It had been nearly an hour before Guy had felt better, socking his pillow repeatedly. Why, God? Why separate me from Wren? Isn’t it clear she needs a friend? She’s all by herself, and those jerks… and Creedy… He landed one last blow into his pillow. He thought he heard a seam rip at impact, but didn’t care, collapsing. He didn’t know why they were doing this to them, if only perhaps out of spite. But hadn’t Creedy dragged those kids away to his office that day? Guy shook his head in exasperation and confusion. Nothing made sense anymore.

Suddenly, there was a quiet knocking against the side of his wall. Kodi. Guy knew it could be none other, because their rooms were side-by-side. “Guy,” he heard Kodi say, “What’s the matter? What did the old goat say?”

Guy flopped on his back carelessly. “Oh, what else? I’m in trouble for something I didn’t even DO.” He barked out a harsh laugh. “Wanna know the best part? Dad and my vice principal are personally seeing to it that our Junk Collecting trio is broken up– maybe for good.”

Silence on Kodi’s end. Then…

“Um, I don’t mean to sound nosy, but why–?”

“Because apparently Wren is a “bad influence” on me, and Dad doesn’t think I should spend any more time with her. Probably thinks I’m head over heels or something.” He groaned suddenly at the realization, facepalming himself with the pillow he’d socked earlier. WHY did I not think of that? The extra impact was more than the worn feather pillow could take, and soon the white fluff surrounded Guy; feathers cascaded down around him like angelic feathers from heaven. He groaned again, louder this time. Great. So now I have a PHYSICAL mess to deal with, too. He started to get up, picking up feathers disdainfully, when Kodi said, “It probably doesn’t help much that you sound like a cow in labor each time you make that noise.”

“Hush it,” growled Guy softly, restuffing his pillow, “or I won’t let you in on the talk with Mikey.” He knew that sounded childish, but at this rate, he didn’t care. As he stuffed another fistful inside, Kodi spoke again, “When you’re done in there, would you mind giving me a bit of a hand?” THAT made him stop. “What did you do?” Guy asked suspiciously.

“I-er… nothing really,” Kodi actually sounded nervous now. Kodi, of all people. Nervous. Guy sighed, lifting off from his knees to his feet. “OK, let’s take a look at the damage.” He walked out of his room and took a step towards Kodi’s.

“Um, Guy?” Kodi’s tone made Guy’s hand hesitate above the doorknob. “Yeah?”

“When you come in, you’d better bring with you the biggest wad of tissue or the biggest flyswatter that we have.”

&&&&&&&&&&

Wren was curled up into a fetal position on her mussed bed, weakened from lack of activity and from not eating. She hadn’t been to school days after the incident, but she no longer cared. What good was school anymore? Or in fact, life in general? Her dearest friends had been stolen from her, right beneath her nose, and she had no way to even know if they were even alive, much less a way to contact them if they were. The thought of her helplessness, and the fact that she’d just had an extra, unexpected burden added to her load only numbed her with pain all the more.

She’d even considered, a few times, just wrenching open the bedroom window and flinging herself out, letting the weight of her body, her helplessness, carry her down, down, down… until SMASH. It would be over, she would be free of the emotional, the physical pain. It seemed incredibly tempting to her, even now. And yet…

There was a small spark buried deep within her being, within her soul, that refused to be smothered. That would not, could not, go out. The spark of the will to live another day. Even if that meant hauling her tired, moody, haggard body out for another lousy day. The flare of determination. She WOULD learn what had become of them, even if it killed her. The ember of… something else. She didn’t quite know how else to describe it, only that she felt a strong desire from someone else that she should live, and not die. And certainly not act like she was dying on a daily basis, like she had nothing to live for. 

She lifted up her heavy head, bed-mussed hair falling carelessly in her eyes, sneaking a glimpse at the decoder Guy and Kodi had left her from Mikey and the JC, on her desk. She hadn’t touched it, and it was beginning to gather dust. She detested the idea of even associating with anything to do with the JC, let alone become something like him; sudden anger seized her gut. She rose quicker than she had thought she was capable of, and the effort made her head and vision swim with dizziness. She instinctively shot out both arms on either side of her, to steady herself, and, taking a breath to try to ease away the remaining dizziness, lifted off the bed and towards the device. It looked like some kind of glorified magnifying glass, attached to something that looked similar to a calculator. Only with a jumble letters, symbols, and numbers, rather than just numbers and symbols. Wren glared at the device. Its inventor, likely the JC himself, had been the cause of at least half her misery. It was time that it, along with any ambitions with JC might have had for the likes of her, were shattered into a thousand piece. She seized a nearby paperweight, gripped it tightly, and was in the process of bringing it down when… a flicker of light caught her eye.

