This is an excerpt from a forthcoming short story on the ways in which people intersect with nature, with unexpected results.

This morning I was having coffee on the deck when I noticed a spider web, about the width of a grapefruit, strung up between two of my potted vegetable plants. Three minute strands stretched from either side, anchoring a tightly rigged web of breathless perfection, each miniscule partition exactly the same. Sitting in the middle of the web was an auburn spider the size of a pea. If the light had come from a slightly different angle, if I had not been looking that way at that instant, I would have missed him altogether and my world would be unchanged.

Nothing had flown into this web, at least not recently, and I wondered if the spider was hungry and how long he went between meals, and if every web he made was this exquisite, and if they were all productive or if some webs proved worthless, and if a spider could become disheartened. A tiny movement on the periphery turned my attention to another bug, a green beetle with black stripes crawling out of a yellow cucumber flower. Knowing these beetles are trouble, I plucked it from the plant and held it between my thumb and forefinger, regarding the waving twin hairs of its antennae and the tiny hooked feet. It was nearly the size of the spider, and I thought what a feast it would be. I looked from one to the other. Here was the problem, here the solution. I could help a beneficial species and practice organic pest control at the same time.

Still, I had to get up the nerve to toss the beetle at the web; I was half hoping it would bounce off. It didn’t. It stuck fast. In a blink, the spider shot down the web, seized the poor thing and stilled it just like that. Expertly, rapidly, the spider then began wrapping the carcass, enfolding it in sticky strands. In less than ten seconds the beetle was a white mummy, and the spider, more leisurely this time, returned to the center of its web.

I’ve crushed more than few troublesome bugs under my shoe, and I’m not sure why this death was so disturbing. Maybe because I trespassed, bullied my way into a place not designed for me, used another innocent creature to do my dirty work. How can I apologize? God was the only witness.

Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Lillian, Alabama. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

10 thoughts on “Accountable

  1. Just the type of story I have come to Love and expect from you Jean. The type of small incident that happens to us all. most people would not think much about it but you, well lets just say that we are so alike. ” Beyond scale, what was the difference ?” Rings in my ears We don’t just say, “for heavens sake, it was just a bug!” There are consequences to our actions, you were horrified because you didn’t expect to see what happened The potential reality of the action.

    I really found this one very compelling. Maybe you were being tested. Just tell God you’re sorry. You’ll be forgiven



    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Wonderful tale. Again with your writing genius I am sittting next to seeing the sun rays and the spider……having similar feelings about the green and black bug. You never cease in ability to include me in your world. Thank you

  3. A thought provoking piece that will stay with me. I look forward to reading the rest of the story!

  4. Oh, Jean, you have done it again! Captured my attention, peaked my interest and now I want more.

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