Bella and Her Red Back
Unseasonal summer rain had allowed the grass to stay longer and greener than usual. Only a keen eye could spot the orange house brick near the back fence of 4 Safety Court, Mornington – an unimaginable home for most but not for Red Back spiders. Bella and her father could not contemplate living anywhere else, in what appeared on the surface a safe and secure home. Inside though, Bella was lost without a bedtime story. Every night she hoped for her mother to return with the last chapter about the animals who ran their own farm, instead she fell asleep aimlessly, imagining her mother’s voice. Despite several Daddy-long leg eyewitnesses, Bella refused to believe that her mother had been deliberately squashed as she neared the last page of the fantasy story.
One night, awakening after a webless dream, Bella crawled to her father and woke him with a question,
‘Are you sure Mum wasn’t squashed by accident?’
‘Yes, Bella,’ her father said glumly. ‘For thousands of years humans have wanted us extinct. They especially enjoy squashing females and it’s not just squashing – poisons, suffocation in glass jars.’ His jaw drooped. ‘I won’t go on but you must be very careful every time your red back leaves our brick.’
Bella could not accept her mother’s death was in cold blood but didn’t argue with her father. She simply asked, ‘surely nobody could be so cruel?’ She waited for an answer but her father’s weary face bore none and he turned away.
As the twenty-first century neared its eleventh birthday, Bella had almost developed into a fully grown spider. The memories of her mother’s unfinished story, forever entrenched in her arthropodic being. Three brick holes away from her home she met Spyder who was a week older than her but also had heard about the animal story.
‘Do you think it was a great idea for animals to take over and run a farm?’ Bella asked.
‘Of course,’ Spyder said. ‘A shame though some animals thought they were the new superiors and turned out just like humans.’
‘You mean, the pigs of course?’
‘What happened in the end?’ Bella scratched her chin with two legs. ‘My mother was squashed in the book room before she got to the story’s end.’
‘I heard about that; I’m so sorry.’
‘That’s OK.’ Bella contemplated a moment. ‘That was two weeks ago now. So tell me, what happened next?’
‘Well, the story was translated into numerous languages via various apps and spread throughout all the continents of the world. Farm animals tried to take over from humans on farms everywhere but the humans had also read the story and used harsher measures to control animals; cows were milked more often, chickens forced to lay extra eggs and sheep shawn while sleet and snow fell on their naked bodies. Interestingly though, dogs still obeyed who was in charge and cats still conned their owners. Naturally, farm animals became far too exhausted and all they wanted to do was sleep. The cities of the world expanded to claim countryside and once inaccessible land until nobody could tell were the cities ended and the countryside began. A feral cat named Sombra, with her contact of all creatures great and small, kept the takeover dream alive. She forged a deal with the wild animals, that they would assume the responsibility of the ridding of humans while farm and domestic animals pretended to know nothing. Even creatures such as insects and spiders were part of the deal.’
‘Really?’ Bella’s eyes opened wide.
‘Yes. By then, most domestic animals had wireless apps to access the World Wide Web. Meetings were arranged in secret chat rooms under code names such as slither and pussy. Orders were despatched by encrypted email all over the globe to rid the planet of humans. In our region creatures are slowly but surely gaining their respect and native territory back. Off the coast of south-eastern Australia, orders were despatched for Great-white Sharks to kill divers and fisherman on first site. In the Northern Territory, crocodiles have been given the go ahead for attack in broad daylight as well as their usual night attacks. In central Australia, Dingoes were told to leave no survivors; not even children. While in Queensland, bats have been ordered to step up their spread of the Hendra virus. As none of these creatures seem capable of using their own apps, they blindly continue to follow orders. Has your father passed on your orders?’
‘Well, I suppose he is waiting for you to fully mature; like I have.’ Spyder circled his eyes.
‘But you’re still so small.’
‘Does that matter?’ Spyder asked with a gruff in his voice.
‘No – well, anyway, please tell me about the orders.’
‘I don’t know.’ Syder’s voice trembled a little. ‘Your father seems quite scary. Wouldn’t want to upset him.’
