EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT! Here’s a sneak peek at The Spider’s Bride, by Debbie Gallagher.
THE SPIDER’S BRIDE: CHAPTER ONE
Last night the doorbell rang. It was very late, far past midnight, and I walked down and opened the door to see a finger on the front step. I bent down for a closer look. It was clean cut and dry, no blood or decomposition. I looked up.
The night was clear, a pale full moon and stars everywhere. The craters on the moon’s surface shone at me and directly below, not far from where Church Lane joins the park footpath, stood a hedge I had not seen before. It sparkled slightly with what I first thought was dew—”So dawn will be soon,” I told myself—but dawn felt a long way away. I went to look at the hedge.
It was stiff with frost crystallised on the web of a spider, reflecting the light, intricate and symmetrical. I stepped back a little to notice that the whole hedge was a maze of jewels and sugar phantoms, iridescent webs of differing shapes and sizes, studded by the corpses of insects. Some webs were big enough to trap small birds and these did not shine, tiny bones and remnants of feather pinched between the wire and the wood.
I realised that the roots and twigs of the hedge were held together by myriads of webs, that the hedge had not grown at all but had somehow been placed there, built piece by piece by the spiders.
At this point I saw them moving in their multitudes through, around, over, beneath the hedge, so many of them patterned and checkered, many dull, many bright. It was then I noticed a pale plump spider on a branch very close to my face, and I jumped back. I had forgotten the finger until that moment.
The spider gestured elegantly down at the foot of the hedge which was full of old cans and fast food cartons, bits of bicycle, sweet wrappers and cigarettes, broken toys and lost dolls. I wondered if the finger was part of a lost doll, but I touched it, and it was real enough, though hard and dead. The spider looked at me apologetically.
“We cannot help it,” the spider said. “We do as our fathers did. They built this hedge.”
I wanted to say, “What fathers? Weren’t they eaten by your mothers? And if they built this hedge, why isn’t it here in the day?” But the main question was the finger.
“You must leave me alone, all of you,” I said, not knowing if I meant it. What I meant was, you are not to steal bits of me or mine. The spider didn’t say anything, but I could tell it was thinking of the finger and I held it out to him. He reached up and took it between his two front legs. I noticed light patterns etched under his skin, between the blonde hairs on his back and belly and legs. I didn’t know if he was beautiful or ugly.
“I could show you all of the hedge,” said the spider, climbing towards me in an abrupt, decided manner. “If you want. I could ride on your shoulder.” Too close to my face, I thought, though his voice was gentle, noble even. A prince among spiders.
So I stood there while the moon shone and my breath mingled with the rising mist through the air, over the hedge and the fields and all the night world, held together by cobwebs, spider gilt in frost and shadow.
I agreed, because I could think of nothing else to do. And I felt guilty about the finger. Someone’s hand might be in the hedge, being used for, for, used for what? Being eaten, it would be eaten of course. So I should do something.
The Spider sat and waited with great patience. I looked over at him and said, “I will come with you,”—his eyes brightened almost alarmingly—“in return for that,” I added. He seemed to give a little shrug, and without a word, handed back the finger. It was all very easy and I panicked, guessing at last, how much, how desperately, he wanted me to enter his world. He looked at me, and if he thought I was inconsistent, he never let it show. Polite to the last.
Then he was on my shoulder, and I fought the urge to throw up or scream, for he was too close and he moved too quickly and bit my ear. It felt warm and thick and moist, a tongue with a barb at its end, no spider then, no spider at all, but it caught me well, the barb hooking for a second from the base to the lobe, and I could smell my own blood and another scent, which I know very well, when I am not dreaming.
I fell, and he fell with me, beside me, heavy on the grass like a body, a weight of my own size, heavier.
When I tried to stand, the glitter of his eyes, all his eyes, filled my horizons. Beside him the hollows of the hedge shone like great caverns and corridors leading inward, the labyrinth awake for me, playing music. I could not go to them, though. My head was turned towards him, now huge in bulk with eyes unreadable even yet, though the stiffness moving along my spine, the heaviness in my arms and legs, the clench of my fists and jaws told all the story I needed.
“You will see the kingdom,” he told me, “but you cannot enter dressed like that. And you will not kick.” And he set to spinning, as I knew he would, while I lay on my back like a tin soldier fallen out of its box, facing the moon, mapping those grey seas in my head, unable to turn right or left.
The cold melted through my limbs as he wrapped them. I wondered when I would begin to feel the dissolution within. Would it be painful, turning to liquid? Suppose he began to devour me before? Suppose my arms snapped off with the frost and the poison? But he wrapped my body tenderly in silk from the core of him, warm and smooth on my skin. I presumed it was unbreakable, but it didn’t matter. Strong or weak, I could not command a single fibre of the silk or of myself. How could I have mistaken him so?
The work was soon finished. He did not cover my face as I expected. Eyes faced forward, I could barely see him but I could feel his breath on my hair as he daubed my hair with frost or dew or whatever he had to hand. I might be food for his table, a corpse apparent, but I was dying in the hands of an artist. He stopped to gaze at me for a moment, the light refracted in his eyes. Even the warmth of the silk, the stillness of my muscles couldn’t spare me the desire to look further. Do the torches of the deep gleam so wild and wise? He wanted someone to breathe on the mirrors, to examine what lies behind them, the light in the brilliant mind of a spider. “I would do it, if you hadn’t tied my hands so!” I wanted to tell him. But I couldn’t move, and in any case, we both knew I would never have noticed had I not been bound.
And then we entered the hedge . . .
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Read more in THE SPIDER’S BRIDE: Available now!
Trade paperback / $12.95 / 248 pp. / ISBN 978-0-8095-7211-3
Debbie Gallagher works as a presenter for Cellcast TV where she features in regular appearances on Psychic TV, and also specialises in voice-overs for Sumo Television; her most famous work to date being an interview with a medium who claimed that Elvis had contacted her from beyond the grave to reveal his foot fetish. Debbie has written Batman for DC comics, Slaine for 2000 AD, the Ragnarok Book and Teeth of the Moon Sow among others for Mongoose Publishing and The Redeemer series for Games Workshop. She has also written various articles on alternative worlds and perspecitives, has been interviewed by The Times Newspaper on the subject of modern druidry, and has presented lectures on the Traditions of Fairy Legend in English Literature.
Debbie’s interests include other worlds, dreams and lost memories, madness and art, and all of these feature in this, her first fantasy novel. But when she’s not fantasising, she enjoys pointless travelling, eating sea-food, and playing with her cats.