Strings Attached

She has been fighting it for weeks now, the broody, hungry emotion that came to her when it was past time to have a man. She had ignored the feeling as long as she could because she didn’t want it. She had never liked the consequences of fulfillment but her body would not listen to intellectual denial – it never did. Once upon her, the instinct increased until it tortured her days and ruined her sleep. She was at that point now. She knew that when a man came she would take him, as she had before, as she would again. She had no choice. It had become her nature.

She dressed casually this afternoon, waiting for the sun to set. It didn’t matter how she looked. The need always drew a mate when he was wanted. She thought maybe something about her smell changed at these times because nothing about her appearance was different. Standing before a mirror, she examined her familiar self. Her olive skinned face was just as always, beautiful in its individual features except for the boldly hooked nose, yet mismatched somehow so it was not pretty overall. She was short, just under five feet, which often made her feel dwarfed by the tall people she lived among. When she was dressed, her rounded figure appeared to be unfashionably chunky, her arms and legs a little too long and thin to be in proportion to her hourglass torso. Her lovers never complained. Naked she was revealed to be womanly and firm, all sleek curves and hidden places to be traced and explored.

In the general course of things when people complimented her appearance, it was usually her hands they mentioned as noticeable. Quick fingered and sensitive, they let her be skillful with many delicate crafts. She sincerely wished that wasn’t so. At one point in life, her deft hands and arrogant pride had brought her punishment and the sentence destroyed her, even today. She kept her skill because it was part of her to the bone – she could not be rid of it, but there had been no pride ever since.

She distracted herself from thinking too deeply of ugly things by running her graceful fingers through her short, black curls, twisting them, fluffing them into place. She had grown up wearing her hair long, hanging down to her waist in the night, braided and looped in a weighty, gleaming pile on her head during the public hours of day. She had felt so daringly liberated when she cropped it and even now, the freedom of it being short lightened her spirits.

She wound a pale ribbon through the curls. It reminded her of her mother, who wore a ribbon so in her own dark tresses. When a hunger driven time like this arrived, it always made her retreat from it to childhood memories. She risked depression by briefly indulging in nostalgia for her home of long ago, her mother spinning wool as she basked in the afternoon sun, sheep grazing through rocky meadows, the blessed, innocent ocean, the laughter she had known. Now her family was dead and she was the only one on earth who remembered her youth. Laughter was scarce and never so real as it was in those days, when every embrace came from heart. With long practiced discipline, she brought herself back to present needs, took her jacket from where it had been tossed on a cardboard box, and went out the door, locking it behind her. There was no going back to what she was before. She had stopped trying so long ago she couldn’t even remember when it had happened.

It didn’t take long to find him or rather, to let him find her. One seedy bar, one drink, one long, meaningful look exchanged with the first lecherous man who stared. It didn’t matter much who he was, she let the fates decide it. Sometimes if he was young, she would turn him down and go on with her search. She had been desperately in love the first time she took a man, at least half a dozen times since she had felt the stirrings of affection when with one of her lovers. It made the morning after a thousand times worse, so now she made sure there would be nothing about a suitor to engage her heart and she talked to them as little as possible. If she had a preference at all, it was for very old men because that seemed kinder to her.

This time he was in his late middle years, drunk but not weaving, red in the face, a little too fat and a little too sweaty to be attractive. His suit and haircut were more expensive than they should have been for this bar, his fingernails were manicured. He was slumming, just as she was. They exchanged small talk as he bought her another drink. He told her his name was Bill but she doubted that was true.

“Where do you work?” Bill directed this question to her chest. She leaned back and stretched a little to let him know she didn’t mind. Men had been staring at her breasts since she became a woman but it always seemed strange to her when people asked about her profession, assuming that she would have a job. As she grew up, her family had never prepared her for the idea of working outside her home, like a man. It still felt vaguely wrong to her. She wondered why he asked, since he so obviously didn’t care. Maybe he was trying to find out if she planned on charging him.

“I’m a curator over at the museum. I work with tapestry restoration and textile arts. Actually, I should say I did work there. I’m moving out of town tomorrow.” She didn’t know why she was bothering to tell him even this much. It was babble to fill the moments before they could leave, that was all.

“Really? Huh. Who would have thought you were the artsy type? You don’t look smart.” Smiling at her, it was clear he thought this a compliment. The fact she wouldn’t be around after tonight increased his attraction to her. “I’ll bet you’re a foreigner. I’m good at reading people. What are you, Puerto Rican?”