‘Don’t be silly.’ Bella scoffed. ‘He’s harmless like you. Please, tell me.’
‘Alright, but keep them to yourself. Red-back spiders are to sting humans wherever possible, you are to make them dizzy and unwell in the hope this state will lead to worsening complications.’
Bella and Spyder instantly became best mates. Bella loved listening and Spyder never stopped talking. Every day while Bella spun her sticky and tangled web, Spyder rested below her and read aloud articles from newspapers that had blown out of the human garage. Most of what Bella’s father had said about human cruelty appeared true from what she heard from Spyder. He read of motorists senselessly killing themselves and others. He read of brutal and bloody wars between nations and even about huge oil tankers spilling their filthy cargo into clean seas and oceans. Bella was amazed at the length humans went to in order to destroy their surroundings and each other and even wondered when they had time to reproduce.
Spyder also spun yarns and made many promises but all Bella really cared about was the promise he made of going to the book room. Several days later, just before dawn, they ventured out of their brick and climbed a dusty old web, that nobody knew who had owned, into the roof of the nearby human house. Bella had been warned several times by her father to never go to the bookshelf where the book, her mother used to read,rests. He couldn’t bare the loss of his only daughter. Bella had other ideas though and desperately wanted to see the book with her own eight tiny eyes and feel it with her eight black straw legs.
The pair made their way along a ceiling joist running between lambswool insulation. The faintest of light peeping through the roof tiles above them showed the way. Above the pantry their journey came to a sudden halt. A rat named Seconds appeared in their way
‘What are you doing here, Spyder? Seconds asked. ‘You told me once you had found a mate that you would never come back here.’
‘I’m not here to bargain for an ant from your sugar,’ Spyder said. ‘I’m here with my mate Bella, and she needs to see the book in which her mother was squashed.’
‘You mean, Animal Farm?’
‘Is this true Bella?’
‘Sure is.’ Bella fidgeted impatiently.
‘You know, the book is far more than what it appears on the surface.’ Seconds chattered his front teeth.
‘Of course we do,’ Spyder said without knowing, let alone thinking. He also wanted to get a move on.
‘Alright then. ‘Seconds huffed. ‘Only because I gave Bella’s mother the app that helped her to read. You know rats are one of the cleverest animals and I’m sure we would have run a farm better than any pig could have. For instance, my Uncle and his family even live for free in a five-star hotel in the city. Can’t imagine any pig doing that. Go on, get a move on.’ Seconds urged and disappeared off the joist and into the warm insulation.
Bella followed Spyder down an electrical wire that led to a small gap in the top of a ceiling fan.
‘There it is.’ Spyder pointed his third leg towards a book shelf that covered one side of the book room. Bella began to run but Spyder pulled her back. ‘Not so fast, look over there.’
‘Oh.’ Bella spotted a girl of about ten years of age who was drawing a colourful picture of a rosella.
‘Follow me quietly along the back wall.’ Spyder whispered. The girl seemed engrossed in her activity. Bella and Spyder crawled slowly but surely to the edge of the bookshelf only to be confronted by the fearsome face of Conan the huntsman.
‘Times are tough you know.’ Conan said. ‘Ever since the humans bought fly spray, only half the amount of flies as they used to make it to the top of the bookshelf. What do you want here?’ Conan growled.
‘Just to see where my mate’s squashed mother lies,’ Spyder said timidly.
‘I’m not sure about you, but your mate looks trustworthy and reminds me of another spider that often visited this room. Any poaching though and I’ll have you both for dinner.’ Conan’s fangs dribbled.
Bella gulped and kept a few of her eyes on Conan as she followed Spyder along the shelf to where Animal Farm sat tightly fitted in between Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and a collection of Aesop’s fables. There was no way for Bella and Spyder to move the enormous book. Only the tiniest inkling of a space indicated possible access to the last page.
‘You go, Bella. I’ll wait here and keep a lookout,’ Sypder said and turned to watch the girl.
In an instant Bella had made her way along the spine of the book to its top edge but paused in fear as she pondered if she really wanted to see her squashed mother.
‘What’s taking so long?’ Spyder was becoming agitated; he sensed something.
