By Gary Wallace
We believe what we want to believe.
I carefully set the ammo can down on the table at the head of the classroom. I had been asked to talk about some of my experiences in Vietnam. I wasn’t sure if I had anything to say that would actually interest young people. After Ms. Healy introduced me to her middle-school students, I began my presentation. Instead of rehashing the oft told stories of combat and war, I chose a different approach. I talked about my encounters with cobras, tigers, giant centipedes, rats as big as dogs, and angry water buffalo. It seemed as though everything was oversized and dangerous in Southeast Asia. And I told them about the enormous and deadly spider.
“Two buddies of mine and I were exploring a trail that led into the jungle a short distance from our tank. Though it was mid-day, the further we ventured the darker it became as the jungle canopy filtered out sun light. One would expect to hear a chorus of jungle sounds like in a Tarzan movie, but it wasn’t so. It was dead quiet. We walked along the narrow trail in single file with me in the lead. When we heard a branch break somewhere in the darkness, we froze. We waited for a moment, then quietly took a few steps forward…until I froze again. Mere inches from my face was a huge spider web crossing the entire trail. There was no way around it. I picked up a large stick and threw it at the web, intending to knock it out of the way. The stick stuck to the web and bounced back and forth! A very large yellow and black venomous spider crawled down from a branch above the web to investigate its catch. It was as big as my hand with all my fingers spread wide.” I demonstrated to the students with my hand held high. A couple gasps came from my young audience.
“I had never seen a spider that big. We decided that we wanted to catch it. Not our brightest idea. One of the guys went back to our tank to retrieve an empty ammo can. I watched the spider as it cut loose the stick from its web and started to move back up. It took some careful maneuvering but we managed to capture the eight-legged creature in the can.”
Looking at the students, I softly patted the ammo can sitting on the table. It was a standard, army-green, all steel, .50 caliber ammo can with a locking lid. This one was different in that five or six air holes had been drilled into each side near the lid. I said to the class, “Here, let me show you something.” I turned the ammo can towards me and unlocked the lid. Then I very slowly opened it. Looking inside I said, “Oh, crap!” I looked wide-eyed at Ms. Healy, then the students. I said, “Listen to me. Listen very carefully! Everybody remain seated. Nobody is to move. Stay very still!” I bent down to look under the table. “Oh, crap!”
Suddenly, a girl at the back of the room screamed. Then the boy sitting next to her yelled, “I’m outta here!” and bolted towards the door. He was immediately followed by the other students. Kids were screaming and papers and books were flying in the scramble to get away. Ms. Healy herself slammed the door shut behind her as she ran out.
The room was now empty except for me, an empty ammo can, and one goth-wanna-be student who remained seated in the middle of the classroom. Dressed in his Doc Martin boots, black jeans and black hoody, he stood up, smiled, and said, “Dude! Like that was like the most rad presentation I ever seen! Like you rock!”