The night is dark but the cave yonder is darker.
You tremble at the crumbling entrance, holding your flickering lantern out, keenly aware of the shrilling of the wind and the never-ending pattering of thousands and thousands of tiny feet.
A voice, <i>her</i> voice, crackling and paper-like, floats from within, "Come in. Douse your lantern. They do not take kindly to the harsh light you bring in so willingly".
[[Flee back to safety]]
[[Douse your lantern and enter the lair]]It was a mistake to come.
You turn and run back along the path by the creek, back to the anxiously waiting village, the worried households, the tearful, the sick, the dying.
The villagers ask whether you have brought back a piece of the Spider Mother's magical cloth.
[[Lie to them]]
[[Tell them the truth]]The last thing you see clearly under the light of the full moon is the Spider Mother's writhing hive of grey hair and millions of black eyes staring, tiny bodies motionless for an instant, tiny legs pointing towards you.
Doused into darkness.
[[You take a step forward.]] You attempt to smile and lie.
But it is obvious that your hands are empty.
Despair crawls into the groaning beds of the infirm.
Many villagers turn their heads away. You can hear them weeping desperately as they make their way home.
You can also hear...very faintly...
[[...the sounds of tiny feet...]]You try to speak of the fear but the words don't come.
It doesn't matter. They can see it in your eyes.
A young mother wails nearby before dashing back to her sick baby.
Everyone begins to shuffle away, hopelessly and silently.
Without the cloth's magical healing properties, many will not see the sun rise tomorrow.
Perhaps, tomorrow night, they will send someone else, someone brave, to the cave.
[[Perhaps you will try again.->Entrance to the lair]]
[[No, you will never return to that horror.->...the sounds of tiny feet...]]The shame burns.
You turn around and make your way home.
It feels like hundreds of eyes watch you all the way.
You should never have volunteered to go to the Spider Mother's lair.
As you blow out the candle on your bedside table, you notice that very little moonlight is coming through your bedroom window.
You squint at the window.
[[There seem to be cobwebs.]] Very thick cobwebs.
And thousands of very tiny unblinking eyes.
They gleam and you know that they have come for you.
To take you back to the lair.
[[To her.->Entrance to the lair]]In the darkness, you think of the old tales and you pray for her mercy.
No comely wench is she who resides in the lair beside the creek.
Her eyes are pale, the pupils like golden grit, trapped beneath the hardened wrinkles and withered lips.
Her nose is arched, like a cruel bird’s beak, peering imperiously at visitors.
They say she has no eyebrows, no eyelashes, the tiny hairs having fallen off, like the years she has fallen from.
They say Father Time has no hold of her, that she is a demon with spiders for consorts, a seductress who in her youth would ride upon the back of a colossal arachnid.
They speak her name in fear, in awe or in thrall.
<i>The Spider Mother.</i>
[[You continue to creep forward.]]
[[It's not too late to change your mind. Leave the cave.->Flee back to safety]]You can barely make out your boots in the darkness and tread as lightly as you dare.
Her light grey hair is her crown, her throne, the carpet on which one walks, upon entering her domain.
It is alive, that hair. Thin and silver-grey, forever writhing it is, in this fearsome lair.
Because spiders of all sizes and colours live in it, constantly running in and out, scuttling to their webs, dragging their wrapped prey to hidey-holes, all within her mane, so thin yet altogether terribly thick.
Unperceivable order within that dark tangled confusion of silvery hair smiles in the darkness. You find it hard to swallow.
[[She's no fool, this witch.]]Her spider children whisper everything they learn by windowpanes, wall hangings and fireplaces into her prune-like ears.
They bring knowledge of what goes on in the village by the creek, tales of knights and war in distant lands, gossip and intrigue within kings’ courts, secrets Mother Nature makes known only to her miniature offspring.
[[Wisdom unimaginable.]]The twisting passage forces you to find your way carefully by what little light comes from fractured skylights created by the ancient roots of trees above.
Each time you hear a crunch beneath your feet, you flinch.
Tiny feet continue to patter about you.
A sea of glittering black eyes reflects the scant moonlight.
