Disclaimer: I heard the legend of the spider at the top of the pillar a long time ago, and therefore it belongs to someone else. The rest of the story, so far as I know, belongs to me.
Once there was a village whose people liked to brag that they lived near the Roof of the World. A great stone pillar, the top of which was guarded by a giant spider, supported the roof. None of them had ever climbed it, of course. Even if the spider had not been there (which it certainly was, despite the fact no one had ever seen it), to stand in such a high place was sure to anger the Great One.
"What are heights to us? We do not float upon the wind as the hawk does. Best to keep our feet on the ground," they said to one another.
And so they did.
Now the place where these people lived was very dry. Sand blew across the valley floor in tiny spirals, throwing sand everywhere. The hot red sun beat upon the floor with a fiery vengeance. Because of this, water was very important. Water made the crops grow. It kept the village from starving. Without water, there was no life.
The most important person in the village was the one who knew how to find it. And Little Brother was the name of that person.
He lived with Mother, Father, and Sister in a hut on the very edge of the village. Whenever the wells ran dry, he and Sister went walking. Sister went with him, for he was still a little boy and tired easily. When this happened, she carried him, for they knew they could not come back without the all- important water. And they never disappointed.
When people would ask how he knew where to look, Little Brother replied, "I hear it grumble within the earth. That is how I know."
One day, Little Brother and Sister were out walking. The wide flowing stream had shrunk to a brook, and they had left to see what was the matter. Little Brother stared at the rock face from which the water came.
"I don't understand. The water still flows, but somehow there is less than before," he said as he crouched, puzzlement furrowing his brow.
"You will find more. You always do," Sister said, spinning around lazily in the sun with her arms open wide.
Little Brother let the water run over his fingers. "Do you ever wish there were more water?"
Sister stopped. "Why? We have all we need."
"Not that. Enough water to stand in. Enough so that you could not see the end of it."
"What would we do with so much water?"
Little Brother splashed the stream water on his face and stood. "Live in it. For the water is so cool, and the sun is so hot."
Sister laughed. "Only you, Little Brother, are afraid of the sun."
She could see that he was tired, so she picked him up and started carrying him back. Yet even though it was getting late, she could not resist stopping to stare at the great red tower rising away from them in the distance.
Sister had only one dream. She dreamed it every night. And it went like this:
She stood at the edge of the top of the tower, high on the Roof of the World. The rising sun felt warm upon her face. She wrapped her toes around the edge, feeling as free as the hawks that fly overhead. Behind her stood the great Spider, smiling down on her with pride. The valley below her was covered in shadow, with the yellow rising sun lighting the floor like a river. The height caused her no fear, but instead a perfect bliss. She felt her blood in her veins sing, as she opened her arms and flew.
She had told her dream to Mother as she ground the meal to make bread.
Mother had laughed, and then scolded, "Little girls can not fly. They are too heavy. You would fall to the earth like a stone."
Father had said much the same thing. She did not believe them. How did they know they could not fly if they had never tried? But Little Brother had said nothing, simply listened. And that is why she loved him best of all.
The townsfolk greeted the children anxiously when they returned. "Where is the water?"
"I could find none," Little Brother admitted, ashamed.
"Well, you will just have to look again tomorrow," Mother said, busying them into the hut.
Father said nothing, just sat down and ate his dinner. Three days the children went out. Three days they came back empty.
Mother said each time, "Go out again tomorrow," but they could see she too was growing impatient.
On the fourth day, they came home to find Father in a rage. He loomed over them like a great beast, snarling while Mother cowered in the corner.
He picked up Little Brother and shook him. "Can you not see we are all worried? Why are you so stubborn? Why are you hiding the water for yourself?"
Mother continued to wail in the corner. Sister kicked Father, picked up Little Brother from where Father had dropped him, and ran. She ran unthinkingly throughout the night, all the way to the tower. Hearing her father close behind her heels, she clutched Little Brother to her and started to climb. She could hear Father's voice behind her, cursing them both. His rage overcame his fear of the spider, and he started to climb after them. Sister climbed as fast as she could, but Little Brother was so heavy, and Father was so very quick. He reached out and caught her ankle. In his terror Little Brother slipped from her grasp. Father's eyes widened in shock as he saw Little Brother falling toward him, and together they fell back down to the ground.
Little Brother landed on top of Father, and was not hurt. He shook Father, calling his name. But Father did not get up. His looked so very strange lying there, like a twig that had been broken.
Sister wanted to go to them, but she did not know how to get back down, and was afraid. She looked up at the tower she clung to, the height stretching above her. Surely even the Spider was better than what waited for her in the village. She started to climb the tower, higher and higher, leaving behind Little Brother's wails, leaving behind Father's horribly broken body, leaving behind that lie she had always believed, that lie of human flight.
