October's last night. Halloween. Over to the west, a setting sun bloodstained dry mountain peaks. Pocketing a flashlight, I locked my car and started walking.
Why had Robin been so insistent that I take this particular trail to her house? "You must visit me between the shadows of sunlight and moonlight," she had said, "or not at all." Well, this time of year, starting just at sunset, this trail would bring me onto her property just as the first waves of moonlight washed through her back yard. Robin knew well enough, though, that I did not like walking in the cold darkness of a mountain night. Left up to me, I would have simply driven my car up the gravel access road, walking the remaining two hundred feet.
Truthfully, since meeting Robin at Colorado State University, her artist's whims had been a frequent source of annoyance to me. Back then, I often asked myself why I kept company with this rather plain-looking coed. Her idea of a wild time consisted of long nights designing projects in the school's stained glass workshop. At present, however, the rest of America had also fallen under the spell of Robin Hastings: "the New Tiffany." Popular magazines called her the artist who raised stained glass to the level of classical painting. With that intense level of public recognition had come unwelcome social attention. In an effort to work undisturbed she had purchased an old three-story house deep in the heart of Colorado's northernmost mountains.
All about me shadows fed on fading light. Dusk seemed no child of the sky, more some strange offspring of the forest. Familiar with the trail though I was, I still found the deepening night disconcerting. I shone my flashlight more often than I needed to.
As I walked, I remembered the joy and pride I had heard in Robin's voice during that first phone call some months ago when she had proclaimed that she had created her masterpiece: a stained glass window that would bring something new into the world. Just that morning, she explained, a crew of workmen from Denver had installed the window into the north wall of her house -- inside her third floor attic workshop, to be exact -- where all the meek spirits of earth night could come and pay homage. I laughed to myself. Robin was becoming a poet! She refused to reveal the actual motif of the window and merely said that it was a geometric design inspired by her dreams and by long walks beneath the sparkling night sky. I assured her I would come and see it as soon as I could get a break from my screen-writing work in Los Angeles.
A month later I received another call from her, one markedly different in tone. She spoke of her great creation, but with a tone of uneasiness in her voice that I would have sworn was almost fear. Robin explained that her color scheme was perhaps too outré: she was beginning to dislike the dark red border around the actual design, and honestly, that was the only conventional color she had crafted into the window. Moreover, many of the angles in the design seemed . . . alien. Somehow, they ought not to exist on a world like Earth. Confused by her thoughts, I suggested that an aspect of her psyche had shown itself in her window. And, possibly, she was not happy to see it? Robin agreed that this might be. Again, she invited me out to see it and remarked that although it displayed well enough during the day, it was at its best on moonless, starry nights when the Milky Way cast shadows.
It was I who initiated the third phone call. Two weeks ago I called to say I would visit her soon. For a moment, I feared Robin was ill. Her voice was a sickbed-whisper. When I was finally able to make sense of her words, I could not believe what I heard. Robin was insisting that the design of the window in the attic workshop had changed. Changed by itself. And that was not all. She swore that she had seen movement within the strangely colored glass. Movements that were more than just the ghosts of clouds or trees. Robin said she always kept the lights on in the attic and no longer went up there at night, for she did not like to look at her creation when starlight shone through it. That is -- and here her voice trembled so that I could barely hear or understand it -- she never went up there at night knowingly; yet sometimes, she awoke from her sleep and found herself in the attic, on her knees before the soft witch-glow of her stained glass window. I told her that if her damned window upset her that much she should take a hammer to it and be done with the whole business. Robin, however, would not hear of it. She agreed with me that the solitude was getting to her, and that she needed to spend some time in Denver. By the end of our conversation, I was almost as disturbed as she was.
My final call to her was just last night, when I announced that I would be over for dinner. She seemed upset about this, though finally, she gave her permission, but only if I approached her house the way she told me to. Her voice was ragged and low, as though she feared being overheard.
