by David Halpin
Reginald Muffet had the runs. Maybe it was
the water, maybe the half cooked snake he’d been given earlier, he didn’t really care at this stage. The point
was his ass, and how to stop its tight purse from coughing his stomach into his pants. He looked around the knotted, dense
jungle and realised it didn’t matter anyway, no one would see his degeneration from foremost expert on the South American
Tarantula, in particular the genus: Teraphosa, to ‘Mr Bum belch’ the amazing squatting man! He quickly unbuckled
his combats and, with a sigh, emptied himself onto the soft ground. It was this decision, this…position that led Reginald
to his Eureka moment. Socrates was in the bath when he had his, Reginald was having a dump!
As he surveyed the tangled, green canopy
something caught his eye. Something he’d been speculating about for a very long time and something that made the lies
he had to tell to get here worthwhile. Glistening upon the roof of the dense vegetation, stretching across the treetops, was
the biggest web he’d ever seen. If he blocked out the lush greenery and looked only at the canopy he could almost imagine
it was a light fall of snow on the thick, twisted branches, but this was deep inside the Venezuelan jungle, there was no snow
here, but there were spiders, lots of spiders.
Reginald smiled; his wife had tried to make
him wait until after the ‘brat’ was born but he’d told her his work came first. He didn’t like babies
anyway. The young of the Tarantula could fend for themselves as soon as they hatched, but children? He felt repulsed by their
uselessness. They’d never survive out here.
Reginald had trekked about eight miles since
this morning. He’d decided to stay at an adventure complex near Angel falls and blend in with the other tourists. He’d
flown form Caracas to the outskirts of Canaima and picked the first clean accommodation he found. Canaima was the name of
the national park the falls were situated in, as well as the name of the village itself. There was no point in telling his
colleagues why he was really in Venezuela as they frowned upon his interest in undiscovered species and preferred to concentrate
on stale and financially safe ground. Money and grants were all that mattered to some of them; they had no adventure, unlike
Angel falls was named after Jimmy Angel
who accidentally discovered the world’s highest waterfall while looking for gold. Reginald’s discovery would be
just as important, he felt, if he found the specimen he was looking for. Amongst the usual bizarre reports in the world of
crypto-zoology were some recent sightings of a spider that built its web in the trees. There were lots of bird eaters in the
jungle but it seemed impossible that a web was used for prey so big. It made no sense and was never taken too seriously, mostly
because nobody had been able to produce any evidence for the species. But, hopefully that was about to change.
Reginald wiped the sweat from his forehead
with a dirty cotton sleeve. He’d been bald since his twenties but ten years later he still reacted with mild surprise
whenever he touched his long receded hairline. His father used to call him Goldilocks even though he knew he hated it, but
then again, his father was a prick. Reginald knew he couldn’t be bothered instigating any kind relationship with his
own son when he was born, his wife wanted the kid, she could look after it. He supposed that, in that respect, he was like
As he stepped through the twisted roots
and thick, green vegetation Reginald saw some spiders scurrying up and down the trees. They were smaller than he imagined
if they were the makers of the web, at least from this distance. So, they weren’t nocturnal either, that was already
something new, and they certainly were not the burrowers he expected them to be, this was very interesting.
Reginald didn’t see the carcass but
felt his foot break something brittle. Looking down, he realised he was half standing in the ribcage of what appeared to be
a large monkey. It was stripped to the bone so he couldn’t properly speculate on the family. Strange, he thought, until
he saw the others. Then it wasn’t strange, it was disturbing. Littering the mossy tangle around him were the bones of
about twenty primates. As Reginald ventured further under the canopy of the web he felt more questions form in his mind but
they were coupled by the excitement of his discovery. Why would so many monkeys fall for the same trap? If the spiders attacked
one surely the others would have had time to flee. A mystery indeed, he thought to himself and bathed in the shafted sunlight
that cut through the dense, maze of entangled leaves and branches. It seemed to be warmer under the web than it was away from
the shelter of the trees. Reginald scratched at his cheek; he would have to shave when he got back to society, all this rainforest
heat was making his skin itch.
So, he thought to himself, if these spiders
were able to catch monkeys then that would put them on another level to the bird eaters altogether. He wandered further and
realised there were also the remains of boar and other large animals. His skin felt tight and he took out his water bottle
and splashed some onto his face. It began to sting. Maybe he was developing some kind of allergy to one of the plants he brushed
against. He looked back to the monkey carcasses and realised he had walked about 50 metres yet the web still stretched further
into the damp, green jungle. He could feel the tightening sensation move down his neck and chest and as he tried to stretch
the constriction out he felt something tear. He placed his hand under his chin and found what felt like a deep paper cut.
As he winced, his cheeks pulled into a grimace and he felt something rip. His tongue carefully probed the new hole in the
side of his face. He tried to spit out the quick flowing blood but it was like rigor mortis had set in the top half of his
body. Reginald looked down to his now stinging hands. On the surface of the dried out skin were swollen cuts like pared out
channels from his finger tips to his wrists. He could feel the numbing sensation move down to his elbows. Blood from his scalp
ran freely into his eyes and as he tried to wipe it away he felt the rivulets and open sores on his face.
Reginald fell to his knees and raised his
withering hands to block the sunlight that flashed through the web onto the forest floor. There wasn’t much pain now
and Reginald allowed himself to tumble forward. He realised that the spiders didn’t need to hunt at all. Somehow the
web itself was the hunter. It must be the effect of sunlight through the fine threads that caused the reaction on the animals,
and now his, skin, he realised. Ingenious, he thought to himself, but then again, maybe it was some sort of chemical given
off by the web to debilitate the prey first. Reginald felt one eyelid crack and tear as he tried to blink the blood away.
Then, as he lay on the cool, mossy surface Reginald heard something that made him think of his wife and unborn child, a light
flicker and scramble, and he realised he would, after all, get to hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet… hundreds of tiny
Copyright David Halpin 2006