Kevin L. O'Brien
Wendy thought working magic was suppose to be difficult. From the way her Uncle Timothy had described it, it sounded like it took years of study and practice to get even simple spells right. But she did one right the first time without knowing anything about magic. All she had to do was draw the web-design on the cement floor of the basement, stand in the open center, and repeat the simple phrase, "Fun-gluey miggle-naffle Atlach-Nacha Voormit-adret wagga-naggle fatagen!" And the next thing she knew, she was standing on a ledge overlooking a huge, bottomless chasm.
She wasn't scared, not exactly; after all, she was eight going on nine, which is a very brave age. But she was a bit cold (all she had on was her nightie and a cool breeze was blowing) and she was anxious. Luckily she had had the foresight to bring her best friend with her for comfort and support, and she hugged Sheba Cat closer to her chest.
It was very dark, so dark she couldn't see more than a dozen feet around her. It was enough, however, for her to see the abyss yawning in front of her and the rock wall behind her stretching off into the air above her. And there was something else, something away in the distance, something that glowed and glittered like a bridge covered in Christmas tree lights. She stood admiring it for some minutes, until her curiosity overcame her anxiety and she started towards it.
How long she walked she couldn't be sure, but it seemed like a long time. Eventually however she got close enough to see that the bridge stretched across the chasm and was made from a huge spider web, except that it was unlike any sort of web she had ever seen. The strands looked like they were made of glass, and they glowed with an inner light like a weak light bulb. Though the main structure was still some ways off, support struts had been secured to the ledge and the wall very close by, and she reached out and touched one of them. It felt smooth, hard, just like a metal tube, and surprisingly warm. Yet it also swayed slightly in the breeze that blew through the chasm.
Even as she turned back towards the bridge, she became aware of a gigantic presence coming towards her. Soon it emerged from the gloom ahead. It looked like a spider, but it was gargantuan; its head alone was as big around as she was tall, while its bloated, sack-like body was bigger than several trucks. It was covered from front to back with red, black, and purple horny plates, so it appeared to be like an armored tank on stilts, yet the legs seemed almost too thin to support its massive bulk, and they ended in tiny, delicate-looking feet made of a pad surrounded by finger-like claws. But the head was the intriguing part of the whole being. It wasn't part of the thorax as in regular spiders, but was attached to it by a short, thick neck. It was block-shaped, but somewhat rounded, and the points were drawn out so they looked like horns. And it had a man-like face, with two, huge, forward-staring eyes with pupils, two minuscule nostrils below and between them, on a short ridge, a wide, lipless mouth from which protruded numerous fangs.
Wendy stood very still as it approached, more fascinated than afraid. For its part, the spider came right up until its massive head was no more than a couple of feet away from her. Its eyes were fixed on her, as if it too were fascinated by her. But it suddenly stopped. It closed its eyes and shook its head, as if it had a very painful headache. Then it backed up a step or two before opening its eyes again.
"Are you okay?" Wendy asked, genuinely concerned.
When it spoke the spider's voice was very deep and it echoed like thunder. "Who are you?"
"My name's Wendy; are you Mr. Atlach-Nacha?"
"I am he who men have called Atlach-Nacha. Why have you come to me?"
"My Uncle Timothy said that you could help me."
"Who is this 'Uncle Timothy' who sent you?"
"Timothy Stroud, my father's brother."
Atlach-Nacha seemed to recognize the name. It also managed to look very confused. "He sent you to me, his own brother's daughter?"
"No, sir, I came on my own. I need your help, Mr. Nacha. I'm afraid for my Mom."
"How did you come to me?"
"I used one of his spells, that I found in his book."
"He told you to use it?"
Wendy blushed, chagrined. "No, Mr. Nacha, he told me never to touch his book."
"Then why did you disobey him?"
"He was going to ask your help to protect me and Mom from Eric, but he got hurt and sent to the hospital before he could. So I took his book from his room and found the spell which would send me to you."
"You have been very foolish; it could have been your doom."
"Huh?" Wendy did not understand.
But instead of answering her implied question, it asked, "Are you not afraid of me?"
Now Wendy looked confused. "Gosh no, Mr. Nacha. Uncle Timothy said you could help us, so why would I be afraid of you?"
"Why indeed," it mused. Then it added: "What of other things you might have encountered?"
"Oh, I've got my good-luck charm for that."
It tilted its head in curiosity. "A charm you say?"
"Well, yah, my Uncle gave it to me. He said it would bring me luck. Do you want to see it?"
Placing Sheba Cat under her left arm, she reached under her nightie with her right hand and pulled out a small medallion on a chain. Engrave on it was a curious design, which looked like a stick with many branches coming off it.