A sudden gust of wind that shook the dark pines brought me out of my musings. Orienting myself, I saw that I had walked almost up to one of the many streams that ran on and about Robin's property. A half minute more brought me to the stream bed, where I stopped in disbelief. It was completely dry! The abnormal dryness of the forest had not escaped me, but I had not realized it was this bad. Robin had been assured when she bought the house that the many streams that flowed on and about her property ran all year round. She loved their liquid music and crystalline forms; indeed, they had been one of the main reasons she had bought this property. Oddly enough, the course of the streams formed a large five pointed star whose center was the site on which Robin's house had been built. This star shape was particularly noticeable when seen from the surrounding peaks during the emptiness of late autumn.
Too bad, I thought; the death of her beloved streams would hardly help her mood any. Strange that what I had taken for the sound of their music had actually been the rushing of the wind.
I arrived in Robin's yard, whose wooden and metal chimes I had been hearing for some time now. I walked up to the front door, glad to be free of the forest darkness. Just as I rang the bell, I heard a loud thump from the far side of the house. I walked around to the back, and searched the area carefully, but I found nothing unusual.
My attention was drawn to a softly glowing circle within the upper outer wall of the house. It was Robin's stained glass creation. The window was large, about ten feet in diameter. It displayed rather well at night; still, I made nothing out in detail.
As I walked back around the house to the front door, the world suddenly turned pale. The full moon was rising above the treeline. Right on time, I thought. I rang the doorbell for a minute, but there was no response. Annoyed, I walked to a twisted moonlit skeleton of a pine -- Halloween-shaped Robin called it -- and removed a spare house-key from its hole. Once inside, I headed for the kitchen. The cappuccino maker, I thought, would help dispel the emotional chill I had sustained walking through the dark.
I was on my second cup when I heard Robin enter. Her steps were dragging and so silent that I had the fleeting perception it was not her, but some kind of forest ghost. My eyes darted to the knives by the chopping board. Then I chuckled at myself and cheerily called hello.
The footsteps stopped, then continued towards the kitchen door. The pale blue door swung open and a beautiful woman stepped in. I was dumbfounded. The appearance of the face was recognizable, and her hair was still a soft pale blonde which fell and curled to her waist. Her thin body, however, had become voluptuously curved and firmly beautiful; her facial bones were now perfectly proportioned. My astounded gaze met her eyes, and my wonder died. They were pale green mirrors in which a soul only barely reflected.
I rose from my chair in awkward greeting. She began to quietly speak.
"It's back in the window now. It fed, so it must return to the window. I tried to save the deer, but It has hungered too long for the wet blood of our world."
What the hell was she talking about? Was she crazy? Was I crazy? Where had she gotten that revamped face and figure from? She sounded even crazier than she had on the phone. Taking her arm, I guided her over to a kitchen chair where I helped her sit. It seemed to me, that until I could get her to a doctor, the best thing to do was to keep her talking. She looked terribly weak. I had never seen anyone so drained of energy or volition.
"What killed the deer, Robin? A cougar? Is there something in the woods the rangers should know about?"
She looked up at me with faint sadness, as though I couldn't understand.
"It doesn't live in the forest, Paul. It lives in my stained glass window, in the web I made for it. It must be there now. It doesn't like moonlight, Paul. There is only night where it comes from.
"Drop by drop, darkness by darkness, it came down from its web between the stars. I thought the window was the most original piece of work I had ever done, but this wasn't my plan at all. When the streams grew still, that's when the black whispering entered my dreams. It told me how to shape the window, and when I was finished, I installed it to face just the right section of the sky. And down it dripped. In silent ghastly colors till one evening I sleepwalked up to the attic and I awoke on my knees to witness it inside my colored glass looking down at me. I screamed and tried to break the window but its whisper stopped me, and it stopped me from burning the house down. It wouldn't let me run away either. Since then its thoughts have drained me, till I can hardly find myself anymore.
"Last night, just before you called, I was sitting here in the kitchen and I heard the attic door open. I heard it scuttle down the stairs. I grabbed a knife, but it opened the front door and I heard the gravel fly as it sped down the access road. I knew it was going after the doe and her fawn. It's such a rich, red world, our Earth. Oh, but tonight it came and went through the air; it can use its wings now."
Suddenly Robin looked right at me, and her eyes were the windows of her soul again, a soul drowned in fear.
