“You’re a myir magnet,” complained Johnny, slumping back in relief. “That’s the third one today. If I were to make a guess, I’d say you’re actually summoning them.”
I tried to laugh, but it was more of a weak cough. The leaves between us were still sticky from the residue of the myir we’d just managed to shrink. It had been a rough morning.
“I take it you’re afraid of spiders,” he added.
‘Just one,’ I thought. I couldn’t believe that Karen hadn’t moved us away from this place after I told her about Tuktatuk, the giant spider lurking in the lightless tunnels beneath us. Karen did seem overwhelmed after all, arranging for ten more refugee kids brought back from Azminan by her latest wave of scouts, but I’d really thought she’d have taken my report more seriously. Her solution had been to reassign me to berry picking ‘top-side,’ in the forest. It was a relief to spend my days above ground, but my nerves were a mess, and as everyone knows, nothing attracts myir faster than fear.
The first myir to find us this morning caught us by surprise, and was able to grow off our initial startle. It had looked something like an alligator with smooth black skin. Johnny, a needle of a boy several years younger than me, had the boyish gumption to tell the myir that it looked like an overgrown gecko while leaping away from the beast’s sizable gnashing teeth. It was enough to make me laugh, and the rest was easy work. We were able to shrink it away to nothing within minutes.
We felt the second one before we saw it. Cold prickles traveled up our arms and we began hunting it with generic taunts. The myir was barely the size of a cat by the time it came into view. The third one, though, appeared in the shape of a spider the size of a wolf. It was a hopeless situation. The myir shrank every time Johnny challenged it but grew whenever it got close to me. Johnny finally took to bludgeoning it with a stick every time it got past him, and with each wound the myir lost strength and shrank. We finally managed to get it small enough to squish, which Johnny did with enthusiasm.
“Want to head back?” offered Johnny, wistfully eyeing our barely filled baskets. Returning empty-handed wasn’t a good idea if you wanted to avoid a lecture from Karen on the subject of ‘carrying your weight.’
I shook my head. There was another reason for my reluctance to return to the catacombs, and it had nothing to do with Karen’s lectures. It was Tuktatuk. The spider.
For a while after I’d discovered what he was, Tuktatuk left gifts in my room. The first had been a silvery blanket softer than any yarn I’d ever felt before. I thanked Bea, a girl on the weaving team, over supper that evening, but Bea swore that the weavers were still working on baskets for food collection. Blankets weren’t scheduled until after ropes and hammocks. The next day I came back to find that there was a web in the light shaft that stretched from my room to the surface of the forest. The web was perfectly woven to resemble a flower. That’s when I realized where the gifts had come from. I barely slept that night with the knowledge that Tuktatuk had been in my room.
Further gifts included little woven figurines of a girl, and then a spider; a hat that was exceptionally warm though I didn’t dare wear for fear of the questions I’d have to answer; and a thick, squat mushroom I found growing at the head of the stone slab I called my bed. It made an adequate pillow, and word got around about it. Soon I was overrun with requests from the other children to have one of their own. A team of map-makers sent to find more eventually turned up results and Karen assigned a mushroom crew to transplant them into each bedroom. The gifts were the kind a friend gives to another, but I couldn’t be Tuktatuk’s friend. He was a spider! A really big one. I could barely keep from squirming when I saw one the size of my thumbnail. The gifts ceased after a while but I still held my breath every time I returned home.
Johnny gave me a scouring look. “I have a theory,” he announced. “I think the dark finally got to you. Spit it out. You’re afraid of the dark, aren’t you?”
“No,” I sighed. ‘Just the creepy-crawlies in the dark,’ I thought.
Karen had asked me not to spread stories of Tuktatuk around, and I understood that she was trying to keep order, but I ached to talk to someone about it.
“It’s… I made a friend,” I said instead. “Our friendship was good, but… have you ever been friends with someone who scares you?”
Johnny gave my question consideration. “Scares me in what way?” he asked.
“Like, scary looking,” I said.
“My dad told me about a friend he had,” he said, tossing one of the berries from his basket into his mouth and relaxing against his tree. “He said the guy’s face was all rearranged. Features all over the place and surgeries to fix it that left scars and stuff, which kind of made it worse, you know?”
I nodded, trying to imagine what that would look like, and wondering if that would scare me. It wasn’t exactly on the same level as a spider the size of a horse.
“He told my dad that the thing that got to him more than anything else,” continued Johnny, “even more than people looking at him with fear, was when people wouldn’t look at him at all. They edited him right out of their sight so he didn’t exist anymore. He said that hurt. To be erased.”
I swallowed a lump in my throat. That was exactly what I was doing to Tuktatuk. I’d asked him to step into the light that day, and when he did, I ran away. But even worse than that, now I avoided him completely, treating his gifts with suspicion and guilt.
“My dad said that the hardest part, as a friend,” continued Johnny, “was knowing what a funny, smart guy he was and watching the world reject him on account of his face.”
“Thank you Johnny,” I sighed.
“For what?” He looked genuinely surprised, and I laughed as I rose to my feet.
“For helping me to remember what’s important,” I said. “We won’t have any more trouble with myir today. Should we finish filling these baskets?”
Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!