So blame Mr. Hockensmith (then read all his books, which are all top of the heap excellent) and to Steve, my apologies for dragging your name into this.
I decided to put the story up here because really, who's going to publish this? Of course, if you want to, just drop me a line. Otherwise, feel free to link to it, copy and paste it, print it out and distribute it to a first grade class. Just give me credit where credit is due, and don't leave out Steve Hockensmith. He ought to suffer the same wrath I do from the legions of fans this book deservedly has.
CHARLOTTE’S WEB OF DECEIT
by Eric Beetner
(For Steve Hockensmith)
From high in the rafters above the pig pen, Charlotte watched as the afternoon crowd of curious onlookers pushed and squeezed against each other for a look at her web.
"Well, folks, that about wraps it up for today," Mr. Zuckerman said. "Wilbur needs his beauty rest."
"He sure is some pig," someone in the crowd said, echoing the words woven into Charlotte’s web.
As the crowd began to disperse the folks waved at Wilbur, some blew kisses, but same as the other days since the first message appeared, nobody thanked Charlotte. They didn't glance upwards to the rafters where she hid, nobody mentioned the skill of the web making, only the words written in silk as if some divine hand had put them there and not the midnight artistry of a skilled weaver.
The animals in the barnyard all said a goodnight to Wilbur. The sheep and the lambs spoke in a chorus. The goose with her fast talking skronk, “Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight Wilbur.”
Even Templeton the rat paused as he left the trough with an armload of uneaten apple cores and corn cobs. “‘Night Wilbur. Save me some breakfast, will ya?”
“Will do, Templeton,” Wilbur said cheerfully.
But did anyone say goodnight to Charlotte? No.
Below, Wilbur strutted with a newfound pride while overhead Charlotte simmered with her own new feeling – jealousy.
That pig, who wallowed in filth all day long, was seen as some sort of miracle, some great achievement. And for what? Because someone said something nice about him in a web? What did he do to earn their respect and adulation? Nothing.
She was the one. The artist. The inspiration. The savior. She kept the axe from his neck and nobody even knew she existed.
As the sun set the spider rubbed her forelegs together and gave in to the arachnid thoughts playing across her mind. She decided that night to weave a different message.
"Pa, come quick. There's a new message in Wilbur's pen!"
The excitement across the barnyard never seemed to dull with each new message Charlotte spun. As the farmer and his wife gathered at the gate with Lurvy the farmhand and young Fern beside them, they all stared up into the web, still glistening with early morning dew and cast golden by the breaking sun reaching the barn posts.
The usual excited chatter was, this morning, replaced by a slack-jawed silence. Mr. Zuckerman broke the quiet first.
"Am I reading that right?"
Wilbur, who couldn't read, let the piggish smile drop from his face as he turned to the rafters where Charlotte hid in the shadows. She was exhausted from the night’s work, but she had to see the reaction first hand. The looks on their faces were as delicious as a horsefly caught in the center of her web.
The animals all joined the Zuckermans, little Fern and Lurvy as they stared up at the new word: TASTY.
They kept it to themselves this time. No crowds came to gawk. Nobody patted Wilbur's rump with its stiff bristly hairs and smell of manure and rotten leftovers from the farmer’s kitchen.
"Maybe it's like a double meaning," Lurvy said. "Tasty means good, right? Maybe it's just a different way of saying good."
This seemed to brighten everyone's mood, or at least clear away the confusion.
"By golly I think you're right," Mr. Zuckerman said.
Charlotte steamed in her hiding spot as the call was put out to let the rubberneckers come. They were told a new message was written in the web and it meant good. In no time at all the word passed through the crowd and gained new meaning. That new car Del got was mighty tasty. The rains brought crops this year that were awful tasty compared with last year. Fern’s new dress looked positively tasty on her.
When evening settled and the humans had gone, Wilbur thanked Charlotte in his usual childlike squeaky voice, a voice Charlotte had begun to despise.
"Gee, thanks Charlotte," Wilbur said. "I sure wish I had your gift of vocabulary. Sometimes you use words I never knew what they truly meant."
"Yes, of course, Wilbur. My pleasure. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm dead tired because of all my hard work on your behalf." Charlotte retreated to her hiding place in the rafters. "Why, it's been two days since I’ve caught so much as a mosquito. These new webs aren't exactly designed for catching dinner you know."
"Gosh, Charlotte, you’re ever so nice to me."
That's all she got. Not an offer to tear down the web so she could eat. He'd rather her starve than stop the flood of well wishers and sycophants coming by to pretend his dung didn't stink. Well, it did.
That night she knitted a word in silk that no one could misinterpret.
Mr. Zuckerman's slack jaw had an extra quality to it the next morning. A bit of drool forming in the corners of his mouth.
Absently he licked his lips as he stared up at the newly spun word in the morning light. His eyes went from the web down to Wilbur, then back to the web and the word frozen there: BACON.
"What's it say, Charlotte?" Wilbur asked.
"It says bacon."
"And what's that?"
Templeton slithered out from under the slop trough. "You don't know what bacon is?"
Charlotte cut him off before he could continue. "More important than what it means, Wilbur, is the fact that everyone loves bacon."
"Everyone?" Wilbur asked in a hopeful voice.
Chilled by the spider's calm demeanor, Templeton slid back into hiding, away from Charlottes compound eyes, which seemed to glow a little bit red today.
Talk around the farmyard was hushed that day. The farmer and Lurvy stood to the side and whispered, pointing at Wilbur and then shaking their heads as if they didn't know what to do.
But Charlotte did.
The next morning Charlotte unveiled her masterpiece. Rendered in silk, in 3/4 scale, was a complete outline of a hog with dotted lines (a tricky feat in web silk) marking the different cuts of meat. She'd outlined ham hocks, pork chops, the loins, the belly, the rump. It was a rendering worthy of the finest butcher shop in town.
A meeting was called in the Zuckerman’s house.
The sheep avoided the area of the pig pen all day. The goose kept a squinty eye on Charlotte, half starved yet looking fully satiated.
"Gee, Charlotte," Wilbur said. "Sure is quiet today."
"That's life on a farm, Wilbur. Trust me, things will get very exciting soon. Don't you know what they say about the calm before the storm?"
"Golly you're smart."
And you're dumb, thought Charlotte. Ignorant. Dimwitted. Imbecilic. Moronic. All the juicy words she could weave into her web were delicious on her tongue.
No crowds came that day. No parades, no songs in Wilbur's honor. The silence, to Charlotte, was blissful.
On Easter Sunday the eggs were gathered from the chicken coops and hidden around the yard. Fern and her cousins all shrieked as they ran to find the hidden treasures.
The mood in the barn was quiet different. Sullen, the animals shuffled feet and tried not to lift their noses to the smells coming from the kitchen in the farmhouse. The sweet glaze over the ham, the salty tang in the air of slow roasted meat.
The pig pen stood empty. Above, Charlotte was busy spinning a web. No words, nothing fancy, just a time honored method of gathering food. The circle of life and all that.
She felt the hard glare of eyes below and Charlotte stopped her work to look at the sheep watching her. Templeton stared from the fence post and the goose narrowed her eyes from beyond the pen.
"Yes?" Charlotte said.
"How could you?" said the sheep.
"How could I what?"
"You sent Wilbur to his death. Now he's supper on the table."
"Wasn't that always to be his fate? Isn't that the fate for all of you?"
A murmur ran through the assembled crowd of animals. The goose stretched her long neck and spoke to Charlotte in an accusing tone. "What kind, what kind of monster are you?"
Charlotte smiled and went back to her web spinning. "Why, a black widow of course."