by Jesse Orr
The Happy Couple
The squeal of tires turned heads in the parlor. Carly’s sister Marcie got to her feet, leaving her betrothed, Jack, sitting with a quizzical look on his face.
“It’s Carly and Don,” she said, her voice accusing. “Why is he driving so fast?”
“How should I know?” asked Jack, his tone rising. “But he’s going to leave a skid mark on Dad’s new driveway, the dumb shit!” The two stormed out, leaving Jack’s elders sipping their juleps and contemplating how hot-headed young people were these days and whether or not Marcie was worthy of their son.
Out on the newly black-topped driveway, Don had turned off the car and was sitting quite still, staring into space. Carly looked at him and shook his arm. Don blinked.
“We’re here,” she said. Don looked around.
“So we are,” he agreed and opened the door. Before getting out, he paused and looked at her.
“We imagined that, right, honey?”
She looked at him, was about to speak, stopped. Shrugged her shoulders.
Don’s head struck the top of the car as his body was jerked backward by an unseen force. Carly screamed and clawed the door open. She saw that Jack had pulled Don out of the car and was shouting at him over a fistful of Don’s shirt.
“…cost him ten grand and you better be able to come up with that if this doesn’t come out, because–”
“Oh shut the fuck up, Jack you asshole!” Carly screamed.
“All of you shut the fuck up!” Marcie yelled and the fight ground to a halt. She looked at Jack. “Will you knock it off, you can’t even see there was ever a car here. Let go of him.” Jack released Don’s shirt and stepped back, glowering.
“Marcie!” Carly cried and the fear was back in her eyes. “We were at the Scarlett Dahlia, and–”
Her sister’s eyes lit up. “Yeah, how was it?”
“We, we didn’t get a chance…” Carly looked at Don for help but he was engaged in the business of smoothing his shirt and avoiding Jack’s baleful glare. “There were these weird messages coming to our phones, and… we…” She trailed off as Marcie’s stare grew cold.
“Weird, how were they weird?” Jack’s voice came.
“They said stuff like get out, fuck you, that kind of thing, and they came from really weird numbers–”
“There was no service,” Don said, still pretending Jack didn’t exist. “There was no service and we kept getting texts faster than I’ve ever seen.”
“Could I see these texts?” Marcie asked, her voice that of someone humoring a very dumb child.
“We—I–” Carly stuttered.
“We both dropped our phones,” muttered Don, finally smoothing his shirt to his satisfaction.
“Ooh, did the big scary text messages freak you out, Donny-wonny?” Jack said and laughed. Don said nothing.
“Shut up, Jack,” Marcie snapped. “We only have a few weeks until the wedding and we have to find a place. Scarlett Dahlia Manor is one of the nicest mansions in the county and if none of you are capable of looking it over, I’ll just do it myself.” She held out her hand to Don. He dropped the key into her hand like he was handling a rodent.
Throwing the door open, Marcie pulled out the detritus Carly and Don had accumulated in their travels and dropped it on the driveway. She tossed Carly her purse and got in, slammed the door and looked at Jack. “Let’s go.”
“Do I need to go? I was going to–”
“Fine,” Marcie said, and though the car was rolling, the tone of her voice had Jack scuttling up to the car door in no time. Don grinned.
Marcie glanced in the rearview mirror at the receding figures and rolled her eyes.
“What a bunch of babies, huh,” Jack said, and guffawed. “Evil text messages.”
Marcie didn’t answer as she pulled a tiny vial of white powder from her bra. Jack’s eyes widened as she put it to her nostril and sniffed hard..
“Heyy, babe, what’s that?” Jack’s tone would have charmed baby birds from their nests. Marcie repeated the performance on the other nostril “Can I have some?”
She shot him a dark look. “I thought you didn’t want to come.”
His smile faltered. “Well…”
Marcie laughed and tossed him the bullet. “It’s not the best blow but it’ll do. Don’t hog all of it.”
