The House Of Poison

The Saturday stink of the Quarter swirls in your nostrils: blood, sex, beer, sweat and at least three different kinds of smoke: cigars, cigarettes and crack. Crowds of laughing college students swarm around you like a school of fish or a flock of birds — each of separate mind, but inexplicably moving together like a single entity. Guys with camcorders pulse through the crowd, and wherever they go, girls collared in brightly colored beads lift their shirts and scream ecstatically, eliciting cheers and more beads from cameramen and frat boys alike. A pair of tits flashed causes the school of fish, the flock of birds to coalesce into a single symbiotic entity for one frozen instant that lasts thirty seconds or sixty or a hundred and twenty. Liquor is the lifeblood that pumps through this symbiont’s aromatic veins — veins you can almost see, visible lines of force swirling Cuban and Columbian in smoke-trails with every upraised fist.

You find yourself pushed aside by the crowd as a pair of twin sisters howl “Mardi Gras! Mardi fucking Gras!” and lift their matching skintight Georgia Tech shirts, displaying four nipple rings flashing in neon and sodium light. Jostled away from the scene of the crime, you spot the entrance to an alley half-frozen in darkness, shafts of red light flashing rhythmically in the thick smoke. You duck down the alley, so narrow it’s escaped the attention of the party goers. At the far end of the alley, you see a winking neon sign: THE HOUSE OF POISON. In the shadows of the doorway, a lithe and cadaverous biker type, six and a half feet tall if he’s an inch, sits on a very tall stool, feet tucked into the rungs underneath. He wears a tuxedo shirt, black bow tie and tuxedo pants, with a long leather coat over it all despite the subtropical Gulf heat. His long hair hangs shoulder-length and scraggly from a pate bald and glimmering rhythmically in neon pink. His carefully trimmed beard is braided into twin forks. He does not have a mustache.

You walk down the alley, dodging discarded chicken bones and piles of human shit. The doorman never takes his eyes off of you, and you can’t be sure, but you’d swear he never blinks.

Beneath the neon sign is a black-lighted chaser box, showing what appears to be a woman in a black bikini covered in tarantulas. The black lights circle rhythmically around the headline. “GIRLS. GIRLS. GIRLS. FREAKS OF NATURE. CARNIVAL ACTS. SEE THE ASTOUNDING MADAME TARANTULA MAKE LOVE TO A THOUSAND DEADLY SPIDERS!”

The doorman gives you a bored look, takes a drag on his cigarette, gets down from the stool, crushes his cig underfoot. You can smell a waft of his smoke and you recognize it as a clove. He produces a top hat and a skull-topped cane from the shadows and clears his throat.

Suddenly, his languid movements become animated, as he begins his script as abruptly as if it were audiotaped.

“Good sir, or madame,” he begins with a wink. “Within the walls of The House of Poison, you will discover horrors that will titillate and disturb you! Tonight’s act features the terrifyingly beautiful Madame Arachne engaged in a live sex act with one thousand deadly man-eating spiders from the jungles of Cambodia! Madame Arachne will shock and amaze you — but mostly, her deviant and unfettered love for her arachnid charges will titillate ever fiber of your being! For months, my friend, you will think back on Madame Arachne’s shocking and abnormal love for her pets, and you will be haunted, my friend — haunted by the scandalous and appalling depths of depravity to which human behavior can sink! And all this for only 10 dollars, with a two-drink minimum.”

You fish for the wad of crumpled bills in your backpack. You smooth out a 10 and hand it to him. The barker leans his cane against the bare brick wall and takes a stamp out of his coat pocket. “Right hand, please,” he says, and you offer it to him. He stamps you with a line drawing of a black spider.

“Welcome to my nightmare,” the barker says, his face reacquiring the bored expression it held before as he sweeps aside the black leather curtain hanging in the doorway.

