Wednesday, October 26, 2022

You Are Now Entering...The Stilton Zone

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought I'd do a little change of pace and present a very short story that hopefully has an appropriate amount of fun seasonal creepiness.

About a week ago, this story just told me that it wanted to be written. I didn't feel like writing a story, nor had I done so in years. I wasn't aware of thinking about anything even vaguely related to the story's subject matter. And why bother to write a story anyway? 

Because I had to. 

A favorite saying of mine is "people become writers because they can't help it." So here's a story I couldn't help writing. The setting is small town America back in the 1950's, and the story is about...

          THE MAN WHO BOUGHT SPIDERS          

Stilton Jarlsberg, Halloween, story, spiders

The screen door slammed behind him as Davy Thompson exploded into the house.

“Mom! Hey, Mom!” he shouted, looking around eagerly.

“Not here!” called a male voice.


“I said she’s not here,” Davy’s dad repeated over the sound of rushing water. He was washing his hands in the bathroom sink. “Gone to the grocery store.”

“Nooooo,” Davy moaned theatrically as he rushed into the bathroom. “I need to ask her if we’ve got any empty jars!”

“Why don’t you ask me if we have any empty jars?”

“You don’t never know that kind of stuff,” Davy argued as he handed his father a towel.

“I don’t ever know that kind of stuff,” Dad corrected. “But maybe this time I do.”

“Do we have any empty jars?” Davy asked.

“I don’t know,” Dad shrugged - then chuckled at his son’s look of dismay. “Kidding. I’ve got a few of them on my workbench to put screws and nails in.”

“Thanks!” shouted Davy, already racing for the basement steps.

“Hold on, hold on! What’s all the excitement about empty jars, anyway?”

“I’m making money,” Davy explained impatiently, “and I need empty jars with lids on ‘em!”

“Well, I guess you can’t use them for begging if they’ve got lids on,” mused Dad, “so what’s your scheme?”

“I’m selling spiders to Old Man Haberman. All the guys are! That’s why I’m in a hurry!”

Dad settled into his chair in the living room, amused and curious.

“Mr. Haberman, the henpecked guy down the street?”

“What’s ‘henpecked?’”

“Doesn’t matter. You say he’s buying spiders?”

“All he can get and a dime apiece!” Davy’s eyes glowed with the anticipation of great wealth. “And we must have a million spiders around here!”

“Quite likely,” Dad agreed. “But why would Haberman be buying spiders…?”

“Dad, I gotta get going!”

“Hold your horses, we’re having a conversation here. Why is Mr. Haberman buying spiders?”

“Heck, I don’t know. I guess he just likes ‘em!”

“Is he killing them? Putting them in his garden?” Dad prompted.

“No, he puts ‘em in his house!” The exasperation was clear in Davy’s voice. “Jar after jar. Shakes ‘em out and off they skedaddle. They’re all over the place and I’ve got to catch more spiders before he stops buying ‘em!”

Dad’s brow furrowed and he leaned in toward Davy, perplexed. 

“So he’s filling his house with spiders? Did you see this?”

“Sure did! I saw Nick running over there with a couple of jars and followed him to see what was going on. All the guys were over there on Old Man Haberman’s porch and he was passing out money to beat the band and dumping spiders inside his house!”

“Well, I can’t imagine Mrs. Haberman is going to like that. Not that she likes much of anything.”

“She ain’t there,” Davy pointed out.

“She isn’t there,” Dad corrected. “Where is she?”

“Old Man Haberman said she ran off a few days ago and won’t be coming back.”

“Ran off where?”

“I asked and he thought for a minute, then he said she ran off to join the circus.”

“What, like a clown?”

“That’s what I asked! He said she’d be more like a Ringmaster so she could stand in a spotlight with a big megaphone and tell people what to do all the time!”

Dad leaned back in his chair, genuinely puzzled.

“That would fit her personality,” he conceded, “but it just doesn’t make any sense.”

“Dad!” Davy barked, “I’m gonna miss out if I don’t get going!”

“Okay, okay - help yourself to the jars and every spider you can find!”

Davy wheeled on his heels and again bolted for the basement steps.

“Davy,” Dad called.

His son’s shoulders drooped in frustration. “What now?!”

“What kind of spiders is he buying?”

“See, I asked him that too, and he said it didn’t matter!”

Davy dashed down the steps to the basement, his voice echoing up the stairwell.

“Didn’t matter at all as long as they can eat a lot of flies!”


Jim Horn said...

So you put this fine tale on the Web...

Anonymous said...

Oh my! What possibly could be causing all of those flies?

JRMD said...

Or maggots maybe!!?

M. Mitchell Marmel said...

There was an old woman
Who's covered in flies
I don't know why
She's covered in flies
Perhaps she's died?


Brie Camembert said...

I know an old lady who swallowed a fly.
I don't know why she swallowed a fly.
Perhaps she'll die.

I know an old lady who swallowed a spider
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
I don't know why ...

... I know an old lady who swallowed a horse.
She's dead.
Of course.

Bobo the Hobo said...

