The Whiff of a Spider

 

Chapter One.

The bell had been rung several times in fits and starts, or for as long as the ringer had strength in their arms, for it was a big, solid steel, hand held brute. But it was preferred by the headmaster, Mr Wolf, as it was traditional and in keeping with the ethos of the school, “Pertinacious” the posh private college for girls and boys aged between six and sixteen.

It was dinner time and the senior years, twelve to fourteen, were making their way like animals selected for the Ark, into the great hall to sit row upon row at right angles to the headmasters table, where he and the teaching staff would sit with all the pomp and circumstance demanded of them.

Friends, when it suited them, Charlie Huntsman and Vicky Hobo were sat at the middle table directly in front of the headmaster, not through any flash of favouritism, but because of their mischievous escapades and the need for them to be under surveillance, sat as they were on the two “naughty” chairs. Frankly the kitchen staff still hadn’t forgiven Charlie or managed to clean the serving dishes containing the remnants of cauliflower cheese and quick drying cement, neither had the teachers forgiven Vicky for injecting their mid-morning donuts with three colour toothpaste.

But at least the pupils, looked very smart in their crisp blue and white uniforms, apart from those that had suffered early morning playground scuffs, as they sat in accordance with the etiquette demanded, only when the teachers and the headmaster had finally sat down. He was dressed in his scarlet cloth gown with sleeves faced with silk and a soft black velvet cap on his head, which lent him respect and a degree of aloofness. Apart from this he was very well liked by everyone in the school, he never had any lasting problem with a boy or girl, was always engaging his charismatic smile to those deserved of it and was always interested in his students’ best efforts. However, should some uneducated little urchin put one finger out of place, they would find him more than capable of firing cannonball after cannonball at them, like some demented medieval gunner with a twitchy finger. The golden rule had to be re-enforced and so if you knew what was good for you and you wanted to avoid the naughty chair, you would remember its wording precisely; “Don’t! Just Don’t”

But on this day, having acknowledged the ashamed arrival of Charlie and Vicky who took to the naughty chairs, the headmaster had spent most of his time nattering to his left and right to fellow teachers and didn’t really notice when Charlie appeared to choke on a misguided Brussels sprout.

     “You Ok?” asked Vicky, concerned at the fact that Charlie’s eyes were as wide as a barn owl on speed and were directed straight at the headmaster,

    “Look there” he said, “There, there, my god, I thought that was just a rumour”. With more consideration than her friend, Vicky firstly checked that the headmaster was still engaged with the other teachers before taking a good look herself,

     “What?” she queried, having looked him and his immaculate dress over and over again, seeing nothing,

    “Mr Wolf’s moustache” Charlie exclaimed still transfixed. She looked again more focussed this time and then saw, unbelievably, a little spider scuttling about between the right and left side of the headmasters bushy, but well groomed, upper lip hair.

Being an alien transparent green, only five millimetres from top to tail, the little arachnid was hardly visible, apart from the four black eyes perched on the top of little stalks that it thrust forward from the depths every now and again, to check on what was happening. As the headmaster continued to preoccupy himself with his lunch, he inadvertently crunched the odd bit of flaky pastry and Yorkshire pudding allowing the debris to collect in his moustache, which was then hovered up by the spider like a housewife with an obsessive compulsive disorder.

When it was hungry its front legs would race each other to pick up the scraps and its fangs would flash busily in the light as it devoured crumb after crumb. In the panic to consume everything offered in that instance, its little body would swell up and its green transparency become compromised, but far from sitting back and dozing for the afternoon in front of the TV, it continued to work hard dragging chunks of carrot and broccoli up through the forestry until it reached the headmasters nose. Here, squirrel like, it would stockpile everything inside his left nasal cavity, jumping up and down upon it as a jumping spider would, to compact it, hard enough for it not to be dislodged but with consideration, knowing that it might be needed for a snack half way through the afternoon.

Chapter two.

As the course of the day meandered its way through classroom after classroom, Charlie and Vicky narrated the story of the spider to every pupil with a past record for mischief. They were especially careful to include those arty farty friends who immediately began covering the rear of toilet doors and basement changing rooms with apparitions of four to sixteen eyed spiders all sitting in Mr Wolfs beard brandishing razor sharp knives and forks.

It was only for the fact that Mr Wolf was so well respected that much of the excitement remained underground, or where it did surface the comments became cryptic, such as constant references to the World Wide Web and an attempt at “Banksy” graffiti by one Irish pupil entitled “The Plight of Paddy long legs”. The teachers hadn’t seen any of this campaign and wouldn’t understand it if they did, sitting facing forward at mealtimes they hadn’t been aware of the spider or any naughtiness emanating from the children. But by the time they sat down for the evening meal they knew something was up, as in the first instance children were falling over them-selves to get a place on one of the naughty chairs and in the second they were armed with binoculars, monocular, digital cameras, telescopes, even a magnifying glass. Once settled which was a feat in itself, the silence was deafening, the whole audience were sitting leaning in towards the middle tables to get a good view and maybe a scoop for the college magazine, perhaps even a Pulitzer Prize.

