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A Spider By Any Other Name

Every web begins with a single thread which forms the basis for the rest of the structure. To create the first bridge, the spider chooses a suitable starting point and releases a length of thread. With any luck, the free end of the thread will catch a branch or other fixed object. The spider then cinches the silk and attaches the thread to another point, thus beginning the web.

—The Sixth Korus of the Sapphire Tree

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Once more, Max hugged the concrete pipe for all it was worth. The metallic earthquake masquerading as the District line thundered down the tracks and pounded into Westminster Station. Brakes screeched…time stretched to its snapping point…the thump of decompressing air announced its arrival…until finally…the train…stopped.

Max exhaled slowly, reassembling his shattered nerves.

With a pneumatic snick, the humanity aboard untangled itself and exited. Savile Row soles and Fash-Pack heels clicked on the concrete above. Cell phones chirped, conversations competed, and the daily lives of Britian’s posh pedestrians resumed their course as Max weighed his options.

Hanging by a thread (okay, a sewer pipe), Max figured he could either wait out Nigel and his boys or he could make a run for it. Then he remembered his guest in its Coca-Cola chalet—the odd Mr. Stink.

“This is bollocks,” he whispered to himself. “There are more important things to do than hang around here. Okay. Let’s try this again.” Hand-over-hand, Max resumed his journey along the pipe. “Be the bug, you are the bug…”

Where the pipe met the tunnel wall, Max stopped, shifted his weight, and cautiously released an arm and a leg. Then, slowly, rhythmically, like a yo-yo, he began to swing.

Be the bug, you are the bug…be the bug…don’t fall in the muck…

Timing each pivot, he carefully gauged the distance between his reach and the platform above.

Be the bug, you are the bug…

The platform grew closer…

Closer… Be the bug…

Closer… NOW!

With a final lunge Max threw first one leg and then an arm up to the ledge. “Gotcha!” He smiled as he felt his hand and foot catch the cool lip of the platform.

Foot and fingers anchored, it didn’t take much to pull himself from underneath the platform onto the station floor. Hoodie pulled low, Max hugged the shadows and slowly stood.

Whaddaya know? You just might pull this bug thing off— “Bloody ‘ell!”

In the distant corner of the station, blocking Max’s escape up the stairs, was Sal. Evidently the teen bean hadn’t forgotten about settling a certain score, and by the look of things, he wasn’t about to give up anytime soon.

Max peered through the crowd, to the opposite side of the staircase. Maybe he could rush the descending traffic, go out the entrance?

Double ‘ell!

Sir Rodney the Slug was slumped against the down-staircase rail, his double chin resting on layers of fat, his tiny eyes glued to a PSP.

“You better not have lost ‘im!” boomed a familiar voice.

Max nearly winked his pants. Only a few yards away, Nigel dive-bombed through the crowd. Thankfully, he was headed in the opposite direction from where Max stood, toward the slob on the stairs. Max released the air trapped in his lungs while taking stock of his cargos to ensure they were still dry.

“I heard yer verbals!” Rodney chirped, shrinking in size as Nigel swooped in. “He hasn’t passed by me,” came a final squeak.

“How would you know, you and your flippin’ toys?” Nigel slapped the game console from Rodney’s hands. “Now, pay bloody attention! It’ll be a fine day when someone feeds me bugs and lives to crow about it.”

From across the station, Max swallowed hard. Whether Nigel and his friends knew it or not, with the train flanking him on one side and them blocking the other, he was trapped. Sooner or later, the station would empty, and then, idgits or not, Nigel and his mates would have him.

“I’m a dead man,” muttered Max, leaning back into the shadows. Curtains. History. A splat on the windshield of Life. Then the thought struck him—struck him almost as hard as the hazelnut.

Hazelnut?

“What the—!?” Max yelped. A few passers-by turned. He wanted to disappear into the flaking paint and wallpapered posters, but for flippin’ sake, who was throwing nuts? And in Westminster Station! Max looked at the hazelnut still spinning on the ground. And where’d they get the ammo?

The problem is you’re not thinking like a bug, raged a voice in his head.

Max paused. Okay. First a hazelnut, now a voice. Could things get any stranger?

I’m talking to you, the voice came again.

What have I got to lose? thought Max. It was time to let man and his inner bug battle it out. “Look, I’ve kinda got me hands full,” Max muttered.

The inner Bug persisted. Okay, but think! You know your phylum. What would a spider do in this situation?

Max ground his teeth and furrowed his brow. “B-b-build a web?”

Exactly, brainiac. To snare its prey, right? And does it matter to a spider what size its prey is? The voice in his head wasn’t cutting him any slack.

“Not usually…”

Then why not try thinking of Nigel and his mates like bugs? Bugs that need…

“Snaring!”

Now you’re talking.

“Then all I need…”

Is a…?

“Web!”

Exactly!

 

 

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