After arriving home, she made plans to travel to Manchester the following weekend to present the plant to her young relative. However, in the meantime she couldn't resist seeing if what the stallholder in Cairo had said was true. She began to water the tiny cactus and, sure enough, it rapidly swelled in size.
She was nonplussed, however, to see that the plant also had a tendency to shudder every few minutes. At first the movement was almost imperceptible but as the days passed it became more and more pronounced. Intrigued, she phoned a keen horticulturist friend who gave her the number of a cactus expert in the city's world-famous botanical gardens. She explained, and was surprised to hear the expert sound increasingly agitated. At the end of her story, he barked at her: "Right, get out and wait in the street! I'm notifying the authorities. Don't go back into the house."
In minutes an unmarked van screeched to a halt outside and a group of figures dressed like starship troopers and sporting flame-throwers sprinted into the house. She watched in horror as her living room was lit up by fire. Afterwards they let her see the plant's remains, surrounded by the scorched corpses of the hundreds of tiny black spiders which had been inside, each one more venomous than a black widow.
(with thanks to Jo Rainbow and Monique Ryan)
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