Sandy is a Spider is a novelette of eight chapters, posted over eight week days -- by me, your host harried in cheap luxury, Cheeseburger Brown.
When last we met in this little theatre we were heartbroken to imagine something unfortunate happening to Mike Zhang Cuthbertson, another apparent victim of this typist's bloodlust -- this time preoccupied with the possibility of open global rudeness.
Today we turn from war to love.
...Or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof: love as an engine, applied to do work -- love as a means to an end, wielded by dedicated artisans. I invite you now to watch swing the scales of justice, oiled by sin.
And now, the first chapter:
Halfway up the irregular and eroded southern face of the Nohoch Mul pyramid at Coba, Ryan waited, crouching in the shade of a pile of rubble as he wiped the lenses of his binoculars. The jungle was a rolling carpet of mossy bracken on every side, a wavering cloud of heat causing the furthest trees to scintillate in his vision.
He checked the binoculars, spotted her. He still had a moment to get ready.
Ryan opened a tin canteen and poured water carefully over himself, creating blobby triangles on his chest and back. He spilled enough into his short, strawberry blonde hair to run down his neck and cause his forehead to drip as if sweat-soaked.
He lay back against the pile of rubble with his legs splayed out before him in an attitude bereft of dignity. He began to breathe heavily, working himself into a wheezing, plaintive pant.
He checked his watch.
Sandy staggered up to Ryan's ledge, eyes on the stones as she bent over to catch her breath. A fjord-like birthmark stained her right cheek. Without seeing him she craned her head up and gazed toward the summit of the pyramid, a frown of grim determination tightening her lips. She straightened and secured two long brunette braids behind a kerchief, wiped clean her glasses, and then resumed the climb.
Ryan was in the midst of working up the air necessary to pant even louder when Sandy stumbled on the next riser. She pinwheeled backward, threatening to overturn and plummet down the stone steps to the jungle floor.
Ryan caught her.
"Oh my God," she squeaked.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Thank you," she said.
Ryan let go of Sandy and shuffled backward to lean against the pile of rubble again, mopping at his brow ineffectually with the loose front of his sopping polo shirt. "You almost gave me a heart attack," he said. "And I was sitting here worrying about that anyway."
"I'm sorry," said Sandy quickly. She crossed her arms, hugging her own biceps absently. The sun winked off a simple silver crucifix hanging between breasts which were heavy for her slight frame, her back self-consciously curved to minimize their prominence.
"Don't be sorry," said Ryan. "I'm glad I was here, thank Jesus. Otherwise -- sheesh. Could've been a nasty fall."
"Sheesh is right," agreed Sandy. "Thanks again."
She smiled awkwardly and started to turn back to the steep stone risers. Ryan coughed.
"I hate asking this, but you wouldn't happen to have any water, would you?" He was good at being sheepish. He looked down, shrugged, spread his hands. "I thought I'd be a hero and get right up to the top easy as pie, but it turns out I'm in worse shape than I thought. I'm just dyin' here."
"Sure, yeah," said Sandy, fumbling at her canteen, expertly concealing the right side of her face. "Okay."
Ryan drank swiftly, but was careful to leave some in the bottom. He gasped in exultation as he handed the canteen back, wiping his mouth with his wet forearm. "Thanks a lot," he said. "I'm afraid there isn't much left. I feel terrible."
"I'm sure it'll be enough for me," said Sandy amicably, hearing it slosh. "Don't worry about it."
"That's very nice of you," said Ryan.
Ryan picked up his knapsack and binoculars. "Well, I'm ready. Let's beat this pyramid. Um, unless you're planning on sprinting -- I don't want to hold you back."
Sandy smiled uncertainly, then shrugged. "No, I don't mind. Let's go."
They took in concert the next series of narrow, crumbling risers slaves of the Maya had erected centuries before, hacked free from the jungle by the grad students of archaeologists only in the last decade. The climb was steep and the feeble, moist breeze was heavy -- reluctant to refresh, an air like hot breath.
As they proceeded Ryan measured Sandy's pace and then gradually exceeded it. After a few minutes he paused and looked back apologetically. "I'm rushing you."
"No," breathed Sandy, waving dismissively. "Keep going. It's good for me."
"Well, okay," he conceded.
He pressed the pace faster for the final push to the summit, ultimately having to hoist her up to the top platform with a firm, steady grip. They were both too winded to speak. They leaned against the walls of a tiny, broken temple. Sandy unscrewed the top of her canteen and offered it to Ryan.
"I couldn't," he said, shaking his head. "You drink it. It's yours."
"I feel bad."
"Don't," said Ryan. "I'll live. Drink. I insist."
She drank. "I left you a little," she said, handing him the canteen.
He emptied it, and then offered his hand to shake after wiping the perspiration off on his shorts. "My name's Ryan Billing. It's good to meet you."
"Sandy," said Sandy, taking his hand.
Ryan smiled. Sandy smiled too. The game was on.