Lenoresfield is one of those soft places in the world. It's a place where the strange crosses over with reality. I've been putting together a book of the various legends around town in hopes of finding some answers.
One of the most popular legends in our little town is that of a young woman who called herself the Spider Queen. She ended up here, in the James Allen Asylum. Supposedly, the woman died a few years ago – nobody is sure how she got onto the roof the asylum. Allegedly on the night of her death, she was seen by a groundskeeper trying to climb down the walls headfirst. She fell six-stories to her death. And officially, the damage was so bad there was a closed casket funeral for her.
However, the urban legends say she didn't fall at all, and she is in fact living in the forest to this day. Doctor Howard Phillips was her doctor when she was first admitted, and he was hit hard by her death.
He very recently agreed to an interview for my book on the basis that I changed the name of the young woman involved to protect her identity. Which was how I found myself that day in the waiting room of the asylum. It was your average waiting room with linoleum floors and ugly green chairs that look soft, but really aren’t. The smell of antiseptics and cheap perfume filled the air. The perfume was coming from a woman sitting in one of the ugly green chairs, reading one of the many magazines. A TV directly above her ran a muffled nature documentary on a loop. Behind the desk was a woman about my age clacking away at a keyboard. She wore a shiny copper nametag with “Karli Jo” on it. I approached the desk, my heels clicking against the linoleum floor.
“Hello, my name is Irene Stark. I’m here for an 11:30 meeting with Doctor Phillips,” I said. Karli Jo smiled and swiveled her chair around to me.
“Good morning Miss Stark, give me a moment and I’ll let Howard know you’re here,” she said. She picked up an ancient pink phone that looked like it belonged in the 70’s and dialed an extension. “Howard? There’s a Miss Stark here for you. Uh-huh, yup. Alright, I’ll send her in.” She hung up and flashed me a huge grin. “Go right on in, Miss Stark.”
“Thank you,” I said, returning her smile as I headed to the big metal doors that separated the doctor’s office from the waiting room. Like the waiting room, the office was all linoleum floors and that antiseptic smell. I wasn’t quite sure what I expected to see when I entered Dr. Phillips’ office, but it certainly wasn’t what I saw. The first thing I noticed was the simple oak desk that dominated the room. In front of it were two plush red chairs, and behind it was an empty leather one. There was a ceramic, raven pen holder, a phone that matched the one on Karli Jo’s desk, and a large stack of papers. On top of that stack of papers was a black VHS case. The left wall contained a large bookshelf filled with books, and a desk with a terrarium marked “BETTY II”. I could see what looked like a tarantula in the middle of shedding its skin inside the terrarium. The right wall had a similar bookcase filled with black VHS tapes like the one on the desk. In front of it, somebody had wheeled an aging large TV with a VCR built in. At a wide window overlooking the forest, stood a man in a sterile, white lab coat. His back was to me, but I could see he was tall and portly with a shaved head. He must’ve been at least 80 years old.
“Miss Stark, I presume?” he asked as he turned to me, a large grin splitting his long grey beard. He had braided his beard so that he looked like a Viking.
“Yes, though you can call me Irene,” I replied. “You’re Doctor Phillips, right?”
“I am, though you can call me Howard. Everybody does,” he said. He moved to take a seat behind the desk, the black leather chair squeaking in protest. “Please, have a seat, Irene.” I sat down in one of the plush chairs and smiled to him.
“Alright, Howard. It’s a pleasure to meet you in person,” I said. “What can you tell me of the Spider Queen?”
Howard sighed and picked up the VHS case. “I hate that name for her. It’s so dehumanizing. Is it alright if we call her Mary Jane instead?”
“Sure, what can you tell me about… Mary Jane?” I asked. “I understand you were her primary psychiatrist when she was admitted, correct?”
“Yes, I was. Mary Jane was a troubling case, but not exactly the first of her kind. Have you heard of Emperor Norton the First, by chance?” Howard toyed with the VHS case idly.
“No, I haven’t actually, who was he?” I leaned forward in my chair, already intrigued.
