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Interlude

The Secret History of Trust

by Sir Reginald F. Grump XXIII

Unique among Sir Reginald F. Grump XXIII’s mysterious and eccentric writings, A Secret History of Trust is perhaps the only story which has no secret history, or at least, only a relatively insignificant one. According to Sir Reginald’s notes, this story was inspired by his unexpected encounter with one Kevyn Vaughan in the women’s bathing facilities of Haviland Penitentiary. The circumstances surrounding Ms. Vaughan’s incarceration and escape remain a mystery, as she appears to have no arrest record, but is noted in the prison documents as having escaped with the aid of a prison guard. Of course, it goes without saying that Sir Reginald could not possibly have been in the correctional facility’s shower. We must, therefore, conclude that the encounter was entirely a matter of Sir Reginald’s overactive imagination — a product, as it were, of his “condition,” a matter upon which he, and those within his circle, remain obstinately silent.

The Secret History of Trust

by Sir Reginald F. Grump XXIII

 

It was the perfect place, before the monster came.

She built her home there, between the glassy cliffs and the swaying folds of densely woven fibers, under the white sky and the rusty bar. Here there was protection, from the rain, from dangerous animals who would kill her without a thought. From rivals.

And there was food.

Oh yes, there was food. Moths and flies and mosquitoes, silverfish and centipedes. They fell from the hole in the sky that let in the sun to scurry around the pond — dry but for the soft dripping of the spring — just waiting to be fetched out by a helpful arachnid.

And then, the monster came.

~

When the monster came, it came singing monstrous songs. The melody of it vibrated her web, but the monster paid no heed. Instead, it flung its horrible limbs about itself in time with its horrible song.

She didn’t know whether to run and hide or stand and challenge. Whether to make herself look big, or become very small. She chose instead to remain perfectly still.

Maybe the monster would just go away.

It didn’t.

Instead, it shoved its hand right through her web, snapping strands, destroying the perfect symmetry of her home, before bellowing and yanking its hand back. The tattered web shook.

She hung on for dear life. She stayed very still.

It didn’t help. The monster’s hideous face loomed over her.

It spoke then, more softly than it had before. Still, the force of the creature’s breath shook the web.

“Oh, aren’t you lovely?”

Lovely? As in, a lovely snack? She ran. She let go of her web and dropped, lowering herself to the floor as fast as she could. There was no hope for her, not against something like that, but if she could lead the thing away from the egg sack…

Something massive hovered over her, then slammed down, too fast to avoid.

She was… still alive. The monster had trapped her, imprisoned her, presumably saving her for a future meal. The walls of her prison were textured but non-porous, and translucent. The monster raised her up, and then… oh. No.

It reached for the egg sack.

She battered herself against the wall of her prison, to no avail.

The monster loomed close.

“Trust me,” it said, in its shattering voice. “I know a perfect place for you.”

~

The monster had not lied. It released her in a sheltered place thick with prey. She could have lived on the mosquitoes alone, but there was so much more. Gnats for mid-day snacks, and fruit flies, pill bugs and daddy long-legs. Even a nice, succulent yellow jacket that was kind enough to offer itself to her.

This was paradise.

Even better, the creature had placed her egg sack next to her. She carefully carried it into the upper reaches of her new web, safe from mice and other ravenous creatures. And every day, she told the story of the monster that brought them to paradise.

When the eggs hatched and the tiny spiders floated away on silk threads, she was long dead, a dried husk hanging from a tattered web.

But they did not forget, and when the creature came to walk among them, they strove to dazzle it with their magnificent webs.

And when it was their time, they laid their eggs and told the tale, over and over, of the monster who brought them to paradise.

~

There are monsters, and there are monsters.

Two of the creatures came late one night, unimaginably huge, blundering through webs. They forced open the portal the spiders guarded, the portal to the lair of the monster who had delivered Grandmother Spider to paradise. They remained within for only a short time, punctuated by the sounds of a tremendous battle, massive blows that could flatten a dozen spiders or more, crashes, and screams.

When the two monsters left, they carried with them several bags. One appeared to be injured.

The portal into the monster’s home remained open. One of the spiders ventured within. And then, hearing her report, more followed.

The monster — their monster — lay on the floor, unmoving but for the soft swell and ebb of its chest. And the pulsing flow of blood from its body. The spiders did not know much of the monster’s species, but they knew one thing: when the inside of any creature was visible through a break in its exoskeleton, that creature would most likely die.

They conferred. It was hopeless; their monster was dying. But they owed their lives to the thing. They had to try.

They flowed over it like a carpet.

~

Should I tell you of the measures they took to keep their monster alive? It would read like a laundry list, or a television medical drama gone horribly astray. They did what they knew. They did what they could do. They spun.

