This story is from a prompt at terribleminds.com January 18, 2013; choose your story setting from the Impossible Places. I chose the Stone Forest; link is below. Word limit 1000. Mine 998. This is more back story for Josey Buck, a character in my wip, Dragon Dreams. shortlink http://wp.me/p1BAlV-3R
Red Spiders of the Stone Forest Louise Sorensen January 21, 2013
When I was seven, after a particularly brutal Polarin winter, the Family went south for a beach vacation.
Four of the thirty-one children were male; my twin brother Buck, Asta’s twin Wing, Mia’s twin Trevor, who was older and also our teacher, and my father’s adopted son Boyd.
Unlike my sisters, who spoke of nothing but medicine, babies and politics, I had a poor memory, and a bent for independent thinking. As a result I was generally ignored by the girls and spent my free time with the boys, an enthusiastic if not entirely welcome participant in whatever hellery they could invent. As well, boys being the weaker sex, they needed a bodyguard. The strongest of all the children, and Buck’s sister, my duty was obvious.
By the second week at the beach, the boys were bored.
“If you’re going to explore,” my father said, knowing the boys needed time away from their bossy sisters, “you must take Josephine.”
“She’s big but she can’t remember anything, Father. Trevor will have to give us the lessons twice if she comes with us,” Boyd whined.
“Manners, Boyd. Any more of that and you can stay here and supervise the little ones. We’ve given Josephine something to help her with her memory. And you need someone big and strong. Now run along and don’t get into any trouble.” My father gave Boyd a gentle push and returned to his seat under the umbrella with the older women, then called to us, “Trevor, keep them out of trouble!”
“Where are we going, Trev?” Buck, with a perfect memory, always demanded exact plans.
“Upstream. There’s some great fishing at the river’s source.” He brandished hooks and line. “Fresh fish for supper.” We all cheered. “Keep an eye out for berries and fruit too.”
Trevor lectured us on flora and fauna but I wasn’t yet used to my new memory chip. “Could you please slow down, Trevor? It’s taking me awhile to process this information.”
“Okay,” he said, but he never did.
We came upon a huge glade of berry bushes and stuffed both our packs and our mouths. Wing daubed the blue juice on his face. The rest of us did the same and from then on we were all fearsome warriors.
Pear trees lined the bank, and we wandered farther upstream gathering the ripe ones.
“Look.” Buck pointed across the river. An enormous ram as tall as a bull was wading into the water to drink. Something red crawled up the ram’s leg and he snapped at it, crushed it in his teeth and swallowed, licking the goo off his lips.
“Yuck. What was that?” Boyd turned a little green.
“The Red Spider,” Trevor intoned, “a poisonous semi-aquatic spider native to the Stone Forest that feeds on small animals, such as yourself or Buck, or parasitizes larger animals, like that ram. In sufficient numbers, they could overpower even a grown woman. They’re good eating, as the ram demonstrated, although we cook ours. If we see any egg clusters in the shallows and can retrieve them safely, we’ll take those home for supper too.” My mouth watered at the possibility of fried eggs.
“Why don’t they attack the ram?”
“One just did, Josey. And was eaten for its trouble. Look.” Trevor pointed across the water. A flock of woollies filed out of the Stone Forest and began grazing on the grassy riverbank. “Past the flock you can see the Stone Forest crawling with webs and Red Spiders.”
“We should go there and look for eggs,” I said.
“No, Dummy,” Boyd put his hands on his hips. “Poisonous semi-aquatic spiders. Lay their eggs in the shallows of the river. Weren’t you listening?”
“Leave her alone, Boyd.” Buck, undersized, fearless, clenched his fists. My staunchest defender.
“Yes I was listening,” I threw a pear at Boyd and hit him on the cheek. He fell down, wailing.
“Quiet! We don’t want that ram… Uh oh. Quick, let’s get out of here.” Trevor looked frantically for shelter.
“Back to the camp,” I yelled.
“No. We don’t want to lead it back to the Family.” Trevor waved for us to go further upstream but the ram was across the river in no time.
Trevor and Boyd ran away from the river, towards distant trees. Wing, Buck and I ran upstream. The ram’s breath on our heels, we made it to an outcropping of stone and dived into a narrow tunnel. The ram charged the opening, crashing into it repeatedly, grunting as rock rained down with each impact. The stench of him wrapped around us.
It seemed like hours before he finally gave up and stomped away, snorting. I crept out first and watched him cross the river to his flock, waiting placidly on the other side, as though this was routine behaviour for their leader.
The three of us tiptoed away from the cave and followed the riverbank back towards camp. The water was roiling with big fish feeding on red spiders. The spiders would crawl ashore to escape, and the fish would leap out of the water onto the narrow strand to get them, then flop their way back to the water. One big fish landed too far up the sand. After flapping around for a few minutes it lay exhausted, mouth open, red gills gasping for air.
“Let’s get it,” Wing said, and he and Buck rushed toward the beach. I caught Wing and pulled him back but Buck wriggled away and raced to the fish.
Spiders fleeing the water scuttled towards him; he was covered in them by the time I reached him. I beat them off, threw him over my shoulder, grabbed Wing’s hand and we ran.
I didn’t realize until we reached camp and I collapsed that I‘d been bitten.
Months later I woke up, and found out I’d lost my leg.
More importantly, I found out I’d lost my brother Buck.