She blinked in the near-darkness of her “cave”. The device’s delicate glass and metal frame played with the sunlight that had bravely snaked through her tightly shut blinds, gleaming a few small light spots off her wall. A physical light in the physical darkness.

How could she know even where to aim the paper weight if she couldn’t even see properly? The darkness had tricked her; she had thought her eyes had adjusted, but they had not. She fumbled around her desk for her desk lamp, only for her fingers to grasp hold of something very un-cord-like. Some flat, thin. Paper, but none quite like she’d felt before. This paper was silky smooth to the touch, almost a reassuring feel. She tugged at it, curiosity overtaking her suddenly; it felt weighted down by something, and with a shove, she released the paper scrap from its captor. There was a crash, and she realized she had shoved her desk lamp off its perch. She swore silently, fumbling partly with the paper, partly with finding another light switch.

Suddenly, the paper felt warm. Very warm. Her gaze flickered downward, and a gasp escaped her lips. Words, burning bright in the darkness, were clearly visible. They were flickering, luminescent words, so beautifully mesmerizing and unusual she could not remove her eyes from the scrap. Sitting down, she eyed what message the symbols, the letters, carried.

“Wren,

I am going to tell you this only once. Those you have aligned yourself with are not going to help you at all, you or the loved ones you seek. In fact, if they do not hinder your efforts, they will likely abandon you. I am telling you this as a friend. If you want to find the ones you love, you only need to respond back to me. I promise to help you; make no mistake, I will get you not only the answers you seek, but your friends back. You can reply by either writing back in the special ink in your desk drawer on this paper, or creating a song that expresses your true feelings about your predicament, as we both know them to be, and singing it only so the two of us can hear. I care about you, Wren, and am willing to wait, but I will give you 48 hours to respond. If you do not, I will assume you do not care what happens, and have thereby rejected my offer of further assistance. I wish you only well.”

The note was mysteriously unsigned, but Wren stared at it, a sense of deja vu washing over her, rolling her gut. Could it be the person who–? The other mysterious note immediately sprang to mind. She shook the cobwebs from her hazy mind to clear it, and reached up to flick on the lights. The light flooded her room, filled her vision, and was such a change in atmosphere that it gave her a terrible, throbbing headache. The words on the page had vanished the very instant the light came on, as if they agreed with her pain; she was tempted to switch the lights back off again, so she could reread the words– the small, yet soothing, consolation that they brought her. Someone was willing to help her, yes. Did they have their own agenda, as Guy, the JC, and perhaps even Kodi have, she did not know. But they were willing to help her, regardless, unlike the latters.

All she knew was that she could not write in the dark, and she likely had less than 48 hours to answer the strange letter’s call.

********

Guy cracked open Kodi’s bedroom door ever so slightly, baseball bat leveled at his shoulder. “Kodi, for your own sake, please tell me the flyswatter and tissue comment was a jok–” He stopped cold.

Kodi’s room was laced with behemoth webbing, along the walls and tucked into corners. Kodi smiled weakly from the right-hand wall, plastered directly above his bed. His paintbrush was clutched tightly in his small fist. “Guess you could say I got a bit carried away with my art,” he whispered. “At first, I painted a garden, but then, stupid me, I thought to myself, “Well, gardens have to have bugs, don’t they? And if not bugs, why not arachnids?” ” He wiggled, as though trying to loosen the threads around his right arm. “THEN I thought, “Well, if we need to eventually battle the Shadow Six, we might as well come up with something good and dangerous–“”

“… And let it loose to play “Hide and Go Hunt the Kid” in your room? You’re right; utterly brilliant.” Guy carefully creaked the door open a smidge further,eyes continually scanning the room for any disturbingly crawly intruder. “Um, Guy?” Kodi’s warning came just as a single, massive, hairy gray leg wrapped around the edges of the door frame. Guy froze; his fingers were only inches away.

