The call came in about 8:30 on a Friday night.
I was on deadline at the Amarillo newspaper during my first week as night city editor, and the man on the other end of the phone line had called to tell me about a giant spider he’d found in his house.
He was excited, talking very quickly, and he didn’t sound drunk, so I decided to hear him out. Then I would politely thank him and hang up.
He’d made his discovery while coming down the stairs into his darkened basement. He saw a large web, and in the center was a spider “as big around as a dinner plate,” he said. Another spider, slightly smaller, was up near the corner of it, he said. He rushed upstairs to tell his wife.
Hmm. Are the spiders still there?
Yes, they are.
He didn’t know what to do about them, he said, so he had called a professor of entomology at nearby West Texas A&M University to ask him.
I recognized the professor’s name. This story was becoming interesting.
So, what did the professor say?
He’s coming over in about 15 minutes, the man said. He wants to see them for himself and told me I should call the newspaper.
Fifteen minutes? I glanced around the newsroom for a reporter goofing off and found one recounting salacious details that never wound up in his boring story.
The worst part of it is our cat, the caller said.
Yeah, our cat just had kittens and we couldn’t find one of them. When I went into the basement to look for it, I saw it wrapped up like a cocoon in the spider’s web.
What’s your name and address?
Mark Stratton, he said, 607 Buchanan.
Phone number? He said it, and I wrote it down.
We’ll be there in five minutes, I said. I sent a reporter and photographer to the address. My fellow-editor David Stevens and I took another car to the house. I had to see this for myself, in case it turned out to be true.
We got to the house and I bounded up to the front porch. The sun was low in the summer sky, and I knocked on the door. The windows were dark. I peered in but saw nothing.
I knocked for another five minutes, then gave up.
I’m an idiot!
I called the phone number he gave me, and a woman at a local convenience store answered. No, she’d never heard of any spiders the size of dinner plates. No missing kittens. I looked in the phone book. No Mark Stratton.
When I walked back into the newsroom, I expected it to erupt in laughter. But no one said a word. They’d apparently had their fun while I was gone. By the way, it was the sports guys. Some things you just know.
So, to anyone planning a little fun for April Fool’s Day, a bit of advice: I’ve already heard the one about the spiders and the kitten.
This story was originally published March 31, 1998, in the Wichita Falls Times Record News.