The Spider King

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MARIA I Maria Laney waved her hand as the cab that devoured her friends sped off with a screech. The red tail lights streaked, much thanks to the alcohol in her blood, and grew dimmer and dimmer. She had insisted to them firmly that this was her last stop when they all rallied to continue barhopping. She didn’t even remember what words or twists of the face she used, just that they tried poking her pride playfully with heckling daggers. A younger form of herself would have struck back swiftly, relighting the torch to lead the way and disprove all naysayers. Pulling a compact mirror out, the tip of her tongue quickly brushed over her perfect teeth for imaginary things. She batted her eyes three times, and satisfied, her reflection disappeared, returning with a click to her small leather clutch. She double checked to make sure her cell phone was in there too. Yes, she wasn’t that drunk. Her apartment wasn’t far off and her pace was quick. This night blessed her with a level silence of no crowds, no traffic that competed with her heels. A nice, welcome change of pace. A stray cat or two, but predictably they had nothing they wanted to share with her. Not for free anyway. She turned the last corner and her focus fell quickly on an elderly woman, wrinkled elbows propped up on an ordinary folding table and sitting posture to match. They met eyes in an instant, but Maria’s broke away first, down to the table where some playing cards were strewn. A fortune teller? A flutter of excitement beat in her heart. The old woman coughed three steady hacks, as if her throat had been unused for a lengthy period of time. Her hands, however, proved to be better talkers as cracked skin and nimble, skinny fingers quickly brought the cards into an order. “Hello, my sweet child. Do you believe in fortunes?” Maria licked her full lips, and a sudden surge of charm and confidence that she painstakingly crafted over the years met the words rising from her chest. “If I didn’t believe in fortunes, I wouldn’t be an actress.” It felt silly immediately, but she hid her remorse behind a sweet smile. There was no need to tell a stranger of minor, empty roles and all the struggles that came with them. A smile, half sweet and possibly half bitter, was returned. “Fortunes,” the woman said, as a swift cut to the deck was made, “are more accurate on nights like these. Quiet nights, the ears howl with unquenchable thirst.” A quick shuffle and another cut. “Clear nights, the eyes wander and grow bolder with greed.” A final cut, then the cards fanned out in an arc. “But together, the whole body yearns and aches for all it has to offer.” For some reason, Maria was more intrigued than ever and she found herself leaning slightly in as if a great, dark secret was about to be revealed. Her pupils dilated, blackness erasing the surrounding blue. The faded backs of the cards, marked with an optical illusion of sorts, all seemed to quiver before her. Yes, be afraid of Maria Laney, she thought. Without instruction, she picked a card and flipped it. — Maria Laney found herself waking up in her apartment, but not in her bed. Her back, upright, was to a corner of the living area, slender legs sprawled out wide. She was still in her minidress from the previous night and giving quite the show to her carpet. She rubbed her eyes of the coals and a fake eyelash died right there in her palm. Before her train of thought could get back on its track, she heard her cell phone ringing somewhere. Where was her clutch? She brought herself to her feet, mindlessly stumbling in the direction of the sound. The sofa, the usual suspect that always had a large, unapologetic appetite for swallowing objects. She split the cushions with a digging hand and reclaimed what was hers from its belly. “Hello?” Her throat was unsurprisingly parched. “This is Virginia Shields from Mount Para Productions. Am I speaking to Ms. Maria Laney?” “Yes, this is Maria.” She was fully awake now. “I’m calling to touch base about an upcoming project and would love to go over some things. In person of course.” “I would be more than happy to.” A break she thought. Work had been scarce for the last month. “Great, I’ll send you details for later this evening via text. One last, quick thing. Are you familiar with ‘The Spider King’? The one by Charles Hunley.” All of a sudden, Maria felt like her heart just dropped with a splash into her stomach. Pieces, fragments of the fortune teller rushed back with an overwhelming force. Wrinkled fingers. The flipped card. An intricate illustration, thick, broad outlines that revealed a blocky, two dimensional king of hearts. But it was all wrong. All wrong. A cool sweat glazed over the back of her neck and forearms. She lost grip of her cell phone and it tumbled to the floor in front of her. It stopped under the coffee table. “Ms. Laney? You there?” Shields’ voice. “Ms. Laney?” Maria tried to pick up for her fallen device, but she felt a heavy weight on her shoulders, as if something perched, nested there. The pressure made her slump downward off the couch, her palms and knees