The Spider Children

★★★★★A great book for something truly different.

★★★★★I absolutely love the depth and scope of this novel and its characters.

★★★★☆ Different in all of the best ways.

Amazon reviews

“You have spider legs. You have fangs and venom. And you’ve never thought your own obscurity odd?”

Seventeen-year-old Spinneretta Warren doesn’t just have a bizarre name. She’s got eight spider legs to back it up, along with fangs, venom, and a pair of siblings as unusual as she is. But apart from the odd stare, nobody in Grantwood, California seems to care that Spinneretta and her family are human-spider hybrids.

But when her ninth cousin (and self-proclaimed magician) Mark shows up at their door, Spinneretta finds herself falling head over heels into the mysteries of the Warren family. Convinced that something sinister is moving behind the scenes in Grantwood, Mark begins investigating the truth of the spider children’s origins. But Spinneretta is skeptical there’s any great secret to be found. Besides, she’s perfectly happy with her mundane life, hanging out with her friends and dreaming about an internship at the Golmont Corporation.

That is, until Spinneretta’s younger sister is nearly kidnapped and the Warrens’ lives take a sharp turn for the extraordinary.

With Mark intent on exposing the dark secrets surrounding Grantwood, and an obscure legend that’s just a bit too compelling to ignore, Spinneretta finds herself forced to face a web of lies that has surrounded her family for decades.

A slow-burn upper YA Lovecraftian urban science fantasy about human-spider hybrids.


Check out the first three chapters for free below!



A Goddamn Miracle

According to the bedside clock, May had been unconscious for just under four hours. Night had fallen long ago, but it was impossible to tell in the windowless cubicle they were trying to pass off as a recovery room. Her head throbbed, and her still-blurry vision made her dizzy all over again. The sterile lights pressed against her temples, and a twinge of panic raced toward her heart. “Ralph?” she said, throat dry.

“Right here,” came a soft voice.

She turned her head, not without a tremendous effort. Ralph still held her hand as though he’d never left. Despite her pounding forehead, she smiled up at her husband. Her memory was a blur. Her other hand drifted instinctually to her lower abdomen, and a mild soreness jump-started her recollection of the birth.

The cesarean. The scuttle of doctors moving about the delivery room. A glimpse of her daughter before falling unconscious.

“Where is she?” This time it was a little harder to speak. It felt like she’d swallowed broken glass.

Ralph nodded his head toward the door, eyes distant. “They have her in special care right now, I think.” He cleared his throat and made a visible effort to brighten his somber tone. “But Doctor Morton said he wanted to talk to us about it once you were awake.” He showed her a weak smile, but his brown eyes held no joy. “I’m sure everything’s fine. I hear all babies go there after a C-section.”

May’s stomach turned as he spoke. Ralph had always been a terrible liar.

Fifteen minutes later, Doctor Morton poked his head into the room. Drowsy and dizzy as she was, May still noticed the slight frown creeping across his lips. That meant bad news. The doctor hadn’t even opened his mouth, but tears were already washing away her vision.

“Ahh, you’re awake,” Morton said, his voice bright.

May’s heart continued to sink. Through the tears welling in her eyes, she saw him pass a nervous glance over them both. Ralph’s grip on her hand tightened.

Abruptly, Morton broke out with his goofy grin. “Well, you’ll be happy to know that your daughter is perfectly healthy. Which, given the circumstances, is a goddamn miracle if you ask me.”

May felt a weight lift from her shoulders, but another squeeze from Ralph’s hand cast doubt over her relief.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Ralph asked in a calm, measured tone. It was the tone he used when his temper was just below boiling. “Given what circumstances?”

Doctor Morton gave Ralph a puzzled look. “Really? Nobody’s told you? I figured one of the nurses must have said something about it by now.”

May didn’t find his word choice very reassuring. What circumstances made a healthy baby a goddamn miracle? How healthy was healthy? What the hell was wrong with her child?

“The nurses wouldn’t say a damn thing to me,” Ralph said, his voice wavering.

Morton scratched his forehead. “Huh. That makes things a tad awkward, then. Now, before I say anything else, I want to reaffirm that your baby is perfectly healthy, all things considered. However, I’m sure it would come as no surprise if I were to say that your little girl is rather special.”

Ralph nodded, his anger fading. “We’ve had four months of ultrasounds. No surprise there.”

This time May squeezed his hand. As she did, a flare of pain ripped its way through her temples and made her wince. Was it the drugs? The blood loss? She suspected both, and a healthy dose of stress to top it all off. “What’s wrong with her?”

The doctor lowered his voice. “To be honest, I’m not sure. That is to say, I’ve frankly never seen anything like this before. Ahh! That probably didn’t sound very good, did it? But no, we won’t be naming a disease after her, if that makes you feel any better.” A nervous chuckle sputtered from his grin like water from an old, rusty sprinkler. “I’ll have Molly bring your daughter in. I shouldn’t have to explain anything after that.” With a purposeful haste, he turned and exited the recovery room, leaving a rigid and palpable silence behind.

May kept repeating those words, though they made no sense to her. Perfectly healthy, he’d said. All things considered, he’d said. A goddamn miracle.

Those incompatible thoughts continued running in their own separate directions, growing and spreading. Whatever was wrong with her child must have been wrong on a fundamental level. It didn’t matter how healthy she was at the moment because soon nature would take its savage and unapologetic course.

Her mind flashed to images she’d seen of a baby born with his heart outside his body. How healthy had that baby been? How long had he lived? And even if that poor miracle survived, could she have cared for it? Could she have been the loving mother he deserved? Doctor Morton’s words stabbed over and over: nothing short of a goddamn miracle…

May doubled over, grabbing at her abdomen with her free hand. A numbed soreness again radiated from the incision. She wanted to throw up. Her head pounded and her eyes ached. What God could condone such cruelty?

The clack of footsteps entered from the hall. When Ralph squeezed her hand again to signal the nurse’s arrival, May was still trapped in her own world of hopeless vacuity. Then she heard a brief, almost inaudible cooing. The panicked voices and thoughts ceased.

Time stopped. Silence. Her universe was empty of all existence except for her and her daughter. Though her eyes were clenched shut, she thought she felt the tiny heart beating not ten feet from her. She cracked her eyes. The breath went out of her husband—a sound that gave her no comfort. She focused her blurry vision on the maternity nurse.

The nurse stood nervously just inside the doorway, her face filled with a mixture of revulsion and apprehension. A bundle of blankets sat in her arms, held farther from her body than May thought appropriate for a maternity ward. Then she noticed what rested within the bundle. May held her breath. The baby was beautiful, her sleeping face the portrait of peace and tranquility. Her face was round, her cheeks full and rosy, her tiny nose upturned, her ears small and flat. Strands of dark, wispy hair crowned her perfect head.

But there was something wrong. Something out of the ordinary. Something none of May’s research could have prepared her for. What stood out about this child, the apparent cause of the nurse’s discomfort, was a pair of dark structures bending down over her shoulders. Their presence defied everything May understood about anatomy. They weren’t tumors, for they were far too well-formed, too purposeful. But May didn’t care what they were. The despair and anguish consuming her mind vanished. In their place was a sudden and overpowering need to hold her child.

She reached out toward the nurse, ignoring the crippling weight of her arms. For a moment the nurse didn’t move, her expression perplexed, but then she glided to May’s bedside and lowered the Warrens’ firstborn into her mother’s embrace.

May cradled her daughter. The newborn girl, indeed, seemed healthy. May could now see the strange structures clearly: two long, thin, finger-like appendages that curled over her shoulders from the back and gleamed with a glossy, deep brown color. The appendage on the left flicked upwards lethargically, as if reaching for something an inch above her face. It was the most precious gesture May had ever seen. “These are…”

“Legs,” the nurse said. “There’s more. Under the blanket. Six of ’em.”

Six more? Six plus two made eight of those beautiful little limbs. May reached down and gently grasped one of the legs between her thumb and forefinger, feeling its texture against her skin. It was smooth and just a little hard, like plastic mixed with eggshell.

“Ma’am, are you alright?”

“I’m…” A chuckle rolled out of her mouth. “I’m great.” She turned to Ralph, who had all but vanished from her awareness. “Ralph, look at her.” Her voice wavered as she started to laugh again.

But Ralph’s expression was one of silent disbelief. His eyes were locked on the bundle May held. “The hell’s the matter with you?” he said after a moment.

The question made her giggle. Perhaps it was the drugs again, or perhaps it was the euphoria of motherhood. “What do you mean?”

Ralph looked at the nurse incredulously before returning his gaze to May. “After all that talk before? You’re just okay with this?”

She heard a very different question, and another laugh bubbled out of her. “She’s more than okay.”

Again Ralph glanced at the nurse, but his eyes came right back. Concern filled his features. “Is she alright?”

May wasn’t sure what he meant. Is she healthy? Is she stable? Is she acceptably normal? Is she here? Is she ours? Is she perfect? “Yes,” she said. “Look at her.”

Ralph slid closer and put out a hand. He caressed his daughter’s cheek, and the dark appendages twitched in response, curled autonomously toward his hand. Ralph quickly withdrew his finger, like he was afraid of being bitten. Though his perplexed expression lingered, May didn’t care. She was on top of the world.

“What do you think? Way better than just a description, eh?” Doctor Morton said, once again walking into the room. He showed May a bright smile and turned to the nurse. “You can go back to the nursery now.”

