I very nearly lost my temper with the alderman. For all his self-important pomp, he knew nothing of the dark things that hide in the corners of the world. As thoroughly nonmagical as his daddy and his daddy’s daddy and his daddy’s daddy before him, he had the luxury of pretending such things as Shadow-Spinners were the domain of folktales; never mind that folktales all have their roots in truth. I told him what I needed, but I could see disbelief and reluctance written in the creases of his frown.
In the end it was the women who convinced him; their mothers had told them about me. The Witch in the Woods, who could cure ills and grant favors. Get a child or lose one, though that they spoke of only in whispers. It was rarely enough they came to see me these days, but they remembered. And so they had brought all the children to the town hall bedded them down together. Spinners wish to feed on the young, for their blood is sweeter.
Rafia and I sat in the shadows. Her brother slumbered nearby; their mother had been the first to agree to my plan. I had often wondered what sort of parents would allow their girl to run about the woods and learn from a witch – when I met that woman’s dark-eyed gaze I had my answer. If she had come to me twenty years ago, I would have —
If she had come? You should have gone looking. I had neglected my village by not taking on an apprentice.
I had one now, though, however grudgingly I had acquired her. Rafia leaned against my side. Every few minutes she started to nod off, her head resting against my shoulder, and I pinched her to wake her up. I hated to punish her so but I could not fight a Spinner on my own.
It did not take long. The first time the moon passed behind a cloud, casting the room into darkness, it took form in the corner. Rafia clung tight to my hand.
The creature crept along toward a child, eight limbs skimming across the ground. It would take the shadows, spin them into a web of nightmares to keep its prey immobile, and feed as it willed. Each night it grew larger, required more blood. It was already the size of a cat. If we did not stop it now, one day a mother would awake to find her child dead.
“What now, Maret?” Rafia whispered.
The spinner stopped its silent creep, scuttling around to face us. Eight shiny black eyes reflected the bright moonlight back at us. I was afraid for a moment that it would leap for us, but instead it crouched down and began to wave its front legs –
Screams out in the woods, shrill and piercing. Shadowed figures reaching out of the darkness with pale hands. A young woman bleeding out on my floor, after her father had tried and failed to kill her baby. Rafia, eyes wide and frightened, crying – I dragged myself out of the nightmares. If that creature so much as touched that child…
She lay, pinned under the cat-sized spider, perfectly still. Her eyes were closed but I could see them flicking back and forth under her lids, trapped in her own nightmares. The spinner climbed up to sit on her chest.
I reached out with Rafia’s power, binding the Spinner in a web of my own. I dragged them both outside, the girl by the hand and the spider by its bonds, and I called forth a fire and we watched the creature burn.