When it saw it, Atlach-Nacha jumped back a short distance (which was no mean feat considering its huge bulk), a look of abject fear on its face.
"Oh, no, Mr. Nacha, don't be afraid; it won't hurt you. It's for protection against bad things, not good things like you!"
It came closer again as she replaced the medallion under her nightie. "The true Elder Sign is a most potent charm; you are indeed well protected. Still, does not my form frighten you?"
Wendy looked bewildered. "Gosh, no Mr. Nacha. Uncle Timothy told me you looked like a spider, and I like spiders, always have. They're fun to watch, and really cool looking, and they eat flies and bugs and such, so they help people."
"You are a very brave girl," Atlach-Nacha replied gravely.
She blushed with embarrassment. "I'm not all that brave. I wouldn't have come if I didn't have Sheba Cat with me."
Again the spider lord tilted its head. "Is that another charm?"
"Heck no, she's my friend." And Wendy held up a small toy stuffed cat covered in plush satiny material. It looked exactly like a Siamese, except its head was round instead of triangular.
"A loyal friend indeed, to brave the unknown for your sake."
But Wendy hugged the toy to her breast and began to cry softly. Atlach-Nacha hunkered down so that its gigantic face was level with hers.
"Why do you weep, child?" Its voice was oddly soft, gentle and compassionate.
Wendy sniffled a few times as she sought to control herself. Wiping away the tears, she explained, "I miss my real Sheba Cat."
"I do not understand."
"A year ago, Mom got me a kitten for my birthday, for company; she called her Sheba. Eric killed her just a month ago. He hit her with a baseball bat and then strangled her. He hit me when I tried to save her."
"You spoke of this Eric before. Who is he, and why would he commit such a senseless act of violence?"
"He's my Mom's boyfriend. My Dad's dead; he died in a car wreck when I was five. Mom met Eric a few months ago. We didn't like each other, but he made Mom happy, so I tried to get along with him. But he sometimes drinks too much, and when he does he beats my Mom up if she makes him mad, and he gets mad real easy. He came over one night, when Mom was working late. He was drunk, and he got mad because Mom wasn't home. He tried to hurt me and Sheba Cat bit and scratched him. So he killed her. He beat up my Mom when she got home. He then dragged her into her bedroom and locked the door. I don't know what he did to her, but I could hear her crying all night. When he left in the morning I went to see if she was alright. She was pretty badly beat up, so I called Uncle Timothy and he took her to the hospital. I didn't hear what the doctor told him, but later she and he had an argument. He wanted to call the police and she wouldn't let him, but she asked him to take me to live with him for awhile. That's when he started telling me about you and how you could help protect us from Eric."
"Did he give you your new friend?"
"Yah, just a couple of days ago. He said it contained the spirit of my real cat, and that she could help me be brave. Sometimes, when I hold her close, especially at night, I can hear her purring."
"Why did your uncle not come to me himself?"
Wendy's lips trembled as she fought back new tears. "He was going to, but just today Eric came to get me, saying Mom wanted me back. When Uncle Timothy wouldn't let me go, Eric got real mad and beat him up until he couldn't move any more. I got scared and ran away, into the woods behind his house, and hid where Eric couldn't find me. After he went away, I called the police, so they could take Uncle Timothy to the hospital, but I hid in the basement so they couldn't find me. I didn't want them to take me away from the house until I had a chance to see you. Then after it got dark I did the magic spell needed to come here myself."
The spider lord narrowed its eyes and its voice turned grim and cold. "So you know not your uncle's fate?"
"No, Mr. Nacha, but I'm afraid he might be dead. Even if he isn't I'm scared of what Eric will do to him or my Mom unless you help us. Please, can you help us?"
"Why do you believe I can?"
"Because Uncle Timothy told me you can."
"And why do you believe I would?"
Wendy looked bewildered again. "Because you're a spider, and spiders help people, just like Charlotte helped Wilbur."
"Don't you know about Charlotte's Web? It's a book about a spider named Charlotte who saves a pig named Wilbur from being killed by writing messages in her web. All my friends at school have read it. I can lend you my copy if you want to read it."
"I thank you, yes."
"Then what about Eric?"
"What would you like to happen?"
"I want him to leave us alone; to go away and never come back. Can you make him go away?"
"I can," Atlach-Nacha said gravely, "but there is something you must do for me."
"I'll do anything!"
"You must bring him here, to me; can you do that?"
Wendy looked surprised. "Is that all?"
"Yes. You can send him to me the same way you came."
"He wouldn't say the magic words."
"Then say them yourself; he will come with you as long as he is in the web with you."
