When the spider spoke, Cassie McGowen knew she had lost what
little was left of her mind.
"W-what?" she stuttered.
said thank you.
The voice paused. For the cricket.
Cassie blinked. This is it, she thought, one too many blows
to the head. She looked around the living room, then at the
spider, which stood unmoving inside the aquarium.
"Y-you can't be talking."
Actually, I'm not talking.
"So this is all in my head?"
The spider's voice seemed pleased that she had caught on so
quickly. Of course!
she thought to herself, I've gone nuts. Cassie
swallowed. She came to a decision. She looked at the
"Cassie!" her father bellowed from the living room. "How
long is it gonna take you to bring us some dinner?"
"Almost done." She absent-mindedly brushed her brown hair
out of her face and dished up two plates of hamburger
casserole, sweet corn, and buttered bread for her father and
brother. She carried both plates to the living room.
Her father sat watching baseball on the television, his
tall, thin frame stretched out in the recliner. Her
brother, who had been playing with the spider, threw the
poor beast into the aquarium. She set the plates down and
turned toward the kitchen.
Her father grabbed her by the arm as she walked past. "You
don't expect us to eat this without something to wash it
down, do ya?"
"Sorry." Cassie went to the fridge and found a beer for her
father and a soda for Billy. They were so engrossed in a
good-natured argument about the infield fly rule, they
didn't notice her placing the cans in front of them.
Cassie returned to the kitchen to eat in quiet and clean
up. After setting the skillet in the sink to soak, she
brought her father another beer and collected their empty
"I want some ice cream," her brother said.
Cassie gritted her teeth in anticipation of the coming
outburst. "We don't have any."
The room went silent except for the taco commercial on the
Finally her father spoke. "Why don't we have any?" He
sounded too calm for Cassie's liking.
"Because it's all been eaten."
"Then why haven't you gone to the store to get more?"
"I'm out of grocery money," she whispered.
He stood up. "What happened to all the money I gave you
"It was two weeks ago."
He loomed over her. "I gave you money last week! What did
you spend it on?"
"Nothing, just groceries."
Her father raised his hand. "Don't you lie to me, girl!"
Cassie flinched away. Her father was quick to anger, more
so since her mother's death.
"I'm not." She felt tears starting to form and held them
back. She refused to let him see her cry.
After what felt like an eternity to Cassie, her father
lowered his hand and reached into his pocket. Pulling out a
moist wad of mixed bills, he thrust them into her hands.
"Go down to the store and get some ice cream."
Cassie took the money and started for the door. Billy
smirked at her as she walked past. She wanted, for just one
instant, to be like her father. She yearned to reach out
with a fist and wipe that smirk off Billy's face. Then the
instant passed and she was sick at herself for even thinking
Once out into the summer evening she felt better. She
counted out the money. It wasn't much, but it would have to
keep them in food and other necessities for a week. She
didn't dare ask her father for more before that.
At the store Cassie amused herself with one of her favorite
games. She would look at people and create a story about
who they were based on their appearance.
She imagined the old man in the plaid pants to be some kind
of mad fairy lord, lost to his realms and doomed to wander
the mundane world until he would find a matching jacket so
the curse could be lifted. She thought about him drifting
among thrift stores and yard sales, always seeking the
jacket. Finally finding it and slipping it on, he would
transform into a strong and powerful Lord, his plaid
shifting into breathtaking gold and purple royal raiments as
he stepped around an ancient oak and returned to his own
Cassie wished she could share her stories with someone.
She took care while shopping, picking out items that would
stretch for an entire week. She did not want her father
yelling at her again if she could help it. Not that she
thought she could keep it from happening. The same argument
played out every Sunday. He would accuse her of stealing
the money he allotted for the household, before shoving an
indiscriminate wad of cash into her hands.
It was the same argument her mother had suffered through,
until the cancer set her free.
Her father and brother didn't notice when Cassie returned
home. Not that this surprised her. They ignored her so
well that her sixteenth birthday passed last Wednesday
without a word from either of them.
She put away the groceries, and prepared the ice cream. As
an afterthought she brought another can of beer to her
father and a soda to Billy.