"It won't let me leave or call for help, Paul, but it wouldn't hurt me for anything. It wants me to make more windows. Each a different design, so that the Others can crawl down from the stars. It won't dare wage war against the world without them. It doesn't mind that you are here, Paul. It thinks it can hurt you slowly until I agree to make more stained glass passageways for it. And I am to be its priestess, as it says I was so long ago . . . It gave me this new body as a gift for my future service. Do you like it Paul?" She stood up and swirled around for my inspection. "It's just how I've always wanted to look."
Sudden fear engulfed me. She was right. It was exactly how she had always wanted to look. Could plastic surgery really be so precise?
Robin sat down again, and stared off into space, her momentary animation gone. I decided to keep drawing her out to get to the root of her dark fantasy about her stained glass window.
"Yes, you're very beautiful now, Robin. But then you always have been. Tell me Robin, exactly what is the connection between this Great Monster and your stained glass window?"
The question brought her mind back, as I hoped it would. Robin had always been one for figuring things out.
"I'm not sure, Paul. I know it had a hole between the stars. I think the window is a web for it to live in on Earth. Maybe it was forced to live in the hole in the stars, and has been trying to crawl out. Somehow when I built the window, it was able to come to Earth. Paul, do you remember what that old Arapaho Indian told us about the sky spirits who made the streams flow here? I think they have something to do with this. Does that make sense, Paul?"
No sense at all, I thought, but out loud I complemented her on putting things together so well. I asked her why she sometimes called her window a web? Did the Great Monster resemble a spider?
Robin looked at me oddly. "No, not exactly. At least, not always." She closed her eyes, as though listening for sounds only she could hear . . . with a start, I realized she was listening to the thought-waves within her mind. Seemingly satisfied, she took a pencil and sketch pad from a cabinet drawer and began drawing. Five minutes went by as she worked. Mountain winds prowled outside the kitchen window; wind chimes were screaming wildly, like infants lost in a bad dream. Finally, Robin handed me her finished sketch. I looked at it for an instant, then crumpled it in a sudden grip of fear. What she had drawn was blasphemy. I stared at Robin in horror. She truly was insane. To have imagined such a thing . . . as I stared at her, her features changed. Her face lost its fear, became untroubled and serene. Robin smiled at me, showing even, stainless white teeth. Then she spoke.
"Oh, but Paul, it's really very pretty. Why don't you go up and see for yourself?"
I backed slowly away from the beautiful woman at the table; she had spoken in a tone that was howling and empty, as though the winds outside had entered her mind and the night outside had tunneled up into her soul. Then the moment was gone and suddenly Robin was in my arms, her words a torrent of fear.
"It's not waiting for me to give in anymore, it's trying to take me over, to wish me away. It just isn't sure how to do it without destroying my mastery of stained glass! Paul, you've got to stop it!"
I held her for a few minutes, trying to make the slightest sense out of the whole situation. Hugging Robin tightly against me, I couldn't help thinking that if her story was true, I was in the presence of two master craftsmen. But her story couldn't be true. My friend had gone insane, and I needed to prevent her from falling any deeper into madness, at least until I could get her to a psychiatric hospital. If I went upstairs and shattered the object of her fears, bringing down the colored fragments for her inspection, wouldn't that help put her mind more at ease?
Sitting Robin down and pouring her a glass of orange juice from out of the refrigerator, I gently told her that I was going upstairs to see her stained glass window. Several different and seemingly mutually opposed emotions flashed across her face then, but the one that had settled onto her face as I left the kitchen was one of resigned despair.
The walk up to the third floor attic was long, far longer than I remembered it to be. The whole staircase area felt wondrously strange and frightfully cold, as though, my rebellious imagination suggested to me that all its earthly qualities had been withered by some deep frost of space, which had then left its own flowers to bloom. I ridiculed that thought, but still I turned on all the lights on the way to the workroom. Finally I was on the top step of the third floor landing, a few feet away was the plywood door that had long ago been put up to change the attic into a closed room. There was no sound of movement inside the workshop, unless one counted the gently hissing gusts of wind that always found their way through the old walls on nights like this. Opening the door just slightly, I snaked my arm in, touched the light switch, flipped it on. The room burst into electrical daylight and I stepped inside, pushing the door open wide in front of me.
