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Arachne

By @cckraut

(This house has been abandoned now for more than six centuries. Most of the kids — and adults, really — believe that the building is haunted. You, a sixteen-year-old lady, don’t believe such silly things, so armed with a flashlight and a satchel, you enter, deciding to claim some of the supposedly 600-year-old artifacts.

When you enter through the back door, you find that the place has been overrun by spider webs. You consider taking out your machete to cut them down, but you instead find an already open path. As you pass the kitchen table, you see a note, dated 2451: “SOS! The crystals have fused into me! I don’t think I will survive to be human at all. If you are reading this, you need to leave now.”

Eerie, you think to yourself. Well, probably just some hoax, some kids wanting to scare people. You think nothing of it. 

The large living room is not much better, with almost fake-looking sheets of webs hanging everywhere, but you did find a unique-looking candelabra. Slipping it into your bag, you make a mental note to visit the antique store to try and sell it for a high price.

But out of the corner of your eyes you see the lights flicker off in a room that you didn’t notice was there before. Could that be the source of any “haunting”?

Searching the room with your flashlight, you realize that the reason the lights were flickering is that they are very old. They are still fluorescent, like they used in school buildings in those days.

It doesn’t occur to you that somebody had to have turned them on.

But, more alarming, you find that someone, or something, has left this room — a bedroom — in ruins. The desk has been scratched beyond repair, and the chair has fallen apart. As you peel back the cover of the bed, you wonder what could possibly have slept in it, for there are toothpicks, feathers, cobwebs, rips in the fabric, and a strange green slime embedded into the thick cotton sheets. But most notably, in the center of the floor are three parts of a notebook. It seems as though they have been torn by something powerful. Reassembling the pieces, you read what is left.)

I met Alice on the first day of school. She was shy, and spoke to almost nobody, even after months.

But even on the first day, I could feel something was strange.

That gut feeling was explained by the end of the first semester. The main thing we couldn’t help but notice was that although we knew she had no sports or activities, or even friends she liked to hang out with, she always seemed busy. If one would ask her to do anything with them, the response would be, without fail, “I can’t; I’m doing something else tonight.”

But Alice obviously wasn’t doing anything that night.

One day I told myself, “Jason, we’re gonna find out who she really is once and for all.”

It was the biggest mistake I ever made.

It was a cloudy, humid day that carried whispers of the warm rains to come. I followed Alice home from a distance. As she unlocked the back door, she looked around warily, as if she suspected someone like me to be spying on her.

A chill ran up my spine, but the fear was unfounded. I had taken a safe distance, and I had hidden myself well behind a hedge.

(This page has a few holes in it. You see the missing scraps on the floor before you; they had fallen out of the book. Retrieving and replacing them, you continue reading.)

Satisfied that there was nobody there, Alice ducked inside with a shrug.

She hadn’t locked the door, which I thought was strange, because it appeared that she had been worried about her solitude. I slipped into the house silently, watching always to make sure that I would not be seen. I closed the door behind me with a barely audible click. The white noise of the room filled my ears, the sick echoing of the beginning rain on the roof begging me to hear.

When I turned around, I was surprised by the appearance of the place. There were more cobwebs there than I have ever seen anywhere in my life. They stretched in sheets across the room, flapping like veils with even the slightest disturbance.

As I passed through a tear in each one, I was frightened by it all. It wasn’t the absence of light or the empty sound of the rain that really disturbed me. The question burned in my mind. What could possibly have created these sheets of cobwebs?

There was no food in the kitchen cupboards, and there were no dishes anywhere. What, then, was she planning on eating?

(This page seems to have been previously removed. It was not connected to the binding at all, but rather inserted.)

The living room felt even more macabre. Oddly enough, I had not seen a single spider this whole time, but the white sheets of web were hanging here as well. These sheets, though, were thicker than the ones in the kitchen, and some had sticky-looking tendrils hanging off that connected them to others. There was some dark furniture here, but what really caught my eye was an eerie 3-branched bronze candelabra tipped over on an end table. That thing gave me the creeps; I felt like that came out of the French Revolution just to haunt me. I righted it and continued on my way.

(You look again at the candelabra. This thing was pretty consistent with that era. If you were lucky, it could be 900 years old. You gently replace it in the satchel.)

I touched one of the webs and played with it in my right hand. It had the texture and elasticity of a real spider web.

I also found that it was fairly sticky. I did my best to remove it, but it was strong. I used my other hand to break the bond, but it took strength, and when the webbing finally snapped, my left hand flew backwards and caught in another knot of sticky threads. When I pulled back to get myself out, I slipped and fell forward into another mass. Thus I continued until I was so tangled that I could no longer move.

Trapped.

Jason, my mind told me, we will either live to regret this, or we won’t live at all.

