I wasn't sure what I was going to find in that little gas station convenience store attached to a bar, but I figured anything would be fine. Like, maybe a pimento cheese sandwich? Nah, that's a stretch outside of the South. Maybe an egg salad sandwich. Or maybe even just an egg? I didn't know, that place was not looking very promising. It should at least have some old bread, right?
Pulling off the highway and into the sandy parking lot, I parked, hopped out of the Silverado, and headed up to the entrance. As I walked into the store's fluorescent glow, I found that I was the only customer looking for snacks at that hour. It wasn't all that late, midnight or so, but that convenience store wasn't all the centrally located to civilization so who knows how many people it saw on a daily basis. In any case, I strolled into the empty store, and as I took a few steps forward, felt something on my leg.
I had walked into the convenience bar looking calm and collected. A road weary traveler with time enough for burnt coffee but no time for bullshit. That façade was quickly shed/torn down by the excited leg swiping that was my instinctual response to the possibility of a tiny insect crawling up my leg. I don't like spiders! I don't know how many times I have to tell you this! Embarrassingly, it's often just a string dangling from my frayed shorts, but one can never be too careful. Anyway, this is what I saw standing between my legs post swipe:
|Solifugae aka Camel Spider aka Sun Spider (Courtesy of People First Pest Control)|
Aha! Justification for dramatic overreaction! Look at that thing! It's terrifying! To be fair, though, and to give some perspective, I guess I should tell you that the one I was looking standing between my legs at was less than an inch long... so... I was a bit bigger. But that thing is probably loaded with venom, right?
I quickly walked away from that little monster and headed towards the snacks section. My instincts hadn't been wrong. My options were limited. Forced to really search through the rows, I squatted down to see what was on the bottom shelf. From that lowered view point, I got a good look at the floor, and what did I see? Another insect monster. Or was it the same one? Was it following me??? Oh god, how long had it been following me??? Moab??? Kanab??? JACKSON????? TELL MEEEEEEE!!!!!!!
Finding success in a pack of overpriced crackers, I stood up and decided to stroll around the bar store to look for more insects. You would not believe my relief when I found those little monsters everywhere. That sounds strange, but it's not. For one thing, it meant that I wasn't being covertly followed by a death-driven poison bug hell-bent on avenging some wrong that I had unknowingly wrought upon it or its family in the desert. Second, and more reasonably, if there were a lot of them, they couldn't be dangerous. Were these critters a danger to humans, this place would've been fumigated ages ago (I assumed). I headed up to the cashier to both pay for my food and confirm my suspicions.
He told me that they were Camel Spiders, and that they were good to have around because they ate scorpions. He also said that I should watch out for scorpions because now that it's starting to get cold out at night, they like to get closer to the warmth of the store. And the scorpions around here were the extra tiny ones. The kind that put you in the hospital, like they had done to a buddy of his. Well, that was the fastest I've cycled through fear to relief back to fear in my life. Thank you, cashier.
After finishing the now dreaded flip-flopped walk through the parking lot to the truck (I really wished I'd had my blacklight flashlight handy), I did some Camel Spider research. While not spiders, they were arachnids that did indeed prey on scorpions. I was also able to confirm that they were of no danger (ie. non-venomous) to humans. I also verified that a tiny scorpion can put you in the hospital. One less thing to fear. One more thing to fear. In any case, this served as a good reminder to ignore the initial impulse to squish grotesque bugs as they may just be very ugly friends.
Around daybreak, I found the answer to the question at the top of the post. While driving on the two-laned, untrafficked US-50, with the rising sun casting extra long shadows out ahead of me, I saw police lights in the distance. I hadn't passed or been passed by any cars in quite some time, so seeing the light instantly wrenched my stomach. I'm not sure if I'll ever outgrow that involuntary response, as I've never had any run-ins with the law nor was I doing anything illegal. I quickly realized that the lights weren't moving towards me, and that I was moving towards them. Once I got within a quarter of a mile, I saw the flares and realized this wasn't a traffic stop, but a clean up. Along the side of the perfectly straight, nearly-abandoned highway was an overturned car that appeared to have, of its own volition, flipped a few times, thoroughly demolishing itself in the process. Either someone hadn't Stōked their Intense Bold or they had spent too much time drinking at a gas station. Or maybe it was more sinister. Maybe that driver had killed the one Camel Spider that had been protecting them all along, and a stowaway scorpion stung their leg, inducing behind-the-wheel seizures. You can decide for yourself.