The Cycle

Jan 17  |  Jennifer Gunner

Shona clutches hundreds of babies in her eight legs. “Peter!” she cries. “Help me with your brothers and sisters!”

The cover of the spiders’ home peels away as sunlight slices into the dusty, moldy deck boat. All around Peter, spiders shriek and try to escape over the sides onto the lawn beneath.

“Seems dirty,” comes a new human voice from the exposed heavens.

“I’ll lower the price to three-fifty,” says the human Peter’s heard before. “Just give it a power wash before you take it out on the lake.”

Tiny spiderlings wail as their mothers pull them on silken strings. Peter’s eight eyes blink in disbelief; the land where spiders could roam freely is torn asunder.

“Peter!” The thread between Peter and his mother yanks him out of his thoughts.


Peter glances back; his grandfather stares down at him from a cabinet stamped with the label SAFETY VESTS. His legs are spindly, but his back is straight.

“Don’t listen to him!” Shona shouts from the boat’s edge. “He’s an old fool!”

“Flee now, and you’ll flee forever.” Grandfather’s voice is steady. “The Cycle has restarted. If we can survive, we can have peace again.”


Peter stays. The skies darken as the boat cover cuts the thread between Peter and Shona, silencing her scream.

The next days are the hardest. Peter and Grandfather hide in the SAFETY VESTS cabinet against the thunderous sound of water on the deck. They live on sprinkles of water that splash through the doors.

Grandfather tells Peter of their ancestors: steel-legged spiders who faced soapy waters and horrible sunshine. Grandfather says that the Cycle has always gone this way. “If you survive the pain,” he says, “your children will have peace.”

They emerge when it’s over. The boat is quiet without their spider village. All the beautiful dirt and grime of their homeland is washed away. Peter’s legs wobble as the boat rocks and growls under his feet.

At night, Peter thinks of his mother. Sometimes he can feel her silken thread around his cephalothorax.

Grandfather shows Peter how to build a web along the boat’s railing. He instructs Peter never to mate with a female who will eat him and how to switch webs with weaker spiders. They catch ten blood-filled mosquitoes as Grandfather talks. Peter fills his abdomen and listens.

Beneath a golden sunset, Grandfather finishes his final molt and rests in the SAFETY VESTS. Peter tells him the ancestral stories.

“Peace will come,” Grandfather whispers. Peter weeps for him.

Soon the cover falls back onto the boat. “We’ll take it out next weekend,” says the new human. They don’t.

Garden spiders fill the boat over the coming days. Peter meets a svelte female who does not eat him when they mate. His spiderlings beg to hear the ancestral stories over and over.

The natural dust and mold begin to grow again as the village grows, undisturbed and peaceful. When Peter molts for the last time, he closes his eight eyes and dreams of fat mosquitoes flung against a wind-stretched web on the water.