The Spidermonger

To be scornful of the supernatural; I would once have listed amongst the qualities of a good scientist; to admit of exceptions to the discoverable laws of physics without repeatable proof I would have lectured against at the Royal Society.

Now, however, I find myself recanting both points of view by setting down as fact, in my earnest desire to explore all the facets of the universe, an experience of my own which may have been wholly subjective, but which was otherworldly in its effects and, I pray, unrepeatable under any conditions.

I was dying. That at least was the opinion of a well respected Harley Street physician whose name I will not demean by mentioning in relation to such a false diagnosis. It may well be that the incident itself in some way changed my health, and I do him an injustice by proclaiming his judgement untrue. Yet I still live albeit with my vigour impaired. Of this possibility the reader of this account more objectively can judge.

Perhaps the long illness running close to Death opened my eyes to one of the invisible and impalpable bands of reality unploughed by the truth-seekers of earthly wisdom. If so those realms are not left fallow for any frivolous reasons. Or perhaps, it brought delusions of a singular sort, delirium so unlike the tropical fevers I suffered in my youth on the Egyptian expedition that I didn’t recognise it as false. The expedition that made my late Uncle famous however was plagued with deadly insects and few westerners could be so familiar with hallucinatory maladies as I.
I can not comment on my state of mind in those days when I waited in my Uncle’s house in Dymchurch-Under-The-Wall, for Death.

I may have dreamed the things I will describe: if so my brain was more afflicted than my body.

The incident began one morning in July 1897, in the twilight that heralds dawn in the marsh country. I was awakened by a spreading pinkish grey light that pierced the easterly wall of my bedroom. It shone straight into my eyes yet did not dazzle or block my vision. The wall, with its load of shelved books on Egyptology, remained clear; it was as if I was looking at the wall through rose coloured spectacles.

The wall was not changed for the better, indeed the paint began to peel off, accelerating in its descent as if weighted. The books withered and their bindings cracked, a sight that appalled me since I had been raised among tomes almost sacred to my bibliophile uncle.

Diagrams of the Osirian Ankh and sketches of heiroglyphes misted down to the floor. The wall which should have looked out over the Dover road, ground itself into a veil of plaster, obscuring yet revealing a pale sky the colour of half-burnt flesh, and a wasteland of fallen masonry around the decaying pillars of which twined curious plants.

The lines of demarcation between this scene and the bedroom of the old family house were clear; it was as if the wall had been chopped away from the fabric of the building and distorting glass placed in the gap hiding the cobbled street beyond.

My first thought was to call my housekeeper, both to give evidence to my sanity and to discover if the effect of the landscape on another was the same as its grasp on me. Though feelings may not be a scientific measure, at the appearance of the phantasm I had experienced tangible awe almost like a static charge, as if a force had stood the fine hairs on my cheek on end.

In the attempt, I discovered I was paralysed pinned down by the now reddish light as a naturalist might pin an insect to a cork board the better to study it.

The source of the light was a vast orb suspended at the horizon of the unearthly plain. A sun speared by mountains, of a red so dark as to hurt the eyes.

Only the functions of my body under my conscious control were hampered by the paralysis, for I certainly continued to breath and I recall blinking violently as a new light climbed into the sky. A blue-white star, a quarter the size of the other but with more than four times its brilliance, rose rapidly, and scurried across the alien heavens, burning a trail through the fleshy tint as it did so.

I perceived that what I had taken to be the sky was instead some form of cloud that broiled away in this new achromatic violence, leaving patches of pale violet in its wake. During the circuit of this smaller body the red star never moved from its position on the horizon, neither up nor down, nor did it do so during all my observations of that netherworld.

In the light of the smaller star movements began to impress themselves on my over perceptive senses. A rippling undulation ran through the faint foliage of the grasping plants. In the far left of my vision a discolouration spread as if some creeping tide disgorged floating wreckage there, and all around a slow but evident crumbling of the scattered structures took place.

It became obvious to me that I was party to some diurnal process of gradual destruction that would have take ages on Earth. And all this time there had come to my alert senses not one sound from that scene; indeed I never heard any sound come from the portal until the end, and that call I can hear yet. For three more revolutions of the Blue Star I watched frozen while one plant more ponderous than the rest crushed a pillar to rubble tearing it up from the foundations which seemed to be set into the plain itself.

The familiar objects began to appear superimposed on that ultramundane view; the thick blinds and wall itself cut off my sight of that ghostly land and with its passing I could move again.

Leaping up, for so compelled was I with the curiousity of the scientist that my physical infirmities where forgotten, I flung open the blinds.