She returned to the kitchen and finished the dishes, started
some laundry, and fed the dog. She tossed the towels into
the dryer, and decided to shower and go to bed.
She stepped into the living room. "I'm heading for bed. Do
you want anything else before I go?"
Her father held up his empty can and smiled. "Could you
bring your old man another one?"
Cassie brought him another beer, and then went to take a
shower. Halfway through, someone flushed a toilet in
another part of the house, sending scalding water cascading
She changed into an old T-shirt and shorts and settled into
bed. She picked up the book she'd been reading, another in
a long line of fantasies where a small group of rag-tag
heroes went out to save the world. Not for the first time,
Cassie wished someone would sweep her off on a grand
adventure. Or even a not-so-grand one.
The books, some clothes, and a few odd bits of jewelry
constituted her meager inheritance from her mother. Her
father had thrown away the books after her mother's death,
considering them a waste of his hard-earned cash. Cassie
had slipped out her window in the early morning hours and
rescued them from the trashcans in the alley, hiding them in
her room. She read them so much that several were
hopelessly worn, their pages slowly separating from the
After an hour, she put the book down and turned off the
Cassie awoke to a floorboard creaking outside her bedroom
door. A light sleeper, she snapped fully awake at the
slightest sound. The room was illuminated a soft orange by
the glow from the security light in the alley filtering
through her thin curtains. She watched from half-closed
eyes as her doorknob slowly turned.
The door squeaked open and the smell of stale beer and
cigarettes hit her nose. She froze in place. He had been
showing up at her door in the night more often. She lay
still, like the chipmunks in the yard when they first
noticed a predator. Under her breath, she chanted softly so
her father could not hear, "There's naught for you in this
place. Now go away and leave this space." She had created
the rhyme on the second night he came to her door. The
logical part of her mind knew if he wanted to cross the
threshold there was little she could do to stop him. But
another part of her, the part that wondered if the magic of
the stories might not be real, found comfort in the belief
that her chant could keep him at bay. After a few minutes
he grunted and closed the door. She let out a nervous
Cassie stretched out on her bed for a half an hour, trying
in vain to return to sleep. Giving up, she slipped out from
under her covers and sat up, listening for any sounds of
movement. Satisfied the others were sleeping, she walked to
the kitchen. After pouring herself a glass of milk, she
entered the living room and turned on one lamp, giving her
just enough light to see by. She sat in front of the
aquarium and watched as the spider wove a delicate web among
the plastic reefs.
"It's beautiful," she whispered.
came the voice she heard the night before.
"I wasn't sure if I imagined yesterday. I'm not sure I'm
not dreaming right now."
Dreams and imagination are powerful things.
The spider stopped his weaving and walked to the side of the
He was large and covered in coarse brown hair. Long black
legs protruded from his body, adding to his overall size.
Cassie had never seen a spider this large. When Billy first
brought it home enclosed in a jar, she had shrieked. Billy
teased her with it for the next three days, placing the jar
in the kitchen where she was forced to walk past it, or
sneaking up on her and waving the spider in her face. Two
nights ago he left the open and empty jar on her bed. Her
father laughed at her panic before pointing out the spider
in the aquarium. When her father ordered her to catch a
cricket for the spider to eat, she almost decided, in her
fear, to defy him and suffer the consequences.
Then, when no one was in the room, the spider had thanked
her for its meal.
Cassie regarded the creature through the glass separating
them. "It's not like some silly old dream is going to help
me out of this place."
After a long pause, the spider's voice returned to her
head. Do you like stories?
Cassie decided to run with the madness. "Yes, I love
Excellent. Would you like to hear one?
Once there was a boy made of twigs. Now, the Twig-Boy
wished only to be left in peace. But because he was small
and fragile the black-headed birds would come and steal his
limbs to make their nests, and the wild boys would trip and
push him to the ground, laughing as his twig limbs broke.
Indeed. One day Twig-Boy was standing near the edge of the
mud pit where the First Swine dwelled. Twig-Boy was so
fascinated by First Swine, he did not hear the wild boys
creeping up behind him until it was too late.
"So they pushed him in?"
Yes they did, and a wondrous thing happened.