"Yes, I think I can do that."
"Good. Wait until tomorrow night; by then I will have completed all my preparations here. And take this with you." One of the rear legs came forward. In its claws it carried what appeared to be a large chunk of green glass; it dropped it between them.
Wendy bent over and picked it up. "It's pretty; what is it?"
"An emerald. It is nothing special, but humans like Eric consider such junk to be very valuable. If you show it to him and tell him that your uncle has more, you can get him to follow you anywhere."
"And now, I shall send you back. Remember: wait until after nightfall, and bring your friend with you again."
Wendy watched as Eric pulled into the yard in front of Timothy Stroud's house. It had been no problem getting him to come get her. All she had done was call home and tell him she was ready to come back. Her only worry was if he sent her mother instead, so she was relieved to see him behind the wheel.
Atlach-Nacha had returned her to the basement even as he said he would. The first thing she did was to take a bath. Then she went to bed and slept the rest of the night until morning. The next day she thought long and hard on how to get Eric into the basement and into the center of the web drawing, and as evening approached she finally figured out how to do it. It was then a simple matter of erasing the first drawing and making a new, larger one in a different spot along one wall. Then, as night came on, she called up Eric and, pretending to be frightened, lonely, and hungry, begged him to come get her. She then sat on the front porch to wait for him, Sheba Cat beside her and the emerald cradled in her arms.
Eric got out of the car, his face wrinkling in distaste at the sight of the house. He stood by the open door and shouted, "Come on, then, I don't have all night."
Nervously, Wendy stuffed Sheba Cat under one arm, stood up, and walked over to him, holding the raw gem in her hands. This was the tricky part; if Eric wasn't interested in it, he wouldn't go with her down into the basement. But she need not have worried. At first he looked puzzled by the sight of her carrying a large, rough green stone, but as she got closer his eyes widened and seem to light up like headlamps.
He stepped away from the car and hurried up to her. Snatching the uncut gem from her hands, he examined it closely, and began to tremble. "Where did you get this?" he demanded.
"Uncle Timothy gave it to me," she said, taking Sheba Cat into her hands.
"And how did he get something like this?"
"That's simple; he knows magic. He just conjures it up out of thin air."
Eric's face clouded as his eyes narrowed. "Don't you lie to me, brat."
"I'm not lying!" Despite her nervousness, his accusation made her mad. "Uncle Timothy's got lots of them, more than he wants, so he gave that one to me."
Eric's eyes seemed to shine brighter as a cruel smile pulled at his lips. "You say he has more? Where?"
"In a secret room he keeps in his basement, where he does his magic work."
This was the moment of truth. Wendy understood that Eric wouldn't believe her about the magic part, but that wasn't important. All that was was whether he believed her about the emeralds. If he did, he would ask her to take him to them, to see for himself. Otherwise he would just take the one she had and leave.
But Wendy need not have worried, because Atlach-Nacha understood Eric better than she did. He licked his lips in greedy anticipation as he stared at the raw gem. "You say they're in a secret room? How many?"
"I don't know; maybe five or six, maybe more."
"Where is this room?"
"I can't tell you; you'd never find it by yourself, but I can show you where it's at."
Eric gave her a searching look, as if trying to ascertain whether she was being truthful. Finally, however, his greed overcame his caution. Going back to the idling car, he tossed the emerald onto the front seat and reached in to switch off the engine. Pocketing the keys, he came back and took her roughly by the arm. "Show me where this room is, and you'd better not be lying, brat."
Wendy muttered a meek, "Yes, sir," but inside she was ecstatic. Doing her best to hide her excitement, she led Eric into the house and down into the basement. Pausing long enough to turn on the light, she then walked right up to the edge of the chalk web. "Right here's the door to the room," she said, but all Eric saw was a bare section of the cement block wall.
"You sure this is the right spot?" he said skeptically.
"Yah, Uncle Timothy showed me what to look for."
"Well, then, open it."
"You've got to stand right in front of it and say the magic words."
Eric jerked her arm painfully in annoyance. "Don't play games with me, brat."
"I'm not!" she said, tears brimming from the pain. "Uncle Timothy said the door would open when the right words were said."
Eric grunted. "Probably some kind of voice recognition system. Alright then, do it."
Strangely calm now, Wendy took a couple of steps into the center of the web, and as she expected, Eric followed. Facing the wall, Wendy then spoke the magic words.
The transference was as instantaneous as it was the first time, so before Eric knew what had happened, he and Wendy stood on the ledge overlooking the chasm. At first, Eric seemed only confused, but when the nature of the altered surroundings finally dawned on him, he cringed in terror.
