insect Nation to stir up the collective unconscious on what bugs us about bugs, and what beauty may lurk in our basements.

September 12, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about the insect nation. You can focus on a particular insect or all insects. Is your story one of acceptance and understanding? Scientific knowledge? Or apocalyptic horror? Get bugged and go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 18, 2023. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Thursday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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