Scarlett Dahlia: Salutations by Jesse Orr

Salutations

Hot and oppressive, the sun beat down like a blanket, heating the humid air to a thickness that was almost palpable. Through the haze of heat hanging over the patched blacktop, a small red car materialized. It drew nearer, becoming clearer that it was a hybrid sedan, Louisiana plates framed by a plastic barbed-wire frame. The car whispered to a halt in the middle of the road, and the passenger window rolled halfway down. A face peered out, tanned to the point of sunburn, and framed by curly blond hair.

“Just a few miles down this road now,” Carly said, looking down her burnt nose at her iPhone as a ding heralded another text message. “You can’t miss it.”

“Can’t I?” muttered Don. He tweaked the wheel and the sedan turned onto the road without a sound. A clanging resounded in the car, and Don grabbed his phone from his breast pocket. He glanced at it, and stuffed it back into his pocket.

“I wish you’d change that text message sound,” Carly said. “It always makes me jump.”

“Well, we can’t have that can we, darling.” Don’s voice sounded resigned and more than a little weary.

“Don’t start,” snapped Carly. She swiped a few spots on her phone and held it to her ear. After a moment, she spoke in a different tone. “Hi, mommy? We’re almost to the plantation, we’re going to look around and—”

She broke off, frowning as her eyes squinted and she held a finger to the ear opposite the phone, raising her voice as though to be heard over a great wind. “Mom? I can’t—you’re breaking up—can you hear me? Hello?”

Taking the phone from her ear, she beheld the No Service notification with mounting irritation. It fucking figured. This entire day had turned into one headache after another, running from place to place scouting a site for her sister’s stupid wedding. Don had been willing to help, but as they sped around the county, his enthusiasm had waned and been replaced by a surliness which made her wonder what she saw in him anyway. Neither of them had eaten yet, and she just wanted to look at this last possibility and go find the nearest burger joint.

“No service,” she said, tossing her phone into the cupholder and folding her arms across her chest. “It’s not like we’re in the middle of nowhere…”

“I’ll file a complaint with the phone company,” Don said, his voice dripping sarcasm. “Just as soon as we’re done with this delightful tour.”

“Oh shut up,” Carly sighed. “You think this is what I wanted to be doing on my Saturday? My stupid sister is just going to divorce this guy too and this is a day of watching TV and eating Chinese food that you and I are never going to get back.”

“I hope it’s a messy divorce and costs her every penny,” Don said with real malice. “I hope–”

“Oh!” Carly gasped as they rounded a corner and beheld Scarlett Dahlia Manor.

A great white building was framed by weeping willows, green hanging arms framing the pillars which supported the mansion’s second and third story. Opulent staircases descended from the left and right of the enormous main door to the immaculate grass of the enormous sloping lawn.

In the early seventeenth century, this had once been one of the larger plantations in the state, growing cotton and butchering livestock. The family had owned dozens of slaves, and the unsavory reputation it had accrued had not placed it high on the list of potential wedding sites for Carly’s sister. But it was the last one on the list she and Don had agreed to scout, and she was just a few photos away from being on her way to a cheeseburger.

“Not bad,” Don said, pulling to a halt at the base of one of its pillars. They got out, unfolding themselves from the car and stretching the way one does after a long journey.

Carly looked around them at the drooping boughs of the weeping willow. It’s so green, she thought to herself, it’s suffocating – and then she realized it was the silence. The willow branches hung low and heavy around them, blocking their view of the house. Carly looked up into the tree and saw what was missing.

“There are no birds. It’s so quiet in here,” she said, her own voice hushed to match. “The air almost feels dead.”

“It feels hot,” Don said and gestured. “Come on, come on, let’s get it over with.”

Quelling the rising desire to kick Don in the shin, Carly retrieved her phone from the dashboard and raised it to eye level. Before she could open the camera, the phone vibrated in her hand and the ding of a text message sounded in the dead silence.

“I thought you said there was no service,” Don said, his voice accusing.

“There isn’t,” Carly shot back. “There’s no… no…”

“No WHAT?”

“What the fuck?” Carly said, enraged. “Look at this text!”

She held her phone out to Don.

From: Éx1Ã0¿¦Ñþ

leeve now

slut

“What the fuck?” Carly reiterated, grabbing her phone back from Don and looking at it again as though to confirm the insult. “Is somebody here?” She looked toward the mansion, back at Don, then around them in a circle.

“It doesn’t look like it,” Don said. “I’ve never seen a number like that anyway.”

Carly selected the option to call the sender and was treated to a recording stating that there was no service where she was located and would she please try again later. As she hung up in disgust, her phone dinged again. She looked at it and uttered another cry of shock and indignation. “What the actual fuck?” Her hand shot out, shoving her phone into Don’s face.

Ding!

From: ќє…g13пИp

get u away hore

beat it

“Someone has to be here,” Don said, his voice betraying a hint of nervousness. “It’s got to be some stupid joke.”

“Then why is there still no fucking service?” shouted Carly, her voice beginning to touch the outer edge of hysterical. She tapped Reply. Who the fuck are you? She asked, her fingers flying over the screen. Send.

Almost immediately.

Ding!

From: xx¦ðè552

fukn bitch

“Who the fuck is in there?” screamed Carly, one hand clenching her phone, the other balled into a fist as she started toward the staircases of the mansion. A sudden clanging sound made her jump and turn. Don’s phone began to vibrate as texts began arriving. He looked at her, eyes huge as their phones struggled to keep up with the flood of messages.

Ding!

from 0oњш31ОşŒ

no1 wants uhere

Clang!

From: 1ĀÛ+–Â÷ĩ33

get ot

Ding!

From: ÎŊüľ20299

get out

Clang!

From: ÎxŊxüľxľ¶´¸ô

GET OUT

DingClangDingClangDingClang!

From: +++Ë3Æ3¿3Ã3Ã3

GETOUTGETOUTGETOUTGETOUTGETOUTGETOUT

The texts came in as fast as their phones would display them, paragraphs of GETOUT over and over, all from different strings of numbers and characters. Then, silence. They looked at each other, frozen.

“I think we should go,” Carly said, her voice a tremulous whisper that sounded very loud in the sudden silence.

Don was about to speak, when Carly’s phone dinged again, making them both wince. She looked at it, and her face turned white. She showed it to Don.

It was a photo of the two of them, taken moments ago, taken from inside the mansion. As they stared in horror, a new message arrived. Carly opened it and screamed. Don grabbed the phone as she dropped it, and gaped. It was a photo of the two of them, on their backs in a ditch, eyes glassy, jaws slack and very, very, dead.

Now it was Don who screamed and threw the phone across the immaculate grass of the lawn. It landed and at once began dinging with the arriving photos that no one was viewing: Carly draped over a wooden stump, her back flayed into bloody ribbons; Don on his back in the mud, a dark bloody hole where his genitals had been; Carly with her ears missing and great slits carved into her cheeks and nose; Don cradling both of his severed feet as he stared wide-eyed at his bloody stumps. By then, both Don and Carly were back in Don’s car, speeding away from the mansion as fast as the hybrid would carry them.

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