Excerpt for Monster of Monsters Collection #1 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Monster of Monsters

Collection #1

Kristie Lynn Higgins

Text Copyright © 2018 by Kristie Lynn Higgins

Smashwords Ebook Edition

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.

Monster of Monsters


Part One

Mortem's Opening

Kristie Lynn Higgins

Text Copyright © 2017, 2018

Smashwords Ebook Edition

Cover Art © 2017

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.

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Monster of Monsters


Part One

Mortem's Opening

Chapter One

The Trials And Joys Of Life

A young girl wearing a school uniform sat by herself under the shelter and shield of a great oak tree. The sounds of other children could be heard in the distance, but they nor she could see one another behind her woody fort. She ignored their laughter that bid her to join them on the playground, and she also ignored their conversations that talked of worlds she could never belong to. The girl had found a peace that was very rare to her, and she was enjoying the few minutes she had left before she would have to join the other children and learn.

She sat alone on a small blanket next to a spiderweb that she could easily touch if she stretched out her hand, and she watched as the wind gently rocked the web. The morning dew that clung to its glistening threads fell off as sparkling droplets to the grass with each soft gust that blew their way. A brown spider the size of a quarter made its home there, and it didn't seem bothered by the wind or her presence.

“Would you like some cheese?” she offered the spider after she broke off a small piece of her breakfast.

It stared at her for a few seconds as if curious about her as much as the young girl was curious about it, and then it shook its head.

“What about a cracker?” the young girl questioned as she broke off a piece, and the spider shook its head again. “What would you like to eat? I'm not sure I know what you eat. We haven't learned about you and your kind yet.”

The young girl spent as much time as she could alone. The other children could be cruel, and she found that she was happier alone. The young girl also found that if she looked hard enough she could find little wonders of the created world. They were hidden but all around her.

The young girl held the cracker out as if expecting the spider to answer her, and then she pulled back the piece of cracker and cheese and ate them herself. She started to ask the spider another question when the spider turned its attention to four older girls as they walked by on a path that had a clear view of her shelter and shield. The young girl noticed them and leaned up against the tree so not to be noticed by the older girls.

“I heard Karen will be devoured next,” one of them said.

“Karen..? Which clan is claiming her?” the oldest girl, who was eight, questioned.

“The White Crane Clan wishes to devour her and claim her as one of their own,” the first girl replied. “Her birth clan will most likely allow the White Crane to claim her, and Karen will be adopted.”

“The White Crane is a strong clan,” the oldest girl stated. “Karen is blessed.”

“Yes, she is blessed,” the other three girls repeated.

The first girl noticed the girl sitting under the oak, who was trying to hide from them, so she motioned from the path and asked, “Who is that?”

“Never mind her,” the oldest girl replied.

“Who is she?” the first girl repeated. “I would really like to know.”

The oldest girl became angry and replied, “I will not speak her name.”

The second oldest girl sighed, and then she said, “Her name is Kein (Kīn).”

The fourth member of their group inquired, “What's the big deal? Just who is Kein?” She asked the oldest girl, “Is she a rival of yours?”

“That toddler!” the oldest girl yelled. “She's worse than a rival. She's a nobody at our school. She is ruining the purity of our people.” The oldest girl turned and motioned for the others as she said, “Come on, I don't want to waste any more time talking about her.”

The second oldest girl glanced at Kein once more before joining the other three girls who had started back across the path, and Kein breathed a sigh of relief as she turned to the spider and said, “It's okay. They're gone. We can go back to our picnic.”

Kein picked up a small round fruit and offered it to the creature, “Ms. Spider, would you like a grape?”

She looked at Kein with her eight eyes and then shook her head.

“I wish I knew what you ate,” Kein spoke, but before she could say anything else, a voice above her called out.

“What are you doing down there?”

Kein looked up into the oak tree and saw a boy, who was six and slightly older than her, hanging upside down from a branch.

He smiled at her, then released the branch with his legs, flipped, and landed on his feet.

“I am of the Brown Bear Clan, and I am Bruno,” he introduced himself, and then he said, “I heard you talking...” The boy questioned, “Who were you talking to?”

She looked around as if she couldn't believe the boy, who was a year older than herself, was talking to her.

“Did you hear me?” the boy questioned.

“I'm only playing,” Kein replied, not sure what else to say.

“Is that how you are supposed to speak to someone who is older than you?” a second boy, who was eight, questioned her as he walked up to them.

Kein blushed, then turned to the first boy, and repeated, “I am playing, Senior Bruno.”

“And they say you couldn't learn anything, but I see that they were mistaken,” the second boy spoke, then cleared his throat, and said, “I am of the Gray Wolf Clan, and I am Friedrich.”

She nodded her head to him in greeting.

“What is your name?” Bruno asked her.

“My name is–” Kein started.

“You are supposed to start out by telling me your clan's name,” Bruno interrupted. “You must have heard the headmistress tell us she is from the Fire Bird Clan. It is the first lesson we learn when we come to this school.”

“She can't do that,” Friedrich told him. “No clan or house wants her. They say that she's cursed,” he stated, and then he explained, “They say that a monster killed her sire and dame, and they also say that same monster cursed her and left her alive to curse any clan or house that would claim her so none have.”