"He came up covered in mud?"
Yes. Then the wild boys threw rocks and sticks at him, and
these stuck in the mud covering Twig-Boy. The sticks became
his skeleton and the rocks became his muscles. The mud
hardened into clay and Twig-Boy was no longer small and
fragile, but large and strong. Then the First People
gathered and named him Clay-Man and the wild boys knew fear
and hid under the branches of the great willow until they
were forgotten from the world. And Clay-Man, who held no
malice, traveled the world and gathered knowledge, which he
shared with any who approached him in peace.
"At least someone gets a happy ending."
Our endings are what we make of our lives.
"I suppose." Cassie sat silently for a minute. "Thanks for
the story." She stood and turned off the lamp before
returning to bed.
the spider whispered into her mind as she walked away.
"You watch after your brother," Cassie's father growled as
he started out the door to work. "He was head down in the
john all morning. I don't know what you done to supper last
night, but he's awful sick, so you take care of him."
"Yes, Daddy," she replied, trying to keep the irritation out
of her voice. Being cooped up with Billy the Brat and His
Fabulous Bellyache was not what she had planned for the day.
After her father left, she checked on Billy, who was
retching up the cereal he'd eaten for breakfast. Cassie
searched in the medicine cabinet, but the only thing
remotely close to a remedy for stomach problems was an aging
bottle of Pepto. She decided to make him some Jell-O and
Billy demanded she bring him a soda. Cassie held
firm and Billy, now ensconced in front of the television and
watching one of the sports channels, gave up and drank the
Ten minutes later, he ran into the kitchen where Cassie
stood folding laundry on the table and heaved into the
sink. She reached over him to turn on the water and wash
the mess down the garbage disposal, but paused at the sight
of the sink's contents. Blood flecked the remains of the
Cassie settled Billy back on the couch and called the auto
parts store where her father worked. The man who answered
said he was out on deliveries and wasn't expected back for
at least two hours. Cassie left him a message.
She decided to call her Aunt Lydia. She knew her father
would not like it; he didn't care for his late wife's older
sister, but Cassie couldn't see another choice. She dialed
the number her mother had made her memorize. Her aunt
answered. She explained Billy's condition. Lydia assured
her she would be right over.
Cassie's aunt and uncle arrived in twenty minutes. Cassie
let them in, and after answering a few quick questions,
stepped back to allow them room to examine Billy.
Lydia and Richard Lowery had always struck Cassie
as strange, but strange in a way she liked. Before her
mother died, Cassie would sometimes spend weekends with her
aunt and uncle. They lived in an old Victorian house,
nestled behind an iron fence and surrounded by a wild,
rambling garden. Cassie had spent hours as a child
exploring the various rooms, climbing trees, or lying on her
back surrounded by the chaotic jumble of plants and
flowers. At night Richard would tell her stories about
fairies, spirit animals, and any number of other exciting
things, or Lydia would teach Cassie the rudiments of
guitar. And they never tired of Cassie's stories about the
little folk she thought lived under their porch, or the
sassy black squirrel who lived in the old oak in the
To Cassie it felt like living in another world.
Her father complained about Richard and Lydia filling
Cassie's head with childish nonsense. During the last
months of her mother's illness, he refused to let Cassie
have any contact with them. She did not see them again
until her mother's funeral last year ago, and her father was
careful not to leave her alone with either of the Lowerys.
That was the last time she had seen her aunt and uncle.
Cassie watched them closely. Aunt Lydia spoke soothingly to
Billy while her uncle passed his hands over her brother's
stomach, mumbling under his breath. She didn't know what
her uncle was trying to accomplish, but after a few minutes
he stopped and looked up.
"Cassie, we're going to take Billy to Northwestern
Hospital." Richard's face took on an annoyed expression.
"When your father calls, please try to impress upon him the
urgency of the situation."
Aunt Lydia threw him a warning look before turned to Cassie.
"We'll come back for you when your father reaches the
They scooped up her brother and vanished out the door as if
they'd never been.
He won't die,
the voice of the spider whispered in her head.
"What?" she asked, approaching the aquarium.