“I’m not surprised. Norton was a San Francisco businessman, who after taking a substantial hit to his business in 1859, declared himself ‘Emperor of America’. He was much loved by the people of San Francisco,” Howard explained.
“What does this have to do with Mary Jane?” I asked, furrowing my brow.
Howard set the VHS tape down with a soft thud before answering with, “I believe that one of her psychoses was a similar delusion. While Norton believed himself the Emperor of America, Mary Jane believed herself to be the incarnation of a spider goddess, hence the moniker ‘Spider Queen’.” He leaned back in his chair and swiveled it, so he could look out the window and into the forest. “But, she had moments of lucidity -- she wasn’t always the Spider Queen. In fact, the video I’ve invited you here to watch today is the last one of those moments before her… death.” He sniffled a bit and shook his head. “She was a good kid, Irene. Didn’t deserve what happened to her. This tape is from 2005, about a week before she left us.”
Howard grabbed the VHS case and then shuffled over to the TV. It hissed and popped as he turned it on. The screen was a flurry of snow-like white static, which flicked to blue when Howard bent over and turned on the VCR. He then placed the tape inside and made his way back to the desk.
The tape began with a young woman, probably about 18 or 19, in a clean, white hospital gown sitting at a metal table. Her black hair is cut close to her head, and there was bags under brilliant green eyes. Across from her is a younger looking Howard, who had combed his hair to the left in a vain attempt to hide his baldness. On a table in front of him is a clipboard and the date on the tape is timestamped 10/31/2005. The young woman drums her fingers on the metal table as she chews her lower lip thoughtfully.
“So, Mary Jane, what do you remember of your first encounter with … Natalia is it?” Howard asked.
“She paralyzed me with her gaze,” Mary Jane said, “I remember that much. I found her in Madam Ess’s Curio Shop. The shop was one-part dingy gift shop, one-part psychic parlor. Rows of crystals were packed in neat little display shelves, and I remember seeing amber with various bugs trapped in it -- mosquitos, scorpions, ants, and most importantly of all, spiders. That’s what I was here for -- the black widow. Part of my exposure therapy -- on your recommendation, Doctor. Remember, when I tried to feed your tarantula, Betty? I broke down in tears just holding the mouse in my hand. You said that maybe having a dead spider would help.
“I remember picking up a bunch of other spiders and setting them down until finally I decided on a ginormous black widow. It was a hideous, and I felt that its eight beady, black eyes were staring up at me as though I were the reason it was trapped in amber. There was an annoyed cough behind me and I remember turning around to look at Madam Ess.
“‘Are you going to buy that, girly?’ she asked.
“‘Oh. Uhm. Yeah, how much is it?’ I asked nervously.
“‘Is it for your boyfriend?’ she inquired. I understood why she was asking me. I was dressed nothing at all like her usual clientele. I wore a bright pink sweater and blue jeans. Her customers were typically dressed like her -- all black with too much jewelry on their fingers, wrists, neck, and ears. She and her store were bona fide Goth.
“‘No, it’s for me, so… how much?’
“She narrowed her eyes before answering, ‘Eight-fifty.’ I reached into my purse and dug around it before pulling out a ten. Madam Ess’s many bracelets jingled together as she took the cash and rang me up. ‘Have a nice day.’ She handed me my change and placed the amber into a small plastic bag for me.
“‘Thank you, you too,’ I said as I exited, the bell above the door jingling as I closed the door. I pulled the amber out and looked at it. I turned the amber around, the bright red hour glass on her otherwise black belly caught my attention immediately. It was a terrifyingly beautiful piece. I felt my heart thumping in my chest, and could hear the blood rushing through my ears. My mouth became dry and I swallowed hard. The spider’s spell was broken when my cellphone began to ring. It was Brianna, my manager at Van Buren’s, the pet store.
“‘Hello?’ I said.
“‘Hey Mary Jane, it’s Brianna, can you come in this evening? Cody called in sick.”
“I really didn’t want to, but I figured it’d get me that much closer to a new car. ‘Sure, I’ll be there. What time?’
“‘8:00. I’ll see you there!’ Brianna said.