The good news was, the beast was likely a bit smaller than Shelob, and thus probably a bit easier to kill.

The bad news was, Kodi had a pest in his room, and no way to call the exterminator. And Guy was no Frodo.

Guy swallowed, shrinking away slowly from the clawed leg. Fortunately, or perhaps not so fortunately, the leg also retracted ever so slightly, and Guy felt heavy-bodied movement on the other side of the door. Its entire body weight shifted, affording Guy a revolting peek at the beast’s underside. But before he even had a thought of cracking the baseball bat down its middle, or forcing the door open so it would be wide enough, the most leviathan spider Guy ever had the displeasure of viewing rapidly crept past him, not even seeing him, having eyes only on Kodi. It was perhaps thrice the size of an average goliath bird-eating spider, Guy guessed, although it looked more like a supersized wolf spider than anything else.The only thing that made him hesitate to call it a wolf spider, size aside, was that he knew wolf spiders didn’t spin webs– they chased and hunted prey down, just like their namesakes. Guy briefly wondered if Kodi decided to paint it as a half-breed. Its mandibles clicked in a way that seemed to suggest hunger or territoriality, but Guy decided he didn’t want to wait to find out which.

He lunged, forcing the door open the rest of the way open with a sudden yell, bat aimed and ready. The creature leapt up, startled, and initially darted back with surprising speed– front legs raised in a warning defensive position. It would attack if he got any closer. “Guy,” said Kodi weakly, “get… my… sketchbook…”

Guy tried to keep one eye on the quarter-sized Aragog, and the other out for Kodi’s sketchbook; at one point, he must have taken a step too close, because it lunged at him, mandibles clicking and purring hurriedly. He took a swing  at it, landing squarely on its face as he dodged; it screeched in fury and pain, tumbling blindly after him. In the tumult, the bat slipped from his grasp, and was promptly crushed in two by the creature’s muscular, small-log sized leg.

“The chair!” screamed Kodi. “Pick up the chair and gouge its eyes out! Bash out its brains! DO SOMETHING!” This was only the second time Guy had seen Kodi lose it, and he had every right.

Groping behind him, Guy felt nothing but clumps of webbing and a foreboding sense of horror and hopelessness; the behemoth arachnid was closing in on him, poised and ready for the kill.

It was then Guy’s groping hands found something solid to fight with. Wood.

The spider tore in at him; Guy barely evaded, held up by all its entanglements, but to a degree of success– in its haste, the monster had managed to become ensnared in its own trap, howling in agony and frustration.

Guy took his chance before the thing could claw its way loose. Gripping the desk chair firmly with both hands, he brought it down onto the creature’s skull. It howled again, writhing in pain.

“Boys?”

Dad. 

Panic gripped at both his throat and his chest. No. Not now, of all times. The giant arachnid began to rise once more, and, knowing he likely wouldn’t get another chance, brought down the final, secondary blow. A sickening WHUD resounded as the two objects made contact, and the instant the monster’s gargantuan head hit the floor, it dissolved– into a mix of gray, black, white and now red paint. Guy took a step back, astonished. Where Mr. Crawly once lay was a spider-corpse shaped puddle of mixed paints, and all around him, where there used to be cobwebs, splatters of gray and white paint. Panting, Guy turned his stare on Kodi, who was likewise covered in paint and had fallen onto the bed almost gracefully as soon as the beast had been slain. “Next time you do that, try to paint or draw something up that DOESN’T try to kill us, ok?”

“Yeah, well, I’ll keep butterflies and smiley faces in mind when the good versus evil showdown happens,” Kodi returned, looking down at himself. “Nothing a little laundry detergent can’t handle.”

“Dude, Dad is going to KILL you– scratch that, probably us both– when he sees all this.” Guy gestured around the room. “Think insurance will pay for the cleaning bill and two sudden deaths in the family?”

“Real funny.” Kodi moved in great strides now, reaching the door before Guy could and locking it tight. “Not if he doesn’t see it first. We can always clean up later.”

“How soon is “later”? Before Dad comes to tuck you in at night?”

“Since when is the old man a sentimental type? Besides, I have it handled.”

“That’s not what you told me a half-hour ago. By the way, you’re welcome, damsel in distress.”