Your brother, he won't die. He's only suffering from the
consequences of his actions. If he died he wouldn't learn
anything, so he'll live and perhaps grow.
Cassie settled next to the aquarium. "This is some kind of
In a manner of speaking. One really should wash one's hands
before eating. Especially after handling a strange spider.
Cassie laughed. "Life lessons through poor hygiene?"
the spider's voice sounded tired.
Cassie scrutinized the spider. He seemed visibly older, his
brown fur shot through with grey. "Are you okay?"
My kind does not do well in captivity.
Cassie chewed her lower lip. "I'd let you go, but--" She
knew too well the consequences of setting Billy's captured
animals free. She had once released a wild rabbit Billy
caught. Her actions earned her three solid swats across her
back from her father's belt.
The spider's voice held no reproach.
The phone rang, saving Cassie from continuing the
uncomfortable conversation. She crossed the room and picked
up the receiver. "Hello."
Her father's angry voice filled her ear. "I thought I told
you not to call me at work."
"Daddy, Billy's really sick."
"Then give him something for his stomach. For cryin' out
loud, girl. Use your head!"
"Billy's throwing up blood. I called Aunt Lydia when I
couldn't get you, and she took him to Northwestern
Her father fell silent for a moment then said, "I'm going
over there now and get him. We'll talk about this when we
get home. You make sure lunch is ready when we get there."
The line went dead before she could reply.
Cassie sat on the sagging old sofa and stared into the
spider's aquarium. She knew she was in serious trouble.
She realized she should get up and make lunch, but it hardly
seemed to matter if she gave him one more thing to be angry
about. For a brief instant she considered grabbing a few
belongings and running away. Life on the streets suddenly
looked more appealing than facing her father's wrath.
Without realizing it, she began speaking to the spider.
"Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived alone in a
house full of family."
How is such a thing possible?
"They would pretend the girl didn't exist. As
long as they were fed and the house kept clean and the
laundry washed and dried, what did they care about her?
After all, she was only a girl, nothing important."
So why did the girl keep cooking their food
and cleaning their home?
"What else could she do? She had no money of her own and
she wouldn't be able to find work. She was only a girl and
hadn't even been allowed to finish school."
Was there nowhere the girl could go? Could she not seek aid
from another member of her family?
"She did have other family, but why would they take her in?
Even if she went to them, her father would only bring her
back to the house. If she just ran away she would have to
live on the streets, and everyone knows what happens to
girls on the streets. Besides, to the outside world, she
lived in a nice clean home and was well taken care of by her
poor widower father. Who would believe her if she tried to
tell them different? Why should they; she's just a stupid
girl. So she lived alone in a house full of family, and
each day looked like the last, until she couldn't remember
any other way of living."
What happened to her?
"I think she must have gone mad."
Cassie sat silently after that, trying not to cry. She did
not hear when her aunt and uncle returned and let themselves
in. They sat on the old couch, one on either side of her,
and waited for her to speak.
Cassie threw her arms around her aunt and burst into tears.
All the pent up sorrow, anger, hatred, and loss flowed down
her cheeks. She cried for her mother. She cried for
herself. She cried because for once it was safe to cry.
Finally, she looked up to see Lydia and Richard engaged in a
wordless conversation. Cassie wiped her face and smiled
weakly at them.
"How's Billy?" she asked.
"He's going to be fine," Lydia told her. "The doctor is
keeping him a couple of days for some tests, just to be
"Thanks for helping me out." She looked at the floor then
asked, "Is daddy mad about me calling you?"
Richard stood and spoke, his voice filled with unconcealed
disdain for her father. "When we left he was busy arguing
with the doctor about whether Billy needed to stay at the
"He asked us to tell you he would be going back to work, and
he would come pick up some clothes for Billy tonight.
You're supposed to make sure there's something for him to
eat when he comes home," Lydia said, also rising from the
Cassie stood up, intending to thank them and walk them out,
when she found herself being pushed back onto the couch by
the two adults.
Lydia smiled down at her. "I think you should rest; we'll
take care of things today."
