The sunflowers were only waist-high, and three fat little grandmothers with their babushkas of red and gold sat on the bench in the backyard wriggling their toes in the dewy grass and clucking their tongues against their toothless pink gums. That’s when the Moon King saw the Outlaw Lady Spider. The stars were sharp as scythes. The dogs were dreaming of tender things, of salted meat and the hand that feeds.

The Moon King was an insomniac, a watcher of possums and the pulpy river of passing time. He couldn’t sleep, so he bit his nails and picked his scabs. He made mental lists of sci-fi movies he had yet to see, and classic poetry he’d always meant to read. He peeked into kitchen windows and memorized recipes for blood-red borscht and pillow-soft pierogi, things he’d never taste himself. He longed to drink glasses of hot tea while clenching sugar cubes between his battered teeth, but it would never be. The Moon King was so tired that he had forgotten how to shine.

The Outlaw Lady Spider was all silver swerves of curve, she had a cephalothorax that just wouldn’t quit. She was a weaver of dreams instead of silk; she said Fuck spinning webs, you don’t know me. She raised the dead for the little grandmothers, she brought back their handsome boy Cossacks with eyes of crystal blue. She made them sweat in their featherbeds and wish they still had teeth to bite their pillows. She made them giggle again like girls.

The Moon King saw the Outlaw Lady Spider clinging to the honeysuckled fence, and he knew he wanted to taste her magic himself. He wanted to know the mouthfeel of dream. He made his wish and all the stars heard it. All the wolves bore witness. The wild mushrooms sighed at the sound and swooned beneath the slender birches. He wrote a poem and sent it down on the back of an amber-eyed firebird. The Outlaw Lady Spider heard the thresh and sizzle of its wings and trembled with fear, but the Moon King’s words stitched lightning into her tiny spider heart. They made her spinnerets tingle.

Meet me in the bathhouse
when the witching hour has come
tiptoe so you don’t wake the chickens
Bring me a dream bound up with honey
Bring me a dream of my one truest name

The Outlaw Lady Spider sent back a reply, tied to the firebird’s golden beak:

I will meet you in the bathhouse
I will come on eight silent feet
I will bring you a dream like you’ve never seen
But I don’t make change for rubles, baby
You’ll have to pay me with a kiss

The fat little grandmothers covered their mouths with velvety wrinkled hands and tittered. The love lines on their palms tickled and throbbed. They nodded knowingly at the Outlaw Lady Spider. She danced along the fence and flashed her eight oil-sheen eyes at them coyly. Then the Outlaw Lady Spider vanished into the viney shadows behind the bathhouse to knit together a dream.

The Moon King was waiting in the bathhouse at midnight. The window was fogged and he was glistening with moon-sweat. It smelled like orchids and the musk of deer. The Outlaw Lady Spider crept up the wall and hung just centimeters from the Moon King’s one good eye. I didn’t wake any chickens she whispered, and then she blew a tiny puff of swirling breath into the Moon King’s pupil. His eye slid shut as he hit the floor with a great thunk, and then he was opening two human eyes in his very first dream.

The Moon King stood waist-deep in the Black Sea, in the body of a man. The sunshine was hot on his broad shoulders, and the water was cool. He was naked and the sky was blazing blue. He’d never seen the sky so bright. The Moon King was so amazed that for a moment he didn’t see the woman standing right in front of him. She was naked, too. The Moon King knew that she was the Outlaw Lady Spider, wearing a freckled skin and rosy hair that hung in two long braids on either side of a wide pink smile. She took him by the hand and they dove. They winked their eyes at the zebra mussels, and chased the flashing golden scales of leaping carp, pinching their quick dark tail fins. They dove down deep to the bottom of the sea, and the woman who was the Outlaw Lady Spider drew the man who was the Moon King close. They treaded water face-to-face, and an air bubble left her lips and floated to his ear with a secret inside. He heard his truest name, and he rose from the bottom of the sea, growing bigger and bigger, until he was in his full round glory, splashing loose into a night sky brimming with spiraling stardust. The tide shifted and the earth tilted, and the Moon King found himself again on the floor of the bathhouse. He was panting, and his good eye was pearled with one great tear. The Outlaw Lady Spider crept close to the Moon King’s cratered ear. She whispered Lay it on me, baby and she closed all eight eyes for her kiss.

The three fat little grandmothers had long gone to their beds. The dogs and the chickens and the sunflowers all slept. So too did the listening stars and the witnessing wolves and the delicate wild mushrooms beneath the pale birch branches. Even the firebird had settled down into slumber, in his nest of waning embers. All was quiet and all was dark. Nobody saw when the bathhouse glowed from within, the cool moonlight flooding out from all the chinks. Nobody saw when the Moon King leaned in, when the Moon King kissed the Outlaw Lady Spider.

Photo by Carolyn