by Phil Davies
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“So,” said Mary, after she had finished a delicious dinner of pasta and chicken. “Can you make other problems go away?”
“Anything you like,” said Thain. “Just say the word.”
“Why?” asked Mary. “Why do you want to help me?”
“Because that’s what we do,” said Mildred. “It’s why we were made. To help children who are sad become happy again.”
Thain and Mildred exchanged a look. It was a simple glance, but Mary wondered how many secret messages flitted between their ancient eyes in that moment. It did not make sense that these odd things could have a purpose like that, but then her parents looked perfectly normal, and they were often incredibly cruel to one another, and sometimes to her, so what did she know?
Mildred smilled at her and all that hard cruelty her face melted away. She looked at Mary with such kind sincerity that Mary believed them.
“Give us a try,” said Thain. “What have you got to lose?”
“Alright,” she said. “Come with me to school tomorrow. I think there are some things there you could help me with.”
* * *
So the next day the Arianthids went to school with Mary. They scuttled along beside her as made the twenty-minute walk from her house to the gate of St George’s Middle School for Boys and Girls. As they drew closer Mary found herself walking among other children, all heading to school too. Most were laughing and joking with their friends; others had faces filled with worry and dread, but none even cast a glance in the directions of the Arianthids who moved between their legs with silent dignity.
In school they sat beneath her desk looking decidedly uninterested in the lessons that were going on. Her teachers did not notice them either, which was a shame, because Mary had some very unpleasant teachers, and she was eager to see whether the Arianthids could really make any problem disappear. A harsh word from one of them, or an unfair punishment handed out was all the reason she needed, but like the Arianthids, her teachers did not seem to notice her today. Then lunchtime came, and with it came the first opportunity for Mary to test their promises.
His name was Colin Jones, and he was a scrawny, vile little boy. He had horrible, greasy hair with big flakes of dandruff wedged in it, and mean little eyes set into a bony face. Mary avoided him as much as she could, because he had a cruel tongue which he used to flick insults at her whenever she got close enough. They were not just ordinary insults either, like the ones most children hurled around at one another from time to time. His insults were finally crafted things that stabbed at your heart and made you hurt inside. Today though, she was not so lucky to stay out of his way. As she walked past the library Colin stepped out in front of her.
“Well, well,” he said. “If it isn’t Mary Fitztpatrick. I thought I could smell something. How’s your dad, Mary? Sobered up yet?”
Mary looked at his sneering, snivelling little face, and found a little smirk of her own creeping onto the corners of her mouth.
“You’ve been a problem in my life for quite long enough, Colin Jones,” she said. “And I’d very much like this problem to go away.”
The Arianthids stepped forward from behind Mary where they had been waiting patiently, and evidently did whatever it was they did which granted people permission to see them, as Colin screamed.
“What the hell are they?” he asked, edging backwards.
“We are the Arianthidsssssss,” hissed Thain.
Colin turned to run, but Mildred leaped over his head and landed to block his way. The vile, cruel little boy looked as helpless as a frightened lamb. His legs and arms trembled, and he whimpered and whined like a little girl. As the Ariathnids closed in on him, a yellow liquid ran out from the bottom of his trouser leg and formed a pool on the floor by his feet.
“Please,” he said. “Please, no. I’ll be nice from now on, I promise.”
The promise was from deep inside him, and he meant every word of it, but the Arianthids did not listen. Mildred reared up on her back legs, exposing the hole in her belly where the web came from. The muscle around it flexed and pumped, and a single silver thread shot out and attached itself to Colin’s leg.
Thain began to spin him round, prodding him with his pincers to make him go faster and faster as Mildred pumped out the thread, which wound around Colin, cocooning him.
“No!” shouted Mary. “Stop this! This isn’t right.”
But the Arianthids did not, would not stop. The scowls they usually wore on their faces and transformed into expressions of absolute pleasure, and they were laughing too.
“If you don’t stop it now I’m going to tell someone,” shouted Mary, struggling to make herself heard over the noise coming from the Arianthids, and the muffled screams from the cocooned Colin.
“Go on then,” said Thain, still spinning the boy around. “Tell whomever you like!”
Mary ran from the library and sprinted to the staffroom. However, before she reached the staff room, she found Mr Bell, the head teacher, nearly colliding with him as she turned the corner.
