THIRD PRIZE
House Spiders
by J. Rosina Harlow

The spiders have taken over my house.

It was easy for them, really… one of them backed me into a corner, brandishing a rolled up newspaper, and forced me to sign the deeds over to him. By that point they had already taken the dog hostage, and the sight of his big brown eyes peering over the web-gag had been enough to take all the fight out of me. He looked so confused.

Hell, I was confused too! I came back from the supermarket one afternoon, put my key in the lock and found the door already ajar. Panicking slightly, I pushed the door and found myself face to face with an enormous house spider.

            The question of how they had actually got a set of keys to the house in the first place bothered me later, after the initial surprise had worn off, but I suspect the cat had something to do with it. Where else did he get that stretched litter tray?

            A sort of robust inter-species mockery (Species-ism? Humanophobia?) took up the best part of the morning- there were endless cruel comments about my two feeble legs and simple eyes and the fact that I didn’t even build my own house. Occasionally, they broke off to douse me with citrus and clove oil, which was supposed to be a form of torture, but it really just made me smell interesting. When accidentally spilt on one of them, however, it led to undignified fits of screaming and sideways cartwheels on the floor.

            I fought back in the only way I knew. Like any outraged human who’s dealt with various party-wall altercations, I insisted that I get a fair hearing. That property was mine, I argued. I had a mortgage on it. Never mind that they now had a signature on a piece of paper- I bloody well lived there. All my stuff was there! Even bailiffs have to let you remove your possessions! Surely there was some seven year rule about tending a plot of land? My mind raced.

            Finally, I was granted the opportunity to make my case to the one they referred to in hushed tones as the ‘Arañita’, or ‘Mother Spider’. I was told that she resided in my bath and that at 10 a.m. the following day I should meet with her to discuss the ‘correct documentation’.

            If there is one thing I have learned about spiders since they took my house and held me hostage, it is that they adore paperwork. The mere mention of a P45 or even a clause with all the relevant points stacked neatly below it in a tiny font size is enough to send them into paroxysms of squirming delight. They went through all my bills. They worked out the interest on the mortgage repayments to see if I had a good deal (now that the base rate had moved).

            You’ve got to hand it to them, they were organised enough to pull this off without me seeing so much as a leg in the last few weeks.

            After the first few hours of taunting me they had relaxed enough to ask me to make them all mugs of hot fly-organs, (which apparently now come in powdered sachets for convenience if you don’t fancy squeezing your own flies).

            One of them confessed, as I handed him a cup, that it was a good job I was only small, because ‘the really big ones are much scarier’. The spiders all nodded and there were soft murmurs of relief from all except one, who pushed herself forward and bragged that when she was in the nest, one of her brothers had kept a large, hairy construction worker in a glass tank, and she hadn’t been scared at all. She then poked me with a stick to see if my legs would fall off.

 

             In the late afternoon I was enlisted to read bed-time stories to the little ones. Hundreds of newly hatched baby spiders crowded around me, their pin-prick black eyes glistening. With their numerous spindly legs folded under them and fine downy hair standing out on their heads, they were actually quite cute.

            What else could I read them but ‘Little Miss Muffet’?

            The hatchlings squealed with joy and clapped their little legs together. Buoyed up by their response, I finished with a passionate rendition of ‘Incey-Wincey Spider’, complete with hand motions.

            As the last of the spiderlings drifted off to sleep and dreamt of frightening hungry young girls half to death, I felt a few emotional tears course down my face. There was a silence over the arachnid company as I wept. After two or three minutes, one of the more kindly spiders told me that I was expelling fluid from the wrong end if I wanted to make a decent web.

 

            When the little ones were safely tucked into their nest for the evening, the elders all gathered around my laptop. Some clutched cans or bottles of fermented fly organs, and I tucked myself away in the corner and looked on as they cooed over the wondrous achievements of the ‘Arañita Mundo’, the great spider who had spun the World Wide Web many years ago to catch a really Big Fly, and succeeded in creating one of the finest feats of spider-kind which had changed the world and enabled them to do things they had hitherto only dreamed of.

            Then they gathered close and spent the next hour raving over some images that I couldn’t make out, dribbling gossamer fluid and exclaiming,

“Phwoar, look at the legs on that”.

            I took the opportunity to rest, inched into the corner of the room with my knees pulled up to my chest.

            After an hour or so I opened my eyes. The spiders were still rapt with lascivious glee. For the first time that day, I started to seriously think about escape. In these sorts of hostage situations, they say it’s important to have a plan. I had to come up with a plan. Then I had to execute it when their guard was down…and at that point, their guard was as down as it was likely to get.

I had already tried to reason with them. I’d tried to get them to empathise with me, tried to humanise (arachnise?) myself, in their many eyes. I thought I could get them to see that we weren’t so very different. But in all honesty, we were. I mean, their legs work on hydraulics. I might even have developed a mild case of Stockholm Syndrome. They were impressive. But I had to make an escape plan. Now that they had the deeds, I couldn’t see why I was still a prisoner, but the only theories I had developed, started with being bundled up in an enormous web and ended with me drained of all my blood, so I didn’t fancy staying.

            It struck me as a bizarre idea to escape from my own house, but I now had no more right to be there than a bug on the wall. That thought made me so incensed, I wondered whether I should take them all by surprise and just run through them with a hockey stick, spreading legs in all directions, but there were so many of them that I would easily be overpowered.

            Perhaps I was wrong all along for assuming that I belonged to the dominant species. Who was to say whether the big black spider in the airing cupboard had less right to be there than me? Because I ran a business, drove a car and had loyalty cards, I assumed that I mattered.

            Over in the corner, a toppled carrier bag, dropped in my earlier haste, started to ooze milk onto the carpet. It was a slow, sad action, a fitting metaphor for the toppling of my cosy domestic world.

            I watched it for a while. Then, after a few moments of grim indecision, I looked beyond the stricken bag and noticed an open booklet a couple of feet from it. It didn’t belong to me. It was laminated and professionally printed on shiny A-5 paper.

            Intrigued, I crawled slowly towards it on all fours, watching the spiders at every hand and knee fall. When I got close enough, I could see that the bold red font across the cover was actually the heading;

            ‘A Complete Guide to Human Domicile Ownership Re-Alignment’.

            Pardon? I flicked through the many pages in disbelief.

            One was entitled, ‘Concealing Crucial Documents for an Appropriately Long Amount of Time’ the next, ‘Obtaining the Financial Blessing of Children and Pets’.

            (That explains the cat, I thought).

The page that particularly interested me at that moment was the one entitled: ‘Ensuring that Your Human Remains Captive’.

            Glancing up at them to ensure that they were still absorbed in arachnid porn, I read on.

‘Clause 3.9. Ensuring that your human remains captive is a relatively simple task. Lock all doors and remove the keys. Securely fasten all windows. Some humans are six feet tall and can climb in a limited fashion. Search for, and secure, any cellars, basements or loft spaces. Remove or disconnect any telephones and do not allow them access to writing materials or messaging devices.’

            I glanced up again at the spiders, biting my lip in a pensive manner. I looked past them to the window on the wall. It was certainly shut, and probably locked. I had tried the door shortly after coming home- whirling round after ending up face to face with the huge creature- but another one had rushed to lock me in. They had acted fast. They’d probably read the entire booklet.

Now feeling quite futile, I set it back down with an inward sigh and absently glanced skywards on a semi-religious impulse. I then had an unexpected epiphany.

The skylight was open.

The skylight was open.

Dear God! The skylight was open.

I felt a tremendous surge of adrenaline and, in an instant, flung myself at the wall, fixed my hands to it, and clambered up its sheer surface and over the right angle of the ceiling, suddenly supple and Kafkaesque.

            As I reached it, I heard yells of outrage and, looking down, saw the entire group staring up at me, shouting. For a moment we looked at each other in mutual horror and disbelief, and then one cried out,

            “The skylight is open!”

            I clung onto the ceiling for dear life but I was rapidly losing both grip and hope. In an instant they would be on me. I’d got so close. In a moment a hundred smothering webs would be on me. I closed my eyes in despair and when I opened them again the huge spider at the head of the group moved, but not towards me. Instead, he picked up the discarded booklet with the foremost of his legs.

            Other spiders leaned over him to read. I squinted down from my place on the ceiling, also trying to see.

“What does it say?” they asked, in a rising panic.

The lead spider scanned down with his many eyes, muttering, “Doors, keys, windows, cellars, loft spaces, telephones...” He flung the papers down in fury with another of his eight legs. “There’s no mention of skylights in here at all.”

 Still frozen, I looked stiffly from one spider to the other as they began to argue in hisses under their breath. Eventually another spider sighed audibly and I braced myself for inevitable capture, but instead, she said, quietly,

 “We’ll have to change the paperwork, I suppose.”

            There was a silence that lasted for some minutes, while I merely licked my lips in anticipation. The spiders gazed listlessly into the thorax of the spider who had spoken.

            After a while, the lead spider cleared his throat.

            “You’re right. We will have to update the pamphlet.” He replied, in a monotone.

            The original spider spoke again. “Would an addendum suffice?”

            “I think it needs a separate clause.” The lead spider said, gravely.

            There was another long silence while I looked from spider to spider. Some scratched their heads absent-mindedly with a long limb. A couple looked anxiously at their neighbours.

            Eventually, the lead spider spoke again, conclusively.

            “We’ll do it tomorrow morning at 9”.