The Girl with Gossamer Hair

Submitted into Contest #165 in response to: Write a story that includes the phrase “This is all my fault.”... view prompt


Middle School Friendship Fantasy

This story contains sensitive content

Warning: bullying

It’s not easy being different. This is probably true the world over, but in my life, the hardest place not to fit in is my school: Manor Park. Here I often think there’s more than just water on tap in the corridor’s fountain; it’s dispensing your choice of still or sparkling pure liquid hate. Not everyone is filling up their bottle, but more than enough are.

Do you wear glasses? Well hello bug eyes. Hand-me-down clothes are still just about good to go? Have you ever heard of…shops? Or perhaps you laugh like a donkey when the others just titter prettily? Where were you born? A barn? Sometimes I think it would be easier to be an ass and bray like one, rather than trying, and failing, to think up clever put downs for Lucy Jennings and the cackling hyenas she takes for friends. Two years in, you’d think I would have found the perfect hiding place from the Jennings’ pack, but they’ve the noses of true predators and can hunt me down whether I’m trying to sneak into the library or lock myself in the loos.

Not that they need their noses to the ground for my scent; my calling card is plain for all to see: my gossamer hair. You’re probably thinking: well that doesn’t sound too bad, lovely silky locks. But as soon as anyone’s seen it, they know one thing for sure: there’s something different about my hair, criss-crossing and weaving its way in silver down my back. For while others wear theirs loose, plaited or tied up in ponytails, none have hair that looks like mine: a web of silken strangeness. And at Manor Park, difference is never good, just plain weird.

“Morning web-brain!” Lucy Jennings’ familiar voice is anything but a greeting as she slams my locker shut, just as I’ve opened it. I try to ignore her, the only strategy that I’ve ever tried even though it’s never been successful, despite my mum’s promises that it would be.

“Did you have a good breakfast? Enough flies?”

The pack of supporters crease themselves like it was the funniest thing ever, although the gags and one-liners are like a lot of annoying bluebottles that just keep buzzing around; I’ve heard them all so many times.

The bell peals for the first period and I cautiously open my locker once more to retrieve my books, but Lucy slams it shut again before I’ve had a chance to get anything out. Her voice is low, but the murmur of malice hums loudly in the emptying corridor.

“You’d better find a corner to hide in Arachne.”

My breath is coming hard. I almost wish Ms Grange would appear in the corridor and tell us to make our way to class, but she doesn’t, and we’re alone now. She leans in with her mean mouth and hard-pencilled eyebrows.

“But you know something? I know all the corners of this dump. If a gross little insect is hiding somewhere, I’ll find it. And then?” She grinds the toe of her trainer on the floor and then turns and heads to class.

I look at the black scuffs: marks of her territory. I would like to scurry off to the safety of home, but at that moment Ms Grange pokes her head out of the classroom.

“Well Kate, are you coming in or learning about Iago in the corridor?”

She means well and she’s only doing her job, but I feel like I’m dangling on a thread, slowly being drawn in, as I enter the classroom, head bowed.

“So, class, we have a nasty piece of work on our hands with Iago; what a snake in the grass!” Ms Grange is in full energetic flow. “Sam, can you start us off with a recap of the scene we read last lesson?”

I make a beeline to my desk and sit down as quickly as possible, wondering why another one has been put alongside as I’ve not had a neighbour all year. There’s not going to be some sort of class activity where others are posted to my desk? What if I’m paired with Lucy Jennings? The worry begins to swirl inside me and I have a hard time trying to follow the discussion about Iago and his motives for ruining Othello’s life. The click of the door opening distracts me from my attempts at text annotation and I look up to see a girl I’ve never seen before being shown in by Mr Clayton, the Principal.

“Stay seated Eighth Grade.” He motions us with his hand. “Ms Grange, here is the new student: Aya Feathersly.”