You pass into the darkness, hearing the sizzling of the neon lights close to your face. Your eyes take a moment to adjust as you feel your way down the long corridor. As the black fades to gray, you see the walls are lined with framed photographs of naked or half-naked women tangled on red satin in the embrace of animals. One blonde wrapped around an enormous snake features the legend “MADAME SERPENTINA AND HER VENOMOUS PYTHON LOVER.” Another, showing a redhead beset with geckos, promises “LADY SAURA ENJOYS HER PETS, THE MOST VENOMOUS LIZARDS KNOWN TO MAN!” A third shows a bald-headed woman spread lithe and lovely on a bed covered with writhing black snakes: “SPANISH BARONESS ALAURA DE LA CROIX SEDUCES HUNDREDS OF POISONOUS ASPS!” Yet another print features a woman nude except for a heavy carpet of insects. “SULTANA ABDULLA ENGAGED WITH A SWARM OF MALARIAL GNATS!”

You push through a tattered red satin curtain just in time to see the lights go down. You discover yourself in a decaying club that is empty except for a few haunted faces lining the back walls. A stage at the front of the club is not raised as you would expect in a strip club — rather, it is lower than the surrounding tables, its white tiled floor glowing pale in the spotlights. In the center of the lowered stage is a woman swathed in a shimmering black cloak, perched on impossibly high heels. From a hidden speaker, a voice booms: “Well, don’t stand there gawking, take a seat and gawk.” You fumble toward a table. “No, not there,” booms the announcer. “Sit near the stage, my friend. You will thank me later.”

Madame Arachne fixes you with her gaze, and you hurry to the front of the club, tuck your backpack under a table, and sit down.

Madame Arachne lifts her arms and her satin cloak shimmers to the ground behind her, revealing that she is nude except for a pair of knee-topping, high-heeled boots. Lustrous hair the color of coal swirls around her shoulders in an unfelt draft. Her skin is pale but her features exotic — American Indian, perhaps, or South American, belying the whiteness of her flesh. Her face is expressionless, frozen, impassive. Cold as ice; cold as spiders.

The static-laced strains of rhythmic Middle-Eastern music begin to pulse through the club, cheap speakers distorting every bass note, the beat of hand drums mingling with reedy snake-charmer sounds. Madame Arachne lifts her arms higher, tips her head back, and begins to undulate with the music.

The announcer’s voice returns, the volume of the music dipping as he speaks. “Tonight, my friends, you will be treated to one of the most shocking displays of sexual decadence ever to be shown on a stage. As Madame Arachne dances, you will see her lovers slowly make their way on stage: Thousands of venomous spiders! Now, ladies and gentlemen, I must warn you that these tarantula spiders are the most venomous arachnids known to man, and are allowed into the country only through special agreement with the Smithsonian Institution.”

As the announcer continues, the woman begins to twirl across the stage, her naked body writhing and swaying in time with the music as she spins. “Now, how does a woman become the decadent Madame Arachne, you may ask? Madame Arachne began her lifelong love affair with the darkness when as an adolescent girl living in the villages of Brazil, she was bitten by a tarantula while playing in the jungle one day!” You realize all of a sudden that a dark pattern has begun to emerge from the curtains behind the stage. Contrary to your first impression, this darkness is not a shadow, nor is it the incursion of a dark liquid onto the stage. Rather, it is a thick carpet of spiders advancing deliberately toward the nude and twirling woman. As she lowers herself to her knees, legs spread and pointed toward you, the spiders advance more quickly, and the first creatures reach her outstretched hands, mounting them. Your heart begins to pound.

“Taken by a fever after being bitten by this deadly spider, the young Madame Arachne was declared dead by the village doctor — but to her family’s surprise, she returned from the dead, finding herself not only immune to spider venom but inexplicably drawn to the dark beasts! At this time she was but a young girl just discovering her sexuality, and this proclivity resulted in her exile from her home village. She made her way to the United States, where her need for spidery lust was revealed to one of our curators!”

The spiders — big, furry tarantulas the size of a human fist, you now see — have gained Madame Arachne’s shoulders, tangling in her hair, crawling slowly over her face. You watch as the beasts creep down over her full breasts, darkening them as more spiders appear from backstage.

