Annabelle heaved a sigh and slid back into the center of her web. Her rounded backside tested the tensile strength of the threads. It was tight, it would hold. She shimmed up on her feet and gave it another look, peering with one eye at a time. The left corner flapped, caught in an imperceptible current rising off the floor. Reaching under her, Annabelle pulled more thread, skirted up to the corner, the join of two orange-painted walls, and quickly wove the nest back into place.
“Solid,” she said. It would have to be. She’d give birth, and from her center of it all, her babies would stream outward to their own destiny, their own corners. Hardwired to be engineers and survivors.
The day was rising, and brightness poured over the wood floor, creeping to her corner. As the light advanced, so did tiredness. She rested, bouncing slightly from the floor breeze.
Outside was desert ice, the cold a nuisance, the brittleness of branches—no good for nesting. They had broken under her pregnant weight, giving way. She had been running and scampering through them for so long; she despaired of ever finding a safe spot. Chased by wind, choked by dry air. Her eyes stung, and she drove on with only two open, three at most. Forward was a feeling, more than a direction. She wasn’t sure of God, but she gave him the benefit of the doubt. She imagined a warm space he might provide and wondered why he had kept it hidden.
Annabelle was born into a church, as had her mother been before her and her mother before that. “We give birth to a congregation,” her mother once said. “We might as well be born into one.’ Although she only knew her mother for a month—unlike her siblings, hundreds of them, who dashed the second they broke free from the egg sack—Annabelle stayed. Lingered. The soft, slow air, a thousand bright lights flickering. She hadn’t learned to use all her eyes yet, so the shapes danced.
Why run from this? Her mother, if she was bothered by her sticking child, said nothing. She just said, “We live with God here. He is a good landlord but welcomes others, humans. Be aware but not scared.”
From her mother, Annabelle learned about humans, water, flame, and angels. She was scared for a few days after her mother told her about the Broom and then pointed it out, right in the corner. But then—as her mother taught her to climb up and over and to swing down and even up—Annabelle learned to spot it and avoid it, and she even grew brazen enough to touch it one day though she did it quickly and with only one of her legs.
The church was full of wood and bright white stucco. The ceiling climbed high and higher and Annabelle with it. She swung from her webs back and forth all day and then, exhausted, slipped into a cut in the wood. She looked back when the sun came slanted through the west windows and bounced off the dust in the air and off tendrils of web spanning the air and connecting the pieces. With a big heaving sigh, she raced back to the other end, tearing up her work and letting everything drop and hang, beautiful even in its wreckage.
“Hey—hey!” said a voice, thick and deep. It bounced off the walls, and Annabelle looked around but couldn’t find the source. “Hey, you! Watch out! These took me all morning! And you come through and ruin them!”
Annabelle scampered away from the voice, back to her mother.
“And what did you learn today, my Love?” her mother asked as she passed Annabelle a perfectly wrapped female fly, struggling out its last breath as Annabelle dug in hungrily.
“There is more room on the ceiling than we could ever spin. Smaller flies like to be lower, nearer the flowers. There is a big, grumpy spider in the corner, and… and…”
“Yes, well,” her mother smiled and nodded, “finish up. We have a new nest to make—all your breeze and activity today shattered this one. Hurry up. Hurry up.”
The two finished eating, whipped the fly juice from their mandibles, did some quick weaving and finally curled up next to each other in the cold, dry air.
That night, as they fell into rest, Annabelle’s mother told her of angels. She spoke of their beauty and light, their radiant warmth, like the sun but fractured in infinite directions. Annabelle asked how they appeared. Her mother looked down at her, tired, drawn. “Oh, Love, I don’t know… I—”
“Are they like when the sun dances on web dew?”
Her mother laughed, “Yes, that is it. Annunciation, it is called. When they appear. It is very special.”
The next day, Annabelle climbed up over the alter, over the flowers and the figures, and up to the flames. Next to the flame, she would catch her reflection in the gold that layered over the heavy hanging cross. It was bright and glowing, an explosion of colors and warmth.
“Annabelle, get down from there! Don’t look at yourself in the gold!”
Annabelle came down and scampered on the red velvet instead, and her mother yelled more. “Never, ever, get closer to those flames up there, those are dangerous for spiders. God does not want you to get too close to them.”
By mere circumstance, luck, or faith, Annabelle had been swept into this new shelter. She remembered clinging to a branch in the wind that soon broke. She fell on a big pool of ice, skidded, and hit a rock. Then she was on a floor, much like the front of the church but smaller. It was large and dark inside, and she went. It was dry and warm, many lovely corners between solid walls and ballast for her web. Here, she’d give birth. There was a blessing in every moment. She was safe. She built a nest and then rested.
The day joined with heat, and it seared her face. Her eyes blinked. Annabelle felt warm and ripe. It was almost time. She drifted back into rest, bouncing softly.
Then her bounce became stronger, more vibrant, and it lifted her out of her rest. She lifted her abdomen. The web was moving solidly, up and down. Up and down. That meant pressure on the ground, footsteps.
A faint tingling sound entered the room, then she saw it. A human, but shorter, all legs walking on the ground. The human had long, brown hair that moved back and forth, and it was quick. Much quicker than any human she’d ever seen. Its face was near the ground, and its body followed, moving erratically, driven by something she didn’t understand, couldn’t see.