“Is that why you are over here playing by yourself?” Bruno questioned her. He walked around the blanket she sat on, and then he noticed the web and said, “I see who you were talking to or more like what. You were playing with this spider.”

“Isn't she pretty?” Kein stated. “I find that I really like their kind.”

“Nasty thing,” Friedrich spoke up. “We should get rid of it.”

“Don't hurt her,” Kein begged.

He ignored her and told Bruno, “Doesn't it remind you of a Kumovon?”

“It does,” Friedrich answered. “We should kill it.”

“No, please don't hurt her,” Kein begged.

Bruno picked up a stick as he said, “I'll smash it.”

Kein quickly got to her feet, cupped her hands around the spider, and gently took her off the web.

“She's touching it! She's touching the nasty thing!” Friedrich yelled. “Make her put it down!”

“Let go of it!” Bruno yelled. “Let go of it!”

“No,” Kein said. “You're not hurting her.”

She tried to run away, but the eight-year-old tackled her to the ground. Kein held onto the spider and didn't let go of her, and she hit the ground hard, knocking the wind from her.

“Get the spider!” Friedrich yelled.

“Let me have the spider,” Bruno demanded.

Kein managed to say, “No!”

“Let me have the spider or you'll get hurt.”


Bruno glanced at the stick he held, dropped it, then went over to the girl, and stomped on her hands as he yelled, “Let go of it or I'll smash your hands.”

She didn't say anything but held onto the spider. Bruno kept stomping on her hands until he grew tired. He was about to start on her again when the other boy moved.

Friedrich stood up as he heard the school clock chiming and said, “Come on. We'll be late for class, and you know what happens if we're late.”

Bruno stomped on her hand one last time and then ran after Friedrich who hurried for his class.

“Don't worry...” Kein spoke a few seconds later as she sat up. She peered at her cupped hands that were starting to show the abuse Bruno inflicted on them, and she said, “You're safe now. They're gone. You can go back to your web and...”

She opened her hands and found that the spider was dead. She had been unable to save her, and the spider's blood was all over her hands. Kein wanted to cry, but she held it in, crying never did her any good.

“I'm sorry, Ms. Spider,” she spoke in a whisper. “I'm sorry I sat next to your web. I'm sorry I was talking to you. I'm sorry that no one likes me.”

Kein took her hand and dug a hole for her, and then she gently set the spider in her grave. She piled the dirt on top of her friend, picked a nearby flower, and placed it on top, and then Kein grabbed her lunch box, stood, and ran into the woods that surrounded the school. She ran and ran as the school bell's chime fell silent in the distance. Kein kept running until she couldn't run anymore, and then she slowed down and walked. The woods were dense, and little light filtered through the leaves of the oaks and maples. She continued walking until she came upon a very old structure that had long ago fallen into pieces, and she climbed on top of one of its marble pillars that laid stretched out like a log. Kein balanced herself, walked across it, then dropped down to the ground, and took a step to return to the school, but the ground beneath her gave way. She fell a few feet and rolled down a hill into a sandy cave. The area was dark, but she was still able to see in the area very well. Kein stood, brushed the sand off her skirt and shirt of her school uniform, and noticed she had tumbled down into some sort of structure. She glanced behind herself and saw that she could climb back up the hill if she wanted to get out, but Kein decided to explore. She walked around the area and then entered the tiny structure. Spiderwebs small and great covered the walls, and Kein was about to leave when one of the larger webs parted as if by magic, revealing a small tunnel. She entered the tunnel and followed it until it emptied into a large cavern where she found a huge platform the size of a football arena. Kein walked up to it and started to explore the area when she noticed movement in its center. Someone was there with her, and whoever they were they were lying among some rubble as if they were hurt. Kein's heart pounded in her chest, and she thought about leaving, but she felt as if that person needed her help so instead of running away, she took a couple of steps towards the rubble that was about fifteen feet from her.

“So a little morsel has stumbled upon my lair,” a lady said as if she was very weak.

Kein paused when she was spoken to, and then she took two more steps towards the lady.

“That is it, little morsel, come closer,” the lady spoke.

Kein paused when a large spider the size of her hand ran across her shoe, and then she looked all around and saw that the cavern was full of spiders. The rest of them were still, and they all seemed to be looking at her.

The lady in the darkness moved and grunted as if she was in pain, and then she said, “Come here so I can–”

“Are you hurt?” Kein questioned as she took three more steps toward the lady.

“That is a good little morsel. Now stay right there and do not run,” the lady spoke as she tried to stand up.

“You are hurt,” Kein said. “Is there a way that I can help you?”

The lady laughed and said, “You..? I think not.”

Kein continued toward her as the lady in the shadow again tried to rise to her legs.

The lady breathed heavily as she spoke, “You are either a brave little morsel or a foolish one or maybe a blind and deaf little morsel.”

“I can hear and see fine,” Kein stated. “I just can't see you yet. You're still hidden by all that rubble. Did it fall on you?”

“No, I was injured in another way. I am here because I find it more comfortable to lie on these large rocks than the floor,” the lady replied, and then she asked, “Is anyone with you?”

“No,” Kein replied. “I am alone. I am very alone.”

“Good, come closer...” the lady started as she waved her on. “I am too weak to come to you.”

“Are you really hurt?” Kein questioned again.