I looked behind me and found that I had crossed the room in my confusion, breaking a trail behind me. I pulled towards it, but it was too difficult.

I suddenly saw a light out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to see a lighted bedroom and a silhouette of a single maiden in a lacy dress. A crack of lightning revealed a girl robed in a gown made of translucent spider web.

Alice.

She was surrounded in a blinding flash, and I had to look away. When I looked back, I made up my mind.

Yup. You’re dead.

The beautiful maiden had transformed into a hideous monster. Her lower body had changed completely into that of a large spider.

She immediately turned her head to me, eyes glowing red. Oh, no. She had seen me. I frantically tried to pull the webs off, but my hands were caught.

(This page is burnt, but that doesn’t interfere with your reading, so you ignore it.)

She sliced through the webs with her eight pointy legs. She towered over me as I made my final effort to free myself.

She lifted two legs and placed them on my sides, after which I gave up the struggle. I was fearing that I would be stabbed by a third, but I knew that what was really coming would be worse.

She turned me on my side and wrapped me in web, trapping me in a silk cocoon, with only my head exposed.

Then, much to my surprise, she placed a soft, warm, human hand on my cheek and sighed. “I’ve been waiting for someone like you, Jason.” She sounded happy, like a weight had been lifted off her chest.

I felt an odd mixture of calm and terror. I wasn’t sure that I was safe, but I didn’t think I was in danger.

“I’m sorry if I frightened you,” she apologized. “I don’t blame you for being nervous. I’m a monster, after all.” Her legs took great care when releasing me to hang in the cocoon.

(There are two small holes and a strange, green stain on this page. It smells terrible, and it is consistent with whatever is on the bed.)

I tried to wiggle out of the silk. “Um… Alice… Do you mind, perhaps, setting me free?”

She looked at me and brushed aside her long, black hair. Her amber eyes held a terrible sadness. “If only it were that simple. One of the conditions of my curse is that none can leave my web if I do not place a curse on them first.”

She turned around and faced the window. “I’d never caught a human before. Now that it’s happened, I feel so terrible. The only people that can help me, and I must play a part in their undoing.” She scoffed at the very thought.

I shivered. “What sort of curse? Just so I’m prepared.” I did a horrible job masking my fear; my voice was quaking like a leaf.

“Alas: I don’t know exactly what will happen to you.” She could barely bear to look at me in her shame. “I’m sorry, but I must do this.”

I saw her raise her front four legs. I braced myself for the impact. The sharp ends pierced the spider silk in four places, two on each side of my chest. Oddly enough, it didn’t hurt; the spider webs sealed around the holes, and I felt nothing.

“Did anything even happen?”

She raised another leg and **** the web. I tumbled to the ground and landed on my stomach. Then I heard three small objects clink on the hard floor.

(This page is perforated fully with holes, increasing the difficulty of reading it. Between this page and the next are thin, brown needles or toothpicks.)

I picked up the objects. They were all transparent colored gemstones hanging on silver chains. One was red, one was yellow, and one was green.

Alice took the green and yellow ones from me and examined them closely. When I looked up at her, I saw that she was wearing a pendant identical to them, but blue. She shook her head sadly. “I pity you, Jason. Your curse is much, much worse than mine.”

As she said those words, I felt a new instinct kick in. I stared at the red gemstone in my hand. Suddenly a greedy feeling inside of me pushed me to put it on. I was unsure what to do, but I found myself slipping the chain over my head.

Then there was a fire burning inside of me. The necklace electrified my heart, and in that moment of shock I was transformed.

All of my hair turned bright red. My arms sprouted feathers, and my nose and mouth developed into a sharp beak. I also grew a bright peacock’s tail, a fiery red to match.

When Alice looked back with an eyebrow raised, I could tell that, though I had great beauty in this form, she could see something deeper. “You’re a phoenix,” she told me monotonously. “You’re a human phoenix.”

I spread my grand wings and fanned my long, flaming tail. I was a spectacle to behold. Amazed, I spread my wings and pumped them up and down. I leaped forward, and off I went. I sped around the room, dodging the webs. Finally I landed.

There was a red pulse, after which I found I was able to remove the gemstone pendant, ending the transformation. *

(A footnote on the bottom of this page reads, “*Phoenix form. High speed flight, low ground mobility. High affinity with fire, but water burns skin. Will attack on sight. No warning noises, incapable of speech.”)

Alice stared into the green crystal. “This one is for Echidna, half snake and half man, and the yellow is a Hedgehog.”

(The next page had been clawed to ribbons. It has been repaired crudely with tape.)

I chortled. “Hedgehog? What’s so terrible about that?”

But then the yellow gem was activated, and I was drawn to it. When I took it from her and slipped it onto my neck, the transformation began.