Eventually, you reach the woman with the medicinal knowledge, the woman with wisdom imparted from the whispering rattles of spiders.
[[The Spider Mother.]]You can barely see her.
She rests on her throne of hair and skittering arachnids, slowly weaving the mythical blanket of healing properties.
Best not to lie for the spiders know everything. You lower your head and beg in the darkness.
"Please, oh please, may I have but a snippet of your magical cloth that we may heal the sick child, cure the young dying mother, save the old man who is suffering in his son’s bed, nurse back to health the baby who wastes away in the cradle..."
[[Your list goes on and on.]]A long silence seems to follow your plea.
And then you realise that the spiders are whispering into her shrunken ears. You strain harder to see in the darkness.
The spiders swarm upon her cloth, and <i> click click</i>, they cut away cleanly.
[[One final horror follows.]]You stand, paralysed in the darkness, as hundreds of spiders swarm up your body to pass the woven gift into your sweaty hands.
As swiftly as they came, the tiny invisible hairy legs make their quiet descent.
When you are sure that the last spider has left your legs, you express your thanks and leave as hastily and politely as you dare.
But halfway home along the path, you are ambushed and brought to your knees.
The highwayman asks you to hand over the Spider Mother's cloth and tells you to get more for yourself later.
When you hesitate, he slashes your right forearm. You cry out and drop your lantern.
[[You are unarmed. Hand over the cloth.]]
[[No, the cloth is priceless. It is worth dying for.]]You choose to live. Perhaps you can brave the cave once more.
You hand over the cloth with your left hand and hope that the bandit will be merciful.
[[You were wrong.]]You lick your lips and try to think of a way to disarm the bandit.
It becomes clear to the bandit that you will not hand over the Spider Mother's blessing.
As he raises his blade in anger, you both hear an unearthly roar.
[[It all happens so quickly.]]You raise your arms to defend yourself, but the ugly blade comes down again and again.
As you fall to the blood-stained ground, you hear an unearthly roar.
[[Your vision begins to fade but you try to make sense of what is happening.]]There appears to be a tremendous thrashing, the likes of which you've never seen before, and tree branches are flailing in every direction.
You catch a hellish glimpse of eight colossal eyes flashing in anger from up above, before too many leaves obscure your vision.
The last thing you hear before lose consciousness is the sound of the screaming highwayman being torn into two.
[[You feel a strange sensation, as if you were being rocked gently in a cocoon. There are little rattling noises. After a while, you open your eyes and get up and realise that you are no longer bleeding or in pain. You are near the mouth of the lair once more.->You take a step forward.]]It takes a moment for the two of you to realise that you are both under the shadow of a colossal beast.
Eight enormous eyes flash in anger, as two hairy gargantuan legs pick up the screaming highwayman.
The creature disappears into the forest as quickly as it came with a tremendous thrashing. Tree branches flailing in the trail it leaves behind slowly come to a still.
[[You slowly realise that you have been clutching the cloth tightly to your chest all this while and get up.]]Gleaming yellow eyes watch you all the way down to the village by the creek, the silently and fearfully and anxiously and then tearfully waiting village.
Wordlessly, you hand over the soft cloth to a village elder, who divides it quickly before handing it out, for it seems to stop thriving upon being separated from its weaver.
Glistening silver and thick, the cloth rapidly thins and is wont to vanish into the air so it must be placed onto the skin of sickly ones quickly, where it appears to melt into the flesh.
You watch the healing.
[[It is both awful and miraculous to behold.]]Like spider legs, the threads come alive and grasp about only to sink their way into the flesh of their patients who are instantly revived. Like corpses saved from the grave, they dance up and rejoice with a most strange agility granted by the spider-blessed cloth.
Someone notices your bloody arm and offers to wash and bandage it. You let yourself be taken away, weary from tonight's horror.
[[You think back to the warnings of the old tales.]]Those who want the cloth for ill use are warned not to ask for it but still, in they go and never do they come out of the dark lair, their cries echoing into the mountains as they receive their punishment from the spiders.
And on her throne of hair, The Spider Mother watches and smiles.
[[Visit the Spider Mother's lair again, if you dare.->Entrance to the lair]]