Friday, October 20, 2023

“Webs and Ampersands” • by Timothy Mudie

Three different villages, three different storyweavers, until I procured the elixir to purge Nana’s spiders. I’ve never felt nervous seeing her before, but as I open her cottage door, I think of the elixir in my satchel and my heart flutters.

Nana sits at her spinning table, village history book open in front of her, storyspiders everywhere. Iridescent rainbows shimmer across their bodies as they scurry over pages, silver filaments stretching to Nana’s fingers, mouth, ears. Her blue-glazed eyes. Under the spiders, more filaments become words in the book, flaring sun-bright before fading to black. I can’t read the words. You need storyspiders in your eyes for that.

After long minutes, the words cease flowing and the spiders retreat, crawling and crowding into Nana’s mouth and ears. Tiny ones slip beneath her eyelids and fingernails. When they’re all inside, Nana blinks, her eyes clear.

“Hello, dear,” she says. From the inflection, I know she doesn’t recognize me.

“Hi, Nana,” I say. “It’s Daisey. Ayla and Lino’s daughter.”

“Of course,” she says. We hug. “You’ve made quite a trip in the snow.”

“I wanted to check on you. Bring you some things.” I place my satchel on the table and begin emptying it. A loaf of bread, cheese wedge, dried apples. The clay jar with the spider-purging elixir.

Nana’s eyes rest for on the jar for a moment before drifting back to me. A warm smile never leaves her face.

“I remember when your uncle Selos was hunting and got so twisted around in a blizzard he ended up sleeping in a hibernating great-gopher’s den.” She laughs. “A rude awakening for them both!”

I snort. “Nana, I’m old enough to have figured out the truth—Uncle Selos was blind drunk.”

Fingers caress the book’s pages. “That’s not what it says here.”

“So…what?” Possibilities occur to me. “Doesn’t the book tell the truth? Don’t the spiders know everything? Are they only telling a story?”

This is not why I came here, to ask these questions, but as they spill out, I realize I need the answers, and I have to ask now because every day Nana slips a little further away from being able to give them. And because Nana’s book told me everything I know about my father. It gave me a man I never knew.

I don’t remember him, and my mother won’t even say his name. For the first ten years of my life, I assumed he hated me, that I drove him away. Until Nana opened the book, traced my fingers over illegible words, and I saw him. My father holding newborn me, whispering his love into my tiny ear. Bouncing me on a knee. Singing lullabies. Weeping as he tried to use words I’d understand while he told me why he had to leave. Trying to explain the unexplainable.

Was it true or just pretty lies in an old woman’s book?

Nana is staring at the clay jar, eyebrow cocked.


She looks to me slowly. “Yes, dear? Something from the book you needed, was it?”

I don’t remind her who I am. “Is the book true, Nana?”

“The book is real. Through storyweavers, the storyspiders weave the connections of a village. Build families.”

“But how do you know the spiders tell the truth?”

“Because they told me. The day I agreed to weave our story. They see and hear everything.” Some things Nana doesn’t have to remember; some things she just knows.

“But they’re killing you!” I blurt. As if suddenly recalling why I’m here.

She picks up the jar, rotates it in her long fingers. “I figured that’s what this is.”

“It will kill the spiders, Nana,” I say. “You’ll be you again.”

Chuckling, she says, “I am me. These other storyweavers, did the spiders pock their memories? Did they wish to lose their storyspiders?”

“You—” But Nana knows that they didn’t.

“The spiders haven’t done anything to my memories, dear,” she says. “People get old. Human memories fade. It’s why we have the spiders. For when the people who hold the memories are gone.”

“You can’t go,” I say. “Not like this. You don’t even know who I am.”

Nana puts down the jar, takes my hands in hers, and says, “I remember that I love you.”

A storyspider creeps from her ear, traipses down her shoulder, the slope of her arm, onto my hand. We regard each other. The things I could know, the good I could do. Like Nana did for me. Someone needs to pick up the thread after Nana is gone. Maintain the connections. Tell the story.

The spider climbs my arm. I will not close my eyes.


Timothy Mudie is a speculative fiction writer and an editor of all sorts of genres. His fiction has appeared in various magazines, anthologies, and podcasts, including Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Wastelands: The New Apocalypse, and LeVar Burton Reads. He lives outside of Boston with his wife and two sons. Find him online at or on Twitter @timothy_mudie


Have a Kindle? Find out what you’ve been missing!
Buy the four latest issues with just one click!

(Or buy just one, if that’s what you’d really prefer.)