It was coming closer…
Annabelle rested up high in the beams while her mother petted her head, and they watched people enter the church. They’d stream in slowly, then a bit faster, then it would slow down again. Dusty footprints on the red velvet. Then they’d arrange themselves neatly into the rows, orderly, tidy, and they’d make themselves smaller. Occasionally, they’d become larger but then smaller again. And sound would come out, occasionally. Not speaking, but something else. It was beautiful. Otherwise they did not speak.
“Is God making them do this?” Annabelle asked her mother.
“Yes. He is. Isn’t it beautiful?”
Annabelle shrugged. “I suppose. It’s very orderly. But where is God? Why doesn’t he come?”
“He does. You cannot see him.”
“Mother, how can there be something I cannot see? Didn’t God give us so many eyes to see?”
“Oh dear, no. He gave us so many eyes because he forgot to give us size.”
Annabelle considered. It was true, they had no size, nor could they change their size like the humans seemed to. God might exist, but he sure wasn’t fair.
There was no Broom in this room; Annabelle had checked. But as this creature advanced, fear coursed through her, shivering her back and rising her little hairs. It had found her, she knew it. She could see it and sense it. She crowded back into her corner, pulling up her legs and keeping very still. How could it see her? But it did.
Just then, a cavern opened at one end of the beast. It was pink, wet, and dark at the back. She almost looked deeper, but then the smell hit her. It was so foul, like death and rotting and evil. It was so bad it almost made her give birth there and then, but she held on. The cavern was coming closer, and a wet, pink monster slid out toward her. Annabelle cried softly. Her mother’s soft face flashed before her eyes. The last time she saw her, Annabelle had run ahead…
“We have to leave, my Love.”
Annabelle had awoken from her rest, her mother there in front of her, all black eyes gleaming and rimmed with moisture. “We must leave, now. Get up.”
Annabelle moved and felt wary, the air was grey and gritty. “Mother? Mother? What is that noise? What is that grey—I can barely see you. Mother? What is that light? Is it angels?”
“No, not angels. Come on, we have to go now, Annabelle!” Her mother pulled on her legs and hoisted her out of the web. “Listen, my Love, listen. This is very important. There are two lights now, the brightest is flame. Remember I told you about the flame? You mustn’t go towards that. It will kill you, us. There is another one, it will be faint, spread out, and it will appear and disappear through the grey smoke. That is day. Run towards that one, and if you no longer see it, run towards the last place you saw it. You will find it if you just keep going. Remember, follow the dim light. Follow it until it becomes bright.”
And Annabelle did. Her mother beside her. The church was no longer a church, it was piles of wood and burning flames. Gold and orange flame was everywhere. Annabelle ran, coursed towards the dull light. She danced and swung like she had practiced. She moved and moved, danced and swung, faster and faster. Of all the stories about life and death, none ever involved a dark, moist, pink cavern with a long, wet thing that hung out and occasionally seemed to come at her. Trying to recall her mother’s stories, when she dreamed of running up high, on the beams, down the shanks, and over the windows, what had she said? What words could she pull out now to comfort herself? Was God here now, too? Would he appear? Annabelle closed half her eyes, then the rest. She waited silently, stiff in dread.
And then, just like that, with a lick and a few drips, the cavern and the hairy beast to which it belonged moved or was pushed. Sideways, out of the way. Annabelle thought she saw a human, but she wasn’t sure. She couldn’t see.
In front of her, there it was, coming closer and closer to her. Moving in on her and around her. It was white but clear. It captured the light to spread it across so many points, just like web dew. It danced on her face, warm, and bright. Now it was around her. She jumped, but it held, and she fell back, hit something hard, solid. She’d never seen or felt anything like it. It was around her, holding her. It was so peaceful, bright, the light came through, a thousand different points.
It was an angel. She was sure of it. This was her annunciation.
Annabelle closed her eyes as it came over her. The angel lifted her, and they moved. She fell against it. It was smooth and cool, and she couldn’t see how it was made, but it was so bright. Towards the sun it went. Her feet held, and she moved.
Then she felt it was dropping, setting her down again. Sand rose to meet her, and once again, she was on the ground. And just like that, the angel lifted and moved away. Then it was gone.
Annabelle looked around. It was warm, sunny. There were plants around her. The sky was up, but the air was clear, clean. She sat down and leaned against the thick trunk of a jade tree. A few leaves fell. She felt safe.
Annabelle gave birth soon after. Her babies with small, beautiful faces just like hers scampered out and away in every direction. She sat down, surprised how happy she felt. How content. Finally, past the line of life forward, survived. She knelt down and rested in the dry sand under a thick, sprawling jade tree. She looked up. The sky beyond the glass was blue and bright. White tracks crossed it, then spread apart until they were lost.
Soft humming reached her. A sound, then a sight. A small face—not unlike hers, her mother’s, her mother’s mother’s—peered over the lip of the jade pot and looked at her. Stared at her. Waiting, expecting. Wanting the stories of the universe, the truth of Brooms and humans. How to perch high and swing low. Weaving webs and glistening dew. The gifts of God and the unfairness of his presence. The light of angels.
But Annabelle just lifted her third back leg, beckoned to her daughter to come sit, for a minute, under it and next to her. They rested together in silence and harmony. Annabelle felt a warm pressure, like life had pulled a blanket over her, tucked her in. She stroked her daughter’s bristly head and sunk back into her legs.
Slowly, writing her own ending, remembering her past, she cleared her throat and began to speak. Her daughter’s bright black eyes listened intently.
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