Mr Wolf looked up at everyone as he sat for his dinner, but everyone looked down in return so as not to give the game away, until the first course or starter, arrived. It was as cordon bleau as it was going to get, a melee of water cress leaves topped with Camembert fritters, the breadcrumb covering being the perfect thing for hungry spiders. And so as Mr Wolf began, his moustache became quickly charged with the flicks and flecks required and the little spider finally popped his four eyes out from the depths of the great forest. There were gasps from the audience, a brief silence, then a clatter of conversation accompanied by the clicking of camera shutters, as the little spider, a jumping Zebra according to Vicky who had researched it in her “Aaaaaarrgghh Spider!” book that afternoon, began chomping its way through the new serving.

There were further exclamations, as passionate in their description as something given by David Attenborough, as the spider wheeled around displaying each leg one at a time and it’s now bulging rear, ready to throw a silken missile at some passing fly. But if it was meat that was required the second course was from Spider heaven, as a plate oozing this year’s venison, came dripping from the kitchens. The fangs of the spider were so delighted and yet shocked by this that in trying to manoeuvre around a particular crumb, steak size when pro-rated down, the little spider fell, to a gasp from the children.

     “Now what’s all the noise about?” said Mr Wolf responding to the sudden exclamations, as the spider who had attached a long silken thread from its rear was now left swinging left and right in the breeze, less than two inches below the headmasters cleanly shaven chin.

    “Oh no, how’s it going to get back” Vicky whispered, concerned,

   “Who cares” Charlie replied adjusting his telephoto lens, “this is going to be great!” But he had to be quick if he wanted a picture as there was a busying of hairy legs and without a hesitation the spider scurried its way back to the safety of the moustache, accompanied by a round of applause.

Now more wary and proficient in dealing with venison, the little spider began to haul more massive crumbs up through the black mass of moustache hair and stockpile them in Mr Wolfs right nostril, the left being full already. As each new piece was religiously collected the spider jumped at the last to get over the ridge above the moustache, prompting the Master to twitch and sniffle until he wrapped his nose with the knuckle of his index finger, firstly from the right and then from the left, scattering little black crumbs of charred venison across his plate. But the four eyed jumping Zebra was so valuing of a bit of meat it merely flexed its legs to the hilarity of the watching crowds, shot out of the nose and descended to begin restocking.

Chapter three.

After the revelations of the day before, Charlie and Vicky couldn’t wait for lunch and had spent most of the morning misbehaving to ensure they booked a place on a naughty Chair.  The headmaster arrived dressed immaculately as always, but looking rather swollen around his nose. He was in fact overstocked, due entirely to the absence of rapping the side of his nose, since having a bandage applied to counter the sprained wrist he had sustained, after throwing a board rubber at Charlie.     

     “Well then Mr Huntsman” said Mr Wolf seeing him, sat to his front, “how’s the head?”

     “Fine thank you Sir, I think it only glanced off the side” he replied illustrating the board rubbers trajectory as he saw it with his hand,

     “Oh that will never do” Mr Wolf said, “Remind me to have another go this afternoon”

     “Yes Sir” said Charlie to the titters and giggles of all his friends sat within earshot, who appreciated Mr Wolfs banter at mealtimes, off the record so to speak. This was ordinarily exactly as Mr Wolf liked it too, usually contributing with a sly grin, detectable by the children that he taught, that knew him, but not so readily by his fellow teachers.

However, it was a no show day for the spider and there was no sly grin from Mr Wolf, no continued banter, only a grey complexion in his face that deepened as the swelling in his nose got ever greater. He continually lifted his hand to rap the side of his nose only to stop at the last minute as the bandage reminded him of his sprain. But twitching and sniffling, things couldn’t remain as they were for long and Mr Wolf began drawing in deep breaths which he held on tenterhooks for a moment before finally breathing out again. His fascinated audience found themselves doing the same thing, mimicking him in all sincerity, with little laughter until at the seventh holding point there was a verbal,

    “Ah… Ah… Ah….. Choooo” as Mr Wolf sneezed like a hurricane coming up from toes which shot the entire contents of both nasal cavities right across the table in front of him. There were venison crumbs, bits of broccoli and cabbage, grains of rice and gristles of bacon all unfolding from the compacted mass that left his nose, plastering the faces, camera and binocular lenses of the aracnifans, with an audible “urrrgh”.