Thankful for permission to leave the miracle behind, the nurse turned and retreated from the room without a word.

“Now then, I’m glad to see you two are getting acquainted,” he said, ignoring Ralph’s clear discomfort. “I’m sure you must be wondering what this little bundle of joy’s miraculous malformation is.”

Ralph grumbled. “I’d sure like to hear the answer to that. Nurse said she has six more, so that’s, what, eight of these weird little leg things? The fuck does that make her, a spider?”

May snapped her head toward him. “Ralph! How could you say that about her? She’s not a spider. She’s an angel.” She cradled their daughter closer and again began gushing over her.

Ralph stared at Morton in disbelief. “Are you seeing this? Either I’ve lost it or I’m the last sane person in this hospital!”

Morton wiped his brow. “Now, Mr. Warren, please, calm down. We are all quite sane here.” A nervous tick started in the corner of his mouth. “As I mentioned before, I’ve never seen anything like this. I’d be lying if I said I had any idea what those extra legs are about. But rest assured, Mr. Warren, we are checking into it. That is to say,” he said, flipping back the top sheet on his clipboard, “we would like you to come in for a blood test as soon as possible.”

“A blood test?”

“Specifically, we’d like to do some genetic testing to see if we can’t find something out of the ordinary that might explain this. Fused chromosomes or what-have-you. We’d like Mom to participate as well, of course.”

“Fine with me,” Ralph said. He appeared helpless, lost.

“Great. We can work out the scheduling later. It might not even be necessary depending on how the screening test comes out, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.”

Ralph didn’t respond.

The doctor stood there a moment, basking in the awkward silence. “Well, at any rate, you three take it easy. If you need anything, you have the button. But don’t get too comfortable. You still have some paperwork to do. Now’s your last chance to bicker over names, after all.”

May looked up, the thought having slipped her mind. They had, of course, considered names before. They’d settled on Layla if it was a girl and Jackson if it was a boy. Those names, however, no longer fit such a miraculously unique child. What name could befit such a miracle? When the tiny creature in her arms stirred, May once again forgot the matter altogether and resumed cooing to their half-awake daughter.

Ralph excused himself not long thereafter. May said she was making a phone call, and that was all the excuse he needed. Leaving the semi-private room felt like coming up for air. Out of sight, out of mind. But it wasn’t out of mind. The image of his daughter’s legs wouldn’t leave his thoughts. What the hell was going on with this hospital? Not just the hospital, but May. She’d been given to such despair during the pregnancy that he’d thought even a common congenital disorder would’ve crushed her. She’s not a spider, he heard her saying again. She’s an angel. Nauseous and dizzy, he turned left down the corridor. He needed to talk to Morton, now.

The halls were deserted. Last time he’d been out of the room, nurses and orderlies had been bustling about. That was hours ago. Now the staff was down to a skeleton crew, and the dim lighting of the corridor made everything feel imaginary, sinister. He felt eyes on him from the shadows, like spiders crawling up the back of his neck.

He found the doctor in his office. Sidling past the dim and empty reception area, Ralph’s eyes were fixed on the yellow glow radiating from Morton’s half-open door. The man sat at his desk, phone in hand, speaking in a hushed tone. Baring his teeth, Ralph marched right up to the door and barged straight in. Morton jumped in surprise, his tongue frozen in mid-sentence.

“Morton. We need to talk.”

Doctor Morton looked like he’d seen a ghost. After a moment, his lips began to move again. “I’ll call you back in a moment, Mr. Clearwater.” He clacked the phone down into its cradle and took a shaky breath. “I thought you’d be with your daughter, Mr. Warren. You nearly gave me a heart attack!” He laughed a nervous laugh. A forced laugh.

Ralph glared at him. “What am I supposed to do about her?”

“Oh, don’t worry. She’ll mostly recover in a few days. For a few weeks, you should make sure she doesn’t do anything too strenuous until—”

“I’m talking about my daughter, you jackass!”

He’d expected Morton to laugh that asinine little chuckle. Instead, his eyes hardened to distant beads of coal. “What is the problem, exactly?”

Ralph’s tongue flapped as he tried to form words. “I swear to God, you’re all lunatics. Do I have to spell this out for you? My daughter has spider legs! How am I supposed to… What’s normal about that? How is she going to live a normal life?” That’s it. He had to make it about her. He couldn’t let on that those legs creeped him out of his skin. “It’s just about the most ridiculous thing I’ve—”

Morton’s teeth flashed in a scowl. “And what do you expect me to do about it?”

The anger in the doctor’s tone gave Ralph pause. He shook his head, the question throwing him off guard. “I don’t… I mean, there has to be something you can do, Morton. Couldn’t you, I don’t know, surgically remove them, or…?”

The cradled phone began to ring, a blisteringly sharp tone, but neither of the men acknowledged it. It sounded like the cries of a bluejay being burned alive. The look in Morton’s eyes grew more distant. When he spoke, his tone was low and measured. “I’m afraid that would be impossible. You’ve seen her move her legs, yes? Beneath her flesh, those legs connect directly to her spinal cord. If we were to remove them—a procedure I’m uncertain you could afford—we would cause irreparable damage to her nervous system. Would you really paralyze your daughter for life just to be rid of some unsightly growths?”

Ralph sputtered, alarmed at the quiet indignation pointed at him. “It’s got nothing to do with unsightly! Do you think people are going to just accept her like this?”

“Your wife seems to have accepted her. I thought she was the one with all these petty little reservations.”

The cavern in Ralph’s gut deepened. That new vacancy began to seethe, and the incessant death-chirping of the phone put his teeth on edge. “I swear to God, Morton, if you’re trying to suggest that I’m being shallow about this…”

“I recommend you accept your daughter the way she is,” Morton said. “Don’t worry about what others think. You’d be surprised how far the definition of normal can stretch these days.”

Ralph chewed his lip. Morton’s gaze held his, and the doctor’s rare sternness drained him of all hope. With no recourse, he turned around and stormed out of the office without a word of parting, leaving Morton to his damned phone call.

Unsure where he was going, Ralph wandered the twilit hallways. He was lost, in a daze. Before he even realized it, he found himself heading to the bathroom to throw up or scream or something. He felt like he was going nuts. It was a dream—a nightmare. But as he laid his hand upon the men’s room door, he paused. The screaming thoughts in his head receded to a mere whisper. No. Not a nightmare. It felt suspiciously like a curse. He trembled as his lips formed the word, thoughts reignited into a black firestorm. A curse. Was it possible?

Those born of the line of Golgotha are invariably cursed.

He’d never believed a damn word his grandfather had told him until that moment. The man had been a skeletal wreck from a lifetime of vice and loss. Whenever he spoke, it was in riddles or eschatonic fragments. But now Ralph leaned against the door, feeling the cool wood against his forehead, ruminating on his grandfather’s words. Could the legendary curse of Golgotha, which had allegedly taken his sister and two brothers, really have existed? What were the chances the old man had actually predicted this? Slim to shit, Ralph thought with a poisonous hiss. Nothing but fairy tales and delirium.

Fairy tales. Delirium. He didn’t know if he was describing his grandfather or his own life. With a low sigh, he pushed open the bathroom door.

The next week, the Warrens returned to the hospital for blood work and genetic testing. May’s test came back perfectly normal. Ralph’s came back genetically spider.

May named their daughter Spinneretta. It came, she was elated to inform him, from the word spinneret, the appendages spiders used for spinning silk. If Ralph disapproved, he never showed it. He had bigger problems to deal with, after all.

The two would go on to have two more children, just as miraculous as their first. To the boy born two years after Spinneretta, May gave the name Arthr, an amalgamation of the word arthropod and the common name Arthur, whose pronunciation was preserved. Four and a half years later, a second daughter took the name Kara, somewhat lazily appropriated from carapace. Ralph had to wonder where May was getting these names, but she never revealed her sources.

With the birth of May and Ralph’s third child, the Warren brood was complete. Time moved on in its unerring march. To the dead stars sleeping within A’vavel, the decade leading up to the year 2013 would pass in the blink of an eye.


Chapter 1

The Warren Brood

Spinneretta always thought of the attic as a graveyard. It was dusty, crammed full of forgotten trinkets, and likely to be haunted. And as she stood at the end of the second-floor hallway, staring up the ladder into the trapdoor’s even surface, she felt a familiar pang of unease. With a small sigh, she climbed up to the trapdoor and wrestled with the handle. Though the door was sticky from disuse, it sprang open with a loud pop. A flurry of dust billowed down from above, filling her sinuses and spiracles with the scent of wood. With a cough that almost became a sneeze, she stretched out the eight spider legs that grew from her back. They were slender, each an arm and a half in length when fully extended. Each bent along five articulated joints and was covered in lustrous black chitin plates. As the dust settled, she grappled the ladder’s higher rungs with her spider legs and resumed her climb.

She’d nearly reached the top when her knee smashed into the corner of a maliciously misaligned beam. She cursed as one hand and half of her extra appendages went to her throbbing kneecap. Ahh, so that’s why she’d felt so uneasy; her subconscious had remembered this was coming. She’d been up in the attic fewer than ten times in her seventeen years, but that damn beam got her every time. When she could move again, she grabbed the edge with her foremost appendages and leapt nimbly up to the floor, allowing the trapdoor to fall closed behind her with a thunk.