Down in the valley, the brook slowed to a barely flowing trickle.
Sister climbed and climbed. She was beginning to see why Little Brother loved water so, for she missed it now. As she missed him. The people in the village would be wailing over Father. They would blame her for what happened, as she blamed herself. That is why she could never go back. What was she doing? Even if she made it to the top, the Spider would eat her. But to see the Roof of the World as in her dream, to see what the hawks saw even for just one moment… That thought gave her courage, and she climbed faster.
One hand, then another, and she jumped the last few feet and stood on the Roof of the World. In front of her was the Spider. It was larger than she had imagined, tall as a hut and near as big around, with bristling fuzz covering its legs and a color black as a moonless night.
"So, child, you have come," Spider said.
A great swell of fear jumped into Sister's heart. "Are you going to eat me?" she asked.
"Why would I go through the trouble of bringing you here, just to eat you? No, girl. Your dreams have shown you your true nature, and I have called you here to teach you."
"To teach me what?"
"How to fly, of course."
Sister thought of her father crumpled on the ground, and started to cry.
"Why do you cry? Don't you want to learn to fly?" Spider asked.
Sister answered between sobs, "I can't fly. Mother told me…and Father…"
Spider silenced her with a wave of her leg. "Every creature has a calling. Some are called to spin, others to hunt, still others to dance, and yet others to laugh. If they are called to do these things, why can you not be called to fly?"
"But I don't have wings," Sister said quietly.
"Of course you do! Just look!"
Sister turned round, but every time she turned her back passed by just out of her sight. Spider watched with a smile.
"You are making fun of me," the girl said, saddened and angry.
"Will the sun rise tomorrow?" Spider asked.
Sister was confused. "Of course."
"How do you know?"
"Because it always has."
"That does not mean that it always will."
Sister stamped her foot. "What does the sun have to do with flying?"
Spider put a leg on the girl's shoulder. "Everything."
Sister thought for a moment. "The sun will rise tomorrow, because I believe it will."
Spider shook her head. "The sun does just as it pleases. Our wishes have nothing to do with it. All we can do is have faith that it will decide to come up next time. As I have faith in you."
Sister nodded, looking even younger and smaller than normal. "What must I do?"
Spider motioned toward the edge. "Go and see."
Sister walked. The rising sun felt warm upon her face. She stopped, wrapping her toes around the edge. The valley was covered in shadow, with a ribbon of yellow lighting the floor like a river. The wind blew from behind her, rippling her hair and clothing up and down in front of her. The air in front called to her, feeling as solid as the stone under her feet. The wind died. A moment of perfect stillness. Then she extended her arms and fell into empty space.
Below her in the village, the flowing trickle stopped, leaving behind a patch of muddy water.
Life in the village went on just as before. Mother continued to wail at Father's grave. The villagers continued to dig, and plant, and scold, just as they had always done. But no one laughed, or danced, or thought to go look for the lost little girl.
"She is gone," they said, and would say no more, even though Little Brother pleaded with them, but his words had no more meaning to them than a whisper of wind on stone.
They sent him out again and again to look for water, and again and again he found nothing. They would yell, and pinch him, and throw things, and fight in the meeting hall long into the night.
All the while, the muddy puddle grew smaller and smaller, dryer and dryer. By the third day, it was gone.
That night, Little Brother lay in the bottom of his family's hut, while the voices in the meeting hall raged. His back and legs were sore from where he had been struck. He had been called wicked. Some claimed he had dried the water up on purpose. That was a lie. He was not wicked. And how could he find water when there was no water to be found? Sister would know what to do. She always knew. He sat up. If she would not come to him, then he would go to her. But how?
"Climb the tower," a soft voice answered, just as though he had spoken aloud.
He looked around, but could see no one.
"Who is there?" he said.
There was no answer. He looked high and low, but could not see what had made the voice. Little Brother crouched, folded his hands across the top of his knees, and thought. Sister was at the top of the tower. So to the Roof of the World he would go. Taking nothing with him, he slipped out the window.
Up in the rafters in her diminutive form, Spider nodded with satisfaction.
The sunrise found Little Brother climbing the tower. The strong wind threatened to tear him away from the side. Stones broke loose under his grip. The rock cut deeply into his hands and feet. Yet, he did not give up. He would reach the Roof of the World. It did not occur to him to wonder what he would do once he got there, so focused was he on his task. He climbed and climbed, and the space between himself and the dizzying height of the top got smaller and smaller.
