Little Mouse and the Prince of Spiders

Submitted into Contest #206 in response to: Set your story in an eerie, surreal setting.... view prompt


Fantasy Horror Fiction

The stars in the perpetual plum sky glitter green, red, blue, and gold, and when they fall, they cut like knives. There are no paths between the bare towering trees black as pitch, only the silvery mists dense as muck, which obfuscate and disorient and lead the small beasts into blackthorn bushes tall as any man or monster.

Rat-faced crawlers and crow-winged fliers, any and all snatched and ensnarled and dragged deep into the bushes bearing more thorns than fruits, for the forest must feed, too.

It is easy for one to become lost in these woods in which only the big and wicked survive, and she, who is soft as spider guts, delicate as beetle wings, is not long for this place, this place born of and bearing corruption, clawed open and scarred over innumerable times, where the ugliest creations of dreams are left behind, discarded, abandoned.

She kneels in a small clearing beside a fetid pond, the black earth staining her spectral skin, weeping. Her sobs are carted on the wind, joining the parade of moans and wails and final, shuddering breaths that form the sonorous symphony of this forest. And yet, her cries are a new note in the chorus, and they are attracting the attention of all manner of terrible and hungry creatures.

The sweet rot stench of his last meal is on the breeze.

A great, twitching shadow falls across the clearing. She raises her tear-stained face and sees no beasts in the darkness between the trees, but from above there comes a sharp chittering and wet clicking. Icy terror sluices through her bones and she does not dare to look up, but dashes behind a gnarled tree for her trembling legs will carry her no further.

“Little creature, I mean you no harm.” The voice is a susurration of whispery and wet clicks, an unexpectedly gentle sound in the endless night. “Come, come out from there and tell me why you were crying so woefully all by yourself in my wood.”

The voice is a lure, weaves a thread through her ribs to pull her back into the clearing. There in its center, hanging by a single thick, shimmering strand of web strung from some unseen branch high above, is a spider as wide as the ever-full moon. Affixed to his bulbous body with still more webs are a mountain of starry gems, his bone-white legs still and radiating from his center.

“Closer, closer,” he chitters. “Yes, good. You, small thing, I’ve not seen before. Do you have a name? No? Then I will call you Little Mouse.”

Little Mouse, and the name slips easily into the place where she had none, for she was born with no mother to gift her one, watches the spider’s mouth where its reedy voice emanates from a fanged and gaping gullet. Those fangs, twitching and dripping something viscous and clear into the earth which seem to cause his shadow to writhe and shift, make her new moniker feel all too suitable.

“Who are you?” she asks, her voice tiny and rough from sobs.

“Why, I am the Prince of Spiders, and I am the ruler of this forest!” His many black eyes crowding too few sockets roll with pride. “And as I am the ruler, I demand to know why you were wailing so horribly and so loudly in my wood.”

Little Mouse has no lies which could possibly protect her from this enormous creature, so she simply says, “I am afraid.”

The Spider Prince chitters again, the sound a cruel laugh scraping up her spine. “Tell me, Little Mouse, for we all have our tales, how you ended up here.”

And so Little Mouse tells her story to the Prince of Spiders. She tells him of how the very first thing she saw when she opened her eyes for the very first time was the sideways sight of the finely furnished chambers of a handsome prince. How she awoke in the darkness beneath his enormous bed, all alone save for the dust bunnies. How she watched him grow and learn and change. How, when he would twist in his bed half-awake from nightmares, she would sing him softly back to sleep. How she loved him. How she loved his shining golden hair, his rich laughter, his gentle smile.

Little Mouse tells the Spider Prince how when at last she felt she knew him better than she knew herself, she crawled from beneath his bed at sunset when before she had only ever emerged when the sky was dark with night. How she touched his face just as he was drifting away, when his long-lashed eyes fluttered open, and his gaze landed upon her for the very first time.

She tells the Spider Prince how the first prince had flinched at the touch of her long, many jointed fingers, how he cowered at the sight of her broad, leathery wings, how he fled from the needlepoint teeth of her sweetest smile.

Fae! Witch! Demon! He’d screeched, and he had lunged for his sword. Little Mouse had felt fear for the first time then and scrambled back beneath his bed. Time passed, and she cannot recall how much, and when she next opened her eyes, they filled with dirt. When she opened her mouth to scream, more poured into her lungs. Little Mouse tells the Prince of Spiders how she clawed her way out of the bitter and tainted earth, past long-festering bones and rotting moss, and delivered herself unto another unkind world.

The Spider Prince is still and yet his shadow continues to shift. “Of course, you are afraid, Little Mouse. You are a fresh babe in this dangerous place, unused to its threats and rules. How long have you been here?”

Little Mouse shakes her head. “There is no sun which rises in this place for me to count the days like before. All that changes is the mists and the places I find the blackthorn bushes.”

“You have observed little but the obvious in your time here, so it is either that you are stupid or have not been here very long at all.”

“I believe I was in the last place longer,” she offers lamely.

“I’m certain you wish more than anything to return to it.”

