Thursday, January 17, 2013

Friday Flash: Little Miss Muffet: The True Story

by Eric J. Krause

I think most everyone knows Little Miss Muffet's story. If not, here you go:

          Little Miss Muffet/ Sat on a tuffet/ Eating her curds and whey/
Along came a spider/ Who sat down beside her/
And frightened Miss Muffet away

Straight forward enough, right? She was eating breakfast when a spider dropped down, scared the crud out of her, and ruined her meal. But what would you say if I told you Mother Goose (who isn't really a goose, but something far stranger – ask me again sometime and I might regale you with her tale) changed quite a bit to create that little rhyme? She was, after all, writing for children. You may not believe me, but I promise you I speak the truth. At least my version of the truth.

Her name wasn't Miss Muffet, but Karina McDonald. (Not of the famous Old McDonald Had a Farm McDonalds,' though she and her family were farmers.) The McDonalds' were dirt-poor, barely growing, harvesting, and slaughtering enough to get by. And forget about any excess to sell or trade off at the nearby market. Father and Mother McDonald couldn't, of course, afford to hire workers, so Karina and her younger brother, William, were the only extra hands available.

The family typically worked from before sunrise to well beyond sunset, seven days a week, through the coldest, wettest winter days to the hottest and driest the summer threw at them. Meals were often taken on the go. All four became masterful at balancing and juggling any sort of food while they worked.

Though Karina never had time to be a sickly child, she wasn't the strongest specimen. Therefore, she was the one relegated to the housework and other non-back-breaking chores, as her father put it. It also gave her access to the cute neighbor boy, Alexander, who would often stop by when his own chores were done so he could talk to Karina. When they grew to the age where such things became important, the two fell in love, which the McDonald parents whole-heartedly supported. Not only did they figure they'd gain Alexander as a son-in-law, but also as a new farmhand, as his family could afford to replace him on their own farm. Not to mention the children the two would spawn. There would soon be more than enough able bodies to tend the McDonald fields.

Alexander didn't see things that way. He wanted his own farm, and he wasn't content to take over that of the McDonalds' (which, truth be told, wasn't great land to begin with). Karina couldn't wait to begin her new life, and her parents saw no way to convince her otherwise. When Alexander set out on a quest to find farmland for him and his soon-to-be bride, Father McDonald followed. He had no idea of what he would do: Would he reason with the boy? Plead with him? Threaten him? Hurt him? Maybe even kill him? So he did the only right thing; he hung back and let fate decide.

As it turned out, fate truly did make the decision, and Father McDonald didn't have to do anything. Poor Alexander, while hiking through the forest and most likely dreaming of his future life with his beloved, stumbled through a giant widowmaker web. And while it didn't technically make Karina a widow since she and Alexander weren't yet wed, the two overgrown beasts that hung in the middle of their silk trap did kill the boy almost instantly.

One would think Father McDonald would have jumped for joy and left the boy's corpse there to rot, but he couldn't. Alexander really had been a good lad, and McDonald realized he wouldn’t have killed, or even threatened, the boy. He crushed the two spiders under his heal and dragged Alexander's poison-bloated body home. Karina, of course, as youngsters tend to do, saw him and Alexander much before he intended, and she flew into hysterics until she wore herself out.

Father McDonald laid Alexander's body next to the hearth where Karina stood vigil all night. In the morning, he headed over to the neighboring farm to break the terrible news to the boy's family. Mother McDonald placed a bowl of curds and whey in Karina's lap and took William out to begin their daily chores. Karina couldn't eat; she could only stare at her lost love's lifeless body.

Not too much time had passed (her porridge was still warm) when a tiny spider, a baby widowmaker, crawled out of Alexander's shirt and towards Karina. Instead of throwing her bowl aside and running for safety, as she would have done the previous morning, she slowly lowered her hand and let the miniscule monster climb aboard. Everyone, including Karina, knew a baby widowmaker was twice as deadly as its full-grown counterpart. Not only was its bite certain death, but the poison took longer to spread and proved much more painful in the process. When the tiny thing inevitably sank its fangs into the flesh of her palm, burning the veins in her arm worse than any flame could, she smiled and squished the pinprick of death between her forefinger and thumb. Soon she'd be with her Alexander, this time forever. Her still-full bowl fell to the ground as her soul escaped from this mortal coil.