The setting sun out the faux-crystal window gleamed, painting the surrounding forest in brilliant greens and golds, but the attic was as dark as a grotto. Spinneretta found the chain to the light and gave it a quick tug. The hanging bulb flickered to life, banishing the Halloween palette with an ancient yellow glow. Eyes adjusting to the new hue, she glanced around, scanning the chests and boxes that sat in uneven stacks along the slanting walls. Now, where would I be if I was a family tree?

She approached one of the chests at random and undid its latches. The lid creaked as she lifted it, and a fresh swirl of dust billowed up from its depths. She fought the urge to sneeze, and when the cloud dispersed she turned her attention back to the trove of papers and folders within.

“Did you find it?” came a muffled voice from the hatch in the floor.

“Not yet,” Spinneretta called back.

The snap of creaking wood came, and the trapdoor popped open again. Pushing the hatch into its upright position, her mother climbed up onto the floor, wobbling as she found her footing. Spinneretta noted bitterly that she’d avoided that damned beam.

“Did you check the memento chest?” Mom asked.

“Which one? They’re all memento chests.”

“The one with all the old papers.”

Spinneretta gestured quizzically to the mouth of the open trunk.

“No, no, not that one.” Her mother surveyed the clutter. “If memory serves me, then…” She gave another musical hum and set about rummaging through a stack of boxes against the other wall. Spinneretta watched, half-mesmerized by her mom’s certainty, as she grabbed a small chest and heaved it several feet out from the wall, leaving a trail of angry dust in its wake. “Ta-da! This should be it.” In triumph, she unfastened the rusted latches and pulled the lid open.

To Spinneretta’s untrained eye, the contents were identical to the first footlocker she’d opened, but the high note her mother sang dispelled her doubts.

Mom began to sift through the folders and files. “Let’s see, I believe this’ll be a good starting point for my family.” She pulled a thick file from the document prison, checked the first few sheets, and passed them into Spinneretta’s waiting hands. “And if I’m not mistaken, your dad’s proper tree should be… Huh. It should be here. Right here, between family recipes and… That’s weird.”

Spinneretta glanced over the aged surface of the folder in her hands. Her fingers felt filthy having touched it. “It’s missing?”

Her mother clicked her tongue in frustration. “Somebody probably misplaced it. God, I came up with this organization system for a reason! Who was even up here?”

Spinneretta ignored her. She bent in close to examine the packed contents of the chest. How could anyone call such rampant paper-smashing organization? You’d need ESP to find anything. As her eyes navigated the labyrinth of faded manila walls, something paper-clipped to one of the files caught her attention. She reached out and plucked it from the box. It was a flexible rectangular magnet with a light blue printing on one side. The printed side had a border resembling a set of intertwined ribbons framing a couplet in the center:

The wolf in the warren, ravens overhead
Three miles in bedlam, Arachne weaves her thread

Spinneretta gazed at the magnet, unable to make heads or tails of what it was trying to convey. “What’s this?”

Mom gave a surprised laugh. “That,” she said, “is something I haven’t seen in forever. They’re the last lines from a poem I wrote a long time ago in college.” Her tone fell, and a nostalgic sigh seeped from between her lips. “I was so proud of it at the time that I immortalized it in magnet form. Don’t remember why I put it away up here, though.”

Spinneretta turned the magnet over in her hand and ran the tip of one of her spider legs over the back, feeling the age in its slick, rubbery surface. “What does it mean?”

“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just some pseudo-intellectual garbage I threw together for a contest.”

The response made Spinneretta pause. She didn’t often doubt her mother, but the answer rang with insincerity. She didn’t find it likely that her surname’s occurrence in the text was just a coincidence.

Mom leaned in close and chuckled. “Hey, you want to know a little secret?”

A profound sense of dread began to solidify in Spinneretta’s stomach. “Secret? What secret?”

“Because of that poem,” she whispered, “we almost named you Arachne.”

“Wh-what?” Spinneretta stared at her mother. Her lips trembled as she processed the words. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

Mom smiled. “Nope! Lucky for you, we came up with something better, huh?”

Spinneretta shook her head, but the heat was building. “Wait. Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that you were going to give me a name from Greek mythology—a name that people would at least understand—but instead settled on a pun on a spider’s ass?”

Her mother beamed. “You bet we did! We couldn’t have named you Arachne because there was no imagination in it. Spinneretta just has such a cute ring to it, you know?”

The anger shook her fingers until they threatened to crumple the stack of papers within the age-stiffened folder. “No, it doesn’t! It’s not even a name, it’s a misspelled noun! You gave Arthr and Kara normal names. Mostly. How’s that fair? Why did only I get stuck with a fake name? You couldn’t even give me a reasonable middle name, what the hell’s up with that?”

Mom giggled. “You’re our special little girl and I love you very much.” She bent over to kiss Spinneretta’s forehead, leaving her stunned. And when her mother stood back up, she let out a long sigh. “Now, where the hell are those records? I swear I’ll crucify whoever moved them. I guess I’m going to stay up here and look a bit harder. Is that enough to get started on your project?”

Spinneretta grumbled. “Yeah.” She returned to the open hatch in the floor. Fighting with her mom was useless, but hearing how close she’d been to having a half-reasonable name made her want to scream. Folder and papers heavy in her hands, she lowered herself through the trapdoor, spider legs grappling the edges as her feet scrambled for purchase on the rungs of the ladder. The dust-smell of the attic started to fade as she rappelled downward, and that transition alone made her feel a little better.

Just three months to go, she thought. Sarah Warren, here I come.

Spinneretta made her way to the study, a small but cozy room beside the stairs leading up to the second floor. Three of the study’s walls were lined with bookshelves housing countless assorted volumes. One end of the room was crowded with a couch, a lounge chair, and a coffee table, while the other held a wide hardwood desk where her father used to work when deadlines drew near. The times when he had the luxury of crunch-time debugging at home, however, were far in the past. Spinneretta was now the only member of the family who used the room with any regularity.

She flopped onto the small faux-leather couch and opened the file containing the archived history of the Wolf family. The folder was thick enough that, with a little luck, she wouldn’t even need the Warren side to write a C-grade essay with minimal effort. She began to sift through the documents, finding the inelegant, type-written font offensive to the eye.

She only got a few minutes of peace before the door flew open with a bang. Spinneretta was too used to the intrusion to be startled by it anymore. She didn’t even bother looking up when Arthr pushed his way into the room.

“It’s Friday night,” her brother said in mock disbelief. “And you’re studying. I knew you were lame, Spins, but I didn’t think you were that lame.”

“That joke gets funnier every single time you use it.” She hoped against all hope that he’d just leave.

Arthr, the only male among the Warren children, had grown taller and faster than Spinneretta; at fifteen, he now towered above her by half a head. Like her, he had their mother’s lean figure and russet eyes. As if satisfied by her remark, Arthr’s snide expression vanished. He crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe, his biceps flexing. His messy brown hair flopped into his eyes. “What are you studying, anyway?”

“Grade project. Thought I’d get a head start on it.”

He stretched his spider legs outward, the joints rattling and popping. “Can’t blame ya. Not like you’ve got anything better to do.”

“Mm.” Experience said the only way to get her brother off her back was to deprive him of the reaction he sought, like starving a flame of oxygen. The hypothesis held, and after a few moments of ignoring his latest prod, he sighed in resignation.

“Well, whatever. I’m outta here. Tell Mom I’m out with the guys.”

“Wait a second, I thought you were still grounded for punching that kid in the nose.”

He gave an arrogant shrug. “Oh well.”

“Would you prefer I just tell her you’re out bird-watching?” The way he froze in the doorway confirmed her suspicion.

“Tell her what you want. If you must know, we’re going to do some sprints. Gotta keep in shape for the meet in Hedera next month.” He gave a smug grin over his shoulder as he left the room. Despite his freshman status, Arthr was already making waves on the track team. The student body knew him not only as that rad guy with the spider legs who runs really fast, but also as an unbeatable fighter hungry for glory. The twin reputations swelled his head like an oozing cyst.

As usual, Spinneretta just let his bland elitism roll off her back. Though she loved running as well, Arthr always gloated about his competitive edge. But she didn’t care. She preferred to run at night, when nobody was around to see when she let her legs out to drink the cool air. She couldn’t say why, but it was cathartic, and Arthr’s incessant superiority was a reasonable price for that.

With a small huff, she turned back to her documents. Sprints. Like I’d believe that. She was sure he was going bird-watching, which was Arthrspeak for hitting on hot babes at the mall.

To her chagrin, Arthr was bafflingly popular with the girls at school. She supposed he was reasonably attractive and all, but how shallow did they have to be to tolerate his attitude? And why did Arthr’s legs seem to attract girls instead of repelling them? At first, she’d assumed the girls chasing after him were doing so out of pity, mistaking his extra appendages for some terminal illness. But she believed that less and less as time went on and his fan club grew in size.

A short while later, after reading an account of an ancestor named Jeremiah Wolf, Spinneretta grew weary of her research. Setting aside the old documents, she gave her arms and spider legs a thorough stretch before heading out into the hall. The door creaked shut behind her just as her mother, now covered in a thin layer of dust, descended the stairs with a frown.

“I swear to God I’m going to murder whoever moved those papers,” Mom said. “I can’t find them anywhere.”

“Thanks for looking, but you don’t have to burn yourself out over it. I’m pretty sure I can fake the parts I don’t have.” Spinneretta tried to hide her genuine disappointment. She’d always wanted a closer look at her father’s bloodline, though she doubted any real answers awaited her.

