Duncan Long CompuServe ID# 72707,3525 Copyright (C) 1993 by Duncan Long. All rights reserv
CompuServe ID# 72707,3525
Copyright (C) 1993 by Duncan Long. All rights reserved.
SPIDER B GONE
Should I ever find myself in front of a US Congressional
committee, I'll be quick to tell them that CompuServe had nothing
to do with the conspiracy. And while I myself am not without blame,
it all started innocently enough...
"I'm going to kill every blessed one of them," I had
muttered, shoving my way through the door into the True Value
hardware store. I grabbed a shopping cart and shot down the
center aisle at break-neck speed, intent on the death and mayhem I
"Can I help you," a generic salesman said, his large grin
blocking my progress.
"Poison," I said through clinched lips. Then noting his
blank look I clarified. "I need a pesticide."
"Oh. Aisle five."
"Thanks." Skirting around the salesman, I sprinted forward,
the wheels on the cart almost leaving skid marks.
Within seconds I slid around the corner and tore down the
narrow passageway lined with cans of weed killers, insecticides,
and other chemical weapons designed for gardeners and homeowners
intent on sterilizing the environment. I scanned the cans, jars,
and cardboard boxes, inhaling the heady, acrid fumes that leached
into the air around the display. It took me only three seconds to
spy the distinctive blue and white spray two yards ahead. "Spider
B Gone" it proclaimed in bold letters.
I'll be damned if that old codger gets the last can, I
thought, shoving my cart forward, effectively blocking the
progress of my potential rival so he couldn't reach the last can
from the opposite end of the aisle. Before the cart came to a
complete stop, I snatched the priceless can. After waiting for
the old man to wander past, I carefully studied the label to
assure myself that what he had heard on the TV only a half hour
earlier was really true.
Most people watch TV for the shows; I watch it for the ads.
That's not because I'm crazy (though some maintain this theory),
but because I'm an advertising copy writer. So when I saw the ad,
I knew it probably bent the truth. But that ad was pitched for me
and I had been unable to resist it. Until now. A doubt was
starting to intrude and I studied the can.
"Perfectly safe," the can reassured me, as if realizing my
doubts. "...when used as directed," it qualified. "Guaranteed to
kill spiders. Will not effect plants or mammals. Not recommended
for use by children without adult supervision."
I read no farther; I'd seen the ad, just spray the stuff
around the house and that was the end of spiders.
Probably too good to be true.
And yet I remembered the TV ad and found myself fervently hoping
all that I had seen was true. The actor had eyed the camera, a wide
smile on his face. "This new chemical compound was designed to attach
itself to the 'docking points' of protein in a spider's body," he said,
the camera cutting away to a computer graphic of what purported to be
spider protein. "Once there," he continued in a voice overlay,
"it stimulates an abnormal release of growth hormone that causes
the arachnids to literally explode by growing faster than their
exoskeleton can expand."
The camera cut back to the actor who was now passing through
a spotless living room. "Within days your house will be rid of
the pest that has plagued mankind since we first set up house in
"As for safety," the actor continued with a gleam in his
eye. "You could use it like a breath freshener if you had to--
though we don't recommend it for such use." The god-like being
on the TV screen took the can and gave myself two good bursts of
Spider B Gone. Thirty-two capped teeth beamed at the camera.
"Nice, minty taste, too."
As a copy writer, I knew the claims were undoubtedly
exaggerated. But I figured I had little to lose if I purchased a
can; it must be capable of doing some damage to spiders. At five
dollars and ninety-nine cents, how can I go wrong? I abandoned my
cart, leaving it in the center of the aisle, and promptly forgot
about the list of odds and ends I'd planned to pick up, instead
heading straight for the check-out counter.
Driving home I felt that things might be changing for the
first time since I'd been five. Haunted for thirty years by a
childhood memory and I had never shaken the nightmare.
I had climbed into bed after evening prayers, settling down
to sleep when I felt a pin prick on my tiny ankle. "Mom," I called,
suddenly wide awake as a fiery pain climbed up my leg.
The prick occurred again.
"Mom!" I screamed, kicking my legs free of the blankets.
"Something bit me," I sobbed. "It's under the sheets."
"I hope this isn't one of your crazy nightmares." She
lifted the covers and we both peaked cautiously under the sheet.
I saw the tiny, hairy spider scampering away.
