The fire had gone out a while ago and Will was officially fast asleep. To be fair, he rarely stirred once his head hit the pillow and it was difficult to rouse him even if it was mostly an emergency. Thankfully, as of late, there hadn’t been any real issues and that left long peaceful, boring nights of being in a dank, drafty stone room. Most of the time, this was fine. There was always the chance that the nice people would come to visit and sometimes even the cat. That was always a good time because the fire would be started back up and there would be exciting to watch them converse and the atmosphere of the place would feel good. Lately, the predatory creature also came to visit, and that was less of a good time but so far, just the one had been back and it didn’t seem to care that much about Will or anyone else except the one nice girl and the cat. The cat, thankfully, was very much still in control of such things so it was not that worrisome. Perhaps this was for the best but, sadly, on nights such as these, it could be dreadfully boring as well.
Toby busied himself building more webs, but he knew that it would be a few weeks before the birds returned. He wasn’t hungry as of yet but he knew that it was best to be prepared a bit before. There was nothing worse than having to rely on the very small birds, most of which Toby enjoyed watching more than he liked eating. They were still tasty, kind of, but barely able to sustain him for more than a day and it seemed a waste. They were more interesting alive because they would hop around and peck at things that they could see better than he could. Sometimes they even found him new things to eat and that was best of all. In fact, of late, he’d kind of been hoping that they would find something better for him. The summer had brought all manner of smaller birds and usually, with them, came the much bigger, much tastier birds. He knew it was still earlier in the season for many but he was a bit tired of the taste of these ones that he’d been catching lately. In this world, the birds all tasted the same as pigeons in the world that Will and the others came from. It wasn’t a horrible taste but he was a bit tired of it.
Feeling out of sorts, Toby crawled down from the higher rafters to see if there was any activity to check up on in the main sitting room. There were stirrings in the other room where the newest member of their group, the nice boy with the gold eyes, had been staying. Still, Toby didn’t know him well and wasn’t comfortable hunting for food in his room yet. Will had explained to Toby, shortly after the new boy arrived, that their guest wasn’t used to seeing both of them eat and it would likely not be something he was okay with yet. This was normal for them and in the interest of being polite to their new friend, it was a good idea to let him get used to the place first. It did very little to help with the need to find more interesting food, however. Even Will would probably need something more than faux pigeon meat soon enough.
Jumping from one spot to the next, Toby tried to think of new places to build webs. He was certain that he’d covered most of the places that he normally did with the functional ones. He wasn’t really inspired to do much in terms of the artistic ones these days. He did them when he felt like it but it was a little disheartening when the nice people weren’t here. Will rarely seemed to notice the effort and more than once, he’d mistaken Toby’s hard work for another run of the mill functional web and as much as he didn’t want to take it personally, it was difficult to wake up only to find that his living companion had used yet another of his art works as a means of hanging something banal in it or, worse, mistaken his artistic direction as an old, used web that needed to come down.
When he reached the cold stones of floor, Toby was surprised to see there was still a small ember in the fireplace. It was very faint but it was enough that there was a thin trail of smoke that was winding its way up the chimney. This was odd. Will didn’t usually leave something like that behind when he went to sleep. In fact, he usually doused the fire completely. Toby wasn’t worried about a small spark like this. After all, it was very much dying and it likely wouldn’t be going for much longer. Still, it was bothersome. Will went to bed a long time ago. Longer than a small ember like that should have been able to hang on for.
This was a curiosity, like the ones Will was always telling him to be careful of. Toby knew well enough that this world that they had found, this place that they were safest in, was never entirely stable. There were elements of it that would always shift and change, depending on who was around doing what. Still, sometimes a little curiosity was kind of interesting to look at. It was even more interesting when the nice people weren’t here. After all, the nice people were only here for a little while at a time, and when they were, he wasn’t always allowed to come visit with them. If one of them was afraid of him, he would have to watch from his web and he missed out on all the really fun things that they got to see. Things happened more when all of them were here but even when the one nice girl with the cat came, he sometimes only got to see some things. Will said it was safer sometimes if Toby didn’t get too close but it could be boring and sometimes, a little sad. He liked seeing these curious things. He liked being able to be part of the rest of the curious group things they did. Surely, a little curiosity wouldn’t hurt anything, right? A little ember didn’t have to be a bad thing, right? He could get closer to it and it could just be a little something to look at. Something to take his mind off the fact that he was sick of eating the same birds.