“‘Sure, whatever, bye.’ I replied apathetically. I headed to my car and sat in it and examined the amber again. ‘What should I call you?’ I asked nobody in particular. ‘Doctor Phillips calls his tarantula, Betty, so I can’t call you that. Though, you look more like a Natalia to me.’ I shivered as I thought I saw her fangs clicking together in approval. I was both fascinated and repulsed by this until the light of a big rig flashed across my eyes, momentarily blinding me and reminding me that I needed to get home. I shoved the amber in my purse and turned on my car.
“When I arrived home a few minutes later, I was greeted by my dad, who was watching the news on the TV in his favorite navy-blue recliner.
“‘Hey Dad! Where’s Mom?’ I asked as I made my way over to hug him.
“‘Hey pumpkin, Mom’s in the kitchen making dinner. How was your visit with Doctor Phillips?’ He smiled up at me.
“‘It was… great,’ I replied, ‘I couldn’t feed Betty, but he recommended that I pick up a spider from Madam Ess’s shop.’
“‘Oh! That’s interesting, what did you get?’ he asked. I smiled and dug around my purse before presenting the spider to Dad with a triumphant ‘Ah-ha!’.
“‘Meet Natalia,’ I said, ‘She’s a black widow.’
“Dad took the spider and examined it exclaiming, ‘My God, she’s huge! Are you going to be OK with that thing in your room at night?’
“I nodded and said, ‘It’s dead, so I think I should be fine.’
‘“Last year at the Halloween store, you brokedown crying when your boyfriend dropped a fake spider on you,’ my dad reminded me with a smirk.
“‘It looked real! How was I supposed to know it was fake?’ I said, throwing my hands up.
“‘He chuckled and shook his head. ‘You better go say hi to your mom.’
“I took Natalia back from him and made my way to the kitchen, where I could hear my mom humming ‘The Itsy-Bitsy Spider’ as she chopped some carrots. There was also a pot on the stove where the smell of beef stew wafted towards me.
“‘Hey Mom!’ I said as I kissed her cheek.
“‘Hey kid, how was your day?’ she asked as she carefully scraped the carrots off the cutting board and into the boiling pot.
“‘Pretty good, I’ve got to call Doctor Phillips and let him know something, and then I need to get ready for work, one of my co-workers called-in sick. I won’t be here for dinner, is that OK?’
“‘Sure,’ she replied with a smile. I hugged her and headed up to my room.
“My bedroom walls were plastered with various pop artists and boy bands. I sat down at my desk with my ancient PC and then pulled out my cell.
“‘Doctor Phillips’ Office, this is Karli Jo, how can I help you?’ came Karli Jo’s clear and pleasant voice.
“‘Hey Karli Jo, it’s me, Mary Jane. Is Doctor Phillips still in?’ I asked.
“‘Sure, one moment please,’ Karli Jo put me on hold. I hummed along to the cheerful music as I waited.
“‘Hello Mary Jane,’ you said.
“‘Hey Doc! I just wanted to let you know I got a spider and even named it Natalia!’ I replied excitedly.
“‘That’s wonderful news, hopefully you’ll be feeding Betty in no time at all!’
“‘I sure hope so,’ I dug Natalia out of my purse and fiddled around with her. ‘Did you want me to bring her for our next session?’
“‘Sure, I can’t wait to meet her!’
“After that, we said our goodbyes and I got ready for work. I promptly forgot about Natalia until I went to bed. I remember picking her up and shivering with revulsion. I saw her legs begin to twitch a little and I dropped the amber in a panic. After I convinced myself I was just seeing things, I picked up the amber and put it away on my nightstand. I was determined not to let my imagination run wild. Unfortunately, however, my dreams had a different plan.
“I dreamed that I was laying down flat on my back. I was cold and naked, looking up at a writhing darkness above my head. I slowly realized that I was looking at millions of black widows. There was a faint scuttling noise that rose in tempo as they scurried back and forth on the roof. I let out a soft whimper when one fell off the roof and bounced off my forehead. It crawled across my eye, and I bit my lip hard to stop myself from screaming in terror. Soon, another fell on to me, and then another, and still more! I couldn't take it anymore and I began to cry. I had to resist the urge to wipe them off of me, for I knew that if I moved, they would bite me, and it would be all over. My body was covered in spiders, with thousands upon thousands of their hairy legs tickling me as they crawl over each other.
