SIX LEGS TOO MANY – a short story for kids of all ages

I wrote this story years ago, and it did quite well in a competition, coming within the top 10% of a ‘long-list’ though sadly didn’t make it through to the final. I suppose one of the main flaws of this story is that in many countries outside the UK where I live, it’s not a good plan to encourage children to pick up spiders! So for the duration of this story, pretend you live in the UK where spiders aren’t poisonous, just a bit–spidery. It’s a bit long, I’m afraid.

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Jack and his family lived in a big old house. None of them liked the house very much. The roof leaked, and the plumbing made loud clanking noises whenever anyone flushed the toilet or turned on a tap. Worse than that, at night when Jack lay under the bedcovers, the whole house seemed to creak and groan. It was scary.

There was something else Jack and his family hated about the old house. It was full of spiders.

In the kitchen there was a spider that lived on the lampshade. Sometimes in the evening it dangled down and when the light was on, there were shadows of huge dancing legs – eight of them – on the wall.

There was another spider living under the fridge. Jack was always scared it would rush out and bite his toes when he was getting out the milk for his breakfast cereal.

One spider often ran across the worktop and hid behind the kettle. And there was a really huge one hiding behind the cereal packets in the cupboard that Jack could only reach by standing on a chair.

Every single room in the house was the same. It seemed as though spiders lurked in every corner.

No one in the family liked spiders. But they all had different reasons for disliking them.

Mum hated their bright shiny eyes. Dad hated the messy webs they left all over the place. Jack’s big sister Emily hated the way they scurried along really quickly. Jack’s big brother Brad didn’t like that their legs were hairy.

And there was something about their legs that Jack hated too. It was the quantity. They had eight legs, and as far as Jack was concerned, that was six legs too many!

Now Jack would never hurt a spider. He wasn’t one of those mean people who pulled spiders’ legs off, or who whacked them with a newspaper to kill them or flushed them down the toilet or slurped them up with the vacuum cleaner. He hated to be mean to anything or anyone.

But he still didn’t like spiders one little bit.

There was one that lived in the corner of his bedroom, up by the ceiling, above the wardrobe. But this was not the spider that was to blame for what happened next.

There was another one that lived under the china cabinet by the front door in the hall. But this was not the spider that was to blame for what happened next.

There was another one that lived in the cupboard under the stairs, and whenever anyone needed a broom, or a rag, or an old newspaper, or a new bag for the vacuum cleaner, there it was, watching them with its little shiny eyes from the top of the fuse cupboard.

But even this one was not the spider that was to blame for what happened next.

One Sunday evening, Jack’s sister Emily was having a bath. The next day was Monday and a school day, so the children were all getting ready for bed earlier than on a Friday or Saturday night.

Emily was sploshing about, having a great time blowing piles of bubbles off her hand and wondering if Mum would let her friends Kally and Kylie come for tea. Suddenly, as she was about to take a huge breath to swoosh another heap of bubbles off her hand, she realised the bubbles weren’t very white and bubbly. They were rather brown and leggy and…spidery

Emily screamed! She scrambled out of the bath and pulled on her pyjamas and bathrobe even though she was still wet and bubbly. Then she charged out of the bathroom still screaming as loud as she could. She bumped into the rest of her family on the landing outside the bathroom. They had all rushed to see what was going on.

It took Mum half an hour to calm everyone down and get Emily dried off and into a dry pair of pyjamas. It took Dad ten minutes to search the bathroom for a ‘gigantic’ spider as big as Emily’s head. He was armed with a broom, but he couldn’t find a spider of any shape or size.

It took Mum and Dad another ten seconds to decide it was time to move to a new house.

It took a long time, but eventually the great day came when Jack and his family moved into their brand new house.

It had only just been built. The walls were clean and freshly painted. The carpets were soft and absolutely spotless. The windows were double-glazed and so were the front and back doors. Nothing small with far too many legs could get in through any tiny gap or crevice because there were no gaps or crevices.

When Jack and his family stepped inside the house the day they moved in, it felt as though they were the first people ever to go inside.

Jack ran off excitedly to investigate his new bedroom.

There was a wide windowsill. It was clean and white. Nothing walked along any of the gleaming surfaces. Nothing dangled from the curtains or curtain rails. As he looked about him he saw that there were no little hairy bodies hanging from the ceiling in the room’s corners. Nothing trotted about on the lampshade. It was all completely uninhabited.

All that remained to be examined was the big built-in cupboard in the corner

Jack tiptoed up to the door. He put out his hand and bit by bit he stretched his fingers closer to the handle. Closer. Closer. Eventually he felt his fingertips touch the cool metal of the handle. Carefully he opened the door. Wider. Wider. Until it was wide, wide open. Jack peeked in and could see that hiding inside the cupboard was…Nothing!

Jack’s mouth gaped open in surprise. The cupboard was empty! Never in his whole life had Jack seen a completely empty cupboard!

He ran downstairs to tell everyone, but they were already talking just as excitedly about their own empty cupboards.

Soon they had moved in their furniture. Soon the books and toys, CDs and DVDs, kitchen utensils and all their clothes were all unpacked and put into their new places, and in a very short time, the family got used to being in the New House.

But sometimes Jack thought about the old house. And sometimes he would look behind the cereal packets and feel surprised that there was nothing scurrying about behind there. And sometimes he would hear people talking about spiders and he would think, we used to have lots of those at our old house.

But not at the New House.

