by Gustuf Young
“Yes, my child?” Her back bristled with chitinous spines, gathering microscopic dew in the rapidly cooling eventide.
“I can’t sleep.”
“But you must sleep. A child grows faster when they rest. Besides, breakfast is being made.” The mother was bundling a parcel, spinning it into the loom of her abdomen as the toxins turned the victim to stone.
“But I can’t sleep,” the cotton orb stirred, a fluttering inside the pliable strands, woven tight.
“Are you hungry, child?”
“No, Mommy. I want to hear a story.” A breeze blew through the city, silence and stench upon it. Streetlights rose with the descending dusk.
“A story? Well, then … how about the one about the water spout?”
“No, Mommy! That one’s boring!” The child was agitated.
“Then it will be good for getting you to rest then.”
“Mommy, tell me about the old ones a long, long time ago.”
“But dear, that one is too long.”
“Please, Mommy? Pretty please?” The voice was sweet as gold dripping from the honeycomb.
“Very well. Close your eyes and imagine, daughter …”
Many years ago, you would not recognize our world. The mountains and oceans and hills were all in different places.
They move slowly over time. Our world is but plates shifting on a sea of fire.
Then why don’t we burn, Mommy?
Another time. Hush, child.)
Millions of grandparents ago, we lived in the sea. All of us did. The seas came first, long before dry land. Your ancestors were simple people but defended themselves. They wore suits of armor that they dragged along the ocean floor to protect them when the First Eyes gazed upon them.
(First eyes? But why didn’t we have eyes?
Because we didn’t need them yet, my daughter.)
They did not feast as we did. They were bottom feeders who scraped the muck from the ocean floor and whatever small, small, small creatures came their way.
(But don’t we eat smaller creatures now, Mommy?
Yes, but we were much smaller then.)
One day, one of your ancestors had the nerve to leave the sea. Just as one day, you must leave your little egg and, inevitably, this little nest, my dear.
(There was a weight there, a dragging of the phrase, wishing it could wait a thousand years for the inevitable heartbreak.)
When they departed the womb of the ocean, some stayed amongst the waves. Being on land meant the sea no longer lessened our loads. Those left in the sea would not abandon their armor and move encumbered along the earth. After some centuries, we were families no more, for we change with time, small one, change where it is needed. This is something wise for you to learn. As it was needed, they forged weapons of their fingers over the years, until soon their hands had become terrible pincers.
(The silken parcel of breakfast wriggled briefly.)
On land, even without our shells, we were slow and cumbersome. We could not catch the moist, succulent meats that had learned to ride the winds. We began by killing the smallest of our former families, punishing those who were small and easily deceived. At first, we swallowed them whole before learning we could dissect them, piece by piece, to stretch the meal along for hours, conserving the kill for when nutrition was needed. But you little ones were defenseless. Your hides and tender skin sizzled in the sunlight and your lungs grew brittle when you tasted the frigid winter airs.
One day, a mother spider, fearing for the little one’s life, not strong enough to pull the fallen leaves or nimble enough to steal earth before the lizards swallowed her, was desperate. With nothing else, she wrapped her spawn in spit and fluid she wove into strands and found it kept the girl warm. Her daughter would use the method to line the walls of her nest, trapping the humidity and warmth within her burrow. The next daughter used it to build lines outside the nest, to warn of intruders lest they stumble into their homes. Many daughters later, we had made weapons of our mantua. Many daughters after that, even, our taffeta had become beautiful traps, patterns dancing upon the air, intricate and ornate.
Soon, some of us made homes on the gossamer structures and every unfortunate gnat or locust who dared intrude would never leave. Some of us perfected traps in burrows. Once again, we were families no more. Some of your great-grandmothers discovered that the lifeblood in their veins was vitriol and death to others. They learned to applicate the liquids with their teeth to melt the armor of our relatives and reveal their delicious innards.
The descendants of my descendants of my descendants watched the great lizards grow to mammoth sizes before the eternal droughts laid them to wastes. Their descendants gazed as the reptiles ruled the earth before the Great Star from the Sky hit our world, raining fire upon the land and destroying them as well. We watched the mammoths and great cats roam the plains, only to vanish like all the rest. Those who could not shrink to hide or conserve would fall for their glutton.
But we remained.
We laid our eggs.
We set our traps.
We brewed our venom.
The small survived as the giants fell, their carcasses a banquet for the survivors. For if one cannot change, the change ends them.
“Is that why we’re changing, Mommy?” the young girl asked.
“Of course, dear. The world is turning again.” A siren howled in the distance, automated and blaring through the calm twilight.
“Will I change?”
“Everyone does, dear, or else. It is the way of things,” the mother said as her captive wriggled and mumbled gently, mouth full of excretions. A strand came loose from the web as a stray fruit bat passed through, bumbling and foolish towards a dumpster in an alley, full of sweet rancor and insects. She crawled over gingerly and with dexterity, fastened the web’s corner to the stop sign. More food would come soon. All that was needed was patience and poison.
“Still awake, dear?”
“I’m tired … and I’m hungry.”
“Then come and partake, child. It is best when it still moves.”
Eyes stared wide from within the cocoon as the young, scruffy man was trying to scream. All that was heard was the unsheathing of giant fangs as they pierced his abdomen, dissolving his bones with slowly churned toxins.
Gustuf Young is an husband and father of two pinballs from Fort Worth, TX. He plays the banjo, bass, paints and gardens in his spare time, sometimes simultaneously. Please direct all complaints to the appropriate parties.