The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Spidersong

Deep in the forest, where there was only enough light to make shadows, where the air tasted of moss and rain, the spiders sang.

The forest was on the edge of a great city of glass towers and brick houses, of long roads filled with cars, and people. So very many people. They went about their lives, to school and work and home again, occasionally shooing small, scuttling things from kitchens and pillows.

“We wait,” the spiders hissed to each other. “We wait until the time is right.”

Not even a single leaf rustled overhead, the day entirely still. Above the treetops, far on the horizon, clouds moved across the sky.

The city people did not know about the spiders. Not the big ones, at least, in their enormous webs strung so thick they were like clouds, fallen to hang among the trunks and stroke the bark with wispy fingertips. There was no reason for the city people to know, no reason for them to venture so far into the forest.

“Tomorrow,” said the spiders. “Hungry.”

And they began to spin new webs.

~*~

Claudia Davenport hated her little brother, who had chased the dog away, over the fence and into the fields on the other side. She wasn’t supposed to go into the fields alone, and she definitely wasn’t supposed to go into the forest on the other side alone.

But she wasn’t supposed to lose the dog, either, and blaming it on Jamie would only get her sent to bed without dinner, because tattling wasn’t nice, according to her mother. Claudia held different opinions on that, but curiously, nobody seemed very interested in hearing them.

“Max!” she called. A warm breeze rippled the long grass in the field and it was nice, after so many long, hot days when there hadn’t been so much as a breath through the open windows of her house to cool her while she practiced the piano. The grass slapped against her bare, scabbed knees and whipped up dust from dry patches where it was completely worn away. “Max!”

She thought, perhaps, she could hear an answering bark, just inside the trees. On she trudged, feeling the air cool against her shoulders the instant she stepped into the shadows. It was quieter here, all sounds of the city muffled, and darker, though there was still plenty of light.

“Crazy dog, where are you?” Claudia’s voice bounced back and forth, set birds free from their branches. “No treats for you later.”

Footsteps padded along the moss nearby, but they didn’t sound like paws. That didn’t bother Claudia a bit. Jamie would be frightened, because he was a wimp and scared of everything, but Claudia liked all kinds of animals, and they liked her, too.

~*~

Spider legs danced along gossamer strings, spinning and weaving. “We are ready,” they agreed, and they crawled along their webs to sit, poised and waiting, all their many eyes staring in the same direction.

Down, down the strange avenue created by two lines of thick, gnarled trees, old as the ground to which they clung with their twisted roots.

Down the long path that led all the way to the fields and then the city.

Down the tunnel created by earth below and leaves above, through which–when the weather was just exactly right, the wind blew.

~*~

Claudia had never heard music like it before. Like violins, except not. Lower, richer, more like a cello, except not that, either. The melody was unearthly, nothing she recognized, and yet she knew it was music, intentional sound, not simply noise.

“Oh. Hi, Max,” she whispered, quietly enough that it didn’t interrupt the music playing everywhere, but especially inside her head. The dog had licked a large, slobbery patch on her shin. “When did you get here?”

Max whined, and shook a little at her feet. “Come on.”

The dog shook harder. Claudia had to clip his leash to his collar and pull to get him to follow, reluctantly, as she moved toward the music.

Louder, it grew. Louder and louder with every step.

It was weird, the way the trees grew this deep in the forest. As if someone had planted two neat rows and then stopped caring what happened on either side, so they were all jumbled up except for these two straight lines, a dozen feet apart. The toes of Claudia’s sneakers caught on rocks and snapped twigs, and she didn’t stop walking. Behind her, Max dug his little brown paws into the soft earth. She tugged him along.

Was it a harp? She’d seen someone play a harp, once, but it hadn’t made her feel like this, warm and sleepy. Almost floating.

The wind rushed at her back, past her, tossing her hair into her face, hardly broken by a little girl. She followed it, chased it, and stopped, peering through the dimness.

“Welcome,” said a voice. A voice that hissed, a voice with beady eyes and too many legs. The word wove itself into the music, adding another layer to the song. “She is a bit thin.”

“She is enough,” said another voice.

“She is plenty,” said a third.

And the wind blew harder through the spiderwebs. The music swelled. Max whined again. Claudia stepped closer.

“Plenty for what?” she asked, and her voice did not sound quite like her own. Somewhere, deep inside, a flicker of fear grew and was blown out by the wind. She should be scared, but the music was so pretty. Enormous webs spread out in front of her, stretched between the trees, spun in patterns she had never seen before. Nothing like the normal spiders in the basement. She reached out to touch a strand, vaguely surprised when it didn’t snap. Instead, a single clear note joined the melody, ringing through the forest.

“Hungry.”

Max whined again, pawing at her leg, and Claudia squinted. A spider as large as a football hovered just ahead, grinning.

There was another just there. And there. And over there. All around.

“You want…to eat me?”

“There is always one who hears the song when the winds come. Today, we feast.”

~*~

Occasionally, they got away. The little girl’s dog had yelped and snapped and chased her back down the avenue of trees. The spiders waited, sullen and starving, in their musical webs. So close, so very close. But not to be.

“Maybe she came this way,” said a voice, coming closer. “What a strange noise the wind makes in the trees here.”

Yes, oh yes.

“Mommy? Where’s Claudia? I didn’t mean to chase Max out of the yard.”

Two. The spiders grinned again, and bared their fangs.

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