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Translated from Arabic by Ali Znaidi.

The boughs of the olive tree branch out on the large room’s window, which opens onto a folktale repeated by the villagers about a spider inhabiting the old house on the plateau. A distorted spider whose shape swelled as it captured profane spirits. Alien faces to the village were caught in its nets: men with unkempt hair and beards, unpleasant faces in veils, and jelly-like features that came to hide in the spider's web.

There, amidst the mountain rocks carved in the form of faces, older women talk about men and women who were metamorphosed because they rejected God's grace. But who dares go to the top of the plateau, enter the spider's web, and scrutinize the bodies that have been dissolved in the rock?

The weather is too bad to chatter with the women villagers in the slippery roads.—A gray sky suspiciously watches the footsteps of passers-by, and trees stand like columns with the wind slapping their leaves which are flying in the air like dull letters.

My mind wanders in the void, in the abandoned houses where spiders nest in their corners. Language spins its braids out of a choking dust. Bandits pass by, with their unkempt hair, looking for curtains to cover their ugly faces. They tear up the silence of the place by talking about spirits succumbing to the void. They wish for meaning in their gazes that are always searching for the myth of the monster, for a spider hanging in a thread, weaving its nets to the passers-by.

The shepherds, who heard the strangers’ cries in the spider's web days ago, found dissolved bodies swept away by floods. They trembled when they heard the voice of the distorted spider, calling them from the void to keep shearing the sheep and spinning the wool, in order not to be cursed.

The children gather around the shepherds to discover how they cut wool from the sheep with the woolshears. As for the women villagers, they wake up the next day, with the first rays of the sun, and gather around the water stream to wash wool with water and soap. Each one of them tells the other what her husband heard from the strangers before the spider weaves its traps, hunting for them.

One of them says, “Down with the distorted spider! I will squash it with my fingers and rip its nets apart before the lead clouds condense.” His fingers tremble, and rain flows in torrents that sweep him into the abyss of the deep river. He becomes a corpse as dissolved as his dream of drawing an amorphous country.

Another one says, “There is no escape for us from the tanks that are besieging the mountain, but to hide in that abandoned house that is redolent with older women’s folktales.” His colleague nudges him with an elbow, trying to push him to surrender and raise the white flag. Death is besieging them in this place and the distorted spider will not be merciful with them as it is busy with spinning the yarn of its intricate nets, which are not different from the silkworm silk fibers. But they were woven with the vibrations of its captivating spirit.

The children help their mothers with moving the washed wool from the stream to the scattered village houses in buckets, to be placed in meshed plastic boxes, and when it is completely dry, members of each family spend the evening around it with a sharp-toothed comb in the hand of each one of them to remove stains before spinning it.

The women weave the threads of the tale of the widowed spider whenever they gather in the center of the house. Each one of them holds a spindle in her hand to twist the wool fibers together to form one thread of the tale of the distorted spider.

A spider surprised by the sound of rain gliding in the river, while hearing the sound of water flavouring the clay. It listens to the echo of the past in between the holes of mud inside the river. A girl combing her silky hair that resembles the fibers of a canvas made from the strands of gods. Her childish voice rises in the air like a soul flying in a place where the stones grow old. Her voice, which makes the passers-by shiver, does not stop.

The spindle looks simple. That’s why the children search between the wood piles for a thick stick that they sharpen with a knife, downward, to take the shape of a disk. They imitate their mothers, wrapping the threads around the spindle’s stick as they twist the threads from the hole in the middle of the rectangular plank on top of the spindle. Gathering around their mothers to twist the threads between the toes will be sufficient for the children to know about the fate of these strangers in the women’s tales.

Nothing interests these strangers but hiding from eyes guarding homelands. In this place any bandit or terrorist would die whenever rain fell and the spider began to mimic the screams of a furious girl. Decomposed bodies are swept away by torrents and they are taken far away and buried without being escorted by crowds of mourners to the cemetery, without reading Quran on them, and without a funeral. They are only followed by the curses of the elderly, orphans and the bereaved.

Only the spider learned to build its web with thousands of strong natural threads. It learned to see from all directions with eight eyes, and hunt its prey with eight legs. The spider did not and will not leave its place, and it will not fly to other places. It secludes itself at its web and hides its secrets in between the corners of the place.

Seasons change and nature changes its dresses, whilst the spider weaves curtains of its web and protects itself from peeping eyes. It is the friend of the villagers in their trials and tribulations. It guards the village from thieves and destroys strangers. It feeds on insects. Destructive creatures captivate its spirit.—Thin, transparent, soft, delicate, diaphanous, and solid threads coil on one another like a coalesced spirit that cannot be torn.