“Suddenly, they all stopped. They moved as one and lined up on either side of my body. I heard what sounded like a whispered chant, but I just couldn't make out the words. I watched the monstrous form of Natalia descend from the now still mass of spiders on the roof. As she landed gently on my exposed belly, the chanting grew louder and faster. I could see that her entire body was covered in a wet, sticky amber fluid. As Natalia's disgusting legs scurried up my torso and across my neck, the chanting grew more intense. I found myself unable to look away, her eyes dominated my gaze as though I was hypnotized by her. I could hear her fangs clicking against one another in anticipation -- click, click, click. Just like that.
“She reached my chin and I watched as her repulsive fangs dribbled some of that sticky amber fluid onto my lips. It burned, but tasted so sweet. She lowered her fangs towards my lips and then -- I woke up. I was cold and shivering, my blanket and bed soaked with sweat. I felt a weight on my chest and let out a scream. Natalia had somehow ended up on my chest. I threw her off me and onto the floor. My parents rushed in and flicked on the light.
“‘Are you alright, Mary Jane?’ my mom asked.
“‘Yeah, I-I’m fine,’ I stuttered out. ‘Just a bad dream.’
“‘Do you want to talk about it, sweetheart?’ my dad asked as he rubbed my back.
“‘No, uh. No thank you. I’m okay now, honestly, it was just a bad dream,’ I asserted.
“‘Alright, if you need anything…’ my mom gestured vaguely down the hall towards their room.
“‘I’ll let you know. I’m a big girl now though, so I think I’ll be fine. Good night Mom, Dad,’ I said with a smile.
“My dad gave a huge grin and winked at me before saying, ‘Alright kiddo, I get it, you’re too big to sleep in bed with your folks. Good night.’
“I made a face at my dad and threw the pillow at him. He ducked behind the doorframe with a chuckle and walked away with my mom. I settled back in for the night and had a dreamless sleep. I should’ve told you about the dream, or even just my parents. Maybe that would’ve helped. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter anymore. I remember putting her away, and I didn’t have any nightmares, and by next Friday, I felt comfortable enough to have her out again.
“Everything went smoothly that day, but I dreamt that night of the spiders and their weird ritual again. I didn’t wake up this time though, Doc. I could feel the wet stickiness of the amber fluid dripping from her fangs, and I wanted more. It was sweeter than honey.”
Suddenly, I saw Mary Jane shudder and gasp as she gripped her right arm with her left. She then slapped her leg, trying to focus.
On camera, Howard asked her, “Are you okay, Mary Jane?” She looked up at him, and I could clearly see that there were tears welling up in Mary Jane’s yes.
“Yeah, I-I’m okay,” she stuttered, “I just… I can feel myself slipping. She’s coming back again.”
“Do you want to continue?” the Howard on the screen asked her.
“Yes. I just… Need to get it out y’know? Get it over with. I can’t let her control me. That’s what this is about right? Control. Controlling her, controlling myself, controlling fear,” Mary Jane said shivering again. I paused the tape and looked at Howard.
“Who is she referring to?” I asked.
“Remember when I said she has moments of lucidity?” Howard started, “When she isn’t lucid, her voice deepens a bit, and she refers to herself as the Spider Queen. I believe that to be a manifestation of another one of her psychoses -- are you familiar with Multiple Personality Disorder?”
“Yeah – somebody with it has multiple, distinct personalities, right?” I asked.
Doctor Phillips nodded and looked out the window at the forest again. “Essentially, yes. I believe Mary Jane developed the Spider Queen persona to cope with her nightmares.” He gestured for me to press play. “Keep watching, you’ll see what I mean.” So, I pressed play, and watched the young woman on the screen continue her story. She shuddered and gagged again.
