This piece wasn't really long enough to warrant its own thread, so I'm placing it at the end of "Sentinels". It uses the same main characters and takes place at some point after the previous story. (It's a little like those short films Pixar produces to show with their main movies, except it's not nearly as cute...)
Good day today, Peter Parker thought happily as he dodged pedestrians on the way to his job at the Daily Bugle newspaper. No school. Sleep late. Simple homework. Five straight hours of work, with a nice paycheck next week.
He reached the newspaper's front doors and held one open for the woman who was about to enter. Life is good.
"Well, thank you, Mr. Parker. I'm a little surprised to see you at this time of day. Don't you still go to school?"
Peter finally focused on her. "Hey, Ms. Evans!"
"Hello, Peter." Miranda Evans, as usual, had a plain large manila envelope in one hand, no doubt full of papers for Ben Urich, or possibly one of the other reporters. Evans' position as a librarian in a government repository library made getting documents for research much easier for the newspaper staff. Peter had seen her at the paper at least twice since their first meeting, but usually they had just waved to each other across the room.
"No school today. Staff development, which means the teachers go to school and the students don't."
Evans nodded as she and Peter entered the lobby. "Oh, yes, I remember those. We always ended up doing some sort of odd workshops or learning about technology the district couldn't afford to buy, or something like that."
"You worked in a school?"
"Five years as a high school librarian, until I switched over to more specialized work."
Peter waited by the stairs as Evans spoke to the receptionist, who informed her that Mr. Urich was indeed waiting and that she should proceed up to the newsroom. Evans joined Peter at the elevator door.
"So why'd you switch?" Peter asked.
"Let's see. Was it because my supervisors in my new job treated me like a valuable, intelligent professional, or was it because the clientele was a lot less hostile?" Peter laughed as he pressed the button to select the floor and the elevator door closed. "Or perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I now have a budget that's not only five times larger, but also isn't the first thing cut the minute some clown on the school board decides we need a fifth assistant coach for a 14-member football team. Public schools sometimes have such interesting priorities."
"Yeah, no kidding."
"So, how did your paper turn out?"
Peter blinked. "Paper?"
"The paper you were writing on genetics. The one I sent information to Ben Urich for you?"
Oops, that one just came back to bite me. "Oh, yeah, that one. I got an A- on it." The paper had never been written, but the information on the Sentinels and their ability to sense altered human genes had made Spider-man's life a lot easier.
"Well, I guess that's a respectable grade," Evans commented as the elevator stopped and both disembarked.
"Yeah, not bad. Uh, have you been here since Mr. Urich got his new office?" Let's get that subject changed...
"No. His own office? I guess being a successful author has really paid off."
Peter pointed to the last door along the wall across the room, which was open. Ben Urich was in conversation with another reporter in the corridor between the wall and the closest set of cubicles. Urich glanced up and waved them over. "Ms. Evans."
"Mr. Urich, I have paperwork for you." Evans presented him with the envelope. "I think it's all pretty straight-forward."
"Great. Thanks. Hi, Peter."
"Hey, Mr. Urich."
Evans glanced over Urich's shoulder. "Peter was telling me about the new office."
"Oh, yeah. More like a slightly oversized broom closet, but yes. Care to step inside for a moment?"
"Why not — I have time." Evans stepped inside and examined the bookshelves, desk, and filing system. "This is nice." She moved out of Peter's range of vision, but her voice carried back to him. "Oh, and I like your office mate."
Peter craned his neck to see what Evans was talking about. She was pointing to a small dot on the window. Peter sidled up to the office door for a better look. A spider was lowering itself down an invisible thread from the top of the window.
Urich grimaced. "Gah. Sorry about that. Our cleaning staff is usually pretty good about getting rid of bugs. Let me just," here he turned to pick up a copy of the Daily Bugle and began rolling it up, "take care of that." He advanced on the spider.
Evans turned her head. "What are you doing?"
"I'm going to swat it."
"You most certainly are not," Evans retorted, stepping in front of him.
Urich gestured at the spider with his free hand. "It's a bug. The cleaning staff obviously missed it."
"It's a useful and beautiful creature," Evans countered, "and if it weren't for spiders, we wouldn't even have life on this planet, at least according to traditional Cherokee Indian teachings." She peered around Urich at Peter, who stood in the doorway grinning at her. "Mr. Parker, could you please find me a clean cup? It doesn't matter what it's made of, paper or styrofoam will do just fine."
"Oh, sure, Ms. Evans." Peter darted off in search of the requested object.
Evans fixed Urich with a disapproving frown and turned back to the spider. "I'm sorry to disturb you," she told the spider as it touched down on her hand, "but the individual with whom you've been sharing this space appears to be unaware of the debt he owes you, so I think I'd best take you home with me. I'll find you a nice, quiet section of a park where you can spin your web in peace and catch all the insects you want." The spider delicately clambered up Evans' fingers, and the woman turned her hand over so the creature could crawl into her palm.
She glanced back at Urich, who had one side of his mouth drawn up in a look of revulsion. "How can you stand having that thing crawl on you?"