Jack complied, and soon they were both laughing at the top of their lungs at Carly and Don as they flew down the sleepy street at near freeway speeds.
Screeching around the corner to the manor’s driveway, Marcie floored it, racing down the winding road in spite of Jack’s increasing protests. Rounding the final corner, she slammed on the brakes in the Manor’s gravel drive, skidding to a halt.
“Are you crazy?” Jack gasped, rubbing his nose. “You could have–”
“Yeah, yeah,” Marcie muttered, pulling the vial from his shaking hands and helping herself to more. “We’re fine, aren’t we?” She tucked the bullet into her bra.
“Hey, give it back,” Jack whined. Marcie ignored him and got out, stretching and speed-walking toward the entrance. She looked at the trees leaning over them, limbs reaching like fingers. She shuddered. Jack was following her babbling something about what was in her bra and she wished he would just shut up.
Mounting the stairs, she glimpsed a black and white room through the glass of the large doors before a hand fell on her shoulder. Her nerves tuned several octaves higher than normal, nearly snapped.
“It’s just me,” Jack said, beads of sweat dripping down his face. “Can I have…”
“Take it!” she shrieked, pulling the vial from her bra and throwing it at him. “Will you shut up now?”
“Don’t be such a bitch,” he pouted, slick fingers fumbling with the smooth glass. She returned to ignoring him and turned back to the doors. The black and white room on the other side intrigued her. She pulled at the door. It did not move.
“Of course they’re not going to leave it open,” Jack said, pushing past her to try the door for himself nevertheless. White powder crusted one nostril. Resisting the urge to kick him, Marcie left him trying the door and headed back down the stairs and around the house, following the lawn. She couldn’t get over how green it was.
Rounding the corner, she stopped. The carpet of grass stretched for what seemed like forever before sloping down and disappearing. The weeping willow trees shaded the backyard from the worst of the Louisiana sun without making it seem gloomy. Marcie smiled, her jaw tight. This was where she would marry Jack.
The man in question, meanwhile, had just finished ingesting more cocaine and turned to see Marcie had vanished. Hurrying down the stairs with an oath, he took a left around the house, grinding his teeth as he set off in opposite direction she had taken.
As he rounded the corner of the manor, a small door caught his eye. It was set back into the wall of the mansion, and if his eyes had not been nearly popping out of his head he would have missed seeing it. As it was, he pulled at the door and when it opened without a sound, he entered without a second thought. As he did so, Marcie rounded the opposite corner of the mansion and beheld the acres of plush green splendor.
Jack found himself in a small dim room, not much larger than his shoe closet back home. Squinting, he groped his way through the twilight before his hand fell on a doorknob. Turning it, his tense jaw dropped at the white-tiled ballroom before him. The pillars went so far up they seemed out of sight in the shadows lurking in the corners. The opulent staircase was lit by a chandelier on the first landing, and it drew first Jack’s eye, then his body moved to follow.
At the sound of his footfalls on the cold tile, a door at the end of the dark hallway shifted, then opened a crack. What seemed to be an eye appeared, then faded into nothing. The door opened further, and something left the room.
Jack moved up the staircase in a dream, his eyes fixed on the chandelier, cocaine was forgotten. He had never seen such a perfect explosion of light, sparkles reflecting from a million tiny crystals, suspended by a chain so fine he could hardly see it. It was a thing of such exquisite beauty, an unconscious tear formed in the corner of an eye.
Something descended the familiar stairs with speedy elegance, coming to stop behind Jack as he likewise stopped beneath the chandelier, as close as he was able to get. He could not stop staring. What a wondrous-
“Excuse me,” came a light, cultured female voice from right behind him.
Jack let out an involuntary scream and spun, raising both fists. He had the briefest glimpse of a gorgeous Southern belle with red hair smiling at him with shark’s eyes. Then Jack, as the world knew him, ceased to exist forever.