“And I wanted her to kiss me, Doc,” Mary Jane said, gagging again. “And she did. She lowered those slimy, disgusting fangs to my lips and ‘kissed’ me. She just barely grazed her fangs across my lips. And then I woke up again, Natalia on my chest, my cold sweaty hands cupping her amber prison, my lips poised to kiss it. I shrieked and pulled my arm back as if to throw her, but then I looked at her again and I felt myself calming down immediately. I thought again maybe I should call you, Doc, but I decided not to. After all, they were just dreams and a little bit of harmless sleepwalking. They couldn't hurt me, could they? Besides, it was a Saturday, and I had to go to work soon. So, I got ready.
“As I began to prepare breakfast, I began to hum along to the tune of the spiders, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I remember opening each cabinet and clicking my tongue in dissatisfaction when I closed it. Nothing looked appetizing that morning, but I knew I had to eat, so I got dressed in my work uniform and headed to Fryer Joe’s to see if I could bring myself to eat anything off their greasy fastfood menu. You know how it is there, cheap coffee and even cheaper burgers. Just what the doctor ordered, eh? When I entered, my ears were assaulted by the ringing of the bell above the door, the small talk of the patrons and sizzling of the fryers and grills behind the counter. One sound stood out from it all though, the incessant buzzing of a housefly. It buzzed around the lobby, distracting me every time it got too close. There was a rather bored-looking cashier calling out an order. A man in a grey business suit grabbed the order and walked out.
“I remember standing in line, reading the menu nothing sounded good to me. It was deeper than the dissatisfaction of looking at a fridge full of food and not finding anything satisfying to eat. And then there was that damn fly still buzzing around. Eventually, it was my turn to order and I trudged to the counter.
“‘Welcome to Fryer Joe’s, how can I take your order this morning?’ he asked.
“‘A medium Cuppa Joe and hash browns,’ I said, trying to get the order over with. I found my eyes often wandering to spot the fly wherever it was hovering at.
“‘Can I get you anything else?’
“‘Uh. Ketchup please,’ I replied, distractedly.
“‘Alright, your total is three dollars and forty-three cents,’ he replied. If the cashier noticed my wandering attention, he chose not to comment.
“‘Thanks,’ I said as I pulled a crumpled five-dollar bill from my purse and handed it over to him.
“‘You’re welcome, your number is 37,’ he said as the cash register dinged. He handed me the change and slammed the drawer shut. I sat down at a table and waited for my order to be called. The fly whizzed past me one final time and without thinking, my hand reached out and caught the pest and began to bring it to my mouth. I stopped myself mere inches from my lips and gagged. I hurried to the bathroom to scrub my hands and prayed nobody saw what just happened. I came out just in time to pick up my order and I made a hasty exit. A little while later, I arrived at van Buren’s.
“When I entered, I was again assaulted by the noise inside. We had all of the traditional pets one would expect in a pet store, like cats, dogs, birds, lizards, fish, and yes, spiders. But what made van Buren’s special were the ravens the owner, George van Buren, and his family personally raised. It was a family tradition that extended way back to their great ancestor, Xavier van Buren – y’know the guy whose mansion burned down in the 1600’s?
“I clocked-in, and everything went smoothly for my shift. That is, until just before lunch time. Brianna, my manager approached me.
“‘Hey, Mary Jane, I need you to clean the mice cages,’ she said.
“‘Sure, no problem, lemme just grab the temporary cages,’ I replied cheerily. I loved the mice, Doc. I thought they were the cutest thing ever and would often look for any excuse to cuddle one. I remember taking them out, putting them in their temporary cage, and cleaning their regular cage. It was in the process of putting them back that she took over. I don’t know what happened – a kid screamed and the next thing I know, Brianna was shaking me.
“‘Jesus Mary Jane, are you okay?’ she asked.
“‘What? Oh God, what is all over my hands?’ I looked down at my hands in confusion and saw the regurgitated remains of my hash brown and coffee. The mouse’s fur was matted, and it was squealing in terror, trying to escape.
