Grub heard the sounds of spring as he peered up through the sticks and leaves. It looked like a beautiful day, but Grub knew better, and so did everybody else. Riverbank had been invaded, and he was powerless to do anything about it.
The song beckoned him, and Grub crawled up through the sticks, sniffing at the air as a breeze caressed his new shell. He took stock of his surroundings. Although Grub wanted to embrace the beauty of the day, something didn’t feel right.
“I smell trouble,” he said sniffing at the air with his antennae.
Out of the corner of his eye, Grub saw his neighbor, Centipede, dart through the leaves. Her hard, golden skin gleamed in the sun as she twisted over and under leaves like a snake.
“Oh, it’s only you.” Grub said, relieved.
“Silly Grub,” Centipede said, her antennae curling tighter with every movement. “I mean you no harm. Why so frightened?”
“I thought you were a spider.”
“Spiders. Creepy subject.” Centipede squirmed around Grub and took a long look at him.
“Didn’t you know it’s impolite to stare?” Grub said as he looked back at Centipede ignoring his own words. He made his eyes bulge for effect.
“But you’ve changed.”
“Of course I’ve changed,” Grub replied with pride. “It’s spring. Everything changes.”
“Hardly recognized you,” Centipede continued.
“I’m a beetle now.” Grub stood up proudly so Centipede could get a good look at him. It was official; his long leathery body had morphed into the form of a hard-shelled beetle.
“Impressive.” Centipede purred.
Grub steadied himself on a twig and watched the yellow and black lark fly to another branch on the willow tree and begin to preen. The lark opened her beak again, but the song that rained down was not quite so bold.
Grub closed his round, compound eyes and soaked in the tune through every part of his tan shell. The lark’s melody stirred an emotion in him that he had not anticipated. This was just the way to start the day, Grub thought to himself. Then Grub heard another, less desirable sound—the tapping of hairy legs.
Panic swept over Grub like a cold wind on a chilly morning.
Centipede slunk down through the sticks of the Fallen Leaf and Grub followed.
The spiders were coming!
“Hey! Shut your beak, bird brain!” the spider ordered as it crashed through the foxtails and landed right on top of Grub’s home.
The lark’s feathers bristled in protest. She turned her head, spread her wings, and fluttered away in search of a kinder audience.
Grub recognized the voice. It was Nid, one of the wolf spiders who had been plaguing Riverbank for the last few weeks. And where Nid went, his brother Arac followed. It was only a matter of time until Arac arrived to help his brother disrupt Grub’s morning.
When Arac, Nid, and their band of spiders crawled into Riverbank, life had changed for the worse. Spiders hung from the trees near the waters of the Babbling Brook and taunted insects as they worked. Spiders crept along the dirt path that ran between Flower Hill and the Green Towers, bullying every insect in sight. They spun their webs wherever they pleased, no matter who might live there.
Sinister stories abounded like flies hovering over poop. Just the night before, Grub had overheard a frightening tale involving the tall patch of reeds known as the Green Towers. Grasshoppers, dragonflies, water bugs, and hundreds of other water and marsh creatures had lived there peacefully for years. Every insect order had a job to do to keep the Green Towers beautiful, but that all changed when the spiders arrived. Although Grub had never visited the Green Towers, news of the invasion traveled quickly. Several spiders had cornered a family of grasshoppers, tied them each up in a web ball, and flung them from a makeshift catapult. With triumphant shouts, the spiders launched the grasshoppers one by one from reeds and watched as they sailed into the nearby river.
The thought made Grub so angry he could spit. He stared up and scowled at the faint outlines of Arac and Nid, their white tipped legs and dark calico fur. He was not going to let those spiders take over his home—ever.
Nid breathed in deeply. “Do you smell that?” Nid asked.
“Smell what?” Arac replied.
“I hate that smell and do you know why, Arac?”
“Search me,” Arac said, his words obscured by a heavy lisp.
“I’ll tell you why. I smell insects.” Nid kicked at a leaf. “Bugs, bugs, bugs! They’re everywhere. And the burden falls to me to keep ‘em in line.”
Arac nodded in agreement and kicked at a twig, copying his brother. A cascade of debris fell through the foliage and all around Grub and Centipede. Grub braced himself on a dead twig so he wouldn’t be seen, but he was tired of hiding, and he was tired of living in fear. The ants had stopped working; leaf cutters had stopped chomping; beetles had gone into hiding, digging deep into their piles of dung. And Flower Hill, the pride and joy of all Riverbank, was nearly silent—only a few bees buzzing around their bounty.
Then Grub heard the sound of something landing on the leaves above him. Grub willed his body to move higher for a better look.
“Hey, Grasshopper!” Arac said, moving closer. “Look who hopped in for a visit.”
The grasshopper nervously flinched and prepared to launch, but Arac put his front two legs on his back.
Arac asked. “Look, his antennae are drooping. What are you, scared?”
The sound of legs pattered like rain on the leaves above. Grub realized why Hopper looked so scared. The crackling sound was everywhere—and so were the spiders!
Grub watched as the grasshopper struggled to break the hold that Arac had on his green thorax. “I’m not s-s-scared,” he stuttered. I’m just hopping through.” Grub recognized the voice. No insect would stand up to those spiders but Hopper. Grub could see his long green legs clearly now.
“What should we do with him, Nid?” Arac asked.
Hopper spoke again, his voice trembling slightly less than before. “Don’t you have anything else to do except pick on us insects?”
“What did you say?” Arac replied.
Hopper broke free and stood facing the spiders. “All day long you pick on us insects for no good reason. Why don’t you leave us alone and do some work for a change?”
The hairs on Arac’s brown, furry body prickled with anger and his eight eyes vibrated with rage.
“Tie ‘em up—his back legs. Then he can’t hop no more,” Nid shouted.
The horde of spiders tapped their legs in agreement sending debris cascading down through the Fallen Leaf for the second time.
Grub moved left and then right to avoid the flecks of dead leaves and sticks.
“We was gonna let you go, but now we need to teach you a lesson,” Arac snarled.
Hopper turned to the left and right, but found no way of escape, spiders blocking him at every turn. His legs bent and he prepared to jump.
Nid spat a web ball at Hopper just as he sprang. The force knocked Hopper into two spiders. The spiders absorbed the blow and pushed the grasshopper back into the center of the circle.
Grub could see Hopper’s legs and antennae twitching in terror. Grub was frightened too.
Arac and a spider next to him spat more spider silk at Hopper. In a matter of moments, the group of spiders had wrapped Hopper’s legs together with their webs.
Nid gave Hopper a swift kick. “Now get out of here.”
The grasshopper hobbled away from the Fallen Leaf, hurt and humiliated.
“Let’s see how high you can jump now,” Nid yelled.
“Hey, he’s as slow as a snail,” Arac jeered.
All the spiders laughed in approval.
Grub scowled at the spiders through the leaves. “Someone needs to teach those spiders a lesson. If only I was a little bigger… I’d show ‘em.” Dejected and scared, Grub burrowed deep into his home.