Kodi snorted. “On a subject change, you wouldn’t happen to have that holo-thing on you, would you? We still need to talk to Mikey.”

Guy opened his mouth to answer that that was besides the point, when a loud pounding interrupted, making them both jump. “Boys? What’s going on in there?”

got you outta your mess,” Guy hissed to Kodi under his breath, “you owe me.”

Kodi hesitated, then called back, “Just a little art project for a community service report.” He winked playfully at Guy, who silently facepalmed. “We’re cleaning up now; Guy’s been helping me with it. Nothing to worry about, old man.”

“I see.” Guy heard a pause on the other side of the door. “Community service, eh? That’s my boy. Guy could learn a thing or two from something like that. Good for you for making him help you.” Guy wanted to shake Kodi’s sly little grin off his clever mug.There were times his adopted younger brother could drive him off a cliff into molten lava. “Guy? Take notes. Maybe you could start volunteering your time at a community center or charity instead of hanging around with the wrong crowd.”

“I’ll look into it; thanks, Pops,” said Guy through clenched teeth.

“We’re really busy cleaning,” Kodi quickly intervened, getting down on his knees and sketching up a bucket of soapy water, rags, scrub brushes, mops– the whole nine yards. Guy watched in shock as each item peeled away from the paper, and, rising up, solidified into the real thing. Then another thought occurred to him. “Oh no you don’t,” he whispered, grabbing Kodi’s skinny little wrist to halt him, “the LAST thing we need is to clean up more paint.”

“Everything alright in there?”

“Fine, old man. Just cleaning, not to worry.” They waited until Dad’s footsteps started to retreat, along with, “Well, ok, if you two need anything…” before Kodi angrily freed his wrist. “I’m just trying to make this go faster. And in case you didn’t notice, THESE ones are made solely out of pencil lead.”

“So we’ll be cleaning up lead instead of paint, by the time we’re done scrubbing the walls.”

“No, genius,” Kodi retorted, “watch.” Taking in his hand what looked to be a giant eraser, he rubbed at one of the freshly-come-to-life rags until it had vanished. “See? Now, watch… it’s real water.” Kodi proceeded to dip his hand into the bucket, pulling it out wet and sudsy.

“Ok, so what happens when we erase all our cleaning materials that we used to get the paint off? Won’t we just get pencil lead instead of paint, where the water used to be?”

“Not if the water evaporates first.”

“You make it sound like this isn’t the first time you’ve attempted something like this.”

“What makes you think I haven’t?”

############

After spending a half hour coaxing then coaching Guy on how to properly scrub off the paint while letting the lead-turned-water evaporate, Kodi was so wiped out he almost collapsed after they were finished. Cleaning up alone had taken nearly two whole hours, but he was pretty sure it looked the same as before the disaster had struck. The old man would never notice.

The thing that worried Kodi now, however, was that if someone like Guy could take down a gigantic cross-breed of a wolf spider and a Sydney funnel web, then how much sooner could someone– or something– like the Shadow Six take down one of his creations? He probably didn’t stand a chance against all their experience. The thought made him start.

Wait a minute…. If I JUST heard about these… whoever they are… HOW in blazes do I KNOW they’re experienced? That they’re THAT good? He shivered with dread. He had long dreamt that, perhaps, what had happened to him to make him forget, all those years ago,was that he was on a family picnic in the woods, with a loving family, and something had happened. He’d hit his head, or… something. Something to make him forget, something to forget. Something to make the ones who had loved him, and the love he had once reciprocated, all be wiped from his memory, blanker than a fresh chalkboard. But now, something unbidden and horrible, a terrible possibility, a hostile suggestion, had seeped its way into his mind: What if THEY’RE somehow connected? Kodi shut his eyes tightly. Was it something I even WANTED to remember? Part of him was curious, the other part, repulsed. Yet all throughout his being a warning rang out, to not do as Wren had done, and put personal feelings, personal missions, out in front of more imperative ones.

He came to his senses when Guy gently nudged his shoulder. “Hey, it’s time.” Kodi stared at him for a full thirty seconds when his young mind finally registered: It’s time to contact Mikey. 

And time for some real answers.

_________________________

Image Credit: https://za.pinterest.com/explore/tarantula-facts/

 

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