Poetry With Eight Feet
by Steven C. Levi
Translated by Cephalo Pedipalps
“What do you mean you can’t find him?” Arachno slammed six of his eight feet violently on the top of the table he used as a desk. Handfuls of pens jumped from their four separate jars. “You mean to tell me you can’t find the most popular poet in the country? What kind of detective are you anyway?”
Arachno slammed the phone down and scurried sideways to a window overlooking the forest. “Damn fly-face can’t find the poet! I mean, all he had to do was follow who was cashing the checks! How difficult can that be?”
Apparently it was more difficult than the detective had assumed. But then again don’t send a water skimmer to do a wolf spider’s job.
The day was not starting out that well. The magazine was two weeks behind schedule, the publisher, a Chilean red leg, was so upset she was throwing hairs at the staff and the heaviest of the financial backers, a funnel webber from Australia was spending his time looking over the editors like a ghoul as if he was considering who to devour.
“ARACHNO! GET IN HERE!” The widow in the Senior Editor’s chair was not happy. “What is this sticky carapace about no poet? We’re two weeks behind schedule and I’ve been waiting for an answer for an hour,” she tapped on her belly indicating the red symbol. “I’m so mad I could eat males!”
“Boss. I’ve got Harry on the job. He went to the return address and found a post box alongside the road with no burrow or web nearby. Now he’s...”
“Did he check to see if there were any tunnels or trees? Not all of our readers live in burrows or webs, you know.”
“Oh, he said he searched pretty thoroughly. There was a tunnel nearby, and the 12-eyes that lived there said that he was the only one near there.”
“Well, he was wearing glasses, Boss.”
“Holy Virgin Tarantula! You’ve got a sassy mandible!”
“Boss, look, he’s checking the banks nearby. Whoever’s been sending up the poems has been cashing the checks. We can trace whoever it is that way.” He scurried out of the room sideways before the editor could put her eating males comment into effect.
Back at his desk Arachno looked over the last two issues of Poetry With Eight Feet. Whoever was writing the poetry was good. Very good. Why, here on the back page was the latest. It was the science fiction narrative of an orb web spider who had used its web as a launching mechanism to capture pterodactyls. The work was stunning, not the usual cricket tripe about the joys of trap door bounding or water skimmer battles with salmon fry. This work was unusual.
The second poem was just as novel. It was a horror poem of the settling of a cloud of poisonous goo released from a flying cylinder. The goo was in the form of sticky droplets that attached to spider hair and sheeted the helpless victim with a poisonous shroud. The hero was a garden spider that used its own silk to make a flexible suit of armor. The poem ended with the hero using the cylinder of goo death as an anchor for its web.
Though the script was superb, the poet proved reclusive. He, or she, refused to respond to any letters. Arachno had sent Harry to find and interview the poet and two pages in the next publication had been reserved for that interview.
Personally, what particularly angered Arachno, though he kept silent about it, was that his own style of poetry was quite similar to that being published by this unknown poet. But, as Arachno learned quickly, Poetry With Eight Feet was a money-making proposition. The owners didn’t want their editors writing poetry; they wanted their employees selling the magazine. Given a choice between writing poetry from a garret in some tree or being fully employed but not writing poetry, Arachno preferred to keep his plate full of fly.
But the poet was proving more elusive on the ground than by the mail. As Harry told Arachno on the phone two days later, he had traced the royalty checks and discovered that they had been cashed, but all the bank could say was that the checks had been deposited by mail to the account of a large podiatric company, one that specialized in built-up slippers for spiders with instep deformities. Checking with the slipper firm, Flat Feet, Inc., all Harry could learn was that it had a silken trapdoor in the side of a hill. When he tried the service entrance, he got drop-kicked by the six powerful legs of the security force.
This was not good news. Now, here Arachno was, on deadline, with two pages empty, waiting for the profile on an unknown, unreachable poet by the unlikely name of “Eight-Footed Eddy.” He had his boss on his back, the publisher in a funk, the primary investor lurking in the halls and angry calls from subscribers coming by the webful.
The phone rang. It was Harry. He had good news and bad news. Which did Arachno want first?
“I’ll go for good news first,” he said and he twiddled with three pencils. “I need it this morning.”
“I’ve found your poet and she — it’s a she — has agreed to an interview.”
“Great!” Arachno held his breath. If this was the good news, what was the bad? “Now, what’s the bad news?”
“Well, she’s a cricket.”
“A cricket? CRICKET? CRICKET?!”
“Yeah, you know, as in lunch.”
“CRICKET! How am I going to use that as two-page filler?!”
“It gets worse, Boss. She says she wants rights to reprint the interview in the Cricket Poetry Gazette.”
“Well, Boss, I’m not sure but I think...”
“I don’t pay you to THINK! Listen fly-face, hold the line. Let me think.”
Arachno put down the phone and started for the door. The publisher ought to handle this. But just as he touched the door handle he thought better of it. HOW was he going to explain that the best poems ever published in an exclusive spider’s poetry magazine had been written by a cricket? A cricket! Then he’d have to explain how a cricket’s work got past his desk. THAT would be embarrassing.
He could cover himself by saying that he was the author but as soon as the next edition of Poetry With Eight Feet hit the web circuit, the cricket poet would come out of the woodwork and expose Arachno as a fraud. Either way, Arachno knew, his abdomen was in a wringer.
Arachno went back to the phone. “Harry?”
* * *
That issue, as it turned out, was a booming success, particularly the interview with Eight-Footed Eddy.
“I’m sorry to hear that Eddy wants to be left alone,” the publisher said as she groomed her hair with two of her back feet. “I was looking forward to a photo of her. She sounds fascinating. Educated at Webb and freelancing under a dozen names. An absolute recluse, how thrilling! I might have even read some of her books and not known it.”
“Yes, life has its surprises doesn’t it.” Arachno smiled as he held three glasses of champagne, sipping each one in turn.
“Oh, there’s the Australian investor. You’ll have to excuse me.” The publisher left just as the Senior Editor made it into the room. She spotted Arachno and scurried over, a bit tipsy from the champagne. Everyone knew the widow was a lush.
“Great interview, Arachno. Good script. To be honest with you, I didn’t think you could do it in time. Nothing personal.”
“Well, it was close but Harry finally found her.”
“Speaking of Harry,” the Widow leaned close to Arachno and said confidentially, “Have you noticed that he’s put on some weight lately?”
Now that she was so close to Arachno, the Widow put two legs on his shoulder and whispered, “Want to go to my place and mate?”
Copyright © 2006 by Steven C. Levi