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The Spider's Garden

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. She has had over 140 short stories published in places like Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex Magazine, and Escape Pod. This is her eighth appearance in Daily Science Fiction. Her debut novel, Left-Hand Gods, is available from Hadley Rille Books, and she has two short story collections available from Air and Nothingness Press. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking. You can find her online at jamielackey.com.

The spider grows invasive plants in her garden. Morning glory crawls up the walls, its leaves green and glossy, its tendrils curling into brick and crumbling it slowly to dust. Mint and lily of the valley choke each other in shady corners. Forsythia hedges stand under the weight of creeping kudzu vines.
The spider spins her webs and catches insects that venture into her domain. She wraps them in sticky thread and bites them. Her venom flows into their bodies, altering them. Shaping them to her will. Then she lets them go. Once, she would have devoured them, pulled them into her body to use them as a part of herself.
But that is no longer necessary.
One day, a young buck finds her garden. It ventures inside, each step carefully placed, its brown eyes wide and watching for any dangers. The spider admires the smooth brown of his coat, the feathery velvet of his new antlers. She's unsure of her venom's ability to change him--he is so much larger than she is. Still, she drops down behind one twitching ear and bites. Her fangs sink through his fur and skin, barely pricking the flesh beyond. The deer's ear flicks at her, and he takes two jittery steps. She injects all the venom that she has, then let's go, lets her silken thread carry her back to the safety of the wall.
Days pass before the deer returns. More than long enough for her body to produce all the venom she can store. He is calmer now, more confident within the garden's walls. She bites him again. Soon, he is coming every morning in the gray dawn, and standing perfectly still when she bites him.
The next creature to venture into her garden is a cat. It is large and long-furred, with alert green eyes and dangerous claws and teeth.
The spider considers just letting it leave. Staying out of its reach, up in a delicate web stretched between closed morning glory blossoms.
But it is so much smaller than the deer. And the spider enjoys a challenge.
The cat strolls along below her, stopping to dig at the soft soil around the mint, batting at a brown-edged fallen leaf. It flops onto its side in a pool of sunlight, and its eyes fall into the spider, perched at the edge of her web.
She shudders under its regard. But eventually its eyes slip closed and it twists onto its back.
The spider considers its exposed belly. Its vulnerability is almost certainly a trap. She was once a predator, too. She knows all about luring prey to its doom.
She drops down from her web, suspended on a silken thread.
She pauses, just outside of easy reach. The cat remains still, its position relaxed and boneless. Its eyes closed, its ears motionless.
The moment stretches, as thin and fragile as her thread.
She drops and burrows into its long fur and bites. Its back legs rake toward her, take one hard swipe. One of her legs rips away. But it is done. She lets go and climbs.
The cat jumps after her, swiping now with reaching front claws. But she is fast and small and it is already changing.
She settles back into her web as it licks its extended leg, between each clawed toe, and casually scrubs at its ears. Then it flops down again in its pool of sunshine.
The spider is pleased. The cat is a good addition to the garden, and her leg will grow back.
Her reach spreads one creature at a time. The cat brings mice and moles and shrews and birds into the garden, stunned and terrified, but still alive. The deer, his antlers rubbed smooth and shiny, leads his herd to her. A swarm of wasps build a papery nest in one corner. When new wasps are born, they are already hers.
She surveys her domain, and is pleased.
The daylight hours grow shorter, and the nights grow cold. Her creatures crowd into the garden, sharing the heat of their bodies and breath. The spider connects each of them with strands of sticky webbing, spins a thick cocoon in the very heart of her garden. As the gray clouds spit the first snowflakes, she climbs inside.
She dreams of long summer days, and wakes as a thousand daughters, who will claim a thousand gardens.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 28th, 2019
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