“Greek.” She licked an ice cube from the glass and rolled it around in her mouth. When it was almost melted, she gnashed it into bits to feel the satisfying crunch of it shattering. He found this erotic, imagining that mouth on his skin, and decided not to waste time.

“Do you live around here?” She was glad he was getting to business. The need was stronger and she was tipsy enough not to resent it as much as she had earlier. She never propositioned them, never, she made a point of it. But he was going to ask her something she could agree to and that she would do. Had to, in fact. “Down the block,” she answered.

“It’s kind of crowded here. What do you say we go to your place so we can really talk?” His question brought a genuine laugh from her. There were only a handful of people in the bar, engaged in their own private, sordid conversations. Still, she knew what he meant. He knew she knew.

“Are you sure you want to be alone with me? You don’t know me. I could be dangerous.” She said this seductively which was misleading but her flesh knew it was close to being satisfied and the belly deep pleasure at the thought made her cunning.

He was smug, licking his lips, positive he had found a sure thing. His foot stroked her calf under the table. “That’s OK, sugar. Dangerous is just how I like it.”

She looked at his face, trying to see something that would tell her if it was right to choose this man or not. Nothing gave her a clue. She came to a decision. “Then we were made for each other,” she answered as she stood to leave.

Waiting by the door as he paid the tab, she looked him over, trying to imagine what he might have been like as a little boy. She couldn’t picture it, which was a relief. He rejoined her, giving one cheek of her ass a firm squeeze. She gave him a quick kiss to show she wasn’t offended, then took his hand away. Keeping it in hers, she led him through the cold night, down the road to her home.

He kissed her when they stopped in front of her place. When he was done, she unlocked the door, pushed it open and jokingly made a courtly bow with a flourish, inviting him to enter before her. “Won’t you step in?” Her tone was wry. After another quick, sloppy kiss, which she returned gladly enough, he picked her up with mocking romance and carried her with him, setting her down inside when the door was closed.

He cracked his knuckles and looked around as she put their coats away. He was surprised to see crates and boxes piled everywhere, then remembered she had said she was moving. He hoped there was somewhere comfortable to do it. He still had plenty of the right stuff but hard floors were cruel to his knees which were getting, the doctor said, arthritic. “Sorry about the mess,” she said. “We can talk in here. I haven’t packed all the bedroom yet.” Taking off her blouse, she disappeared into the next room.

“I’ll bet you haven’t.” He focused on the pleasant anticipation of having her. He thought she was going to be good. Quiet but hot and sure about what she wanted. That type woman usually had secrets. He liked secrets. He followed her.

The room he entered was stark and colorless after the scattered, bright mess of the living room. The only illumination was from the open, curtain less window, moonlight and city glow which fell in a cold rectangle on the dark hardwood floor and reflected from the plaster walls. When his eyes had adjusted, the rest of her clothing were just visible in front of him, dropped in a trail that led to the only furniture in the room, a huge four-poster bed that was draped top to bottom in what appeared to be thousands of pale, silken handkerchiefs and scarves. The veils still moved from when she had parted the curtain to disappear behind them. Shedding his own clothes, he joined her.

She let him do as he wished, did to him what he wanted. The walk had cleared his head but now he felt drunk again. As time passed, he felt a lulling ease come over him. He reached out less and less often, let himself be lazy as his arms and legs rested on the soft, multitude of pillows that were her mattress. In the end, he had no inclination to move at all, lying passively, letting the pleasure of her wash over him, take him where he wanted to go. When she climbed on top of him and began to ride with an ancient rhythm, he was content to let her set the pace, feeling the soft movement of the shifting cushions moving under him, the soft silk of her working over him.

She held back as long as she could, letting him enjoy himself. She owed him that, she felt. She had to concentrate to remember he was there. It was easy to think of other things and let her body direct its own actions. It had been demanding this for too long. Giving in was sheer relief and utterly necessary, no matter what she thought before or later. At last, she felt him arch under her and waited until she knew he had his seed. It overcame her then, a helpless, satisfying, instinctive bliss that was all the more overwhelming for her trying to keep it in check.

