Spiders, Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

by Ceryndip

A sequel to Little Boys Shouldn't Carry Frogs in Their Pockets

Disclaimer: This is a nice story. No one is hurt, wounded or otherwise injured in the course of this tale, human or arachnid.

"Hey Herc!" Iolaus called as he tumbled down the mountain of hay. He plummeted into the pile of hay next to Hercules and lay there with bits of hay sticking out from every part of him.

"What?"

"Do you think your Mom would let us sleep out here in the barn this weekend?"

"Maybe, we can ask. I haven't even asked if you can stay yet."

Iolaus sighed and pulled a piece of hay from his hair, stuck it in his mouth and commenced chewing on it. Hercules was sitting up with his back against the mound of freshly cut hay gazing lazily out the loft door.

Something in the hay caught Iolaus' eye. He sat up swiftly, his voice full of warning, "Herc, don't move!"

Hercules' eyes flashed wide but he held perfectly still, "What? What is it?"

"Something's moving behind your shoulder." Slowly Iolaus got up and picked up a pitch fork.

"What are you gonna do with that?" Hercules' eyes grew wider still.

"I'm gonna stick whatever that is when it crawls out."

Hercules stiffened as he felt the hay shift behind him.

"Don't move!"

"Just hurry."

Hercules felt a hairy something touch his shoulder. Iolaus tensed to spring. A moment of anxious anticipation passed. Iolaus smiled, relaxed and lowered the pitchfork.

Hercules, still feeling the hairy something, was confused, "What?"

Iolaus knelt beside him, "Hey, little fella, what are you doing in here?" He reached up to Hercules' shoulder and held out his hand. Hercules risked turning his head just in time to see a multi-legged something crawl into Iolaus' hand. The something came into focus as Iolaus lowered his hand. Hercules breathed a sigh of relief. A tarantula, it was a tarantula.

Iolaus sat cross-legged in the hay and let the spider crawl up his arm while petting it's back with his finger.

"You wouldn't hurt anybody, would ya?" He held out his elbow and let the spider crawl into Hercules' hand. The two boys passed the spider back and forth until Alcmene called them in to dinner.

"Come on, Iolaus. I'm starved. Put the spider down and let's go."

"OK, in a minute," Iolaus continued to play with the spider. As Hercules climbed down the ladder, Iolaus slipped the spider under his shirt.

After dinner the two boys played a quiet game in front of the fire. Until it was time for Iolaus to go home. Hercules walked him to the door.

"See ya tomorrow."

"Yeah, take care of Philos for me, OK?" Iolaus asked with a grin.

"Philos?"

"Yeah, our 'new' friend," with a nod toward the barn.

"Oh, yeah, OK."

"Night."

Hercules closed the door and went back in by the fire. He sat down next to his mother who had just picked up her sewing. She was in the process of mending one of Hercules' shirts. She ran out of thread and without looking reached into her sewing basket. Her fingers made contact with something warm and hairy. She screamed and jerked her hand away. The lid shut with a thud.

Hercules was immediately on his feet.

"It's alright. I'm OK." she took a deep breath and held her hand over her pounding heart. "There's something in there," she indicated the sewing basket.

Hercules walked around behind the box and opened the lid. Alcmene leaned over to look.

"A tarantula! How did a tarantula get into my sewing basket?" It was then that she heard a familiar giggle in the distance and saw little Iolaus scampering over the fence.

Hercules knew exactly how it got in the house but didn't want to betray a friend, "Uh, maybe it came in the open window?" he stammered.

Alcmene had a pretty good idea herself and it had nothing to do with windows and everything to do with pranksters, "Well, close that lid. Just shut him in there and take him outside. Let him go in the field. Away from the house."

She watched Hercules leave with the basket and watched from the window. She didn't really believe that Hercules knew about the spider. He didn't have it in him. No, Hercules wasn't the instigator.

"Chalk one up to you, my young friend," she whispered to the night as she leaned out into the warm breeze.

Hercules did as he was told. He took Philos out to the edge of the field and gently prodded him out of Alcmene's basket.