Little Mouse hesitates. A flock of withered and wasted bird-like things trot along in the wood, wingless as they are, shrieking as they disappear one by one into the mists. “I was less frightened of it than this place, but the creatures there were so terribly frightened of me.”

“Naturally! You are a monster from a land of nightmares. They are repulsed by you and wish you dead as much as the creatures of this place want you in their bellies.” There it is again, that cruel chittering, echoed as if by many tiny voices which surround Little Mouse. She pulls her wings in close, as though they might shield her fragile body from the harshness of all the worlds.

“Come, look.” The Spider Prince gestures with his bristly legs at the still pond.

Little Mouse leans over the water, spooking a squat, slimy creature off a stone and into the unknowable depths, a single ripple across the surface marking its disappearance. In the glassy stillness, she sees herself and the spider reflected as if they were floating amongst the stars. She is shown the monstrosities of her body of which she already familiar, but also a stark sadness in her gaunt face, a permanence of terror in her milky eyes.

The spider in the pond seems bigger, closer, close enough to whisper in Little Mouse’s ear. “Imagine, if you were changed, you might be welcomed back. Maybe your prince would tolerate you if you ground down your needlepoint teeth. Perhaps he might like you if you tore off your leathery wings. He may even come to love you if you disguised those grotesque hands with fine clothes.”

And as the Prince of Spiders speaks, the reflection of Little Mouse begins to change. Slowly, she becomes flush with blood and flesh, the same warmth of colour her prince had, her greasy, lank hair growing vibrant and long, her eyes clear and bright.

Little Mouse’s nose hovers only a hair’s breadth away from the surface of the pond, enraptured as she is by the images within.

“I must go, little creature, for I have my duties as any prince does.” The vision of the beautiful princess trapped in the pond vanishes, leaving only Little Mouse behind. “Whether you seek to survive in this place or make yourself palatable for the last world, I suppose I wish you luck. And because I find you interesting, I shall leave for you a gift. Farewell, for now.” The Spider Prince begins his ascent, his many legs skittering up his thread, his shadow on the ground disappearing, though now Little Mouse sees it for what it is; a writhing swarm of black spiders, some as small as acorns and others as large as her skull. With their master’s departure, they too disperse and vanish up and into the black trees. On the ground beneath the place where the Prince of Spiders hung sits a bundle of fine, white spider silk.

Little Mouse retrieves her gift and walks into the forest, a decision settling into her heart.

Soon enough she finds rough stones to grind away at her teeth. When the last molar is but a rounded nub, she is too sore to hunt, and no longer can tear through the flesh of the small, dumb creatures she used to eat, so she peels brown lichen off fallen logs and mashes fat, drooping yellow mushrooms into a mush she can swallow.

The next day, Little Mouse is set to rid herself of her wings. With two sharp and resolute yanks, though by the second she is trembling in her every limb, her back is free from the bestial sinew and muscle. She is so light, without the weight of those terrible wings, light enough to spin and whirl as the sky above her does now. It spins and spins until all goes dark, a sudden wash of painless bliss. When Little Mouse wakes, she is surrounded by beaks and claws feasting on the carrion of her wings, beady eyes tracking her breaths. Little Mouse flees, unbalanced and unaccustomed to the terrain of the forest floor. Crooked roots seem to shoot from the black earth, determined to drag her beneath or tumble her into the blackthorn bushes cloaked in the mists.

On the third day, Little Mouse sits alone on the wide, ancient stump of the only tree felled by an axe in the entirety of these wicked woods, the weapon long since lost. She weeps, now for the ravaged wasteland of her body, for the loneliness she feels in this vile forest with its worse monsters, for the futility of her little plan. The bundle of spider silk shimmers uselessly in her hands, in her disjointed, misshapen hands, for she knows she cannot weave anything with them.

And so Little Mouse weeps, though she is smarter now having since met the Prince of Spiders, and weeps silently, refusing to share her anguish with a forest whose denizens would so readily consume it. As her tears fall upon the spider silk, a transformation takes place, though not one so fine and fairy as from tales she once heard in a prince’s chambers; the delicate threads melt and meld into a singular puddle of goo. The sticky substance slides through Little Mouse’s long fingers, coats her palms, and she is left with a gossamer layer of ruined spider silk upon her flesh, for no fine clothes could be made of this waste.

At this final injustice, Little Mouse wails, and before the final keening note finishes echoing across the naked treetops, he is lumbering for her from the shadows.

“Look at you, Little Mouse, how lovely and weak you are,” click, click, clicks the Prince of Spiders, his back and belly encrusted with yet more prismatic stars since Little Mouse last saw him only days ago. “A fine mess you have made of my gift, however. Those are hardly handsome gloves. Is this how you plan on greeting that lowly prince once you return to that dainty world, pretty and made up as you are? And yet if you choose to stay, how might you survive without your teeth to eat, without your wings to fly away from danger?”

Little Mouse sees the meanness in his many eyes, hears the spiteful laughter beneath his words. She stands on her stump and speaks clear and strong and angry. “You are cruel, and you are hateful, and you are ugly! I despise you, Spider Prince, as I despise the first prince, as I will despise all other princes I may ever meet!”