Lucy Jennings doesn’t even bother concealing her response, sniggering to one of her pack, “no wonder they’re putting her next to Kate “Arachne” Jones: web brain and bird brain are made for each other!”

Mr Clayton prepares to rebuke her cheek, but the words never leave his mouth. Aya stares at the girl with the cruel mouth, and even from three rows back I can see embers glow in her rounded pale-yellow eyes as her look bears down on Lucy Jennings, who seems to shrivel under its imperiousness.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbles like it’s the first time- which it might well be- that she’s ever apologised. “I shouldn’t have said anything sir.”

If a pig had flown past the classroom I wouldn’t have been more surprised, but I don’t have time to process the wonder of the situation as Aya is making her way to the empty desk next to mine.

“Hi Kate,” she says, reading the name off the front of one of my books.

She sits down with ease and when she turns to me again, the little flecks of amber still flicker warmly in her eyes. She leans in confidingly: “Othello? Cool play, although if I were Shakespeare, I’d give Iago more of a roasting at the end.” She looks meaningfully at me: “I never think a villain should be allowed to get away with it.”

The lesson is the most enjoyable I’ve ever had. It’s been so long, I’ve almost forgotten how nice it is to work with someone else, bouncing ideas around for alternative endings where Iago gets his comeuppance and the 45 minutes seem to fly by.

The bell sounds. End of class is always hard for me, leaving the comparative safety of the classroom for the dangers of recess: the hunting ground. The worry must show on my face because as I’m slowly packing away my things, I notice Aya waiting for me, staring out of the window at the climbing ropes outside.

“Neat climbing frame.”

I murmur something non-committal; I never go to the ropes, the prospect of Jennings and her pack pushing me off of them is enough for me to give the whole area a wide berth, which is a shame as I used to love climbing.

“No chance you’d show me how to get there? Mr Clayton didn’t seem to think it should figure as part of his school tour.”

I’m about to say no, that I’ve got a book to return to the library, but as she turns from the window, the morning light glints in her yellow eyes and the look is pure strength, passing invisibly from her to me. It gives me the chance to say “sure.”

Staring up at the climbing pyramid, reaching up and up into the blue September sky, I feel a thrill that I haven’t felt for ages. Aya laughs at me.

“Race you to the top!”

She’s a good climber, but I know she’ll have nothing on me; confidently, I reach and pull, each hand grasp is right where I want it to be, and I scuttle quickly to the top. Waiting for Aya, I look across, exhilarated, to the school. From up here, it looks almost small and all my fears seem shrunk to match.

Aya joins me, and we lean into the top of the pyramid, surveying the ground below. At the furthest corner of the playground I can see Lucy Jennings and her pack huddled together, up to something forbidden no doubt. I must tense as Aya looks across at me.

“Why do you let her call you that?”


“Arachne. You know, in English earlier.”

I balance on the ropes, leaning my weight in and pull my hair over my shoulder so its gossamer web weaves down my top. “I suppose she likes teasing me because of this.”

Her appraising eye stares at my hair unblinkingly, before she says:

“It might look fine, but I’m sure you know gossamer is as strong as steel.”

I return her gaze, smiling.

“Be as strong as iron Kate, and her weak threats will buckle and break. I promise.”

The bell rings and we make our way down, but even as we descend Aya’s words make me feel, for the first time in what feels like forever, powerful.


I am still feeling strong when I head for home, after easily my best day at Manor Park. Aya’s words are on repeat in my head as I walk along, kicking up the first autumn leaves. Watching them float and drift, each leaf seems to dance along the sidewalk with a joy to match my own. Perhaps I’m dream dancing along the street, not on my usual nervy high alert, because when Lucy Jennings steps out from the shade of a broad oak, I’m completely taken by surprise.

“Well if it isn’t spider freak. Where’s your smile gone Arachne? Aren’t you happy to see us? Surely not all of your smiles are for bird brain.”

“Her name’s Aya,” I manage, amazed my tongue isn’t trembling, I feel such a mess of jitters.

