I don”t mean to alarm anyone, but there may be an army of giant, mutant spiders currently plotting the militant overthrow of a small town in Pennsylvania. And if they succeed, there”s no telling where they”ll strike next.

Paul Wong
Valerie Lalinsky, owner of the speciality dolls” clothes shop Miss Muffet”s Closet, works on her creations at the Artisans Market yesterday morning<br><br>ABBY ROSENBAUM/Daily

Before I divulge just how I came across this sensitive information, a few words on spiders:

Some people think I”m afraid of spiders. This is completely false. As a Powerful Woman of the New Millennium, I have far more important things to think about than whether or not I actually swallow six spiders in my sleep every year. I am not at all curious as to how this statistic was documented. Also, I have never left the computer lab because there was a big green spider tiptoeing around right next to my mouse pad. And I”m definitely not getting all itchy just thinking about it.

So, back to Pennsylvania:

I became aware of the burgeoning arachnid revolution last week while visiting my grandparents in Sharon, Pennsylvania (motto: “We”re serious and don”t call us Shirley”). On the surface, Sharon is a peaceful town with her own candy factory, steel mill and Meek Street. All-American. Diners: Yes. Starbucks: No.

But an evil far greater than Corporate America lurks beneath Sharon”s public golf course and her tastefully landscaped lawns. And its hairy, multi-legged soldiers are starting to come out of hiding.

Until recently, they were all hiding in my grandparents” basement (or, “down the cellar” in Pennsylvanian). It (the basement/cellar) has a stone floor and is adorned with several piles of junk that no one has even looked at since February 24, 1965. For decades, it has been an ideal breeding ground for and I don”t use this term lightly creepy crawlies.

As a child, I”d see them occasionally. Besides being a haven for scary bugs, the basement was also where Gramma kept all the canned goods few orders were more terrifying than the ones that began, “Aubrey, would you go down the cellar and get ” So I”d be downstairs, getting a can of Beefaroni or something, when out of nowhere a spider roughly the size of a mature watermelon would slink down from the ceiling and stick its tongue out at me.

Brutal though these encounters were, I felt safe in the knowledge that the spiders liked it down there and were not coming upstairs where I might unwittingly swallow them in my sleep. Or where they might swallow me in my sleep.

But like I said, these were no ordinary spiders. Mold, mildew and what must have been a steady supply of edible insects were not enough for them. They yearned to see the world beyond the staircase. Before long, they were electing officials, holding rallies and making speeches from little podiums to one another about conquering the ominous Man Upstairs and all of his Wretched Offspring. Each year, as their supply of aforementioned nourishment increased, they got bigger and stronger. Every now and then, they would send a brave representative though the laundry chute to check things out.

Yet somehow, in all the years I”ve been visiting that house, I never saw one spider outside the bounds of the basement.

That is, not until last week.

Upon entering the area of the house known as the Back Room, I was startled to find a spider that could easily have used me as a toothpick kicked back in Gramma”s recliner! One pair of his legs were crossed, another behind his head, the third knitting a tea cozy and the fourth holding the TV remote and a glass of iced tea. He took a sip, then noticed me standing slack-jawed in the doorway. “Oh, I”m sorry,” he said. “Did you want to sit here?”

Ha, ha! I am such a kidder. He was really drinking a Frappuccino.

Aubrey Henretty”s column runs every other Monday. She can be reached via e-mail at ahenrett@umich.edu.

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