The creature dropped over the corner of the bed and, before
my mother could squash it, darted under the night table. Two days
later I was in the children's wing of St. Mary's hospital. Skin
graphs to replace the rotting wound on my leg and the skills of a
team of doctors were all that had saved me.
Since then I'd feared the eight-legged monsters that were
everywhere, following me from house to house like a plague. No
matter how many I smashed and sprayed, there were always more to
take the place of their fallen comrades.
But now I hoped that Spider B Gone would tip the scales in
Twenty minutes later, I cautiously climbed down creaking
wooden steps as if trying to sneak up on the hoard of spiders that
I knew were lurking in the dusty corners of my unfinished
basement. Even though I'd installed a bare one-hundred-fifty watt
bulb in the each of the receptacles along the ceiling when I'd
moved in, the light from them seemed to vanish before it reached
the cement walls and wooden beams, leaving murky shadows that
lurked in the corners and behind the stairs.
I popped off the lid and clutched the aerosol can in sweaty
fingers, swallowing convulsively as I prepared for my assault on
my enemies. Cautiously lifting the container toward the joists, I
increased the pressure on the spray top with my finger, blinking
when the aerosol finally flew from the can in a thick white fog.
Grin spreading across my face, I sprayed it into the
shadows, carefully adding an extra squirt of the chemical for the
thick cobwebs. Satisfied with my first skirmish, I turned and
concentrated my fire on the dark corner under the stairs.
My glee lasted for only four minutes. "Running out fast," I
muttered. The ads as well as the instructions on the can said to
spray liberally for best results. But there was no way I'd cover
the entire basement with just one can--not if I used it the way
they had shown on TV.
Probably they said to use it liberally as a ploy to sell
more of their product, I told myself. I'd told clients that was a
good way to sell more of a product to a customer. I nodded,
certain that was what the Spider B Gone people had done, too.
Just go easy with how you spray and cover everything lightly.
After all, it had been the last can at the store--there was no
telling how long it would be before more came in. I decided to
spray a thin coat today and then, if it didn't work, I could try
it again in a week or two when another shipment of Spider B Gone
Five minutes later the can sputtered and was empty. I wiped
off my hand on my jeans, hopping the chemical really was as safe
as they said it was since I hadn't used protective gloves or a
mask. I slowly turned and surveyed the path of destruction.
The basement was completely covered; I had even overlapped
the section where I'd started and put extra into the cobwebs under
the stairs. According to the instructions it would take a week to
work. I'd come back down in seven days and, with any luck, be
sweeping little spider corpses into piles to carry out to the
If Spider B Gone works, I added to myself as I climbed the
During the next week the owner and manager of Simpson
Advertising was sick and I had to shoulder the responsibility of
finishing the advertising campaign they had been commissioned to
create. My work was made doubly hard by the fact that the other
copy writer and inhouse graphic artist thought that, with the boss
gone, it was the perfect time to goof off. All thought of the
basement vanished from my mind until a month later when I sat
down, TV dinner set at my place, to watch the evening news.
"The Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it
has ordered a halt to the sale of all Spider B Gone products," the
TV anchor said.
I sat up in my chair, tapping up the volume with my remote
control. "During the news conference," the announcer continued,
"the spokesperson for the manufacturer maintained that the product
has proven highly effective at killing spiders. Government
sources at the EPA admitted that the product presented no
environmental danger, but warned that continued use could lead to
I swore and leaped from my chair, flicking off the set.
"It's effective so they're taking it off the market?" I sputtered.
Sometimes I wondered what in the world they thought they were
doing in Washington. But I had a more urgent matter than worrying
about the government: Checking out my basement.
Ten seconds later, armed with a fly swatter and a
flashlight, I crept down the stairs. At the base of the steps I
paused, squinting at the white net that spread across the floor.
"How in the word did that get there?" I asked myself. I
cautiously stepped around it, spiders momentarily forgotten since
it was obvious that someone must have broken into my basement.
I checked the two basement windows. Both were intact, and
the thick cobwebs--thicker than I remembered from before--showed
that no one had been through the windows for years.
Satisfied no one could have entered the windows, I glanced
around at the ceiling and found that it covered thick webs. "What
the devil?" I whispered, staring at the cotton-like balls of web
that covered the southern wall of the basement.
Abruptly I was aware that my feet refused to move. Looking
down at the floor, I discovered that when I'd stepped onto the net,
my shoes had become trapped in the sticky ropes that glistened as if
covered with wet glue.