One hand curled up over the edge. Then the other. Then the top of Little Brother's head appeared. With one great heave, he threw himself onto the ledge, the winds whipping his hair into clouds as he lay on the Roof of the World. The sun was fiercely warm, beating upon him as a woman beats upon a rug to clear its surface of dust. He watched as the sweat from his body pooled, mixing with the red surface, turning his body to clay. He wished to look around, but he dared not, for fear that Sister was not there, and all his hard climbing had been for nothing. Still, he had to look sometime, so he sat up and looked. At first, he saw nothing but himself on the vast, flat surface.
A gust of wind kicked up a spinning curl of cloud, forcing him to cover his eyes. When he looked again, Sister sat cross legged not three paces away, tall and straight as the tower itself. He knew it was Sister, yet she was much changed. Where her back had been bare before, now two great wings sprung from her back, covered in a soft downy fur as rich and beautiful as the hair on her head.
She smiled at him, a smile full of radiance as the sun itself as she leapt to her feet. "Stand up, Little Brother! Come and see!"
He obeyed, following the length of her arm with his eyes past the end of her finger and off into the distance. At the furthest edge of the land he could see, something glittered. Something large.
"Sister, what is it?" he asked, half in wonder, half in fear.
"Come, and I'll take you," she answered, opening her arms wide.
He hopped into them, and she strode without fear to the edge of the tower.
"We shall fall, I am too heavy," he said anxiously.
"We will not fall," she answered confidently.
Despite her brave words, Little Brother buried his face into her shoulder and squeezed his eyes tight shut, waiting for the sickening lurch he knew must accompany such a fall. He waited, but felt nothing but the wind blowing over his back. And nothing. And still nothing. He opened one eye and looked down. There was nothing between himself and the tiny ground below but air. He looked above. Sister's wings beat up and down, but the motion felt no different than the rhythmic pat pat of her feet as she strode down a trail.
"You fly well!" he exclaimed, with some surprise.
"I could not, before. I had to practice. But then I got better."
He wondered if she had ever flown into the cliff side, but did not think she would tell him if he asked. So, he nodded in silence, enjoying the speed, the unnatural pull of the ground, the safety he felt in Sister's arms, and the sight of the village growing smaller, and smaller, until it was gone.
It took a day and a night and a day to get to where they were going. Little Brother had begged Sister to stop and rest, for he could see that she was getting tired.
But when he asked, she said, "I promised to get you there. And so I will."
A few hours later, he asked again. And again, she replied the same. When he asked a third time, she confided in him that she had always wondered whether he would drop faster or slower than a stone. After that, he had asked no more questions.
Once the day and the night and the day had passed, Sister landed, rolling Little Brother into the sand before her so that she would not crush him. The moon was raised high in the sky. A fire burned cheerfully nearby, with two freshly caught rabbits roasting on a spit.
"This place is strange. It hums in my ears. And look, someone has camped here," he said, shaking his sister.
"The food is for you, silly boy," Spider said, coming out from behind a rock and setting a water skin beside the fire.
"Spider, where did you go? I came back to the tower and you weren't there," Sister said, coming to sit by the fire.
"What a foolish question! I was here, of course," Spider responded, taking a rabbit off the spit and handing it to the girl.
Since Sister seemed to have no fear of the creature, Little Brother decided that he wasn't going to be afraid either, so he came forward and took the other rabbit from Spider's outstretched leg. The children ate. Spider did not. Perhaps she had eaten already. Perhaps she felt eating in front of the children would not be polite. Who can say?
After eating, Little Brother was tired and wished to sleep.
Spider chided him, saying, "You do not wish to see what Sister has brought you all this way to show you?"
The scolding tone brought him to his feet shamefacedly, and he asked, "Where is this thing?"
"Over the hill," Spider said, with a vague wave of her leg.
He walked to the hill and looked over. Down below him was a large, flat stone, stretching for as far as he could see. He walked down to the stone and touched it. His hand went through it, spreading glittering ripples of moonlight that kept going. And going. And going. And he knew what he was looking at was not stone. It was water. Water enough to save the village. Water enough to last forever. He wept with joy. He waded into the water, splashing and crowing, until the sky echoed with the sound of his voice.
Spider and Sister listened and waited by the fire till Little Brother returned. He was covered in tiny shining droplets from head to foot.
Yet even in his joy, his face set with determination. "We must go home. We must tell the village about this place."
Sister nodded. "Yes. Once the village is safe, I will teach you."
"Teach me what, Sister?"
Sister walked over and spread Little Brother's fingers apart. He held his hands up to the firelight, staring at the translucent webs in wonder. He examined his feet, finding webs between his toes as well.
Spider smiled. "You, Little Brother, are going to learn how to swim."The End
A/N: Yeah, I know it's different. But I won't know if it's a "good" different or a "bad" different unless you review! Please?