“Now then, what’s all this!” he said, his voice rumbling out from somewhere beneath his thick beard. He was a big man with a broad chest, and eyes that didn’t miss a thing. The beard hid enough of his face so you could not tell whether he grimacing at you or smiling. Mary always assumed the former. He continued, “In school at a lunch time! Running! So many rules you’ve just broken, Fitzgerald.”
Mary was breathing hard and struggled to get her words out. “There’s a boy...,” she gasped. “Library... In trouble.”
The look in Mr Bell’s eye’s hardened, because for all his many faults, he cared deeply for the children left in his care, and he set off in the direction of the library, striding along at a ferocious pace with Mary struggling to keep up behind him.
They burst into the library, and Mr Bell scanned the room. “Where is this ‘boy in trouble’ then?” he growled.
Mary pointed to the top of the shelves which housed A to C of the fiction section. Hoisted to the ceiling, secured in an intricate web of fine silk fibres, was the cocoon containing Colin. It twitched and twisted like a large maggot, and muffled screams came from inside it. Perched on the top of the shelf next to it, sat the two Arianthids, looking very pleased with themselves.
“Up there!” Mary said. “Colin Jones is in that cocoon!”
“Cocoon? What are you talking about girl? There is no cocoon, and we don’t have any children called Colin Jones at this school.”
Mary stared at him open mouthed. “Yes we do,” she said. “Thin boy with dirty hair. He lives on Mount Road. His dad is a plumber.”
Mr Bell glared at her. He spoke with measured tones, his words struggling to contain the anger inside them. “I know every child in this school and there is no one here of that name. I don’t know whether there is something wrong with your brain, or if this is your idea of a joke, but I advise you to get outside now before I lose my temper!”
With that he whirled around and stalked out of the room, leaving Mary alone with the Arianthids. With nimble legs, they climbed down from the bookcase and stood before her.
“Why couldn’t he see him?” Mary asked, still staring at the cocoon. It was twitching less now, and the muffled sounds from within had stopped.
Thain grinned at her. “We did what we said we’d do,” he said. “We made your problem disappear. No one can see that boy because he doesn’t exist anymore. We removed him from the world. Even his own parents will forget they ever had a child.”
“Trust us,” said Mildred, reaching up and resting a pincer on Mary’s arm. “The world is a better place without boys like that in it.”
“Get him out now,” ordered Mary.
Thain looked at her wide eyed, and innocent. “Get who, out of what?” he asked, then he winked.
Mary looked back up at the top of the bookcase. The cocoon, the web holding it in place, and Colin were all gone.
“Problem removed,” said Mildred, proudly.
“Go away,” said Mary. “Go away and leave me alone. I don’t want any more help from you. Not now. Not ever!”
“Oh, I think we’ll stick around for a while yet,” said Thain. “I’ve got a feeling you’re going to change you mind.”
* * *
She did not see the Arianthids for the rest of the day, but she knew they were not far away. She could smell them. At home that night her mother drank herself to sleep, and her father called her a bad name and went out again, but still the Arianthids did not show themselves. The only sight she got of them was when she went to bed, and she saw two dark shapes hurry under her bed, out of sight.
Just as long as you stay away from me, Mary thought. You can hide wherever you want.
The next few days were the same. They followed her to school, but stayed out of sight. No one mentioned Colin. As the Arianthids had predicted, no one seemed to miss him. The police did not come, and she even saw his parents walking together along the road, arm in arm, laughing with one another as if they had not a care in the world.
The only things that did change for her, were the arguments. Her father suddenly stopped going out at night time, and the arguments started to get worse and last longer. There was a constant tension in the house that lurked in every corner of every room, and although Mary tried to ignore it, a thought had started to germinate in Mary’s head. She pushed it away to a dark corner of her mind, but still it tried to elbow its way forward.
For a week this continued: the worsening rows, the constant unseen presence of the Arianthids. Then, one afternoon about a week later when Mary arrived home from school, they showed themselves again.
* * *
Her mother and her father were sitting in the living room together, watching television. At first, her heart did a little leap. The sight of them there together, sharing a few moments, watching a comedy maybe, was an image from her past that Mary had never thought she would see again, and it brought with it a glimmer of hope. Had problems been set aside at last? Had common sense won out?
That hope was quickly snuffed out though. After a minute or two she noticed the debris on the floor of a smashed bottle, her mother’s wedding ring discarded like rubbish on the coffee table, and the family photograph album with all its pictures removed and torn up.
“Are we having dinner?” she asked hopefully.
