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Web of Fear

Many people confuse spiders with insects. In the animal kingdom, both belong to the phylum Arthropoda, but within the class Arachnida, spiders are actually non-insects belonging to the order Araneae, and are extremely important to keeping the insect population under control.

—The Eighth Korus of the Emerald Tree

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London
Present Day

“Be the bug, you are the bug…Be the…

“Oh, come on,” muttered sixteen-year-old Maxwell Darius Webster to himself. “Get a hold of yourself!  Now’s not exactly the time to lose your grip!”

Just like the bugs he loved, Max always imagined he’d mastered the art of deception. And like his friends the Raft, Wolf, and Lace Webbed spiders, Max knew he could weave a web that would ensnare even the cleverest of prey.

That’s why his friends from the Emerald Watch all called him SPYDER, right? SPYDER Da WEB? Even though he wasn’t a spider, he might as well be, right?

Who am I foolin’? Max thought to himself. I’m nuthin’ but a bloody kid! A kid about to get his bloody arse killed!

Without releasing his grip, Max shook the sweat from his forehead, blinking its sting from his moss-colored eyes.

Okay, that’s why he, not his friends, assigned himself the login: SPYDER. Da WEB was nothing but flourish…cream tea as it were. The nickname was more Comp-ton than Lon-don but at least it sounded spikey. Well, spikier than Maxwell Darius Webster, that’s for sure. After all, one had to keep up one’s wall paper. This was the twenty-first century, and London to boot.

Mind the gap,” echoed the warning overhead. “Mind the gap, gap, gap, gap…”

The announcer’s voice bounced off the tiled walls of The Tube, London’s famous underground railway. Mind the gap. It was the well-mannered British way of saying, “Watch out for the train, you bloomin’ sods!”

Instinctively, Max clenched his teeth and hugged the pipe he was suspended from for all it was worth.

They called him “Bug Nut”: they, the enemy, Nigel “the Hawk” Hawkins and his bird-brained schooligans Sal “the Salamander” Niconetti and Rodney “El Sluggo” Japes. Ruddy bastards they were, but he would just have to be smarter, is all. Wasn’t that what Caulfield said? That his beloved phylum Arthropoda was made up of the smartest creatures around? All Max had to do was think like one and he could survive anything.

Even though he was hanging from a sewer pipe, about to have his teeth shaken loose, Max had to smile. He knew more about arthropods than anyone, including his teachers. Entomology wasn’t a hobby; to him it was the Holy Grail. But “Bug Nut” wasn’t intended to compliment. It was a taunt. Max knew he didn’t fit any mold, couldn’t be classified in the scientific way. Why not call him out?

Short and wiry—a coffee-colored mixture of Jamaican and Thai from Brixton, south of London town—Max was a “brainer,” a “chancer,” someone who put those with lesser lids on high alert. He didn’t mean to come off that smart (okay, maybe he did), but he wasn’t a twit, either.

Still, cheeky was how it always spilled out. Especially to those who already felt thick and insecure. And there was always somebody

Okay. So maybe he tried a little too hard. Like this morning, when he got cornered by Nigel and his mates again. He didn’t mean to insult the nimrod when he said a caterpillar had more muscles than Nigel did—by a factor of four thousand to seven hundred and ninety-seven. After all, it was a fact. Of course, Nigel took it personally, especially when their classmates laughed until their knickers were soaked.

He should’ve anticipated Nigel’s retribution for being embarrassed—the bird brain squashing every Insecta he could find, waiting to see if Max would throw the first punch to stop the slaughter.

“No?” Nigel goaded, after Max refused the tossup. “Then consider it pest control, the same treatment that awaits a certain Bug Nut after school. Then we’ll see just how many muscles it takes to squash you!”

As Nigel and the lads walked away, leaving a trail of flattened, six-legged, innocent victims behind, Max plotted his revenge.  Alright, in hindsight, maybe his return volley, as clever as it seemed, hadn’t been his brightest idea. Introducing Nigel and company to a few more Insecta—the errant cockroach, a splash of gill maggots, the odd centipede or two—was rather scholarly and all, but to introduce them at lunch? Or, more accurately, in lunch?

Not only had Nigel, Sal, and Rodney sworn eternal war on Max when his bugs emerged from their half-eaten bangers and chips, but the school commissary would never be the same. The insect-inspired riot had seen to that, that and the ensuing food fight.

Yes sir. Given the day’s events, should he really be surprised to find himself hiding beneath the loading platform of the Westminster Tube station, dangling scant inches above the electrified train tracks, hanging onto a sewer pipe for dear life as the Circle line thundered in?

In all honesty, probably not.

Unlike the bugs he loved, maybe he, maybe Maxwell Darius Webster…

…wasn’t so smart after all.

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