Mr. Fenton Hayes was drunk. Not to the point of seeing double, yet. He squinted his eyes and his wife came into focus a little.
“Whassat?” Fenton said and shook his head.
“I said if you really cared about making sure this wedding didn’t turn into a disaster,” snapped Claudia Hayes, “You’d go with them to make sure they know what they’re getting into!” She lit a cigarette with a shaky hand.
“Claudia, they’re adults.” Fenton chased his own cigarette with the lighter before realizing he was attempting to light the filter. He spat it out and tried again. “They sh’d make their own decisions.”
“No no no,” Claudia shrilled, making Fenton wince. “Not when their decisions are made with our money! That girl will choose some expensive horrid place and we’ll be stuck with the bill. Scarlett Dahlia Manor is the most expensive rental place for miles around, remember the last girl Jack married had almost decided on it before she changed her mind. An entire month’s finances that would have cost us, and now–”
“Bullshit!” Fenton spat, his ire raised by drink and the memory of the injustice on the price tag. “Slimy, weaselly li’l fucker like Dahlia Estates needs the money, that bitch had more dough than she had slaves.” He slopped some more of his drink into his mouth, ice banging against his lips. “Estate doesn’t have to pay for nothin either, juss a groundskeeper and a caretaker for the inside. Investments that were made back then’re worth a fortune now, and I bet juss the interest is enough to pay for that place now.” Fenton gestured with his cigarette, the ember of which had grown cold from inattention. “Scarlett Dahlia’s entire fortune and holdings have been held by South Bank since she died, all waiting for a long-lost relative to show up and claim it.” He ground his cigarette out with a savage twist of his arm. “Just sittin there, doin nobody any good while I’m getting fuckin margin calls…”
“Fenton, that’s all very interesting, but if you don’t get out there and stop them from deciding to rent it, that’s a month’s worth of bourbon you’re dumping down the drain.” Claudia sipped her julep. “At least when you spend it on booze you get something for your money. Something that won’t divorce your son in six months and walk away with half his money.”
“My money, you mean,” growled Fenton. With an effort he stood, staggering. “C’mon.”
Claudia looked down her nose at him, no small feat as she was still seated. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Fenton grabbed her arm, dragging her to her feet.
“You’re hurting me!”
“Claudia, darling, light of my life, you are not only coming with me, you are driving us both unless you want me to wrap the car around a tree.” He released her and plucked her mint julep from her hand. “You won’t be needing this.” He drained it.
To Don, everything felt like a dream.
He saw the world and the vehicle he was driving through heavy vignette, the focus narrowed to the figure of
Carly walking up the steps to the manor and reaching for the door. He felt his foot step on the brake, watched his hand put the car in park, unbuckle his seat belt and open the door. His legs swung out and he was being carried toward the house and Carly. Just then, she turned, and smiled at him, then vanished inside. The Dream Don smiled back and hastened his footsteps. The Don observing his progress fought with all his might to turn his body back from that predatory smile, but as one watching a movie, he was powerless to do anything but scream.
Scarlett crossed the parlor, even in her haste taking the time to appreciate its splendor. Such a beautiful house, she thought. Upstairs, she heard the bathtub running, and smiled. Hans. Her loyal hound, ever faithful, always obedient, and above all else, discrete. Brushing a lock of Carly’s hair behind her ear, she opened a three-inch gash on the side of her head as the fingernail cut through decaying skin. It didn’t matter though. Their salvation was at this moment walking in the door. At the base of the stairs, she turned and waved. It waved back.
“Come on…” she searched Carly’s memory banks for the name, groping, found it. “…Don! Hurry!”
It hastened to follow her. She could practically smell its panting animal lust, buried beneath everything it did. She supposed the body she inhabited must be considered a desirable one, based on its devotion to her. She trotted up the stairs, strands of Carly’s hair drifting down behind her as they came loose from her scalp. One eyelid drooped.
Scarlett came to her bedroom door and flung it open. Her heart gave a sad angry lurch at the sight of her space, stripped of everything that had been hers. Her eyes dropped to her hand, the index finger of which had been stripped of several layers of skin which now hung to the doorknob.
“Hans!” she hissed.
The servant materialized at the bathroom door. “Madam. Everything is ready.” His face had sagged on one side and his lower lip was nearly gone on the other, as though he had been biting it with anxiety. Scarlett experienced a moment of sick dread.
Oh god if he looks like that what must I look like
“He’s right behind me,” she said, her hand fumbling with the unfamiliar clasps of Carly’s blouse and moving toward Hans. “Hurry.”
“I will be quick madam.” Hans crossed the room in several large strides and took up a spot behind the door.
Scarlett shut the bathroom door behind her, her moldering fingers struggling to work the buttons on the shirt Carly had chosen to wear. She looked up.
Carly looked back at her from the mirror.
Scarlett smiled, and her hands ceased their struggle with Carly’s shirt.
The Carly in the mirror saw herself as though she were an extra in one of the zombie movies Don loved and she hated. Chunks of her hair had fallen out, parts of her seemed to be decaying. Other parts had split open, as though something was eating away at her. More than that, Carly looked into her own eyes and saw who was behind them.
“Darling,” Scarlett said, her smile moist, tears trickling down Carly’s decaying face.
“I’m your–” Carly could not finish, though not for lack of trying. “Your—your–,”
“You are my daughter,” Scarlett said, her eyes shining behind the tears. “How many generations removed is not important.”
Carly’s eyes were huge, taking in what had become of her as well as the fact that she knew to be true. She had found out at a young age that she had been adopted, and while she never wondered who her birth mother had been, she had always been curious where her family had begun. Now, with this being inhabiting her body, she could feel its physiology, and where she had always felt it when she lied, there was no feeling now.
The bathroom door opened, and Hans strode in, cradling Don’s limp body. Carrying him to the full bathtub, Hans leaned Don over the edge of the bathtub, submerging his head. Carly choked back a sob as she saw no bubbles or sign of life from Don’s body.
“One night, when I had just come to the manor, I felt so small and alone. That night, Hans was there for me,” Scarlett said to Carly, gesturing toward Hans before pulling Carly’s shirt over her head and unbuttoning her pants. “Nine months later, the result of that night was taken from the manor forever. I often wondered what became of the little girl.” She slipped the pants off Carly’s thin hips. “sometime later, our own existence had to be paused, leaving us in a kind of purgatory. We waited so long for someone of our blood to come to the manor and awaken us. How I hoped you and…” she searched Carly’s memory again as she stripped the rest of her clothes off. “Don! Would be the first to enter so we could be with you from the beginning. But the slaves placed their own repulsive curse upon the grounds, driving away so many who may have been useful.”
Scarlett lowered herself by degrees into the hot bathtub, running Carly’s fingers through Don’s underwater hair. “But the first ones with any ties to our line finally came, dirty as they were, and awakened us. From there, we were finally led to you.” Scarlett gestured, and Hans pulled a knife from a pocket and lifted Don’s head, stretching his neck. As she watched in horror from the mirror, Carly’s decaying mouth curled up as Scarlett grinned. “It hasn’t gone according to plan, but the end result is the same. In a few moments, everything will be just–”
“What the fuck is happening here?” came the voice of Fenton Hayes from the bathroom door. Behind the voice was the gasp of Claudia Hayes. From the hand of Fenton Hayes came the click of the cocking of a small derringer.
Hans froze, the knife pressed to Don’s neck drawing a thin bead of blood which trickled down his neck to drop into the bathwater. Fenton pointed the Derringer at Hans. “Let him go. Right now, big fella or I’ll drop you where you stand.”