Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Box of Spiders by Bill Chance

“Naturally, the system would have to be rigidly closed, recycling all food, air, and other expendables. But, of course, that’s just how the Earth operates—on a slightly larger scale.”

― Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama

Louise Bourgeois, Spider, New Orleans

Box of Spiders

Orion was late and he was keeping Jemma waiting. Orion was never late. Jemma was thirteen and Orion was her best friend and she was sure that he would be her best friend for her entire life and she was upset that he was making her wait. She was also upset at the odd conversation they had by text that morning.

“Will you be at the park today,” said Orion.

“Same as ever Saturday,” was her reply.

“Good, I have a surprise,” said Orion.

“Really? What is it?”

“Wouldn’t be a surprise.”

“Oh. Can’t wait.”

“One more thing.”

“What?”

“Are you afraid of spiders?” asked Orion.

“Very.”

“Shame, we’ll see.”

And Jemma was very afraid of spiders, even though she had never actually seen one. Probably, she thought, she was especially afraid of them because she had never seen one. There is that human natural fear, of spiders and snakes and things like that, with nothing to ameliorate it – no exposure. That’s what she had been taught in school, how different things were now and how careful they all had to be. How there was so little room for error.

And now Orion was there, coming up the slight rise in the park where Jemma was sitting, cross-legged, on the lush lawn. He was lugging a large box.

“You’re late,” said Jemma.

“Sorry, couldn’t be helped.”

“Is that my surprise?”

“It sure is!”

“Are there spiders in that box?”

“Yes, there are. Now, Jemma, don’t be afraid. They are very carefully bred and trained and aren’t dangerous. They are wonderful and I can’t wait for you to meet them,” said Orion.

Orion set the box down on the grass and carefully lifted the lid. Jemma felt her heart leap and her face became hot as she peeked over the edge.

The box was full of spiders, each one carefully folded and packed in tightly. The ones on the top began to unfold, stand, and walk smoothly out of the box. They began to congregate on the ground all around the box, moving and continuing to unfold.

“They have wings!” Jemma said. “Spiders don’t have wings!”

“They don’t… but these do,” said Orion. “We bred them from spider DNA and then combined them with genes from giant butterflies that we developed. It was a delicate and extensive project. Once we built them we bred them and then trained them. Watch what they can do!”

The spiders spread their huge brightly colored wings. Some were a deep cerulean blue, shot-through with some kind of gold sparkles, others were blood-red and still others were a buttery yellow. Most were single colors but others were mottled with black veins.

They began to flap their wings with preternatural speed and then, one by one, they lifted into the sky over the park. When there was a dense cloud they moved over until they were clustered directly over Jeamma.

“Orion! I’m afraid! What are they doing?”

“Now Jemma, it’s important that you relax. Lie down and stretch out. This will be wonderful. You trust me, don’t you?”

“Yes,” answered Jemma.

“Then take it easy. Watch this.”

Silver threads started dropping from the flying spiders directly toward Jemma.

“Orion! They are making webs. I’ve read about this. What will happen?”

“Watch, Jemma, you’ll like it. Don’t be afraid.”

The webs reached Jemma and stuck to her. Hundreds descended and began attaching themselves all over her body. Arms, legs, and torso were covered with strands extending upward. They were careful about where they attached – avoiding her face but reaching around and cradling her head in a mass of threads.

“The webs are stronger than steel, Jemma. Don’t thrash around, stay as still as you can.”

Jemma felt the fear subsiding. There was something comforting about the mass of webs and how they seemed to know where to attach, where to stick. She could feel them tugging against her here and there. She began to feel strangely relaxed.

“Ok, Jemma,” said Orion, “here we go!”

The hum of wings overhead became louder and louder until it was a roar of hundreds of wings furiously flapping. The tugging of the threads became stronger and stronger until Jemma felt herself being lifted off of the ground. It was oddly relaxing and comfortable, a gentle tugging spread out evenly over her entire body. She spread her arms and legs to be as stable as she could.

“That’s it Jemma, let them take you.” Orion said from below.

Jemma was able to turn her head and watch the park fall away. As she gained altitude she could see the ground, which felt flat when you were on it, curve up and away on either side. As she, and the spider/butterflies, moved away from the edge of the vast cylinder the gravity, produced by centripetal acceleration was less and the roar of the wings became quieter as their weight faded. Jemma looked up at the sun-tube that ran down the center of the axis. It was closer than she had ever seen it.

“They are trained to stay away from that,” Orion said, “One of the first testers flew too close to the sun-tube and the webs melted. He fell.”

Orion had flown up on the jets attached to his carapace and was hovering right next to Jemma. His circuits were humming, a laser probe flashed out onto her, and Jemma knew he was scanning, checking on her reactions and emotions. Orion was always paying attention and doing what he could to make sure she was safe and happy. Jemma knew she loved him.