I saw spikes growing from the backs of my arms and felt them pushing out from my back. My hair also turned into these spikes. I began to hover, and a long, plain tail unfurled behind me.

I felt and looked like an enchanter. Alice was interested. “I’ve never seen anything like it. You look like a porcupine wizard or something.”

I felt an extra awareness, almost a magical presence. When I outstretched my hand, five quills levitated before it. I made a single hand gesture, and suddenly those quills flew away from me at a high speed, puncturing the sheets of webs. *

(A footnote reads, “*Hedgehog form. Moves quickly while levitating. Is able to regenerate quills and can control them at will. Very magical; if hit by the quills, victim is cursed. Usually very sadistic and taunts victims before harming them.)

I felt a release of energy, and I removed the necklace. “I fail to see why this is a curse,” I confided.

Alice’s face showed the terror that she saw in the situation. “You don’t see! You’re mind is being captured! You are forced to transform, just as I am!”

Oh.

I began to feel an attraction to the green crystal, but now that I knew what was happening, I resisted. My mind gripped on my humanity.

But the crystal insisted. It had somehow teleported to my hand, and it was nearly impossible to keep fighting. But then, despite every warning Alice was screaming (I couldn’t hear them), I gathered the willpower to say it:

“No.”

I heard every single spirit on earth laugh, as if to taunt me. What was their target? My decision? My foolish fight? My wasted mental effort?

When I looked down at my hands, I now held two crystals, one green and one blue.

Oh, no. Resistance had only multiplied my curse. *

(A footnote here reads, “*If you are called by a crystal, comply with it as soon as possible! The longer it takes you to comply with the crystal, the longer and more frequent its effects.” The next page has a brown stain on it. Old blood.)

The green crystal called to me again. The mental struggle had weakened me, and I was forced to succumb, dragging it over my head. My legs fused together. My new tail lengthened and developed a rattle on the end. Meanwhile my mouth widened, my tongue forked, and two hooked fangs grew from my canine teeth. I could taste the venom immediately.

I was half snake, having retained my arms. I pushed myself forward very smoothly. “How ssssstrange,” I hissed, quite unintentionally.

Alice disliked the situation more with every passing minute. I couldn’t help but agree with her in that regard. The longer I was in a form, the more trapped I felt in the cycle. *

(*A footnote on the bottom of the page reads, “*Echidna form. Fast on the ground and through water. Venom is highly toxic. Fangs cause 5 in. puncture wounds and inject venom. Warning sound is a rattle and hissing. Capable of speech, but mostly lies.)

Finally, I was allowed to remove the amulet. Almost immediately, though, the blue crystal began to glow. I decided that I would comply, not wishing to repeat my mistake. I put the crystal over my head.

But then I saw Alice teeter over and fall onto her eight spider knees, clutching the crystal at her throat as if it were choking her. Her whole body began to glow blue, and that blue aura began to be drawn to me.

I watched her there, dying, while my body’s shape changed again.

When all was over, Alice was on the ground, with two human legs. Only now, I had the lower body of a spider.

As I struggled to balance, Alice backed away slowly. Unfortunately, her wrist caught in the sticky net that she herself had woven. She tried to free herself, but couldn’t.

I was terribly frightened by the feeling of the extra legs, but there was another problem. I was starting to be overcome by new instincts. I could feel something, something in my web. Something was in my web.

An intruder. *

(A footnote here reads, “Spider form. Forced to spin 100 sqft. webs every time the transformation is made, or it will not end until you do. Very quick; can move on and through webs, climb walls, and also run on the ground. Can see in pitch black. Can detect minute vibrations caused by living beings in web. No warning sounds; capable of speech, but usually doesn’t. Sharp legs with pointy ends; can deflect blades. Kills on sight if victim has open bleeding wounds, no matter how small, but otherwise will instead curse the victim.” Underlined in all capital letters are the words, “EXTREMELY DANGEROUS, RUN IMMEDIATELY IF CONFRONTED”.)

I came to the struggling girl in the web. My legs began to twist the webs around her. “Wait, what are you doing?” she asked. “I’m a friend. I’m a friend!”

But all that I felt was wrath. I was consumed with it, changed by it. I raised one leg high above her, and the terror in her eyes froze in my memory as it came down in her chest.

She is dead, and I buried her. It doesn’t matter where.

But I began to notice, after six months, that my condition was slowly deteriorating. I spent less and less time as a human and much more time in my animal forms. Even in those animal forms, I saw more and more that the calls of the crystals coincided, and I was left in a helpless state between the humanity and monstrosity, an unrecognizable, rabid creature.

It was 2001 when I began to write this. It has taken me years to collect every second of human time and write these pages for whoever happens to stumble across it.