Bella took a deep breath and crawled onto the top of book. The pages seemed so clean and white, recently read, but there was still no way to access the last page. She scraped with all her might but could not budge any of the pages. Bella also sensed something. A familiar buzz from the distance became louder. A blow fly entered the room and annoyed the girl who turned around. Bella moved back down the spine of the book towards Spyder but halted midway when she spotted a woman following the fly. The woman closed in on the fly with one of her long fingers ready on the trigger of a can of fly spray.
‘Help me,’ buzzed the fly that flew towards the top of the bookshelf.
Nobody answered in fear of the woman. The fly flew right above Bella and into Conan’s web. The buzzing stopped and then started again but was muffled and then muted. The women turned to the girl and told her to find it and bin it. The girl looked up at the shelf and spotted Bella and Spyder. She walked up to them.
‘Jump!’ Spyder shouted at Bella. They did with Spyder making it to the floor and scrambling out the room behind the woman. Bella landed on the girl’s wrist. Startled, the girl flicked her wrist and Bella fell to the floor. They stared at each other for a moment, both as lost for words as each other. Strangely, as they stared an unexplainable connection of respect for each other came over them, even though Bella remembered what Sypder had read in the newspapers and the girl knew Red Back spiders were poisonous. The girl then walked over to her rosella picture and brought it back. She gently slid the picture under Bella’s feet. Bella wasn’t sure what to expect next and was surprised as the girl carried her on the picture like a magic carpet to the back door.
‘There you go, little spider, better for you to be outside. If anybody else sees you here, they will probably squash you.’
‘Thank you,’ said Bella, but the girl couldn’t hear the faintest of voices. As Bella made her way around the back of the house she knew her mother’s squashing had to be an accident. There was no need to return to the book room. What about Spyder, she wondered. I bet he’s already home.
Before she could adequately digest her thoughts, a voice from above her spoke out,
‘Did you find out what happened to your mother?’ It was Anton, the wisest and most respected crow in the district.
‘How do you know what I was doing?’ Bella was confused.
‘I was watching you through the window. I love the girl’s pictures but why she always goes for bright colours is beyond me. Surely she could draw a picture of a crow for once or even one of you with your striking red back. Anyway, do you really want to know what happened to your mother?’
‘I already know.’
‘Really, so there’s no need to tell you – alright.’ Anton motioned to fly away.
‘Wait.’ Bella raised her voice. ‘What do you know?’
‘I saw it through the window. She used to dangle from the ceiling above the girl and had just finished Animal Farm which the girl was reading at the time. She then made her way into the ceiling fan but Several Daddy-long legs kidnapped her. She has never been seen again. No doubt the Daddy-long legs were following orders. I heard from a feral cat named Sombrason that your mother was considered too friendly with humans. Another thing, don’t go back to the room. I saw a Daddy-long leg watching you from under the girl’s desk.’
‘How can I believe you Anton? I’m confused.’
‘You don’t have to believe a thing but you saw for yourself, the girl wouldn’t even harm a fly.’
When Bella finally arrived home late that afternoon she was exhausted in every sense of the word. She went straight to bed despite no sign of Spyder.
Just before midnight she was woken by a shaken Spyder. Bella quivered when she saw he was missing his seventh leg.
‘What,’ she stuttered, afraid of Syder’s relpy, ‘happened to you?’
‘I was captured by several Daddy-long legs and dragged to the laundry. They wanted me to admit I was helping humans. I refused to speak and was hauled into the washing machine where they tied me in the cylinder ready for the wash. I was sure that I would be rinsed in the morning. As soon as they left me alone, I pulled with all my might to free my legs but in doing so I had to leave my seventh leg snapped off and still tied.’
Bella stroked Spyder, comforting him. ‘At least your here with me now.’ They cuddled and embraced passionately until Spyder magically lost himself in Bella and became a part of her forever.
For a week Bella spun no web; she lay motionless in her hole. Sometimes she heard her mother’s voice and saw Spyder crawling with eight legs but nothing else. Not even the loud buzzing when a man mowed the long green grass did she stir. It was only the persistent sniffing and bad breath of Molly the pet English Cocker Spaniel that forced Bella to surface.