meeting carpet. She was in avcılar escort bayan a pushup position, face lined up with the cell phone. The back of her head scraped once against the underside of the table. She wanted to yell at the phone but her jaws were in the midst of a betrayal. A force had them clenched, her tongue a prisoner writhing about in darkness. The cell phone had gone silent and Maria’s body gave out in collapse, her eyelids the last defenders. They quickly fell, lost to the black abyss. — VICTORIA I “One last, quick thing,” Victoria Shields asked. “Are you familiar with ‘The Spider King’? The one by Charles Hunley.” There was no immediate response. She quickly woke up her phone to check the connection, but the call wasn’t broken. “Ms. Laney? You there?” Still nothing. “Ms. Laney?” Victoria pushed up her glasses and found herself holding her breath. Five seconds. Ten seconds. Fifteen seconds. “Why yes, I admire Mr. Hunley’s work greatly.” A voice back online. Laney’s voice. Different though? “That’s wonderful,” Victoria replied. “I’m sure Mr. Hunley will appreciate that. I’ll arrange a car to pick you up in three hours.” “That’s wonderful. I understand.” The call ended. Victoria tapped her Redtooth device off, leaned back in her chair fully and closed her eyes. Maria Laney, second daughter to a banker from a small, forgettable town. Mother and father typically wed after being high school sweethearts. Older sister died in a car accident when they were still teenagers. Thus, the rebellious spirit was born, although one could make a safe bet it was to be one way or another. Victoria imagined that Laney would’ve grown up to hate her older sister anyway. She swiveled around and instinctively opened a desk drawer, a multitude of cheap, disposable pens rattling scared. Up one went, the cap a fresh victim for Victoria’s pearl teeth. Her eyes remained closed. Maria Laney, sophomore standout in high school as her body finished catching up to her wildness. Tall, lithe build and pedestal legs landed her as a cheerleader easily. The servants of popularity came and worshipped the developing ego, offering more and more sacrifices as time went on. Junior year came the theater club. A sweet smile of shining white, the roar of applause and a spotlight that set the body on fire. Had the brain to really deliver the whole package, but senior year floated on by and all academic effort starved to its death. What a shame. Victoria heard the Redtooth chirp in her ear. Mr. Hunley? Wait, maybe Mr. Irons? She looked at her phone but no, it was just that weakling she had seen the weekend before. The night had started off promising, but when they got back to his place he was absolutely lost at sea. Any sense of desire had quickly faded when he failed to rip off her tight clothes and dominate her the way she needed. Where desire once lurked, contempt filled its place. He had almost fallen over while clumsily trying to remove his pants. He would’ve cracked his skull against a radiator. She could still remember his stupid grin as he had tried laughing it off. Calling for an ambulance was not her idea of maintaining arousal. She had left him swiftly to drown by himself. She swiped and denied the call, and then removed the earpiece entirely. One deep breath, then two eyes closed. Maria Laney, fresh high school dropout, much to the chagrin of her parents. Fights after fights, the type that flesh and blood can only have. Ran away from home with her miscreant of a boyfriend at the time. The plan had formed over many quiet, clear nights. He would find success with his music while she pursued her acting. His acting, it turned out, to not be shabby either. Heavy drug use were his memorized lines and cheating was his backstage tricks. Laney broke out on her own, luckily avoiding predatory agents that would’ve taken advantage of her situation. She found sparse work from time to time, but the writing on the financial wall read that she might have to face mom and dad soon. There was a knock on the office door. Victoria opened her eyes and finally gave mercy to the pen. It joined four brothers in the garbage. “Come in,” Victoria called out. She recognized the face immediately. “Hello, my sweet child,” the elderly woman said. Two small, slow steps and the threshold was crossed. Victoria stood up briskly, walked over to her guest and lead her hand in hand to a chair. “It is always a pleasure to see you again,” Victoria said, leaning down and planting a small, polite kiss on the old woman’s forehead. The wrinkled corners of the mouth craned upwards and there was a nod in response. Victoria moved over to her office door and resealed the room. A dial on the wall was adjusted as well, cutting the light by a half measure. Finally, she sat back down in her own seat and moved the frames of her glasses up once more. “I just talked to a certain someone on the phone a few minutes ago,” Victoria continued. “I assume everything went well on your end?” The woman produced a single playing card, held between two aged fingers, from seemingly nowhere. Perhaps a hidden pocket beylikdüzü escort bayan in one of the sleeves. Victoria could never tell. Her guest had always