"Here you go, little guy. You'll be happier out here anyway."

Hercules came back into the cottage to find his mother heating water for his bath.

"Tell me Hercules, does Iolaus look any cleaner first thing in the morning?"

"I guess," Hercules shrugged. "Why?"

"I just wondered if he started out the day that way. By the time I usually see him, he's covered in dirt from rolling down the hill or playing in the hay or the mud or the pond. His mother must have fits trying to keep him clean."

Hercules chuckled, "I didn't notice."

"I'm not surprised, you've been getting steadily dirtier since he moved here."

Hercules smiled, "Just a growing boy, I guess."

She returned his smile, "I've noticed," and left him to it.

Iolaus practically bounced up to Hercules on the way to school, "So what happened?"

"You nearly gave my mother a heart attack is all."

Iolaus laughed, completely delighted by the image. "What did you do with Philos?"

"I put him out."

"You what?"

"Mother said to put him out, so I put him out."

"You let him go?"

"Yes, the last I saw, he was heading across the field."

"Oh no! We'll just have to find him after school."

"Find him?"

"He is our pet. We named him and everything."

"I don't want a tarantula for a pet."

"Sure you do. Tarantulas are great. Have you ever seen how far one can jump? They're kewl!"

That afternoon Iolaus scoured the field until he finally found little Philos in a tree on the far side of the field. That night Iolaus took the spider home with him for safekeeping.

The next morning Iolaus arrived at Hercules' early. Alcmene invited him to stay for breakfast. Iolaus replied that he'd already eaten but didn't mind eating again.

Alcmene was pleased to see that Iolaus did indeed start the day in a reasonably presentable state, except for the mud on one knee where he'd obviously stopped to pick up or look at something.

After breakfast, Iolaus helped Alcmene clear the dishes from the table and put them in the sink.

"Thank you, Iolaus, it was very nice of you to help me."

"You're welcome," he smiled mischievously and Alcmene was immediately on her guard.

"Why don't you see what's keeping Hercules."

As soon as Iolaus left the kitchen, Alcmene carefully inspected the dishes in the sink. She tried not to jump out of her skin or make anything more than a peep as she lifted the lid from the pot and found the spider in it.

"Not again. He's not going to do this to me again. Once is fun. Twice is war." She was not going to go through life jumping at invisible tarantulas in every corner. Quietly, she replaced the lid before the boys filtered back through the kitchen on their way out.

"Go ahead Iolaus, I want a word with Hercules before he leaves."

"Sure, see ya later and thanks for breakfast."

She smiled as though nothing were going on, "Anytime."

After Iolaus left, she walked over to Hercules, "I think you should invite Iolaus to spend the weekend."

Hercules was suspicious. Alcmene had to know Iolaus was responsible for the sewing box incident. His giggle was unmistakable. So, why would she want him over?

"You want me to have him over?"

"Yes, I'll let you both sleep out in the barn. The fresh hay in the loft should make a nice warm bed for you."

Hercules must've seen the twinkle in her eye, "Mother, what are you up to?"

"Oh, nothing really, I just thought, I might even the score a little."

Hercules played dumb, "The score?"

She nodded, "See that pot in the sink?"

Hercules nodded.

"There's a tarantula in it."

"You want me to get rid of it?"

"No, I'll take care of it. You just keep your mouth shut today and see that your little friend spends the night with us."

Hercules nodded silently and walked out.

Alcmene watched them leave down the path toward the village. She was glad her son had finally found a friend. It had taken him a long time to find a good one. Iolaus was a good kid, just a little on the energetic side. Alcmene had to wonder how his mother put up with her rough and tumble son. He was constantly in need of a bath and Alcmene doubted that she could get a comb through his hair. His clothes were torn. She shuddered at the mearest thought of the things she'd seen that boy pull from his pockets...

...Thinking of creepy-crawly things, Alcmene went back to the sink and gathered all her courage fighting back a lifetime fear of spiders and picked up the pot with one hand while holding the lid on tightly with the other. She walked as fast as she dared to the barn and set the pot in a corner. Then, she tied a rope around it, "There, that should keep you out of my way till I need you."

