Betanda walked ahead of me through the trees for most of the morning, but slowed down when she passed a tiny hut on the side of the road. I saw her approach and peer into the hut, which was shorter than she was. As I got closer, she said, “I think it’s a shrine. There’s a wick in a bowl of oil, and it’s lit. Someone must be near enough to tend this.”
“Shrine?” I asked. “Then we must be near a village.” I looked around and listened, but did not hear any human activity. “No one on the ground, maybe they live up in the trees.” I scanned the green canopy shading us from sunlight, but saw nothing indicating people. “Could be a problem, they must be mole men.” I eyed the ground warily, ready to jump if the ground opened up to spew warriors at us like angry wasps from a disturbed nest.
Betanda straightened up and looked at me. “You must be deaf,” she said. “Listen, it’s like there’s a wedding going on. Let’s go see.”
I realized she was right, and that I had been hearing loud bells for a while. I did not remember wedding festivals with bells like that, low gongings mixed with high pinging sounds. I hurried after her, and saw bright white robes through the trees.
I could not tell who were the bride and groom among the throng of gyrating dancers. People flitted between trees and swept around us trailing their glowing garments. Men, women, children, all wore such a blinding white that my eyes could not find where fabric started or ended. No one stood still in the constant swirling motion of the dance. I saw people’s smiles approach and recede in sheer joy of life, while arms swept the long sleeves through the air. Their fingers gracefully traced out figures in the air, figures of butterflies, rainbows and smiles. The bells rang, bonged, and pinged.
A higher pitched whine swelled from nothing until I noticed movement in the trees over our heads. I could not see any detail with all the swirl of dancers and linens. The dancers did not slow down at all, but the smiles stretched straight across their mouths. Their teeth champed straight up and down, and I heard a clomping noise from them. I saw that something peeped out from under their robes, something with hundreds of eyes that looked at me. The eyes had tiny mandibles that clacked open and shut, and long hairy legs swept aside the white robes.
The sound of the bells faded away, replaced by a low growling swell of a thunderous bass. I turned towards the growl and saw through the trees a giant shadow of darkness made of legs, millions of legs. A huge wave, a tsunami of spiders descended on the trees and swept towards the dancers and towards me. The high pinging of bells became the piercing screams of people as they ran in all directions around me. Their arms kept the robes floating in air as they moved, but the robes were coated with crawling clacking legs and mandibles.
I stood rooted to the spot as the wedding party and spiders swirled around me. Human-sized pillars of spiders ran and dove across my vision in all directions, towards me and away, into and away from trees. I grabbed a large tree branch and swept it in a protective arc around me. “No, you filthy beasts won’t have me,” I said. “Not today, not ever.” I swung the branch down onto a pile of spiders hiding behind a tree. Another pile collected as the spiders tried to gather into a mass for an attack on me. I crashed into the mass and swatted the scattered creatures before they could regroup. Single spiders climbed up my legs. Some dropped out of the trees into my hair and bit me. I rubbed my head against trees to clear the spiders off.
Betanda ran to me and said, “It’s the floods, they flee to higher ground.” She turned away and screamed in pain. A wash of flame crashed up a tree and I heard someone say, “Burn them all” in the roar. Betanda ran towards the flames, then away. Something stung my foot and I looked down to see some kind of tarantula wrestle with my toe. I swatted with my branch and felt the scrape and burn on my ankle. When I looked up again, Betanda was gone and several waving posts of flames staggered past me.
I felt spider bites on my legs as I stomped as fast and hard as I could. I saw a mass of spiders with a flower garland pass close by. “That must be the bride,” I thought, “she’s buried by poisonous spiders.” My arm brought the branch crashing into the mass of mandibles. A whole column of spiders dropped from the trees onto my shoulders. I pushed sideways and crashed into a tree to shake them off. They let out a screeching roar as they split and splattered across the tree trunk. The roar deafened me and lifted me off the ground into the spinning darkness. I willed my arm to sweep the branch around me as I felt myself go airborne and fly into the gathering night.