This story features Arachne, who previously appeared in A Spider’s Solitude
Humans aren’t the only ones who tell ghost stories. Us bats like to tell them as well; you may find that amusing given how many human ghost stories begin with bats fluttering around, but it’s true. When we’re in caves, hanging among the stalactites, we speculate about what could be lurking in those caves. When we fly around the graveyards, and you’re wondering what’s going to come out of those graves, we are too.
Those graveyards, the caves and the abandoned houses were all places where I could be found, because ever since I was a pup, I wanted to see a ghost. When I heard a story about a ghostly bat that drifted around a graveyard, I flapped around that graveyard night after night, sleeping in the nearby trees during the day in hopes of catching a glimpse of that spectre. Though I didn’t see it during that period, I kept returning there.
It became, if you’ll excuse the pun, one of my favourite haunts. So too was this crumbling old mansion on the outskirts of town. There, I could get a decent conversation.
Not from any ghosts, even though it looked like the perfect setting for an archetypical ghost story, but from a rat who made the place her home. Mavis, her name was. She had heard as many ghost stories as I had, and so she tried to fill the ghost-shaped hole this unhaunted house had. Whenever a human entered, she would run under the floorboards, scratch and slap against the walls to at least make it easier to pretend there was a ghost in the house. She had even learned how to write English specifically for this purpose, and so the floor was covered with “Get out” and similar phrases all scratched in by a rat’s claw.
I wanted to help her with this, but never could find a way to. One idea I had was to drape a bedsheet over myself and fly around the house, but Mavis shot down the idea saying, ‘Ghosts are better when you can’t see them.’ So whenever I came to visit Mavis and there was a human looking for a ghost, I’d fly around, swoop down, squeak – that was enough, for most humans see bats as heralds for ghosts.
One night I came for a visit and saw Mavis sitting, looking up at a cobweb. Usually cobwebs weren’t that interesting to us – there were far too many around the house, after all – but this one included a picture, depicting the house or at least how it might have looked pristine. My first thought when seeing this was that Mavis did this, for if a rat could learn to write, she could certainly learn to create art, but when I asked her if this was the case, she shook her head and pointed to the web.
‘If you like ghost stories,’ said Mavis, ‘you’ll love who’s showed up.’
Down from that web crawled a spider, who looked at me and waved. Though I was certain there were several spiders in the house, I had never seen any and none of them certainly paid me attention.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘a bat, a rat and a spider. The holy trifecta of haunted house animals.’
‘Hello,’ she said, and though she was smaller than me, I could hear her clearly. ‘My name is Arachne.’
‘I’m Frank,’ I replied.
‘Hello, Frank,’ she said, ‘I hear you want to meet a ghost, or well, be a ghost even. Well, I’m more or less a ghost myself.’
‘You don’t really look like a ghost,’ I laughed.
‘Have you ever seen a ghost?’
‘Well then,’ Arachne replied, before telling me her own little “ghost story”. She claimed that she was once a human woman and an expert weaver, who boasted she was better than the goddess of wisdom Athena. Then she was visited by Athena, and they had a contest to see who was the best weaver; the loser was to never touch a weave again.
‘And what I weaved that day…well, let’s just say you had to be over 18 to look at them.’
Because of that, Arachne lost and since she couldn’t imagine life without again touching a weave, she hung herself and Athena turned her into the first spider so she could weave for eternity – even after all these centuries she didn’t know if the intent was punishment or pity. ‘But who cares,’ she said, ‘not when I can do things like this.’ She gestured to the web.
‘So you’re immortal then,’ said Mavis, ‘would be nice if I were. Only got about a couple of human years, me.’
‘I wouldn’t recommend it,’ sighed Arachne, ‘I have unlimited time for my art, but my children and my children’s children are all mortal. You’ve heard of Medusa, haven’t you?’ That was a story humans told that bats had picked up and told to each other, so I nodded, and so did Mavis. ‘She was mortal, but her sisters weren’t. I still see them time and time again, still mourning their sister after all these centuries. And my offspring…’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
‘I’ve lived hundreds of years,’ continued Arachne, ‘and while it seems the world has changed, humans haven’t. No matter what I do, no matter how much I whisper into their ears and wave my forelegs, they continue to crush my children. You know, no matter what Athena’s intent was, I’m glad I’m not human anymore.’
‘Yeah,’ I laughed, attempting to lighten the atmosphere, ‘who’d want to be human?’
‘But you’d like to be a ghost, wouldn’t you?’ All eight of Arachne’s eyes seemed to widen. ‘You don’t want to die, you don’t want to leave this world. You want to flap around the Earth forever, and perhaps scare people while you’re at it. Well, let me tell you, scaring people gets old fast.
‘Besides, why wouldn’t you want to pass on to the afterlife? Hades I hear is a pretty nice guy.’
She told me all about Hades. Not only him but all the gods. Night after night I’d come to visit her and she’d have more stories to tell. The more I visited her, the more I expected the clouds to part and be greeted by Zeus, Hera and others.
They never did show up though. I guess they know ghosts are better when you can’t see them.