Not long ago the spider was a young woman. She learned how to spin and weave threads. She also learned the art of the loom. She learned how to design her net and weave it. She looked like a skillful designer when weaving elongated threads, connected to four strings in a rectangular shape – a loom like a net of straight and curved threads, and arranged like a painting in the hand of a skilled artist, who designs it slowly in isolation in the corners of abandoned houses or between trees or in huts.

She was the dream of every young man in the village. She was the most skillful young girl in spinning and weaving wool. But she was listening to a voice calling her from the void, while she was attaching the first line to the loom, like the spider that attaches the first line of its net to a berry or olive leaf or to a mountain herb.

Bandits who come from behind the plateau killed her father and stole his flock of sheep. To make ends meet for her and her sisters who were gathering around their mother in worn clothes, she had nothing to do but spin and weave wool. Wishing only to cry in an abandoned room, she began contemplating the black spider’s widow, weaving its nets and destroying its prey. So she became accustomed to staying there alone, contemplating that black spider weaving its traps.

When her mind caught the first line of the tale, searching for images that have passed through memory, it threw out the threads of the spider’s tale like the spider throws out threads from its belly when it begins to design its net. Her mind should have connected the threads of the past with the present, and the threads of the spider’s widow with her father’s murder, resurfaced from her memory. She studied the web of the spider’s widow near her loom and it looked like a leaf resembling a bed furnished with threads spun like silk.

She piled up the notes she had obtained from months of spinning and weaving wool, and entrusted her relative with building a house on the plateau, and there she built a network to hunt strangers and bandits. It is her house that resembles the web of the spider’s widow. She tempts strangers to approach the house, seducing them with her large smile, so they dream of spending some time on a bed of silk with a bewitching young woman. The spider injects venom into its prey and dissolves it with its saliva, whereas she offers her preys glasses of poisoned wine, and her relative is responsible for stripping the strangers of everything they have.

That young woman no longer lived in the dreams of the young men of the village, and no one wanted to marry her. Indeed, older women’s curses fell on her and her mother disowned her. Her siblings fell into disgrace after she began having affairs with strangers in that house upon the plateau. Her relative, who used to go down rarely to the plain village to buy what food and drink they need, told them of her power when weaving her nets for the passers-by.—A lustful woman who makes love to strangers, then poisons them, and throws them out as food for worms and insects, and sometimes she pours gasoline on corpses, turning them into ash.

The heat intensified in the village. Then autumn winds and rains of a snowy cold winter followed, and “the spider’s widow” was still in her house that opens onto the void. However, her relative was out of sight. It was said that she poisoned him after he seduced her. So she slept with him.—He did not know that it was his last night. He did not know that his loyalty to her and his devotion in serving her wouldn’t be valuable enough to dispel her aggressiveness against him. He did not leave the silky bed, and he did not get up from it. Then the threads connecting the young woman and the villagers were severed. Her voice began rising in the void, confusing the shepherds and strangers. A curse befell her, so she was metamorphosed into a spider in that abandoned house.

What a curse, that turns into a blessing and to tales ‒ concocted by the villagers ‒ of a young woman who is still beautiful and captivating, strutting in embroidered dresses, seen in the early morning setting her traps for crows appearing from behind the mountain, combing her hair with the radiant sunlight from the east, bathing under the rain, and opening her hands to the wind to dance the dance of the free spirit!

What a blessing that made her spidery threads, which bind her to her prison, invisible and protect her from bending and downfall! What a blessing that made the villagers think of offering scapegoats to the passers-by and the poor, and keep wool to weave sheets for cold winter nights, mattresses for moonlit nights, and drapes to be hang on the walls of their houses when opening their windows in spring!

The boughs of the tree spread above the window on which birds land to fly in the morning to that house upon the plateau and return in the evening with melodies flowing in the soul, resembling her toned language.

When dark comes and birds sleep, I close the window that opens onto the folktale of the widowed spider.

And when the sun shines and the pure blue sky hugs the absolute, the spider’s folktale is illuminated by the light of the sun which shines in all directions, and which is in turn coloured with the reflection of the absolute on the river's surfaces and amidst the floods, reflecting images of decayed corpses of featureless strangers.

Houyem Ferchichi is a Tunisian literary journalist and short story writer. Her short stories have been published in numerous Tunisian and Arabic literary magazines. Her short story collections include The Scene and the Shadow, and Secret Tattoos, and she has written a book of criticism on Youssef Rzouga’s poetry.