by Eva Rieder
Spider crawled along the branch, his limbs aching and tired. It had been so long since he’d fed.
Yesterday? The day before?
Too long in a spider’s world, and his felt too soon to end, too far traveled to go much further.
The wind kicked across the marshy field, threatening to pry his legs from the bark on which he balanced. Only under the jagged wood edges could he hook his legs to this tree, the one he’d climbed since the cursed wind blew his web apart two falls of night before.
So hungry. The wind smacked at him again, a tremble humans would only faintly notice but which he could feel all too well. Not as much as the lesser spiders—the Wolves, the Widows, or the Tarantulas. He was far bigger than all of them combined, a distant cousin to the Daddy with his long legs.
Spider’s legs were long, of course, but it was his size that left him traveling alone as the biggest predator. Always fed.
Not this time.
Spider weaved down the branch, the wind threatening him like Death itself. If he fell the marsh would swallow him up, and he knew this because the mud below wrapped its clutches around items even smaller than him, things that humans called fruit and squirrels, and boxes and dolls; each of these things stared up at him now, their size half-buried beneath the muck and sinking slowly under the shriek of the wind until no being would know they existed.
“Mama, mama look!”
Spider directed his eyes at the child, the tiny blonde thing that tugged the female’s hand and pointed up into the tree. His quiet cry would be lost to any others, but Spider could hear it.
He heard it all.
“Mama, is that a raccoon?”
“No baby, it’s a—oh my god! Stay away from that!” She scooped the child up and ran. “Arnold! Honey, in the tree! We need a rake or…I don’t know! Eek!” She barreled through the marsh, its moist tentacles hardly catching her feet as she ran.
But it would catch me if I’m weak enough to fall.
The wind hit Spider again and he struggled to crawl forward. Then, he saw her at the end of his branch. She huddled on her web as if she thought herself impervious to the wind. Her thin layer of fur rustled against the blows, shaking her on the web until she bounced with the orchestra of sound that howled across the marsh. She was the reason he hungered. She was the one who stole his prey, catching the rat in her web and wrapping it with the same care he would—a feat considering it was one-third her size.
And she let the wind carry him away.
Spider snuck to the end of the branch. Somewhere within him he knew it was wrong, that what he would do next would break every code of their kind. They were the last two, but he was hungry. So hungry.
And she’d stolen his food.
Spider waited on the edge of the branch and watched her. She’d looped her silk to the web in an attempt to hold on during her slumber, and while she’d prepared for the wind’s attack, she hadn’t prepared for his. When the gusts subsided he scurried forward, creeping off the branch and onto her web. He lifted his fangs before she woke and sank them into her.
She cried out as his venom coursed through her, traveling around her large belly and down her legs. She was almost as big as him, but not quite. He remained the largest spider of all.
The last of his kind.
She shivered while his toxin softened her body, but he couldn’t wait.
He swallowed her whole.