Bats Rats and Spiders

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.


A Glass of Beer

This story contains alcohol, violence and some sexual references.


Beer. The universal love that unites all worlds. Of all the foods and beverages in the entire galaxy, beer was the only one all alien races enjoyed. Humans drank beer in times of celebration, and in time, so did Corkalons and Mattabebbies and Pollerans like me. Many pints of beer were drunk when Zaebos was finally destroyed a year ago, and many pints were drunk on this day, the anniversary of his destruction. When the Constellation Crusaders invaded his ship, and he and famous space hero Lance Strengthhold faced each other man-to-man. Zaebos fell into one of his own pits and was devoured by a grathvort. Glasses were raised when the news travelled, beginning parties so loud they shook the entire cosmos.

I, however, was not drinking a beer to celebrate. Humans drank beer sometimes to drown their sorrows, and so did aliens, and that’s what I was doing. Looking at my reflection in the liquid with my single eye, drumming the counter with my thin fingers. I sat alone, and the various creatures in the club left me alone. The reason I came here was to dance with others and socialise, have a good time and forget everything, yet all my body wanted to do was sit here and drink.

I came here to talk to people, didn’t I?

Have a nice chat, share some jokes, tell secrets…

I need to tell someone.

When I finished my beer, I was certain my body was going to allow me to go up there and dance with the others, yet I couldn’t help but sit at the counter. It was like I was paralysed. Sitting here on my own gave me a strange sense of calm, and I certainly needed that at the moment.

Just as the thought crossed my mind to buy another beer, one was plopped right in front of me. I turned askance and saw a Habberian, a furry humanoid creature with a big red nose. He smiled at me, yet it looked forced. I returned that with a forced smile of my own, though I actually did find it in me to talk to him.

‘I know what this is,’ I said.

‘Oh no,’ said the Habberian, ‘just thought you looked a little down.’

‘You don’t have to pretend,’ I replied, ‘if you want to sleep with me, all you have to do is say so.’ Yes, that was another reason I came here; I actually thought a one-night-stand would actually keep my mind off things. Maybe make me actually see sex as something good again.

The Habberian sighs. ‘I don’t tell jokes.’

Oh Sedd. Could it be?

I took a closer look at him, and I was certain it could be no other.

‘Oh, sorry,’ he said, scratching the back of his neck, ‘I’m not good at conversation.’

‘Don’t worry,’ I said as I put a hand on his shoulder, ‘I completely understand. My name’s Jonna by the way.’ It wasn’t the name I was born with, but it was the name I used in public.

‘I’m…Bebo.’ That wasn’t the name he was born with either. Standing before me was Diddy-Dee, former member of the Constellation Crusaders. Their comic relief. The one who always cracked wise and made stupid noises. I don’t think I had really met him before, but I recognised him from footage of his team I watched (and I was surprised no-one else at the club seemed to). He was let go because, in Strengthhold ’s own words ‘he was bloody annoying and useless’.

I have to tell someone, I thought. I have to tell him.

After a moment of awkward silence, Diddy then asked me to come up with him on the dance floor. At last, my body co-operated with my mind. He held me by the hands and twirled me around and we slid and we waltzed and again I felt calm wash over me. The other aliens ignored us, and we ignored them; the club had become our own little private planet.

But we needed somewhere more private.

I asked him if he wanted to come over to my flat, and he replied, ‘Sure’, so off we went. He had taken public transport to get to the club, so he sat by me as I drove back home. Neither of us said a word on the drive back to the flat.

He did speak as we entered my flat however: ‘You know.’

I sat down, rubbing my face. ‘Yes, I do.’

‘Well then, go ahead. Get it over with. Throw rubbish on me and upload it on the internet. I’m ready.’

‘Well, don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I’m not going to humiliate you. In fact, I brought you here because I have a fake name too. My real name is Nessa.’ Diddy took a step backwards with bulging eyes, but I knew he didn’t quite remember who I really was. ‘I used to work for Zaebos.’

‘Oh, you’re having me on, aren’t you?’

‘No, it’s true. I built machines for him, I occasionally helped with his plans, and I even made his coffee. Look.’ I went and got some proof. Blueprints, notes I had taken for him, photos, even personalised pens.

He pointed at me, his finger trembling. ‘How could you?’

I sat down again. ‘You know the thing about Zaebos? He wore a big black cloak with a pointed collar, a big black helmet with angry eyes and fangs moulded on and big black armour with spikes and skulls. He let us know who he was, and let me tell you, that’s better than the rulers of my planet. You ever hear about Queen Rellin? She always stated that she loved her people and would do anything for them…and yet she refused resources from other planets, refused refugees from other planets, and slaughtered millions of her own people. She kept saying she did it because she wanted what was best for us.

‘Zaebos didn’t have any pretence. Nor was he a coward, which is more than I can say for some of my leaders.’

I got up off my seat and came closer to Diddy. He was still standing there. I fully expected him to run away the second I told him what I was, yet there he stood.

‘My mother was a skilled robot builder, even if the robot factory where she worked had been closed down, and I followed in her footsteps, building little contraptions to help us with our daily lives. Zaebos saw the things both my mother and I had worked on, and he recruited us both. He threatened to kill my father if we refused.’