"It's a spider, Mr. Urich. Crawling and spinning webs are what it does. Both are very useful talents."
Urich shook his head as Peter reappeared with a paper cup. "Is this okay?"
"It's fine, thank you." Evans held the hand with the spider against the cup; after a moment's hesitation spent feeling the rim with its front legs, the spider crept inside. Evans waited until the spider was near the bottom, then tipped the cup up on end. She bent down to pluck a piece of paper out of the recycling basket and placed it over the cup's mouth. "There. I'll take her with me when I leave."
Urich shook his head and rolled his eyes. "I had no idea you were such a conservationist," her remarked.
"And I had no idea you were such a Philistine," Evans replied archly. "Swatting something just because you don't like the way it looks. Hmf." Peter stood in the middle, squirming a little. "Don't tell me you really haven't heard the story about the spider and the sun?"
"No, can't say I have," Urich replied carefully. Evans glanced at Peter, who shook his head.
"Honestly, what do they teach people in school these days? It's a lovely old Cherokee Indian story about how the sun came to be shining over the Earth."
"Because of a spider?" asked Peter.
"Yes. Because of a spider. But I'm not about to bore Mr. Urich with it, since I'm sure he's got better things to do, now that he's got his government documentation." Evans reached for the cup. "So I'll just take my new friend and leave him to his work..."
Urich dropped into his chair and leaned back. "Stop."
Evans stopped, cup in hand.
"Tell us the story."
"Really, Mr. Urich—"
"No, no, I insist. I certainly don't want you to go out of here thinking I'm an ungrateful Philistine. Sit down, Ms. Evans." Seeing the expression on her face, he added, "Please."
For a moment the librarian hesitated. Then her gaze flicked to Peter and she smiled. "Very well."
"Close the door, Peter," Urich said. "And sit down. I wouldn't want to deprive you of the chance to further your education." His tone was dry, but a smile hovered on his lips.
Evans settled herself regally into a chair and carefully placed the cup on Urich's desk. Peter closed the office door, then took the other vacant chair and waited.
Evans crossed one leg over the other at the knee and began. "According to the legend, when the world was first created, there was no sun." She spread her hands in an expansive gesture. "It was cold, and the animals were freezing." Evans drew her arms in and hugged herself.
Urich sighed and passed a hand over his eyes. "Great. The story comes with hand signals."
"Do you want to hear this or not?"
"Yes, absolutely. I'm all ears."
Evans peered at him over the top of her glasses. "That makes for an interesting mental picture. I'll take your word for it," she added, holding up both hands. "If I may continue... It was dark, and the animals couldn't see. No plants could grow, and they were starving. And they all agreed that something needed to be done.
"So the animals gathered for a Council, and they called upon the Great Spirit. 'Oh, Great Spirit,' they said, 'it is cold and we are freezing. It is dark and we cannot see. No food will grow, and we are starving. What can we do?'
"The Great Spirit answered them and said, 'Here is what you must do. One of you must go up into the sky and travel far out into the darkness of space, until you come to where the sun burns brightly. You must bring the sun back to Earth, so it may give heat and light to us.'
"So the animals all said to one another, 'Who will go? Who will bring the sun back for us?' And at last the Opossum stood up and said, 'I will go. I will find the sun, and bring it back for us.' So the Opossum leaped up into the sky and out into space."
"Wait a minute," Urich said. "How could the Opossum get up into space without a ship? I mean, I'm not a scientist, but even I know people need to take food and oxygen with them when they go to the moon."
Evans gave him an amused look. "Really, Mr. Urich. If there's no sun and life had arisen on Earth despite that fact, don't you think other natural laws could be changed as well? Have a little faith."
"Faith. Right." He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands over his stomach. "Sorry. Continue."
"Thank you." Evans tilted her head toward Peter. "Now, in those days, the Opossum had a beautiful bushy tail like a squirrel. And he planned to wrap his tail around the sun, as around the branch of a tree, and draw the sun along behind him back to Earth. But the sun burned so hot and bright that it singed all the fur off his tail, and that's why today the Opossum has a skinny, hairless tail like a rat's.
"Well, the Opossum had failed to bring back the sun, and the animals once again asked, 'Who will go? Who will bring the sun back for us?' And this time the Deer stood up, and he said, 'I will go. I will bring the sun back.'
"So the Deer leaped up into space—"
"Without needing a space suit," Urich interjected helpfully.
"See? I'm paying attention."
"I'm gratified," Evans drawled. Beside her, Peter covered his mouth with his hand to smother a grin. Urich's eyes were twinkling with amusement.
"So the Deer leaped up into space and ran to where the sun burned. Now, in those days, the Deer had beautiful fur growing upon his antlers, and he planned to spear the sun with his antlers and carry it back to Earth that way. But of course when he got close to the sun, it burned all the fur off his antlers, so that to this day, Deer can only grow a bit of velvet down on his antlers, and that soon wears off.