Her mother did not speak. She did not even acknowledge her daughter was in the room. Instead, she reached to the coffee table, picked up the packet of cigarettes, and lit one.
“There is bread in the kitchen,” said her father.
“Dad, it’s mouldy. I saw this morning.”
Her father turned to her with a look of such hatred on his face that Mary took a step backwards. “You just be greatful for that,” he growled. “Or I’ll knock some of your attitude out of you.”
A spindly leg emerged from behind the sofa, followed by another. The two legs probed the cushions briefly, then tensed and Thain hoisted himself up. Mildred dropped down next to him, sailing down from the ceiling on a fine thread. She lifted her body up exposing the web spinner in her belly, and Thain gave her wink as he gestured first to the spinner, and then to her mother and father with a pincer. Mary ran from the room and went upstairs to her bedroom.
* * *
The shouting started not long after that, and this time it had extra venom in it. Mary had never heard such language. Something smashed; it sounded like the television screen breaking. And another sound, like skin hitting flesh. Then she heard her father howling with pain.
She pulled the covers over her head and blocked her ears. “Please,” she said, struggling to hold back the tears. “Please make them stop. I don’t want this anymore. I want a family again. I need a mother and father that love each other and look after me, and tell me off when I do stupid things and who don’t give me mouldy bread for dinner.”
She felt the Arianthids hop up onto her bed and creep up to where her head was. Then, she saw the glow of light through her closed eyelids, and felt cool night air on her face as one of them pulled back the covers. A gentle pincer took hold of her wrist and pulled her hand away from her ear.
“Are you asking for our help?” Thain said. “Do you want us to make these problems disappear?”
“Yes,” said Mary, tears leaking from her eyes freely, and running down her face. “Yes. Please, make it all go away!”
Mildred hopped up onto her pillow and started to stroke Mary’s hair. “You sleep then,” she said. “Go to sleep, and tomorrow everything will be all right.”
And suddenly, although her mother and father where still exchanging slurred insults at the top of their voices downstairs, Mary found a deep sleepiness washing over her that she could not resist.
* * *
Mary awoke the next morning and knew that something had changed, but it was not what she had expected. Downstairs she heard her mother and father talking, and her mother laughed. The sound was like music to Mary, but it made no sense. Why were they not in cocoons? Why had they not disappeared like Colin had?
She stretched her arms, and her legs to chase the sleepiness from them, as she always did every morning, and as she did she realised what it was that had changed in the world. She had not four limbs to stretch, but eight. When she reached for her face with her hand, which was now a pincer, and found it was still her face, on her head, but it emerged from a bulbous body covered in thick, wiry hair.
Mary screamed. What had they done to her? The cheats! The swindlers! This was not what they had agreed, turning her into a vile thing like them. She called out for her mother and father, but no one came. No one came, because people did not notice the Arianthids unless the Arianthids wanted them to. How did they let people notice them, though? Mary did not know. She had been an Arianthid for a few minutes and she did not know all their tricks and secrets.
Thain and Mildred scuttled out from beneath her bed and jumped up next to her.
“What have you done?” Mary said. Her voice wasn’t the voice she had grown up with. It still sounded a little like hers, but it was faint and hissing now, more like Thain and Mildred’s. “You lied to me! You said you’d make my problems disappear, not give me new ones.”
“Not what you asked us for?” said Thain. “Your problems are gone now, yes?”
“I wanted a family who would love me! I wanted a mother and father that didn’t hate each other.”
“And so you do,” said Mildred. “Thain and I never argue, and we will love each other quite literally to the end of time, because we will not die. And we will love you like the daughter we cannot have.”
“Turn me back,” Mary said. “I don’t want to be like this. I want to be Mary the girl, not Mary the monster.”
“We make problems go away,” said Mildred. “We don’t put them back again. Now shall we go?”
“I’m not going anywhere with you!”
“Fine,” said Thain. “Stay here. Live alone the attic. Maybe in a hundred years you’ll work out how to let people notice you, and then you can go and introduce yourself to whoever lives here.”
Mary started to cry again, this time with great, wailing sobs. And Thain and Mildred waited, because sometime long ago they had been her, waking up as an Arianthid for the first time, and somewhere buried deep in them was the memory of that moment.
After an hour, her sobs subsided. Downstairs the happy chatter and laughter continued.
“Will they miss me?” Mary asked, between dying sobs.
“They won’t know they ever had a daughter,” said Thain. “Now, if you are ready, we need to go and find you a brother.”
Copyright © 2012 by Phil Davies