“‘If you weren’t feeling that well, you shouldn’t have come in, here give me the mouse. I’ll finish here, and you can go get cleaned up. Then go straight home, okay?’ Briana held her hand out for the mouse. I gave it to her and headed to the bathroom to clean up, trying desperately to remember what had happened. Near as I can tell, when she took over, she made me throw up all over the poor creature.
“Once I was cleaned up, I headed to my car and shakily called your office, Doc.
“Karli Jo answered with her usual cheery, ‘Doctor Phillips’ office, this is Karli Jo, how can I help you?’
“‘Karli Jo, it’s me Mary Jane, I need to speak with Doctor Phillips as soon as possible.’
“I don’t know if it was the tone of my voice or if you were already free, Doc, but I didn’t have to wait long. You answered almost immediately after Karli Jo put me on hold.
“‘What’s wrong Mary Jane?’ you asked, concern filling your voice.
“I quickly told you what had just happened.
“‘How fast can you get here?’ you asked after listening patiently to me.
“‘Give me ten minutes,’ I responded. On the drive there, I remember thinking, ‘I just want to curl up in my web and hide.’ My web, Doc. My web, like I was some kind of spider. Christ, why would I think something like that? I’m sorry, I’m – I’m just really disturbed by this still, even today. I don’t know what I was expecting you to say, but I was hoping you could explain it. Like it was some sort of Freudian slip or something. Comfort me, too.
“When I arrived, I walked past Karli Jo’s desk, barely holding myself together as I opened the door to your office. As soon as the door closed, the fragile glue that was holding me together broke and I began sobbing. You came over to me, Doc, and comforted me.
“Once I finished crying, I explained everything that had happened since that morning.
“After I finished, you asked, ‘And you think Natalia is the cause of all this?’
“I nodded and replied, ‘Well… yes. I think. I don’t know, Doc. It all started when I bought her, but –I don’t know. Maybe it’s just stress. School, work, and I’m practically sleeping with something that I’m absolutely terrified by.’
“You nodded again and asked me, ‘In your dreams, would you say the spiders worship you?’
“I thought about it for a moment. ‘Yeah, it definitely seems that way.’
“‘Then maybe your dreams are just a projection of your ideal self – somebody not afraid of spiders, and in fact in control of them,’ you explained with a gentle smile.
“I swallowed hard and looked up at you. ‘Yeah, that… Makes sense, I suppose.’
“You smiled wider and said, ‘You even said it yourself – you’re under a lot of stress. My suggestion is to take a few days off work and relax. Do you have Natalia with you now?’
“‘No, I left her at home,’ I replied. ‘I can go get her if you want.’
“‘No, no need. Our next official session is tomorrow isn’t it? Bring her then, please,’ you said.
“‘Alright, I’ll see you then, drive safely, Mary Jane,’ you told me with a wave and a smile. I felt better about myself when I left.
“When I got home, I called Brianna and told her I wasn’t going to be able to make it in for the next few days. She understood, and told me to feel better. I took a nap after that – and I dreamed.
“The spiders chanted in a circle and Natalia descended down from the roof, but this time tied to her was a silver circlet fashioned to look like a web. In the center of the web was a large circle of a viscous amber liquid. I took the circlet and slipped it on to my head. Natalia crawled up my face and into the middle of the liquid. It began to harden around her, forming a shape not unlike her amber in the waking world. The spiders began to call out, 'All hail the Spider Queen,' and I raised my arms. I woke up after that kissing Natalia's amber prison.
“I screamed and threw the amber hard against the wall. A wave of dread washed over me when I heard it crack against the wall. I rushed over to inspect the amber and to my absolute horror, I saw a large crack in it. To make things even worse, I watched as Natalia put her legs against the edges of the crack and began to squeeze her way out. I covered my eyes and curled up into the fetal position and began to cry.
“My parents ran in to see what was wrong.
“‘Mary Jane? Mary Jane! Is everything alright?’ asked Mom.
“‘Get it away from me! Get it away from me!’ I mumbled between sobs. ‘She’s going to break free!’
“Dad gently rubbed my back as my mother grabbed the amber and took it out into the hallway and out of my sight.
“‘Shh, it’s going to be okay, pumpkin,’ Dad said as he gently pulled me into his arms. He began to rock me, and after a bit I began to feel better.