There, set into the oaken walls of that old house like some glowing meteoric jewel of space set into a cheap iron band of Earth, was Robin's stained glass window. My mind lost track of itself then, as I tried and failed miserably to make any sense out of the utter strangeness I was seeing. If some wave of eldritch energy had surged from the furthest shores of space, and, crashing upon that window, had burst into sprays of geometric light, then that might explain the colors and forms my eyes saw manifested in that stained glass window. There were angles whose two sides had absolutely no relationship to each other, straight lines that were simultaneously curved, perfect circles whose radii were unequal to each other. All these shapes and their hues seemed to wave in and out of each other, as though forming a design whose parts seemed to be consuming the whole at the very time they created it. For how long I stood there, lost in borderless dreams, I know not, but gradually my mind came to itself again and seemed to make a little sense out of the window. It helped me greatly to keep my thoughts focused on the border of dark red glass that Robin had put around the design; then, when I felt capable of it, to switch my attention to the actual masterpiece for as long as I could stand to do so. In truth, her work was not unpleasant to look at, as we normally use the word, it was simply from too distant a realm to be contemplated for any length of time. But there, in the lower center, weren't those drops of light and weren't they the color red? And weren't they shown to be affected by the known force of gravity, descending as they were from those four strangely curved black lines, there, just below the copious number of dots whose various colors I could not put into words?
I studied the window with brief glances for about an hour, then I slowly willed myself away from it and into the room's lone chair, an overstuffed recliner. It was incredible! Robin had every right to have gone off the deep end. Hadn't Van Gogh also gone insane, using lines and colors that were faint foreshadowing of Robin's own? To think I had thought of breaking the window!
I was about to return to my adoration of it when it finally occurred to me that Robin would be frantic with worry over my excessive stay in the attic. Accordingly, I reluctantly got up to leave the workroom. My hand was on the doorknob when I turned for one last look at my friend's timeless masterpiece. That's when I saw it. The star-spider. It had been resting in the window watching me, just as it must have watched Robin that first night of its return to Earth. I couldn't even scream, as she must have screamed. Through blank eyes I saw its two sets of curved mandibles open slightly, saw the red drops spill from them, splashing upon the wooden floor, which I now saw was heavily stained with them. Then, impossibly, it was out of the window, its ever-changing, ever-flowing mass filling the room, its endless sets of eyes staring inquisitively at me. I fainted then; and it must have taken that for obeisance, for in some black and shrunken memory I recall its scaled and furred legs gently stroking my body, as though in approval.
I came to just in time to watch it reenter its stained glass web. It had to reshape its body, turn three dimensions into one in order to do so. In that time I slithered on my belly like a snake to the door and did not get back onto my feet until I was halfway down the last staircase. Then I fled screaming back to the kitchen where Robin was waiting for me. She was sitting quietly where I had left her: the wretched being whose destiny had been to return such a horror to our poor sleeping planet. As I stumbled through the door she stood up and tried to hand me one of the knives from the carving block. I couldn't take it. Even after what I had seen, even knowing she was the means for bringing more of its kind to Earth, I still couldn't take her life. No, never! She'd always been there for me; now it was time for me to come through for her! Robin put her hand on my shoulder as though to show she understood. Shrieking, I snatched the knife from her other hand and plunged it again and again into her heart until I was sure she was dead. Her touch had been that of the star-spider.
I remember little more of that black night. Why it did not come after me as I fled wildly down the access road I do not know; perhaps the full moon daunted it even more than Robin could know. The police hunt me now, but I do not fear them; nor do I fear that It may seek me out. No, there is an infinitely greater peril that only I know of, though I have mailed letters to all the occult groups in an attempt to make them also aware of it. The stained glass window has been shipped to New York City, to its Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it has gone on permanent display.
I know that the star-spider is still lurking in that window, for in those nightmare moments in the attic workroom I understood what even poor Robin had not guessed. I awoke from my faint just in time to see the star-thing begin to return to its web. The window had not been filled with uncanny angles and colors then; it was merely ordinary glass with a dark red border around it. The geometry of the stained glass window, the geometry and very being of the star-spider, they were all one and the same. That is why I fear for the people of New York on moonless nights; but far more I tremble at the thought that one day at that exhibition a stained-glass artist who is Robin's equal will stare in silent, worshipping awe before the star-thing that waits patiently now inside that red-bordered window.
Created: December 5, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004