Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Monday, May 11, 2009

ALAN FRISWELL: Scary Spider Stories #3 - The Fearsome frog-eating spider of Epping Forest

Alan first came to my notice when he turned up at our stall at last November's Unconvention. He was clutching a box that had once held a plastic Christmas Tree. He thrust it at me, and said "Here's your mermaid".

I vaguely remembered Richard F having said that one of his mates had offered to make us a feegee mermaid, but I had forgotten all about it. Sad to say, so many people offer to do stuff for us, and then fail to deliver, that I had got into the habit of treating all such offers cum grano salis, but the advent of Alan shows that I should not be such a cynical old sod. Now he has become a guest blogger, and furthermore a guest blogger who's output is often so elegantly macabre that I have started hassling him to write us a book..

Although the British Isles has long been a haven to crypto-legends of lake monsters, black dogs, mystery cats, seemingly out-of-place creatures such as Owlman and even putatively spectral forms of Bigfoot; giant spiders, for some reason, just don’t seem to belong.

Perhaps because of their more fictional, story-book association with forbidding, overgrown jungles and forgotten places where the unwary explorer might encroach upon forbidden territory at the risk of ending up in the cooking pot or with their head on a pole, giant arachnids certainly fit more comfortably into this more exotic milieu in the public consciousness, than the more mundane backdrop of familiar surroundings. Or in other words, a giant, man-eating spider in Peru would inspire little, or no scepticism--at least, inasmuch as having a viable ecosystem in which to potentially flourish--while one in Albert Square, however desirable, would unfortunately be rather more untenable.
But sometimes, stories of monstrous spiders do occur somewhat closer to home, and I now introduce the first of two such tales.
This first, which I present as a completely true story, is the lesser of the two in terms of the ‘fear factor’; so if this one gives you the creeps, believe me, you have no idea of what’s coming next….
Paul Hallewell, a friend of mine for many years--we were at art college together--were in a pub one evening having few pints--not an uncommon occurrence by any means. At the time we were both working on a cartoon animation film produced by--believe it or not--Steven Spielberg (one afternoon at work, I had the chance to meet Spielberg, but I preferred to stay in the pub and get pissed. Is that class, or what?). The film was called An American Tail II, and featured, among other characters, a giant Mexican spider.
We were discussing this spider, and the way that we were going to animate it in the film, when Paul told me that he had once seen a gigantic spider in the woods, to which I replied; “Well bo****ks to American Tail II, tell me about this instead!”
And so he did.

When Paul was about ten, he belonged to a local boy scout troop. Part of the orienteering exercises planned out by the scout leaders involved camping out in the woods, or some other open area; and on this occasion, the troop found themselves travelling by coach to Epping forest, a huge woodland area to the north east of London that had not only been frequented by the legendary highwayman Dick Turpin, but was also the supposed haunt of satanic groups--in whose number was allegedly Edward Heath--and the location of choice for the burial of London gangland victims.

Arriving at midday, the troop immediately set up camp, placing their tents to the side of a small stream; the rest of the day being spent settling in to their new surroundings and preparing the evening meal of sausages and beans.
One thing that soon became apparent, was the loud croaking of frogs from the direction of the stream, and from the many small pools and ponds that dotted the grassy marsh leading up to the thicker part of the forest. The first night the boys spent under the stars was humid, heavy with the droning buzz of mosquitoes and tiny midges; and the frogs’ resonant chorus made sleep difficult for the scouts, already oppressed by the almost tropical August heat.
The next day, the scouts were allowed to explore the woods, as long as safety procedures were observed, and so Paul and some of the others made off for the trees.
They found their way through a large group of wind-blown willow trees, behind which they could see an old deserted house. They discovered the remains of a path that had once led between the trees, now overgrown with wild flowers and brambles. The house, according to Paul, looked like: “something out of Scooby Doo, all broken down and derelict.”