“‘I need to call Doctor Phillips,’ I said with a sniffle. He nodded and grabbed my cell for me and passed it to me. I dialed your number, and again Karli Jo answered. She transferred me immediately to you.
“I remember explaining what happened and then you asked me one question, ‘Is Natalia in the room with you now?’
‘“No,’ I replied, ‘I had my mother take her away.’
“‘Can you do something for me?’ you asked, ‘I need you to confirm something for me.’
“I was skeptical, but I said, ‘Yes, what is it?’
“‘I want you to check and see if the amber really is broken.’
“I didn’t want to do it, but I did it for you, Doc. I thought maybe it’d help me control it. Control her. Control fear. I retrieved Natalia from my mother and looked the amber over.
“‘There’s no cracks in it,’ I said after a moment.
“‘I thought as much,’ you said, ‘I think you just suffered an attack of hypnagogia, or a waking dream. Though, in your case, it was more of a waking nightmare.’
“‘But it was moving!’ I protested.
“‘You’ve been sleepwalking lately,’ you countered. ‘It’s fully possible that you were acting out your dreams. What I’m trying to say, Mary Jane, is that you’re more or less safe and I’ll see you tomorrow, alright?’
“I paused for a moment and then said, ‘Alright.’ I wasn’t sure anymore, but I decided to trust in you. ‘If you say so, I’ll see you tomorrow.’ We hung up.
“‘Everything okay, champ?’ Dad asked me.
“‘Yeah, I’m fine – Doctor Phillips just says I had a bad dream.’
“‘Alright, well, do you want to eat ice cream and watch a bad soap opera?’ Dad asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“‘Sure!’ I agreed. It was one of my favorite ways to distract myself. I hid Natalia in my dresser under some of my clothes and once again forgot all about her, until the next morning. I woke up feeling absolutely awful. The sun was too bright, and I didn't want to leave my bed. I remember thinking, 'I should call Dr. Phillips.'
“But I never did. You called me after I missed the appointment, but I ignored it. I became a recluse; missing work and school. I stopped leaving my room except at night, when the sun was down, and it was dark. I began rejecting normal food and eating instead insects and small rodents whenever I could. I often found myself waking up huddled in a corner. I turned my nightstand into an altar to Natalia and I knelt at it often, worshiping her. Praising her, and sometimes, talking to her. Then, she started talking back, and her voice was divine.
“I remember that night clear as the day it happened, Doc. I was dressed in my pajamas in front of the altar, saying ‘O' my Goddess, Queen of the Spiders, whisper to me your secret sermons. Wrap me in your silken embrace and take me unto the paradise you promise. I beseech thee, O' Goddess of the Spiders, whisper to me your guidance.’
“Then ¬she spoke to me, her voice a soft, sibilant whisper. It was as though somebody had woven spider silk out of thin air. ‘Mary Jane, Mary Jane. You are ready now to hear my sermons. You are to become my successor, my faithful and loyal servant. I have been grooming you for this ever since we first laid eyes on one another in that gift shop. That tottering old woman had no idea who or what she was dealing with. And now you are ready to become my herald.’
“I raised her to my lips to give her a kiss when I was startled to a pecking on my window. On the windowsill just outside was an abnormally large raven, about the size of a small child. It spoke to me in a strange, ethereal voice that echoed and bounced around my skull. It was vaguely familiar, but I never did figure out why.
“‘Don’t listen to her!’ he said, ‘You have to get help, Mary Jane.’
“‘Help?’ I asked, frightened.
“‘Don’t listen to that thing,’ Natalia interjected, ‘He will only deny you your birthright. Your destiny. Seize your destiny!’
“‘You are stronger than her,’ the raven argued, ‘Fight her! Your destiny doesn’t lie with her!’
“I became frightened as the two of them continued to argue and demand my attention. I began to panic and started wishing they would both shut up, so I could do some thinking. I remember trashing the altar, sending all the various objects clattering to the floor and shouting, ‘Both of you, shut up!’ I must have frightened them, for they both fell immediately fell silent. I stood up and surveyed the room. Slowly, a realization dawned on me and I began to weep and pull on my own hair. I plopped down to the floor with a thud and continued crying for a bit, before grabbing my cell and calling your office.