Her mother sighed. “You can fake whatever you want, but now I have to find them just for the sake of it.” She started toward the kitchen, then turned on her heel. “Oh, I almost forgot, will you go find Kara for me? She’s not in her room, and it’s about dinner time. I’m afraid she’s out spoiling her appetite again.”

“Yeah, fine.” Spinneretta gave her legs another wide stretch, anticipating the coming exercise. Knowing Kara, there was only one place she would be so close to dinner.

People always commented that Spinneretta and Arthr were every bit their mother’s children. But Kara, with her blond hair and striking blue eyes, resembled neither May nor Ralph to any meaningful degree. Without her slender build and arachnid qualities, she could have passed for a member of a totally different family.

Now, Kara sat perched on one of the branches of her favorite tree, waiting with the patience of a chiseled gargoyle. Her spider legs were planted at regular intervals across the bough, their tips sinking just beneath the bark. The smell of pine needles and the taste of sap on her legs reminded her of Christmas.

Teeth pressed together, two of her legs outstretched and tense, she waited for the moment she’d strike. Her line vibrated, and the air shifted subtly. Her lips parted in a vicious smile. Resin-like precursor began to flow from the secondary pair of fangs she alone had been born with. As the thick fluid pooled on her tongue, she couldn’t hold back a small shudder. It was the consistency of honey but tasted harsh and acrid.

As her prey approach, her muscles tensed. Even her spindly arms and legs prepared themselves. A moment later, her line shook from the impact. Now! With an explosive exhalation, her loaded muscles sprang and launched her off the branch. In mid-pounce, she seized the feathered creature trapped in her taut net. As she tore it from the trap, her unoccupied legs spread to absorb the impact of landing. Her bones rattled as she touched down upon the roof, and then her legs went to work.

While four of her pointed legs held the screech owl fast, her others began to hook and pull the thick substance from her mouth, stretching each captured gob into a silvery, amber-tinted wire of silk. Her legs danced around the owl, wrapping it until the feverish beating of its wings stopped. Once its wings were restrained and its legs bound, she began applying the second layer of wrapping. She gave each new strand a second tug to stretch it into a finer and more aesthetically appealing coating for her new friend.

Though Arthr and Spinneretta, too, were born with concealed fangs capable of secreting venom and digestive enzymes, only Kara was gifted with the second set further back in her mouth. While they may not have been true fangs, it was from these glands that she secreted the protein-rich precursor she’d learned, at a young age, to form into silk.

As she finished, she took a moment to admire her work. She didn’t like eating owls. Not because they didn’t taste good, but because they were so cute. The feathery mess that was always left over didn’t help, either. But food was food, and at least it wasn’t a possum. She opened her mouth, preparing to sink her fangs into the owl.

But before she could inject her acidic enzymes, a warning boomed from behind her. “Let the bird go, Kara.”

Her spirits fell at once. She turned and found Spinneretta hanging from a pine branch by two pairs of her spider legs. The firmness of her voice was a total mood killer.

“How did you find me?” Kara asked.

Spinneretta gave a half-hearted shrug. “I hope you didn’t think you could be sneaky while jumping onto the roof from nine feet up. Let the bird go.”

“Oh, come on! I just caught it!”

“It’s dinner time.” Spinneretta pulled herself up to sit on the branch. “And Mom will probably do something awful to you if she finds another feather-pie in the gutter.”

Kara grumbled. “What’s for dinner?”

“Spaghetti, I think.” Kara groaned, making Spinneretta laugh. “But I’m sure there’s some meat for you, too.”

Kara sat for a moment and then made a high-pitched whine in her throat. She swiped two of her anterior legs, splitting the pristine silk cocoon. The screech owl, hooting in a wild panic, stumbled free from the webbing. It made a short series of hops, trying to beat its bound wings, and then fumbled and rolled off the edge of the roof.

“Poor thing,” Spinneretta said. She turned around and began climbing back toward the ground to set the panicking bird free. “Be sure not to leave any silk up there or Mom will scream.”

Kara grunted and stared at the pile of wasted silk. Yeah, like I’m cleaning anything up on an empty stomach. She pulled a stray strand of web from her blond hair before crawling to the eaves and rappelling down the side of the house.

Mom, Spinneretta, and Kara were already at the dinner table when Dad arrived home from work. As was becoming the norm, he was late, but Mom greeted him as usual, and he received her warmth with equal parts exhaustion and comfort.

“How was work?” Mom asked, kissing him on the cheek.

He glanced at his watch, and a defeated look came over his face. “Long as hell. You guys didn’t really wait for me, did you?”

“Of course!”

Kara anxiously tapped the tips of her spider legs on the table, eyeing the slab of raw, marbled beef on her plate. Spinneretta shot her a warning look, but Kara didn’t see it. She was just waiting for the go-ahead to dig in.

Dad smiled over at the table, a sad glint in his eyes. “You really shouldn’t have. I ended up eating a while ago as we were tying up some loose ends.”

“What? Why didn’t you call?” Mom asked.

He held up his cellphone. “Forgot to charge. Would’ve called from the office phone but I couldn’t find the time. Barely had time to eat. The new guy may as well be illiterate. Complete burden is what he is. Spins, I’d put money on you being able to code circles around him.”

Spinneretta shook her head, ignoring the praise. “Yeah, right. I’m terrible and you know it.”

“I had to teach him how to dereference a pointer.”

A laugh turned to a half-cough in her throat. “What? And you guys are paying him?”

“Not for long, if I can help it. Swear to God, I need to get you an internship in our department. Get you some experience beyond the basics, and you’ll be a real lifesaver in crunch time.”

She sighed and gazed down at the cold spaghetti on her plate. “Just keep saying that.” An internship at a tech company as big as the Golmont Corporation would go a hell of a long way toward her dream job. So far, it hadn’t materialized.

“Well, I’m going to take a shower. Eat without me. Really sorry to keep you all waiting.”

At that, Kara snatched the hunk of meat from her plate and sank her concealed fangs into it. With a detached nostalgia, Spinneretta watched her sister envenom the meat. She waited until their mother returned to the table before she started eating her naked spaghetti.

“Oh,” Mom called as she sat down. “Ralph? Do you know anything about the old records for the Warren family tree?”

Dad’s footfalls stopped. A moment of silence buzzed from the hall. “What about them?”

“They’re not in the attic where they should be. You haven’t seen them lately, have you?”

A longer pause drew Spinneretta’s ears right to the source. “No,” he said. “I have no idea. Sorry.” With that, he ascended the stairs, leaving the rest of them to eat in peace.

“So, did you start the grade project?” Chelsea asked the next Monday at lunch. As she set her tray of food on their usual mesh table and sat down beside Spinneretta, the sunlight from the school cafeteria’s full-wall windows made her skin glow the color of fresh-baked bread.

“Yep,” Spinneretta replied, prodding the shriveled sausage on her tray with a plastic fork. “I’m about halfway done with it.”

Amanda gave her a surprised look. “Damn, I thought you were kidding when you said you were going to get started on it.”

She shrugged. “I figured, why the hell not. I was kind of interested in my family history anyways. Not anymore.” The thought just made her more curious about the missing Warren documents, which her interest had been chiefly concerned with.

“Find any radioactive spiders in there?”

“Afraid not. I found an antiquarian, though. Apparently he found some really boring things that nobody in their right mind cared about.”

“That would excite you,” Chelsea said. “You could at least lie about it when you give your presentation so you don’t kill me with boredom.”

Spinneretta smirked at her. “I’m going to talk about pottery shards for forty minutes, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

“You wouldn’t dare.” Chelsea’s apparent earnestness caused Amanda to roll her eyes. “And yes, I know you’re kidding, but that doesn’t make it alright to say things like that.”

Amanda chuckled through a bite of her salad. “If Spins gives her presentation on pottery, I’ll do one better and give mine on sand.”

“You’re awful.” Chelsea propped her chin up with her hand and pretended to pout. She glanced off toward a table across the cafeteria, where Arthr and his track friends were flinging bits of corn at each other. Near their table, the baby-blue walls were punctuated with goldenrod posters for the upcoming senior prom.

“How about you guys?” Spinneretta asked. “Don’t suppose you’ve done anything on it.”

Chelsea pulled at her black ponytail, as she often did when distracted. “My family’s boring all the way back to France.”

“Not looking forward to that project,” Amanda said.

Chelsea barely seemed to hear her. “Why’s that?”

“Because of my grandfather?”

Chelsea gasped. “Oh! Right. Sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry about.” Amanda brushed her wavy auburn bangs out of her eyes. “It’s just annoying having to deal with all the artificial pity whenever someone finds out he was one of the Norwegian Killer’s victims. And I think Mr. Worth would fail me right then and there if I didn’t mention Grandpa. Not to mention the only question anyone’s gonna ask afterward is hey, Amanda, is it true San Solano is haunted? I mean, obviously you’d be the person to know, in a six degrees of separation kind of way.”

Spinneretta’s smirk returned. “I’m going to ask you that verbatim no matter what you give your presentation on.”

Amanda buried her head in her hands, her fingers digging into her hair and along her scalp. “Wish whoever’s in charge of Parson’s Grove these days would just take down that fence. Put an end to all the urban legends. I’m just so sick of people expecting me to know anything about it!

