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Authors: Mark Howard Jones

Songs From Spider Street

BOOK: Songs From Spider Street
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2012 -


by Screaming Dreams

Bute Street, Cardiff Bay, CF10 5EQ


© Mark Howard Jones 2010


Howard Jones asserts the moral rights to be identified as the author of this


book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either
products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely


illustration Copyright © Steve Upham 2010


part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without prior written
permission from the publisher.


the memory of my mother, Josie




Michel followed his father’s instructions very carefully as he navigated
the small boat up the foggy river. Too carefully, in fact. The old man had made
a mistake or two and he almost missed the place in the early morning gloom.

Along the
banks, the ghost city hid itself from him behind the enveloping spectral

Tying his
boat next to what was left of the Pont de l’Alma, he scrambled over the rubble
to reach the street above. He followed the scribbled map and soon found Avenue
du President Wilson. The place where he was to make the delivery was in one of
the streets just behind it.

He heaved the
heavy rucksack onto his back and set off. The remnants of the buildings on
either side seemed to move suddenly out of the fog at him, like icebergs
miraculously on the move down the broad, rubble-clogged avenues.

Michel couldn’t
understand why anybody lived here any longer. Who needed cities anyway?

He wandered
along, peering up through the milky light until he found the right street – Rue
d’Arachneen. He had to look closely; someone had scratched out some of the
letters with a nail and painted over it the words that made Michel shiver
slightly, ‘Rue d’Araignee’. He hated spiders and their sly, secret ways. He was
always on the fly’s side.

This part of
the city used to be ruled by gangs, and he assumed that the odd name meant that
this used to be ‘Street Spiders’ territory.

Michel began
to walk along the wrecked road, still following his father’s instructions and
hoping that they were right this time. He made sure to stay away from the sides
of the road where rats might be lying in wait.

Gradually the
fog seemed to get lighter, the early daylight softer. At some point Michel
realised he was walking
the fog but his mind blotted it out, knowing
it wasn’t possible. Only when the fog began to hinder his progress did his mind
allow him to awaken to the fact that something was wrong. Michel lifted his
left foot and something stuck to his stiff leather shoe. He jerked his leg back
and freed his foot with some difficulty.

He held his
breath and peered through the whiteness that surrounded him. The white stuff
that had stuck to his shoes carpeted the road ahead, stretching off to both
sides, with only a narrow path left down the very centre of the street.

Something was
moving at the edge of his vision. Peering closely, he tried to forget what had
been scratched on the street sign. As the fog moved in its slow dance, Michel
could make out an old lamp-post. It was covered in white silk and in that gauzy
maze moved dozens and dozens of black dots. His throat tightened as it finally
dawned on him that he was surrounded by spiders. Some buildings had almost
disappeared totally beneath the webs, which hung from every possible place.

His feet wanted
to back away and the panic inside him told him to run back to the river,
clamber into his boat and head for home. But then he’d have to face his father,
with his sharp words and fierce eyes.

He glared
resentfully at the white mass around him before noticing that there was a path
through the centre of the web maze. Swearing to himself, he forced his feet
forward; he was sticky with the sweat that had sprung out over the whole of his

a web would quiver as he passed it. Breathing had become a struggle and he felt
a surge of relief when he saw that the path led to the front of an apartment

As he
approached it a large black spider scuttled across the face of the iron gate
that stood enticingly open in front of the building. Michel took two cautious
steps forward; the spider moved its many-jointed legs and scuttled further up
the gate. It wasn’t huge, decided Michel, but it was still terrifying. Just
large enough for him to see its glittering eyes and to know he was being

The arachnid
seemed to lose interest after a few minutes and darted away into the mass of
webbing covering the iron fence at either side.

Although the
gate stood ajar, Michel could see that it hadn’t been opened for some time,
with strands of web connecting the gate to the post. He lifted his foot and
kicked it open. The heavy gate only moved a few inches but it was enough to
stretch and snap the silvery threads, leaving Michel just enough room to
squeeze through.

He mounted
the few steps to the elaborate front door of the apartment building. Pushing at
it, he found it locked. He knocked loudly and waited anxiously to see who would
answer. Unnerved by his experiences so far, he fought to keep his imagination
in check.

Michel was
relieved when, after knocking a second time, a nervous-looking woman’s face
poked itself through a gap between the door and the jamb. “Yes? Who are you?”

“H-hello, I’m
Michel. Claude’s brother.”

Only half of
the woman’s face was visible. Her hazel eye glinted as it peered at him,
presumably taking in his resemblance to his elder sibling. She pulled the door
open with difficulty. “It sticks. It drives me insane sometimes,” she explained
as she gestured him inside. She spoke with an English accent, as he’d been led
to expect. Her French was very good, he noticed, but her use of the word ‘insane’
bothered him slightly.

Michel stood
in a broad hallway that was badly in need of cleaning. The woman put her back
against the door and pushed it closed again. “I was expecting you. Well … not
you, your brother. Did you find the place alright?”

He was
relieved to see that her face had two halves to it. “Yes. But all these

The woman
looked at him oddly, as if he’d complained about something that was obviously
beneficial. She was dressed in dark clothes with her grey hair, that was once
brown, scraped back into a pony tail. Michel noticed that she was quite tall;
her skin was as pale as spider’s silk. “I’m Mrs. Wilson … but I expect your
father told you that.”

He followed
her into a large, neat apartment. In contrast to the hallway, it was spotless,
though the curtains were partly closed. Michel noticed some old photographs and
travel posters on one wall. He recognised some of them – Paris, in the old

wasn’t it?” the woman said. “I couldn’t bear to leave it. But I rarely go
outside these days. It’s too sad.”

Michel nodded
at her words as if he understood, though he really didn’t.

Turning, he
saw that all along one wall was a large old-fashioned glass-fronted cabinet.
Michel immediately took a step back once his eyes had accustomed to the light.
Behind the glass was a white silky world, a spider’s paradise. Each shelf was a
tangle of webs, funnels and silk boles with dim, dark shapes lurking within
them. In some places the spiders clung to the glass itself, staring out with
eyes like black gems, as if seeking escape.

Michel felt
that it was somehow unclean, and his skin began to itch as he looked at it. The
woman noticed his revulsion. “They’re nothing to be afraid of, you know.
Spiders. They’re just doing what they’re supposed to. They’re very industrious.”
He looked at her, hoping this would be quick and that he could get back to the
river as soon as possible.

The woman
noticed his discomfort and tried to take his mind off it. “So where is your
brother? He usually brings my delivery. I’ve grown used to seeing him.”

shrugged. “He had to go away. Claude is in the mountains now.”

The old woman
nodded, her eyes growing sad. She sighed. “Ah, the mountains. Important work, I
suppose. A pity.”

Michel simply
nodded, then flipped open the top of the rucksack and began to place its
contents on the table in the centre of the room. “Twenty tins and four packets
of rice. It’s all there,” he said, accounting for everything.

Mrs Wilson
went to a dark corner of the room and returned with a brown paper package,
which she placed on the table beside the things Michel had unpacked, as if to
compare them. “There. Tell your father it’s fresh.”

Michel picked
it up and handled it. He’d expected something else in payment. “What is it?”
Mrs Wilson just smiled. “Your father will know.”

Michel placed
the packet carefully but resentfully in his rucksack. He wasn’t very happy at
being kept in the dark.

“Sit down for
a minute. I expect you’re tired after the journey.” Michel hadn’t thought about
it until now but, yes, he’d been travelling up river since just after midnight,
so as to avoid the ‘traffic’. He pulled out a chair and sat down at the table.

Mrs Wilson
also sat down, placing a bottle between them. “Do you want some wine, Michel?”

The boy
opened his mouth. “Wine. You have wine?” Mrs Wilson chuckled and pointed. “Well,
there it is. You can see with your own eyes.”

Michel had
heard of this mythical drink. Sometimes when his father visited the Judge,
there was wine to drink. But Michel never accompanied his father on those
visits and had never seen any before. “Will I like it?’ he asked.

