For as long as anyone could remember, an old shop sat on the corner of Potts Avenue and Stirling Street, growing a grey skin of dust and spider web netting. Being so obviously conceived in a bygone era, everything about it was painfully old fashioned or otherwise in derelict condition. The chipped, worn varnish could now only attempt to protect the wooden window frames. White, faded letters of signage, ones that spelled “Seamstress and Cutter”, rested lazily under the pattern of tessellating diamonds on the frieze above it. Everything about it seemed quite Victorian, from the wide grimy display windows to the intricately crafted door which was built on the very left rather than the centre of the shopfront. Its antique appearance that so heavily contrasted the sleek, vibrant displays of neighbouring boutiques acted as a deterrent for the youth, the fashionable, and most others. Yet surely it must have attracted some type of business for it still stood on its elderly foundations and never once left.
This immortality had given rise to a number of rumours and legends, each with its own unique level of believability and intrigue. Most of these had concerned the reclusive owner: the shop’s singular seamstress. Although there were no reliable accounts of her ever leaving her work place during waking hours, she most certainly existed. The creaks and whirs of her machine were unmistakable to the few souls brave enough to venture close, though these souls often debated the exact nature of this machine. Some were adamant that it was a spinning wheel. Others argued that no seamstress spun their own thread. If this auditory evidence of her existence did not suffice, those who had gotten their eyes inches from the perpetually grubby glass windows would be rewarded with a possible glimpse of the seamstress’s back as she poured over her work. As revealing to her nature as one would think this would be, it most likely only allowed for a sight of her unnaturally straight hair, hair that seemed to suck the light and joy from its surroundings with its stygian black hue. Upon taking a step back, the viewer would feel that same effect mirrored unto themselves: all positivity and brightness stolen away from them, at least for that moment. With such passionate apprehension surrounding the shop, it must have been an especially cruel twist of fate that a passing foreigner, ignorant to this dark folklore, had come by it. It was an even crueller twist of fate that hours earlier, he had torn his jacket sleeve on an exposed nail.
This stranger, a young man whose lack of experience and age did not particularly help him in his travels, did not at all question his choice in clothing repair businesses. Instead, he merely noted the shop’s dire need for a renovation then promptly entered. Nothing could have been more of a disturbance to the seamstress’s quiet work than the brazen manner in which he threw open the door. As it slammed back into its frame, the earth appeared to tremor, the glass windows shaking in their places and spools of thread tumbling off the shelves. The messy effects of this miniature earthquake, however, were not apparent in the already cluttered shop. Not when dressmaker mannequins of various sizes stood like sentries in the most random of spots, from in front of the doorway to the middle of the shop. Not when bits of fluff and stray thread covered the plywood floor so thickly that they could almost form a rug in certain places. The sheer degree of the disorder and the disorganised array of colours, which was particularly intense by the rolls of fabric piled onto the work table, made it hard for the man’s eyes to focus on anything specific. That is, until he noticed the creature sat by the working spinning wheel. All the chaos of a messy seamstress’s shop was forgotten at the sight of her dark hair and the way it hung past her shoulders like a criminal from the gallows. Just looking at her instilled a sense of dread deep within the man. It was only worsened when his eyes wandered to her fingers. These fingers, which looked more like long white needles, fed wool into the spinning wheel with movements so precise that one could call them mechanical, almost inhuman. Hesitation almost physically apprehended the man from seeking help at this point, though his pride had won out. He would not allow himself to be scared off by this woman. He thought himself too much of a man to be so cowardly.
Still, he would have to be some kind of fool not to acknowledge that there was something strange about the woman and her little shop. The place looked like an animal lived in it and the outside was enough to repel any local patronage. Any self-respecting business owner would not have let their pride and joy become the victim of such neglect. Despite all, however, beggars couldn’t be choosers.
“Excuse me, Miss,” he attempted in the local language. “I’ve got something I need repaired. As soon as possible, if you can.”
At once, the woman’s robotic fingers stopped feeding the wool into the wheel and her foot which operated the treadle halted in the same abrupt manner. She stood and turned a little too quickly for the man’s comfort. He wished she had given him more time to brace himself, but unfortunately, he would not be afforded such consideration. Before he knew it, he was staring into a pair large, doe-like eyes that threatened to devour his attention if he looked for too long. To prevent this, he drew his focus to the woman’s nose, more specifically the way it pointed upwards slightly and its soft curve. He also took note of the way the ivory pallor of her face matched that of her skeletal fingers. The culmination of her features, the way her hair framed her face, and the anomalously dark atmosphere she radiated gave her a sort of juvenile, but morbid beauty. The man didn’t know what to make of it.
“What do you need me to fix?” the seamstress asked, eyeing the man up and down.
The man pulled off his jacket and showed the tear to her. By now, it had gotten worse and stretched from the end of the sleeve to a little over where the elbow would be. The seamstress had taken the article of clothing into both hands carefully, though it seemed that she more interested in its owner. Her eyes, which had previously been fixed on his face, were now closely examining his arms now that they were more visible without his jacket. The man was aware of this and it had definitely served to fuel is ego, though he did not make this awareness apparent to be polite.
“I can do this. It won’t take long,” the seamstress finally said.
“Great! How much do you need for it?”
When the seamstress named her price, the man had to restrain himself from calling it highway robbery. No one in their right mind would pay that much to have a small tear fixed. Surely this town had a cheaper seamstress.
“No thanks.” The man grabbed his jacket. “I’ll make do.”
But the seamstress’s alien fingers were still dug into the fabric. No matter how hard the man pulled on it, she refused to let go. Instead, she tugged it back, forcing the man to move with it until his face was inches from hers.
“No need for that,” she said in a tone that convinced the man she wasn’t giving up. “I can negotiate.”
“I doubt any discount’s going to make that much of a difference. Sorry, Miss. You seem sweet enough, but I’ll take my business elsewhere.”
“I’m not talking about a discount, sir.” The seamstress’s hands gripped the man’s forearm tightly.
“Then what are you talking about?” The man made no attempt to move his arm away, taking the seamstress’s actions as a sign that he had charmed her.
For a seemingly eternal moment, the seamstress did not answer, instead deciding it would be more appropriate to trap her customer’s attention with her all-encompassing eyes. This time, this hypnotisation was inescapable. The man was at the mercy of these cold but impossibly alluring eyes.
“It gets lonely here,” the seamstress finally said. “You may hardly believe this, but no one comes by this shop. It would be a shame for you to go so soon, especially someone as perfect as you. If you stay for a bit after I finish fixing this, then the job is free.”
The man considered the offer carefully. He could not find one pleasant thing about the seamstress’s shop. If he hadn’t ripped his jacket, he wouldn’t touch this place with a ten feet pole. Still, no one in their right mind would ever offer their services in exchange for something as easily provided as company. This opportunity would never present itself anywhere else in town. Besides, the man didn’t find the seamstress bad looking. In fact, while she had an uncanny air about her, her facial features were pleasant and feminine. From the amount of attention she had given him so far, he had gotten the impression that he was getting more than a fixed jacket that afternoon.
“Deal,” he finally agreed.
While the seamstress worked her needles and thread, the man had wandered around to her spinning wheel which now stat eerily still in the absence of its owner. Now that its perpetual, even whirring had been silenced, it seemed like something completely different. It was now as abandoned and stagnant as the rest of the shop seemed. Completely losing interest in the seamstress and her work, the man had immersed himself in this device and its workings. He occupied himself with mentally reconstructing its pulley-like mechanism and workings until he had bored himself with his own imagination. Visualising it was no longer enough to keep himself entertained. Surely the seamstress wouldn’t have minded if he touched it once. As his toe approached the treadle he a felt chill around him but attributed it to a broken window or something of that nature. It was only until he felt the bony tips of cold fingers close around the bare flesh of his forearm that he acknowledged the presence beside him, though he did not turn to face it.
“I appreciate your interest in my spinning wheel,” the seamstress said, still holding onto his arm, “but I cannot allow you to meddle with it. It is very old and you are very inexperienced.”
“Aren’t you are meant to be fixing my jacket?” the man raised an eyebrow at how strongly she had gripped him.