Chelsea’s gaze drifted away again. “Do you think it’s true the Roswell wreckage ended up there?”

Amanda’s perpetually sleepy-looking eyes flashed with irritation. She looked like she wanted to punch Chelsea in the mouth. “I think it’s a dismantled prison. The Roswell wreckage ended up at Wright-Patterson.”

Chelsea leveled her gaze at Amanda with an exasperated sigh. “Okay, look. Don’t tell me you really think that’s all San Solano is. There’s gotta be something—”

Why would I know?! What part of not having a grandpa makes me an authority on abandoned prisons?”

Stirred by laughter, Spinneretta stretched her arms over her head and flexed her cramped spider legs beneath her olive-colored jacket. They couldn’t breathe under the heavy fabric. She planted her elbows on the table and smiled at her bickering friends. She’d met them at a young age when she’d transferred to the Mount Hedera Montessori Academy in Widow’s Creek. They’d been the first kids to overcome their revulsion of the spider-girl, and they’d quickly become fast friends. They were the only people who truly understood her, and that was a fact she’d be forever grateful for.

“Oh, Spins,” Chelsea said, breaking away from her squabble. “Amanda and I were going to go to the mall after school. Wanna go?”

Spinneretta groaned. “Is this going to be anything like the last time I went shopping with you?”

“Okay, okay, I said I was sorry about that. If I promise not to even look at a swimsuit, would you come?”

“I guess. Wait, is Chad going?”

Chelsea shuddered. “No. He has soccer practice.”

“Oh, thank God.” She didn’t think she could take any more of Chelsea’s twin brother’s scumbucketry so soon after Arthr’s sleepover back in December. “I don’t really need anything at the mall, though.”

“Oh, who cares?” Chelsea said with a laugh. “It can’t be worse than choking on the grade project.”

“Two hours in the changing room begs to differ.”

“I said I was sorry!”

“My dad said he’d take us after he gets off work,” Amanda said through a bite of corn. “Would it be cool if we picked you up around five-ish?”

Spinneretta considered it a moment. “It’s fine with me, but Mom’ll probably be expecting me to be home for dinner.”

Amanda frowned. “So no sushi?”

She wrinkled her nose. “You’ll have to have sushi without me this time.” And that was okay with her. Venom or none, she never could stomach the stuff.

Spinneretta arrived home from school just after four. The warmth of the new spring made the journey to their secluded home in the sylvan outskirts of Grantwood a recurring test of her resolve. Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in northern California, Grantwood was heavily forested. Their neighborhood—if such a word could be used—was built deep in the pine groves hugging the border with Widow’s Creek. Their nearest neighbors were separated from them by a half-mile of woods, and the walk to school took the better part of an hour.

No sooner had she made it through the front door than she threw her jacket off and freed her spider legs. She cracked her leg-joints, flexing her sub-plate muscles and inviting a euphoric release of restricted blood flow. Dizzy with relief, she strolled into the kitchen and drew a glass of water that she downed in a single gulp. Her spider legs shivered from the cold injection into her overheated core as she headed back into the living room.

A kaleidoscope of greenery played at the living room windows, and the backyard’s windchimes rang their distant, rustic song. It was the kind of perfectly ordinary, perfectly comfortable afternoon that characterized life in Grantwood.

Though homework hung like a specter above her head, there wasn’t much point in getting started on it when she’d be getting picked up so soon. So instead, she dropped her bag and jacket beside the couch and flopped down into its cushions. Stretching her arms and spider legs to their extremes, she let her eyes drift shut.

Mom arrived home from picking up Kara not long after that. The sound of the door opening and her sister’s voice jarred Spinneretta’s mind out of its half-asleep state. “Welcome home,” she said to neither of them in particular, waving her hands and anterior legs in the direction of the door.

“Hey there,” Mom said with a smile, setting Kara free to scurry up the stairs. “How was school?”


“Fine? How boring. Are you going to be around for a while?”

“I’m going to the mall with Mandy and Chels in a bit.” She eyed the wall clock. 4:45. What the hell? Felt like I just sat down.

Her mother vanished into the kitchen. “Ahh, alright. Will you be home for dinner this time?”

“Yep. Made sure of that one for you.”

“Good. Have you seen your brother?”

“No. He’s probably bird-watching.”

“Oh, God. Are you serious?” Mom sighed. “What am I going to do with him?”

“You could try nailing him in a coffin.”

“No, he’d just break out.” Mom drummed the tile countertop with her keys. “I think I’m going to start giving him a negative allowance until he learns to respect groundings. Want to make some extra money policing him when I’m not around?”

Spinneretta considered the offer for less than a second. “Nah. Pass.”

“Figured you’d say that.”

Spinneretta rolled over onto her side and let her eyes fall closed again. She folded her spider legs around her like a chitin blanket. “What’s for dinner?”


Spinneretta groaned.

“Well, would you like me to just give you a slab of meat instead? We still have beef.”

Spinneretta shuddered. It felt a lot like being asked if she wanted to drink formula out of a bottle. “No, thanks.”

“Then don’t complain about my meatloaf.”

“Try and stop me.”

Just then, a knock came to the front door. Spinneretta shot another look at the clock. Her friends were early. She hadn’t even rebrushed her hair yet. She snatched the brush from her bag and leapt to her feet, checking her phone to make sure she hadn’t dozed through a message of we’re here, get outside, stupid. But her inbox was empty, so she just threw her jacket back on. “That’ll be for me,” she called toward the kitchen. “I’ll call when I’m on the way back. Probably won’t be too long.”

“Have fun. If you see your brother there, tell him that he’s in a lot of trouble.”

Spinneretta ran the brush through her hair. Her legs, still extended from beneath her jacket, twitched as she worked out a lingering knot. She threw the door open dramatically and made an accusatory gesture with half of her legs. “You’re early!” But she froze, realizing a moment too late that it was neither Chelsea nor Amanda.

Waiting on the other side of the door was a young man, perhaps in his early twenties. He was tall—taller than Arthr—with short, shaggy brown hair. He wore a pair of lightly faded jeans and a dark brown T-shirt with no discernible marks or patterns. In one hand, he held a duffel bag that looked older than he did. On first glance, there was nothing distinct about him besides the color of his eyes—an odd color somewhere between faded brown and pale amber.

A wave of embarrassment struck her. She quickly drew her exposed spider legs beneath her jacket. The man’s eyes shone with surprise, but with neither revulsion nor fear. A mild curiosity, perhaps, but otherwise no reaction stirred those strange, pale irises.

After a moment of awkward silence, the man offered her a smile. He raised his hand in a gesture of greeting as warm as the coming spring. “Well met.”

Chapter 2


“Please forgive the intrusion,” the young man at the door said. “But would this be the Warren residence?”

When Spinneretta found herself unable to speak, her mother came to her rescue with a characteristic cheer. “It sure is. I’m May. How can we help you?”

He returned a smile as Spinneretta slunk back inside, still stinging with embarrassment. “I came looking for Ralph Warren. Might he be around?”

Mom shook her head. “I’m afraid he’s at work right now. He’s been getting home pretty late, these days.”

“I see. In that case, I shall return later.”

“Oh, nonsense!” Mom said. “Come in! Any friend of Ralph’s is welcome here.”

The man hesitated. “I really do not want to intrude.”

“It’s not intruding, I’m inviting you!”

Spinneretta looked at his face from the safety of the living room couch. He appeared baffled at her mother’s aggressive display of hospitality. What are you doing, Mom? Don’t just invite random people in. After a moment, the man gave a cautious nod and entered at her request.

Mom closed the door and beckoned him toward the couch. “Please, make yourself at home.”

Nervously, Spinneretta watched from one side of the couch as he took a seat on the other end. His demeanor was aloof, distant. He looked as though he wanted to apologize for daring to sit.

“So, what’s your name?” Mom asked, entering the living room with a jubilant step.


“Mark. Hmm, don’t think I’ve heard Ralph mention any Marks. Last name?”

He was quiet a moment. “Warren.”

An inexplicable chill worked its way through Spinneretta’s legs. Silence buzzed between her and her mother.

Then Mom bubbled with excited laughter. “Warren? You’re related to my husband, then?”

“That is correct.” He seemed quite uncomfortable with the woman’s exuberance.

“That’s wonderful! I didn’t know he had any family left these days.”

He gave a cautious nod. “It would seem he does. Your husband and I are quite far removed, however. It took a long while to find your family here. I didn’t know you even existed until just recently.”

Mom hummed a note of playful consideration where she stood. “So, what did you want with my husband? Are you planning on staying a while? Did you come to ask for money to get back on your feet? What’s up?”

“No, nothing like that.”

She tilted her head suspiciously. “I noticed you brought your bag.”

“It was a long trip.” He fidgeted. “Perhaps you would like to sit down? You’re making me quite nervous just standing there.”

“Ahh, right, sorry.” She flopped down on the couch between Mark and Spinneretta, apparently oblivious to her daughter’s unease. She crossed her legs and half-leaned against the backrest. “So, you’re not from around here, then. Where are you from?”

He shifted where he sat, clearly just as uncomfortable as Spinneretta herself was. “I am from the family seat, back East.”

Hearing that, Spinneretta gave a sharp, incredulous laugh that took her malaise with it. She leaned out from behind her mother. “Family seat? Who uses that expression these days? What, are we nobility now?”

Mom snapped her head around and glared at her. “Spins, that’s not how you speak to a guest.”