‘That’s horrible.’

‘I built him robot warriors, robot soldiers…you know, it had always been my dream to create better, stronger soldiers made from metal, and I finally had the resources to do so. Just wish it could be under happier circumstances.

‘Zaebos was especially proud of my work, and I was allowed to come aboard his ship as he went to conquer more galaxies. So I was there when I saw him survey and train his armies. He kept them well-fed and provided them with comfortable quarters, certainly something the armies on my planets didn’t have. I created robotic soldiers and suits for the soldiers, and I even had some say in our battle plans.

‘I was there when he conquered the planet Boolon, and I was even there when you were still on the team. You even stole my blueprints, as I remember. I don’t think we met though…oh, you still haven’t left.’

Diddy sat down in front of me. He opened his mouth to say something but sat silent.

‘Are you that desperate?’ I asked, ‘You still want to sleep with me, even though I worked for your nemesis, just because you couldn’t find anyone else?’

‘No, it’s not that…it’s just….’

‘I loved him.’

I said that as if by instinct.

Now it looked like he was going to faint.

‘I loved him,’ I forced myself to repeat, ‘I said before he had a power and majesty that the rulers of my planet could only dream of having. He strode magnificently through the halls, and he stood firm before his subjects. I watched him, I followed him, and I imagined him holding his hands in mine, making the galaxy our own. He wanted to be King of the Galaxy, and I saw myself as his Queen.

‘Day after day, I would continue making him his machines, talking with him about his plans and making him his coffee, yet when I did, it felt like there was something scratching inside me, ready to burst out.

‘But I couldn’t very well tell him I loved him. I found myself telling myself that “He is the most powerful overlord in the galaxy, you shouldn’t even be working for him”. I imagined what my mother and father would think, if I could live with myself with this in my head. Yet the thought of us together, sitting beside each other on golden thrones stayed in my mind and I just wanted it to go away.’

I was going to tell him.

I was.

‘So I killed him.

‘On the day he was to battle Lance Strengthhold, he demanded three coffees before the battle. I poisoned the third. The Crusaders will tell you otherwise, but he collapsed right in the middle of the battle, and Strengthhold simply fed his corpse to the grathvort. I should know, I watched it, right before I made my escape.

‘I…I was the one who did it. Me. I just thought if he were gone…I just thought I shouldn’t have been having these thoughts, and if he went away, then the thoughts would…’ At that moment, I buried my head in my hands and wept, torrents of tears gushing from my single eye. I don’t know how long I sat weeping, but when I lifted my hands, I saw Diddy look at me with a sympathetic expression, his hand on my shoulder.

‘I have a confession to make too,’ replied Diddy. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an Intergalactic Police badge.

He explained to me how his dismissal from the Constellation Crusaders inspired him to travel the galaxy, expanding his horizons and learning how to be a better hero. Soon, he decided to do what his former teammates were too busy basking in glory to do; find Zaebos’ remaining followers and bring them to justice.

‘Well, if that’s the case,’ I said, raising my arms, ‘go ahead and cuff me. I am a murderer after all.’

Diddy sighed. ‘Then you’ll be getting punished for what Lance is getting celebrated for. Your account of what happened certainly sounds more genuine than his.’

He sat down and placed his hand on my shoulder again. We sat there like that for what seemed like hours until he went into the kitchen and got us a drink.

A glass of beer.

We just sat down in silence and drank beer.

The universal love that unites all worlds.

The drink that unites all species.

That united us.

Succeed or Sustain

‘It’s the show where a random person from a random dimension is either paid with money, or pays with their life, it’s Succeed or Sustain! And here’s your host, he’s blue and gruesome, it’s Horriterri Ball!’


‘Thank you, Gothgort! Welcome to Succeed or Sustain, where we grab a random creature from a random dimension, and bring him here to answer some questions and complete some challenges. If he succeeds, he gains the equivalent of one million schlibbles in his homeland’s currency, and if he fails, he pays with his life.

‘Today’s contestant comes from the planet…Earth, from the United Kingdom. Please welcome Harold Jamesman!

‘Now Harold, tell us a bit about yourself. How do you feel about being the latest contestant on Succeed or Sustain? Come on, don’t be shy. I understand you have stage fright, but this is your big chance for fame and riches!

‘Still not talking? Well, show must go on. Okay, Harold, here’s the rules. I will ask you a few questions and after that, you will be given a few challenges. If you complete most of the challenges and answer most of the questions correctly, you will win big money! If you fail most of these challenges, you will have to forfeit your life!

‘Okay, are you ready? First question: What is the staple diet of a screeching Squillywaddle?

‘Is that your answer? I’m sorry, Harold “Get me out of here” is not the correct answer.

‘Harold, this is a family show, no profanity please.

‘Next question, how did Malevo the Awful invade the Land of Sloot?

‘Harold, you can’t leave yet! There’s still challenges to complete! Don’t you want to run fifty miles through The Swamp of a Thousand Screams?

‘Harold, we do not allow violence on this show. We treasure the big logo we have on stage, Harold, don’t try to use the “T” as a makeshift weapon!

