The Scarlett Dahlia Episode 6 Masks by Jesse Orr
The being controlling Jack had never been in an automobile. It had heard of them existing in far-off lands and dismissed their tales as immaterial. Now, as it approached the Prius, it had not the slightest clue how to start. The reflection of the body it inhabited seemed to have its own ideas, and moved to the left side of the vehicle, digging in a pants pocket. A small black device with buttons was in its hand now, and the being inside regarded it with curiosity. Unbidden, the thumb crept to one of the buttons and pressed it. The car’s lights flashed and it beeped. Jack’s heart hammered in its chest.
“It’s okay,” Jack’s voice said, unbidden, yet reassuring to the thing inside. “Perfectly normal.”
Jack’s body went to the front left-hand door, where it took it only a moment to figure out the door handle, then it was sitting behind the wheel of a 2017 Toyota Prius, a piece of technology so far removed from the Manor that it may as well have been science fiction. It cast Jack’s eyes over the dashboard, reading labels on buttons and knobs with care, finally stopping on a large round button saying “ENGINE START STOP.”
The being inside Jack hesitated a few minutes, wondering how an ENGINE could start and stop at the same time. A more thorough examination of the dash revealed no alternative potential power source. Bracing Jack’s body against one of the vehicle’s pedals(the brake, fortuitously), the being poked Jack’s finger at the button as though it expected an explosion. Instead, the seat beneath it quivered and with a beep, the dashboard lit up with an entire galaxy of blue lights.
Jack’s eyes were wide as it stared at everything for a few moments, trying to take it all in, before taking the steering wheel in hand. It turned the wheel back and forth and after experimenting with the two pedals at Jack’s feet, it discovered one made the ENGINE louder. The other pedal was a mystery, but it figured the pedal would reveal its use once they started moving. Jack’s hand touched the blue knob sticking up and Jack’s thumb caressed its smooth surface. Jack’s eyes took in the options. R, N, D, or B.
D, the body said, and slid the shifter to the left, and down. The vehicle began to roll. Jack’s voice yelled in alarm and Jack’s hands twisted the wheel just before the Prius ran into the staircase. Jack’s heart hammered as the being guiding it in a wide turn back toward the driveway. By the time the driveway returned to the main road, the being controlling Jack had figured out how to roll down the window and was enjoying the breeze. It was nice to be a physical being once more.
Mr Fenton Hayes looked over the rim of the glass containing his third mint julep at his wife. Mrs Claudia Hayes was reaching into her pocketbook for her silver cigarette case. She met his eyes, and they shared a look of long-suffering. Mr Hayes drained his glass as his wife lit her cigarette and reclaimed her own julep.
“How long are we stuck here?” Mrs. Hayes asked, her voice low and whining. With them, his eyes said with a flick in the general direction of the kitchen where Don and Carly had retreated. “We don’t even know them, we hardly know Marcie. Jack hardly knows Marcie! They just met at school, now they’re getting married and there are two strangers in our kitchen!”
Her voice had risen and Mr. Hayes waved a hand at her, whispering, “Shhhh…”
Mrs. Hayes’s voice dropped again but continued in an urgent tone. “Two strangers in our kitchen, and you just sit there drinking-”
“Claudia!” Mr. Hayes snapped. “Our son and Marcie are going to be back any minute, then she and her sister…” Damned if he hadn’t forgotten her name. Oh well, not like it mattered.
“Carly,” Mrs. Hayes said, taking a nervous sip at her own drink.
“Well, whatever, her and her boyfriend and Marcie will be going back to wherever she and her sister live, so relax.”
“They could be stealing the good silver!” Claudia Hayes hissed, gripping the edge of the couch and her cigarette with fierce intensity.
Mr. Hayes was about to retort that they didn’t have any good silver or china, because he didn’t hold with such rubbish, when the kitchen door swung open, admitting Don, bearing a tray, and Carly, bearing nothing but a strained smile.
The Hayes elders beamed at them, masks well in place. Claudia extended an arm. “Thank you, dear! Come, sit by me.”
Don moved with care, his tray laden with a cheese, crackers, and pitcher of mint juleps. “Set it here, son,” Fenton Hayes said and moved his empty glass from the coffee table in front of them. He held it up, rattling the ice. “You are just in time.”
