My Darling Dead : The Bastards – Unconscious Acts

Moonlight fell through the single barred window of the jail cell atop the castle’s west tower. A thin rectangle of it moved slowly across the floor as the hours passed, finally illuminating the rightful king of Dandoich, curled up on his side in a fetal position. A trickle of dried blood streaked the side of his face from where the ruby pommel of Sir Antion’s sword had struck him. His unconscious body shivered from the night’s cold which also seeped through the one window high above. 

Far below, Barris and Agathas had the three children taken to a large bedroom on the ground floor for the evening. The eldest had seen nearly three summers while the youngest was barely half a year old. Barris and Agathas had not the slightest idea what to do with children, and had immediately sent for the three best nannies in the castle to look after them. The nannies fed and bathed the children and dressed them in clean clothing from the castle nursery. The youngest was unable to do much more than lay on the stone floor, swaddled in cloth, looking around with wide eyes. The middle child was almost two and together with the eldest child, made the room echo with their shouts and laughter as they played with a stuffed jester provided by one of the nannies. 

When the youngest child began to cry, a nanny picked her up and held her close. Noting the little one seemed cold, the nanny moved nearer the fire. As the little body warmed, the cries stopped. The nanny found the old bear skin rug they had come in, and, thinking that familiar smells and textures may be comforting, fashioned a little nest near the fire for the youngest. In a trice, she was asleep. When the boys tired, more bear skins were summoned and before long a large furry place had been established before the fire, three children sleeping on it as though they had lived there all their lives. 

“Look at them, Barris,” Agathas said. “Like little angels.”

“They will be, one way or the other,” Barris muttered. “No matter what that lout Orteg does, we cannot let them live.”

“Of course not.” 

Above, in Orteg’s cell, a rattling at the door echoed in the small stone chamber as a key was inserted in the lock. The deadbolts shot back with a bang and Zavier entered, his black robe swirling around him in the moonlight. He stopped and looked at Orteg’s immobile form with an expression of amusement and disdain. He prodded Orteg with one boot. Orteg slept on. 

The wizard’s staff tapped the floor once, twice, a third time, then touched Orteg on the forehead.

“Rise,” Zavier said. 

Unbidden, Orteg’s eyes opened. He clambered to his feet and stood, eyes staring sightlessly at the wall in front of him. Zavier waved a hand before Orteg’s face. Orteg did not flinch, nor did his eyes. 

“Go,” Zavier said and waved his staff in the direction of the doorway. 

Orteg’s face did not change under his sightless eyes, nor did they move as he walked sure-footed across the cell and out the door. After giving Orteg a prudent lead, Zavier followed. 

Orteg walked down the spiral stairs, never missing a step and turned right at the corridor at the bottom. After several more twists, turns and stairways, all made with no hesitation, he came to a bedroom door on the ground floor. Making a fist, Orteg pounded twice upon the door. After a moment, the door creaked open. Barris stood there, his bloated face grotesquely lit by torchlight. 

“Your Highness,” said Barris, his tone one of surprise. “We did not expect—”

“The children.” Orteg said. His voice was devoid of any inflection. 

“They are here, Sire,” Barris said. He observed the lack of movement in Orteg’s eyes with some interest. Barris had seen this lack of movement before in enchanted individuals, and he opened the door for Orteg. “Won’t you come in?” 

Orteg moved forward, his unmoving eyes scanning the room, zeroing in upon the pile of bearskin rugs and the three little ones asleep on it before the large fireplace. Agathas stood in front of them, looking as surprised by Orteg’s appearance as Barris. 

“My Lord King,” she said, with the hint of a curtsy. “We just succeeded in putting them to—”

Orteg shouldered her aside, not looking at her, causing her to stagger. Her bewildered face fell upon Barris. The look of elation on his own features told her much. Quietly, she stepped back from the fireplace as Barris closed the door softly and moved to join her. He slipped an arm around her, fondling her breast as Orteg sunk to his knees on the bearskin. Barris and Agathas held their breaths as Orteg reached down and put both hands around the neck of the eldest child. 

