“THE LAST HOURS OF SPRING”
Bruce S. Larson
The inconstant landscape. Spider Mercy. I am one of those two things. But in some contexts, one and one is not two. Mr. Boole rested far away, but there I sat. Thoughts, like the sun beating over my brow, occupied my time. I noticed a familiar reflection rising next to me. I did my best not to look at it. Nevertheless, the mass wanted my attention. The giant, stone head spoke.
“I have been many things in many times, incarnations of gods or merely stone idols. I have dominated landscapes, towering above worshipers as a reflection of their ideal self. However, all mirrors crack in time. Here, so many idols have fallen for so long that their bodies and dogma have crumbled into the purple drifts that besiege me. The wind hurls their grains to slowly chisel me away and build larger dunes. Or perhaps I will be buried completely, lost to light and touch, dreaming of the corrosive wind. It is a dangerous thing to be worshipped. One cannot easily walk away from the altar, unlike the followers.”
The stone head paused and awaited comments that never came. “I know my history, half-buried by neglect, but what brings you here?” It asked.
I broke from my reverie. The sun had shifted and the shadow cast by the giant head was hard to ignore, now. “So many things can happen in a day. Sometimes, well most times, I like to sit and reflect on them.” It was as if its question and my answer were the same thought.
“What do you see in your reflections?”
“Mostly murky images colliding while I look for clues to the Theme.”
“The Theme? What do you mean?”
“It is that thread of idea that links all life.” I explained while tugging at a piece of string unraveling from my hand. Pieces tangled into spider webs that drifted into the sky.
“Designs I can see, but an ideal common to all?” It questioned. “Good luck.”
I didn’t grasp its gentle rebuttal, and continued gazing across the purple desert. “I feel I’ll need luck. Today holds the last hours of Spring. Soon the air will be filled with distractions. I have a problem with them, at times. Details are like traps.”
A large butterfly landed on my head.
“Perhaps it’s your focus, or lack thereof. When do you think you’ll be finished?”
“I’m uncertain. I hope before the swifter pace of Summer.” I drew my knees to my shoulders. A small cascade of grains flowed down the slope and gathered against my back. “Focus?”
“Don’t ponder here too long. One can lose perspective locked into the same view. That’s why my builders rejected me.”
“People created you, only to abandon you?” I finally turned towards the stone head. I gazed across time to a lush grassland when workers in animal skins climbed over an exposed bolder that stood like a small mountain. They cleaved at its granite surface with stone tools and bloodied hands to deepen rough‑hewn lines. It felt like a scene from memory.
“Yes,” the stone head answered over the echoing rhythm of its ancient sculptors. “Destiny for a stone god, I suppose. I think my worship would have lasted longer if they had kept me more abstract. With no elasticity to change, you stagnate, fossilize, and are buried in time. Nothing atrophies faster than an idea locked in stone.”
Time flowed like a moving backdrop. The stone head became surrounded by white robbed worshipers. An industrial metropolis of glass, steel and sister concrete loomed behind the head.
“Sometimes you can resurface and be placed under the sun again, but you are worshipped only by those whose prayers are anachronisms.”
“I am constantly seeking and looking over new horizons while seeking the Theme.” The white robes and city faded and blew over me in a wave of dust.
“But do you see what is there? Or is it the quest that defines the experience, so it is safely filtered for only pieces of a puzzle that does not exist? If so, you lose sight of what is really happening.”
I assumed the posture and armor of a medieval knight on a white horse for both illustration and defense. My shield glowed with an emblem of the Holy Grail. “But if I don’t seek the Theme, how will I find it?”
“Did you ever think your quest may have no end? Is your purpose finding an answer, or continuing the quest?”
My only response was a stern look sharper than a stone ax. I used my sword as a shovel and covered the stone head’s mouth with a mound of unspoken contempt. Unable to speak, it looked passively into space. I clapped away the purple earth coating my hands. I like to behave in a civil way, but the stone head became too familiar. Yet, he never asked my name. I suppose there was little point. Nevertheless, I like to say Spider Mercy aloud. It is who I am, after all. Perhaps what I am, as well.
The activity had diverted my mind. Suddenly, Urge charged up the slope. Today she looked like an ultramodern schoolgirl in fashion and movement, but she is always changing on the whims of fashion or rebellion. Whichever it was, she had bought it with the same coin. I could never recognize her until she said hello or we made love, whatever came first.
“Spider! Hi, honey!” Her voice always held enough cheer to shatter ice into glass. She squeezed me tight enough to crush stone. “What are you doing?”
“I was speaking with this stone head about the Theme.”
“Talking to stone? You might as well be talking to yourself.” She chastised. “Come on. You need a nice walk in the country.”
Urge hauled me by the back of my jacket collar locked in her smile. We came across a sign reading: VOLUNTEERS WANTED.
“Look, Spider! Perhaps we could be of help.”
Urge and I joined a group of people gathering around a woman rendered in earth tones. She stood amid large sacks containing evergreen tree seedlings and piles of shovels.
“Welcome to the Eco-Reclamation Bureau’s latest effort.” The woman said. “We hope to create a thriving forest out of this wasteland.
“I recognize this place. It’s close to where I met the stone head.” No one listened. They were too busy gathering shovels and seedlings.
Urge held up a shovel and a fist-full of small trees. “We’re doing something good!”
“But it was a desert before, a different kind of ecology,” I said.
Urge and the entire crowd looked at me with a dazed, happy expression and replied in unison: “Trees will make it better. Trees are good!”
The frenzied, tree‑planting mob looked like a plague of locust moving backward in time across the dusty plain. A carpet of green spread behind them. I took one of the few shovels left behind, and dug a small hole. I stood inside it and drew the loose dirt around my legs. The mob doubled back and flowed across where I stood. I watched the seedlings prosper. In time, for however long that was, the shade of an evergreen forest eclipsed me. A small, true spider descended to my shoulder on silk. It built a broad, circular web between a tree and myself, and then occupied the center.
Soon, a butterfly lodged in the web. To my surprise, the spider released it back to the air. An afternoon later, a fly struck the adhesive trap. The spider paralyzed the squirming prize with liquefying venom, and wove it a shroud of white.
“Excuse me,” I said to the fatter arachnid as it returned to the center of the web. “I noticed you ate the fly, yet freed the butterfly. Why? Was it an appreciation of the butterfly’s beauty? Is beauty something known to all things?”
“No,” The spider answered. Its voice was a faint, grating whisper spoken far behind heavy fangs, and seemed like a persistent thought, hardly considered. The sound was reminiscent of a giant stone head speaking in the distance. “Beauty, like truth, is an individual perception, a judgment based on an unconscious urge or known desire. So it was not my eight eyes, but the facts within my jaws that judged the butterfly’s fate.”
“Facts?” I asked as the spider came to rest across my forehead.
“Yes. I don’t eat butterflies because they taste bad. Their colors warn of toxins they carry for defense, like the colors worn by wasps and bees. So for me, flies define beauty. For they fulfill my hunger.”
My image reflected in each of the arachnid’s eight eyes above the curving fangs.
“I never knew this.”
I became lost in the spider’s thoughts. A swath of silk stretched across my face trailed from its spinnerets. Images of butterflies occupied my own eyes.
“It’s not knowledge all are born with,” the arachnid said. “Sometimes you must eat a butterfly to learn.”
“So their beauty is…an image of danger. A warning.” As I pondered, my personal truth became obscured under layers of silk.
“Why would they color themselves so brightly?” The spider asked, and continued to weave across me. “What facts lurk beneath the colorful skin, hidden or focused by bright patterns?”
Soon, I stood as a column of gauze beside the web, completely covered in a silk cocoon. I continued to think. I felt a change begin.
“When an image is woven, a web is made. But from what motive is the silk hung? Is it to free you? Is it to eat you? Or is it merely benign?” The spider watched as pairs of long, black arachnid legs emerged from my fraying cocoon.
“So many veils to pull away before you reach the truth.” I stood before the web as a giant, black spider. I saw a small likeness of myself rest at the web’s center. “They can be wrapped deep inside one’s self, masking personal paradox. And in truth there is no such thing as a spider’s mercy.”
“True; fact.” It said. “I kill to stay alive. I run from those I think will eat me.”
“My life is a little more complex than that. But thank you. It’s been, yes, illuminating.”
I departed from the woods. I appeared more familiar in the strong sunlight, and walked down a hill. A small avalanche resulted. Rocks and purple earth slid away to uncover buried thoughts. I had pushed the earth over them, not wanting conscience to ruin the possibility that the Theme, my stone-cut god, did not exist, or could crumble just as ideologies built before it. I freed myself from the purple-hued wasteland at last.
“Well, at least today wasn’t a total loss.” Urge hugged me from behind.
“No. I learned to see and spin webs, change my perspective, and a new view on butterflies.” We sat on a grassy hill and gazed into the darkening evening sky.
“And the Theme?” Urge asked.
“Remains to be written, if it ever can be. Now, at least, I can question whether it exists without covering my own mouth, afraid of the answers I might find or give myself. I cannot find the truth without considering all the facts. And sometimes they are hidden beneath silken veils.”
“What do you see in your reflections?” Urge asked with a voice like a persistent thought. She held up a compact mirror to me.
“My own image dominating the landscape,” I said, and took the mirror. “But also every possibility beyond the cracked edges of the mirror.” I crushed the silvered glass slowly, and scattered the glittering fragments across the dark night sky. “I suppose it’s how every personal universe is born. The Spring is over. I look forward to Summer.”
# # #