And my warning to you, if you are reading this, is to run.

(This page has been burned, torn, crumpled, punctured, and clawed; it is possible to read, but some of the words are forever lost.)

Alice was the fourth Arachne. I am the fifth. If you wish not — become the sixth, you must run.

If I find you, and I am in an animal form, I am more powerful than you —– possibly imagine. If you are caught — my web, I know not whether I must pass on the same fate that Alice passed — me, or if you will meet — fate. I — sorry for the damage to this book; every time I transformed —– writing it, I may have attempted to destroy it.

(The bottom is signed “Jason”. There was a last name, but it too has a hole in it. Most of the date is also gone, but the year remains: 2315.”

You admire Jason’s work, but not as truth. He seems to have been a decent science-fiction writer. You wonder which kid on the block it might have been. But suddenly, it occurs to you that all this lines up.

All of it lines up. The webs, the quills, the green slimy toxin in the bed; the candelabra.

The candelabra. Yes, Jason had described the candelabra. You know there is only one way to find whether this is truth or not, so you return to the living room and find the end table you found it on.

Sure enough, there are hundreds of years worth of dust. You draw your finger across the table as a comparison.

The dust is lighter where the candelabra had been set, but it is still there in a thick layer. It is consistent with having been upset and then uprighted much later, just as he described.

But then you hear a rattle. “Going somewhere?” a deep voice asks.

You turn cautiously, dropping everything you are holding.

Standing there is a large, hideous creature behind you, a single large crystal embedded in its neck, which is glowing in four colors: red, yellow, green, and blue. It has the tail and body of a snake, its flaming rattle vibrating furiously. Along the full length of its body are thousands of spikes, all sticking up. Along its sides are the legs of a spider, gleaming in the dim light. It has the arms of a man, levitating five spikes before him, and behind its back are the two powerful wings of a phoenix.

You can do nothing, paralyzed with fear. You simply stand in awe of the face. Aside from the foot-long, saber-shaped fangs, the face is fairly handsome and young. His almost white hair, though studded with the brown quills of a hedgehog, compliments his red eyes and pale skin.

You watch as the crystal fades to only one color: yellow. Here he is, levitating before you, with the five quills still in hand. You realize that he is even more handsome when the fangs are not present.

Suddenly you snap out of it, but you were too slow. He has already sent a quill flying into your right ankle. In rapid succession he fires one to your other ankle, one to each arm, one to the back of your head, and one to your ********.

You feel the magic coursing from the quills, which disappear. Your legs become skinnier and scaly like those of a bird’s, and the knees bend backwards. Your arms turn into feathered wings. You can feel a feathery crest growing on top of your head, and a long tail sprouts behind you.

You now look like a human peacock, and there is now a crystal in your neck as well, glowing a soft purple.

You watch the crystal in the creature’s neck fade, and and he shrinks slowly and gradually back into his tall, lanky human form. “Now, run! Run! Before I do something else to hurt you!” His voice shakes, as if he is reluctant to send you away.

But you are reluctant to leave him.

You look down on him, your peacock tail fanned. “Jason.”

The boy does not understand why you haven’t ran yet, but when you say his name, he realizes that you have read his story. “This is the first time I have been human in five years,” he gasps. “If you stay, you won’t be so lucky. Run!”

You just can’t run. You have to do something to help him. “Jason,” you repeat, reaching down and brushing the off-white hair away from his now brown eyes. “Jason, I can’t leave you.”

He sighs, as if he knows you won’t leave. “Who are you, anyway? What is the year?”

You tell him your name, and the current date, 2630.

“I haven’t spoken to a person for that long? For 629 years?”

You hug him close, as if he were someone who you had been missing. “You can always start again.”

His crystal begins to glow all the colors, but he has not begun to transform. You decide that you should kiss him, just once, on the forehead before he is lost to time again for who knows how long. So, leaning forward quickly, you steal a kiss across his cheek.

Jason is stunned. He reaches up to his neck in surprise and sharply inhales inwards. His neck crystal has disappeared. His bleached hair returns to a dirty blonde, as if the crystals had actually changed his hair color. But then he looks at you.

You can feel several sensations at once. One of them tells you to bite and poison, another tells you to fly, another tells you to use magic, and still another tells you to spin webs and trap things.

You have transformed into the very same monster, except your hair turns blue like the peacock you were just moments ago.

It’s all so overwhelming that your instincts take over. One of your eight legs comes down just to the right of Jason, and another barely misses his neck. He manages to escape, but gets caught in the webs.

Your voice has changed now, as if a demon were speaking with your throat. “I am beauty, fire, poison, magic, death incarnate! I am the nightmares of every living person, and the terrors of all the dead!”

The words echo in your mind as one spider leg rises above the center of his chest.

I am Arachne.

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