“We know her name, bug brain.” And the pack of hyenas are closing in and my heart seems to be contracting with a different rhythm, to the beat of fear.

“I don’t forget things Arachne.” She says slowly and pointedly, cruelty cutting her mouth like a razor’s gash.

“But do you forget? Remember what I said earlier, about what I do to gross insects like you?”

How could I possibly forget?

One of the pack is prising my bag off my back, and my legs feel like they’re going to give way. I ready myself for blows, but she’s turning away with a smirk on her face.

“One day, I’ll squash you like the bug you are, but today I’ve something else in mind.”

One of her accomplices hands my bag to her and slowly, with obvious delight, she unzips it and throws each book into the bushes nearby as if she were chucking out trash. She beckons to another one of her groupies, who comes staggering over with a bucket. I can only watch as Lucy Jennings hauls it up, brows knitted with the effort, and shakes the contents in slow motion into my bag: a rain of mud, sticks and insects. Not quite finished, she tips the bucket’s dregs over the top of my orange rucksack, grinding it beneath her foot with her full weight.

She smiles at the tears pricking my eyelashes, before throwing the bucket with an ugly clang to the floor, then wrenches my arm behind my back.

“Do you know whose fault this is?” she hisses under her breath, so only I can hear.

I can’t answer, even if I want to. My words are swallowed up in pain.

“Yours, because you’re a freak. Say it: this is all my fault. I’m a dirty, little freak.”

Her hand yanks harder and as my elbow locks and the shame burns, I say the words in a small voice, crying freely now in my humiliation.

Finally she releases me, aims a kick at my bag and then, with her pack crowing about her, finally goes.

If I had a tail, I’d creep off with it between my legs. Instead I pull my hoodie up over my head, pick up my discarded books and ruined bag and head for home as quickly as I can, just in case Lucy Jennings decides it’s not just my bag that needs to be rubbed in the dirt today.

Luckily no one is home yet. I set to scrubbing the bag as best I can in the sink, but all my efforts seem to just make it worse. Eventually I give up, beaten. I go to my room and fling myself on my bed. How can such a lovely day go so horribly wrong?


Without opening my eyes, I know that she’s there. I sense her light eight-point touch on my head and gently move my hand up so she can step on. I lift my head from the pillow to look at her.

“Oh Arachne,” I murmur, “I’ve had the most awful day. I wish I’d just stayed home with you.”

The little spider continues her circumnavigation, scuttling over my deep life line, stepping neatly- two pairs of legs raised, two pairs down- over my death line. I smile at her palm reading:

“I bet you it’s written there: what a crap day it’s been.”

She pauses as if taking in what I’ve said, before she edges to the curve of my palm where it slants away to nothing and, by her glistening thread, she lets herself drop, swinging lightly from her silk. As she sways there before descending in ever faster lengths, I wonder at her for the thousandth time. She’s like a pendulum, marking her own time. From deep within, spinning the endless spans of gossamer, so light, so strong: her safety line.

“Spin me strength Arachne,” I ask her.

Immediately she hauls herself back up her dragline, scurries with her little pads across my palm, and I help her into my hair before settling my head on the pillow.

“And spin me a sweet dream, to help me forget the nightmare of today.”

She must do, for in my dream I’m airborne with Aya. From on high, she sees me curled up in sorrow and swoops down to pluck me up. In her strong hands, she bears me to the summit of a snow-capped mountain which must rise from the bedrock of my imagination as no peaks are near my local town. Atop her eyrie, I survey the land through her eagle eye, my gossamer hair rising in the thermal up currents like an autumn mist about me. We are just two, bound by the view and the stronger bond of friendship. I feel the spark from her amber eye ignite in my heart and, as I wake, I know just what to do.


I walk faster than I ever normally walk to school. Normally I dawdle and try to time it that I arrive a minute or two before the bell chimes. But today I have a job to do which puts a spring in my stride as I take the road which I’ve avoided walking for the last two years.