Thinking that the chance to explore a ‘haunted house’ couldn’t be missed, Paul and his mates found their way in through the broken front door, which yielded to their kicks with a crunch of decaying, paint-peeling timber.
The hall, or what was left of it, hung heavy with the smell of stagnant water; the walls, once covered with fine paper, now exposed and damp, the plaster running with moisture.
A staircase led to the first floor, the banisters thick with mould and fungus. As the boys tried the steps, the rotting wood snapped and crumbled, releasing an army of shiny beetles and woodlice, which ran around their shoes.
Paul chucked a stone through one of the already broken windows, and even the sound of breaking glass was muted in the stale, dead air.
One of them suggested a game of hide-and-seek, which was met with general approval; and Paul, being duly elected, ran off to hide.
At the back of the house, a long passageway led to a conservatory of sorts, and Paul decided to find a hiding-place within it’s bushes and shrubs, now choking the window-frames with vines and roots.
Half-way along the passage, Paul found a doorway, leading down to a cellar. Thinking that this would be a great improvement on the conservatory, he pulled on the handle, the hinges screaming under the burden of years of rusted neglect. As the door swung wide, the sharp smell of bitter apples and mould hit him, and Paul realised that the cellar was probably full of rotted fruit.
He could hear water dripping down in the darkness, and the sour scent of mildew and pond weed was thick in the air. I’m going to hand over to Paul at this point, and, although--like Alfie in a previous story--I’m having to paraphrase, it’s pretty much what Paul said.
“It’s weird, but the first thing that happened, was that a huge cloud of butterflies flew past the window at the end of the passageway. It was like a mass of yellow going by. Just then, I heard the sound of frogs croaking, and I knew that they were down in the cellar; there must have been some way that they could get in. Suddenly, dozens and dozens of frogs came hopping out of the cellar. It was a bit scary, really. They were even stuck to the inside of the door, stuck by moisture, I suppose, all hopping out into the passageway. My face was right next to the door, and I pulled back as the frogs were jumping in all directions.
I first saw something out of the corner of my eye. It was very dark, and it moved quickly. I didn’t really have the chance to figure out what it was, before it came out into the light.
My f*****g head was right next to it; I’ve never been scared of spiders, but I nearly died. This thing was actually chasing the f*****g frogs, I mean really chasing them. It was a garden or house spider--the ones with the small bodies and long legs--you know, the things you find on your bedroom ceiling, but this c**t was bigger than a f*****g tarantula--bigger than any spider I’ve ever seen in my life. I jumped back and hit my head on the opposite wall, and saw the spider fully. The legs were amazingly thick--not thin or spindly--and the whole thing looked really strong. Each leg must have been at least eight inches long--I’m not kidding. It had bristles like fuse wire--stiff and black. It was a dark brown colour, the body had a dark pattern along the back. I could actually see it’s f*****g fangs--they were about an inch long at least, then the worst thing of all, it grabbed one of the frogs. It just grabbed it like an ordinary spider would a fly, and blood came pouring from it’s body as the fangs want in. F**k that for a game of soldiers.

At that point, my bottle went, and I just ran as fast as I could, to get the f**k out. All I can imagine, is that the spider had lived in peace for years, happily eating frogs, and had grown to that giant size. It’s just as well that it wasn’t living on f*****g rats.”
So is it possible that some species of spider, given peace and quiet, and a ready food supply could achieve giant size?
I certainly don’t know, but doesn’t it give you just a little thrill of apprehension, to think of what might just be waiting for you under the garden shed, or in the attic that you haven’t bothered to tidy in years….


Jasper said...

If the house was in the state described the stench of any rotted fruit would have been long gone, plus the spider, regardless of its size, would not have come out of it's hidey-hole to chase down something its apparently been thriving on at will. I suggest that the 'stone' Paul through the window was in fact one of the fungi off the bannister that he'd first inadvisably taken a big munch out of.......

Antonio Moretti said...

The description sounds like a 'small' camel spider. They can give a nasty bite.

dinosaurman said...

Hi Jasper and Bernard.

Paul said that the smell reminded him of apples-- but he had no idea if there was really fruit in the cellar.

He said that the spider was already on the inside of the door, chasing the frogs, and that it was probably as surprised to see him as he was to see it--alhough certainly not as horrified.

Paul enjoys a beer, but mushrooms are not his thing...