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Standard Deviation

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Everyone has heard it by now, that damnable fact about annual arachnid consumption. “The average person eats three spiders a year." It was the one sentence that made my skin crawl. The inherent error within it made my blood race. It's impossible. It's disgusting. It's false. The average person eats zero spiders a year. Zero.




But no one believed me. I couldn't stand it anymore. Each time the fact was repeated I could feel my heart pounding in my ears. It’s not true, I told them. It’s incorrect, I’d say. I could hear the anger in my voice. Each time I spoke up, I spoke louder. But they couldn’t hear me. No, that’s not it - they wouldn’t listen. They wouldn't listen.

"The facts state..." they would tell me.

"According to the data..." they would say.

“The statistics indicate…” they reassured me.

But I had been there. I had been there. I had been part of the original team of surveyors and statisticians, accumulating and collating the data. We came upon Spiders Georg almost by accident. We were lost, trying out a shortcut that turned out to be a dead end. Spiders Georg found us, cold and afraid in a dark, lonely wood, and led us back to his cave for shelter. He lived as a hermit, limited in his contact with the outside world. For that reason alone we should have discounted him as part of the sample we were collecting, but my teammates insisted on polling him. They were intrigued. And then we learned he lived on a diet consisting mostly of spiders, and the data set was never the same.

It was Spiders Georg's fault. Spiders Georg was a statistical outlier.

It is impossible to pinpoint the exact moment in time when that thought occurred to me, but once it had, it changed the course of my life forever. To say I conceived the plan would be wrong; the plan sprung fully-formed into my mind all at once. It was simple. It was concise. It was easily within the realm of execution. The sample maximum had to be eliminated to restore balance to the statistical universe. Spiders Georg had to be stopped.

And I had to be the one to stop him.

Spiders Georg himself made the task so very easy. He lived so very far away, away from any town or road or other outreach of human civilization. No one but subsequent survey-takers encountered him with any regularity, and even then their visits were few and far between. His absence wouldn’t be noticed for weeks, if not months, and by then it would be too late.

too late...

too late...

too late...

The distribution would have been returned to normal. Zero spiders would be eaten by anyone that year. Zero spiders.

I knew where to find him. His home was desolate, and surrounded only by miles of the loneliest forest. My mistake was to go in the fall, when the daylight waned sooner. I hiked for miles, for hours, for nearly an entire day, and twilight was already setting in before I reached the place. I was cold. I was hungry. I was tired.

But Spiders Georg smiled and waved as I approached. “Hello, friend!” he called out to me. “Come in, come in.” He beckoned me to follow him inside, where a small fire cast light against the stone, its smoke leaving stains against its surface. He recognized me from our first visit, and I fought hard to quell the sudden doubt that sprang into my chest. Spiders Georg, while strange and probably malnourished, harbored no ill will within him. He did not mean to cause me such inner turmoil. He did not intentionally eat spiders to throw out of balance the order of the universe. He was a courteous and welcoming host, making sure I was well-cared for and warm.

But he had no idea what was coming.

“Can I get you something to eat?” he asked, offering a handful of small arachnids to me. None of them were larger than the tip of my finger, and they shone like small black jewels in the firelight. They twitched and wiggled in his palm. I refused. “Your loss,” he said, tossing all of them into his mouth at once. As he happily crunched on them, I saw in my mind's eye the numbers spike suddenly, the mean and median tremble and swell.

The statistics couldn’t take it any longer.

I snapped.

It was over in an instant. Spiders George lay at my feet in the center of his cold, forsaken home. The spiders that escaped his endless hunger scattered and disappeared into shadows. I had time on my side now, but even so I hurried. The hole was dug, the body buried. By the time I was finished, the gray light of dawn began to creep into the cave. I stepped out into the world without a shred of guilt to hold me back.

Satisfied but tired, I sat cross-legged on the wet, leaf-strewn ground before the cave. I had done it. I had accomplished my mission. I could feel order restored to the world around me. What a rush it was! It felt like a fresh breeze, refreshing and invigorating. I breathed it in, I swallowed it whole, I drank deeply of the exultation I felt. The realization that I could have such power over the universe made me shudder with delight. I did it. I fixed it all. I fixed it all. I felt like I could control the whole world if I wanted to, in that moment.

But the feeling was fleeting. My work had been done, my mission accomplished. but what now?

what now?...

what now?...

what now?...

The control I had was only temporary, and thus it was no control at all. There would be zero spiders eaten annually, but no one – no one – would know that I had been the one to restore balance to the universe. No one would know of my power. They would not even know my name... not the way they had known the name of Spiders Georg.

As my legs grew numb from sitting, a spider crawled across the back of my wrist. It was a delicate feeling, its feet against the small hairs of my arm. It tickled. It tingled. I saved you, I thought briefly. I lifted my hand to my face, fully intending to blow it away with a breath. I saved you and you will never thank me for it.

It was level with my mouth now. I glanced downward at it as it paused to rest between the small bones of my hand. It had no idea how much control I briefly had, and how much control I could gain still.

I brought it to my lips and I ate it whole.

I am Spiders Georg now.

I am the statistical outlier.

Come and stop me, if you can.