A movement to my left attracted my eye. Struggling to
maintain my balance, I twisted around, shining my flashlight into
the dark corner while holding up my fly swatter like a club in my
The flashlight glinted off five large rubies that inched
It took a few seconds for me to realize what I was looking
at. No, it can't be, I told myself, refusing to acknowledge what
But the red eyes moved into the light and I found myself
facing a spider that stood as tall as a man.
My feet jerked of their volition, popping out of my tightly-
laced shoes and dancing toward the stairs, shedding their socks as
the cloth stuck on the thick, sticky webbing. Two more steps and
my bare feet locked to the gummy cable just one yard from freedom.
I came to an abrupt halt, lost my balance, and fell.
"Help!" I cried, my hands and knees immobilized in the web.
I cried again, hoping a neighbor might hear me, even though I knew
it was highly unlikely.
I glanced back at the spider. It now stood not ten feet
from me, its fangs glistening in the illumination from the cobweb-covered
electric light bulbs.
I turned away and screamed again.
"Take it easy," a voice said. "You're not in any danger.
Besides, you're much too old and tough to eat."
"What?" I asked. "Who's here. You've got to help me."
"It's lucky you have a strong heart. I didn't fully realize
how fearful you are of spiders. But there's no reason to be so
afraid. Calm down."
"What?" I said, my eyes narrowing on the spider. "How can
you be talking to me? I must be mad."
"You haven't lost your mind," the spider seemed to say. It
rubbed its two front legs across its hairy head and then
continued. "I'm not really talking --I don't have the proper
mouth parts for that. What I'm doing is sort of like what you
call telepathy. It works through the part of your brain that
normally hears, so you perceive that my words are coming through
your ears. Only of course they aren't."
I swallowed, trying to take it all in. I have to be stark
raving mad, I finally concluded.
"No, you're not stark raving mad."
"But if I was, you'd seem to be saying just that. You
probably aren't even there so how could--"
"Tell you what," the spider interrupted. "If you're crazy it
doesn't really make much difference if we carry on a conversation,
I wrinkled my brow. "I guess not."
"Good. My name is Bekla."
"A spider with a name?"
"Just listen for a bit and see if I make any sense. Reading
your mind, I know that you're now trying to picture how much a
spider like me would need to eat to stay alive. But, please don't
be so suspicious. You wouldn't eat a fellow man--or any animal
like a dolphin if there's an outside chance it is a sentient like
"That's true," I cautiously agreed.
"Well, this is true for my race as well. We eat only
animals that are like the beasts you call cows. We never eat
animals capable of using tools.
"Which is where you come in," Bekla continued. "We'd like
to carry on trade with your people. We could use the livestock
you raise. I understand many of your farmers are looking for new
markets and we need--"
"Wait a minute, what do you mean? You're part of a race of giant
Bekla was silent a moment. "I'm sorry, I seem to be getting
ahead of myself. Let me put it this way. The spiders on your
planet are tiny little beasts with brains too small for little
more than reflexive actions. It's only with the advent of the new
hormones in the spray you used that they became large enough to
support a nervous system capable of--"
"That spray was designed to kill spiders. No offense
"Kill spiders IF used as directed--which you didn't do. By
using only a small amount, you created spiders the size of
basketballs. It's lucky you didn't come down here a weak ago--you
would have fainted at the sight."
I glanced around nervously.
"It's okay, now. They're all gone. Once they're that
large, they're smart enough to weave the web of travel, a pattern
that warps space and allows my kind to trek from one world to
another. That's how we discovered your orb and why I'm here.
From the reports the spiders from your basement gave, it sounded
like they had been inside a structure that was not naturally
formed. And their genetics made their size impossible without
hormonal modification--again indicative of a sophisticated
civilization. So it was my job to come here and, if I found such
a culture, study it. I've been down here for the past week
reading your mind, learning all I could."
I forced myself not to shudder at the thought of the huge
spider that had been sitting down in my basement all that time.
"Now, I must show you my world." Bekla reached forward and
pulled at the net-like web. The cord encased me and then the spider
slung me over its back, much like a man would swing a duffel
bag across his shoulder. The creature held me securely with its
two front legs. "Don't fret, I'm not going to hurt you and we'll
be right back. Just relax and enjoy the ride."