“Now, my friends, I must ask that however bewitching and erotic you may find Madame Arachne’s deviant congress with her many dark lovers, you do not make a sound — and, most importantly, you do not become sexually aroused. Spiders, as you know, are drawn to vibrations, and even the smallest peep out of any of you may summon the spiders from the stage and tempt them from Arachne’s power!”

Madame Arachne, still undulating in time with the music, now rests on her knees with her body stretched down low — covered in spiders from head to belly. Her face is all but obscured by it, and the movements of her body only tempt them further down her pale form.

The announcer continues: “But these spiders, with their years of training by Madame Arachne, are not like any others! They are drawn, as well, to the scent of human arousal, and an aroused guest will draw these spiders’ attentions as surely as Madame Arachne draws them now! You are assured that we have an ample supply of antivenin on hand — but please, I do not wish to administer it to my guests! Please refrain from succumbing to the arousing nature of Madame Arachne’s performance — remain calm, ladies and gentlemen!”

The nude Madame Arachne is now covered in spiders, even her thighs obscured by the dark carpet of beasts. Her naked body begins to shudder and undulate — partly in time with the music, but seemingly, as well, in a rhythmic expression of sexual ecstasy. You hear your heart pounding through the ringing in your ears, over the music. Then, at once, the music stops.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the announcer’s voice comes. “I’m afraid we have a situation. One of Madame Arachne’s lovers has escaped the stage. I can only surmise that one of our guests has become sexually aroused. Please, I am referring to the guest in the front row. Your eyes go wide and you look around frantically for the source of the voice. “Please! I beg you, do not move. Yes, you, Sir, or Madame. Do not move, please. Please, for the love of God, remain absolutely still.”

You’re tucked back in your chair, your legs crossed in front of you. Your hands hang at your side. You feel a tickle at the end of your fingers. Your heart pounding, you glance down.

The announcer shrieks, and you jump in your chair. “Please! Sir, madame, do not move, please! For the love of God! Remain absolutely still. Ab-so-lute-ly still, Sir. Or madame.”

Your hand shakes; there is a big black spider crawling slowly but inexorably over your wrist. You look down and realize that several more spiders are crawling up your pant legs. Your throat closes and your breath stops in an instant as you realize that another spider — the biggest of them all — rests on your lap, stretched languidly across your sexual organs.

“Now, folks, I must insist that everyone in the club remain in their seats; I tell you again, these are the most venomous spiders known to man. Arachnia Venomouso. They can kill a grown human with one bite. We must only hope that Madame Arachne can help us in this situation.”

You turn your eyes toward the stage. Madame Arachne has risen, still covered with her carpet of spiders. Only her feet remain mostly free of the beasts. She moves toward you, slowly, deliberately. She mounts the few stairs leading from the stage to the front row. She approaches you.

“No,” you manage to utter, a strangled sound low in your throat.

“Please, my friend, remain still. Madame Arachne is your only hope now.”

Madame Arachne’s eyes flash in the red and white spots from overhead. They are locked in yours. Spiders darken her foreheads like oversized eyebrows. Spiders tangle lumpy in her long dark hair. You look up at her, a silent plea in your eyes.

You smell Madame Arachne’s body as she leans toward you, putting one arm around your shoulder. Her naked breasts, covered with furry arachnids, sway close to your face as she bends low against you. You are hunkered down in your chair and the tall Arachne perches on high heels far above you, so that when she bends over you your face is close to her crotch. Two spiders cling to the trimmed dark thatch of her pubic hair. You breathe the sharp scent your own fear mingled with that of her sex. Her fingers find your cheek and gently caress you, as they might a lover.

Madame Arachne plucks a spider from the side of your face. You feel its spiny legs scraping your flesh as it leaves you. Madame Arachne places the animal on her shoulder. She bends lower, lets her hand travel up your thigh. She plucks the spider off your crotch and tucks it against her own. It clings, half-dangling, to her pubic hair. Madame Arachne bends lower and you smell her, stronger, pungent female musk mixed with spices. She takes three spiders in rapid succession from your arm, placing them on her own.

