We flew into Nice from JFK, rented a car and hit the road for Marseilles, to pick up Jacquie and Rob, who had flown from Seattle.
There they were, sitting on a small strip of ground near the entrance to the Airport, looking a little worried, as we we were about 30 minutes late. Roughly 4,000 miles and we were only a half-hour late? I was beginning to feel a little cocky.
Hugs all around and back into the car. We then headed northwest, skirting around Aix en Provence in the direction of St. Jean de Serres. There were wrong turns, mistaken exits, and downright dangerous maneuvers (at one point I even started to back up on an onramp, a decision that was quickly and loudly vetoed by my fellow travelers - I told you I was feeling a little cocky.)
On we drove, under the bright blue Provencal sky and over the parched brown October earth, until we finally reached our destination. Mas de Puech.
Mas de Puech is an old farm and small vineyard that had recently been renovated as a summer vacation destination. Owned by a British couple, the clientele is usually British. Though the temperatures were still in the 70s, summer had long since past. The Brits were back in their rainy homeland and we had the entire place to ourselves. Well, almost.
The building was a good sized old brick structure, semi-covered in stucco, the color of which complemented the thirsty soil surrounding it. There are 7 units in two stories. Each is an independent apartment, complete with small kitchen and a washing machine. Ours was on the corner, overlooking the grapevines and with a wide terrace outside our front door. Just across the terrace was a lovely, but now closed, swimming pool. Fallen leaves shimmied across the tarp covering it.
Other than the wind in our ears and the crunch of gravel underfoot, the place was completely silent. If it hadn’t been so clean and the garden well maintained, you would have thought nobody had been here in years. The atmosphere was like an old spaghetti western - strangers rolling into a dusty town that has been unexpectedly - and recently - deserted. Trouble was surely brewing.
I opened the heavy wooden door to our apartment, slowly. Light spilled into the room, illuminating the big wooden shutters on the two large windows and the tile floor of the kitchen opposite the door, about 30 feet away. We clumsily shuffled our way in, our bags suddenly heavy as the exhaustion of the trip caught up with us. Jacquie was the first to venture more than a few feet beyond the front door, and she was now frozen in terror.
“OH. MY. GOD!” The only words to escape her lips.
Marissa was at her side in a flash. “What is the mat… oh, holy shit!”
“Is that real?” Jacquie stammered, unable to move.
“I hope not” Marissa cried, as she headed for the door. “You deal with it or I am driving back to Nice and getting on the next plane to Broad Brook.” She said to me as she bolted through the door.
“Ah, ha ha! Wow! Hey! Whoa!” Rob was there now, uttering monosyllabic expressions in a way that unnerved me. It felt as if what he was seeing was beyond comprehension. Indeed, what I saw when I arrived nearly struck me dumb.
Exhaustion was forgotten as the adrenaline of fear kicked in. My senses were suddenly sharp and I began immediately to take in details:
From the tip of the back right leg to the tip of the front left was a span of about eight inches. And these weren’t those wispy, hair-thin daddy longlegs kind of legs, either. These were eight long, muscular legs and they held a substantial body between them, like four Russian balerinas carrying a large mink duffel bag.
This was one big spider.
“Oh my,” I said, trying to sound calm.
“OH MY GOD!” came Marissa’s voice, from the safety of the doorway.
“Um, yeah, you two are going to have to do something about this...” Jacquie added, seriously, nervously, as she placed Rob between her and “it”.
“What do you think, Matty?” Rob spoke first, looking around the room.
To be continued...
All photos and content copyright 2012, Big Matty