Bekla strode toward the dark corner, entering a funnel of
web at breakneck speed. I closed my eyes as they neared the wall,
expecting my body to smash against it. Instead the two of them
continued forward. By my reckoning we went well past where the
concrete wall should have been. When there was no impact, I
cautiously opened one eye and gasped at the shimmering rainbow of
web around me.
"The glowing streams of light beyond the web are stars," the
hairy creature below him explained. "We're traveling at hyper-
light speeds. My planetary system is right over--here."
Abruptly we jogged to one side, the spider diving down a
fork in the silky tunnel. Bekla stepped forward into a cool world with
a green sky and two pink suns overhead.
I gazed across the ground which was covered with white silk
that looked like snow. Webs formed mounds with gaping doorways
and some of the structures stretched upward, vanishing into the
fluffy clouds. Spiders of various sizes scampered past, ignoring
me the same way a man on a busy street would ignore a stranger.
Here and there were bipedal animals that seemed to travel and
converse freely with their eight-legged associates.
"As you can see, we are very peaceful here," Bekla said,
motioning with one leg. "Now let me set you free. But don't
stray far, it's easy to get lost and right now I'm the only one
that knows the way back to your planet." The spider touched the
weds that bound me and abruptly the net fell free at my feet.
"How you do that?" I asked.
"Just one of many tricks. You'll discover that we have
advanced far beyond the spiders you have on earth, just like
you've advanced beyond the monkey's of your planet. Brains make
all the difference, you know."
I rose to my feet and discovered that the silk under my feet
felt softer than cotton. "What do you want from me?"
"It's simple really. We have no skills at raising animals.
But we're experts at generating all types of strong building
materials, from woven silk cloth to thick, durable cables with a
memory of shape--and all stronger than steel and only a hundredth
of its weight. We can create our silk according to specification,
made to order and delivered to the doorstep of the buyer. My
studies of your planet tell me this material would be very
valuable to your clothing and construction industries."
"Could resins be added to this stuff," I asked, bending down
and picking up a handful of silk off the ground and carefully
"Most certainly. With the addition of resins, our silk is
suitable for construction of super-strong and super-light sheaths
for buildings, cars, and aircraft. Several of our trading
partners even use it for building spacecraft."
"But where do I fit in?" I asked. "Why not just go to the
United Nations and--"
"It wouldn't work. Most of your Earth races hate spiders.
We have what your kind calls a 'public-relations problem.'"
"But I don't see how that would influence things that much,"
I protested. "Unless--"
"We have dealt with this problem before with other worlds.
The last thing the majority of your people would want to deal with
is eight-legged monsters. Spiders are associated with all manner
of evil on your planet. First mankind must be educated so
they can understand that we are a good race and mean no harm.
Only then can the market for our products be fully exploited."
"Which is where I come in," I said, a grin crossing my face.
"Exactly. I've followed your advertising expertise and know
you are the one for the job."
"How big of a hurry are you in?"
"You can have years if need be. The main thing is to do it
right so this huge market will remain open to us. And of course
we will support you while you while you work for us--some of the
other cultures we trade with give us gold for our silk. I understand
gold is valuable on your world--though we have found little use for it in
"Great," I said, rubbing my hands together. "I've been
wanting to start my own business and this will be just the
ticket." I was silent for a moment, my brain racing. "We'll need
to start subtly. I'll hire a few freelancers to write science
articles about how beneficial spiders are. And a speculative
piece here and there about how alien cultures could mean big
markets for Earth's products--plant the idea in the public's mind.
And of course some science fiction with the spiders as the good
guys for a change. Then we'll need to go to the children's literature--
get them started thinking pro-spider while they're still young."
"And you'll need to be sure to convince and convert your
I thought only a moment. "I know just the place: CompuServe."
Bekla was silent; the spider equivalent of a raised eyebrow.
"It's a computerized system the most savvy businessmen and
hi-tech freaks have started using," I explained. "Over a million
users now and many of them tomorrow's leaders. There're even several
writing and publication forums. My firm helped with one of their recent
advertising campaigns. Let's see... Several of their Forums have short
"And you think CompuServe might carry some of the short stories
you'll use to promote us?"
"My thinking exactly."
And the first thing I did when I returned home was to write
Duncan Long is a freelance writer with nearly fifty books in print
including the science fiction novel, ANTI-GRAV UNLIMITED, with Avon books
and the hi-tech, action/adventure Night Stalkers series with HarperCollins.
Long is a regular user of CompuServe and is currently busy promoting a new
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank