Authors: A.L. Tyler
The Spider Catcher
Redemption Book 1
By A.L. Tyler
More books by A.L. Tyler
The Waldgrave Series
Arrival of the Traveler
Deception of the Magician
Secrets of the Guardian
The Spider Catcher
Shattered Minotaur (coming October 2015)
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The Spider Catcher
Redemption Book 1
Published by A.L. Tyler
Copyright 2013 A.L. Tyler
Story and Cover Art © A.L. Tyler 2013. All rights reserved.
Swirls brushes by Obsidian Dawn, http://www.obsidiandawn.com.
Edited by KA Roth and A.D. Keller.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination and used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
This one is most definitely for the editors, who agreed that the original first book had too many flashbacks.
Here is the story, in order of how it happened, as far as we know…
Table of Contents
When Ember Gillespie was six, she already had a crick in her neck from looking up at all of the adults in her life. Unfortunately, Ember was also frequently ignored.
“Mom, can I--?”
“One at a time, Ember.” Gina didn't even turn to look. She had picked up a cookbook and pretended to read it while she shot poisonous glances at Danielle Cassington, the shopkeeper, who was behind the counter at the back of the store unloading and sorting a new shipment.
Danielle knew she was receiving dirty looks, but didn’t care. She only smiled slightly, because Gina hated everyone on the island, excepting her own mother, her two daughters, and Charles, the grocer. Nobody counted Charles though; he was an outsider.
Hugging her books to her chest, Ember pursed her lips and looked back and forth between Danielle and her mother. Danielle had a lot of daughters, but none of them had fathers, and that meant that Ember wasn’t allowed to play with them. The reason had never made sense to Ember, because she had never met her own father. Her mother assured her that he did exist, but the fathers of Danielle's children apparently did not, and that made all the difference.
Gina had Thalia firmly by the hand, and Thalia was also staring at Danielle. Barely ten months Ember’s senior, Thalia was the other
daughter; the one that didn’t read, much less demand new books. Having Ember’s exact appearance and Gina’s demeanor, Thalia was who Ember often worried she should have been in life.
Thalia was staring at her now, with her wide, calm eyes. Ember licked her lips and turned her attention back to her mother.
If history was any indicator, Gina wasn’t planning to stop glaring at Danielle any time soon. Ember stood diplomatically in front of her and stared up across the many furry bulges of her faux rabbit coat at her mother’s sour face. She tugged at the waist of Gina’s dress until her mother looked down with green, calculating eyes.
“They're short books.” Ember reasoned, holding up the books, which really weren’t that short. Living on an island where there was little else to do, Ember had become adept at reading, and that made all books far too short. “I'm going to finish this one by tomorrow, so I'll need this one--Mom!”
Gina was looking at Danielle again. She glanced back at Ember before returning her gaze to shopkeeper, and Ember looked over, too. She watched as Danielle took one dog-eared book from the box and then another, looked over the binding and then put them in their respective stacks. Ember didn't know where Danielle ordered used books from; on the island, there weren’t enough people reading to warrant a new book store, let alone a used one. In her mind, she secretly believed there was a warehouse somewhere that turned out used books, with workers lined up in rows to add notes in the columns and rub each one down with dust, coffee stains, and the faint smells of old people.
Ember’s attention snapped back to Gina, nearly causing her to strain a muscle in her neck. She had to stayed focused on the books, or tomorrow promised to be painfully boring. “But, I need two this time, because this one is short, and...Mom, look at how short it is...”
“One book, Ember.” Gina repeated quietly, without looking.
"One book.” Thalia echoed, looking Ember superiorly in the eye. They had the same eyes, light blue, though when Thalia acted the way she just had, Ember couldn’t imagine her own eyes ever looking so simple. “That’s the rule.”
Frowning at her sister, Ember stamped her foot. “Will you please look at how short the books are?!”
Gina looked down at Ember, who stole one quick glance at Danielle, who was now openly grinning as she went about her routine. She tried to tame the snarl on her lip as she turned her burning gaze on Ember. “One book,” she said with finality, snatching one of the books from the girl and slapping it onto the shelf before grabbing her upper arm and dragging her from the store.
“Ouch!” Ember screamed. “You're hurting me!”
Gina wasn’t actually hurting her, and both Ember and Gina knew it, but the girl continued to shriek like she had been set on fire. As Ember dug her heels in against the grain of the carpet in the store, and then the tile by the door, and then the wood plank walkway outside, Thalia remained unflustered, pacing along while dutifully holding Gina’s other hand.
When they had cleared the town, Gina let Ember go and watched the girl pout and swing her arm angrily down to her side before hugging her one book to her chest. Crouching down before her, she rested her hands on Ember’s shoulders. “I told you, one book. That's the rule. You will apologize for yelling and making a scene.”
Ember stared solemnly at the book in her hands until her mother took it away. She looked up and caught the slightest glimpse of Thalia standing behind her mother, her tiny hands tucked into the woolen pockets of her blue jacket, an expression as serious as death on her face. Thalia’s hair was done up in a fancy braid because she could hold still long enough; Ember’s was in a sloppy ponytail, because she couldn’t. She hated the feeling of the brush yanking on her hair, and Gina’s sharp, claw-like nails digging at her scalp, but every day she envied Thalia’s pretty hair, and the way it sat untouched atop her head.
“Why do you pay more attention to Danielle than you do to me?” Ember asked quietly. Her nose was cold, and she reached up to use her sleeve to wipe at it. She was always drippy in the cold, and her eyes were on Thalia once again. Thalia’s nose never dripped.
“Because I don't like her.” Gina replied simply, touching Ember’s cheek to redirect her gaze. “You will apologize before you get your book back.”
“I think Danielle’s nice. She lets me borrow the books and orders the ones I want.” Ember mumbled at her hands, her cheeks blushing pink as the cold set in. It wasn’t usually so bad when they kept moving, and Gina seemed to like to use the cold as a tool to gain faster obedience. “If you didn’t like me, then would you look at me more?”
When her mother didn't answer her, she looked up. Ember expected her to look angry or upset, but instead, Gina was frowning. She looked distracted again as her eyes darted back and forth across her daughter’s face. Ember sighed deeply; she had never understood her family. It seemed that they were constantly interested in her during her most mundane moments, but could never spare a second when she actually wanted their attention.
Ember looked back down to her chilled, red fingers, snaking them together for warmth. “I'm sorry I yelled and made a scene,” she said without any real regret.
Still frowning, Gina pressed Ember’s book back to her chest and pulled her into a hug, planting a warm kiss from her rough chapped lips onto Ember’s cold brow. She carried Ember home on her hip like she was a much younger child, with Thalia still holding her other hand.
She didn’t set her back down until they reached the entryway. Excited to get at her new adventure, Ember made for the stairs.
“Ember!” Gina called after her. “What's the rule about books?”
“Only one!” Ember called back.
rule about books?”
Ember stopped, turned, and rushed into the kitchen, her shoes making clapping, scratching noises against the grime-worn wood floor. She placed the book carefully into her Nan's hands as the old woman smiled down at her. Gina walked into the kitchen, throwing on her apron.
“Oh, my!” Nan exclaimed, turning the book over in her hands before flipping it open. “This is a short one, isn't it?”
Ember waited for her mother to sigh and turn around, looking at the two of them with an exasperated expression as she shook her head.
“I told you so.” Ember grinned.
“’Lia, take Ember and go play in the garden.” Gina retorted.
Nan ran a hand through Ember’s hair, compulsively attempting to groom out her rebellious streak, and then turned her toward the door and gave her a swat on the behind. “Go on--I'll read it over and you can have it back after dinner.”
Thalia came and took Ember by the hand, and they opened the back door and balanced down the stone steps into the garden.
rule about used books was that adults had to read them first. After having had several risqué titles approved, Ember had decided that Gina wasn’t worried about the content of the books themselves, but rather the notes in the columns. It just fine to read dirty words or things that adults did, so long as they were written by famous authors and not bookworm nobodies—if there was ink in the margins, the books weren’t approved.
