Spyders, Seafoam, and Slow Rainy Days
There were muffled voices in a room far down the hall. Rain droned on the roof and the room was a bit too warm. The afternoon was flat grey and time was in no hurry to pass.
Varston lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling and making as little noise as possible. The ceiling had been plastered over in some effort to undo the water damage from wet days like today. Whoever had plastered the ceiling had scraped it flat in little fan shapes, tiny rollicking waves. The ceiling was like seafoam.
Across the room in a parallel bed, Hale rolled over in his sleep. Hale was a blue Lupe, and he was Varston's roommate. It was his customary habit was to take a midday nap.
Thunder rumbled quietly, and Hale's Ukali lifted its head, its eyes wide and alert. It glanced at Varston, around the room, and went back to its nap upon finding no imminent danger. They say Petpets resemble their owners, and Hale's Ukali was an easy-going, sleepy-headed sloth.
The purple hand of a Draik floated into Varston's vision above him. He blinked. The hand was his own hand, absently tracing the patterns of the seafoam on the ceiling. He wasn't the type to sleep during the day; usually while Hale was napping, Varston did classwork, or studied, or read, and stayed out of their shared room. It was only today. Today was slow, today resisted action, today was the type of day that needed to be sacrificed to lethargy so that tomorrow could be productive again.
Muffled voices from down the hall again. Most days it didn't bother Varston to hear other students with their friends. He could always convince himself that he had urgent schoolwork, or a book more interesting than company. And when Hale was awake it didn't really matter whether Varston had one friend or a thousand. It was only when Hale was asleep that Varston became restless.
Varston slid out of bed to drink some water and look at his bookshelf. He couldn't decide whether he wanted to read something familiar and soothing, or something engaging and distracting. No, a book wouldn't hold his attention. He was in a creative mood. He wanted to toss paint at a canvas, he wanted to compose poetry, he wanted to create a masterpiece. He looked around for a piece of paper. There was a pile of lined paper on Hale's desk, buried under a dirty mug and a pile of books. Varston carefully tugged a piece out, watching his roommate for signs of consciousness. Hale remained asleep.
Varston placed the paper on his own neat desk, lining it up parallel with the edge and arranging a pencil next to it.
He pulled out his chair and sat. He thought for a bit as the rain grew heavier and steadier. He lifted the pencil and touched its tip to the paper, an idea sparkling in him, so brilliant and consuming it hurt.
Nothing brilliant came out.
He forgot what his idea had been.
Hale wriggled and wagged his tail in his sleep, and despite himself Varston smiled. It was always obvious when Lupes were dreaming about chasing Symols.
Varston put the paper back on Hale's desk with a mild sense of frustration. His raggedy umbrella with twisted spokes and an unpleasant habit of flipping inside out sat by the door. It taunted him. He couldn't use it for days like today, when the rain came down heavy, and yet he couldn't afford to throw it out.
A group of friends walked down the hall, their conversation almost comprehensible through the door. They went into someone else's room and tossed the door closed. The walls shook and Varston flinched. Living in dorms was the worst. Hale's Ukali opened its eyes and yawned. It glanced over at the paper that Varston had replaced on Hale's desk as if accusing Varston of theft.
It's not theft, Varston wanted to explain. Hale had insisted, over and over, that Varston could use any of Hale's possessions. He was constantly trying to offer Varston his food, his bus pass, his coat, his rain boots, his umbrella-
Somehow Varston could never bring himself to take advantage of Hale's generosity when Hale was looking. He felt as though doing so would encourage Hale to keep offering it. But in moments like those, when Hale was asleep and all Varston needed was one thin slip of paper, the offer seemed more substantial.
Something dark and many-legged scuttled through the corner of Varston's vision. Fiery, desperate adrenaline coursed through Varston's body, and his first instinct was to cry out for Hale to find the creature and slap it with a slipper, and then he remembered Hale was sleeping, and instead he considered for a brief moment bursting into the hallway and asking someone else in the dorm to come and do the deed, and then he remembered that he was taking Advanced Potionry and Accelerated Mathmagics and Analytical Poetry, and he was not a child and therefore had no claim to being afraid of small scuttly things. It had darted across the ceiling and down the wall and under Varston's bed. Varston crouched and peered under his bed, and then got to his knees for a better angle.