Don’s smile was mechanical. “Let me pour you another, sir,” he said and filled up Fenton’s proffered glass.
Carly gestured at Claudia’s cigarette. “Ma’am, would you mind if I asked you for a cigarette?”
A flash of contempt in Claudia’s eyes could have just been Carly’s imagination, but she didn’t think so. “Of course, dear, help yourself.”
Carly did so, lighting up and puffing quickly. She glanced at Don, who was devoting his attention to the cheese, crackers, and juleps, and not looking at anybody.
“So!” Fenton said, his voice too loud for the room. “Dan-”
“Don,” Carly said to her cigarette, and not even Claudia heard.
“-what do you do for work?” Fenton raised his glass and drained half of it. Claudia’s lips pursed.
Small talk, thought Don and prayed for deliverance. “Well, I’m in-”
“They’re back!” Claudia broke in, the note of delight undisguised in her voice.
Carly turned and looked out the large window behind them. It overlooked the front lawn and the immaculate new driveway, and she could see only one head in the Prius. “Not they,” she murmured and crushed her cigarette out on the ashtray beside her. She didn’t smoke anyway. “Which one?”
“Looks like Jack. Maybe Marcie went to get her hair or nails done,” said Don, and stood up. “Sir, might I use your facilities before we depart?”
Fenton took another mighty swallow of his drink and set it down. “Oh, why not. Let me show you where it is.”
“Thank you, sir. Carls, I’ll be right out,” Don said.
She nodded, watching the Prius lurch to a halt. Probably high, the numb shithead, she thought, and sighed. She’d have to look over the Prius once he turned over the key fob.
Outside was like a furnace. The heat and humidity made her long for air conditioning. Jack wasn’t getting out of the car, probably for the same reason. Too bad. At almost a run, she crossed the scorching asphalt and pulled at the door. It didn’t open.
Numb shit, she thought. “Jack, unlock the door!”
Jack was studying the buttons on the dashboard like he was going to be tested on them later. “Oh my God it’s on the door you idiot!” she howled.
He looked to the door and poked several buttons.
The door made a chunk and she grabbed at the door handle before the numb shit could lock her out again. The door opened and blessed cool air hit her in the face. She hopped in, slamming the door behind her.
“What the fuck, Jack? You know how hot it is out there, why didn’t you unlock the fucking door?” She glared at him, pushing her hair out of her sweaty face. “Where’s Marcie?”
Jack was staring at her as though he had never seen her before, his eyes traveling up and down her body. Carly felt her irritation turn to unease and discomfort. She had never liked Jack but had never been afraid of him until now.
“Marcie stayed at the Manor,” he said, though his eyes never stopped roaming. “She wants you to join her.” They stopped on her eyes at last, and his smile was that of a predator’s. “You’re PERFECT,” he said, and it wasn’t what he said that made her scream. It was the voice in which he said it.
It was a woman’s voice.
Don emerged from the home of Fenton and Claudia, tucking his shirt into his pants. He could see Carly had already taken her spot in the Prius and that was fine as paint with him. He just wanted to get the fuck out of here before he had to spend any more time with Jack’s frigid parents. Going around to the driver’s side door, he noticed it was half open.
“Babe, where’s Jack?”
“He went inside,” Carly said and smiled.
“Weird, I didn’t pass him,” Don muttered, getting in and slamming the door behind him. He looked at Carly. “Ready to go?”
“Yes,” she said. “Can we go to the Manor first? I want to see it again.”
“Scarlett Dahlia Manor?” Don looked at her as though she were mad. “That’s completely out of the way, and have you forgotten the texts we were getting? What happens if-”
“I would like to go back now,” she said, and the tone of her voice made Don look at her. She was staring at him with a look in her eye that he had never seen. It was almost as though…
“All right, Carl, we’ll go back now, damn.” He put the Prius in drive and it whispered forward. “At least I can grab our phones. But I don’t want to stay long.”
“Of course not,” Carly agreed. “Not a moment longer than necessary.”
The Prius turned out of the driveway and accelerated. In the trunk, the body that had once belonged to Jack Hayes rolled over on its side as the vehicle hit a bump. Blood trickled from its unseeing eyes and ears, staining the carpet in the trunk a dark, sticky, red.