That. Was. Freaking . Amazimg! Absolutely wonderful, Stilt! [insert appropriate applause here]

I absolutely loved it!

Anonymous said...

Uh oh. Good morning!

Xoph said...


Ralph said...


Anonymous said...

Well written....kind of wakes up the BRAIN. !

Wayne in Indiana

Anonymous said...

Excellent! I didn’t see that twist coming..

Shang said...

Whoa! Good one.

Henk Vandenbergh said...

I didn't see THAT coming.
Thanks for putting a big smile on my face.

Anonymous said...

Nice little story. Gonna share that one.

jimbro said...

Haha, great one! Thanks for sharing

ruralbob said...

As Dave Barry might say, "What's that smell?"

Mesquite Country said...

Oh my! That story is hilarious and scary! Thank you for making me laugh this morning!

TrickyRicky said...

Great story for Halloween! Definitely had a Twilight Zone vibe.

VideomanSS said...

Good One!!!

Joe Drypowda said...

That was a dandy!! Got any more ??

Anonymous said...

The flies crawl in
The flies crawl out
In your ear
And out your snout
You wipe the pus
With a piece of bread
And that’s what you eat
When you are dead!

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Mike aka Proof said...

A shovel and a bag of lye would probably be cheaper!

Anonymous said...

Is THAT why my sweetheart is buying spiders?

Stilton Jarlsberg said...

@Readers- I'm glad you liked it! And for anyone out there whose response is "I still don't get it," that's okay too. Truth be told, I sort of imagined this as an unusually troubling episode of the Andy Griffith show, with this conversation taking place between Andy and Opie. We'd end with Andy looking quite serious as the sinister pieces click, after which he'd say "That many spiders must be really something to see. Believe I'll take a drive over to Mr. Haberman's house..."

But that would take the fun out of having the last word in the story being the one that unlocks everything else. It's basically the punchline to a macabre joke.

And while I don't plan to be shoving further literary efforts down your throats here, I'm pleased to say that work is continuing very nicely on the fun (honest!) tribute project I'm doing and am still on schedule to have it available before Christmas. Whether I can also have the holiday collection of Johnny Optimism cartoons ready in that timeframe is a bit dicier, but still my hope!

A final note- Actually, today's story wouldn't really be a "Twilight Zone" sort of thing, but would have been more at home on "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." But I thought it played better to say "The Stilton Zone" instead of "Stilton Jarlscock Presents."

Anonymous said...

Sure Didn’t See That End Coming!
Thanks For My Morning Laugh 😆

Duke of URL VFM#391 said...

This is great - the twist-ending really impressed me.

Oldarmourer said...

Could easily have been on 'Tales from the Crypt' or any other of the 'thriller' programs.
Fine work indeed and it has that fifties tilt to the telling that works so well.

mamafrog said...

Truly excellent story, though I rather suspected that was going to be the ending. I enjoyed reading it and it's definitely a Hitchcock-esque type! Or even the Andy Griffith ending, can just see Barney doing his shtick routine while Andy arrests the man, with a bit of sage and waggish advice at the end, lol. Yes, I read way too many mysteries and I love one with just a bit of spooky suspense and a nice twist ending (not the gruesome and nasty ones though, ugh).

Unknown said...

.......and, then what happened? Forcing the use of our imagination again, I see.

Paul Donohue said...

Very well done, although I suspect that old man Haberman might have started with a couple of larger animals to do the bulk of the work. Excellent Halloween story.

I do hope that you finish the Johnny Optimism strips for the holidays. I'd hate to miss them.

Thanks, Stilt, for sharing with us. It's always pleasant to hear my phone ding at night. I know that it'll b waiting for me in the morning.

M. Mitchell Marmel said...

Louie V.'s latest:

I could concentrate for hours
My presidential powers
To compensate Ukraine
For squashing my indictment
Just imagine my excitement
If I only had a brain

My son whose crack addicted
And I should be convicted
For crimes we can’t explain
To avoid repercussions
I could pin it on the Russians
If I only had a brain

Oh, I would theorize
Inflation’s on the rise
I’d admit we weaponized the FBI
And then I’d quit and run and hide

We stole the last election
There was no insurrection
The left has gone insane
I’d concede I’m a loser
And Pelosi is a boozer
If I only had a brain

I would not be just a pedo
An old perverted weirdo
A legacy of shame
Takin’ showers with my daughter
A molester under water
If I only had a brain

Lee The Voice said...

Neat story. The punch ;line made me laugh. Thanks.

polimath said...

With your permission I'll run this by the writer group on Blab and freak them out too, Great little story. Well done.

mamafrog said...

@ M. Mitchell Marmel, that is too, too clever! Yes, I had to sing it while reading. He is truly funny and creative.

Julian said...

LOOOOOOVE IT!!!!!!!!!! thank you good sir!!!!!!!!

Julian said...

BTW I think Jarlscock is a perfectly good identifier. AND BTW- if you want to hear a REALLY creepy, somewhat subtle and lingering narration, give a listen to one of the Magnus Archive stories, A Guest fir Mister Spider.... the ending us similarly understated and effective! Enjoy,

DougM said...