“I am badly hurt,” the lady answered.

“How did you get hurt?”

“You could say there was someone who wanted to punish me, so they banished me here, but not before making sure I was unable to leave,” the lady answered, then looked her over, and said, “I believe you are big enough.”

“Big enough for what?”

“I believe you are large enough to fulfill my requirements so that I can finally leave this place,” the lady replied, and then she said, “Now come to me, little morsel.”

Kein continued less afraid until she stood before the lady, and then the lady managed to stand on her legs, and Kein looked up at her, and her expression turned to one of petrified wonder as she started, “You're–”

“I know,” the lady interrupted with a small grin on her face as she looked down at her, and she nearly fell down because of her weakened condition, but she managed to stay standing. “You should be terrified by my mere presence.”

“You're...” Kein repeated as her heart pounded in her chest again, and her mouth widened in what appeared to be the preview of a shrill-filled scream.

The lady said, “You must be very surprised to see one as me here. You must also be very frightened.”

Kein didn't know what to do first. She wanted to run, but she also wanted to express the awe and shock of the unexpected enchantment she discovered in the darkness and uttered again, “You're...”

“I know,” the lady stated as she placed a hand on her own chest as if the girl had given her a compliment. “This must be your first time seeing one such as me, so you must want to scream. You can... No one will hear you down here so go ahead.” The lady slightly bent and urged her on by waving to her as if patting her head and said, “Scream... It will make you feel better.” The lady straightened and then added, “There is nothing that I hate more than a stiff morsel.”

“You're... You're so pretty,” Kein finally managed to exclaim with a smile on her face in which no scream followed except for a small one that was more of a shriek of pure happiness. The shrill-filled preview the lady had witnessed before on the child's face was only one of delight and amazement. Kein immediately moved, unable to stand still any longer, and ran around the injured lady as if seeing a majestic beast for the first time up close. She wanted to reach out and touch her, but Kein knew the lady was no animal. The lady was more like a great queen.

Kein slowed her running to a concerned walk as she got a better view of the lady's form, and then she said, “I see now. Your leg's hurt.”

“Are you right in the head?” the lady questioned her. “Do you know what I am?”

“I don't, but you are pretty,” Kein replied, and then she said, “You remind me of...”

“I do not care,” the lady interrupted. “You see what I am. Are you not going to run away?”

“Why would I run? You're hurt, and you need my help even if you say I can't do anything for you.” Kein insisted, “I might be small, but I can help you.” She remembered her lunch box, so she moved a few feet away, placed it on a rock, and opened it as she said, “You must be hungry. Do you want the rest of my breakfast?” Kein removed the purple fruit and stated, “I still have grapes.” She walked back to the lady, lifted the grapes, and said, “They're good.”

“Do you not know that I am going to devour you?”

Kein's expression changed to one of confusion as she said, “I don't think I understand.”

“I will cause you pain,” the lady said. “Do you understand that?”

Kein frowned as she lowered the grapes and said, “Oh... I thought we could be friends.”

“Are you not afraid of me?” the lady questioned.

“No,” Kein replied. “I just thought we could be friends and that we could help each other.”

The lady started to seize the little girl when the large spider returned and crawled up the little girl's leg. The lady waited for the little girl to shriek but instead, she bent and picked up the spider.

“Is he your friend?” Kein asked. “He seems to like you a lot.”

“And yet he crawled up your leg,” the lady spoke and then glanced around the area at the rest of the spiders that made their home there, and then the lady said, “The spiders do seem to have an unusual reaction to you. I have never seen them this still before.”

“I like spiders,” Kein spoke. “But they don't seem to like cheese or crackers.”

The lady looked her over, and then she said, “You are not as big as I thought you were. Here... Give me those things you call grapes.”

She lifted them up, and the lady took them from her, and then she tried one of the grapes.

“Not what I am used to eating, but I guess I could eat these instead of you.”

“I'll bring more food the next time I come,” Kein stated.

“Why would you return? I might not devour you now, but you will get bigger.”

Kein stared at her again as if she wasn't sure what the lady was talking about but then this idea entered her young mind, and she nodded, agreeing with the lady, “I will get bigger, and I'll keep coming till I am bigger, and then you can devour me.” She thought about it some more and then added, “Maybe I can bring you other things to eat.”

“There is something wrong with you,” the lady spoke, and then she asked, “If you bring me food, what do you want from me?”

“Someone to talk to,” Kein replied. “I've had friends before like this little one,” she said as she lifted the spider. “But they don't speak to me. I want someone who can talk to me. I can come once a day, and you can talk to me.”

“I know of the school that is beyond these woods. Will you not be missed?”

“My teachers don't like me, and I don't think the ones that I have before lunch will care if I show up or not, so I can come of a morning.”

“What about school? You will miss out on learning. I might devour you later, but you will taste better if you are a little smarter.”

“Maybe you can teach me,” Kein said. “I can bring you other things that you need besides food, and you can teach me.”

“It will take me some time to heal, and I cannot leave this cavern until I am healed so... I guess I can endure having to talk with my food before I devour you,” the lady stated, and then she added, “But you cannot tell anyone that I am here.”

“I know. They won't like that you're here, so I promise never to tell anyone.”

