“I want to hear about the Spindler.”
Logan listened as the voices of his three friends talked. He watched as the fire before him dwindled.
“You sure you wanna do that, Lexi? In these woods?”
Logan’s back was firmly set against the back of a broad, old oak; he sat on the ground between its roots. His fingers dug unconsciously into the dirt as the flames flickered.
“Yes, Adam, I do! It’s why we came here!”
Night was upon them now. In the forest, it caught between the branches like silk, threatening to fall in around Logan the moment the dim light faded. The fire wouldn’t hold it back for long.
“Okay, okay. Guess you’re right about that.”
Somewhere above the treetops surely sat stars, shining bright as ever, but not through the canopy. Not through that physical night. Logan could feel it pressing down on him like the weight of the ocean.
“Then let’s do it! You want to start us off, Adam?”
She stood on the other side of the fire, pacing back and forth, looking to Logan’s right.
“No, Lexi. No, that’s a Dom thing, man. Ask Dom.”
Adam sat there, lazily sprawled sideways across the arms of an old lawn chair. He pointed a beer bottle across the flames, to Logan’s left. A voice there responded.
“I’m not feeling it tonight. Sorry, guys.”
Logan flinched as the fire reared unexpectedly. A long stick, held by Dom, prodded the fire’s heart. The flames hissed and lashed against it like angry vipers. Dom’s voice came again.
“Fire’s not long for this world anyways, so no, Adam. Sorry, Lexi.”
The stick retracted from the fire, having failed to bring it any new life. Logan glanced towards where Dom sat; rested on an old stump, stick in hand, fire reflecting off his glasses. He just shook his head.
“Come on, Dom! Please! Do it for me?”
Logan felt nauseous as Lexi’s voice pleaded. Adam’s followed.
“Yeah, man. Do it! Might as well, right? And who cares about the fire anyways? Makes it better without it. Darker. Scarier.”
Logan felt Lexi’s eyes on him from across the fire. He turned his gaze down, away from the fire and into his lap. He shuddered when he heard her voice ask, “You ok, Baby?”
He closed his eyes. There was laughter to his right.
“Is he ok? I think it’s pretty obvious he’s not. Look at him!”
Logan wrapped his arms around his chest as the weight of the night became a cold sting on his skin. The hair on his arms stood erect, and his chest shuddered as Lexi’s voice yelled, “Adam! Stop it!”
She was moving, to his left, around the fire. Towards him.
“Adam has a point, Lexi. This might not be best for—”
She sat down, right next to Logan. He gasped. Her hand was on his shoulder, massaging him. The other one slipped in through his matted hair.
“This is exactly what he needs. He was the one who wanted to come up here in the first place. To face his fears. Right, Baby?”
Logan didn’t move.
“Yeah, but what’s the point if he don’t play along? Look at him, Lexi! He won’t even listen to the story. He’s just gonna play along. That’s that. Sorry, Dom. Logan won’t play.”
The hands crept down his body: one down his neck and one down his arm. The one on the arm wrapped around his bicep and squeezed. Then a whisper.
“You’ll be fine. Just play along.”
The trees rustled, but Logan felt no breeze. He kept his eyes closed, tightly. Lexi’s voice grew louder.
“He’s going to be fine, Dom. Please, tell the story.”
Logan heard the stick enter the fire once more. It brushed against ashes. Charred logs fell. Embers hissed as they floated away. Drowned by the night.
“Logan, can you look at me?”
They waited, but Logan knew they wouldn’t wait long. The hand gripped around his arm gave a tender, but meaningful, squeeze. The kind that meant, without saying the word, “please.” A familiar kind of squeeze. One that had lost all of its magic.
“Baby, look at Dom, please.”
Her words were a special kind. Light to hear, but heavy with an implication; the implication that she wouldn’t ask again. Logan opened his eyes.
“What do you know about the Spindler?“
Logan could see Lexi’s hair, the outline of her face that glowed like amber in the dying light of the fire. Her eyes were hidden by shadow. Dom pushed his glasses back up his nose with his free hand, gripping his long fire prod that sat resting on his lap with the other. He shifted a little around the stump he sat on, waiting on an answer.
There was only one answer to give, but Logan didn’t want to give it.
“Don’t.” Logan shook his head. “Please, don’t.”
Her hand caressed his hair. Air whistled across the mouth of the beer bottle. Laughing again from Logan’s right.
“Told you, didn’t I? Told you. He won’t play.”
Taunting. Abrasive. Just like Adam. The hand fell to his neck. Logan felt the nails scratching his skin, gently. Very gently. Then, less so.
