Monday, October 19, 2009

The Web of Many Colors, Natasha Fondren

A boy crouched in the shadows of moonlight, his blue eyes glittering.

By the window, a crystal swung from the ceiling. It glistened in moonlight; in twinkled in starlight. When the sun shone bright, it sent rivers of color splashing across the walls. Only in the cloudiest and darkest of nights would the crystal blacken, hanging shiny and still, as dead as the mother of Tommy the spider.

Tommy worked in the corner, swinging the first threads for his web from wall to wall, wall to ceiling, and ceiling to wall. It was an ambitious design for a spider as small as he: it spanned four feet and stretched halfway down the wall.

That's when he heard a rustle and then a sound. Not a snap: nothing so loud as that. It was a sound so small, it was almost a non-sound. It was such a tiny sound for the ripping of limbs. Tommy twirled in the air on his thread, unable to find his feet for footing.

Or, at least, two of them.

The blue-eyed boy giggled, holding up two of the spider's legs to view in the moonlight. The spider scurried up his thread. The boy climbed on his bed, careful to first fold Tommy's legs in a tissue and place them in a small, beat-up box on his dresser. The spider watched the boy's glistening blue eyes until they shut, disappearing into darkness.

Tommy spun his web as the boy slept, working until the radials made a thirteen-pointed star. It was not easy work, but he found he could manage with only six of his limbs. He imagined his long legs calling from the box, begging him to finish, to give reason for their removal and imprisonment.

It was morning before Tommy began to work in circles and spirals around the middle of his web, stretching his long legs from radial to radial. He worked all day; his mother would have been proud. With every trip around his web, his ease with being a six-legged spider grew.

But as evening came, so did the boy with the twinkling blue eyes. Tommy heard him when he stepped below. Tommy spun at the top of his web, certain the boy was too short to reach him.

The boy was not.

He plopped a chair beneath the spider’s web and crawled on top. Tommy felt his one leg stretched as far as it would go. He gripped his web; his leg snapped off. The blue-eyed boy screeched in joy, then plucked another leg.

As the spider, in agony, folded its four remaining legs to its belly, the boy jumped off the chair. He ran to his nightstand and repeated the ritual with Tommy's legs, the tissue, and the box.

Tommy flopped on his silk. He imagined he clambered higher up his cord, but it is not easy to climb when you're not sure which legs you have and which you don't.

The next amputation was quick: the boy giggled gleefully, running around the room with a spider leg between each thumb and forefinger. He jumped on the bed, then turned those blue eyes towards the shivering spider.

Tommy could hardly look at those brilliant blue orbs, so afraid he was. As he clung to his web by thread and two legs, he kept thinking of the first time his mother had taught him to spin a web. If she would've been there, she would've said, "Just two more circles to go, Tommy. Never give up!"

The blue-eyed boy rolled the legs back and forth on his hand, then twirled one in between thumb and forefinger. (His third leg? His sixth leg? Tommy didn't know.) Finally, he smushed the spider’s legs in his palms, until they were nothing, until it was as if they had never been.

Tommy tried to climb a little ways up, but his body was too heavy for his two remaining legs. And so he hung. He dreamt his six lost legs danced in circles around him, demanding Tommy finish the web. The spider waited as the crystal cast colors, then diamonds, then colors, then diamonds.

Only then was his shriveled body light enough for his two legs to carry him. He slowly crawled up his balancing line. It took all night long to make the last two circles around his web.

When morning came, the boy stood below, his hands on his waist, his mouth slightly open. His blue eyes glowed in the purple sunlight of early dawn. He dropped a pile of books on the chair, then climbed up.

Tommy waited for the plucks: he was done with his web, after all. The boy stretched both legs as far as they would go, until Tommy feared his body would be torn in half. The two legs tore off, and his black body spun on his silken thread. He blinked at his tormentor, who now was not looking at him, but at the spider's web.

If the spider had ever been in a museum (he had not), or if he had ever visited the Spider Pavilion in the Natural History Museum (the greatest and grandest collection of webs from spiders spun), he would have known that his web was neither the finest nor the commonest. Tommy's web was museum-quality art, but it was not remarkable amongst masters.

Without the crystal, that is. For now his silk weave glowed with every red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple in the spectrum.

Then the spider, only a shiny black orb, stilled. The blue-eyed boy wrapped the dead spider in a tissue, then placed it in his treasure box.


Jude Hardin said...

I think this is the first time I've read any of your fiction, Natasha. Just awesome. Gave me chills.

LurkerMonkey said...


I'm glad I finally found a prompt that enticed you!

My favorite thing about this story was the horrifying image of the spider being slowly torn apart. It's such a gruesome and wonderful construct for a story, and I've found myself sympathizing with spiders once again (thanks, Melanie).

And now I have to ask ... because I read it a few times and thought about it some more ... what's the theme here? I know what I think, but I'm curious to see what other people are taking away from this.

Natasha Fondren said...

Thanks, Jude! It was a voice I'd never tried before, and I felt it was a bit inconsistent. It actually came to me as a poem, LOL! That's never happened before!

Natasha Fondren said...

LOL, Jon! Did you want me to answer that, or did you want me to wait to see what others think? I have a story about that, LOL, but I hate to tell people what to think. :-)

E. Flanigan said...

This was a pleasure to read. It totally broke my heart. So many nice bits .... you really got me with, "it is not easy to climb when you're not sure which legs you have and which you don't."

I was wondering if the story would end a la Charlotte's Web, with a note to the boy written in the web. What would a note like that say? "Please stop torturing me"??