“Unsurprisingly, there was no answer. It was the dead of night, but still… the raven was right. I needed help. I grabbed Natalia and then my keys and drove myself to the asylum. The raven led the way, and I knew that as long as I focused on him, I would be able to keep Natalia silent and at bay. I entered the asylum and the first thing that hit me was the nasal-burning odor of antiseptic. It hung in the air like an invisible, but heavy curtain coating the cream-colored walls and linoleum floor. The overhead fluorescent lights blinded me, but I could see at the far end of the hall an orderly passing the time with a handheld video game console.
“I stumbled towards him, shielding my eyes from the harsh glare of the lights and then set Natalia down on his desk with a thud.
“‘Um… can I help you?’ he asked, clearly nervous.
“‘Yes, I-I need to admit myself,’ I replied. ‘Voluntarily.’
“‘Okay, what for?’
“‘She’s talking to me, and telling me things I don’t like,’ I answered, pointing at Natalia first, and then out the door I just came through. ‘And out front is a large black raven, the size of a child telling me I need to come in and admit myself.’
“The orderly took a deep breath and handed me a clipboard, asking, ‘Do you think you can fill this out right now, or do you think you need to wait for a doctor?’
“I shook my head and responded, ‘I can do this now. So long as I keep thinking about the raven, I can focus more clearly.’ I took the clipboard and quickly filled it out before handing it over to the orderly. I think I must’ve been muttering stuff as I did it, as the orderly looked increasingly more nervous until I handed it back to him. There wasn’t a doctor available to do a physical but that was – that was – that was okay. I-I needed to be safe and most importantly – not alone.”
I watched as the woman on the tape began to struggle to talk.
The Howard on the tape asked, “Are you alright, Mary Jane?”
“Y-yeah, I’m f-fine,” she lied, her body beginning to convulse and twitch. “She is just trying to take over again. I’m trying to fight her off, but–” she cut herself off with one more violent twitch and then slammed both of her palms on the table. “I am the Spider Queen!” she shouted, her voice deepening much like Howard said it would as she launched herself at the Howard on the screen. I watched as he jumped back, and orderlies rushed in, grabbing the flailing woman and dragging her out of the room. The tape ended there.
“Whoa,” I said, looking at Howard. The older man nodded.
“Yeah. When Mary Jane died, I was given Natalia,” he said. “I have her right in my desk. Nothing strange has ever happened to me, but I did some digging into the history of the town and discovered something interesting. In the 1600's, right around the time this town was built, one Elizabeth van Buren started a cult based around the worship of a spider. She and her followers were burned at the stake when it was discovered. According to Alexander Jenkins, the town undertaker, she was found wearing a diadem much like the one Mary Jane described in her dreams. On a hunch, I took the amber to a jeweler and had him examine the piece. He said that it was originally set in some sort of jewelry.”
“Wait – you don’t mean van Buren as in the pet store where she worked do you?” I asked incredulously.
“The very same,” Howard said with a sad smile. “I traced the current van Buren’s family line all the way back and found out that Elizabeth was a distant cousin of theirs. They share a common grandfather – Xavier van Buren.”
“You mean the one who burnt down the House of Forty-Four Ravens?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s the one – and a story for another time,” Howard replied.
“Right, so you mentioned that Elizabeth had a piece of jewelry like the one Mary Jane described in her dreams?” I asked. “Are you suggesting that they were both influenced by the same thing?”
Howard shrugged with a chuckle and said, “No, not at all. It’s just an interesting historical note for your book. I have had Natalia in my desk for a long time and I haven’t had any strange dreams.”
“Right, well then, thank you for your time, Howard,” I said, extending my hand to him.
“It’s not a problem at all,” he said shaking my hand vigorously. “I’m glad to help you with your project. If you have any more questions, please feel free to call me or drop by.”
“I will, have a nice day, Howard,” I waved and left.
Written by Irenestark2k17