Ebenezer Stover was checking over his merchandise at the Venison Heights “Genral Stor” (as his sign on the front of the building said), when he looked out through the propped-open front door and saw the storm coming. He called out through the back window to his wife, puttering about in her garden.
“Gladys? Looks like a storm’s a-comin’.”
“I see it, Eb, I’ll be in shortly.”
Ebenezer went to shut the front door, when his attention was drawn by a flicker of lightning in the clouds, silhouetting wispy streamers below that looked too dense to be a rain-shroud. Well, it was still early spring…
“Gladys? Looks like there might be skysilk, get the mule in so’s he don’t get bit!”
He closed the door. The thunder was getting louder. As he listened to it, he thought to himself about the price of skysilk – his mind was always on business, it seemed. It was usually more of a hassle to collect skysilk than it was worth due to the trouble of dealing with the spiders. However…
“Gladys? We still got any of that repellant left that we got from that alchemist that lives in the woods?”
“Yes, Eb, it’s underneath the counter.”
That might do it, then. If enough intact skysilk balloons were left behind by their passengers, whatever he could collect would be like free money from heaven.
Moments later, the loud rattling started. Hail. Ebenezer cursed, just slightly.
“Dagnabbit. Gladys? Sounds like hail!”
“I hear it, Eb.” answered Gladys, coming into the shop from the back room. “Sounds pretty big, don’t it?”
Hail would tear any skysilk to useless bits. Oh, well.
The pounding lasted for less than a minute. The thunder continued on its way, leaving the village behind, and the evening sun glowed through the oilskins over the windows. Ebenezer opened the front door and marveled at the layer of grape-sized hailstones that had littered the street in front of the store. Some of them had dark splotches inside. Ebenezer bent down to look closer. Irregular silvery things with white stripes. They were juvenile storm-spiders, not even past their first molting and no bigger than beans, their legs curled up tightly around their bodies protectively, and completely encased in the icy hail. Ebenezer had been alive in the world for more than sixty years, and he’d never seen anything like it. He bent down and picked one up to examine more closely, but a sudden jolt made him reflexively throw it away. Although startling, it was no worse than a petting-the-cat-on-a-dry-cold-day static shock, but it meant those things were still alive in there.
He marveled as he imagined recently-hatched storm-spiders, small, soft, and vulnerable, spinning their first balloons of skysilk and rising up into the storm, then being torn from their silk by the violent winds, encased in ice, and flung back to earth, where perhaps the ice would armor them against their larger hungry siblings who would be gone by the time they were freed when the hail melted.
Like little storm-spider seeds. A few of them rocked slightly on the ground as their inhabitants tested their temporary prisons. “Instant storm-spider, just add heat.” Ebenezer chuckled.
Then Ebenezer thought about the array of oddities that alchemists and apothecaries and just plain strange travellers had requested or bought from him over the years.
His mind was always on business, it seemed.
“Lands Sakes, Eb, I’m standin’ right here, what is it?”
Ebenezer pulled on a pair of gloves and grabbed a bucket.
“Go and make as much space as you can in the icebox, Gladys, we just got us a shipment of exotic perishables!”