"Where the hell are we?" he cried out.
Grinning now, being as she was immensely proud of her accomplishment, Wendy said, "We're in Uncle Timothy's secret room."
"How did we get here?"
"By magic of course, don't be dumb."
Enraged by her insolence, Eric whipped her around and grabbed both her arms just below the shoulders, causing her to drop the stuffed toy Siamese. "I've had it with your games," he shouted, shaking her hard. "Now tell me where the hell we are or so help me I'll --"
"Unhand the child, villain," boomed a voice from out of the surrounding gloom. Eric looked up and saw Atlach-Nacha emerge from the surrounding darkness, its eyes glowing with hate and menace.
Eric shrieked like a baby and tried to hide behind Wendy. "What the hell is it?!" he screamed.
"That's Mr. Atlach-Nacha, and he's going to make you go away, so you can never hurt me or Mom again."
The cyclopean spider lord halted to within three feet of Wendy, which was as close as her medallion would allow it to get. It glanced down and smiled as it saw the toy cat laying on the ground.
Looking back at Eric, it declared, "I command that you release her immediately."
Eric stared up into its face dumbfoundedly, a thin stream of saliva drooling from his mouth, but then he seemed to snap out of his trance. Dragging Wendy with him, he ran for the edge of the chasm. At the last minute he halted, then grabbed her by the waist and pushed her right up to the edge.
"You send me back immediately, or I'll throw her over!"
Atlach-Nacha again unhurriedly approached as closely as it could. "If you send her to her doom, your own shall be as long and painful as I can manage. Release her, and I will send you back."
In his blind terror, Eric almost let her go. As it was, he moved her away from the edge, but at the last minute pulled her back against him. "No! Send me back, now, or I'll kill her! I really will!"
But the spider lord was not listening; instead it was chanting softly, in some strange guttural speech. Wendy recognized the sounds as being similar to those of the words of the magic phrase she used.
Eric panicked. "What the h--" he began, but he was cut off by a low moaning growl. He and Wendy looked down, and there, at their feet, sat a small plush Siamese toy cat. It stared up at Eric, growling menacingly. Then, it launched itself up at him. He screamed as it hit and clung to his face, spitting and screeching like a demon. He let go of Wendy to grapple with it, and Atlach-Nacha lashed out with a foreleg. It caught hold of her even as Eric started reeling backwards. There was a bright flash of light and a massive shock not unlike static electricity coursed through the spider lord's body as it tossed Wendy away from the chasm. In the same instant Eric caught his foot on the edge and tumbled over, still clawing at his face. Swiftly he fell out of sight as he disappeared into the shadows, but his shrieks faded gradually for a long time.
Wendy was startled to find herself lying on a cushion of soft webbing. She felt something warm against her chest and when she removed the medallion she found that the metal disk had melted into an unrecognizable lump. Absently she tossed it aside and sat up to look around. Eric was nowhere to be seen, but she saw Atlach-Nacha collapsed off to one side, lying as if dead.
"Mr. Nacha!" she cried as she jumped to the ground and ran toward it. She came up short when she saw that one leg had been reduced to a charred and blackened stump. Walking up to its head, she looked into its face and saw its eyes were closed. It didn't move or breathe. Wendy was sure it was dead. Overcome with grief, she knelt in front of it and reached out to touch it just above the mouth. Then she leaned forward and kissed its face.
"Thank you," she whispered to it before finally embracing it as she began to cry.
"Do not weep for me, child," it whispered back, though the voice still rumbled like muted thunder. "I am not dead yet, nor will I die for some time to come still."
Startled but delighted, Wendy sprang back as the huge head lifted and the eyes opened. The fanged mouth even managed a faint smile.
Laughing away the rest of her tears, Wendy exclaimed, "Oh, Mr. Nacha, I'm so glad you're alive." Then she sobered with the swiftness of a child. "What happened to Eric?"
"Your friend defended you and avenged herself. He fell over the edge when she attacked him."
"Good!" she declared, "I'm glad he's gone forever. I'm just sorry he hurt you before he fell."
"He did not hurt me, child, your charm did."
Shocked, Wendy objected, "No! How?"
"It is the sign of Those who imprisoned me here. By Their power I cannot harm whoever wears it. If I even but touch the wearer the charm unleashes that power against me, as it did when I touched you."
"But Uncle Timothy told me it would only hurt bad things."
"Child, I am the kind of 'bad thing' the Elder Sign was meant to protect you against."
"No! I don't believe it; I won't! You helped me just like Uncle Timothy said you would. So you're not bad, you're good, and if that charm hurt you then it was bad, and those people who made it were bad!"