One day Jack was telling his friend that there wasn’t a single spider in the whole house. They almost had an argument because his friend said every house had at least one spider. Jack said, no, not this house. They got very cross with one another.

‘Prove it!’ Jack’s friend said,

‘All right,’ said Jack, ‘let’s go on a spider hunt!’

They borrowed a torch from Jack’s Dad. They searched the whole house from top to bottom. It took them the whole morning. All they found was a lost sock.

Finally Jack’s friend had to agree that there was not a single spider to be found in the whole place. He said it was probably the only house in the whole world with no spiders at all inside.

After his friend had gone home, Jack sat looking out of his bedroom window. The sky was cloudy and grey. The trees in the garden were bare. A few old leaves blew about on the ground and it was too cold for flowers. Soon it would be Christmas.

Jack felt sad. He didn’t know why. He and his friend weren’t cross with each other anymore, and Jack would see him the next day at school. So that wasn’t why he was sad.

Outside he could see the big door of the garage. Next to it was a big bush. The leaves trembled a little in the chilly breeze. Something tiny caught Jack’s eye.

He ran downstairs. He put on an old jacket and his trainers, squashing his feet into them without undoing the laces. He ran to the back door and opening it, and stood there looking out. It was cold out there. It wouldn’t be very nice to be out there without a warm jacket.

He jumped down the step and walked over to the garage door. It took him one minute to find what he was looking for. Then he saw it.

He ran back inside and went into the kitchen to get a big plastic jug from the cupboard. Luckily Mum and Dad were busy in the sitting room, or they would have asked lots of questions.

Jack went back outside with the jug. He looked up at the twig sticking out by the garage door. He stood on tiptoes, holding the jug up high with one hand and with the other he shook the twig a few times.

He brought the jug back down and held it in front of him. He looked inside.

Sure enough there was a small body in there, lying on the plastic floor of the jug, not moving. Jack watched it anxiously for a few minutes, afraid the spider might be dead. He wondered if he should get Mum or Dad to take it to the Vet. Perhaps it had frozen to death.

But then one of the legs twitched slightly and began to move, then another one also began to move.

Checking that no one was around, Jack went back into the house, carefully carrying the jug.

He carried the jug upstairs then stood on the landing wondering what would be the best place for a rather cold spider. He didn’t really want it in his bedroom, and he didn’t think the bathroom was a good idea, just in case it popped up in the bubbles again.

In the end, Jack decided to tip the spider out onto the landing windowsill. He thought that because there was a plant and there were curtains, there would be lots of places for a spider to hide, and it was much, much warmer than living outside in the wintertime.

Jack didn’t tell anyone about the spider—spiders were not a favourite topic of conversation for his family. Every so often he would look for it by the landing window. Sometimes he saw it, and sometimes he didn’t.

When he didn’t, he worried a little about where it might turn up. But nothing bad ever happened, so that meant everything was all right. And somehow Jack liked knowing that the New House had another creature living in it.

But one day, as Jack was going past the bathroom. he noticed something rather strange.

His Dad was leaning over the side of the bath and he appeared to be talking to himself.

Jack wondered what was going on and went over to stand next to Dad and look into the bath.

What Jack saw made him gasp.

He looked at Dad with huge anxious eyes. Dad looked just as worried.

It was a spider. It was trying to climb up the steep sides of the bath.

Dad didn’t seem cross, so Jack watched the spider. Dad watched it too.

‘It’s quite clever really,’ said Dad.

‘The sides are so slippery. How does it do that?’ Jack wondered. ‘If we were that small, we wouldn’t be able to climb an inch up the side.’

They watched as the spider kept climbing up the side of the bath but just as it got near the top it would slide back down to the bottom and have to start all over again.

‘Can it get out?’ Jack asked.

‘I don’t know,’ said Dad.

‘I’m worried,’ said Jack. ‘What if it can’t get out and it starves to death?’

‘Or it might drown if someone doesn’t see it and fills the bath up,’ said Dad, looking even more worried.

‘Or boil if the water is too hot!’ Now Jack was really anxious. Dad patted him on the shoulder. Then he picked up the sponge and held it carefully beneath the spider, until the spider climbed onto it.

Jack and Dad looked closely at the spider. It was quite a nice shade of browny-grey, and even if it did have way too many legs, and hairy ones at that, it was strangely beautiful.

As Dad and Jack sat on the bathroom floor looking at their rescued spider, the rest of the family suddenly appeared in the doorway.

Oh no, thought Jack, there’ll be a big fuss now. And there was, though not the kind he’d expected.

Mum said, ‘So that’s where Chloe got to!’

They all looked at her in surprise.

‘That’s not Chloe, that’s my Kylie!’ said Emily. But Brad laughed.

‘No way! That’s Beckham. I’d know those hairy legs anywhere!’

Dad held up his free hand. ‘That, my friends, is not Chloe, Kylie or Beckham. That’s definitely Gnasher.’

A little voice spoke from behind Dad.

‘You’re all wrong, that’s my Frankenstein! And I should know, I brought him indoors!’ Jack announced.

They all looked at each other and then began to laugh. Then they all watched as Dad set the spider on the floor behind the bathroom door where it could look for insects or have a nap to recover from its ordeal.

So now, none of Jack’s family hates spiders. And one by one, spiders began to appear in the New House in all sorts of places.

And now they never put spiders outside, especially if it’s cold. Or wet. Or foggy. Or too hot. Or cloudy. Or if it’s a day ending in Y.

The End

 

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