Cassie looked apprehensive. "I'm not sure that's a good
Richard snorted. "Let us worry about whether or not it's a
Cassie wanted to protest. She knew her father would not be
happy to come home and find them, but she found herself too
tired to care what her father thought. She thought she
would close her eyes for just a second.
Cassie awoke to the sounds of pots and pans clanging
together in the kitchen. For a moment she started to panic,
thinking her father had come home. When she sat up she
found her aunt sitting near the aquarium, a look of deep
concentration on her face, watching the spider weave his
Her uncle appeared from the kitchen. "Ah, Cassie, good,
you're awake. I seem to need some assistance," he
disappeared back into the kitchen.
Giving her aunt a glance, Cassie entered the kitchen to find
her uncle trying to prepare something that would pass for
dinner. Richard smiled as she came through the door. With
an exasperated sigh, Cassie took control of the situation,
giving him clear and simple commands.
Once she had him sorted out, they exchanged stories to pass
the time while they cooked. Richard explained about a girl
who became a cat, and Cassie told her tale of the lost fairy
lord in plaid pants. For the first time in months, Cassie
felt happy. She wished her life could be like this every
In a short time they concocted a passable dinner. They set
the food to stay warm, and were most of the way through
cleaning up, when her uncle asked her, "How's school?"
Cassie thought quickly. She didn't want them to know her
father had withdrawn her from school the week after her
mother's death. "Um, it's summer."
"Yes, I know it's summer," he persisted, "I meant in
"It's okay," Cassie lied.
He seemed unsatisfied with the answer. "What's your
"Oh, you know, I like, well, English and--"
"So why did you drop out?" he asked.
"I didn't drop out."
"Then why aren't you in school?" her aunt spoke up from the
doorway. There was no accusation in her voice, just
Cassie chewed her lower lip. "Daddy decided to home school
"He's a moron," Richard spat.
Lydia raised an eyebrow at her husband, then turned to
Cassie. "Cassie, if there's anything you'd like to discuss
with us, we'd be happy to listen."
"How did you know I wasn't in school?" Cassie
"I give guitar lessons to Sandy Wilson. She asks
about you every time she comes over."
Cassie paled and nodded in understanding. Sandy
had been her friend in school.
Richard smiled at her. "Cassie, we can help
you. Whatever you need, please ask us."
Before Cassie could answer, her father came through the
front door and started to bellow. "Girl! Bring me some
dinner, then go pack some clothes and stuff for your
Cassie automatically started to make her father a plate of
meatloaf and mashed potatoes. She had not counted on Lydia
and Richard taking it upon themselves to confront her
"William," her aunt said, "why is Cassie not in school?"
Cassie set the plate of food and a can of beer in front of
her father and retreated down the short hallway to pack
Billy's things. She knew this was going to get ugly and
wished they would just drop it. They weren't the ones who
had to live here.
"That ain't none of your business," Cassie's father replied
around a mouthful of food.
"How do you expect her to have a future without an
education?" Lydia asked.
"I need her here to take care of the house and stuff."
"So basically you want her to be your little house slave and
to hell with whatever she wants for herself?"
"Look, I don't need you coming in here and telling me how to
raise my daughter. If you don't like the way I run my home,
why don't you both get out?"
"William, if any harm comes to Cassie--" Lydia sounded calm,
but he cut off whatever she was about to say.
"Cassie ain't your concern."
"She's my sister's daughter, and I dislike seeing her
William McGowen was not listening anymore. "And you had no
business taking Billy to the hospital over some stupid
belly-ache. You ain't the ones paying for it. It ain't
like the boy was dying; he just ate something funny the
stupid girl cooked."
"Just like the lump that killed my sister was nothing to
worry about? Is that why you wouldn't take your own wife to
a doctor? Were you just too cheap to save her life?"
Cassie stepped back into the living room and took in the
tense situation. Her father stood red-faced with his fists
clenched; Cassie thought he might hit someone any second.
Aunt Lydia was standing her ground and didn't look the least
bit intimidated. Uncle Richard stood to the right of her
"Daddy, here's Billy stuff." Cassie tried to sound meek and
He rounded on her so quickly she thought he was about to
slap her. "You go to your room! And don't come out until I
get home, you hear me?"