Mark blinked, his pale eyes expressionless. “Forgive me, miss, but what was your name?”

She started. Now in the spotlight, she was unable to force a reply. Her mom, however, had no problem answering for her again. “Oh, I’m so sorry, where are my manners? This is our oldest daughter, Spinneretta.”

Spinneretta hissed in embarrassment. “Mom!” Hearing her uncontracted name spoken aloud was worse than going to the dentist.

“If you do not mind me asking, Miss Spinneretta,” Mark said, not giving a second thought to the monstrosity of a name, “has your father told you much of the Warren family?”

Mouth dry, she just shook her head.

“I see. Suffice it to say, you would not think the usage of the phrase so odd if he had.” His tone was flat and measured, with barely any hint of inflection. While his voice sounded gentle, Spinneretta couldn’t help but imagine a stronger rebuke beneath it. She shut her mouth, wishing she hadn’t said anything.

Mom crooned a low note and nodded. “Just as I thought. Not from around here at all. Kind of strange. I don’t think Ralph ever mentioned anything about his family being from the East.” A note of suspicion rang in her voice. “How distantly related are you, exactly?”

Mark drummed his fingers on his knee and looked down in thought. “Well, Ralph’s father George was my ninth cousin.”

Mom gasped. “Ninth? Yeah, that’s pretty far removed, I guess.” She rested her chin on her knuckles, and her lips formed into a mischievous grin. “Sell me on it.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”

“Prove to me you’re really related to Ralph, and you’re not just some drifter who knows how to use a phone book and a genealogy website.”

Mark’s pale eyes narrowed. “Well, I am confident I can prove it. Though I believe it would only convince Ralph.”

Mom frowned. “Well. You’re no fun.” She leaned back against the couch, thinking. For a moment she was quiet, and then she clapped her hands, beaming again. “Fine. We’ll let Ralph be the judge of it.”

“Thank you for your understanding,” he said. “I shall be out of your hair once I’ve spoken to him.”

Mom shook her head. “You’re at least staying for dinner.”

“What?” Mark and Spinneretta asked in unison.

“Family is family, and you’re awfully far from home,” she said. “Besides, what kind of hostess would I be if I sent you back on the road without giving you a good meal?”

Spinneretta cringed when she heard the word good applied to her mother’s meatloaf.

Mark, meanwhile, shook his head in disbelief. “Forgive me, but did you not mere moments ago accuse me of being a drifter? Why would you allow me to remain longer than absolutely necessary?”

Mom giggled. “Oh, that’s all just a formality. I have to assume the worst, you know, for my kids. Between you and me, my motherly instinct tells me you’re safe.”

He gave an unsure smile. “I thank you.”

Spinneretta rushed out the door a few moments later when she got a text reading we’re here, get outside, stupid. She was relieved to get away from Mark. There was something unsettling about him. She didn’t know if it was his strange, overly formal manner of speaking or the weird way he seemed to disregard her spider legs. More than that suspicion, and more than the familiar embarrassment of being seen by a complete stranger, there was something else that gnawed at her.

While she still found his use of the term family seat laughable, there was something about it that made her shiver. Her father never spoke about his family; whenever the topic came up, he brushed it aside as though it were a mental plague. That made the vague implication of a family seat seem sinister. The amorphous implications would continue to weigh on her throughout her trip to the Centerpoint Mall.

After the girl with the odd appendages retreated from the home, the woman named May excused herself and made her way into the kitchen. For a short while, Mark sat on the pleather couch, his eyes sweeping over the full-wall window that dominated the living room. He’d expected a far more modest dwelling, like Aunt Sylvia’s back in Arbordale. Apparently, Ralph Warren was quite affluent. Despite the clan’s wealth, his family had always been miserly, with no interest in the material.

Growing listless, he got to his feet and wandered toward the kitchen, where the sound of banging pots rang. As soon as he drew near the doorway, May looked over her shoulder at him. He showed her a smile. “Is there anything I can help with?” he asked.

The woman’s own smile grew warmer and more welcoming. “Oh, don’t you dare. I’m the chef around here. No offense, sweetie, but I think you’d just get in my way.” As she spoke, she expertly cracked an egg into a bowl without looking.

“Sweetie?” It had been a long time since somebody had called him that.

May giggled and dumped a smaller bowl of finely chopped onions into the mix. “But if you really want, I’ll give you something meaningless to do.”

He shook his head, not daring to step over the threshold into the holy ground of the kitchen. “No, that is fine. I shall stay out of your way, then.”

“You know, whenever Kara wanted to help out with cooking, I used to have her balance an egg on a spoon for as long as she could. I told her it warms them up so they mix better.”

“Is Kara another of your children?”

“Mmhmm. We’ve got three of them: two angels and one Arthr.”

He nodded, thinking. Dared he to ask? He didn’t want to be rude, but he was getting a very ominous vibe from the home and its residents. His struggle was short-lived, and he decided to address the kangaroo in the room, as Annika would have said. “Mrs. Warren—”

“May. Call me May.”

“Forgive me. May. I really hope this does not come off as insensitive, but I noticed that your daughter…”

She started to nod as she whisked the eggs. “Yep, she’s half-spider. You don’t need to walk on eggshells around me, it’s tedious.”

Half-spider? A chill ran down his arms. He stepped into the kitchen, sacred ground be damned. “I mean no disrespect, but when you say half-spider, what does that entail, precisely? If you do not mind me asking.”

“No need to apologize. You’re not from around here, so of course you don’t know. We didn’t really know either, at first. After some genetic testing, it turned out Ralph has some rare genetic disorder that causes his DNA to match that of a spider in some places. I started jokingly calling our kids half-spiders, and it sort of stuck between us.”

“Wait a moment. What genetic disorder can make one’s DNA resemble a spider’s?”

“I dunno. He might be able to tell you, but I’m afraid that’s all I ever found out. It’s an uncomfortable subject for him even now. Anyway, the doctor told him he was genetically spider. Quite a world we live in these days, isn’t it? Never heard of such a thing before we moved to California.”

He took a deep breath, and the smell of lemon cleaner stung his nostrils. “You know, it is strange,” he said in a measured tone. “When I finally found out about Ralph, the only names to come up in the records were yours and his. There was nothing suggesting you two had any children.”

“Hmm, that’s unusual. Maybe you were looking at out-of-date records? That or you didn’t look hard enough.”

The confusion in her voice sounded genuine, so he did not pursue the issue. “Mayhap.”

“Hey, what do you think of her?”

Mark was, for a moment, certain he’d heard her wrong. “Your daughter?”

“Mmhmm.” She shook some pepper into the meaty mixture in the bowl.

“I’m afraid I have no idea how to answer that question.”

She groaned a little. “Well, I thought you must’ve been from around here, what with how calm you were around her. Most people are a little more surprised when they see one of our kids for the first time. Takes them quite a while to get used to the spideriness. Or at least it seems that way.”

“I can imagine that.” Surprise was an apt word for it. Which brought up an odd point: why was it a surprise? Even he should have heard something if a family of half-spiders existed. A secret like that couldn’t have been kept for long. And yet surprise seemed to be the norm in this family.

May began to hum once more as she stirred, her voice fluttering on the cusp of song. This woman must have despised the silence, for she seemed to fill every moment of it with a cheerful melody. Mark crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe. Half-spider? Genetically spider? Long-dormant memories of the Repton Scriptures came flooding back to him. That old, out-of-place book from the Vigil’s library that he’d read as a child… Was it a mere coincidence? He shook his head. Alhazred’s Razor deemed it unlikely. And coincidence or not, there was definitely something strange going on. Regardless, he had to remember his priorities. He needed to find Lily. Whatever mysteries this family of semi-spiders held could wait until he’d spoken to Ralph himself.

A crisp pitter-pattering came down the stairs a while later.

“Kara,” May called out at the sound, “do you want to try meatloaf tonight? Or do you just want meat?”

“Meat,” a girl answered.

Mark looked up from the lemons he was chopping and saw a young blond-haired girl poking her head into the kitchen. Like her elder sister, this girl had eight spider legs growing from her back. Without the obstruction of Spinneretta’s jacket, he could now see that the appendages extended through tight, neatly sewn openings in the back of the girl’s shirt. She was hunched over, legs frozen in mid-scuttle, staring at Mark with big, blue eyes.

“Mom,” the girl said, indicating him with one of her legs, “who’s he?”

“Kara, don’t point! It’s rude!”

Unbothered, Mark turned from the work May had finally allowed him to do and raised one hand in a warm greeting. “Well met. I’m Mark. You must be Kara.”

She smiled at the mention of her own name. “That’s me!” She raised two of her legs alongside her own hand, mimicking his gesture with all three limbs.

“He’s a relative,” May said. “From your dad’s side.”

She gave her mother a confused look. “But I thought Dad’s family was all gone.”

“He’s a distant relative. He was ninth cousins with your grandfather.”

Kara nodded in understanding and raised her hand and legs again, repeating the same gesture from before. “Nice to meet you!”

“Right, you said you wanted meat,” May said. She opened the refrigerator door, pulled open a clear plastic compartment, and began looking through it. “What do you want? We have beef or pork.”

Kara frowned. “No buffalo?”

“All out. I’ll pick some up next time I get out to Lalo’s.”

“I guess beef,” Kara said, turning and beginning to scuttle away. “Thankees!”