“I guess I can only trust you on this. Come then... Come tomorrow with more grapes, and we will begin your lessons.”

“What's your name?” she questioned. “My name's Kein.”

“That is German, but it is not a name,” the lady told her.

“It's what they call me,” she said. “It has to be my name. Can you please tell me your name?”

“I do not think I will ever tell you my name,” the lady replied.

“Why is that?”

“This will be your very first lesson,” the lady stated. “My people only reveal their names to friends and family, and right now you are neither. Remember you are a little morsel and that is what I will call you.”

“I don't think I understand.”

The lady explained, “My people see our names as a part of us like an arm or a leg, but it goes even deeper than that. Our names are our very being, so we just do not tell anyone our given name. You have to be someone important to us or someone cherished, and little morsel, you are neither of those things to me so if I should give you my name now, I would be breaking a sacred tradition, and I would be insulting my own pride.”

Kein thought about it, and then she said, “I think I understand. I'll learn your name once we're friends.” She clapped her hands together and peered up at the lady's face as she said, “I can't wait... I bet it won't be that long, and I bet it's a very pretty name like something that has to do with your beautiful eyes. You can tell me your name, and then you can devour me.” She started to run back the way she came, then set the spider down, and started running again for the exit as she shouted to all the small eight-legged creatures, “Goodbye!”

“I believe there is something not right with that one,” the lady told the spiders around her. “I have never seen food so excited to be devoured that they would promise to return.”

Kein paused once she was some great distance away and yelled, “Goodbye, lady. See you tomorrow.”

The lady said nothing to her only shook her head as she watched the young girl run out of her prison, and then the lady spoke to all the spiders around her, “She is too small right now, so I will have to be patient. The food that she will bring me will nourish me until the day she will be enough for me to heal myself and leave this dreadful prison.” The spiders started moving around at their normal pace as the lady said, “My kind lives a very long time, so I can wait... and then I can enjoy my sweet-sweet morsel.” The lady frowned as she added, “I will only have to put up with her until then.” The lady lifted her voice and ordered, “None of you are to hurt her. She is mine. She is mine alone.”

The next day...

The school had a special morning assembly, and it was mandatory that everyone attended, so Kein went with all her fellow students and sat with the other children in her grade. They all gathered in the gym where a huge red carpet had been rolled out over the basketball court, and chairs were set up for all the children, facing a stage, and a microphone on a podium was set up on the stage. The faculty sat in their chairs behind the podium and awaited the arrival of the headmistress. She arrived and walked out on stage as the children and faculty quieted without being told.

“What is that on the headmistress' head?” a girl to Kein's left asked the girl to her left.

“It's a veil. I heard the headmistress wears it everywhere she goes. She even wears it while she's in her office.”

“Why is she wearing it?”

“I heard it said that her husband died long ago and that she's still in mourning over him. I heard it said that she'll never remove the veil until she either finds a suitable husband or she feels she has mourned her dead husband long enough.”

The headmistress took her place at the podium and began to speak, “For the few transfer students that just arrived today, my name is Headmistress Blindheart. You may call me headmistress or you may call me Headmistress Blindheart. Both are acceptable. I want to welcome you one and all to another semester and to remind all of you to work hard. Many of you will be our future leaders so sharpen your minds and hone your bodies and always strive to better yourselves. The world we live in wants to devour us and destroy what we stand for, but do not fear such a death. Hold solace that your clans or houses have already devoured you. Your clans or houses have eaten you from the inside out, and they own all of you. They are your family. Hold pride in that,” she spoke, then glanced over the crowd, and seemed to look right at Kein as she added, “And for those few of you who have yet to be devoured, do not give up hope... A clan or house may come along and see the potential that is in you and devour you, inducting you into their family, so work hard for your future family. I was not born into the Fire Bird Clan. I was devoured into it, and I take pride that such a clan wanted me. Be it the clan or house you are born into or one that devours you, always put them before yourself. There is no self, there is only family.”

Headmistress Blindheart paused, and then she said, “Remember children, it is all about purity of the race. The strong and/or smart succeed. The frail and mediocre fail, and their line will not be carried on. Entice a clan or house to devour you. Show them you can bring strength and prestige to their name. We are only as strong as our weakest member.”

The morning assembly went on for another thirty minutes, and then the students were dismissed to their classes, and Kein hurried into the woods. She brought the lady grapes as promised, and she also brought her crackers and cheese. The lady found that she didn't care for either the crackers or the cheese, but she did eat the grapes, and she ate all of them.

“What shall I teach you today?”

“There is something I would like to learn about,” Kein replied. “What is important about a clan or house?”

“Clan or house? Are they not what you call your families?”

“They are,” Kein replied. “What is their purpose?”

“These are questions your mother or father would be better suited to answer,” the lady stated. “You should not bother me with such things. You should ask them.”

“My mom and dad died long ago,” Kein stated. “I'm not even sure what their purpose is supposed to be.”

“What do you mean you do not understand their purpose?” the lady inquired of her.

The spiders of the cavern moved closer, but they kept their distance of the unusual girl except for the large brown spider Kein had picked up the day before. He crawled into Kein's outstretch hand when she offered to pick him up. She petted his fuzzy body.

“A mother or a father raise you,” the lady said. “They take care of you.”