“I only know its name!” Logan stated quickly. “That’s it. I swear. I only know its name.”
He remembered she wouldn’t ask again. The nails stopped scratching, and the hand relaxed.
Logan continued, “You don’t talk about it. You don’t. Kids do, when they’re young. When they’re bad. It’s like sex. You talk about it when mom’s back is turned. You talk about it in the dark. You giggle about it with friends. You lie. I know nothing about the Spindler, I swear.”
Her arm wrapped around his waist. He shuddered as her head touched his shoulder.
“Good job, Baby.”
There was a glimmer from the bottle, and a chuckle. Logan couldn’t help but look. Adam was hunched over in the seat now, staring down at the ground. Between his legs, he toyed with the beer bottle. Spinning the base around in circles. He raised it to his lips.
“That’s a lie, Logan. You know more than that, man. You gots to. You know more than a name. Dom knew more than that. Lexi knew more than that. You know it lives here! In these woods! Where mommy and daddy tell you not to go.”
He lifted the bottom of the bottle to the shadows above. He sighed in refreshing satisfaction.
“He’s not totally lying, Adam. I don’t think anyone knows anything about the Spindler. Not really. Hell, I’d be surprised if either you or Lexi knew anything more than this: no one goes in these woods, not since long ago. But, I guess we’re proof that even that isn’t true. Lots of people go in here. Lots of people. And most never come out.”
Lexi’s head shifted.
“How long ago?”
Logan squirmed. Lexi’s hand was cold on his back. She held him tight. He had no energy to fight back. In Dom’s lenses, the flames were almost mesmerizing, but still fading. Flames barely crackled as the answer was given.
“Ancient. The Spindler is ancient, and so is this forest. No one can imagine how long. No one would want to. When the Natives came, they found it. They let it be. Can you imagine? With how many tales you’ve heard of skinwalkers, wendigos, and every evil spirit they could have imagined, would you ever believe there was one so bad that they just pretended that it never existed?”
The question was punctuated by a crack outside the dome of safe light, somewhere beyond. Nothing followed it. Nothing emerged. Nothing else moved. Not even bugs chirped in the dark. Silence. Logan turned, but only he moved. The only part of Lexi that moved was her mouth.
“Is that why we avoid it? Because they did?”
“No, Lexi, I would guess it’s got something to do with instinct. I mean, I know Logan feels it. The weight of this place. Other forests have a pulse. They’re alive, in motion. This one? It’s static. It’s dead. Like the world doesn’t move here. Almost a thousand acres. And I think it particularly unnerves people when something is dead yet it still looks back at you.”
The flames came less and less. A deep orange burned at the heart of the embers, but nothing more. Logan could almost feel the cold night lapping against his back, like cold, black waves. Soon, not even the tree would make him feel safe.
“That’s nice and flowery and all, Dom. But what is it? The Spindler. What is it, man?”
Over Adam’s voice, he heard something more. Was that another crack? Logan couldn’t bring himself to look. It had come from the other side of Lexi, higher than the ground, surely. Her head didn’t move.
“It all depends on what you’ve been told, I suppose. Some say it’s a spirit. A rather mundane explanation, if you ask me. Others say it’s evil incarnate, but I think that’s a bit too presumptuous. A little melodramatic. I think that it just is.”
Lexi’s jaw moved.
“What do you mean?”
Dom fixed his glasses once more with his free hand, his face angled up towards the canopy.
“Hell, if I know, but it’s the senseless that makes the most sense when it comes to the Spindler. You have to think a bit outside the box.”
His face snapped down towards Logan as a question was asked.
“What do you think the Spindler looks like, Logan?”
Logan didn’t want to answer, even though he could. The image in his head lived horribly there, and even worse, it fit just beautifully in the darkness above. He pictured it there, sitting, watching.
He pictured, and said, “A spider. A giant spider.”
There was a sigh. Logan held his head down, away from the canopy.
“That is what most people assume. I’ve heard the same many times. A spider with a thousand eyes, and a beaming, human smile. One that crawls across the canopy, living between the tops of the trees. Maybe one with legs as thick around as tree trunks. But I’ve also heard that it looks like a man. Monstrous, with fangs and claws for fingers. Then, I’ve heard more. Some more man-like, others more beastly. And yet, some follow none of those. The most intriguing of tales will tell you that the Spindler is an abstraction.”
There was surely another crack. Maybe two! In the woods, beyond the fire, past an impenetrable wall of night, something lurked. Logan was the only one who cared. There was a chuckle from Adam’s side of the fire.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? You know what he’s talking about, Lexi?”
Logan felt her shoulders rise in a shrug.