May pulled a wrapped package from the drawer and carried it back to the counter. Mark watched as she unwrapped the red slab of raw meat and placed it on a dinner plate. She reached over, took one of the lemon wedges that Mark had cut, and drizzled a twist of cloudy juice over the meat.

“It turns out half-spiders have some trouble digesting solid food,” she said, as though detecting his curiosity. “Spinneretta and Arthr weren’t able to eat normally until they were seven or so. Kara’s taking a bit longer. Maybe I spoil her too much.”

“How does she eat that, then?”

She gave him a mischievous smile. “Oh, you’ll see.” She garnished the raw steak with a dash of pepper from the shaker and pushed the plate to the end of the counter. Still confused, Mark returned to chopping the lemons that were destined to become salad dressing.

When evening proper had fallen over the Warren household, Mark heard the front door open. He read May’s bristle of excitement as a sign the promised hour had come.

“That’ll be Ralph,” she said with a smile wider than an ocean.

The door clattered shut, and then a man’s voice called out. “That smells great.”

Mark wiped his hands on the towel, setting aside one of the dishes May had permitted him to wash. “Please excuse me, but I must speak with him. I will finish washing these after.”

She giggled as she made her way toward the living room. “Oh, hush. I couldn’t ask you to do any more than you already have.”

“Someone else here?” Ralph called toward the kitchen.

“You have a guest,” May said as she kissed him on the cheek.

Mark took a deep breath, tried to wrangle it to calm, and followed her into the living room. Ralph stood by the door, briefcase in hand, tie loosened and hanging. He was shorter than Mark had imagined, thin and bespectacled, with a build he could only think of as wiry. Genetic drift had erased most of the Warren clan’s most prominent traits. Tellingly, he saw nothing indicating that this man was in any way spider.

Catching sight of him, Ralph straightened his posture and puffed his chest out a little. “Ahh, hello.”

Mark raised his hand in salutation. “Well met. Ralph Warren, I presume.”

“Yeah, that’s me.” He took Mark’s hand and shook it. “And you are?” Their eyes met, and Ralph swallowed hard.

“Pleased to finally meet you, Ralph. My name is Ma—”

Ralph ripped his hand out of the handshake as though he’d just taken a baseball bat to the shins. “Mark!

Mark recoiled in surprise, his hand still suspended in the air. “You know me?”

Ralph’s face flashed red. His eyes were wide and aghast, like he was witnessing a murder. He shook his head, feet shuffling backward until his back pressed against the door. “What are you doing here?” His voice was little more than a feeble whisper.

May probed him with a steady gaze. “Ralph? What’s wrong? Do you know this man?”

“Oh, I know him alright.” His eyes darted to May’s face, and again back to Mark’s. “I mean… No, I…”

May glanced over at Mark. A frown tugged the edges of her lips downward. “Ralph, what’s the matter with you? Do you know him or not?”

Ralph’s mouth drifted open, and he shook his head no. “I’ve never… I haven’t…”

Mark saw fear in the man’s eyes—a fear that didn’t quite make any sense. And the man’s contradictory statements gave him even less to go off of. He gave an uncomfortable shrug. “Please accept my apologies for the unannounced visit, but—”

The fear in Ralph’s eyes flashed into anger, and he jerked his head toward the hallway. “You. The study. Right now.” Before Mark could answer, the man pushed past the two of them and headed down the hall. Mark watched him go, utterly confused by his behavior.

When Ralph had vanished from sight into the first door, May turned to him. Her good humor was gone. “I’m so sorry,” she said in a low tone. “He doesn’t usually act so strangely. I wonder what’s gotten into him.” Her eyes narrowed, and she seemed to snarl the last bit.

He shrugged, unsure if her anger was pointed at him but nervous nonetheless. “I suppose I shouldn’t keep him waiting.” And so he followed Ralph to the study, hyperaware of May’s gaze piercing his back.

As the door to the study clicked shut behind Mark, Ralph peered at him, his hands coiled into trembling fists. “What the hell are you doing here?” His words were a gravelly, violent whisper. Mark blinked at him, and Ralph bared his teeth in a scowl that fell well short of menacing. “Don’t give me that face. I know exactly why you’re here, and I won’t have it. So get out of my house, you and your goddamn curse.”

Confusion wended through Mark’s chest. “Forgive me, but have the two of us actually met before? Because if we have, you’re going to have to remind me.”

Ralph shook his head, failing to conceal his fear. “Don’t think for a second I don’t recognize you, Mark.” His lips quivered in fury. “That’s right, Mark the-motherfucking-Chosen Warren. It’s been a long time, but I still recognize your goddamn eyes. Whatever Golgotha sent you here for, I want no fucking part of it. So get out of my house before I call the police.”

It started to click into place. “Your line still knows of Golgotha, then.” That would explain his animosity. “Good. That will make things easier.”

Ralph shook his head. “No. It will not make anything easier. Leave. Get out of here.”

Mark let the man’s defiance slide off his shoulders as he crossed his arms. “Listen closely, Ralph. I’m not here because Golgotha sent me. I’m here because I’m looking for someone. And I need your help to—”

Ralph blew a hot breath through his teeth. “Bullshit! It all goes back to Golgotha. I’m not interested in rejoining the Vigil. First Golgotha, then that shithead Victor, and now you come along to strong-arm me? I don’t give a damn if you are the motherfucking Chosen, I have no business with that clan. Now just stop talking, turn around, and—”

Mark slow-blinked to hide his irritation. “Surely you must know, Ralph. Golgotha’s dead. So is Victor.”

Ralph fell silent, his tongue hanging in mid-sentence. “Bullshit.”

“Your blood still runs from the line of the first Golgotha. That means that you should be well equipped to tell for yourself. The Lunar Vigil died six years ago. If you don’t believe me, then check your Sight.”

Ralph stared at him, mouth kneading syllables he could not vocalize. “I can’t. Equipment’s rusty.”


“When you don’t use something, it tends to not work right. I haven’t used the Sight in ages. Not since…” He trailed off, paled, gave no sign he would finish that thought.

I am not interested in your mysteries, Mark thought. “Then scrape that rust off your Sight and try it. I’m telling you now, you won’t find them. Even as diluted as your Sight should be, it’s true enough to find Golgotha. That is the point of it, after all.”

Ralph shook his head dismissively. “Well, if you’re telling the truth, then what the hell happened to them all? Typhoon come and blow them away?”

Mark narrowed his eyes. “Something like that.”

Ralph’s back straightened in ill-hidden fear at that. “Well, d-don’t act like that changes anything. I want you out of my house. I’m not going to—”

Mark’s patience hit its limit. “Let me ask you something. I didn’t even know you existed until just recently, after a long while of searching for surviving descendants of Golgotha. So, would you mind telling me how you know of me? With how distant our lines have grown, I find it unlikely we’ve chanced to meet before.”

Ralph glared at him. “You really don’t remember?”

“Enlighten me.”

“About twelve years ago, I paid a little visit to Arbordale. Was lured back by all the old stories my grandfather used to tell me. And I might’ve gotten sucked back into that death-town, were it not for Golgotha’s pride and joy—exalted Chosen, you little bastard. So proud was the old man that he personally invited me to witness some bullshit ritual of the Gate by you, so adept was your talent supposed to be. Golgotha’s favorite child, the Chosen, faithful shepherd to us lost children of the Gate…!” A violent tremor racked his body. He looked like he was trying not to remember.

So, Ralph had been there, had he? That was unfortunate. That meant he’d seen Mark at his worst, seen a Mark that no longer existed. He blew a slow sigh, made a deliberate effort to loosen his posture into something more casual, more natural. “It is quite rare that one of the branches returns to Golgotha. I suppose I never considered the possibility that you were among them. I now understand your anger toward me.”

Ralph’s clenched jaw muscles quivered. “Good. Then get out.”

“I will gladly leave your family in peace. But first, you must give me what I came for.”

A couple deep breaths drained the man’s apparent anger to helplessness. “What do you want?”

“As I mentioned, I’m looking for someone. Truth be told, there is one more true Warren who survived the end six years ago. And I need to find her.”

Ralph laughed a cynical little chortle. “So there’s another witch running around? Unbelievable. I bet you want me to help you find her so you can restart the cult and become the next fucking Golgotha.”

Mark cringed, his regret flashing to anger. “She’s twelve years old, Ralph. I don’t care if you hate me, but she’s done nothing to deserve your ire. She was only six when the Vigil broke, and as far as I know she’s been homeless since then.”

Ralph said nothing. The silence eroded the steel in his narrow shoulders. “And why does any of this involve me? If you’re looking for your own blood, then why not use your own damn Sight?”

“I assure you, were that possible I’d have no need for you.”

With a deep sigh, Ralph slid to the hard wooden chair behind his desk and lowered himself into it. He planted his elbows on the desk’s glossy surface and rested his chin in his intertwined fingers. He let out another strained breath, and his gaze rose to meet Mark’s again. “Fine. I’ll give it a try.” Taking in a chestful of air, he closed his eyes and dipped his jaw downward.

Mark knew well what Ralph would be experiencing as he invoked the Sight, the Warren clan’s hereditary spell flowing from Golgotha’s wellspring. He would be in darkness, alone. Before long would come the flickering starbursts resolving into an internal night of pinprick lights and faded, dead constellations.

