Fiona propped her bike against the leaning tree and looked at the place where she’d been born and grew up. She peeked through one window, pushing aside roses and vines, then stepped back and let it go.
The ivy had not yet accomplished what it had long threatened to do – tear down her home. Nobody ever would, not this house.
She opened the door into the little foyer. It was unlocked but nobody was likely to risk even opening the door so there was no reason to lock it. Her father had left the mirror and the little table behind when he emptied the house. Why? ‘Why’ was always such a useless question.
The empty room was lit with the morning light and as empty as the foyer. There were webs on the walls where paintings would hang in any normal house. The great spider on the wall across from her took a careful turn in her web, and said, “Hello Fiona Dirac.”
Fiona smiled, happy for the first time since she left her sister. “Hello Lady. It’s very good to see you again.”
“We have missed you,” the spider replied.
Crossing the room, trying to ignore an echo she hadn’t anticipated, Fiona looked through the porch doors at black painted rails and the yard beyond it. She asked the spider, “Am I alone?”
The Lady plucked at her web. Another web met it through the cracked roof, and the spiders outside would feel her question and send it on to others, and they would answer if they could. They formed a great army, an army that sometimes ate their own but would protect the family in the house to the very last one of them.
“The Outside says no one is there.”
Other than the kitchen cabinets, the dining table and two dining chairs remained. Everything else was gone.
There had been a mirror on the fireplace, photos of her mother and her father, Viv at a little kids’ dance, the dogs in an antique frame, the silver baby cup with her name on it. It was all gone. He hadn’t brought it to Sandy Point, she was sure he hadn’t thrown it away. What happened to it?
She walked back into the middle of the room intending to go to the shed in the back and look for camping gear. Halfway there she looked down at the floor. The stain was wide and dark and scuffed. Her father had not allowed her or Viv to return to the house after her mother ‘disappeared’ so she had never seen any signs of that struggle. This was the sign. “Lady is this where my mother died?”
The spider edged her way a little closer. “Your mother did not die here. The blood on the floor is not hers.”
Fiona caught her breath, unable to understand something that completely contradicted everything she’d been told. “What do you mean? Whose blood is it? What happened?”
“The Upstairs came down. There were five humans. They killed three. Your mother was not dead when they took her. Fiona Dirac, what we could do to stop them, all the Upstairs, the Inside and the Outside, we did.”
The Upstairs. The Upstairs were the last line of defense for a very old and unusual family. If the Upstairs spiders attacked, and there thousands of them, they would have attacked in one great crawling mass running up legs and arms and neck and face into hair and eyes and open mouths, all the thousands biting and biting again, no way to run away from them or knock them off because of the sheer overwhelming numbers.
She hoped those people died of shock.
But for all their ferocity, the Upstairs had not been able to save her mother, and it would have cost them hundreds of their own lives to try.
An old stack of wood still leaned against the wall beside the fireplace. Fiona shoved it into the hearth and lit the fire with the old silver lighter hidden to one side as it always had been. The heat touched her face and would fill the room today and tonight. She was very safe here.
Behind her the Lady Spider asked, “Fiona have you come to stay?”
Jay Lombardo was meeting her at the pier at noon. Something that had broken through here had made a mistake, and she had a partner now who would help her track it down.
“No Lady, I haven’t. I’ve come to hunt.”