Toby was still careful as he approached the small ember in the fireplace. His large eyes were able to fix on the glow from a decent enough distance but he still wanted to see it better. Besides, it was warmer near the stones at the base. If the embers were still going, even if it was odd, there was a good chance that they were just warm enough to get comfortable and he could enjoy the last of their heat. If there was no chill at all in them yet, he might even be able to get a good nap in. Getting closer to the base of the fireplace, Toby was very much looking forward to this potential nap when he noticed that the ember wasn’t still. His eyesight wasn’t perfect but he was almost certain that the ember was moving. As he crawled just a little closer, he noticed that the ember seemed like it was getting brighter and duller, almost like someone or something was breathing on it. Normally something like this would make him nervous but his curiosity was just getting too high for this. He needed to see it up close just to know if perhaps this really was moving.
Just as Toby set four of his paws on the very cold tiles of the base, a noise behind him sounded in the darkness. Before he could stop himself, he’d already shot out webbing all over the fireplace and all over the nearby furniture. Embarrassed, Toby quickly turned to see if the noise had been from the new boy living in their home, only to see that it was still dark around him. There was no one there but the radio. It had turned itself on again. Toby didn’t know that he liked that and he wished that Will would get rid of that thing. The static continued to shift and get louder and softer as the radio’s speakers crackled away in the dark. Toby turned back to see if the ember had gone out only to see that it was still moving. The movement was even more pronounced now as he saw that whatever it was had been caught in the webbing. It continued to wriggle around and he could see now that it was a tiny creature, its tiny glowing body trying to burn its way out of the web trap.
“You could eat it if you want to,” the static of the radio said in hushed tones. “This is what it expects of you, Toby. Don’t you want to eat it?”
Toby was disturbed by the sound of the voice on the radio. It wasn’t clear but he knew it had spoken to him. It was trying to get clearer and he could sense that it was more than just a voice. It was something near him but it couldn’t quite get through. He looked to the little creature in the web. It was still struggling but it could see him and it was starting to get a little tired. He knew he could eat it but it was just so small. It wasn’t a bird and wouldn’t attract one. It wouldn’t even fill him a little bit and wouldn’t do anything but make him hungry for nothing. The little glowing creature cringed as Toby came forward but instead of baring his fangs, he lifted up one of his paws and with the small claw on the end, broke one of the small strings of the web. He did this two more times before the small creature was able to start to move more and once it realized what was happening, it renewed its efforts to escape. When it was able to move, suddenly, the tiny sprite quickly tore free and streaked across the back bricks of the fireplace, leaving a small gap in its wake.
Toby had seen this before. It was like when the nice people had gone exploring in other places. It was like before when Will would take him to different places before they found their home. Sometimes these things that waved like fabric were scary and full of very big things that had very sharp teeth. Even Will was afraid of those. Sometimes it even had those very mean predators like the one that sometimes came into their home. Toby wanted to see what was in the rip and if he didn’t hurry, he wouldn’t be able to. Still, it might be full of very large things that might hurt him.
While Toby was still trying to figure out what to do, his attention was caught by something beyond the rip. The fabric of the rift was quite slow to mend itself and he could almost see into it. His eyes were not the greatest but he could still figure out the shape of something that caught his attention. Something in flight. A new bird he’d never seen before! And it was big and bright and it had feathers that just seemed to glow! Toby was so excited by the sight of such a new and interesting bird, he forgot to fear the rift and what might be beyond it. Stalking closer, the edges of the rift were not closing, as he’d thought, but rather, they were opening for him. By the time he realized that he’d wandered into a new place, the rift behind him had already closed.
“That’s right, Toby,” the radio said, softly, the voice fading as the rift closed. “Why settle for something so small when you can find your way to something so much better? We’ll see you again soon, little spider.”