Every morning before dawn Spinner, Giver, and Cutter harvested star thread. They’d inspect the nets stretched across their fields for the snarls that had fallen during the night and gather them into dew-soaked gossamer bundles fine as spider web. Back at the farm Spinner would spool the thread onto her bobbins, turning it into human silk which Giver would distribute to the newborns. Cutter would snip the strands of those whose time had come. The three sisters had been doing this every day since the very first human smushed a footprint into the clay.
One night the heavens bled. It had been long foretold the red rains would come and so when they did it should not have come as a surprise, but of course a surprise it was as prophecies always are when they come to fruition.
And so the next morning the three sisters were unprepared to find their nets empty of heavenly filament. Moths and night worms and evening birds, yes, but not a single thread.
That morning Nine Lives walked by smoking her orchid tobacco. The sisters called her over.
What, is today a holiday? Why aren’t you working? Nine Lives asked.
The sisters explained that their nets were empty. But, they added, maybe you could fetch new threads for us. The underdream is full of them.
You think me a fool? Your three-headed brother guards the entrance; he’ll chomp me into thirds and eat me alive.
Not when you show him these, the sisters replied, removing ribbons from their hair and tying them around her wrist. If you do this for us we will spin you something lovely and special. Here, take this purse to fill with all the thread you can gather.
Nine Lives scampered off to the Well of the Underdream next to which the three-headed starving boy sat on his three-legged stool, licking his mouths as he saw her approach. When he saw the golden, brass, and emerald ribbons tied about her wrist, however, he bowed and motioned for her to get into the bucket, which he then lowered.
In the gloom of the underdream Nine Lives came upon the ghost clothes of the dead. Endless piles of every article of clothing worn by every human at the moment of their demise, stretching to the horizon. But also every pelt and feather and scale and husk worn by every mammal and bird and fish and bug at the moment of their deaths as well. The shadowy sibyls–the memory souls of the dead–were everywhere, wandering and whispering, but they paid her no mind.
Nine Lives unraveled threads from the garments. She also collected hair and fur, wing and fin, fang and claw, stinger and mandible from the animals’ ghost clothes, stuffing it all into her purse. But soon Old Mote, smelling Nine Lives’ orchid pipe, awoke and chased her back to the well, his icy blue claws stretching out to catch her. She barely escaped, tugging the rope so that the three-headed boy might raise the bucket up out of the well, but not before Old Mote managed to snatch her tail, turning it to ice and snapping it off.
Nine Lives presented the sisters with the purse stuffed with the threads of the dead. It’s not star thread, they said, so the lives we spin will now be suffused with the souls of the dead. But until the star fibers return it’s the best we can do. And they commenced their spinning and distributing and cutting as before.
They thanked Nine Lives, but when seeing that her calico tail had been burned away by Old Mote, they wove Nine Lives not one, not two, but three new tails sewn from the ghost clothes, and embellished with fur and feather, wing and tooth, fin and claw, stinger and mandible.