In the fall a young girl's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of fear. Or, in other words, it's Halloween, and there's a ghost in every cupboard and a vampire hiding under every bed. (But it's okay, they come in all flavours now - maybe you'll get a modern, cute, sparkly one rather than the old-fashioned repulsive kind with the bat ears.)
In the spirit of the season, I was talking to my daughter the other day about our biggest fears: I said mine was spiders, and being trapped in small dark spaces, and being trapped in small dark spaces with spiders. She said - rather smugly, I felt - "Mine is that my family and everyone I love will die." There's something particularly embarrassing about being morally upstaged by a seven-year-old, so I said quickly, "Yes, I meant that too, obviously," and changed the subject.
I was right, though. About the spiders. They are the scariest thing, and I can prove it. Look at any list of common phobias. All the others make rational sense. Fear of heights, open spaces, flying, snakes - these are all things that could actually damage you. But most spiders, friends keep telling me, are harmless. Even beneficial. Sometimes people go on about how lovely and appealing they are, poor deluded fools.
But you're supposed to trust your instincts. If you meet someone at a party and they inspire a vague but definite sense of repulsion and fear, do you decide to ignore that and go home with them? No. If you look at a picture of, let's say, a current UK prime minister, and experience a sinking sensation and a feeling of despair at the sight of his grinning, privileged, benefits-denying face, do you pretend everything's ok and vote for him anyway? No.*
And so with spiders. How many people in the world look at a spider and find their inner voice screaming: "EVIL! EVIL! EVIL!" Should we ignore that reaction? No! It must be based on something, and I submit that it's based on the simple fact that spiders are pure alien malice in tiny dark eight-legged form. They really are out to get you. They want you to suffer. They don't need to bite you or try to eat your brains, like your common-or-garden monsters. They're beyond all that. They just need to hang quietly in the corner of a bedroom, occasionally moving closer when you're not looking. Or scuttle across the floor as you're in the middle of wrapping a birthday present, causing you to squeal like a five-year-old and hide in your room for the next four hours, sobbing quietly. (Yes, giant arachnid from my Southfields flat in 1998, I haven't forgotten you.)
Spiders hate us. Even you, people who think they're adorable. You are merely their dupes, and will perish with the rest of us when all the spiders in the world swell to their true size of ten feet across and trap humanity in one gigantic sticky web. We will look at each other as we dangle, stuck and waiting to be slowly dissolved in spider venom, and we will wish we'd destroyed them all while we had the chance. Don't say I didn't warn you.
*Oops, I seem to be channelling my friend Choler there...