The fire crackled and a loud pop got their attention, including the widow. An annoyed look turned to icy fear in her dark eyes as she watched the green tint to the fire fade. The group followed her gaze as she looked to the clock and saw that they had managed to come nearly to midnight in the time that it took for them to tell her tale of her lost husbands. The time wasn’t the only thing that had taken them by surprise, either. The widow looked about wistfully at the ice glittering around them all. It had started to drip onto the mahogany floorboards, which were starting to warp and soften beneath their feet. The cold was fading as the fire lost more of its green luster. The loud, ominous ticking from that weathered clock grew to such a volume that it rattled the webs, making the weakening ice crystals crackle and some of them fell to the ground. The widow sighed as she glanced around the room, looking as the echo of the clock shook through the gathering, moving shadows. One of them seemed to separate from the group and for a second, it looked like a man. He was older than the widow by a considerable amount and when he saw her, for a fraction of a second, he seemed like he was shocked to see her. The expression lasted only a second as the figure dissolved in front of them. The widow sighed as she watched the last of him fade from view.
“I suppose that’s what happens when no one remembers. He wasn’t my favorite but I did enjoy him for a while. Not as dramatic as the others. Perhaps that’s why he was one of the few that went in his sleep.”
“But you remember him, don’t you?” Lydia said. “What happened to him?”
“She was the only connection that he had to this world,” Will explained. “Without a back story, he isn’t really able to sustain a form. With no form or story, they fade away.”
“He was part of her story, wasn’t he?” Stuart object. He seemed relived now that he could talk properly.
“That’s the problem, though,” Dolly sighed. “We don’t know that she has a story and if he was only a part of it, and she doesn’t have a story to hold him in, none of these shadows are going to be able to stick around.”
“Well now, I admit to the occasional murder but that is no reason to be so uncouth,” the widow scolded with a huff. “I am clearly more than a simple idea, after all. You said so yourself! You know what I am now and you understand that I did take part in at least some narrative.”
“She’s not wrong,” Will said. He frowned. “But she’s not exactly right either. I’ve seen this before. She’s got a story but there are only parts that she can access. This happens sometimes to imaginary characters who have been stuck in stories that either get worked on for years at a time or the creator didn’t finish it.”
“How exactly do you figure this stuff out?” Matt said, looking at Will. “Seriously, I haven’t known you that long but it’s just kinda weird. Where the hell did you stumble on all of this? Like was there some book that was your intro to all this shit or something?”
“Funny you should mention that,” Will began.
“Gentlemen,” the widow said in a frosty, overly pleasant voice that made them both shudder. “Please save your digressions until after I’ve avoided my fate to rot in obscurity. If, for the time being, you could be so kind as to assist me in the task at hand, I won’t be forced to spend my final moments engaged in more taxing matters.”
“She can’t actually hurt us, right?” Matt asked Dolly.
“I think she might be able to if she can make us all freeze like this,” she replied. “That said, I don’t think that’s her main goal and I think we all know that if we don’t figure this out, she’s going to be pretty powerless soon.”
“You make it sound so very pathetic when you put it like that,” the widow cringed. “And please, do spare me the indignity of suggesting that you need to finish my story, darlings. Heaven knows that there are many ideas out there without end and while timelessness might be a lofty goal for any of us, casual archetypal status is a perfectly acceptable of delaying untimely bouts of fading away. I’m sure the lad with the strange legs can explain it all to you in a rather robust manner but to put it simply, dear friends, I need you to give me a bit of a boost, as they say in more modern times.”
“Will, this is your domain,” Dolly sighed. “You said you’ve seen this before. Do you know what to do about it?”
“Like I said, she’s not wrong in a sense,” he replied, thinking. “Think of her as a kind of ghost where the story that she was a part of was part of her body. Currently, it’s not being worked on so she’s still there but not and whatever was happening with it isn’t really enough to sustain her for much longer, if at all anymore. She’s got a story and it was clearly open ended so that’s probably how she’s able to be here now. The thing, though, is that she needs to be memorable in some way. She needs to be connected to something bigger to get beyond this or she’s just going to become a lost idea.”
“How come you don’t fade away?” Matt asked. “Or Toby for that matter? He’s just a big spider.”
“True but Toby is really just able to fill any role of someone’s fear of spiders,” Will shrugged. “He only looks the way he does because that’s what I think of him as looking like. As for me, I was human at some point and spider legs or not, if the imaginary world were to let go of me, I would still have a body. It would be warped and difficult to handle with the stupid legs and mouth pieces and all but I can still eat and function in the real world.”
“Come now, don’t be so dour,” the widow sighed, impatiently. “Surely, there must be a way to access the same means as your charming spider friend who needs no story to sustain himself. And let us give me some credit. I was capable of finding you so I can’t simply be that forgettable. Someone must remember me, if that’s the case. And in such a case, why couldn’t that be enough to give me just enough to continue on?”
“That’s part of the problem though,” Will said. “You’re memorable as a character but it has to be something that can inspire that usually gets the archetypal pass. Toby does have a personality of his own but he can be any spider and that’s why he’s able to move around as freely as he does. You have elements of something that can be built on and that’s why you’re able to haunt us, so to speak. But you weren’t given enough to do in your story, whatever it was, to be able to get to that archetypal stage. It was in the works, it looks like, but without something specific to hang on to, there’s no way to preserve what wasn’t there.”
“If that’s the case, how did she manage to hang on this long?” Dolly asked. “Or was this story just abandoned not that long ago?”
“It’s hard for me to know when exactly it was but in truth, I was left to rot a long time ago,” she said, her voice softer now. “When the official leaving took place, why, I had so little to cling to. The shadows were heavy and they made it easier to slip away. To be a part of them and just hide while the rest of the world crumbled around it. There were times when it looked like there might be a new foundation to be laid there but, alas, nothing came of it. I didn’t miss it, really. That old world, dramatic and luxurious as it could be, was just so limiting. Perhaps it was for the best that it didn’t continue but I will not go along with it. Not if I didn’t have to. And when the shadows showed me the way, I found the means to make time slow and the effects of forgetfulness crawl ever more slowly.”
“And that’s what makes time run slower when we burned the roots from the graveyard?” Stuart guessed.
“Oh that’s only part of it,” the widow said. She frowned for the first time but it was quickly followed by a melancholy smile. “These winter months, these winter nights, they gather those moments that people forget about. They pool in those deep dark shadows that no one really ever knows what they are made of. Oh, it’s not your fault that no one told you such things. No, that’s all part of the surprise. You never truly know what these roots hold. Sometimes they are brilliant ideas tossed aside out of fear or the need to make them perfect. Strangled ideas that get buried under good intentions. All of them find their way deep into those roots and wait. Sometimes, when they are very lucky, they can find their way to the surface. They can make those shadows move and then, when they are ready, they can find their way to the top, ready to find someone to pluck them out. To try them on. But such is the nature of a good idea or a moment in time. It might slow things down but the progress, I’m afraid, stops for no one.”