Prologue from Along Came a Spider
I remember darkness—deep, impenetrable. Not even a hint of ambient light in the void that had consumed me. And falling. I was tumbling through space and time in a nauseating spiral that forced the blood to my feet and sent another sort of blackness rushing toward me. Clinging desperately to consciousness, I curled into myself, wrapping my arms around my abdomen in an attempt to stop that sickening rush that made me want to vomit and sob at the same time.
A scream of terror surged up from the center of my chest, but I bit it back, forcing myself to remain in control. I had to keep it together, could not let the fear consume me. That’s what my father had drilled into my head time and time again.
You must control your fear, Beatrice, or your fear will control you. Never let your mind slip into the abyss where chaos reigns. . . .
I’d been there once before and had clawed my way out of the chasm one agonizingly pitiful inch at a time. And now I was falling again—but this time the abyss was not of my own making.
One moment I’d been playing on the floor of our cottage with my niece Mariella, and the next, my body had been snatched away from all I’d known and loved. I’d heard my family’s cries of surprise, caught the look of horror and panic in my father’s eyes as his arm shot out to grab my hand, but his fingertips had just barely brushed mine before I’d been jerked into the void.
And then I was falling. In darkness.
Suddenly there was light. A blinding flash that made me wince even though my eyes were already squeezed shut. Then a sudden impact jolted the breath from my lungs. I had to blink several times before I realized I was lying on my back in a field, staring up at a sky that was not familiar, at stars that didn’t shine nearly as brightly as they should have.
Slowly, I sat up and looked around, seeing others nearby—just as dazed and disoriented as I was. They were Tales, some of whom I recognized from my little village. But we were no longer in Make Believe. That was clear. Gone was the scent of dew-kissed roses and sunshine on daisies. The air that now filled my lungs was stale, thick, heavy. The wind that whispered through the trees did not bring with it the laughter of fairies or the secrets of the pixies flitting about in the night. And the grass beneath me was no longer the velvety soft bed I’d lain upon as a child, watching the clouds drift lazily into fluffy white knights on pudgy steeds as they leisurely made their way to battle. Coarse and savage, these blades poked through my muslin dress, stabbing my skin like a thousand Lilliputian swords.
“Are you hurt?”
My gaze darted toward the sound of the voice. The man standing over me was devilishly handsome, his chiseled features stark and sharp, giving him an air of danger, but his dark amber eyes were kind as he gazed down at me.
“Are you all right?” he asked, phrasing the question differently in response to my blank stare.
This time I nodded and took the hand he extended, letting him pull me to my feet. “I think so.”
“Good,” he said, the corner of his mouth hitching up in a mischievous grin that completely altered his countenance. He lifted his hand and wrapped one of my buttercup yellow ringlets around his index finger. “Hate to see harm come to a girl as pretty as you.”
I felt my cheeks growing warm at the intensity of his gaze and quickly looked away, not wanting to look too deeply into those amber eyes for fear of what I might see. “What has happened?” I asked, glancing around the crowd as confusion and panic began to make them uneasy, their frightened voices growing louder. “Where are we?”
The man at my side shrugged and shoved his hands deep into his pockets. “Not in Make Believe, that’s for damned sure.”
I let my gaze drift over his shoulder and saw a tall Tale I recognized from the story of Aladdin trying to take control of the rapidly deteriorating situation, his deep voice booming over the din of sorrow. “My friends—please! You must remain calm!”
A woman with long black hair and eyes as blue as robins’ eggs hurried past me, glancing my way and giving me a terse nod before joining Aladdin as he tried to herd the crowd toward a series of carriages drawn by black horses. “That was Tess Little,” I breathed.
“Little Red Riding Hood?” my companion asked, his brows arching with interest.
I nodded. “Yes, but . . . Well, it can’t be! She disappeared almost a hundred years ago with the others.” My heart began to pound. “Have we been transplanted, too?”
He shook his head. “No idea, but I’ll tell you one thing—I’m not letting them haul me in like a criminal just so I can find out. If I’ve broken out of Make Believe, I’m making the most of it.”
At this, his eyes met and held mine. I felt the connection beginning and started to look away, but his gaze was so unguarded, so unapologetic, I let it come. And in that glimpse, I saw a soul so steadfast, so dauntless and true, that I gasped at the beauty of it.
It was rare that a Tale let me past his defenses, rarer still that I was so taken with what I saw. But here was an intensely intelligent and quietly courageous man who could command respect from his friends and instill fear in the hearts of those who weren’t. He was also capable of genuine kindness and the deepest and most profound love. But I was shocked to see that he had absolutely no idea what a remarkable man he could be.
“Want to come with me?” he asked, grasping my hand in his and severing the connection between my soul and his.
I blinked at him, hardly daring to believe what he was saying. But more surprising was that I did want to go with him even though logic and reason warned me that such a thing was reckless and foolish. I swallowed hard, hating what I was about to say. “I cannot,” I told him, wishing I had the courage to flout propriety and take my chances with a man whose name I didn’t even know. “It wouldn’t be proper.”
He chuckled and pressed a kiss to the back of my hand. “Well, maybe some other time.” He backed away, grinning a little sadly as he released my hand, his fingertips touching mine for just a moment before he gave me a wink and turned away.
“Wait!” I called, hurrying a few steps after him as he sauntered toward the tree line. “What’s your name?”
He turned and offered me a rakishly charming grin that held more than a hint of mischief. “Nicky Blue.”
“You there—with the curls!” I started at the voice behind me and whirled around to see Tess Little striding toward me, her long black duster flapping around her dark skirt and cherry red high-button boots. “Time to go.”
I obediently moved toward the carriages with her. “Is it true?” I asked. “Have we been transplanted?”
“Afraid so,” she replied. “But don’t worry—we have people with the FMA who will help you settle in.”
“Fairytale Management Authority,” she explained. “I’ll tell you everything on the way to headquarters. By the way—I’m Tess Little. But everyone calls me Red.”
“Beatrice Muffet,” I replied, attempting a smile. “Everyone pretty much just calls me Beatrice. Or Ms. Muffet.” I chuckled a little. “Except my niece Mariella—she has trouble pronouncing my name.” My voice caught in my throat, the words lodging around the lump of sorrow that had rapidly developed at the thought of never seeing little Mari again. I coughed, forcing my emotions away, and blinked rapidly to clear the tears that pricked the corner of my eyes. “She calls me Trish.”
Tess motioned me toward the last remaining carriage. “Well, welcome to the Here and Now, Trish.”
I placed my foot on the step, but paused and turned to search for Nicky Blue, hoping that perhaps he had changed his mind and had decided to come with the rest of us after all. My heart sank when I didn’t see him. I sighed, a part of me already regretting that I hadn’t gone with him. But it was too late to change my mind. Nicky Blue had vanished, having faded deep into the shadows like a spider in the night…
(Copyright 2013 Kate SeRine)