“Orion, I’ve always wanted to fly like you,” said Jemma. “Now I can.”

“Well, not like me, exactly. But I knew you’d enjoy the ride.”

“But why did you build these? Just for me?”

“Not exactly. We’re always working on the genetics and learning what we can do. It will be hundreds of generations for you and your people before we reach Tau Ceti and we have to make sure we are able to insure survival. We’re not even completely sure about what we’ll find when we get there. There is no room for error.”

Jemma didn’t answer. She was leaning back and looking past the sun-tube at the other side of the cylinder. There were green splotches of trees, winding blue streams, and gray paths. It was all so beautiful, so planned, so perfect. So little room for error.

Short Story Of the Day, A Boom in the Morning by Bill Chance

Everybody had to get up early and was scurrying around the house making plans for the day – who would go where, what they would do, and what they could skip.

—-Bill Chance, A Boom in the Morning

NASA Photo

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#22). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


A Boom in the Morning

Space isn’t remote at all. It’s only an hour’s drive away if your car could go straight upwards.

—-Sir Fred Hoyle

Hank knew it was going to be a busy, crazy day, and very warm for the first of February. His son had three soccer games and two basketball games. His daughter had art lessons and a basketball game. His car was in the shop. A typical insane Saturday in 2003 in a suburb east of Dallas.

Everybody had to get up early and was scurrying around the house making plans – who would go where, what they would do, and what they could skip.

He was looking for his wife’s keys when the house shook – some sort of boom. Even though the ground seemed to shudder for a split second it wasn’t really that loud, not much louder than the usual background rumbling vibrations from the three big freeways that surrounded their neighborhood. He was so preoccupied that he put it immediately out of mind. “What was that?” his wife Sara asked, “Was that a sonic boom?” If she hadn’t said that, he wouldn’t have remembered anything about the sound.

Sara drove him to her mother’s apartment and he borrowed her car (they had tried to figure out a way to get through the day with only one vehicle but couldn’t quite work it out). He drove home, picked up Elizabeth, their daughter, stopped by the bank to get money, left her at her art lesson (she took two one-hour lessons each Saturday, from nine to eleven AM), and drove down to Starbucks for a couple rare hours of relaxation.

Hank hadn’t been sitting very long when his cell phone rang.

“Did you hear about the shuttle,” an unknown voice said on the other end.

“What?”

“Oh, I think I punched the wrong number,” the voice said, and hung up.

A minute later it rang again; it was Sara, calling from the soccer fields.

“Did you hear about the shuttle?” she asked. He hadn’t been near a TV or live radio all day (He and Elizabeth had been listening to her favorite electronic dance station in the car – it’s only a tape playing on the radio, no DJ or news) and had no idea.

“Hang up, I’ll use something new, the Internet news feed on my Nextel cell phone to figure out what was up and call you back,” Hank said.

He punched into CNN from his phone and read on the tiny screen about the explosion and about the debris falling to the east, on Nacogdoches. Then he read about the sound, the explosion that could be heard.

He felt a sudden, terrible shock as he remembered what his wife had said an hour earlier and was sickened when he realized what it meant.

That was the boom… it was the shuttle blowing up over their heads.

He thought about the rest of the day, how busy they were going to be. Should they cancel anything? Was this going to change things? It had happened only a few miles over their heads.

No, no, nothing. For them, nothing would change. Hank continued to sip his coffee. Soon, he was thinking about his daughter’s afternoon basketball game, and if they had a chance of winning… not that he really cared.

With a Great Big Noise Like Thunder

It’s odd how I can remember some things from when I was a little kid (odd because I can never remember where my keys are or what my PIN number is). For example, I remember this record album. It was a strange little educational thing for kids, all about outer space. The cover sticks in my mind – a cone-shaped rocketship, a circular space station with hub and spokes, and maybe an astronaut floating free.

I must have listened to the thing a million times because I can even remember bits of some of the voices and some of the songs. One in particular… how did it go? “With a Great Big Noise Like Thunder, the Rocket Takes off for space.” That’s it.

Well, the Internet is nothing if not a time machine for wasting time looking up useless crap. And here it is – The Record Album.

A Child's Introduction to Outer Space

A Child's Introduction to Outer Spacechee

Let’s see, it came out in 1956, a year before I was born. I must have been really young when I was listening to it. That was a year before the first Sputnik, so I guess the album was ahead of its time.

Oh and the song, With a Great Big Noise Like Thunder? I was able to download the music – it is a lot cheesier than I remembered. But at that age, the cheesy sense isn’t very developed, it isn’t developed at all.

Now, not everything from back in the day is cheesy… well, maybe it is. But there is bad cheesy and good cheesy. You may disagree, but I think this video (ten years more recent than the children’s space record) is good cheesy.