ANNA HAD A NECKLACE. When it hung around her neck she was a human girl, her skin as pale as moonlight and her hair as white and light as cobwebs.
Anna had a best friend called Mia. Anna was always around at Mia’s house, having sleepovers, playing with the family dog or going for swims in their pool. Even when Anna was swimming, the necklace stayed on.
Once Mia asked, ‘When am I going to see your house?’
But Anna replied, ‘It’s not as nice as yours.’
‘That doesn’t matter,’ said Mia.
‘It does to me,’ Anna responded.
Once Mia said, ‘I’ve never even met your mum and dad.’
‘They’re always busy,’ said Anna.
‘What do they do?’ asked Mia.
‘They design and make clothes.’ Anna always wore beautiful clothes, softer and finer than silk, so light they fluttered in the breeze, and in the early morning they sometimes caught droplets of dew that shone like diamonds.
‘Can I watch them work?’ Mia liked the idea of designing clothes, and also it would mean visiting Anna’s house.
‘No,’ said Anna. ‘They never show anyone anything until the clothes are ready.’
When Mia complained to her mum, her mum replied, ‘It shouldn’t matter, but some people judge others by the kind of house they live in. Anna’s worried you might not want to be her friend if you saw hers.’
* * *
Anna lived in the middle of a forest in a barn with a ceiling so high that in the dimness you couldn’t see it. The barn was clean but dark and there was always scuttling and rustling in the shadows.
‘I wish I could invite Mia home,’ said Anna. ‘It’s not fair.’
‘It would be the end of us,’ whispered her mother somewhere above her.
‘They would come with fire and chase us from our home,’ said her father as he climbed among the rafters.
‘Where would we go then?’ asked one of her aunts from a faraway corner. ‘There are so few places now where humans are not. And we only have one necklace.’
‘Now suck up your dinner like a good girl,’ said her father. ‘Then finish your homework.’
* * *
One day, Mia decided to follow Anna home. The next day at school Mia could then say, ‘I saw your house and it was lovely. There’s no need to be ashamed.’
Mia trailed Anna through town and into the countryside. When Mia reached the forest she had to climb a fence and follow a winding path. The air was dry and still.
The forest was dark and silent.
The only sound was, now and then, Anna practising the song they were learning for choir.
The path ended in a clearing, and in the clearing stood a barn with boarded-up windows.
Anna went in through the barn door and closed it behind her.
Mia waited on the edge of the clearing. The barn was old and it lay like a shadow in the long grass that surrounded it. But inside, reasoned Mia, there’d be a kitchen and bedrooms and an entertainment room with couches and bookshelves and a TV for watching the footy.
Mia crept up to the barn and peeked through a crack in the boards.
She saw shadows moving, heard breathing and scuttling. She saw Anna place her schoolbag down by a strange fluffy white sleeping-bag.
She saw Anna take off her necklace.
Then Mia turned and ran, her friendship broken, the pieces scattered behind her.
* * *
‘We saw her,’ said Anna’s brothers and cousins. ‘We were playing tag in the trees. She was crying, running fast for something with only two legs!’
‘We’re done for,’ came a creaky voice high in the dark barn. It was Great-Grandma, as brittle as old bones but as sharp as a new pin. ‘It’s happened before, many times.’
Anna’s father lay on his back, his legs curled in defeat.
‘We were happy here,’ said her mother sadly. ‘Now it will end.’
‘End, end, end,’ came a chorus above. Anna’s aunts and uncles, always spinning and singing, singing and spinning.
‘We must go,’ said her father.
‘Go, go, go,’ sang her aunts and uncles.
But Anna put on the necklace and lifted her chin. ‘I will talk to her.’
‘Brave girl,’ murmured her father. ‘Doomed, but brave.’
* * *
Anna practised what she would say, but it never sounded right. She would have to trust in the moment.
Mia lived on a street with houses all the same: sloping green lawns at the front and swimming pools at the back. Anna swallowed the fear that quivered inside her like a fly in a web. She knocked.
‘Anna,’ said Mia’s mum kindly. ‘Have you and Mia had a fight?’
Anna nodded, because it was kind of true.
‘That explains why she’s in her room and won’t open the door. Do you want to talk to her?’
‘Yes, please,’ said Anna.
Mia’s mum left her alone outside Mia’s bedroom.
‘Mia,’ said Anna. ‘It’s me. I can explain. Please let me.’
The door handle turned and Mia’s frightened face appeared around the door.
‘Is it really you?’ Mia asked.
Anna nodded. ‘Can I come in?’
Mia didn’t move.
‘I’d never hurt you,’ said Anna. ‘Please believe me.’
Mia opened the door and let Anna in.
‘I followed you home,’ said Mia. ‘I looked into the barn. I saw you change …’
‘You didn’t imagine it,’ said Anna. ‘At first I thought I might try to convince you that you had, but best friends shouldn’t hide things from each other.’
‘What … who are you?’ asked Mia.
‘A weaver,’ said Anna. ‘That is what we are and what we do. My family has lived in many places. Humans don’t understand or accept us, so we hide. We do no harm. We work hard. We weave secrecy around ourselves like a web.’ She touched the necklace around her neck. A blue gem on a silver chain. ‘This lets one of us move around the human world unnoticed.’
Mia reached out and touched Anna’s face. ‘You feel just like me.’
‘I am,’ said Anna.
‘But without the necklace?’
‘Even then, I am still Anna.’
‘Only with six more legs,’ said Mia.
At that moment Anna saw a glimmer of the friendship she thought was gone. ‘Please,’ said Anna. ‘Don’t tell anyone our secret. We would have to move, and I like it here.’
‘Who would ever believe me?’
* * *
The weavers gathered to greet Anna’s human friend. Even Great-Grandma came down from her web.
‘This is Mia,’ said Anna. ‘She is my friend, and protector of our secret.’
Mia was trembling, so Anna’s mother made soft cooing noises. She handed Mia a scarf unlike any Mia had ever seen. It felt like sunshine on her skin.
‘Welcome, Mia,’ said Anna’s mother and father.
‘Welcome, Mia,’ said Anna’s brothers and aunts and uncles and countless relatives above in the dark barn. ‘Welcome, welcome, welcome …’
‘Thank you,’ replied Mia.
Anna and Mia went into the forest with the young ones. Mia watched them play tag among the trees.
‘I wish I could do that,’ said Mia, pointing at one of Anna’s brothers as he swung on a single thread from a branch high above. ‘You’re so lucky!’
‘Really?’ said Anna, happily. ‘Then you shall!’
The moment Anna took off the necklace and handed it to Mia, she transformed.
‘Will this really work on me?’ asked Mia.
‘When a human wears the necklace, they become a weaver,’ said Anna. ‘Would a best friend lie?’
That afternoon, the forest was filled with laughter. Anna and Mia played tag in the trees high above the ground, swinging on threads so thin they could hardly be seen.