She comes out of her house just as I’d expect her to: door slammed behind her. Kicking the gate open, she doesn’t notice me until I’m walking alongside her and she jumps, nearly onto the road, in shock.

“Hi Lucy, I thought I’d walk this way to school today, fancied a bit of a change.”

She is so surprised, she can’t think of a reply and I seize the advantage, coming to a stop next to her.

“Actually, there’s someone I want you to meet.”

Slowly I reach into my hair.

“This is Arachne. Funny really, you calling me that all these years and she was there,” I point to the little spider resting on my palm, "watching you all this time!”

As if a cloud has passed over the sun, all colour drains from Lucy’s face and I almost think I can stop here; but then I remember the yanked arm, the hissed freak and the tears in my pillow.

“I don’t think you’ll be forgetting my name again.”

She shakes her head, the rest of her body rigid like I’ve petrified her. I continue slowly, savouring the moment I’ve waited two long years for.

“Can I tell you something Lucy? A little secret, from life’s margins: I love being different, if being different means I’m not like you.”

I raise my hand to Lucy’s eye level and Arachne begins her work, deftly spinning a web. Lucy and I watch transfixed: me with pleasure, her in agonies of fear. Faster and faster, her spinnerets a blur, the silk threads multiplying, connecting, until it’s a shimmering mass, hanging from my hands. In the autumn breeze, the web floats slightly towards Lucy and she gasps in horror as I also step forward.

“If you ever lay a finger on me again Lucy, I’m throwing it.” I hold her eye.

“And believe me, once you’re in Arachne’s net, you’ll be stuck fast, a fly, till Mr Clayton or the cops come for you.”

I don’t need an answer; it’s written in her trembling lip and pleading eye.

Carefully I fold the silken web, placing it in my coat’s pocket. I turn, calling over my shoulder:

“See you in school Lucy. I wouldn’t hang around, class starts in five minutes.”

I walk, for the first time ever, with a smile to Manor Park. I can’t wait to tell Aya about how I’ve delivered the revenge we spoke about in class; how a new net has been spun, but this time to trap the villain of the story. I think she’ll approve, she might, with her eagle eye, know about it already.

The breeze continues to blow and my gossamer hair rises like hope all about me.

It’s going to be a beautiful day.

September 25, 2022 17:07

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Delbert Griffith
10:51 Oct 06, 2022

Very nice. I like the trope inversion of the "veteran" kid being helped by the new kid. The story works on more than one level, with plenty of figurative parts paralleling the literal parts. Your sentence lengths are varied, as are your paragraphs lengths. Wonderful! Some fine day, I will write as well as you.


Rebecca Miles
10:57 Oct 06, 2022

Oh my, thanks for the kind words. I note in your bio that you're a maths teacher who writes; at my school we've a physics and business teacher who like a bit of wordsmithery so you might not be as unusual as you think ;-)


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Sumiko Courtney
02:14 Oct 05, 2022

I’m intrigued by the premise of a girl with gossamer hair. What an interesting character! Lovely writing, especially all the delightful insect imagery.


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Suma Jayachandar
10:55 Oct 01, 2022

You have done a great job of capturing the voice of the POV character caught in a web of cruelty. Her transition from an awkward outcast to an empowered girl(albeit with some encouragement from Aya) is well done. The real goosebumps moment though belonged to the very satisfying twist in the end. Great story!


Rebecca Miles
12:34 Oct 01, 2022

Thanks so much Suma for your positive words. I'm glad the ending was satisfying. Go the underdog!