Good yarn for tellin' kids around a campfire

Stilton Jarlsberg said...

@Anonymous - Glad you liked it!

@Duke of URL VFM#391- I enjoyed writing it. Or maybe just transcribing it as it came into my brain from...somewhere.

@Oldarmourer- It just felt to me that this should have a 50's setting, perhaps because that was the era of my own childhood. But also because it was a time when kids collected bugs in jars, a dime was a lot of money (for a kid, anyway), and home didn't have air conditioning and so generally granted more access to flies.

@mamafrog- I assume that anyone who has ever read a mystery was fully up to speed about the fate of Mrs. Haberman when they read she was "gone and not coming back." So that isn't the mystery here. The mystery is...why is Old Man Haberman buying spiders? And that was fun to reveal with the last word of the story.

@Unknown- Using imagination builds character!

@Paul Donohue- I'm trying to get the Johnny collection put together. Having done two previous collections it shouldn't be hard for me to put together the new one, only I've got more stupidity working against me than usual. But I'm trying!

@M. Mitchell Marmel- Well that right there is a thing of beauty!

@Lee The Voice- Since you're a radio guy, you can probably recognize that this story is practically a little OTR radio script. It's a form I really enjoy.

@polimath- By all means share the story, and thank you!

@mamafrog- I sang it too!

@Julian- I'm just glad that people liked the story instead of saying "what the hell is wrong with you, Stilt?" And thanks for the link to the other story - I'll check it out!

@DougM- Another good story for kids and campfires is "Revenge of the Toasted Marshmallow." Scary!

Colby Muenster said...

I think I speak for all Stilton's Placers; we want more!


Anonymous said...

Many of us saw that end coming but apparently Mrs. Haberman did not. What a good, even inspirational story.

Rod said...

If a Scouter told that tale to a bunch of Scouts on a Halloween camping trip; the later response from the "Karen" mothers back home could be interesting. I could have used this story a long time ago.

And Yes, we once took a Fall camping trip to a scout camp in East Texas which has an old graveyard; and we made late night hike to that old landmark. But the knucklehead roles were reversed on that one. A young scout laid down in the ditch alongside of old dark & long road to the graveyard; and scared the hell of the Senior Patrol Leader when he walked by.

It was one of funniest things I've ever seen. And both of those "A Scout is Brave" young men eventually earned Eagle Rank.

DougM said...

Stilt, Rod
I remember only two:
• The Cremation of Sam McGee
• The one with the line, "And there was that sound outside, again, *rap*rap*rap*"

Rod said...

Oh yes, those are good ones. When we were there in mid 70's there was a good active roadhouse west of Fairbanks Alaska a few miles. They had a lively crowd & great stage shows which often featured live presentation of Robert Service poems. Sam McGee was always good. And not spooky, but I like Spell of the Yukon & Bessie's Boil. Now I wish for better memory for this stuff; and/or had taken notes starting long time ago. Thanks for your post.

mamafrog said...

And just in time, here's another one in the same vein as yours Stilton! I just ran across it today:

Anonymous said...

Puts me in mind of (IIRC) a Ray Bradbury story about a creepy neighbor growing (unknown) mushrooms/fungi in his basement, and trying to invite his neighbors down into the basement to "see" them.
Same level of unknown and creepy, even though you can figure out the ending.

President Elect B Woodman

Rod said...

Oh that was a good one. Your Dad had been setting himself up for a good fright too. Very well played young Stilton, with a credit to your sister a.

My Dad was the better "Spooker" than me because he was the "ham" actor year-round and a great Teller of Tall Tales. Halloween ALWAYS prompted fake fangs, Frankenstein acts, and Boris Karloff impressions; but Mom was more into spooky sounds Jack O'Lanterns and graveyards in the lawn. Now our daughter is carrying on the tradition at Halloween; and I help a little bit. BOO! Scared ya huh? And eventually... Mom also received an aerial fireworks show the night following her internment as well; then we got out of the cemetery the back way.

Alfonso Bedoya said...

Great spider story. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the critters taught in the fifth grade, and for some reason, the main attraction was that of black widows---the females that had the red hourglasses on their bellies. I was lucky that my parents didn't have me confined to the nearest kiddie mental facility, but apparently they thought I might tire of the weird fetish.

I found nirvana one afternoon after school in the crawl space of a school pal. The place was loaded with webs and hundreds of black widows. I captured dozens in glass jars and happily presented them to my mother, who diplomatically feigned pleasure at my new interest. I soon tired of the maudlin hobby and have had no overt or covert wishes to resurrect the weird practice. My interest eventually turned to shooting rats at the city dump with a .22 rifle, and that lasted until I became interested in girls.

MsPony said...

Most excellent!

I can see the Hitchcock connection, because this reminds me of stories written by Roald Dahl, author of the short story "Lamb to the Slaughter," which Hitchcock used for one of his episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Please... Write more!

nan0gaf said...

I don't always feel like I have to leave a comment - I just had to. Great story, thanks.

Good ol' Bob said...