Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother came into the kitchen and stopped. “Benson, what are you doing?” she said.
“Spreading peanut butter on Aunt Moss’s shoes,” he said.
“I can see that,” his mother said. “But why?”
“Because it’s Tuesday,” Benson said, carefully going around the laces and licking the knife.
“Is there something about Tuesday that I don’t know about?” his mother asked.
“Arlette says that this week it’s Spider Tuesday, and all the hopping spiders will land on your shoes and make their webs between your ankles so you fall over when you try to walk,” Benson said.
“And you believe her?” his mother asked.
“No, but I thought Aunt Moss might,” Benson said, “and you know how she hates spiders.”
“Did Arlette tell you that peanut butter will keep the spiders off?” she asked.
“No, that was my idea,” Benson said. “I was going to use soap, but peanut butter sticks on better.”
Just then there was a knock at the door. It was Uncle Elton. “Um, could you give me a hand please?” he said, tripping over as he walked in.
“Why do you have your fingers in your ears?” Benson’s mother asked him.
“Sorry, I can’t hear you,” Uncle Elton said.
She pulled one of his fingers out of his ear. Elton yelped and said, “Don’t do that! Don’t you know it’s Spider Tuesday? I don’t want the flying spiders to drop onto my head and crawl into my ears and bite holes in my brain!”
“Have you been talking to Arlette?” Benson’s mother said.
Uncle Elton had his fingers back in his ears again. “The thing is, I can’t do up my shoe-laces like this, and I keep tripping over.”
Benson said, “I can help you with that.” He spread lots of sticky peanut butter over Uncle Elton’s shoe-laces and they all stuck together.
Uncle Elton smiled. “Thanks, Benson!” he shouted.
Benson’s mother said, “I think I need to have a talk to Arlette.”
“Are you going out?” Elton shouted. “Don’t forget your umbrella!”
“It’s not raining,” she said. “Why would I need an umbrella?”
“To keep the sky spiders off,” Elton answered. “They won’t land on me because I put some fish sauce on my head before I came. Do you have any fish sauce?”
Benson’s mother closed her lips firmly. “Come on, Benson, let’s go,” she said. “And bring the fish sauce. Elton, you bring the peanut butter.”
Outside there were wombats everywhere holding up umbrellas and peering anxiously at the sky, and trying to put their fingers in their ears at the same time. Down the track a little way, they found Arlette sitting at a table with a box of full of feathers. There was a sign on the table that said, ‘Anti-Spider Feather Dusters. Free with two strawberries.’ On the other side of the table was a big bowl full of strawberries that Arlette was eating calmly.
Gordon came rushing up and pushed past them. “I’ve brought you the strawberries,” he said, giving her a handful. “Can I have three feather dusters? Quick! I can feel them walking on me!”
Arlette took the strawberries and added them to her pile. She gave Gordon three feathers. “Remember, you have to swoosh and sweep, swoosh and sweep. It’s the only way to keep the spiders away.”
Gordon took his feathers and hurried off, swooshing and sweeping.
Arlette said to Benson’s mother, “Do you need a feather duster?”
“I don’t think so,” said Benson’s mother.
“Are you sure?” Arlette said. “The forecast is for much worse spider conditions this afternoon. If you don’t have any strawberries, an orange is okay.”
Benson’s mother said, “How did you find out about Spider Tuesday?”
“Oh, everyone knows,” Arlette said. “Or maybe I read it in a book somewhere.”
“Or maybe you just made it up, to make a lot of people look silly,” Benson’s mother said.
Arlette opened her eyes wide. “Make it up? Why would I do that?” she giggled.
Benson’s mother folded her arms and looked hard at Arlette. She said, “Arlette, did you ever hear a story about smuckle-bugs?”
“No,” Arlette said. “What’s that?”
Benson’s mother said, “Smuckle-bugs are perfectly harmless. Unless you’ve been eating strawberries.”
“Strawberries?” Arlette said nervously.
“The smell of strawberries makes them really fierce,” Benson’s mother said. “Their eyes go red and their nippers start snipping and snapping.”
Arlette started to look worried. Benson’s mother said, “Benson, do you see something crawling on Arlette’s back?”
Benson peered closely but he couldn’t see a thing. “No, I can’t see anything,” he said.
His mother said, “Are you sure?”
Uncle Elton said suddenly, “Wait! I think I can see something!”
Arlette jumped up and started brushing at her back. “Get it off me! Get it off!” she screamed. She grabbed the fish sauce and poured it all down her back. Then she took the peanut butter away from Uncle Elton and rubbed it all over her head, then she tipped the box of feathers all over herself. They stuck to the peanut butter and stood up all over her head.
“Is it gone?” she panted.
Benson’s mother said, “You don’t have to worry, smuckle-bugs are just a story – they’re not real. Like Spider Tuesday.”
Arlette’s face went red under the peanut butter and feathers. “You can have all those strawberries,” she said, looking angry and embarrassed. “I’m going home to have a bath.” And she walked off.
Benson said, “So it isn’t really Spider Tuesday?”
His mother said, “No, of course not.”
On the way home, Uncle Elton said, “It was a good thing we brought the fish sauce and the peanut butter, wasn’t it? Otherwise Arlette would have been in big trouble.”