Once upon a time, on a far away island in the middle of turbulent sea, there lived a tribe of people. These people were much like the people you see every day – two arms, two legs, a head, a torso, loins. They did the things that your people do: they ate bread, meat, vegetables; they sang songs, performed plays; they studied the philosophies of the world. They were a people like every other people. They lived at first on the south side of this island, a conic patch of soil with a dormant volcano in the middle. They spread over the island slowly, mapping it and studying it and living and dying on the island. Eventually, they lived in a great tribe that spanned the entire conic pile.
And as they studied the island, they learned much of its dangers. And they danced and they sung and they believed that above all, they must live and thrive and never die. Beyond all else, the people feared death: for of all things, the one thing that the people studied that they did not understand was dying. They knew all the properties of all the parts of the island, they knew how the island worked and how to make it work for them, but they did not understand death. So they made medicines and rituals and arts and philosophies to stave off death, and they lived longer and longer. And they kept making children, and living lengthy lives, and covering the island with people.
And one day they found that they could not feed everyone on the island. And they were faced with a choice: set out in the waters to find more food, or stay on the island and starve. And the people went to the water and they made rafts. And they found fish and fed their people and for a time, there was less starvation and the people were happy.
And as they ate more, they grew more, both in number and in age – they lived longer and longer and made more and more children.
And soon, the fish were not enough. And over time, there was not enough room for both the living and the dead on the island, and the people were crowded, and the people were hungry, and there were only so many rafts.
So a few of the people on the crowded island made boats that were stronger than rafts. But these boats took much lumber that people needed for houses and for food. And many of the tribe people were made angry by the creation of these boats. And the makers of these boats, the boatmen, fled into the waters.
But the tides turned against the boatmen, and while a few lonely boats made it safe into deeper waters, many of the boats returned to the island, their passengers barely alive, crashing onto the shores of the island.
The people of the island, seeing that the boats had failed, took the remaining passengers – those who were still alive – and brought them before the tribe elders, who gathered around the great fire, which brought heat, and knowledge, and purity to the food and water of the people.
And the elders of the island said
“these boatmen have traveled out into deeper waters, and have returned starved or dead. there is nothing out on the water but death.”
and the people said
“but there is nowhere on the island for more people. what are we to do? we are too many, we cannot feed ourselves, we cannot house ourselves. Cannot we head out onto the water?”
and the elders said
“the waters we do not know. We know the island, we know the people. Surely there is a solution in our infinite knowledge of this place. we do not need to go into the water. that way lies only death.”
and the people said
“then what shall we do?”
and then the eldest of all the elders spoke
“bring the boatmen to the fire.”
and the people obeyed, trembling.
“place the boatman on the fire as we would the water, for they have gone to the water, they are now the water.”
and the people obeyed, crying.
and they roasted the body of the boatman.
and after a time, the eldest elder spoke
“remove the body from the fire. leave the husk on display. we shall never again venture into the water.”
and the people obeyed in silence.
And the people starved and grew so numerous they knew not who was kin, and they knew not each other as people no longer, but as various animals upon a small place. And the tribe shattered, and war erupted, and no man trusted even his brother. And the elders vanished, retreating into their clans.
And after a time, the various tribes came to a peace, for they had slain each other time and again.
They said “we have seen that making too much life has led to war or starvation. We must again use our knowledge to guide us.”
And so the people stopped making children. They used their sciences to remove their organs from themselves and alter their forms and they stopped producing children. And over time, they grew fewer and fewer in number and had to rely more on their own personal talents for survival rather than working in groups. And the various clans convened, and spoke. They said:
” We are dying. We need to make children again.”
“But if we do so, we shall starve. We have been through both peace and war and both have led to pain.”
And the tribes all became silent with thought. After a time, the grandest grandson of the eldest elder, who had first had the boatman roasted, spoke.
“Why did we not eat the roasted boatman?”
And all the tribes in all their thoughts looked with shock at the grandest grandson of the eldest elder. And again he spoke,
“We have seen war and we have seen peace; and both life and death, left to their own devices, have left us bereft of our people. We control all parts of this island, we have even controlled life itself. Why not also control death?”
And the tribes all cried
“The waves are death. The sea is death. We have no control on that.”
And the grandest grandson cried back
“The waves are the unknown. Death may lie in their wake, but it also resides here, on this island. And it is our island. And we know all its secrets, so surely as we know life, surely as we know this island, we also know death. And so, in knowing, we can control it, and in so doing, we can control life.”
And the tribes people all spoke all once, in a fury. Finally, one voice from the crowd rang out.
“Then what shall we do now?”
And the grandest grandson replied
“We shall create life again as we have in days of old, yet we shall take it also. He who cannot survive on his own shall be consumed by those who can, and in so doing, we shall rid ourselves of the weak and create life without starvation.”
And the people again spoke in a thousand voices, rumbling.
And again, silence fell, and a voice rang out:
“We shall abide by your law, for in nothing else have we found solace.”
And the grandest grandson nodded. Then he looked with horror as the crowd descended on him.
At the place of the great fire, where once the elders had gathered, the many tribes reunited, and they took the grandest grandson, and made him the first of his tradition, and roasted him, and ate of him.
And this is when they began to change.
The people, one by one, became afraid if each other, and of the fire, and of being seen. They took to consuming each other, and over time, became recluses, hiding in all the secret places of the island. They turned inward over time, as they grewer fewer and fewer, and they began to change in form. They changed bodily. They grew extra arms and legs, becoming able to do many things at once. They grew extra eyes to see all around themselves, even in the darkness. They no longer knew each other, male nor female, but as one entity with all life inclusive, producing children whenever it consumed enough to do so. These creatures bore children more rapidly and in greater number than people, only to have their infants consume each other in the same competitive way as the rest of the people, leaving only the strongest to survive. They no longer fed on the plants of the island, devouring only animals and each other. They became deadly masters of their terrain, knowing it intimately and always for their own personal gain. And so it came to pass that the various tribes dissolved and never again knew peace nor war, but only a constant reproduction and consumption, a never ending tension of hunters and trap-layers.
And time passed. And the seas grew calmer. And one day, a fleet of boats returned, with white sails and great cargo holds of food.
And the grandest grandsons of the first boatmen returned to the Island.
They thought the place abandoned, for they saw no signs of life. They resettled the island, colonizing it in the names of alien places.
It was when their people began to dwindle and disappear that the grandest grandsons of the boatmen began to worry about the ghosts of their dead ancestors. Taking up arms from alien worlds, they worked together, scouring the island. After a time, they found a hiding place of one of the recluses. Its traps caught one of their band, and the rest stayed to save him.
With its superior knowledge of the island, the recluse ensnared all of the boatmen save one, who freed his fellows and carefully gathered them all together. But they were weak and needed rest, and the recluse lingered closer and closer.
Just when all seemed lost for the wayward band, the recluse was consumed by an even greater recluse, and the two locked in battle, attempting to slay each other. The band of boatmen trudged on, struggling toward their boat.
The smell of fresh, untainted meat tantalized the recluses all around the island, and the various monsters scuttled and battled their way to the group. As a seething horde of self-consuming monsters encroached on the boatmen, the small team used the last of their strength to board a boat, pull up anchor, and flee from the cursed isle.
In later years, the boatmen would write of their ancestral homeland, calling it ‘Spider Island,’ a land of cannibal monsters, and warned all other boatmen never to return there.
And that is the tale of Spider Island.