‘Don’t try hurting the audience, Harold, they came to see you!


‘Yes, I think it’s necessary to use the ray guns.

‘I’m sorry, Harold, but for your uncouth behaviour, I’m afraid you’re going to have to forfeit your life, sustaining me! Think of it as a constellation prize! You get your life force transferred into my body, so I can live longer and continue to bring this wonderful show to the public for many years to come!’

The Sandman and the Student

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s done this. I’m a university student, right, and while I have a class in the morning and an essay due in a few days, I spend all night guzzling down caffeine and playing Warped Wizards V. I had already finished the main story, and yet my save file noted I was only 25 percent done, and there were other quests to complete, other objects to find.

So, at the stroke of midnight, I delve into the world of Alongalong and search for all the glowing green crystals. Then my power could increase and I could finally rid this world of every iota of evil.

I know I should have said “my character” there, but at that point, the player character and I were one and the same. No longer was I in my flat, but in the Fearful Forests, goblins awaiting around every corner. I swore I could even smell the burning fires to the left and the horse feces to the right.

So when a wizard with a long grey beard and blue robes patterned with silver stars and moons appeared in my bedroom, I thought little of it until he spoke.

‘It’s 3am, you know. You should be asleep.’ My first thought at this was ‘Oh, I should be asleep.’ The second thought, which I said out loud, was ‘Who are you?’

‘I’m the Sandman,’ said the wizard, ‘I sprinkled some of my sleeping sand on you, but it seems all that sugary stuff you drank counteracted that. Now, please let me sprinkle some…’ He turned to my now-paused game. ‘Hey, what’s this?’

I told him about the game I chose to play, and then I ended the world.

The next night, I didn’t sleep again. Nobody slept. The day after that, and the days following that, traffic accidents skyrocketed. Politicians and businessmen made stupider decisions than usual. The whole town looked like a zombie apocalypse.

All because the Sandman needed to collect every glowing green crystal.

Unicorns Love to Read

Was my favourite book
When I was young

It was about a magical unicorn
A majestic glowing unicorn
Talking about his favourite books
Books about adventure
Books about wonder
Books about fairies and pirates and monsters
Books I liked to read
The unicorn was just like me

So when I had read
“Unicorns Love to Read”
Over and over and over
I took it into the forest
And left it there
For a unicorn to read

I even put a note
“Dear Mr. Unicorn,

I went back to the forest the next day
To the spot where I placed the book
There I saw a unicorn
A magical unicorn
A majestic glowing unicorn
Just like the one from the book I gave him

He had seen the book
He was eating its pages

Silly Bunny

I had a hat with two bottoms. A top bottom and a bottom bottom, with the top bottom covering Silly Bunny. I convinced the audience, however, that the hat had only one bottom, when I showed the top bottom to the audience before pulling Silly Bunny out from under the top bottom. Classics never die.

My rabbit in a hat had a story, however. Silly Bunny might have been a soft toy – two soft toys, actually – but I wanted him to feel real to the audience. So when I pulled him out of the hat, he had a sad face, on which I would comment. I would give a different reason every show – the store was out of carrots, his girlfriend left him, he was worried about the economy. Whatever the reason, the audience would say “Awww.”

Then I would invite a random child from the audience to come up on stage and try to make Silly Bunny laugh. The child would make a funny face, tell a joke, but would never get Silly Bunny to crack a smile. I did give them an “A” for effort, as well as a free magic wand – one that doubled as a pencil.

I had two Silly Bunny plush toys – one with a frown and one with a smile. I had to convince the audience the two were one and the same.

I had a box with two doors, both leading to a separate compartment. One compartment was empty (A), the other held the smiling Silly Bunny (B). I had to convince the audience the box had only one door, for I made sure only one side was visible at a time and that my hand was covering where I had written A and B.

As I put Sad Silly Bunny into Door A, I told the audience this was a special “Happy Box” sure to lighten Silly Bunny’s mood. As I spun the box around – the magician’s hand is quicker than the audience’s eye – I told the audience to shout out the magic words. After they did, I made sure Door B would face them, and from there I’d pull out Happy Silly Bunny.

This was not exactly how it went during my final performance.

During that performance, after the audience screamed out the magic words, I stopped spinning the box, making sure it was Door B facing the audience. I looked through my fingers and clearly saw the “B” I had written, yet when I opened the door, there was frowning Silly Bunny.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘I think we need to shout a little louder for the spell to work.’

I spun the box again, with the audience screaming louder. I spun it and spun it longer than usual, telling the audience I was using more powerful magic. This time I stopped the box with Door A facing the audience, assuming that I had simply mixed up the two doors for whatever reason. I opened Door A to reveal a smiling Silly Bunny.

A Silly Bunny smiling wider than usual.

The audience applauded, yet I felt a slight nausea at the soft bunny’s smile. The nausea grew as I looked closer and found bits of fluff and a severed synthetic bunny ear at Silly Bunny’s feet and a hole in the back wall separating the two compartments.

I opened Door B. The compartment was empty, but there was something written on the back wall near the hole:

“I was sad because I was hungry.”