"Go on Cassie," Lydia said, "it's okay. I need to speak to
your father in private anyway."
Cassie vanished into the kitchen and down the long hallway.
She sat down on her bed and tried to hear the argument going
on in the living room, but the voices didn't carry enough
for her to make anything out.
After thirty minutes she heard the door open and close, and
the sound of two vehicles pulling away.
Cassie waited a few minutes to make sure her father did not
immediately return before she went back to the kitchen and
finished cleaning. She returned the clean dishes to the
cabinet, poured herself a glass of apple juice, turned off
the lights, and sat near the aquarium.
Cassie watched as the spider climbed the plastic coral to
reach his web. She thought he looked like an old man trying
to walk up a long set of stairs. When the spider reached
the web, instead of climbing onto it as Cassie expected, he
settled in front of it and started to pluck each strand with
his long legs. Cassie could hear soft music coming from the
aquarium. The music soothed her tension, calming her after
the evening's events. She wondered if a harp would sound
learned to spin such a web when I first went searching for a
the spider's voice chuckled ruefully, it did me little
"So you've never been in love?"
There was one in my youth whom I paid court to, but she
chose to devour another. Now I spin the web for my own
Cassie shook her head, thinking about how much simpler her
life would be if her parents had been spiders. "I don't
suppose I'll ever find someone, not living like this. I'm
barely allowed out of the house anymore." She could not
keep the touch of bitterness out of her voice.
Once, there was a girl who everyone looked through. No
matter what she did, no matter how hard she tried to gain
the attention of those around her, their eyes simply passed
through her as if she did not exist. The only time they
would see her was if they wanted something from her.
"How did she stand it?" Cassie sniffed back the threatening
For many turnings of the moon she simply endured it. She
would go from day to day being ignored except when they
wanted something of her, always hoping they would stop and
see her. But they never would, because they didn't care
that she was sad, or lonely, or that she wanted something to
call her own, they only saw her as something that could make
their lives easier.
"Why did she stay?" Cassie whispered.
Because the girl was convinced there could be only one
reason they looked through her; she must be made of glass.
She knew glass would shatter if mishandled. And if she
shattered, it would leave her in a thousand tiny shards no
one would pick up. Then it happened: One day, they came to
her wanting something she refused to give. Angry at her
refusal, they tried to break her.
"And did she break?" Cassie asked, really wanting to know.
No, she did not. When they tried to break her for her
insolence, they cut themselves on the girl instead. And
that was when the girl realized she wasn't made of glass,
but was a diamond instead.
"She must have been happy."
Yes, and she left those who looked through her, because she
realized a diamond was too rare and beautiful a thing to be
left in the keeping of such selfish people. So the diamond
girl went to find those who would see her for the precious
gift she was.
"Did she live happily ever after?"
think she lived as happily as she wanted.
"I hope so."
Cassie put her glass in the sink and turned toward the
hallway and her bedroom, her mind replaying the evening.
"--they cut themselves on the girl instead."
Standing there in the kitchen, facing the dark hallway
leading to her bedroom and her father's room beyond that,
Cassie came to a decision. She pulled a knife from the
block and returned to her bedroom.
The sound of the truck woke Cassie. She glanced at the
alarm clock on the bedside table. Three thirty-four in the
morning. He must have stopped off for a quick one or five
after he left the hospital, she thought to herself. She
reached under her pillow and grasped the handle of the large
kitchen knife, comforted by the feeling of the wood in her
She listened to her father move around the darkened house.
She smirked when she heard him bang into something in the
kitchen and curse. She heard his heavy footfalls coming
down the hallway and could just make out the soft pop of the
opening of a can of beer. She forced herself to relax as he
passed her room, but she didn't loosen her grip on the knife
or close her eyes.
She could hear him move into his own room and after a few
minutes she heard the toilet flush in his bathroom. There
were a few moments of quiet, then she heard him start down
the hallway again. She turned onto her side and watched as
the doorknob slowly turned. She let out a long, slow
breath, took in another, and tensed her muscles.