“The school takes care of me, so would the school be this family you speak of?” Kein asked.

The lady answered, “I guess they could be. They just need to love you and help you grow up strong.”

“No one at the school loves me. No one at the school even likes me,” Kein stated, and then she bowed her head as she said, “They say that I'm cursed.”

“Why do they say you are cursed?”

“I'm not really sure, but they say that someone killed my parents and put some sort of mark on me.”

The lady had been lying down, so she stood to her legs, walked around, and noticed her injured leg didn't hurt as much, and then she asked, “Do you know where this mark is?”

“I think I saw it once,” Kein replied, and then she motioned and said, “It's on the back of my neck.”

“Let me see.”

Kein walked over to her, lifted her long hair, and turned so she could see the nape of her neck. The lady looked closely and saw what appeared to be a small tattoo in the shape of a circle with markings inside.

“Curious,” the lady said. “It does appear you have been marked, but I am not sure of the purpose of this particular mark.”

The lady put a hand on the young girl's shoulder and thought about sinking her fangs into the little morsel's neck but if she did that, she would ruin any chance she had of escaping her prison in the future. The lady was very tired and weak, and she would have given up long ago on ever leaving except for the revenge that fueled her desire to find her retribution. The lady needed to get back into play.

“Let us talk a little more about the school that is taking care of you,” the lady spoke as she removed her hand from her shoulder. “You said that they do not like you but that they do take care of you.”

“That's right,” Kein answered as she turned and faced the lady. “I overheard one of the teachers say they wanted to use me for something when I get older, so they must bear the burden of taking care of me until some other school takes over my care or a clan or house does decide to take me.” Kein paused, and then she asked, “Can you tell me the purpose of a family in greater detail?”

“I will try,” the lady replied. “A family consists of a mother, father, and siblings.”

“What are siblings?”

“Siblings are a brother and/or sister. They are people somewhat like you who must grow up and learn.”

“From the mother and the father?” Kein questioned.

“That is correct. A family is two or more of those members living in a unit. It is how one learns so that they know how to survive through life,” the lady replied, chuckled to herself, and muttered, “You would have been better off if someone had been guiding you, little morsel, then you would not be here with me.”

“I like being here with you, but I do need a family,” Kein said. “I need to find me a family.” She then muttered to herself, “Two or more...”

“I do not think you can just go out and find you a family,” the lady said as she lay back down on the pile of rubble.

“I would really like to have a family,” Kein said. “They sound important.”

“I know you would, little morsel, but it is just not in your thread.”

“Oh... I guess I will have to make friends then. You can be my friend one day, you can tell me your name, and then we can be friends or better than that... you can devour me.”

“You are the most peculiar girl I have ever come across,” the lady told her, and then she said, “As for your statement… One day might just happen. Now... What else should I teach you today?”

One week later...

The lady was lying down as Kein came into the cavern housing the arena size platform, and all the spiders seemed to let out a joyous squeal as she entered. Kein spread out her blanket, and she sat on it as she enjoyed her breakfast. She also started bringing her lunch and sharing it.

“I learned about your people today,” Kein told the lady as she gave the lady her grapes and had her try liver.

“What did they teach you?” the lady inquired.

“They didn't actually teach me. I overheard. Your people come from a place that is a giant island, and they say the sun sees it first.”

“Yes, that is where my people are from.”

“Do you miss your family?” Kein asked her.

“I do. It has been many many years since I have seen them.”

“I hear on that island you have your own language that's different than ours.”

“We do,” the lady replied. “Maybe one day I will teach you my language.”

The lady tried the liver and found that she did enjoy eating it almost as much as the grapes. She looked down at the girl and said, “You are looking thinner. You need to eat more if you are to fatten up for me.”

“I don't know if I can,” Kein told her. “I've been sharing my meals with you.”

“I see,” the lady said. “And we cannot have that anymore. You will have to start taking more food for yourself so that you can share with me without taking away from what you need to grow up big.”

“I will try,” Kein told her.

“You said earlier that you brought something new with you,” the lady stated.

“I did,” Kein said. “I brought a comb. Kids are making fun of me because they say my hair's all messed up. Can you teach me how to comb my hair?”

The lady sighed, having to do something so tedious, and then she held out her hand, and Kein gave her the comb. She took the plain blue plastic comb.

“Turn around and hold still,” the lady spoke, and then she took the comb and ran it through the girl's tangles, trying to force the teeth through the knots.

Kein's head jerked back as the lady continued to assault her strands.

The lady said, “Your hair is a real mess. It would be better if we shaved it off and let your hair grow back in. Turn and face me. Good... Now... Listen to me. I need you to go retrieve a pair of scissors and...” The lady paused as she noticed something out of the ordinary, and then she inquired, “What are those running down your face? Are you crying? You are... Why are you crying? Is it because I told you I would have to cut your hair?”

“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cry,” Kein told her. “It's just that... it hurts when you run the comb through my hair, so I couldn't help but cry.”

“Why did you not say something? You should have told me I was hurting you.”

“I don't know why I didn't say anything,” Kein replied, and then she added, “I guess I thought it was supposed to hurt.”

The lady sighed again but this time, the lady was aggravated with herself, not the child. She said, “No, I did not mean to hurt you, little morsel. I was careless and in a hurry, but I promise I will be gentler and take my time this time. Turn around. I will comb your hair again and do so as I should.”