Hercules and Iolaus were walking home after their lessons. They'd stopped by Iolaus' and cleared the sleep over with his mother.

"It was nice of your Mom to have me over."

Hercules was glad he'd brought it up, "Yeah, hey, Iolaus would you mind leaving mother alone for awhile? I think you might be getting in over your head with her."

Iolaus looked at Hercules out of the corner of his eye, "Why? Do you think she has anterior motives?"

Hercules smiled, "Ulterior motives."

"Whatever. Does she?"

"Yeah, I think so."

Iolaus grinned, "This weekend might be more fun than I thought."

"Just don't play anymore tricks on her, OK?"

"Sure, I'll be good."

Alcmene watched as the two boys walked up the road toward the house. She had spent the entire afternoon preparing everything. Two could play at the prank game, but she expected to have the last laugh, "Beware my young friend, this game ends tonight."

Iolaus was watchful but not too concerned. What could his best friend's mother do to him anyway? Iolaus was pleased to discover that Alcmene had made some of his favorite foods for dinner. He savored the scents of her kitchen as he washed his hands and face and sat down at the table.

Alcmene filled plates for the two boys and sat them on the table, then, went to fill her own. Iolaus inhaled deeply.

"This smells wonderful." He took a bite and dove for the water in front of him and downed the entire glass. He sat gasping a moment.

Hercules took a bite and didn't understand, "Iolaus, it's not hot." The food tasted just fine to Hercules.

Alcmene refilled Iolaus' glass and just smiled.

Not wanting to let on that there might be something different about his food, Iolaus steeled himself and took another bite. Then another. Alcmene refilled his glass several times. Obviously, there was something going on with Iolaus' food but Alcmene seemed completely oblivious to it. Iolaus finished his plate and for a change didn't ask for more. He kept a wary eye on Hercules' mother though.

After the strange dinner, the two boys headed out to the barn. Hercules picked up the bucket to feed the horse, "So, what was going on with you at dinner, Iolaus?"

"Nothing except your mother trying to poison me. She put something in my food. Nearly burned my stomach up."

Hercules tried unsuccessfully not to laugh, "It's your own fault. You shouldn't have left poor, little Philos in her cooking pot this morning."

"How'd you know about that? Your mother hasn't said anything!"

"She told me it was there when she kept me back a moment."

"She knew then and you didn't say anything to me!" Iolaus was shocked, then smiled evilly, "I'll get you for that. Setting me up." Iolaus dove at Hercules and the two rolled on the floor. The rough-housing continued until Alcmene called from the house that it was time for bed.

"Ok, mother!" Hercules called back as they picked themselves up off the floor and climbed the ladder to the loft. Alcmene had already laid out blankets on the sweet-smelling hay. Hercules flopped on his. Iolaus took the pitchfork and poked all around his.

"What are you doing?"

"Checking for stuff."

"Iolaus, just lie down."

"No way, your mother is out to get me!" It took Iolaus awhile to settle down, but the child expended so much energy during the day that once he stopped moving, sleep was swift to arrive.

The barn was quiet. The occasional shifting of the horse or one of the other animals below and soft breathing were the only sounds evident. In the silence a small hairy leg tentatively slid out from beneath the hay. It was joined by another and another until little Philos stood fully exposed in the darkness. He crawled over onto the blanket and lightly stepped up onto the sleeping arm.

Iolaus rolled over and brushed the spider back onto the blanket in his sleep. Philos crawled up the blanket and back onto Iolaus' shoulder. He climbed to Iolaus' nose and sat there. Iolaus wiggled his nose. It tickled Philos' belly. He stretched a couple of his front legs out before him and shifted position on his perch. Iolaus opened his eyes and all he saw in the moonlight were two hairy legs. Iolaus screamed.

A satisfied Alcmene rolled over and went back to sleep as she listened to her son's peals of laughter as little Iolaus got his just deserts.

End
Written by Ceryndip in October 1997.

Note: Thanks to Jane for suggesting the name "Philos" for the tarantula. Philos means "friend" in Greek.

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