“It means, Adam, that the Spindler just is, but it isn’t. It has a form when it wants, and when it doesn’t then it simply isn’t. It doesn’t live in the canopy. It is the canopy. The darkness that blocks the sun. The stars. The darkness that follows you, and descends upon you with claws and teeth.”
Logan’s breaths came in rasps. Lexi’s hands had stopped massaging him. Logan didn’t even realize, nor did he notice that only a lone flame still flickered in the firepit. He didn’t even notice that the snapping in the distance, the footsteps of someone or something, had become regular. He could only focus on the layer of night that loomed above. Thick enough to block the heavens. Sounds came from there as well.
“Do you know why people think it looks like a spider?”
Lexi’s arm raised, ready to answer Dom’s question.
“Oh! I know! It’s because of the webs, isn’t it? The black webs.”
Perhaps the sounds were natural, but Logan didn’t believe that at all. The sounds surrounded them. Logan’s eyes darted around, and they caught something different. Adam was standing, holding the bottle up to his lips.
“Yes, the black webs. The Spindler always leaves them about the forest, hanging them in single strands wherever it chooses.”
Adam didn’t say a word, not anymore. He just lowered his bottle, and his face hung towards the fire. Only the voices of Lexi and Dom continued.
“And you get stuck in them, right, Dom? People get stuck in them.”
The sounds were getting closer. Footsteps. They had to be. But in the trees as well?
“Like helpless flies, Lexi. People go into these woods, and the Spindler sees that they never come out. You see, the webs are made out of the same darkness that is the Spindler itself, and they are so thin that you can only ever see them if you are looking for them. Yet, once they have you, they won’t let go. You can scream. In fact, it lets you scream. The Spindler. It watches it all...”
Footsteps. Too many to count. Every direction.
“...And then, when it has you, it keeps you. You belong to the Spindler, Lexi. Logan, you belong to the woods.”
Tears welled in Logan’s eyes.
“What does it do with those it keeps, Dom? Tell us about them. The scarecrows!”
Logan’s heart dropped. Too hard to breathe. He gasped.
“The scarecrows are what the Spindler does for fun. You listen to those the Spindler lets leave the forest, because that’s the only way you get out. It has to let you. Listen to those lucky few, and they’ll tell you about the scarecrows. The scarecrows are the ones it mutilates, twists, and contorts. They’re the ones it hangs. Hanged by the same black threads they were ensnared on to make it easy for the Spindler to do whatever it pleases with them. And it likes to do a whole lot with them. It likes to drop them, right in front of people, far away in the distance. Doesn’t matter, because it’ll make them move. Just a bit, by tugging on their strings. Maybe it’ll make them dance, run at you. Some say it copies voices well enough that it sounds all-too human when the corpses scream at you in vain. They shout warnings. It tells you to run. Run right into its traps. Using its victims’ voices!”
Logan tried to stand. He tried to run, but Lexi held him down. Her face didn’t look away from Dom.
“Hold on, Baby. We’re almost at the end. What else does the Spindler do, Dom? It’s not just silly scarecrows, is it?”
Logan struggled, but her grasp was firm.
“Well, like I said, it only makes scarecrows out of the boring ones. Loners. Losers. The rest? Well, it does keep them a bit longer. What it does with them in the long run? Who knows. They don’t leave here. Their bodies aren’t found. Maybe they become a part of it. Maybe they’re fuel that keeps it going. Until then, it makes use of you. It plays with you. Toys with you. For as long as it can...”
The advancing footsteps reached a crescendo. Logan knew they were surrounded. No way out. The flame died, and the noises stopped. Almost like they were waiting.
“...It makes you a puppet...”
Dom stoked the flame, and for just a moment, Logan saw them. Surrounding the firepit, on every side, faceless, naked bodies. The footsteps had stopped, leaving only Dom’s voice clinging to the chilling air.
“...And it’s really good at it. Really good. Good at voices...”
Adam laughed, bringing the bottle that had been empty for the last hour up to his lips.
“...Good at motions...”
Dom, his hand wrapped closed irreversibly around the long stick, drew it from the firepit, and set it on his lap. His voice finished, from somewhere up above.
“...And it’s very, very good at making it seem all so real.”
As the light faded, for the last time, Logan felt Lexi’s hand on his chin. It made him look. He saw them again, as he had hours before. From Lexi’s pale eyes, from the center of her pupils, emerged two, thin strands of black webbing. They reached upwards, into the night, to the Spindler.
Her mouth moved before the darkness crashed around him, and a voice echoed from somewhere up above.
“What do you think, Logan? Do you believe?”
Written by Ryan Brennaman