"Wendy Stroud," the spider lord reprimanded, though in an oddly wistful voice, "you have much to learn of the ways of the world. But in this at least you are right. You need not fear me, for I will never harm you, and you are welcome to visit me whenever you wish."
"But what about your leg? I'm really sorry."
"I will heal, and faster than you might believe. But speaking of healing ..." A rear leg appeared, dangling a small leather bag over her head.
She held out her hands and Atlach-Nacha dropped the bag into them. "What's this?" she asked.
"Inside are two new charms. Place the bracelet on the wrist of Timothy Stroud, and if he is not dead he too shall heal, and quickly. The other is to replace the Elder Sign. The medallion bears my seal upon it. Wear it and no minion of mine or my allies will harm you, nor will any creature you might encounter here in my chasm."
Wendy hesitated for a moment, but once again embraced the spider lord's huge face and kissed it. "Oh, thank you Mr. Nacha."
"And now, I will send you back to your family. Do not forget me, Wendy Stroud."
Atlach-Nacha paused in its eternal spinning when it felt the presence of a human appear in his gorge, but this human was no intruding pest to be devoured, but a welcome friend.
"Mr. Atlach-Nacha!" Wendy Stroud called out, and at the sound of the familiar voice the great spider lord suspended its work and went to meet her on the ledge.
"You are welcome, Sorceress Stroud," it boomed when it saw her.
Wendy giggled merrily. "I'm no magician, silly, I just read one spell out of a moldy old book."
"Nevertheless," it countered as it approached.
Wendy giggled again. For all its great size and gruff manner, it was really just an old softy at heart, and Wendy loved it like she loved her Uncle. Then she saw that the ruined, burned leg had been replaced by a new one. Pointing at it, she laughed exuberantly, as the spider lord flexed it above its body.
"You appear very happy, child," it said as it lowered the healed leg. "Is all right with you and your family?"
"Oh, yes," she confirmed gleefully. "Uncle Timothy's going to be alright, thanks to you. He gets out of the hospital in another week, and my Mom and me are going to move in with him and take care of him until he's better."
"I am well pleased. And what of your mother; how well does she fare?"
Wendy grew quiet as she spoke. "She thinks Eric left us. I didn't think I should tell her what really happened to him. She doesn't believe in magic, but even if she did she'd probably be mad I got you involved."
Atlach-Nacha nodded gravely. "You show wisdom for one so young, child."
Wendy shrugged unconcernedly. "She was real sad for a few days, but I think she's gotten over it." Then she lowered her voice conspiratorially. "She's found someone new already. He's the doctor who took care of Uncle Timothy. I think they like each other a whole lot." And she winked, giggling.
"Is he a good man?"
"Oh, yah, he's real nice to me and Mom, and he's really funny. He tells the best jokes and stories, after Uncle Timothy."
"I am very happy for you. But be sure to inform me if he ever hurts you or your family."
"I will, Mr. Nacha, but I don't think he will."
"I have a gift for you."
"Really? What is it?" she exclaimed excitedly. In response a leg appeared, gripping the handles of a woven basket. Atlach-Nacha set it down in front of her, and Wendy thought she heard a faint mewing from inside. Kneeling in front of it, she opened the lid. Inside was a small white kitten, with eyes as blue as the sky, and dark smudges on its ears, paws, and the tip of its tail, and around its mouth and eyes. It looked up at the girl inquisitively, then meowed a greeting.
"Oh, Mr. Nacha," she cried, as she picked up the small bundle of fur and hugged it to her face, "thank you, thank you very much." In response to the attention, the kitten closed its eyes and began to purr.
Looking up at the spider lord with tears brimming in her eyes, Wendy added, "It's the best gift anyone's ever given me."
Had it the ability to shed tears, Atlach-Nacha would have done so. Instead, the grim armored and fanged mouth managed a faint smile.
"That reminds me!" Wendy exclaimed as she put the kitten back in the basket. "I have a gift for you," and she shrugged off her backpack. Holding it in one hand, she unzipped it with the other, then drew out a slim book. "I promised I'd let you borrow this." She held it out for the spider lord to take.
"What is it?"
"It's Charlotte's Web, silly. You said you wanted to read it."
Atlach-Nacha eyed the book curiously. "Alas, it is so small that I would be unable to do so."
"I can read it for you," Wendy volunteered.
"Please," it replied as it lowered its body to rest on the floor of the ledge.
Wendy set the backpack down and sat cross-legged. The kitten crawled out of the basket and into her lap as she opened the book. She waited for it to lie down and curl up; then as feline and spider listened attentively, she began to read.
Created: October 28, 2006