Finally, she crouches low between your legs and lovingly gathers the spiders that have crawled up your leg.

She stands slowly, balanced on high heels between your splayed legs. She takes the spiders from her forehead and cheeks, placing them on the pile gracing her shoulders like a cloak. Madame Arachne bends forward and brings her face close to yours. She kisses you, her lips parting your own and her tongue snaking languidly into your mouth. You taste cigarettes and whiskey on her mouth. As she kisses you, you feel an unexpected scurry of legs from the top of your head, another from your ear, the brush of spiny legs across your cheek. When she draws back, her face is again blotched with spiders — six of them, perhaps, or eight.

Madame Arachne backs slowly away from you, the club’s silence suddenly inescapable, like a press of heat all around you. Madame Arachne returns to the stage, and the announcer emits a long, low sigh into the microphone, the cheap electronics crackling and softly whining.

“Thank whatever gods or goddesses you wish, ladies and gentlemen. Our guest is all right. Madame Arachne has saved the day.” Scattered applause erupts from the haunted souls in the back of the club. Shaking, you get up, kick your chair back, hear it fall over and hit the carpeted floor with a thunk. You run your hands over your arms, down your legs; you kick your feet to make sure no creatures go flying. As the music rises and Madame Arachne returns to her dance, you grab your backpack and head for the door, your legs like rubber, your heart still pounding.

Trick. It was all a cheap trick. Some carnival huckster French-quarter trick to tempt future tourists with promises of a sick thrill. I tell the story and my friends all come here, laughing, expecting a pulse-pounding ride of terror. Fuck them, you think. I’m not telling a soul. Never. I’ll never speak of it. They can get their free advertising elsewhere, motherfuckers.

You push through the red velvet curtain, its brush on your skin making you shudder. The doorman draws aside the leather curtain in front, like he knows you’re coming.

“Have fun?” he asks.

You shoot him a wicked look, stumbling into the narrow alley and half running on shaking legs toward the voices and stink of Bourbon Street. You’ve made it halfway down when your knees suddenly give out and you fall against the bare brick wall. Your fear has paralyzed you. You sink to a sitting position, back propped against the wall. Your backpack lays forgotten between your legs. You take a deep breath and go to get up.

Your joints are stiff, hard, immobile. You look back at the doorman, who is puffing his cigarette, looking at you. He perches on his stool, lifts his top hat to you, and grins.

Then you see it. The swelling mound at the webbed crux of your thumb and forefinger. You open your mouth to shout for help. Your neck muscles are paralyzed.

You slump over to the side. “It was a trick,” you manage to say, your lungs closing, your tongue thick in your mouth. You feel the heat start to hit you, the pulse start to undulate through your body.

You can smell the scents coming from the street: sex, liquor, smoke. But even above all that you can smell what wafts out of the entrance to the club: spiders.

Your joints stiff, you haul yourself to your hands and knees. You try to rise to your feet, but you can’t. Instead, you start crawling back toward the club entrance.

The fever is in you now, fiery liquid pulsing through your veins. The scent of Madame Arachne’s spiders fills your nostrils, and you feel yourself crawling toward the club. Through piles of garbage, damp pools of piss. You smell it, stronger, now, as the doorman draws back the leather curtain with a grin.

Madame Arachne has come to the door of the club, her body covered in the furry bodies of spiders. You crawl toward her as her frozen, expressionless face twists and for the first time you see her smile. At the doorway, the doorman helps you to your feet and you stumble against the doorjamb. Mistress Arachne holds out one hand; in her palm is a spider.

You take the spider from her, place it on the back of your hand. This time you feel it when the mandibles penetrate your flesh. With its bite, you the fire courses through you drop to your knees again, and Mistress Arachne, nude except for her cloak of lovers, turns and beckons you into the club.

You crawl into the darkness, moaning.

Thomas Roche is a widely-published writer and editor of erotica, horror, and crime fiction. You can visit him online at his new Web site, www.skidroche.com.

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