Kein turned and as promised, the lady took her time and removed the knots from her hair, and Kein didn't cry anymore. She actually enjoyed having the lady comb her hair.

A few days later...

Kein sat on a rock as she flipped through a magazine she found in the trash.

“Look,” she said as she lifted it so the lady could see. “These people have families, and don't they look happy?”

The lady ate her grapes as she glanced at the picture, not interested at all in what the little morsel was saying to her.

Kein pulled the magazine back down and continued looking at the images as she said, “I think I should find me a family.”

“A family is not something you can find,” the lady told her. “We talked about this already but if you want to waste your time looking for one, who am I to say you cannot?”

“I need to know more,” Kein told her. “Please tell me more about a mother and a father.”

“A father is someone who... A father is a male who teaches you things like... what is right and what is wrong. He teaches you how to take care of yourself, he gives you wisdom, and he... he...”

“You said something about love,” Kein interrupted.

“Yes, a father is supposed to love you,” the lady explained. “He is supposed to care more about you than he cares about himself and that is what a father is. A mother is a female who basically does the same thing.”

“They sound like they would be nice to have.”

“If you say so...” the lady spoke, and then she said, “Hand me your comb. It is time to comb your hair.”

A few weeks later...

“What are you doing?” the lady asked as she looked over Kein's shoulder.

“I'm trying to write my name. I saw that the others can write words down on paper and can talk to people that way, but I have yet to learn to spell my name.”

“You cannot write? Your teachers must be very frustrated with you if you have not learned to write from them.”

Kein bowed her head and stated, “They do say that I'm slow and that it would be a waste of their time to instruct me more than once, so I haven't learned yet. They also said something about me not needing to learn. They also said that the new school they'll be sending me to... I'll have no need of knowledge there.”

“You cannot go through life not knowing how to read,” the lady scolded her. “I guess I will have to teach you. How else will you be able to get me some of the things that I need if you cannot read? Write out your ABCs. We will start with that.”

One month later...

The lady was able to walk the length of the platform twice before her leg started to hurt. Many of the spiders gathered on the platform when Kein came, but they never approached her as instructed. Everyone had a routine. Kein would arrive. She would play with the one large brown spider as the other spiders watched and made excited noises. Kein and the lady would eat breakfast. The lady would instruct Kein on some daily lesson, and then they would work on her spelling and writing. They would then have lunch. Kein would play with the large spider again. There would be a second daily lesson, and then the lady would comb Kein's hair before she left for the day.

“I brought you something!” Kein yelled as she ran up to the lady.

“What is it?” the lady inquired as she walked over to where the little morsel stood.

Kein handed her a piece of paper that had been folded up twice.

“What is this?”

“Read it,” Kein urged her.

The lady looked over the crude writing and saw that Kein still needed to work on a few of her letters.

“Can you?” Kein asked her.

“Can I what?”

“Read it out loud. I asked you a question.”

The lady spoke, “You are invited to Kein's birthday party.”

“Can you come?” Kein repeated.

“You want me to go out there to some party?”

“No, silly,” Kein replied. “We can have the party here. I can bring us a cupcake a piece, and we can sing songs and maybe play a game.”

“Why would I want to go to some stupid party? I am not a child.”

“Oh...” Kein said as her joyous expression left her face to be replaced by a deep disappointment. “I thought you might want to celebrate with me as I turn six.”

“No, thank you. Celebrate with your friends.”

The lady noticed there was also a drawing on the invitation. It was of herself and Kein smiling as they wore birthday hats.

The lady let out one of her long sighs, and then she mumbled, “I guess it is true what they say. Starve a child, and they will eat anywhere.”

“What does that mean?” Kein asked.

“Maybe one day I will tell you,” the lady replied. “Will there be grapes at this party?”

“Lots of grapes,” Kein replied.

“I guess I can come,” the lady stated as if agreeing to be tortured.

A week later, Kein's birthday...

“I made you something special,” Kein spoke as she spread out her blanket.

She had made each of them a birthday hat, and the lady reluctantly wore hers. Kein even made a hat for the large brown spider, and he wore it by spraying his webbing all over it and putting it on his head.

“Are you not the one who is supposed to receive gifts?” the lady questioned.

“I am, but I wanted to make you something special, so I made the cupcakes, and I made them with lots of raisins.”

“What are raisins?”

Dried grapes, so I think you'll really like your cupcake,” Kein replied. “Before we eat, I just need to light my candle. I'm supposed to have one for each year that I am, but I was only able to get one.” She removed a candy cane striped candle and placed it in one of the cupcakes, and then she removed a box of matches with a leaping tiger on it with the name Tiger Strike. Kein handed the matchbook to her and asked, “Could you light the candle? I'm not supposed to play with matches.”

The lady took the matchbox, struck a match, and lit the candy cane striped candle. Kein closed her eyes, then opened them a few seconds later, and blew out the candle.

“Why did you do that?” the lady questioned her as she handed back the matchbox.

“I made a wish,” Kein told her as she took the Tiger Strike and placed it back in her school bag. “One I hope comes true very soon.”

The two of them started to eat their cupcakes and drink the juice boxes Kein brought with her.

