I was a broken mess when they found me. I admit it. Gutted, just about, sick and sticky with the spider’s web-goo glued to broken sores. They broke me free, and I owe it to them. But what they did after that in the name of love – the collar, the leash, the pats on the head every morning when they left to work the fields, saying, “You stay home and be a good girl” – that kind of stuff can lead to resentment.
If I’d had a choice between dying in a freak-of-nature spider’s web and being the farmers’ pet, I might have just picked dying. Instead, they took me home and let the venom fester in my veins. Every second that I kept it inside changed me.
I grew strong and weird. My limbs lengthened and thinned. So did my hair. My teeth grew out, too – two of them, and got to looking fangy. I moved like a contortionist all the time, up and down the walls. I liked to sit for hours in a corner, ruminating on my hunger. The old folks acted like they didn’t know any better, and so I kept on pretending that I was like the rest of people, and that I couldn’t jump out into empty space above a thousand-foot ravine, in full confidence that snotty perspiration would fly up into parachutes and float me down the clouds.
My hunger got the better of me. They had the pastor over for dinner one day and he started choking on a bone. Well, I took him for a goner and bit his neck to get a sip of blood. If he hadn’t taken so long with the grace, I wouldn’t have been so hungry. The farmers were mortified, and so they shipped me off to charm school where I might learn better manners. The pastor’s wife made all of the arrangements.
I found it awfully condescending. I might not know the finer points of etiquette, but damned if I don’t know more important things, like how to kill and not feel bad about it. And to hell with teachers, anyway. If there’s something I want to know I’ll ask my goddamned myself.
All the girls in charm school were just like me. We only differed in that they were your standard little angels made of sunshine. Nothing but giggles and hugs until the girl with the hair in her face starts asking questions about everybody’s periods. Non in a euphemistic, how-I-long-to-be-a-woman sort of way. I just assumed everybody could tell by the odor when menstruation had begun. They did not appreciate that I said this multiple times.
I don’t know at what point I began to suspect I was dead; it was never demonstrated either way to my satisfaction. Before the web I was, I don’t know. The kind of person who could get killed by a spider. When I continued to animate my corpse it became clear that I’d never be made to leave this earth.
If I’d known any of the words that might have described me, I’d have used them then. It’s good to have a handle that explains your weirdness ahead of time – kind of like a team jersey, your claim to a clan. Of course had I used a word then like vampire or superpower, my fight would have been about making people accept me instead of blending in, and I wouldn’t have learned shit all at that charm school that really matters.
Anyway, I didn’t need to claim my clan. The clan came for me, in the middle of the night.
I was lying with my hands folded neatly on my neatly-made bed, pretending that my roommates all had died and that the walls were going to stay this lovely shade of black when the sun was up. In burst Donny, straight through the wall with a tremendous, metal-crunching pop and a cloud of hazardous particulates.
I rose. “Good evening.”
“Yeah, hi. Toots.” Donny brought a cell phone out of his shirt pocket and glanced down at some notes. “Headmaster Sylvan reported you to us, because you can, climb walls?”
I paused. The other girls had waken with cheery gasps of alarm, and were peeping at us through their fingers.
“Yes,” I told Donny. “I can.” I’d anticipated a reprimand when I’d been caught smearing sticky sweat across the chandelier, but actually Headmaster Sylvan had looked at me a long time in a way with which I wasn’t acquainted – not without surprise and not with full understanding, but in an interested way that suggested he might have seen something like this before – and then sent me back to class.
“Well, Toots,” said Donny, putting his cell away. “You’re coming with me. Our institution’s got big plans for you.”
“What kind of big plans?”
“Big, big plans.”
I stepped closer, feeling bright in my eyes. “I like, big, big plans.”
Donny did a rare thing for me. He waited. His eyes, always bright, were now brighter. Not a smile, not a blink. This was better and would always be our thing. We’ve had it in the middle of battle before, and in the middle of a crowd, in the middle of movies and speeches and rooms full of mourners. One moment, standing still, bright eyes watching bright eyes.
“You’re coming with me, now!”
“Of course,” I replied, letting him hoist me over his shoulder and go swiftly back through the hole in the wall.