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The Spider's Web
The dark animal advanced upwards at a steady light pace. Palmer had never seen the creature before, and his childish face became visibly unsettled. With the ominous features of an upright black body and eight lengthy limbs, a spider crawled like several flexible twigs moving in unison up a tree. Looking up from his novel on the fresh grassy surface, Palmer stood still, as motionless as the exposed summer sun on the dull clear sky. His brown eyes were attempting to recognize the foreign critter on the tree. He took a deep breath, then quietly left his reading area with wide eyes.
After getting a sizeable distance away, the boy unclenched his pale fists and relaxed his shaking body. His startled eyes loosened their sharpness, giving his mind the ability to focus. Fear partly caused the child’s departure, but his lack of understanding was the prime motivation. Witnessing the unknown is an unsettling experience, after all. In fact, as his soft footsteps echoed through the grey sidewalk, Palmer realized that he was more curious than afraid. He had looked at the spider and wondered “what?”. He had looked at the spider crawling up the tree and wondered “how?”. He had looked at the silky web that the spider was building and wondered “why?”.
“Perhaps papa knows” hoped Palmer as he walked the path leading him to the bridge. “But then again…”
Palmer’s father, a middle-aged farm worker named Dale, had a pink but paling face with dull grey eyes and a crooked nose. Dale’s head was balding like the leaves on a worn-out autumn tree. Every day, he wore a white, dirt-stained button-down passed down from his father loosely rolled around the elbows. Despite his tired appearance, Dale stood firm, though not for long. Even Palmer recognized that. Farms still require intensive physical labour even when one equips instruments like shovels or spades. At least the bridge shortened Dale’s daily walk to work.
When the adults first constructed the bridge, Palmer was no more than a six-year-old just beginning to learn how to read. Now, violet flowers grew from the sides of the bridge, and nine-year-old Palmer had completed every book in the house, like his father, who had only read those books too. Palmer always enjoyed reading stories that could satisfy his curiosity and grant him knowledge about this strange world. He could climb up them like ladders. The child would always carry at least one book from home in his backpack, or, as his father liked to joke about, the books carried him. Yet, it was not enough. While traveling on the bridge, Palmer’s gaze followed a green bird that flew across the summer sky. The question of “how” immediately appeared in his head again with no book in his backpack to answer it.
The boy stopped for a moment while his eyes scanned the bird. Palmer had seen yellow warblers and blue jays before, but never any green birds. The child’s determined expression couldn’t identify this peculiar bird, and the sight transformed into more questions. What was this bird doing in the middle of an empty blue sky? Was it flying mindlessly, or was it searching for something?
Palmer looked down at the bridge that he was crossing and the rivers beneath the bridge. The winding, flowing rapids murmured and slithered like a serpent that never slept. Dale once told the child that their town constructed the bridge because those rivers isolated them from the city. Yet, Palmer couldn’t remember why the two places needed to be connected in the first place.
After crossing the bridge, Palmer traveled on a sidewalk in the busy city. The spiraling web of walkways beckoned him to the center of the city. There he noticed a brick building supported by several pillars with stairs leading to an entrance where many others were heading towards. Both cracked, decaying bricks and bright, fresh bricks decorated the walls of the library which resembled a checkerboard from a distance. Inside the building, Palmer discovered several rows of wooden shelves filled with stories of every genre. Books from all over the world across generations. Novels ranging from philosophy to fiction to history. The shelves stretched like trains and towered over the miniature figure of the child. Overwhelmed by the library’s magnitude, Palmer didn’t even notice the sharp footsteps approaching him from behind.
“Looking for something? You seem lost and confused. What are you doing here, little boy?” asked the adult.
Palmer turned around. The young man wore a striped tie containing various colours surrounded by a white collared shirt. His eyes covered themselves with glasses that reflected the natural light illuminating the facility, and his neatly-done hair matched the colour of his dark, polished dress shoes. His appearance calmed but also attracted an aura of authority.
“Who are you? What is your name?” replied the child. Palmer’s eyes peered at the stranger’s shoes.
“I’m the librarian, though also a writer.” smiled the librarian. “My name is Alder and I’m your friend.” Alder crouched down to match Palmer’s height. “And I can do much more than just answer those two simple questions here.”
Alder’s glasses probed Palmer’s disoriented face. “Perhaps I should start with a little story.” the librarian assumed.
“When the city raised this establishment, I was residing in a nearby apartment writing my first novel. The library was no bigger than a cabin initially. Only two rooms made of wood, one dusty window, and a hinged, rectangular door.” the librarian delivered. Palmer looked up into Alder’s observant vision. “As time went on though, wood turned to brick. Rooms multiplied. The hinged door transformed to a sliding door, while ramps settled near stairs. Even now, sections of the library are constantly renovating, and we add new books each day as the city expands and connects. The final product: a heart of information produced by a network of enlightenment extending across borders and time. The area where you stand now.”
The librarian placed an arm around the child. “Doctors come here for biology books. Engineers come here for physics books. Activists come here for government books. This building is a tool for the common good. So I ask you again, what are you doing here?” Alder paused. Then, he stood back up and began to walk away, leaving Palmer to contemplate.
Later, as the clock struck noon, Palmer found himself back underneath the branchy Oak tree. The leaves swayed calmly in the wind as the child opened another book from the library. The green pine warbler made a nest on top of the tree, while the house spider, with the familiar features of an upright black body and eight lengthy limbs, rested on a completed web attached to a firm branch of the tree.