The lady saw what little morsel referred to as raisins and wasn't sure she wanted to try them, but she went ahead and did try the cupcake and said, “This is good.”

“I thought you'd like it,” Kein told her as a giant smile beamed from her face. “Raisins are just cute wrinkly grapes.”

The lady smiled at her remark, and then she asked, “Would you like to have the gift I made you?”

“Yes, please,” Kein replied.

“Turn around.”

Kein did, and the lady placed a necklace over her head.

“You made this?” Kein asked as she looked down at the necklace and turned back around.

The lady nodded.

Kein touched the silk-like necklace of braided material, and then she said, “I thought it would be sticky, but it's very smooth. Thank you. It's very pretty. Does it have any meaning?”

“I do not think I understand your question,” the lady spoke.

“Your people's cultural holds value and meaning with many of the things that you do or say. Does this necklace have any meaning?”

“You want some sort of meaning with the necklace? It is made with threads of white, so it means I am very excited about devouring you,” the lady explained.

“Threads of white are spider webs.”

“They are,” the lady told her. “Someday I will tell you a little more about the threads of white, but for now we should enjoy your celebration.”

“I'll show my friend what you gave me,” Kein told the lady, then ran over to where the large brown spider hung on the web, and showed him her precious gift.

“To think… she would believe something that one such as I so easily made up,” the lady whispered to the spiders around her. “And she does seem to enjoy the gift I made her. Look how happy my little morsel is. I only made the gift a few hours ago and did not put much thought into it, but it is like she sees it as bottled sunshine because I made it for her. I guess it is true about what they say. When those around you turn their hearts from you even the darkness is inviting.” The lady watched Kein as she considered something, and then she questioned, “But if I made it up, why did I mention the threads of white?”

Kein returned, holding the large brown spider as she said, “We should celebrate your birthday when it comes.”

“My people do not celebrate our birth. Our way of life is different than yours. We believe every day should be a celebration.”

“If that is the case, we will celebrate your birthday today. Happy birthday!” Kein then shouted with a child-like glee, “Happy every day should be a celebration day!”

Several months later...

Kein leaned against one of the lady's uninjured legs as she read to the lady from a book.

“That is enough reading for today,” the lady told her. “There is something special I would like for you to get me.”

“What is that?” Kein asked.

“Tea,” the lady replied. “I have not had green tea in ages, but I would settle for black if you cannot find green.”

“It might be hard for me to get,” Kein replied. “They don't serve it in the cafeteria, and I'm not permitted to go to town.”

“See what you can do,” the lady said. “I know you will try your best.”

Three weeks later...

“Can you teach me some of your language and about the tea ceremony you spoke of last week?” Kein asked as she leaned her head against the lady.

“I guess I can,” the lady replied. “Today I will teach you about the tea ceremony. It would have been better if you were able to acquire some tea for me, but I guess we will have to pretend.” The lady drew pictures in the sand with her finger as she spoke, “This particular tea ceremony is to bring about peace and understanding between two individuals. It is done by each participant sharing a written secret with the other.”

“A secret? Why a secret?” Kein asked.

“If done properly, the secret will create a bond between the two which is intended to bring a deeper understanding,” the lady explained.

“Oh...” Kein said. “Tell me some more...”

A few months later...

“Can you tell me your name?” Kein asked.

“Do you think we are friends now?” the lady inquired.

She nodded her head.

“We are not yet,” the lady spoke. “We are far from being friends, little morsel.”

“Should we perform the tea ceremony?” Kein questioned. “We can tell each other a secret.”

“I do not think you have a secret strong enough to bring to such an occasion,” the lady told her.

“When will we be friends?” Kein questioned her. “I thought we would have been friends a long time ago or I thought you would have devoured me by now.”

“I cannot get around how peculiar a child you are,” the lady stated, and then she replied, “And I cannot give you an answer to those two questions yet.”

“I need to call you something,” Kein said. “You call me, little morsel, so can I pick out a name for you?”

“I do not see why you cannot,” the lady replied with a smile. “Do you have one in mind?”

“Not yet,” Kein answered. “I want to pick something from your language. I want it to be special, so I'll take my time and pick out something.”

“My people select names that have great meaning,” the lady spoke.

“Tell me more,” Kein said.

“When we name our children, we select a name that tells of the relationship they will have with us, or others of our kind, or with the world around them.”

“I think I understand,” Kein said. “I will pick a name that talks about the relationship you have with me.”

“I look forward to hearing just what that name will be,” the lady told her.

A week later...

Kein spread her blanket over a raised section of the platform so that the lady could peer down and see what she was looking at.

“I think I know what name I want to call you,” Kein said with excitement.

“What would that be?”

“I need to go translate it first,” Kein said. “I want it to be in your language, and I want it to be a surprise, so I will find the translation on my own. I'll tell you tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a special day.”

After their time was over for the day, Kein ran out, and the lady watched as she left.

“Tomorrow will be a special day,” the lady told all the spiders around her. “I am strong enough now that I can leave this dreadful place. We can go, and I can finally have my revenge on the ones who put me here. All I need is a little morsel to give me the energy I need to journey home.”

The large brown spider whimpered at hearing what his mistress had in mind.

The next day...

Kein came running in, yelling, “I've found the name! I've found the perfect name!”