Daylight flooded in. My eyes, adapted during the past two hours to a red eventide, watered copiously. Even with this impediment to sight I could make out the old cobbles of the Dover road and the houses like an anodyne outreaching some wretched malady.
How could I believe myself sane, comparing this scene with that I had just been exposed to? Was there no evidence, no link, to justify my continued confidence in my own mind.

Then my eyes caught it, glinting like phosphorescent seaweed on the stones of the churchyard, the same blue-white shadow the small star had cast as it wheeled over that alien domain. I slammed the blind down, panting now as my sickness returned. It was fifteen minutes before I could bring myself to look out again. Of the light there was no sigm. I felt almost disappointed.

I told no one of it that day. I knew the nature of my illness and the conclusions they would draw from it. I did not know if the phenomenon would occur a second time, in the presence of witnesses or indeed if it would return at all.

I spent the day in research. My Uncle had collected a vast number of reference workd, not only in his own subject but in others such as botany which had hitherto interested me little, if at all.

I discovered that the plants resembled no species of chlorophyll based foliage still extant in the modern worlds. Certain of their characteristics, however, recalled the giant prehistoric ferns from which much of the world’s coal was to form.

The plants seemed to be parasitic, though in retrospect that judgement was biased. Raised by an Uncle to whom the pyramids were at once temples and masterpieces, I had inherited a feel for antiquities ancient buildings especially, and to see these mindless plants bring down the relics of another race was abhorrent to me. I felt they were leeches, vampires, enhancers of a decay out of step with my world. That judgement was an uniformed one, an emotive expression; the plants filled a niche that was empty: if any blame is to be allotted it must go to their cultivators. I am far from sure however that blame can be allotted in this matter, there is so much of that world that I may have misunderstood. I have had long to think on the events of those three days. At that time I was panicking in a rigid fashion, applying my moralities to an otherworldly frame; now I wonder if the terms Good and Evil are not rational observed things but prejudices made anthropomorphic. I am ashamed of my actions during the incident and it is partly because of this that I risk my reputation to lay my story, real or unreal, before the scientific world.

The second night all happened as before. It was as if in the absence of an observer nothing had taken place in that ruddy eldritch plain. New insights came however. I have written of a plant overturning a pillar whose foundations were deep. I now saw how deep. The plain itself was nothing more than a vast floor cut of the same dark rock as the pillars. The gullies and ravines of that plain, now hedged with the crouching plants, were magnified versions of the symbols cut on the masonry. The whole scene was a ruined metropolis greater than a human city.

It was so obvious now, I cursed myself for a fool. It was as I was doing so that I caught my first glimpse of a Cultivator….

The creature was at first a mere white speck running curiously out of step in the middle distance. It had a strange means of locomotion: a shifting, hopping glide that reminded me of long legged cranes. It seemed almost to ripple as it progressed, as if its personal time was different from the otherworld’s just as mine was.

As it came nearer I was able to make out is appearance more distinctly.

The Cultivator was like a primitive statue, a mannikin, lumpy and unfinished, but with a twisted resemblance to humanity. It looked incomplete, as though in the midst of some metabolic change that left it listless and pale. Like the structures it aged noticeable in one cycle of the blue star.

The plants unclasped at the creature’s touch. For a moment I wondered if it was the caretaker of this place making a long delayed inspection, but it became apparent its concern was for the plants. It preened them, scraping the accretions of decay from the supple feelers. As it approached the nearest pillars it stopped and I was struck by a sudden fear. Suppose the window into their world was two-directional, what if it could see me? The fear passed and I became elated. To me had fallen a chance to achieve what no other on Earth had done: a chance to make contact with an intelligent non-human being. Then I began to see how faint that chance was. I was paralysed, and even if I had been able to move I could not be sure that communication would be possible with a being that was alien to the entire forming history of my species.

The creature stopped now, and in full view of the aperture it cast its featureless head about as if utilising some sense or perception unknown to man.

The discolouration to my left had risen like a tsunami, and at that moment the great swell burst and a whirlpool of silk-carried spiders swarmed down across the plain.

The Cultivator turned and with others of its kind, raised silent keening over the plants, whose fronds grappled with the spiderstorm, trapping arachnids in their tendrils. Around each spider a penumbra of vitality spread. The creatures seemed more active, the vegetation more lavish, even the buildings stood straighter, their carvings more distinct.

The scene began to fade and with it the paralysis lessened.

I began to shout greetings though I knew as I did so it was useless.