"So, the Deer had failed, and the Opossum had failed, and the animals were beginning to feel desperate. Again they asked each other, 'Who will go? Who will bring the sun back for us?'
"And at last a tiny little voice answered, 'I will go. I will find the sun and bring it back for us.' Well, no one could tell who was speaking at first, and the animals asked, 'Who is that?' The tiny voice replied, 'It is Gray Grandmother Spider.'
"Now, at this all the animals laughed. 'How can you bring the sun back for us?' they asked. 'You are old, and very small. This is too difficult for you.'
"But Gray Grandmother Spider repeated, 'I will go. I will bring the sun back for us.' 'How will you do that, after the Opossum and the Deer have failed?' the animals asked. Gray Grandmother Spider merely smiled and replied, 'You will see.'
"So she spun a stand of her web up into the sky and climbed up into space." Here Evans paused and looked at Urich expectantly.
"Without a space ship," he added obediently.
"Yes, very good," she complimented him. "And she climbed all the way up to where the sun shone out in space. But instead of trying to grab or spear the sun, the way Opossum and Deer had, she spun strands of her web around the sun, more and more and more, until the webbing enclosed the sun. Then Gray Grandmother Spider began to pull the sun back through space with her. As the sun burned away her webs, she spun more and more to replace them, pulling the sun along. At last, she brought the sun back to Earth and placed it in the sky, where it burns to this day.
"Well, the animals were all grateful to Gray Grandmother Spider, and the Great Spirit said, 'Because you have done this for all of us, I will make sure no one ever forgets your deed. From now on, when you spin your web'," here Evans pointed to the spider's web in the upper window, her finger tracing a barely-visible circle, "'everyone will see the circle of the sun in the center, and the rays of the sun coming out like from the middle'," Evans' finger drew lines like the spokes of a wheel in the air, "'and they will remember your accomplishment.' To this day, spiders still spin their webs in this manner, as you will notice if you look closely. And that is the story of how the sun came to be."
Peter squinted at the spider web carefully; sure enough, the construction was exactly as Evans' had said. "Wow."
Urich glanced from the web back to Evans. "Should we applaud?"
"Applause is not necessary," Evans replied. "Money is not necessary."
"Could I offer you lunch?"
Evans smiled. "Perhaps some other afternoon. I wouldn't dream of taking up any more of your valuable time today, Mr. Urich. Just promise that the next time you see a spider, you won't harass it."
"Maybe the next time I see a spider, I'll give you a call to come rescue it."
"Well, I suppose you could do that, too." She rose. "Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I think it's time we were going." She picked up the cup and gently lifted the paper. The spider crouched in the bottom, as though it had paused to hear the story as well. "Amazing creatures, spiders," Evans remarked, peering into the cup. She glanced up at Urich, who was opening the office door for her. "I'm sure Mr. Parker could tell you all about them some time."
Peter almost jumped, then took a deep breath to settle his nerves. No way. She couldn't possibly know, he told himself. She just knows I'm a science geek... "Uh, sure," he managed aloud, pleased that his voice didn't seem to be shaking.
"Good day, gentlemen," Evans said, and, bearing her prize, walked out the office door.
Urich shook his head as he watched her go. "Where in the world did she come up with that one?"
"The Cherokee Indians," Peter replied. Seeing the "give me a break" look on Urich's face, he added, "She probably read it somewhere."
"I'm reliably informed that librarians do that a lot," Urich remarked dryly. He picked up the folder Evans had left him. "And speaking of which..."
Peter bid him good-bye and returned to his computer. Too bad she couldn't have told that one to Mr. Jameson, Peter thought as he called up the newspaper's webpage. But he probably wouldn't make the connection... He glanced through the open door of Urich's office.
Urich had opened the envelope to remove the papers; he paused, then glanced up at the spider web still spanning the upper window. For a moment he debated clearing it away. Then he shrugged and turned back to the papers. The custodians would take care of it that evening, no doubt. And in the meantime, it wasn't harming anything.
Author's Note: I never thought I'd be indebted to U.S. President George W. Bush for anything, but apparently I just wasn't imaginative enough.
On Wednesday, February 2, 2005, President Bush delivered his State of the Union address. Needless to say, I wasn't watching. During that time, not only did I manage to finish a Disney video and do some work on an embroidery project, but I also typed up most of this story. (It seemed a much more useful way to spend a couple of hours...)
The story of Gray Grandmother Spider has been told in several versions in different places. I first saw it during my trip to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina in 1984; it was part of a cultural display. I was originally going to have Thor tell it under different circumstances, but it seemed to fit much better into the Spider-man mythos, for obvious reasons. (Although having a Norse god tell a Native American legend should have been worth at least a footnote in someone's book!)
I don't usually have people's reviews to respond to (most of my stories are one-shots, or are posted all at once), but: thanks to Taye, Spyder616, Carnagefreak, and Brokenblade for reviewing. And Brokenblade, if that quote about journalists raising hell isn't yours originally, do you happen to know who said it? I like it enough to use it at some point, and I'd like to attribute it properly.