Three pairs of red eyes gleamed out at him. Varston shuddered. How was he to get it out?
He stood and gently prodded Hale's Ukali awake. It let itself be picked up, hanging limply from his hands. He placed it on the floor beside his bed. It looked at him, blinking sleep from its eyes. Varston gave it an encouraging push towards the bed. It didn't understand what he wanted. He pointed to the three gleaming eyes. Hale's Ukali climbed onto Hale's bed and curled up and went back to sleep.
Varston scanned the room for something he could tease the creature out with. He grabbed Hale's ruler and stuck it under his bed and prodded at the creature. The creature crept further into the darkness. Varston knew with absolute certainty that if he went to find something longer to prod with, he would return and the creature would have disappeared.
Lightning flashed, turning the whole room black and white. The creature had six legs—a Spyder. Thunder rumbled and the rain drummed harder. The Spyder darted back and forth, its legs tense.
Oh. Varston wasn't the one who was really afraid.
Varston tapped the floor with his claw. "C'mere," he whispered. "Why don't you come on out. I'm not going to hurt you."
The Spyder took a step forward, and then a distrustful step back.
"I'm sorry about the Ukali, and the ruler. It's just that I'm as scared of you as you are of me. I guess we're scared of each other."
The Spyder moved further back into the darkness under Varston's bed, and Varston grumbled, "You really can't stay under there." What did Spyders eat? Could he coax it out with cheese?
Varston got down onto his stomach and laid his cheek against the floor. He was level with the Spyder. "I didn't mean to hurt you," he breathed into the space under his bed. "You can come out." Varston slowly slid his arm half under the bed. He let it lay there for a minute, a limp diplomat, absorbing the coolness of the floor. The Spyder was unconvinced by this embassy. "C'mon," Varston coaxed. "It's much nicer out here."
The Spyder took a hesitant step, and then a light, bristly leg touched Varston's hand. He took several shallow, uneven breaths. It was crawling up his arm.
As the Spyder crept towards his shoulder, Varston slowly pulled himself away from the bed and off the floor. He bit his tongue, fighting the impulse to shake the Spyder away, forced his gaze to the ceiling and repeated to himself, seafoam, seafoam, seafoam, and when he was fully standing he saw in his peripheral vision that the Spyder was perched on his shoulder like a Beekadoodle. Shivers of disgust trickled down Varson's body. He hated Spyders, he had hated them his whole life, there was just something about them, the way they moved, they way they hid in dark places, he didn't trust them, he didn't like them, he didn't want them near him-
Then he turned his head and looked at the Spyder, and he saw how soft and furry it was, how round and intelligent and gentle its eyes were, how its body had a warm little heat and a beating heart, and how it trembled when the thunder rumbled. All his horror was swept away with the tide, and when the tide came back it brought a tender pity.
He began, "Listen, I-"
"You're like me." As Hale would say, clever but shy. "You can stay. You can even stay under the bed if you want. I'll be right above you. You'll know where I am."
He let the Spyder scuttle down his arm and back under the bed. Then he laid down on top of his bed and gazed up at the ceiling. A hand floated into view above him, drawing vague shapes. His own hand.
The rain had lightened. Hale shuffled around, and yawned theatrically. "Hey," Hale said, rubbing his eyes. "Were you napping?"
"Not really," said Varston.
"Oh yeah," Hale said. "You never nap during the day." He stretched out across his bed, making a pleased sound. "Was it raining when you came in?"
"No," Varston said. "The rain got going sometime after three. I think it's mostly passed."
"Mm." Hale's Ukali woke up and did the same stretch as its owner. Hale patted his Petpet affectionately. "You're doing that thing again."
"With your hand in the air. You look like you're imagining something. I always wondered what you were imagining. All the grand things that you're going to do one day, probably."
Varston laughed slightly. "No. Just seafoam."