But unbeknown to anyone, least of all Mr Wolf who was never aware anyway, the little spider was caught up in the violence, losing the grip of all six of his legs before finally finding itself being sucked from its lair deep in the moustache and catapulted into the air. As in comparison, there were only one pair of eyes for every now peppered child, no one saw the spider leave, where it went to or what state it might have been in, being covered by what in comparison would be huge boulders of food crumbs and flakes. This explosion of the stockpiles might well have reduced Mr Wolf’s swelling instantaneously, but it had also rendered him unconsciously like a large trout landed freshly on the riverbank gasping for air. His face went from red to blue and his breathing fell away to a whisper.

     “Call an ambulance” Vicky shouted, “Mr Wolf looks like he’s about to drop dead!”  Fortunately there was an orderly but swift response from the teachers, trained for every eventuality, but a mass panic amongst the children sat on the perpendicular tables that had witnessed everything, revelled in everything and were now sticky, damp and sorry that they had played this game to this conclusion.

Chapter Four.

The Headmaster was missing from school for two whole and cavernous days, until Charlie and Vicky saw him being stretchered down, covered in white woollen blankets from an ambulance parked outside of the Pertinacious Cottage Hospital, which was attached so purposely to the school grounds.

     “It’s Mr Wolf” they shouted as they ran across the clumped turf of the rugby pitch as the paramedics folded away the airline and heart monitor before transferring him, still unconscious, from stretcher to wheelchair, where he sat like a six foot two inch tree blowing in the wind. This shocked both of the children, Mr Wolf might have been getting on in years but he normally had a mind as sharp as a pin that on this occasion seemed to have rusted away. The attending nurses were looking just as concerned, even after extracting every last clinical detail from the ambulance men, who both shrugged their shoulders,

    “They can’t find anything wrong with him” said one, “all the tests are positive enough, he’s breathing, hearts good, BP’s fine. The doctors have said that he just needs to rest”

The County hospital had discharged Mr Wolf knowing that there was no family, the school being everything to him, so the paramedics thought it best to bring him directly to Pertinacious. They were so obviously correct to do so, as the two nurses with such fondness, despite their worries, were quick to take him onto the ward and get him into bed, connecting him up via a spaghetti of wiring to every new-fangled gadget from every orifice or slab of exposed skin until he bleeped at every breath. As soon as he was settled and with the permission of the nurses, he was instantly surrounded by a dozen seriously quiet children all willing him to get better and wake up.  He would have been proud to see them officially off campus, despite the rugby pitch connecting both buildings, as they were all in full uniform with tunics and blazers proudly displaying the schools crest and motto, “Dying to live, not living to die”

As they sat, there were tears in some of the children’s eyes. Even Charlie whose bottom was blistered from being so frequently confined to the naughty chair, had more respect for his teacher than James Bond. Then suddenly, there was an involuntary twitch of Mr Wolf’s hand and rolling of his eyeballs behind their shut tight lids, such that had everyone’s expectations were suddenly on the up, but it was only moments later that everyone sat back again with a sigh. Then as the sunshine peeked in through the window drenching the bed and warming everyone’s faces, there was a movement from Charlie’s blazer’s chest pocket as four very black eyes peeked out over the rim. Not everyone saw this at first until Vicky with a sudden intake of breath and one hand slammed across her mouth, pointed at the spider who jumped Zebra like down onto the bed.

The further shock of seeing the arachnid in its entirety, instead of merely breaking the cover of Mr Wolf’s moustache, resulted in sudden shock, as the eyes of the children inflated and they froze, waiting to see what was to happen next. But without delay after checking North, South, East and West, all at the same time, the spider jumped once, twice and then again, until with a plop and a sudden rustling of black hair, it disappeared back into Mr Wolfs moustache, from where it had been catapulted through the air, right into Charlies pocket, only days before.

Vicky looked directly at Charlie, who looked directly back at her, who then looked back at Mr Wolf, who yes, opened his eyes and looked up at everyone.

     “What the Devils going on here then?” he said, “shouldn’t you lot be in class?” But no one was listening to him as the cheering and frenetic outpouring of emotion drowned out even the nurses requests for quiet, as the flush of colour that was now returning to Mr Wolf’s face was sufficient to have him sat up acknowledging the affection being lathered on him, by the children he gave his very life to.

  “What a bizarre, fantastic recovery. One minute he seemed near deaths door, the next he’s back in the land of the living” said one of the bemused, but relieved nurses.

   “But yes” said a beaming Vicky, “this just goes to prove an old saying I read in a book yesterday”

     “Which was?” asked Charlie,

 “If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive!”