Moving away once the spasms began to fade, she kneeled beside him, cradling his head in her hands, looking again into his face. He seemed to be asleep already, satiated, his expression happy and relaxed. She wanted to tell him to run but there was no time and she could not speak now. Her grip tightened and with a strength she should not have had, she gave a quick twist that resulted in the sickening crack of his neck breaking.The worst time had been when she had first learned the nature of her curse, when she found what she had to do her mates. She hadn’t fought it then, because she hadn’t known it was going to happen. She didn’t fight it this time because it had been thousands of years, and never once had the killer impulse failed to dictate her actions, no matter what her efforts to resist. She had offended the gods and now she was what they had doomed her to be.

She dragged him to the bathroom on the soiled sheet, put them in the tub, turned the shower on to clean it all. She would wash herself later. She gathered his clothes and put them in a large wooden packing crate that was still open and empty. Then she went into her bedroom and quietly began folding the thousands of mutedly iridescent cloths of her bed, each woven for a lover and his child. Already she could feel the skin over her abdomen tightening as her fertilized egg grew. She briefly thought of suicide but all her attempts had been useless so far, so she didn’t consider it seriously. Dying was easy enough, she did that as simply as anyone did. It was staying dead that was impossible. She always awoke after a dreamless sleep, curled up in her silken pillows, happy and content. That lasted for a few seconds but then she would remember what she was and why, and the inevitable horror would settle over her again.

She laid her egg as the sun rose. By then she had tenderly dried her lover of the night before and wrapped him tightly in her threads, taking care that the neat package she made was watertight. She put it into the open crate, along with his clothing, and sealed it shut. She would return to it a few days later but now she didn’t have to think about that. She put her egg on the floor where the morning sun fell, letting the shell harden in the daylight, then wrapped it in the white casing she had woven for it days before, when she knew she was going to breed. Sometimes she killed her offspring right away. Doing that should have been harder than it was. This time as too often, she could feel pity for the child within it, pity for the dead father, pity for herself, so she didn’t harm it. She put it in a soft carrying bag and put it to warm on the windowsill.

She had tried raising the first few of her children, not because she felt any desire to do so but because she thought she should. It was impossible. Each one hatched and at first looked like the sweetest little baby, the most darling little baby. She had been shocked when the first one bit her. She soon found they always arrived complete withsharp little fingernails and sharp little teeth, able to awkwardly scramble across the floor in a crawl that was much faster than it looked, good at climbing and escaping from closed rooms through small, unexpected exits. There was never any milk for them and no wonder, they came into the world wanting meat.

Her children matured quickly. In only a few days they looked like two year-old human children, seeming to understand speech though they would not speak themselves. She had been able to control the first one, her first son, by keeping his appetite satisfied. She had killed him when he was six, an apparent youth in the first flush of manhood who still had not uttered a word, when she found what he had done with the neighbor’s daughter. It was the second of now uncountable moments when she had to vanish, leaving behind any life she had built, any comfort she had found. At that time, she had thought that was the extent of the curse but ten years after that, when she had not aged and the desire to mate awoke in her again, she knew that Athena had shown no mercy at all when she cursed her.

When the movers arrived, she had them load the bed and the boxes that contained its drapes into the truck she had rented. The crate with Bill’s mummy went there, too. The rest was loaded into the moving van. It would be delivered to a rented address she never intended to visit, let alone occupy. She was good at covering her trail by now. The truck she was driving would be replaced and replaced as she traveled. If anyone ever did miss Bill, and the police tracked him to her old apartment, they would look beyond that in vain. She would be someone else by then, settling into a new town, a new job, a new name.

When they were done with the loading and all the papers had been signed, she started the truck and drove away from her latest life. Her child, now on the seat beside her protected by the bag, the cloth and its egg, would be abandoned along the way once it hatched, if it was like all the others. She would leave this one at some place of public good, a police station or a hospital perhaps. Maybe the people there would know what to do with it.

She never checked to find out what happened to them. She didn’t want to know. After that, she would make as fresh a start as she could. Maybe this time was the last she would have to begin over again. You can never tell. A tiny spider fell onto the dashboard and began to make its way to safety. After watching it for a moment with an undue amount of hatred, she took one hand off the wheel and crushed it under her thumb. Turning up the radio, Arachne turned left, onto the interstate freeway.

THE END

If you are not familiar with the Greek myth of Arachne, which I have bent in this story, you can find it summarized at this address:
http://www.pantheon.org/mythica/articles/a/arachne.html

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