Wandering Monster Encounters (Texas)

Michael O. Varhola

Following is a piece I posted to the old Skirmisher Forum four years ago, in April 2009, right after I relocated to Texas. I was pleased enough with it that I did not want it to get lost in the midst of shutting down our old site. This piece dovetails nicely with a more recent Game Designer's Notebook piece I wrote on Texas Vermin

One of the joys of visiting a new area is the opportunity to encounter the various indigenous forms of fauna, along with other hazards like potentially dodgy flora, peculiar local conditions, and the like. 

Technically, my first such encounter upon arriving in Texas last week would have been with the Whitetail Deer that trotted in front of me into the winding Hill Country road I was following, just 10 miles short of my goal near the end of a nearly 1,600-mile roadtrip (an account of which is posted at my TravelBlogue). I swerved into the empty left hand lane and stomped on the brakes, coming to a screeching halt and causing all six of the cat carriers stacked behind me to shift violently forward, and the startled deer took off into the woods in the opposite direction. 

It was not until my third day in the Lone Star state, however, that I experienced my first “combat encounter.” 

Walking into the guest bathroom, I saw lurching around on the floor an honest-to-goodness scorpion! How in hell does a two-inch-long armored arthropod get into someone’s house? I have DMed parties where there would have been violently rank indignation that I would contrive such an encounter for them, what with all of their elaborate and painstaking security measures. This was reality, however, and my own measures aside, there was the damn scorpion, walking around, its stinging tail raised menacingly. Could I hear its claws clacking like castanets? Perhaps not, but just because I can envision it doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened. 

Two of my cats were in the hallway just outside the bathroom — which was equipped with their food, water, and litter pan — so I closed the door to keep them out and then turned to face the beast. I quickly reflected upon the various weapons at my disposal, including those in reach and elsewhere in the house, and considered which would be most appropriate to the situation. What may have been the ideal armament — albeit an improvised rather than a dedicated one — was, in fact, right in front of me, and I reached over and picked it up. Holding the large box of kitty litter over the tiny monster, I lined it up for my attack. As the shadow fell over the creature, it hesitated, which was its final mistake. Holding onto the handle as I did so, I dropped the box square onto the creature (anyone who knows me personally, by the way, likely knows that I will do just about anything to avoid inflicting harm on any living being, but protecting my cats from a venomous invader was ample motivation for me to shed ichor). 

That was clearly the right weapon to use, and the scorpion’s armor did not prevent it from being squashed flat. I carefully cleaned it up with a paper towel — Can these things sting reflexively after they’re dead? Presumably not, but no sense taking chances — and then flushed it down the toilet. 

So, to my responsibilities of home ownership I have added regular patrols of the house, with an eye to dispatching intruders. I was certainly interested to see what the following days would bring. 

The following morning, a second one turned up in the kitchen, once again near the cat bowls — do the damn things eat cat food? Using the butt end of a broom like a spear to harry it from the corner in which it took refuge, I followed up with a stomp from the Wolverine work boot I was wearing, and then disposed of the mashed body via the nearest toilet, as per my new protocol. 

That encounter prompted me to call my brother-in-law, who lives in Oklahoma, the only state with more vile and dangerous creatures than Texas. He had some constructive advise and recommended that I spray all the baseboards in the house with something called Ortho Home Defense. He also said his cats routinely rip apart scorpions and that I don’t need to worry about mine being harmed by the venomous vermin. His observations were encouraging, but not entirely convincing. 

After all that I went hiking for a few hours, during which I encountered a couple of lizards, was nearly inadvertently barreled into by a trio of deer, and saw as many as eight vultures circling overhead. No combat. As an East Coaster, my main concern all along would have been rattlesnakes, but every Texan I talked to assured me that they were not something I needed to worry about — at least not this time of year. 

That night, not long after I had returned and fed the cats, I discovered a third scorpion in the back hallway, about halfway between where I had encountered the other two. It was just standing there, waiting for a cat treat, I guess. I briefly considered trying to capture it, reflected that this would be unproductive even if I succeeded, and proceeded to crush it with a cardboard cat scratcher. It was still twitching — and even jabbing with its tail — when I lifted up my makeshift weapon, and I was especially careful as I cleaned it up with a paper towel and flushed it as per SOP. 

What makes me especially nervous, of course, is not the scorpions I can see, it is the ones that I can’t see. Where are they lurking before they sally out to menace me and the cats? And what sort of antics are they up to when I am sleeping or not around to watch them? The potential answers to these questions do, admittedly, make me a little nervous …

In addition to the scorpions, I eliminated a small black spider that could have been a black widow and a large striped tan one that could have been a brown recluse. Their mangled remains could not offer up much in the way of revealing details to me. 

And so it goes … 

In the meantime, Starglim, Alzrius, is one of you calculating XP for me? Presumably, I should also be getting all sorts of “story awards” for seeing to my primary mission of getting situated in a new place! It’s not all about killing monsters, right?