She smiled
and pushed a glass towards him. “There’s only one way to find out,” she said as
the clear liquid glugged into the clear receptacle.

said Mrs Wilson, emptying half her glass.

Michel gazed
down into the glass. Even in this poor light there were slow currents glinting
in the depths of the strange liquid. Now was his chance to taste it without his
father’s watchful eyes on him. He took a cautious sip. Even though it was cool,
it tasted warm on his tongue and all the way down to his stomach. He smiled,
nodding. “It’s good.”

The old woman
smiled too, understanding just how Michel’s eyes had been newly opened to one
of life’s pleasures. The wine seemed to have a beneficial effect on her as she
began to reminisce about Michel’s long-dead mother, how she knew his father and
how things had been in Paris in the old days.

Michel wasn’t particularly interested – there was nothing he hadn’t heard
before – he pretended to listen to her rambling monologue while enjoying the
strange new delight in the glass he held.

He raised his
eyes to look at the woman. Then he noticed something moving. He stared with
trepidation as two small spiders ran from the woman’s sleeve and down the stem
of the glass in her hand. They began a many-legged dance as they lowered
themselves quickly to the table top and scurried away. Mrs Wilson hadn’t seemed
to notice their presence and ignored Michel’s stares.

A splash of
wine suddenly hit Michel in the face as a spider dropped from above into his
glass. He watched, appalled, as it commenced an eight-legged struggle with the
meniscus of the liquid, battling for survival. He looked above him immediately,
afraid that others were ready to drop on him, then quickly put the glass on the
table and pushed it away.

Until that
moment Mrs Wilson had been unaware of the minor drama but at the sound of glass
on wood, she looked sharply at him. “I’ve had enough, thank you,” said Michel
carefully. She smiled at him, unaware of the spider’s final struggle in its
glass prison. “Yes, better take it slowly, I suppose.”

She continued
talking and Michel tried to focus on what she was saying as he felt his head
expand. Wine was good stuff, he thought, and vowed to try and get his hands on
some more soon. Preferably some without any spiders in it.

The woman’s
tales had moved away from familiar territory now and she began to tell him
things about his father that he never knew.

“Most adults
are just lost children – as if they’ve wandered away from childhood and now
they can’t find it again – but your father was different. He never used to be
afraid to hear the spiders sing.”

Michel looked
puzzled. Perhaps the wine had dulled his wits, he thought. “Sing?”

She nodded. “Yes,
sing. Well, not in the way you and I would sing.” She sent forth a short,
tuneful phrase from an old song and then laughed. “It’s more to do with … here,
let me

struggled slightly to stand up as she took him by the arm and led him out into
the hallway. After another battle with the door they stepped outside. Mrs
Wilson guided him to the middle of the street.

The light
hadn’t changed since he’d gone inside, yet now he noticed that each web was
shining, jewelled with dew. Small dark shapes moved among them here and there;
others sat watchfully where they were.

He wasn’t
sure if this was what wine was supposed to do to you, or if the old woman had
put something in the wine, but his head felt hot and somehow full. His thoughts
had suddenly become too sluggish to move through his head properly and his mind
began to throb. He struggled through it, trying hard to concentrate.

He noticed
the pulsing thorax of the spider nearest him. There seemed to be a glow around
it as a thin strand of silk ran from it, adding to the already considerable web
in which it sat. Then he realised that all the spiders in the street were lit
with this unnatural glow. Mrs Wilson put her hand on his shoulder and whispered
to him. “Just relax, Michel. Let them tell you what they will.”

At first
there was nothing. Then, at the very far edge of hearing, a high tuneful sound
began to scratch at his mind. Michel turned his head this way and that to try
and catch the sounds.

Then he
realised he didn’t need to use his ears. He could hear the music in his head.
He turned to speak to Mrs. Wilson but she was already fading from sight as
pictures formed behind his eyes. “It’s starting,” he whispered. “It’s start—”

BOOK: Songs From Spider Street
10.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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