When her father opened the door, the overpowering stench of
stale beer clinging to him, Cassie regarded him with steady,
unblinking eyes. Where before she stayed motionless in an
imitation of small animals trying not to attract attention,
tonight she kept still in the manner of a stalking cat,
alert and vigilant, waiting for its prey to come within
striking distance. Something feral welled up inside her
heart. There would be no protective chant spoken tonight.
Her father had taken off his belt, but now it hung limp and
forgotten in his hand. His eyes locked on hers. He seemed
afraid to come any closer.
Finally, in an effort to reassert his dominance he snapped,
"Get to sleep, girl; I want everything perfect when Billy
"Oh, I promise, everything will be perfect."
He didn't seem to know how to respond, so he grunted at her
and closed the door.
Cassie watched the seconds on the clock tick past. At a
quarter past four, she heard her father start to snore. She
relaxed and waited another thirty minutes before she rose
from her bed and switched on her little lamp.
Cassie changed into a clean sweatshirt and jeans. She
pulled the old duffle bag that once served as her luggage
for overnight visits to her aunt and uncle from under her
bed. She had packed a few precious personal items: a half
dozen books, her mother's jewelry, four complete changes of
clothes, something to sleep in, a few necessities from her
bathroom, and the grocery money. She wrapped the kitchen
knife in a sock and placed it in a side compartment.
Hefting the bag, she decided she could bear it without
trouble. She turned off the lamp and, carrying her shoes in
one hand and the bag in the other, padded down the hall into
the living room.
Cassie set the bag and her shoes by the aquarium. In the
kitchen she packed a small meal in a plastic container and
filled an empty bottle with water. She returned to the
living room and shoved both items inside the duffle bag.
Cassie looked around the living room. She took a steadying
breath. She sat down to put her shoes on. The spider,
looking grey and frail, watched through the glass.
"Would you like to hear a story?" she said.
"Once there was a girl who lived with her father and
brother. Her mother died, and her father had expectations
of the girl that didn't match what she wanted, so he tried
to pound the square girl into the round hole he wanted her
to fit in."
That sounds terrible.
"It was. And for a long time the girl just let them keep
pounding her and pounding her because she couldn't see any
way out. But they never made her fit that round hole."
How did she survive?
"Stories. She'd make up stories in bed at night about how
she wished her life could be. She read stories about people
going off on great quests and making their own lives.
Stories carried her through."
Stories hold immense power.
Cassie finished putting on her shoes and stood. "Yes, they
do. So, one day a great storyteller came to the girl's home
and brought his tales with him. The girl, listening to
these stories, realized that maybe she didn't need to be
pounded on. She found people who would fight for her, who
would be happy to take her under their roof, and teach her
how to tell her stories to others. So the square girl left
home to seek her own life."
Cassie lifted the lid of the aquarium and placed her hand
inside. The spider crawled up into her open palm.
What happened to her?
"I don't know yet, her story isn't finished."
Cassie opened the front door, lifted the duffle bag, and
stepped outside. She looked at the spider in her hand.
"Where would you like me to set you down?"
The grass is fine, thank you.
Cassie knelt down and let him crawl from her hand. He
already looked stronger.
must give you a parting gift.
"You don't have to."
No, I must. You provided me with food and shelter. You
shared your stories. Custom demands I give you a parting
"But you weren't a guest; you were a captive."
You treated me as a guest. Please.
Cassie watched as the spider stood motionless for several
seconds. Suddenly the grass in the yard started to move.
She looked closer. There were crickets, dozens of them,
hopping away from the house.
May fortune's favor forever shun the one who now sleeps in
the spider pronounced with the severity of a judge passing
sentence on a criminal. As the last cricket hopped away,
the spider spoke to her again. Your gift.
She smiled at him. "Please don't get caught again."
promise. And you must promise me a thing. You must tell me
the rest of the square girl's story someday.
The spider seemed to bow to her on his long legs. Turning,
he disappeared into the tall grass.
Cassie watched the grass for several seconds before she
stepped onto the sidewalk. She smiled as she started toward
the street corner. It was too late in the morning for the
hookers and junkies to still be out and too early for the
working stiffs. A short bus ride would deliver her to her
aunt and uncle's house, and the next chapter of her life.
She turned the corner without ever looking back at her