Fearing accidental destruction should the creature awake in a panic, they affixed its limbs where they lay. Silk bonds encircled it, stretched to floors, stair rails, chairs, and walls. Held it motionless.

Others lay soft silk across wounds, to staunch the bleeding.

Yet others wove sacks of silk to catch dew from the morning leaves and carry it inside, to drizzle between the creature’s lips.

When at last the creature woke, it did panic, struggling feebly against the silk bonds that held it motionless. But the spiders spoke.

“Trust us,” one of them said. And then more of them: “Trust us.” Until the whole host of spiders were chanting it, loud enough that the creature had to hear. The creature stopped struggling, and then relaxed.

“Okay,” it said. “I trust you.”

~

There is a tale they tell of a woman with spiders in her hair, who lives in a house of webs in an enclave deep in the kudzu. Grandmother Spider, they call her, though she is not so old as all that. Or wasn’t, when I last saw her.

They say she talks to the spiders, or talks with the spiders. That she lives with them, and eats with them. That she sleeps with them.

Of that last bit, I can say without hesitation: it is true.

She came to one of my infrequent readings and sat in the back. When the audience retired to the pub next door, she remained.

She had spiders in her hair. Orb weavers, black and yellow, massive and beautiful, and, quite frankly, a bit terrifying. When she spoke, she sounded nervous, as if she hadn’t spoken much to people. Her voice was soft, barely above a whisper.

“There’s something I’d like to show you,” she said, with no introduction. “I think you’d understand.”

“I’m expected to join the others at the pub,” I said. “I’m sorry, Ms….”

She didn’t give me her name. Instead: “I need someone to understand.”

She turned and limped away, without another word. She carried a canvas grocery bag, containing a box. I’d been so fixated on the spiders in her hair that I hadn’t noticed.

The box buzzed.

I followed.

We came to a house of webs. Just a regular house, really, but one upon which spiders’ webs had grown like kudzu. She ducked and wove through them with ease; I quickly had a face full of silk.

I trailed her into her bedroom.

If I thought there had been a proliferation of spiders before, I was sadly misunderstanding the word proliferation.

We hadn’t spoken since the reading. I considered running.

I wasn’t sure running would work.

Grandmother Spider cautiously slipped her shirt over her head, and removed her skirt. Naked, she turned to face me.

From the scars I could tell she had been stabbed several times. Her left leg was disfigured — a fractured tibia that had protruded from the skin, until the tissue had grown over it. No wonder she limped.

“There is a game we play,” she said, laying down on the bed. “It’s called Trust.” She patted the mattress next to her. “Please, sit with me. Trust us.”

I sat. She took my hand. She spread her legs.

The spiders descended.

As they crawled up her thighs, she shivered. As they climbed the swell of her breasts, she trembled. Even I can’t imagine the feeling of thousands of tiny legs, thousands of loving pin-pricks tickling nerve endings, all over one’s body. Her breath came in short gasps, whistling over the bodies of the weavers that paced the lengths of her lips, that dangled from silk threads clamber across her teeth and tickle her tongue. She tightened her grip on my hand, and did not move. Did not spit mouthfuls of chitin, or crush them between her teeth.

Her pubis was a mound of spiders, a writhing mass of black and yellow chitin, their long legs catching and pulling apart the soft flesh of her lips. Dancing on her clit.

Sweat beaded her upper lip. Her eyelids fluttered. Her toes curled, and her body tensed, every muscle straining.

Each exhale blew streamers of silk, left behind by weavers who had come to dance, and then moved on to give others a chance.

Her fingernails dug into my palm, drawing blood.

Other than that, she remained perfectly still as the orgasm washed over her.

As her body relaxed, the spiders flowed from her, from the bed. They avoided me. She waited until the last of them had returned to its web before she moved. She sat up carefully, watching to ensure that she did not inadvertently harm any of her lovers. She wiped the silk streamers from her lips, rolled them between thumb and forefinger, and popped the little silk ball into her mouth. Then she rose quickly and put on her skirt. She donned her shirt more slowly, careful not to harm the spiders in her hair.

She hadn’t looked at me since her orgasm.

“Thank you for trusting me with this,” I said. “It was beautiful.”

She whirled, studied me with suspicion, then relaxed. “You do understand,” she said. “I’m so glad. I worried about having you feed us–them–if you didn’t.”

“Feed?” It had not occurred to me to be worried. A spider, even one as massive as the orb weavers, was little danger to a human. But thousands of spiders, swarming… Terrifying. But also, I must admit after what I had seen, slightly arousing.

Grandmother Spider bent, then approached to place a box in my hands. It buzzed, vibrating gently. I had forgotten about the box. “They get hungry after sex,” she said.

“Ah,” I said.

She glanced at the box.

I opened the lid and held the box up above my head.

And like manna rising into heaven, the air was full of food.

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