‘Bella, are you there?’ Molly panted.
‘Yes, what do you want?’ Bella spoke with dullness.
‘I’ve been ordered to confirm your whereabouts.’
‘Really, who ordered you?’
‘I can’t tell you that.’
‘Well, what if I ordered you to tell me?’
‘Now that you put it that way, Crackle the third, the ruler of our region and direct descendant of Napoleon the immortal pig.’
‘Well, I order you to confirm my whereabouts. There’s no secret where I live.’
That night Bella wove her finest web in tribute to those closest she had lost but also as a sign of strength and protection for those to come. The full moonlight beckoned all nearby creatures to stay up after bed time and watch her cocoon like web glow as if it were a tiny silk moon. Seconds peered through a cracked roof tile, Conan and Molly gazed out the window and Anthony sat speechless on the fence. Even Sombrason, who was lurking in the neighbourhood, paused in awe.
The following morning, well before rush hour, a crow named Claw was dispatched from the takeover headquarters in the city of Melbourne. His undercover mission was to destroy Bella’s home and in general get a feel for the atmosphere and views of the other creatures in the Mornington area. Claw mingled in with the local crows and pecked at the green wheelie bins that waited for collection in Safety Court. The crows knew a tourist when they saw one and became suspicious of him and when Anton spotted a recording device he summoned the crows to surround Claw. The bin of 4 Safety Court was only half full, enabling Anton to push Claw into the bin while the other crows closed the lid on top of him.
‘You’ll pay for this,’ Claw crowed as he flapped and scratched at the underside of the bin lid.
While waiting for the postman, Molly was distracted by the crows and went to see what all the commotion was about. After a short while Molly helped the crows lift the lid slightly only to be almost pecked by Claw.
‘What is your business here?’ Anton asked the stranger.
‘Why should I tell you?’ Claw snapped back.
‘Well the rubbish truck will be here within the hour and that crunching machine where the rubbish goes.’
Claw interrupted. ‘OK, OK, I’m here to – well, my orders are to, how to say it, destroy the home of a spider named Bella and all its inhabitants.’
The crows’ gasped for a moment then vented their anger. ‘Peck him to death,’ shouted the murder of crows.
‘Wait!’ exclaimed Anton, ‘let’s wheel him to Bella and she what she has to say, after all, it’s her home he’s here to destroy.’
Bella could hear many voices and a wheelie bin approaching her brick. She looked out of her hole to see Molly and Anton with the help of the crows pulling the wheelie bin almost on top of her brick.
‘What’s going on?’ she was bewildered.
‘We’ve captured a crow, who was on his way to destroy you and your home,’ stated Anton.
‘Why?’ Bella’s eye spun wildly. ‘What do you mean?’
Anton opened the lid of the bin and cawed, ‘Why?’
‘She was suspected of helping humans,’ Claw whimpered. ‘Just as her mother was.’
‘What do you say to that, Bella?’ Anton asked.
Bella thought for a moment, composed herself and spoke. ‘All I can say is, knowing what is in the newspapers and observing the humans around me, along with what I have learnt in my short life so far. We do not need to rid ourselves of human creatures. They have helped me and provided me with my home. On the other foot though they have ruined many other homes and seem to take strange pleasure in destroying their own homes more than anything else. On top of that, they even destroy themselves.
‘I’m amazed by your wisdom,’ Anton looked briefly at Bella and then turned to the crow in the bin, ‘What’s your name?’
‘Well then Claw, why do you follow such unfair orders? To come here and destroy a fine creature like Bella and her home that harbours the eggs of her unborn?’ Anton spoke in a reasonable tone.
‘I know it’s wrong but what am I to do? If I don’t follow orders I will be chopped up and put into meat pies, literally.’ Claw sunk down into the bin as his lust for life lessened.
Anton sensed remorse and spoke, ‘Alright then, Claw. Your choice is to go back to the city and tell everyone the ridding of humans is over. The humans are more than capable of ridding themselves. Be brave in your endeavours and do what is right while you still have the chance. It’s time to learn from the past and then to leave the past where it is.’
Andrew Mansell, November 2011.