Any sound I could make would be meaningless to them even if it passed the barrier which had seemed impervious to vibration in my direction. Given that they possessed hearing it would very likely be on a different frequency. Muttering at my own uselessness I again opened the reformed blind, alert for any sign of change in the external world. Like an echo my own ineffectual cries came whispering back, intoned by some mock human voice and made sibilant and harsh by their new stresses. I collapsed on my bed and it was a while before I felt able to ring my housekeeper. Never had I doubted my own sanity to such a degree. I resolved I would not greet the next dawn alone, prove what it may. As the day wore on however I despaired of holding to my resolve, for my House-keeper’s resignation left me totally alone in the house. She tendered her notice shortly before noon, not even waiting for a reference. She mumbled of patches of ice spreading in the lower house, of food good yesterday now rotting, of dust and decay.

I was testily forced to accept her departure, and though I was pleased that there was more evidence of the rapid aging invading this dimension, her final statement chilled me to the bone. She claimed to have seen an old beggar hanging around the house, a hunched, cowled figure who moved in circles around the building with a peculiar hopping gait, carrying a large bundle that seemed to move as if breathing. The beggar seemed to have stirred her more than the physical effects; certainly it caused disagreeable expectations in my mind.

Since my later experience and partial recovery I have advertised at length for her testimony but to no avail. It is possible therefore to doubt this reported description. My own personal evidence is not enough to prove this. Perhaps she will come forward yet; until then you must make up your own mind. I was still alone in the house at nightfall though my old friend, my medical neighbour, had promised to send one of his students to look after me until I could hire a new servant.

I later learnt that the student had slipped and twisted his ankle on an unexpected covering of ice that had formed unseasonably on the Dover road, which prevented his visit that night.

I fortified myself with a glass of brandy and some cheese, and dozed slightly through the main part of the night, disturbed only by a brittle staccato jerking click from downstairs.

It sounded like long bones knocking together and I couldn’t bring myself to investigate it. It conveyed a sense of furtive movement, of inhuman precise searching. I shivered towards the dawn.

The image was not as distinctly removed that night, the edges seemed to eat more of the walls, to enclose rather than be enclosed by the fabric of my dwelling. I equated this with the increase of decay in my world, a wholesale leaking of energy into that blasted red and blue inferno. Whispers of sound began to pulse the air, echoes on the verge of audibility as if miles of distance interposed between the view and me.

On the plain the spiders were piled in a vast latticework cage built from the ancient pillars themselves. I wondered at the thriftiness of the Cultivators – if the capture of the arachnids with their strange life giving fields had been their aim – and at their use of the ruins for materials and as a training ground for the plants. Now they prepared to leave: the harvest or pest removal (if either concept fits) was finished. The pallid creatures looked more youthful and vigorous in the ambience of the great insects. They still impressed on me a vast upwelling of energy and….happiness, though I suspect our emotions can not be forced to apply to them. They grew taller and taller, fading as they did so. The massive cage of ruined carved pillars blazed with light from the inset carvings and seemed to extend in some hitherto unthought of direction. The thin dust of the plain’s floor swirled about the cage, the captives, and the ever lengthening Cultivators and then they were gone. I had witnessed something beyond human science, possibly beyond human understanding. Reaved of the preserving fields of the spiders, time reached its withered hand across an empty plain and at last the few remaining pillars went the way of mummies taken carelessly from the tomb.

The disturbed dust settled and grew thicker. From behind me, like an omen, I heard a loping step upon the stairs. The hissing of my own futile greetings was indescribably horrible, not least in the likeness of the voice that uttered them to mine. The Cultivator stood in the doorway, its rough limbs gesturing aimlessly. It was wrapped in clothes made from spidersilk, and with the alien movements of its long limbs – angular and strange – I could see why it had so distressed my housekeeper. It was the image of medieval drawings of Death, lacking only a scythe to emulate them flawlessly.

Terrified all thought of contact gone, under some deep human fear of the unknown I strained against the remains of the paralysis as with slow deliberation it withdrew a spider from a sack of silk at its back and thrust it towards me. Instinctively finding my bonds dissolving, I attacked.

Since then I have realised that the field of the spider restored me, breaking not only the stasis, but also that fatal illness at my throat. I have thought that the might have seen me through the portal, seem the artifacts of intelligence about me and sent an envoy in peace and fellowship. If so, they ere sadly misled. In my newfound strength and fear I was as savage as a man from prehistory and as wild. I seized the Cukltivator by the neck and hurled it from me, into the vision that hung maddeningly before me. As it broke into that dying world it uttered a cry so piercing and terrible I will recall it to my shame forever. The veil between the worlds has not reopened. There is no evidence of my vision and my crime save a scrap of silk finer than human weft.

Recorded in Dymchurch
11th August 1898.

2 Responses to “The Spidermonger”

  1. JJ Burke Wrote:

    this raises serious questions about interdimensional ambassadorship. i’m ambivalent as to whether the spidermonger was a friend or a threat. interesting story

  2. Michael Wrote:

    The real monster in this story is the human! Well-done…

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