appeared more rags than human, and always chose the dramatic when the opportunity presented itself. At times, Victoria thought the old woman had more spunk than she did. Victoria accepted the card and kept full eye contact. It was her turn to nod in response this time. “Mr. Hunley and I both admire your work greatly.” — MARIA II The luxury sedan came promptly as Ms. Shields said it would. And after a whirlwind of washing up, dressing and makeup activity, Maria Laney had somehow found herself in the car without a single, concise memory of how it all happened. Maria stole a glance here and there at her riding companion. Shields was impeccably dressed, donned in sharp business attire anchored by a form fitting skirt. Cream colored pantyhose desperately held back fleshy thighs, and the cut of the blouse displayed a neckline that many a woman would murder to obtain. “Ms. Laney.” Shields broke the silence and passed over a medium sized, canvas tote bag. “When we arrive you will have time to change before meeting with Mr. Hunley. He’s.. rather eccentric with some particulars and prefers to choose his actors and actresses with a certain vision in mind. Please don’t take offense. What you’re wearing is fine, but orders are orders.” Maria peered down at the bag she was given. She had her fair share of meetings with casting executives and directors, and found the most common trait amongst them to be eyes for specifics and details. Still though, there was always that uneasy feeling somewhere in her body that screamed at her about casting decisions that came packaged with seedy undertones. The industry was never short on hushed, ugly rumors of the gods of power and sleaze coming together and demanding their tribute on the ‘couch’ altar. A gentle grip formed on Maria’s forearm. She looked up from the bag. Shields flashed a perfect, reassuring smile. Was Maria just imagining things or did her new companion detect something? It couldn’t be. “You’ll find it’s a simple outfit, designed for comfort,” Shields continued. “When it comes to clothes and costuming, you’ll find no other studio that spins it better than ours. Although please, take care to keep it clean.” Maria nodded, the muscles in her face instantly relaxing into an easy smile. “It’s not well known, but Mr. Hunley actually comes from a long lineage of American tailors,” Shields shared freely. “In fact, the current project has been in progress for quite some time as well, and happens to be centered around fashion in more ways than one.” Work. Maria sat up slightly in the car seat and resolved herself to absorb any and all information. “Oh? Fashion is something that interests me greatly,” she replied. “It seems most important to him to get this one right, more so than any of his other works,” Shields pressed on. “Supposedly it’s based on bits and pieces of an old, family story. You know, the ones passed down from generation to generation. It seems every other family has got one. Although I’m sure the years have come and gone to alter some truths and weave in their own untruths. It’s only inevitable.” “It’s only inevitable,” Maria echoed. “Regardless, everyone still loves a good fairy tale, and not even Mr. Hunley, power and position aside, could escape its magical clutches.” Shields released Maria’s arm. “That’s wonderful,” Maria enthused. Shields brought up two fingers. A playing card. No, it couldn’t be. Maria locked up, recognizing the mesmerizing design of the back instantly. Her insides turned to water, waves of dread and nausea growing bigger and bigger. The car wasn’t overly speeding but Maria felt like her body was being propelled and out of control. The card. The king of hearts on the other side, though transformed. Eight, wiry arms sprouted from the drawn monarch’s back, the four middle ones clutching a voluptuous maiden in front of its body. Nudity was modestly masked by silk strands. “‘The Spider King’ tale,” Shields said in a cool voice, not seeming to have noticed Maria’s new disposition. “A long time ago, there was a small village cursed and haunted by a monster blacker than the night itself. It wove its traps in the woods surrounding the village, feeding on those foolhardy enough to wander carelessly.” Maria was having trouble with simple breathing, her hands finding the sides of her face. The face. The king didn’t sport its usual, universal poker face. Multiple, beady, blood red eyes and fierce pincers came together to hold up a heavy crown adorned with jewels. The face. “Years went by like this, but one night the most beautiful girl in the village, of merely six and ten years, had a dream under a rare, red moon. No one knows what she dreamed, but she set out into the woods alone.” The sedan rocked to a sudden stop. Maria looked out and up the near window, her blue eyes tracking the length of the tallest, most recognizable structure in the city, the Parker Building. She had never been inside. She turned esenyurt escort her head back to Shields’ direction but the gap between their seats was already closed. “Welcome home, my sweet child.” Shields’ palms embraced Maria’s cheeks, where her own hands had been just moments ago. A