The Prince of Spiders yowls, hisses, spits stinking venom, his fangs clicking away in a frenzied madness. “The disrespect! The impropriety! The rudeness of you! You will do well to remember this, Little Mouse; you are not old, and you are not big, and you are no longer able to survive this place. I am very old, and I am very big, and I will eat and eat and eat whatsoever I like in this forest of mine, and mice are one of my very favourite treats.”

And, using his mighty and ugly legs, the Spider Prince rears his heavy body high, and hurls it down upon the wounded and broken Little Mouse.

But Little Mouse is still clever, and she is still swift, and she leaps from the stump, crushing the prince’s terrible shadow brood of spiders beneath her feet.

A great THUD rattles the earth as the Spider Prince crashes down on nothing, and Little Mouse surges up a black tree at his thunderous howls. The bark is slippery with thick, yellow-green moss, and yet she flies up its craggy trunk as easily as if she still had her wings. The slime-what-once-was-spider-silk on her hands sticks effortlessly and Little Mouse could giggle with glee if it weren’t for the great, angry monster blundering after her.

Little Mouse climbs, climbs, climbs, the Spider Prince shrieking in dismay as she disappears into the narrow places in the canopy of the forest he cannot reach, for he is too big, and too heavy with his greed. She bounds from branch to branch, lithe and nimble without her wings, avoiding slithering beasts and buzzing pests that hide here high above the thickets. The Prince of Spiders crashes along in the twisting and wrenching undergrowth of the forest, chasing her scent blindly through the mists.

The mists which consume and subsume, the very breath of the wood itself, which move things of flesh and bone and things of thorn and fruit as it pleases, seem quite displeased with its self-anointed ruler. Little Mouse watches the Spider Prince disappear into the thick of the mists, blinking from here and there, and further still, until he is so spun around and mad with his impotent rage, he does not notice the steepness of the hill on which he thrashes.

The Prince of Spiders cannot stop himself from falling, tumbling, and crashing into the greatest thicket of blackthorn bushes she has ever seen, screeching a single steady note all the way, concluding in a second resounding, reverberating THUD.

The screams begin anew, accented with cruel and vulgar remarks that carry Little Mouse’s name, supplemented with the tinny and tiny cries of little black spiders as they scatter and surround their dying prince. A new song for the wood, though it soon peters out to a disquieting end.

Little Mouse climbs down from the trees and descends the hill and stands before the impaled and shattered form of the Prince of Spiders. His many bony legs are broken, a few lay higher upon the hill, far away from his entangled body. The fang-lined opening of his mouth no longer pours forth insults, only a foamy black sludge. Little Mouse looks into his mean and many eyes, and sees they all now gleam with fear.

The wood is silent, for even though it is a cruel pest that is dying, he was still very great and still very old, and one of the very first things dreamed up for this forest. Little Mouse does not leave him to die alone, and die he does, but she is owed one last thing. She reaches up to his terrible face and tears away a single enormous and venomous fang. It is as long as her arm and nearly as thick as the branches of the blackthorn bush which killed him.

Little Mouse is scarred and broken, changed and armed. She has lost much and earned more. She is a monster born of a land of nightmares, and she is no longer afraid. She leaves the Spider Prince’s corpse, his many children readily descending upon what remains of his flesh beneath the stars. The mists part before her and swallow her up once more as she disappears into a forest best forgotten, searching for a tender spot in the binding tissue between realms, seeking the shadowy under-the-bed of another prince.

July 14, 2023 23:22

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Michał Przywara
20:49 Jul 19, 2023

Very nice, kind of a waiting room for nightmares :) Sinister woods forever shrouded in mists and night. I love the duplicitous manipulation of the Prince of Spiders, the tainted gifts he offers. His venom is not just in his teeth, but also in his words. Little Mouse's journey then is wonderful too. She had nothing but good intentions, and loneliness drives her to seek companionship (though I wonder if she was perhaps the source of the prince's nightmares too), but she is rejected for who she is. She goes to such extremes as to maim herself...


C. J. Peters
00:50 Jul 21, 2023

"Waiting room for nightmares" is a great way to describe it! Thanks so very much for reading and commenting!


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Jack Kimball
22:38 Jul 18, 2023

Hi C. A. A weaver of prose indeed... I could tell you loved writing this and with a resolution of, '...seeking the shadowy under-the-bed of another prince...' this story has a long road of fantasy intrigue, which has yet to rise, the dark and terror beckoning ahead. The plot is great. Especially great considering the restriction to 3,000 words. But the prose is where you shine, as I am sure you know. And so many golden nuggets, filled with imagery, assonance, consonance, alliteration. Your rhetorical treasure chest is full with asyndet...


C. J. Peters
16:59 Jul 20, 2023

Hi Jack! I did get aggressively prose-y in this story (probably overwritten in places haha) but I definitely did have fun dreaming up this weird, spooky forest and allowing myself to be excessive with all those literary devices (I'll be honest, though - I did have to look up asyndeton and hypotaxis haha). I've not read much Bradbury though I plan to, but for sure a fan of Gaiman and Tolkein! Thank you so much for the very kind comment! (And I hope "sluices" serves you well!)


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