The large brown spider ran out to her, and Kein picked him up as she asked him, “What's a matter? You seem upset.”

“Do not worry about him,” the lady told her. “He is just very excited about today. You would not believe how long I have been waiting for this day,” the lady told her with a devious grin.

“So you're also excited about the name I picked out for you. I hope you like it. I hope you really like it. It's perfect.”

“What name did you pick out for me?”

“Before I tell you,” Kein began. “It wasn't that easy figuring it out. I translated it wrong the first time, but I believe I have it correct now.”

“I'm so proud of you, my little morsel,” the lady said as she moved up behind Kein who had turned her back to her.

Kein put the large brown spider down on a rock, and then she set down her school bag beside him.

The lady had plenty of time to plan how she would kill the child, and she even picked out the perfect way to do so, the perfect instrument. She readied the instrument of her death as she asked, “What name did you select for me?”

“Okasan,” Kein answered as she turned around with this big beaming smile on her face and asked, “Do you like it?”

A wave of emotions flooded over the lady, and the ones that were the strongest were outrage and anger.

“What name did you call me?” the lady questioned her as she forgot about the instrument of her death.

“Okasan,” Kein answered again as she asked, “Isn't it pretty? I really like it, and I think it suits you.”

“Do not call me that,” the lady spoke angrily. “Do not ever call me that.”

“You don't like it?” Kein inquired as her joy fled. “I thought it was pretty, and it suits who you are to me.”

“Do not call me that!” the lady screamed.

“I... I didn't mean to upset you,” Kein spoke and for the first time, she was a little afraid of the lady. “I thought–”

“Do not ever call me that!” the lady yelled as she grabbed her shoulders and shook Kein. “Do you understand?”

The girl nodded near tears.

“Now leave!” the lady ordered her as she pointed to the exit.

“You're mad. I didn't mean to make you mad. I'm sorry. I'll–”

The lady screamed all the more, “Leave now! I do not want to see you! Leave and never come back!” The lady started to pace the room as she ranted, “This was a mistake. This was all a mistake.” She turned to Kein as rage saturated her face, and she screamed all the more at her, “Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are to me? You are a little morsel. You are something to devour. I do not care about you. Leave! Leave and never come back! You are a curse! You are a curse to anyone you come across!”

“I'm a curse...” Kein repeated as the world around her collapsed like a spiderweb that a rock had been thrown through. Tears streamed down her face as she questioned, “You see me as a curse? I thought you wanted to devour me. I thought you–”

The lady screamed with all her might as if she was this great monster, and Kein jumped back out of fright, then turned, and ran out as fear found a place in her heart.

The next day...

“I'm back,” Kein called out before she could be seen. “I'm sorry about yesterday. I didn't mean to upset you. I'm sorry... Please don't be mad with me anymore.”

She hadn't seen one spider the whole way through the tunnel.

“I'm sorry,” Kein spoke as she slowly walked in, carrying a tray that rattled with china and seemed a little too heavy for her. “I didn't mean to upset you. I promise I won't ever call you by that name again.” She paused before the great platform and asked, “Are you there? Please come out. I'm sorry. Please don't be mad with me.”

The lady didn't answer her as if she had already left the cave and Kein behind.

“I found you some tea,” Kein spoke, hopeful it would coax the lady out. “The headmistress had some in her office along with this tea set. I looked up how to make it, and it tastes good.” She paused, waiting for a voice who usually greeted her by then and when the quiet was the only thing that replied, Kein pleaded, “Please come out. Please come out and tell me you're not mad at me anymore.”

She walked up to the platform and saw that there were no signs of the lady or any of the spiders, not even a fresh web.

“Please come out. I'm sorry. I don't understand why you're mad at me, but I'm sorry.”

The cavern seemed to fill with silence like a giant beast breathing in sorrow. Kein set the tray down on a boulder and looked all around for the one who had packed brightness into her darkness. She searched for the lady who had brought joy to her hurting. Kein peered into the blackness of the cavern and for the first time since entering the lair over seven months ago, she felt alone, and it frightened her, not with fear but with despair. Alone was a very familiar term to her, and it was the kind of alone she had been used to, but she never realized the loneliness of it until she had something to compare it to. Companionship... Friendship... Love... She thought she had all of these with the lady, and Kein had ruined it with one simple word.

The cavern seemed to enlarge as if she was inside a giant beast who had taken another deep breath, filling itself with more sorrow. The silence had given Kein her answer, and her little heart ached over something she had lost. The lady had given her something beyond the terms she understood, something Kein didn't have a name for. The lady had brought her something she had been lacking in her life and now with the lady and that something gone, her soul trembled as devastation laid waste to her happiness. Her mind couldn't understand what sort of crime she committed to drive away the one person who had been there every day to nurture and care for her. Kein had no way to express the sheer solitude and loneliness brought on by the vacuum created in the wake of the lady's absence, so the only recourse she had was to lift her hands to her face and weep. Kein had always forced herself not to cry; it did her no good, and it still did her no good but there was nothing else she could do. She had lost so much with one simple word, a word she thought would bring a joyous smile to the lady's face but instead, it only brought her the lady's anger and rage. Kein understood she had done something wrong, she just didn't understand what that something was. Something lost and something wrong were all she was left with.

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