delicate kiss was planted on Maria’s raised brow. — Maria Laney was escorted into the Parker Building and straight into an elevator that stood separate from the others. The towering construction had been erected and named by the Parkers, one of the oldest and most influential families that supposedly existed back to the founding of the city itself. Boasting more than one hundred floors, the first thirty held various boutique shops and name brand chains for the elite to consume. The next thirty floors housed all sorts of firms, ranging from law, accounting, insurance and brokers. The remaining floors lived their lives in secret, not open to the general public, and certainly not to unemployed actresses that were seemingly going out of their minds. But that’s where Maria found herself being lead, flanked by two younger, new women. Shields had remained behind in the car. The electricity of the elevator hummed to itself in quiet pleasure, and all Maria could do was hold the canvas tote she was given with both hands. “It is always a pleasure to see you again,” cheerfully piped the one that stood on Maria’s right. Maria turned her head both ways with a look of surprise, never having met either. Their features could be opposites to her own. They were shorter, at most by three inches, having straight, jet black hair that’s natural to most of Asian descent. Unnatural, however, the eye coloring. Maria looked into globes of amethyst for the one who had spoken, while the silent one claimed two dull, citrine irises. In fact, despite the difference in eyes, it just dawned on her that she was in the company of identical twins. A broad smile assaulted Maria, the one on the right again. “Mr. Hunley will be most pleased. Yes, most pleased. I’m sure you can’t just wait to get started, Ms. Laney.” The second difference. To her left stood the one who flinched not even the least, wearing an expressionless stare. More doll than living human. Maria’s voice finally found a sliver of power again. “I’m afraid I don’t know what this is all about.” An understatement to be sure. “There must be some sort of mistake.” “Oh ho, no mistake,” chimed the cheery one. “Didn’t Ms. Shields leave her mark? You didn’t feel it? The mark?” Now that it was mentioned, Maria recalled feeling a sting upon her arrival to the Parker Building. The kiss, it had to be. Slowly, very slowly, a creeping warmth enveloped her from head to toe. All things uncertain like dread and fear, dissipated and were replaced with soft vibrations of comfort. She could feel it, it felt so alive. The glowing warmth. “That’s wonderful,” squawked the joyful one, who plainly saw Maria’s shift. “We’ll get you changed and in your proper place before you know it.” Maria, no longer finding her situation strange for some reason, smiled back. She even shot a playful grin at the colder twin. “I understand. I would be more than happy to.” — VICTORIA II Victoria Shields watched as the Parker Building swallowed Ms. Laney whole. She bit her lip once, then twice, reflecting on her miscalculations. The car ride was much shorter than anticipated and there hadn’t been enough time to finish the fairy tale. She waited a good five extra minutes before stepping out of the car herself. She would flagellate herself for the mistake later. For now, she decided to seek consolation and drop by to annoy her favorite peer at Mount Para Productions. Just the thought of it lifted her spirits. She stepped boldly into the elevator designated just for her, and up the iron and steel giant she climbed. The elevator hummed. Victoria hummed along with it. Was today the day? Her thoughts always wandered like this on the ride up. Maybe, today he will look up. Maybe, today he will look at me. She muttered a curse to herself. She should have worn something with a lower cut. Always be prepared, even if it is a long shot. She looked down at her pantyhose. I’ll rip you if I have to, she thought. If today is the day and you have to be ripped, I’ll give you the medal of bravery. Victoria found her target floor and navigated her way, as she had done so many times in the past, to finally stand before her desired door. She smoothed out her tight skirt and over corrected her pose so that her chest barely contained itself to her body. A perfectly manicured finger traced over ‘Kenneth Irons, Director of Cinematography’, the nameplate that sported the stunning, cursive lettering which never failed to get her excited. Mischievously, she didn’t knock. She couldn’t remember the last time she did. The door gasped opened slightly and instantly the sounds of moaning and sucking carried straight to Victoria’s ears. — MARIA III Maria Laney found a particular, newfound admiration for her previous encounter with Ms. Shields. The woman did not lie, the selected outfit was comfortable. Clingy, silk pants that flared out at the bottoms paired with an elegant, sleeveless cashmere turtleneck. Even more a shock, she had traded her stiletto heels for simple ballerina flats. She was in a large room now by herself, the Twins having been gone already for a good ten minutes.

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