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Aeris Walker
23:11 Sep 27, 2022

I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, but this story reminds me of books by the author Gail Carsen Levine. She wrote fantasy stories for young girls and her novels always had strong characters, serious drama/plots, and unique twists on popular fairy tales. The title was immediately intriguing and the story did not disappoint! I can easily imagine this being illustrated with “spidery” sketches of Kate’s gossamer hair and worried expressions. Loved the theme of friendship and self acceptance. Great story :)


Rebecca Miles
04:26 Sep 28, 2022

Thanks so much Aeris! I tried this week to rein in the "flowery " language, working on altering my style a bit. I hope it came off! I've not heard of that author but I'll definitely check her out. It's funny you mention the illustrations; my teenage daughter is a talented artist and I always live in hope we might team up! As always, a real boost to read your kind words.


Aeris Walker
11:16 Sep 28, 2022

I can imagine that would be such a fun project together :) more young adult/adult books should be illustrated.


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Michał Przywara
22:30 Sep 26, 2022

This is a fun twist on the old trope, where someone takes the displaced new kid under their wing and helps them fit in. Here, the new kid helps an existing kid find her confidence. Either way, a friendship is forged. The fantasy twist was neat. Very much a girl with gossamer hair, indeed :) Though I suppose from Lucy's POV, this might be a horror story. It remains to be seen if she's learned her lesson, but I suspect she has. Meeting Arachne herself was a shock, but we've also seen that Lucy's a coward when not surrounded by her clique. She...


Rebecca Miles
05:53 Sep 29, 2022

Hi Michal, thanks as always for popping by and your lovely detailed comments. Aeris suggested an author, you a webseries: this story's going to keep me busy (in a good way)!


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Helen A Smith
18:36 Feb 02, 2023

I love this story. Not only is it written so well from the point of the victim, the spider plays a beautiful, if unexpected role adding an extra element. I can identify with this story. Bizarrely, I went to a school called Manor Park (many moons ago). If you have time take a look at my story Journey Past. Also about the horrors of bullying.


Rebecca Miles
20:38 Feb 02, 2023

Ever so kind of you checking out a story in my back catalogue Helen. This happens ever so rarely and if it does it is usually only ever "Letting Go" which is the one I won for. And it makes me so happy to have a reader after so long for Gossamer Girl as I was really so pleased with the story and it fizzled out like a damp squib on the platform. I had tried to make it American friendly (well I changed a few spellings!) but maybe there were more cultural issues going on that made it sink without a trace! I taught at a school called Manor Commu...


Helen A Smith
20:53 Feb 02, 2023

Hi Rebecca It is baffling that such a great story didn’t get more recognition. There may be cultural issues, but it’s still surprising because it not only has a universal theme, it also has an original element with the spider which made it stand out. I admire your ability to switch themes.


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Amanda Lieser
01:33 Dec 01, 2022

Hi Rebecca, I loved this story. My husband is a huge fan of all things with six+ legs. This story was fabulous. I thought that it was so unique and I loved the name that you chose, Arachne. This story was such an interesting take on the prompt and I thought that you captured the voice of a child very well. Nice job!


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Mike Panasitti
03:27 Nov 16, 2022

If British literature ever appeared as magical realism, this story would definitely qualify. It reminds me of a combination of Isabel Allende and Ali Smith, stylistic daring and literary spunk, if such a wondrous chimera were possible. Uno sforzo bravissimo, Rebecca.


Rebecca Miles
05:51 Nov 16, 2022

Hi Mike, thanks for calling by so soon and reading a story I was pleased with but that went rather unnoticed on the platform. I love magic realism as a genre and Ali Smith, my word, her How to be both has made me want to visit Ferrara ever since I read it! Thanks for your very heartfelt comments.


Mike Panasitti
06:24 Nov 16, 2022

How to be both...definitely one of my favorite reads this year, and while it didn't make me want to visit Ferrara, it unquestionably put Smith, along with David Mitchell on my list of top two favorite contemporary authors.


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Unknown User
21:43 Oct 05, 2022

<removed by user>


Rebecca Miles
11:00 Oct 06, 2022

Thanks Whitney. I love imagery but actually reined it in a bit this week so it would suit Middle Schoolers more! Thanks for your comment!


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