The Care and Feeding of the Dream Spiders: A Cautionary Tale
I wanted to write a piece of fiction for Halloween, and was struck with inspiration while discussing urban myths about spiders. So, here you are! Arachnophobes beware!Vintage Spider Illustration ©2009 by Vintage Collective
The spiders are a rare breed, found in only the most melancholy of places. They are the pride of any collection because they are so very hard to maintain: they need a certain level of despair to survive, along with very specific amounts of light and darkness.
And of course, there is their diet.
There is the common belief that spiders will drink water from the eyes and lips of human beings. This is a myth. Most spiders will not climb into your eyes and lips for a taste of water, nor will you swallow one or more live in your sleep.
But these spiders, the ones that grow to roughly the size of a penny and gather in great numbers in dark corners of sad houses, these spiders will gladly drink the water from your eyes. Not because they need the water, you see, but because it is the only way to eat your dreams.
In the wild, they will creep onto your face as you sleep, brushing soft legs across your cheeks and nose, until they can balance over your eyes and drink the water from the corners. They do not take much, just a sip or two, and there is no pain. Odds are you’ve had a spider feed from you at least once and would never know it, other than waking the next morning with the sensation that you have dreamt, but with no memory of what that dream may have been.
The spiders are very careful about their feeding habits. They are by nature simply inquisitive. Centuries of eating our dreams have led them to want to know more about humans. They are friendly, even, growing attached to the humans they feed on and being extremely cautious never to feed too often from the same person. The spiders do not wish to do us any harm.
At least, not when we are kind to them.
But, you see, there are those who keep the spiders in captivity. In at least one case, it was for the purpose of study. There was a young alchemist who reasoned that if a spider ate a dream, then there surely had to be a way to extract the dream from the spider.
To this alchemist, the possibilities were endless. If you could use the spider to capture the dream of a particular person you would have access to that person’s greatest secrets. You would know where a warlord dreamed of conquering next, you could see if a politician were dreaming of taking bribes. And you could be sure that your sweetheart dreamed only of you, and not of anyone else. The power you, or rather HE, would hold over other people would be unimaginable.
This was all well and good, but for two problems. The first being that this research came, almost unavoidably, at the cost of the spiders’ lives. The alchemist would smash the spiders, quite cruelly, really, and then mix the corpse with herbs, study it under a crystal or, in many cases, eat it, crunching down on the legs. Sometimes, the one he ate were not dead. You and I cannot hear a spider scream, but other spiders hear it all too well.
The second, of course, was the feeding. The alchemist had gathered volunteers together for certain feedings as a control for his experiments, to be sure that if he did see a dream he was seeing the correct one. But otherwise, he fed the spiders from the eyes of the dead. And the spiders, while resilient, cannot long survive on the single dream of dead men.
The night the spiders escaped had far less to do with the cruelty and far more to do with the fact that they near death. All it took was the alchemist leaving the lid to their container slightly ajar. The spiders forced their way out of the glass enclosure, leaping to the table, then to the floor, and then skittering their way across the wooden boards to the bedroom.
The alchemist lay sleeping, all alone. That made it so very easy for the spiders to crawl all over him and begin drinking. When the water at the corner of his eyes ran out, they tried his lips. And when even that would not satiate them? Well, you must understand. They were ravenous. They were only acting on their instincts. These are not cruel creatures, by any stretch of the imagination.
But they were so desperate, so starving, that they pried open the alchemist’s closed eyelids and drank from the moisture on his eyeballs.
They drank his dreams to the very last, sucking until only one image appeared when he closed his eyes. Only one dream was left, the dream the spiders didn’t want.
It was a dream of spiders, crawling all over his body, biting him over and over again, his arms, his legs, behind his knees, eating out his eyes, crawling into his mouth and devouring his tongue, attempting to make their way into his ears. Every night it was only spiders as he slept, fitfully, until it was better to simply not sleep at all.
The spiders spun webs in his house, laid eggs and learned to feed off of madness.