The garden was a large space behind the house that was fenced off by a great, hand-stacked stone wall. The wall was fully closed from the back of the house to where it wrapped around the side yard, and small animals often nested in the largest gaps between the flat stones. In the summer, Gina’s garden was filled with all manner of fruit trees, flowers, vegetables, and greenery. Bright red apples and yellow lemons hung heavy on the branches in the cool summer mists, and snap peas and beans climbed up the stacked wall to escape over the other side. There was a section for growing potatoes—both the white ones for mashing and the orange ones for fries—and a vegetable garden with carrots, cabbage, broccoli, rhubarb, and squash. The tomato plants grew so tall that they had to use a small ladder to collect the fruit from the upper boughs.
However, now it was late October, and things had mostly died down to a large pile of dead foliage and old pine needles. Thalia picked up one of the jump ropes, shaking off the dead leaves with little fear of the creepy crawlers that might have been hiding there, and immediately started to trot around the yard with it. Ember pushed her hands deep into her pockets as her teeth chattered against the dropping temperature that came with a premature northern night.
Thalia’s feet crunched on the leaves. “One, two, three, four, five...”
Thalia didn't like to play with others, and often neglected her sister, who might have preferred the company. Ember liked to trick herself into believing that Thalia liked being alone. It wasn't really that she liked being alone--she liked being with her mother and Nan. She just didn't like being with Ember, and oftentimes, Ember feared that Thalia thought she was a figment of her imagination. Once or twice, she had lived in real fear that Thalia would become bored with her someday, and her figment self would dissolve into nothing.
But as a real flesh-and-blood child, Ember was incapable, as many times as she had tried. Sometimes, when it was time for bed, or when Ember found herself alone in a corner, she would shut her eyes tight, pretending that she really had been a figment. With the world blacked out to nothing, she would imagine that she was Thalia, the girl with the pretty hair and the perfect demeanor, and that Ember had been someone that she had only pretended.
But it never came true.
"...seventeen, eighteen, nineteen...”
Alone with herself, Ember stared up at the sky, and the trees, and she felt the breeze blowing through the fabric of her jacket and clothes and touching her skin. She shivered with both the cold and the sensation.
“...thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three...”
She walked to the wall at the back of the garden and started searching for birds' nests or signs of ground squirrels in the gaps and holes. She stared intently, hoping they hadn’t all gone away to wherever they hibernated, though it was getting late in the year and late in the day. Dragging her hand along the wall as she went, over the sharp edges and unforgiving hardness, she turned the corner into the side yard and heard her Nan and mother talking about something. It was something upsetting and serious, by the sound of it. Ember only sighed heavily, and then looked up to stare at the sky as she tried to ignore the voices. The sky was darkening, but it was still too light for stars.
When the vertigo finally made her dizzy, she looked back down at the far end of the side yard. Where the alleyway made by the stone wall ended, there was something red on the wall, and the presence of the red thing piqued her interest. It wasn’t a natural red, like one would see on flowers or birds; this red was artificially bright. It was not from her mother’s garden.
She walked toward the pretty thing and picked it up. It was a scrap of cheap ribbon, like the kind used to tie a child’s helium balloon to their wrist.
Startled, Ember looked up to see a boy sitting on top of the wall. She was sure that he hadn't been there before. He wasn't quite a man, though he certainly appeared more of an adult than a child. He had dark hair and deep, dark eyes, and long limbs which he had composed around himself like casual accomplices.
Ember smiled at his friendly confidence. The stranger smiled back.
“Hello.” Ember said, intrigued with the turn of events. She quickly turned around to be sure Thalia wasn’t going to ruin her fun. She wasn’t even in sight. “Is this yours?” Ember asked, turning back and holding out the bit of ribbon. It seemed rather a melancholy treasure without its balloon, frayed at one end and clipped straight at the other.
“Yes.” The stranger smiled more broadly, revealing starkly white teeth. “But I am giving it to you. Do you like red?”
Ember stared back down at the red ribbon, and suddenly realized that she liked the color red very much, though she had never considered it before. She was also oddly pleased that the stranger would find the bit of ribbon of enough value to give to someone like it was a gift. Her mother would have called it a piece of trash. “Yes, I like red. Red is my favorite color.”