Well, all God’s children, here it is Tuesday again and I’m writing what should have been last Tuesday’s story. You could say I’m just perpetually a week behind, except that I fully intend to get back on track here, soon, if only for the sake of my artists, who (in a perfect world) are expecting the stories they are scheduled to create art for to happen in a certain week. Anyway, you don’t all need to know my problems with staying on schedule; what you need to know is that I’m writing a story now, and I intend to write another before the week is out.
So, you may recall when I went off on a little “what if?” and wrote what I thought it might sound like if Shakespeare wrote Disney novelizations (story #75, “Much Ado About Stitch”). Well, tonight I am wondering what it might sound like if Stephen King were to tackle popular nursery rhymes.
And you know what happens when I start wondering about stuff.
It was not quite full afternoon yet, nor was it morning anymore. Certainly, it was after the hour of noon by the clock, but the day had not yet swollen into the yellow-orange, often hot and growling thing so many creatures agree to be “afternoon.” The spider didn’t really know the difference, in a technical sense, nor did he care. What he knew was that soon it was going to be hotter than it was now (“soon” and “now” being abstracts in his limited spider-point-of-view). Shade was in order, and that right quick.
The spider was small. He remembered a time when his size had not mattered, when his brothers and sisters had all been small and no one had thought he stood out. There had been hundreds of his brothers and sisters upon their bursting forth from the egg sac that their mother had carried on her back for weeks, hundreds upon hundreds, all tiny and transparent at birth. No one noticed him. They crawled over each other in a heaping mass, waiting to leave the safety of the mother’s back when they had grown. But the spider didn’t grow like his brothers and sisters. No, the spider was small. And now the spider was alone.
His siblings had all moved on to goodness knows where, flying away on kites of their own silk. Arachnologists call it “ballooning,” but the spider had no way of knowing that. All he knew was that he had been afraid, being so small, and he had stayed behind. It was not so bad being alone. He was rarely teased because he was rarely noticed. When he was noticed, it was not by anything with the same eight derisive eyes of his family. A bird, a bug. These things didn’t care if he was small. The birds left him alone, and the bugs were a meal when he could catch one. The spider had found that no bug cared how big or small you were when you were sucking out their liquefied insides while they twitched in the silk coffin you’d spun around them.
But now was not the time for eating. The sun was high in the sky and, although there were clouds gathering in post-morning but not yet afternoon (proper) sky, the spider thought it was time to sleep. That meant shade. That meant the metal on the side of the house.
There was a large white (white, at least, where the paint had not yet peeled back to reveal the cheap, dull metal beneath) pipe that ran the length of the house at the top and down one side. The spider often went there to rest in the shade, sometimes spinning a web in the opening at the base, sometime climbing all the way to the top and spinning a web up high there, closer to the sky, farther from the world. The sun could get into the pipe up there at the top and he had to be careful, and the spider thought he’d better stay at the bottom today, out of the sun. It just seemed smarter.
He reached the base of the pipe and looked up at the sky. The clouds were drawing in fast, like curtains at the end of a vaudeville show. The day was getting dark, and make no mistake child, it was not taking its time. Perhaps, he thought, it would be a fine day to climb all the way to the top and spin a web there. The dark of the clouds would protect him. Besides, it was more fun up there. It seemed like a good idea. At the time.
Entering the spout, he heard a huge and fantastic noise. He didn’t know the word “thunder,” but he knew there was something fearful in the air whenever he heard that noise. He’d better hurry up to the top of the pipe and see what was happening.
There were dead leaves and old webs of his own making in the pipe. They slowed him down, but he picked his way carefully over them as best he could. Looking up, he could barely make out the opening far above him, so dark was the sky now. There were also leaves and old, wispy webs choking the top of the pipe, and this made it even harder to see out. But the spider kept going. He felt confident that, when he got to the top, he would be able to climb through whatever barrier was there. After all, he was very small.
The noise from outside changed. What had been only wind was suddenly more solid. More real. He didn’t know what it was a first, and then the first drop cascaded past him in the dark of the metal tube. He stopped. A drop was a drop, but there would surely be more. This stuff was slick. This stuff was slippery.
The thousands of tiny hairs on a spiders legs are called scopulae. They are what allows any spider (even very small ones) to climb up a vertical surface. A water spout, for instance. They act like barbs or hooks, and give the spider traction on just about any surface. But the slicker the surface, the weaker the hold, said the fisherman using butter for bait. The spider didn’t know about scopulae, didn’t know the word, had never stopped to wonder why he could walk anywhere he pleased. What he did know was that a wet surface was much harder to cling to than a dry one. He stopped, staring up at the clogged opening, and waited.
The rain came.
Before long, water was running in rivulets down the sides of the metal tube. The spider dug in, crouched into a tight ball, and hung on. Water ran past him, over the ends of his legs, threatening to loosen his hold, but he hung on. The odd, fat drop slipped through the leaves and webbing at the top of the pipe and soared past him, but he hung on.
A leaf came loose and fell past him.
The pipe above his head creaked and groaned, and suddenly the spider was aware that the full fury of what was happening outside had only been hinted at here in his dark metal enclosure. With sudden, screaming clarity, the spider remembered the whole of what he knew about this tube. The pipe stretched all the way across the house. And it led to one place and one place only. It all led here. Right here. It wasn’t just the water falling down that he had to worry about. It was all of the water along the length of the house. All the water that was being held up by the clog at the top of this very section of piping. A clog that had begun to drop leaves on him. If enough of them fell . . .
As if to prove him right, in a cosmic joke whose punchline meant almost certain death, something gave way up above. A death-wad of wet, dirty leaves fell past the spider and the water came after. A great wall of it, hurtling down, sweeping everything away in its path. The spider tried to hang on, but his resolve lasted only a moment. Then he was in the grip of it, turning over and over, lost in a hurtling, liquid prison going down, down, straight down.
He had time to think of his brothers and sisters, ballooning away one bright morning where no rain was there to take them, time to think of his mother, and how she’d left when he’d stayed, time to think of days when this spout had not betrayed him, but sheltered him. He had time to think of all of these things, and time to ruminate on his own sure demise. Would it never end? Turning and turning, going down and down.
And then he felt himself released into a wider world. There was solid ground beneath him and, although water continued to cascade over him for what seemed an eternity, he was no longer its prisoner. Gravity, and not scopulae, held him firmly in place. Leaves fell all around him, water washed his back, and yet he remained. It really wasn’t so very long before it was all over.
The spider stood just outside the pipe in the shallow cement basin that diverted the water into the adjacent lawn. He looked up at the sky, where the dark clouds were scurrying away as quickly as they had come. Amazed at the fury and the beauty of nature, amazed at his own resiliency, amazed at feeling the sun when so very recently he had sought to escape it, he basked in the afternoon light as it returned.
It was full afternoon, now. The spider could feel it, though he had never looked at a clock with any sort of comprehension. It was afternoon, and the newly returned sun was quickly turning puddles into land. All around him, the spider could hear the steady drip of a world shedding a wet skin for a dry one. It was full afternoon and the spider thought he had been given a gift. He thought he had learned a great lesson about survival and had a great revelation about the nature of his own decisions. He thought he might put his new-found knowledge to good use. He thought he might finally embark on a great adventure, much like his family had done before him.
But first, he thought he might like to try climbing up the water spout again.
With apologies to Mr. King. 🙂
See you soon,