China, summertime. A large group of travellers and locals gather for a group photo near a local temple, including me and my newly met friends (whose names I forget but let’s be honest since it’s a dream they probably aren’t all that offended). After the photo, a party: people attempt to converse in their second languages, translators ease the conversation, all is well. Until the snacks are served.
For some reason, the Chinese locals are unfamiliar with the snacks – Smartfood – and a mass hysteria begins, wherein people ingesting the popcorn begin to believe they are spiders and begin to attack. My first instinct is to call in Batman, but then I realise since he is not actually a bat, he will not eat these spider-people. Since I hate Smartfood, I am immune, and though at first I genuinely believe that the food is turning people into seizing, demon hell-beast spiders, I soon realise (after reading a TIME magazine article about the abuse that the sufferers must endure once they are detained by the military) that these people have not been infected by some sort of cerebral virus – it’s simply mass hysteria, further encouraged by the media. After realising this, I and Philip Seymour Hoffman emerge from below the office desk where we were hiding, and set up a plan to capture a spider-man (heh) and study him to see why the hysteria has been so deeply effective.
We stretch packing tape against the nearest doorway and act as human bait to lure the zombie-like spider-people into our trap. We know they rove in packs of four so we have to be ready, once the first spider is caught, to stave off the other three. Surprisingly, our primitive trap ensnares all four, who rush blindly together in confusion and end up tied up on the floor like some kind of Scooby-Doo villains. At this point, before we can study them, soldiers burst through the doors and haul them away, and we are defeated in our quest to solve the puzzle that plagues the nation.
Sometime later, still during the outbreak of spiderdom, I am in a convenience store, merely browsing. A man comes in, distraught, and tries to shoplift some Play-Doh. The cashier notices, begins to yell at him, and threatens to expose him to the crowd of spider-men roving menacingly in the back alley. I quietly place some Play-Doh in my sweater – green, brown, white and black – and exit stage left. When the man is finally booted out of the store by the cashier, I hand him the swag and beat it back to base camp. The man follows me, explaining that his home had been broken into by the spider-people and subsequently looted, and there was nowhere for he and his young son to stay. I invite them both to come chill with me and Philip Seymour Hoffman. He agrees.
Back behind the office desk, the little boy is making caramel apples out of the Play-Doh I managed to purloin, while hallucinations take over and I am convinced the door is a portal to hell, with screaming spider-people whizzing past us to the outside world. (Important to take note that apparently an office desk will save you from all this.) Hoffman shakes me, tells me to get a hold of myself, and eats some Smartfood right in front of my face. I am horrified. I scream that he can’t do this to us, the resistance needs him… until he grins, and reminds me that this is all just mass hysteria. That was exactly the wake-up call I needed, and though I read in TIME magazine that one of my new friends is dead, I bravely step around the front of the office desk and call the rebels to action.
Philip Seymour Hoffman steps outside the pagoda wherein we were hiding, and bravely stands out on the stone platform surrounding the temple. Men and women are everywhere; being chased and beaten by the military, chasing and beating the military; general havoc abounds. Hoffman steps into the fracas and demands that everyone give him attention. They stop. He reaches deep into his bag of Smartfood and eats an entire fistful. He announces that there is nothing to be afraid of – it’s just food. Terrible, artificial-tasting food. People look around at each other. Some are embarrassed, some are weeping. The soldiers administer one final kick for good measure, and drive off in their Jeeps. There is silence.
The people near the temple all shuffle back to the risers where our initial photo was taken. There are fewer of us now, and I’m reunited with my surviving friends. The man and his son emerge and join us. Our photo is taken, we are survivors.
It is a year later, and I am back in the village which I visited on that fateful summer when so many lost their lives. A man is sitting in his window when a letter blows in – he opens it, but cannot understand it since it is in English and he only reads Mandarin. He hands it to me, smiling, and I see that it is covered in Zoidberg stickers – a little inside joke between me and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I smile. As I tuck the letter into my pocket and turn around, a familiar shout gets my attention, and the little boy comes running up to me, arms outstretched. I ruffle his hair – he’s grown a lot in a year! – and accept the Play-Doh caramel apple that he thrusts into my palm. I stand and smile at his father, who smiles back and takes his son’s hand as they turn back to the home they rebuilt.
Also throughout the whole thing I had this awesome British accent.