Great job.

Jude Hardin said...

Very interesting. I was just thinking it reads like a poem in places, and it reminds me of Maxine Kumin's wonderful poem "Woodchucks" from her collection Up Country that won the Pulitzer.

As for themes, I thought first of the function of the web, rather than its artistry--that is, as a trap for prey--and how the spider, if left alone, would soon be collecting its own trophies.

Not for sport, but for survival.

Big difference there.

The boy, on the other hand, insanely takes delight in the rather methodical destruction of something just because he has the power to do so. I imagine Hitler probably did things like that when he was a kid.

E. Flanigan said...

Personally, I connected with it as a story about creation and the way it feels to be picked apart when you're trying to create something. The boy is like the ultimate critic!

Natasha Fondren said...

Thanks, E. Flanigan! I thought about Charlotte's Web! I don't remember which decision I made at the time, but I remember thinking that if I made the other one, it would carry too much of Charlotte's Web with it.

Natasha Fondren said...

Wow, Jude! You're right! Should I admit that I didn't see that? I'd feel so much smarter if I had. :-)

About the blue-eyed boy, I grew up with a neighborhood of boys who enjoyed removing wings off lightning bugs and legs off spiders. As a teacher, I saw the pleasure some boys took in terrorizing my cats, LOL. I guess I think that instinct is within all of us, which is why kids are much crueler to each other than they ever will be as adults.

Natasha Fondren said...

E. Flanigan, LOL! Gosh, you know, I have this genius-poet friend who refuses to explain his poems. I'm starting to see why. It's purely selfish on my part, but what you guys bring to it is so interesting to me!

Jude Hardin said...

This confirms my theory that themes emerge on a subconscious level many times, with little or no such intention from the author.

Take that Jon and Erica. ;)

LurkerMonkey said...


I was confused at first, and I had to think about this for a while ... but when I did, I saw it as metaphor, sort of like E. Flanigan. The spider is the artist and the boy is his audience, literally tearing him limb from limb. You know how criticism can feel, right? So it's like that.

At first, I thought it might be about the cruelty of little boys (I was one of them), but it was the bit about museums in the end and the light shining on his web that got me thinking. Like all serious artists, poor little Tommy keeps going, despite the personal cost. It helps that, like most writers, I know exactly how it feels to be picked at and picked at by an audience you can never really satisfy.

Natasha Fondren said...

Jude, you're the closest. :-)

When I first got the idea, it was only the shell: Spider trying to make a web, then spider died, but he was okay with that because he'd finished his art.

It struck me that stemmed from the bit of me that feels my life will be a failure if I don't write all I'm supposed to write before I die. And I try to reject that philosophy.

However, it was in the story, so I kinda threw up my hands and let my subconscious play with it at will.

Also, I was reading about myths and fairy tales and parables, and how there are some stories that feel like, when you're done, that they've said Something, but it's too slippery to put your finger on it, and it has enough room for the reader's views.

So I let my subconscious have at it, and meant it to be a little like the crystal. The web has no color but what the sun brings to it through the lens of the crystal.

In my own crystal, LOL, it's not the criticism that gets under my skin (my stories feel like a thing outside myself when they're done) so much as LIFE. My husband remarks that he's never known a person where "there's always something." He wants "all our ducks in a row," but I have never known that in my life, EVER. It's SO frustrating. I'd like a nice, peaceful, settled, secure life so I can focus on writing, LOL.

And the little boy and his cruelty, was a remark on cruelty and senselessness, but also the fact that cruel boys aren't just cruel, they're sweet and good and wholesome and normal. (Not sure I succeeded with that one, though. But the blue eyes were meant to evoke innocence and the typical child adults go "awww!" over, I suppose.)

Edie Ramer said...

This gave me shivers. I hated to see Tommy die. But he left behind a masterpiece. That's something.

I don't kill spiders, but this is the first time I was rooting for one. Great story.

Charles Gramlich said...

Very nice. I love the almost surreal descriptions. I can visualize this so well. Brilliantly written.

Melanie Avila said...

Natasha, I liked this on so many levels, and it's been interesting to read all the comments on the themes. I hadn't looked at it from the point of view of a critic and artist, but that totally makes sense.

I love the details about the crystal, and how it's a passive observer of the torment going on in the room. Kind of like a computer? :P

Meanwhile, I rarely kill spiders but I've killed two or three in the last couple days. Coincidence?

Natasha Fondren said...

Edie, I hear you! I'm terrified of them, but even more terrified of killing one, LOL! I once didn't take a shower for two days when one decided to live on my shower curtain!

Natasha Fondren said...

Aw, Charles, thanks! I will let that go to my head for a full five minutes!

Melanie, that's an interesting thought! If computers think, what would they think about us? Man, mine knows ALL my secrets! Forget "If these walls could talk." How about "If these computers could talk"?

Erica Orloff said...

Some lovely imagery, Spy . . . .

I didn't like leaving the scene for the museum imagery . . . . but Tommy endeared himself to me with his determination. Made him seem very REAL.

And I never, ever kill spiders.


Natasha Fondren said...

Oooh, Erica, that's perfect! I was trying to figure out how to fix the inconsistent voice, and that will help! That was originally at the beginning, but I didn't think it worked there, either.

I am TERRIFIED of spiders, but can't kill them, either!

Anonymous said...

You made me sympathize with a spider! (very hard to do, btw) Good job!


Natasha Fondren said...

Thanks, PM! Melanie is the master at that, though! :-)

Jon, where's yours? :-)

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