For two whole minutes, Ralph’s eyes flickered beneath his heavy lids, and the tension clenching his neck and shoulders wound tauter and tauter. At last, with a discontent grunt, he opened his eyes again. “It’s no use. It’s too damn rusty. Just been too long, I guess. To be honest, I could barely even feel you, close as you are.” He lowered his head in defeat. “Sorry. I tried.”

Mark maintained his silence a moment longer. He’d felt the stirring of magic, weak though it was. At the very least, Ralph wasn’t trying to deceive him there. “If your Sight truly is that rusty, then it can’t be helped.” He turned away and made his way to the door, trying to tramp down the memories rising from twelve years past.

“That’s it?” Ralph asked. “You’re going to leave? Just like that?”

“No. I’m going to wait. Until you can scrape that rust off.” Mark then let himself out, leaving Ralph alone to brood.

Spinneretta returned from the mall with a new teal tank top just before dinner. When she saw the rest of the family—including Arthr—gathered around the table, she hurried upstairs and threw the garment onto her bed, resigned to modifying it for her extra appendages later.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said as she slid into her seat at the table between Arthr and her dad.

Mom smiled at her. “No sorries! You’re just in time.”

Immediately, Spinneretta could taste the tension in the air. Directly across from her sat Mark, right between Kara and her mother. He still wore that peculiar disarmed expression. His hands fidgeted as though he didn’t know what to do with himself at a meal. She wondered if anybody had ever invited him into their home before. On either side of her, her father and brother were likewise acting aloof—Dad with fear, and Arthr with false penance. She imagined that a fiesta of cursing from their mom had greeted him upon his return home.

“So, how many can you eat, Mark?” Mom asked as she began to carve up the meatloaf. She didn’t seem to notice the silence from Spinneretta’s half of the table.

He started a little, again clearly uncomfortable. “I thank you, but I am not hungry.”

Mom feigned indignation with a huff. “What? After all this work?”

“Forgive me,” he said with genuine-sounding remorse. “I ate before I arrived.”

She smiled back and shook her head. “Alright, but if you change your mind we have plenty to go around.” She then proceeded to divide the greatest chunk of loaf between the four plates unoccupied by raw beef.

The meal that followed was unusually quiet for the Warren brood. A conservative silence hung over the dining room like a thick fog. Immune to the tension, Kara leapt into dinner, puncturing her raw steak with her concealed fangs and filling it with her digestive enzymes. Mark observed with a mystified expression as the meat liquefied. Spinneretta saw that it was again curiosity—not revulsion—etched in every line of his face.

Spinneretta ate her tasteless loaf silently, stealing a glimpse at the face of their visitor now and then. Strange mannerisms aside, he didn’t seem all that much older than her. A couple times, she was startled to find his pale brown eyes looking back at her. Each time she responded by dropping her gaze to her plate. Now that she was not as rattled by embarrassment, she noticed something else peculiar about him aside from his eyes. He had what appeared to be a long, pale scar that ran along the underside of his left forearm. While it was hard to tell from so far away, she thought it resembled an old burn scar.

“So, Mark,” Mom said after an interminable silence, “what brings you out here, if you don’t mind me asking?” She glanced in Dad’s direction as she spoke.

“I came looking for someone. I was hoping Ralph would be able to help me find her.”

“Hmm. But, you’re a long way from home, aren’t you? Where did you say you’re from again?”

Spinneretta’s heart skipped a beat. The family seat back East. She stared at her food and hoped Mark wasn’t looking in her direction.

“New York,” he answered. “From a town called Arbordale.”

“A New Yorker! Wouldn’t have guessed it. I’d have expected a heavier accent.”

“I have done my best to remedy it since I left. Though the accent spoken in Arbordale was rather different than what you may expect of the state.”

“Where is Arbordale?” Mom asked.

“In the Catskill mountains. A rather small town, quite isolated.”

“I see, I see. So how long have you been away from home?”

“About six years.”

She started. “Six years?” For an awkward moment, the only noise was the erratic scraping of forks on plates. “Where have you been staying all this time?”

That’s what I’d like to know, Spinneretta thought. Is he a drifter after all? Drifter or not, it was certainly suspicious.

“I’ve been all over the place.” He showed no signs of wanting to explain further.

“So,” Mom said, “where are you staying while you’re in town?”

Spinneretta noticed her father look up sharply, panic on his face. He was staring at Mom, his eyes pleading, color draining from his cheeks.

Looking down at the table, Mark shrugged his shoulders. “I shall find a motel somewhere.”

“Well, you’re of course welcome to stay here.”

A desperate coughing sound from her father startled Spinneretta. Her mom then flashed a killing look across the table.

“Family is family,” Mom said. And so ended Dad’s coughing fit.

The young man showed her a weak, hollow smile. “That is quite alright. I shall get a room somewhere.”

Mom rested her hand on her chin. “You know, you’re going to make me a bad hostess if you don’t stay the night, at least. I’m not going to let our first visitor in forever stay at a hotel when there’s plenty of space here.”

Now that you mention it, Spinneretta thought, when was the last time we had a visitor? Have we ever?

Mark seemed primed to fight the proposal again, but after a quiet moment of thought, he gave her a cautious nod. “Very well. If it means that you will not be a bad hostess, then I shall permit myself to stay one night. With your blessing.”

“Great! And if you’re not in a hurry to head home, you’re welcome to stay for as long as you like.” Another glare silenced Dad’s rising objection.

“I appreciate the offer,” Mark said. “Truly. But I believe that will be unnecessary.”

What the hell was going on? Why was her dad so jumpy, and why was her mom so eager to welcome this stranger? Being so distantly related, it seemed unusual that anything would bring him here. The only thing she could think of was the death of an equally distant relative. Then again, he did remark earlier that he was searching for someone. Ninth cousins, she thought, picking at her vegetables. I guess that makes us twice removed, doesn’t it?

As the meal concluded in heavy silence, Dad was the first to leave the table. He gave not so much as a goodbye to any of them, and Spinneretta took her own leave shortly after Arthr retired to his room. Had there been more conversation at the table, she’d have liked to stay and see what she could glean about this Mark Warren. However, what conversation there’d been had died a slow, miserable death. Besides, she still had homework to finish.

With dinner over, Mark offered to help May with the dishes. After she rebuffed him, he went in search of Ralph. He found him smoking alone on the back porch. Though Mark hadn’t expected a warm welcome, the restrained fury in the man’s face was still upsetting.

“I’d like to ask you something, Ralph,” he said, easing the back door shut behind him.

A scowl answered him. “What now?” Ralph’s lips trembled, and his fear seemed to have given way to a quiet loathing.

“I was speaking with your wife earlier. She told me about your children.” At the mention of his offspring, Ralph drew a hissing breath between his teeth. “And I was wondering if perhaps you could tell me a little more about them.”

A glint of the same terror from before returned. “Why?”

“I find them…well, curious.”

Ralph shook his head, embers kissing the filter of his cigarette. “Do you think you’re the first to find them curious? I don’t know what you expect to hear. I’m sure May told you about my little genetic disorder, and if she did then you know as much as I do. Happy?”

“What genetic disorder is this, exactly?”

Ralph huffed and turned away, trembling. “Can’t say I know.”

Stunned by the claim, Mark could only blink at him. “You don’t know.”

“The most specific I ever heard was when the doctor said I had spider DNA.”

For a long moment, Mark was unable to speak. “That’s what I thought your wife said. But I didn’t give it a second thought because I couldn’t fathom anyone actually believing that.”

Ralph grimaced. “I didn’t believe it, you jackass! Not until I saw the papers for myself.”

“What papers?”

“The results of the genetic tests, you moron. You know, those things you take when people have birth defects and abnormalities.”

Mark considered the development. “Would you mind showing these results to me?”

Ralph dropped what remained of his cigarette to the deck and crushed it under his heel. “Yes, I would mind. You think I’m going to let you of all people sift through my life like it’s some fucking novelty? My family has nothing to do with you, you got that? My life isn’t a sideshow, so you can take whatever curiosity you’ve got about my kids and shove it up your fucking ass.” Even as he said it, he failed to hide the fear that shook his shoulders. “Are we clear?”

Mark stood unflinching. “Clear,” he said in a cold tone, before turning back inside and leaving Ralph to his mote of solitude.

There was indeed something very strange going on in this family. The old stories he’d read as a child, those tales from the Repton Scriptures telling of the Yellow King and his ambitions… It was too much of a coincidence. Whether it was all an accident or something far more sinister, he could not yet say. But as sure as the moon rose, the birth of those miraculous children could not have been the result of some obscure genetic disorder. In a thousand cycles of cosmic birth and entropy, nothing so implausible could have occurred without the presence of some divine hand moving in the background. It all reeked of the death cults who, like the Lunar Vigil, sought the release of powers they could never understand—powers that, if released, could mean the end of everything.

The conflict in Mark’s mind was short-lived. Right now, Ralph was his best shot of finding Lily, and that meant he was sticking around one way or another. But if his hunch was right, then whatever force was acting here in the town of Grantwood was too dangerous to ignore. An unchecked death cult, he knew too well, left only tragedy in its wake. And Mark was in a uniquely blessed position, having witnessed and wielded that horror firsthand. He had a responsibility to act. It was thus with an invincible resolve that Mark walked down the hall and found May washing dishes in the kitchen.

“Excuse me, May,” he said, determination straining every muscle in his body. “I really do not wish to impose upon you and your family. But if it is truly alright with you, I think I’d like to take you up on your offer to stay for a while.”


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