A short story by Carter Pierce
Well, most people think of a teacher’s pet as a kid at school whom all the teachers love, and all the children hate. A teacher’s pet knows every subject inside and out, always behaves, says nice things to adults and sticks their tongue out at their classmates when the teachers aren’t looking.
I’ve seen the other kids sticking their tongues out; in fact, they do it quite often and that’s partly why it became a habit of mine. I’m always trying to fit in. They call me a teacher’s pet. But aside from the tongue-airing, I don’t see how I fit the bill. I don’t do math or science or history. They don’t affect me, so why bother?
I do like chemistry, though. And I can sort of read and write. It’s a hobby of mine to leave mischievous notes on the desks after class lets out.
They say Jacob Abulagh is a teacher’s pet, and I guess that’s true in a way because he’s very smart and seems to understand everything they teach him. He’s always making the other kids laugh with his jokes. Miss Gurney absolutely adores him. I’m not sure about the principal, though.
He behaves himself pretty well, as far as I’m concerned.
But what would I know? I’m always up on the front desk in my little wire cage, minding my own business. Sleeping occupies the vast majority of my day. I wake up for chemistry class. That’s about it.
And when I can’t sleep, I often lie awake, wondering, How can Jacob be a teacher’s pet? He’s a boy, not a hamster. It’s something I’ve never understood.
They call him a pet, but he brings his own food for lunch, goes away at the end of the day, and doesn’t live in a cage. It’s entirely beyond me.
You probably have questions. I bet you thought I was a human. It didn’t seem so strange that I would be participating in chemistry class and writing notes for the little kids and sticking my tongue out, if I was one. But they don’t seem like normal hamster activities.
I suppose I’m different. I don’t know why or how. I don’t remember being born. Maybe I was a chemistry experiment. Hydrogen peroxide plus sodium bicarbonate equals a little brown hamster named Paul. It doesn’t seem likely, but one never knows.
Oh, I forgot one thing. I can release the latch on my cage from inside. I shove my hamster wheel over to the door and climb on top of it and reach through with one paw.
That way, I can get out whenever I want, and have fun. Because most nights, there’s nothing going on and nobody is around, and I have the whole school to myself.
That’s partly how I became a chemistry nerd: on one of those adventurous nights, I got into the chemical closet and started mixing things. Turns out acetone isn’t the best thing to dump into the plastic cart that holds all the spare vials. It melted through the top of the cart and the vials shattered on the floor.
Miss Gurney wasn’t very happy the next morning.
That’s when I started reading up on different combinations that do useful things instead of wrecking stuff.
Now that you’re up to speed on most of my life, I can tell you what’s going on tonight! (Finally to the good stuff. I mean, not that a chemistry-whiz reading writing tongue-sticking-out hamster isn’t the good stuff. It’s just normal to me, and the good stuff is way better than normal. Or in this case, way scarier.)
It started out like basically any other night. Move the hamster wheel over to the side of the cage, climb on top, unfasten the latch, climb down to the floor. Make sure there’s nobody coming. Look under the classroom door and check for any lights in the hallway.
I was good to go.
So I scurried over to the chemical closet and squeezed under the door and climbed up the shelves to the light switch and pushed it up with both paws to turn it on.
And a second later, any thought of reading the chemistry handbook vanished from my mind because there was a gigantic spider spinning a web in the far corner of the closet.
Silent. Mesmerizing. Deadly. Its long black legs and shiny black body moved gracefully. The long glittering silver strands it spun crossed and tangled without any definite pattern. Not like a normal spiderweb with its rings and spokes. Just steel threads reaching from wall to wall, angling like a hundred needles dropped in a haphazard heap. The web of a black widow. Messy and sticky and ready to trap absolutely everything.
Even me, I thought.
I wanted to shut the light off and climb down the shelves and squeeze out under the door and lock myself in my cage again, where it was safe.
And I would have, if an absurd thought hadn’t popped into my head. I say it was an absurd thought only in hindsight. At the moment, the idea seemed perfectly natural.
The spider wasn’t a normal spider. It was huge. Normal spiders of a normal size ate things like bugs and moths. But this one wasn’t normal, so it must have an unusual diet. And I thought, if it’s in the school, there’s only one thing it can be hunting.
So right then and there, I decided to challenge the black widow to mortal combat in defense of my young classmates.
It hadn’t noticed me yet.
Or maybe it had, because it had eight eyes and I had just turned the light on. Oh well.
I knew from chemistry class that black widows use a venom called Alpha-latrotoxin. It makes all the nerve cells release their signaling chemicals all at once. Basically a huge surge of pain. And coming from a spider of that size, a single bite could kill me in just a few seconds.
So I’d have to sneak up on it and squish it before it could start chewing on me. Otherwise, Miss Gurney would have to bring one of those dead-people carts and roll me away to the cemetery and somebody would have to get out a plastic cafeteria spoon and dig me a grave. My eulogy might be short. I was a pretty small hamster, anyway. I just hoped they’d say something about my bravery. Paul the Spider Slayer. Or, Paul the Hamster that Didn’t Quite Slay the Spider. Just so long as it wasn’t, Paul the Dead Hamster we Found in the Chemical Closet and Dumped in the Trash.
I didn’t know if any teachers’ pets had died in the school before. Maybe they had and I just didn’t know it. Maybe I once knew, and they fed me hydrogen peroxide and sodium bicarbonate and I forgot everything.
Getting to the other side of the room where the spider spun its web was simple. Getting above it to drop something on it was even easier. There was a long shelf that ran across the whole back of the closet, two feet lower than the ceiling. It had all sorts of plastic bottles with screw-on lids. Big ones and little ones. Some with labels written in permanent marker. Others with printed labels. They were all opaque and most were in shades of pale pastel colors like pink and green.
Dropping one of those bottles on the spider should do the trick, I thought. Simple and quick and easy.
I climbed up to the shelf as quietly as I could.
In case the spider was listening.
Then I set out on the long journey to the other side of the room. Staying hidden behind the bottles. Pausing every few seconds to peer out at my enemy between their smooth plastic sides. Then scurrying forward again.
When I arrived at the other end of the shelf, I saw that the spider had fastened her web to the end of it. Little fingers of sticky web clung to the wood near my feet, like they were trying to crawl up to get me.
Then I just had to find a bottle that was light enough to move around. I didn’t want to just shove one over the edge of the shelf, because if I missed, I’d lose my element of surprise. I had to get one that was light enough to position just the way I wanted it.
But there was a problem.
I had miscalculated.
I hadn’t looked at every single bottle on the shelf when I was taking in the lay of the land. I hadn’t noticed that the plastic ones were on one side, and the metal ones were on the other. I was on the end with the metal ones.
Just my luck. They were very heavy.
I paused, uncertain. Debating whether I should go back to the other end of the shelf and drag a plastic bottle over to this end.
How much time did I have? I peeked around one of the metal bottles and looked to make sure the spider was still busy with its web.
But it wasn’t.
It was gone.
End of Part 1
Copyright by Carter Pierce, 2022
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