“I’ve already finished. Now you must to fulfil your end of the bargain.”
The seamstress placed the jacket in his hands with the level of care one would give to a priceless family heirloom. The tear seemed to have fully disappeared without a trace, impossible given that it wasn’t on a seam. It was as if the seamstress had just given him a completely new jacket. Extraordinary as this was, the man was so satisfied with the result that he decided not to question it, instead deciding that it must have been because the seamstress was so incredible at her job. Now he did not nearly object to spending time with her as much as he did before.
“Well, a deal is a deal.” the man slipped his jacket on. “Maybe you could show me around while I’m here.”
The seamstress nodded with an expectant smile, as if she had been waiting for him to make that very request, hoping even. Once she had taken his hand in hers, the man felt a very subtle force from within nagging at him, a portent against this, for in allowing her to lead him, he had somehow given up control. Like many of his instincts, this inner voice was carelessly shoved to the very back of his mind, most likely never brought out ever again.
The shop front was not entirely unknown to the man by this point and thus took up a very minimal amount of time in the seamstress’s tour. It did not take very long for the man to decide that he was far from interested in dressmaker models, different types of fabric, and thread thicknesses. He was much more focused on watching his step, being careful not to let his foot did not land on something important that just so happened to be part of the floor clutter. His interest, however, was finally piqued when the seamstress had pushed away a few rolls of linen fabric that were leaning against the corner wall. Their absence now revealed a wooden door that almost perfectly blended into the wall.
“And where’s this go to?” the man asked, growing slightly irritated that the seamstress still held onto his hand. In a way, it did make him feel nice, to be wanted and given such attention, but he had to admit that it was a bit suffocating.
“Well, I think it’s obvious that I’m quite dedicated to my work,” the seamstress answered. “To achieve this level of devotion, I must be close to my craft, so close that I live it. And I do quite literally live it. Through this door is where I eat, sleep and otherwise spend my free time.”
“Forgive me for saying this, but it sounds like a drab existence, only being spending time in either one of the two places.”
“It’s not as boring as you would think.”
The man looked at the seamstress to see if she was at all offended by his remark like he would expect her to be. She only smirked back at him, as if she knew something he did not. Perhaps it was only connoted playful mischief, the kind people were heavy handed with when they flirted. Yes, he must have initially misread it. Without any further apprehension, he watched the seamstress open the door to an endless unlit staircase that spiralled downwards.
“After you,” she said, finally letting go of his hand.
And so he did, treading with heavy feet on the soft plywood steps. With every inch he descended, the darkness had clung to him tighter. But even as his vision gradually ceased to work, he convinced himself not to feel uncertain, not to be scared. It was all going to plan. He was going to see the seamstress’s home and possibly flirt his way into something more, at least for that afternoon. He just needed to get past the dark.
The literal light at the end of the proverbial tunnel had presented itself again, just as the man had started to get used to his temporary blindness. He had assumed that his arrival at the end of the steps, where everything was finally visible, would be a great relief. This assumption might have been correct if he had found comfort in the sight of bones, scratched and scarred, tangled in geometrically patterned nets of fraying yarn, unceremoniously bound to the wall. He paused on the spot, not knowing what to make of it all, not knowing if he should have felt unsettled or intrigued. For all he knew, it was some sort of abstract art that laypeople were not meant to understand. As he surveyed his surroundings, however, it became clear that this wasn’t the case. The stairs did not lead to any sort of living quarters or bedroom. It was a single, dimly lit, wood-walled space, filled with odd structures constructed out of geometrical yarn patterns. In an effort to understand the purpose of this chaotic, but strangely elaborate, mess, he lightly pinched a single thread between his thumb and forefinger. Upon feeling a crust that had formed around the reddish brown string, he pulled his hand back. He realised the yarn had not always been that colour.
“What… what is this?” he demanded.
“I’ve already told you.” The seamstress, with her cadaverous fingers, pulled on a new white strand of yarn, which had somehow escaped the man’s notice as it formed a tight knot around his ankles. “It’s where I eat, sleep, and otherwise spend my free time. Though, admittedly, this is where I eat more than anything else. Now make yourself comfortable. I probably won’t finish you all at once.”