When a plant sprouts unexpectedly in a garden, but the gardener decides not to classify it as a weed, and lets it grow undisturbed, that plant is often called a "volunteer". Charlotte was a volunteer spider.

Charlotte built her web in a corner of my apartment's dining area, behind the dining room table and underneath a stack of plastic chairs. Usually I don't tolerate bugs of any kind in my house, but when I first discovered Charlotte I was feeling lazy, and didn't feel like chasing into that cluttered corner just to kill a spider. Since she seemed content to just sit on her web, and not scurry around the apartment, I left her alone for as long as she was willing to stay put. I should mention that she didn't have a name at this point; she was just a light grey spider with a roundish body and thin legs.

For a while, Charlotte's presence went mostly ignored.

Then, some weeks later, I found another spider in the house. In hindsight I named this one Boris, after the one in that song by The Who. He was larger, darker, and more angularly built than Charlotte. He was a scurrying spider: the kind that shows up suddenly and unexpectedly all by himself, sitting somewhere very inconvenient, and if you turn away for too long, he disappears to some place left only to your imagination. Or perhaps he starts heading visibly off in a straight line to somewhere even more difficult to reach.

I'd seen Boris before, sitting on a tin of hot chocolate mix above the fridge where it had been impossible to get a good smashing angle. But on this particular day he had abandoned his good tactics and was running right along the floor, near the dining room table. I grabbed a shoe and began the customary hunt.

For a few minutes, Boris got the better of me; he snuck around by the dining room chairs and other items in that corner where I couldn't reach him easily. Then, quite by accident, he ran into the edge of Charlotte's web. I watched from the opposite side of the dining room table as he found the web, and simply stopped, right in his tracks. The web shifted slightly; Charlotte was home, and certainly noticed her visitor. The two spiders sat absolutely still for a minute, each perhaps planning their strategy, glaring at each other like anime characters before a duel.

Finally, Boris made his move, and began climbing the web. Charlotte pounced on him, and they fought it out for a few minutes. It was very hard to follow the action, because from my perspective it was all just a mess of thrashing spider legs within a space no larger than an inch across. But at the end of it, the result was clear: as Boris continued struggling, Charlotte wrapped him up in her web. Later that evening I saw his dried-up corpse lying beneath it on the floor.

That was when Charlotte earned her name, and a silent promise from me to just keep letting her live in that corner as long as she never left it.

Charlotte stayed with me for another couple of months. During that time I occasionally saw other spider corpses under her web: remains of spiders I'd never even seen elsewhere in the apartment. I vacuumed them up, taking care not to disturb Charlotte herself. During that time I acquired a proper pet: a betta fish, whose tank and accompanying plants provided an attraction to some smaller flies when my vigilance waned.

One Monday morning, when it was time to clean the floors, I saw Charlotte sitting on the wall, under the fish's TV tray table. Some of her legs were shorter than the others: perhaps injuries sustained from her battles with other spiders. As much as I'd enjoyed Charlotte's company, I couldn't have her moving around the apartment and getting into things, so I sadly went for the shoe again. But she didn't move as I approached, and when the shoe hit the wall she fell lightly to the floor, without actually having been struck. It seemed clear she'd walked to that spot and died there during the night.

I don't know why she would choose to leave her web like that at the end of her life. Maybe she just wanted to be closer to the fish tank and never lived long enough to make a new web. Maybe it's a spider instinct. She may have been injured not long prior, and felt a need to leave the area.

It seems unlikely that she would choose to die in a place more accessible to her hostess, to say goodbye and facilitate my role as her executor. That kind of logic would require sapience on a level that I doubt spiders have, and an emotional attachment to her human housemate--an eldritch monster, from her perspective--that I doubt any wild creature could possess.

Still, part of me wants to think that's what she did.

Originally written August 5, 2014

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