art by Stephen James Kiniry
by Alex Shvartsman
We listen to the spidersong. The spiders are far away, just at the edge of our senses, whispering a haunting and beautiful melody into our minds. The grown-ups are oblivious, as always. They are having several conversations at once around the campfire, laughing and gossiping. It's a nuisance because we can't enjoy the spidersong nearly as well, not with all the distraction. We use a reliable trick--we have Sheila ask for a story.
Sheila is the youngest and she hates to speak using words even more than the rest of us, but we nudge her along, and she tugs on old Jens' coat. He is only too happy to oblige. Kids and grown-ups alike gather around the fire. Everyone else quiets down and settles in to listen to Jens.
"What story would you like, dear," asks Jens. "Do you want to hear about the home world, or about our voyage among the stars?"
"Nah that stuff's boring," says Sheila. "Tell us about the spiders."
Jens frowns. The grown-ups don't like the spiders at all. But Sheila looks pleadingly up at Jens with big hazel eyes and he surrenders.
"When our ship crashed nineteen years ago, things were real bad. We had very little food and supplies and only a vague idea about how to live off the land. There were many problems and dangers to overcome, but the spiders--they were the worst."
Some of the grown-ups shift uncomfortably. They stare past the silk-covered trees at the edge of the clearing and into the darkness of the forest, fearing an ambush. We know there are no spiders lurking nearby; their song is still very far away.
"The spiders of this world were the scariest creatures we've ever encountered," Jens says. "They were fast, deadly and huge--three times the size of a man. Too much for us to handle. We lost seven people in two months and had no choice but to abandon the original camp and move further away from the forest."
Eva, the eldest of the children, shares her memory of the crash site. It's all corroded metal and scorched ground--an uncomfortable, almost alien place. We break away from the image and take solace in the spidersong, which is a little louder now and very soothing.
"Years went by, and the rescue we had hoped for never came. We made a life for ourselves in the relative safety of the plains. But our fledgling colony needed the forest--we gathered plants, hunted game and collected spider silk, despite the danger."
Kyle caresses his spider silk sweater. It's very rugged, but soft and warm, and all of us like how it feels against Kyle's fingertips.
"Life was very tough for us back then. We sent hunting parties into the forest to get what we needed, but the spiders hunted us in turn. Not a year went by without us losing at least one person to the bugs. It was bad, until the children began to grow up. Until we realized that those born on this planet could sense the spiders somehow, from a distance."