Zavier stood outside the locked door to the chamber containing the children, their father and the two prefects. There was not a sound from inside. The wizard’s face was lit by a smile. There was a green flash as a stone he held in his hand ignited with an emerald light burning deep within. The light turned clear and inside the stone he could see the occupants of the room, moving in real-time. Zavier watched as Orteg methodically strangled his two eldest children before snapping the neck of the youngest as though he were dispatching a chicken. Getting to his feet, he turned and walked past Agathas and Barris, opening the door just as Zavier melted into the shadows behind it. Still not present behind his eyes, the king shuffled down the hallway, back to the king’s chambers.

Zavier waited in the shadows for some time, watching the figures of Barris and Agathas in the emerald stone. Finally, he marched forward, stowing the stone in his cloak as he did so, and threw the door open wide with a bang. 

“Honorable Prefects!” barked Zavier, striding into the room and slamming the door behind him. He turned to face Barris and Agathas on the bearskin rug, grinning as they moved awkwardly to cover their nakedness. He stared, eyes wide and mad as they pulled their clothing back on, breathing heavily, darting their eyes at the bodies of the three children, now arranged against the wall like an audience for their coupling. 

“This will be the talk of the kingdom for years, don’t you agree, Barris?” Zavier said, his voice light and musing though malice shone from his every feature. Barris cursed the wizard mentally as he continued. “For some time now, it has been known to me that you and your sister Agathas have been having relations, Barris, but until now it has been of no consequence to me. Now, I have reason for wanting your bloated behind out of this castle, and I daresay that those you have governed so harshly for so long would perhaps be sufficiently moved by your incestuous ways to make an example of you. As for you, Agathas—” Zavier grinned at her, so much like a shark she flinched. “It will reflect very poorly on you if it is known that it was your idea to use the bodies of three dead children to simulate an audience for your coupling.”

“What do you want, wizard?” Barris asked, his voice filled with anger and fear. 

“If you are never seen nor heard from again, there would be no reason for me to say anything to anyone,” Zavier said, extending a hand. “The choice is yours.”

My Darling Dead : Bastards – Episode Seven, Crown and Children

Orteg was drunk. Ensconced in the king’s chambers, he had been supplied with a bottle of wine so far removed from the ditch liquor he usually could afford that his taste buds could scarcely cope with it. He lolled on the private throne, drinking from the bottle, wine slopping down his chin. Zavier stood at the window overlooking the kingdom to the east, listening to wine dripping from Orteg’s face.

“King!” he slurred, waving the bottle. “I rather like it. Now, Zavver, you said you’d be staying around?”

“If it is the king’s will, Sire.”

Orteg nodded vigorously, taking another drink. “I need a magishan around, thas for sure. Who knows when things’ll get all bollocksed up.” He squinted at Zavier. “Can I make you my adviser?”

“The king may do anything he wishes, Sire.”

“Then I hereby pronounce you my Royal Adviser,” said Orteg, and giggled.

“Your Majesty bestows a great honor upon me,” the wizard said, bowing his head slightly. “Might my first suggestion be an official proclamation, lest the council members become threatened by my position and hasten to remove me.”

“Yesh! Of course,” Orteg cried, waving his wine goblet. “None shall dare say a word against you, Zavver, because if it wasn’t for you, I’d still be in that miserable tavern, with a miserable life, wishing every day for death–”

“Your pardon, Majesty,” Zavier said, and gestured out the window. “But unless I am mistaken, trouble comes yonder.”

“Eh? Wha’ trouble?” Orteg heaved himself up from the throne and joined Zavier at the window, shouldering him out of the way.

“A party of guards is returning to the castle, Sire,” said Zavier, moving from his spot. “Unless my eyes deceive me, there appears to be a bundle containing three small children carried betwixt them.”

Orteg lowered the bottle, squinting in an attempt to bring the scene below into greater focus with only marginal success. “I can’t see. Whatsit you—”

The world shifted before him, things far away rushing toward him as his feet stood still. With a yell, he threw up an arm to block everything crashing into him.

“Your Highness, you have nothing to fear, I have merely enhanced your vision,” Zavier said, his voice respectfully amused. “Look again.”

Orteg opened first one eye, then the other in amazement. He watched one of the guards slide to the ground from his horse, so clear he was able to see the light reflecting off the beads of sweat on the man’s brow. He looked to the bundle they carried beneath them and his brow furrowed. He was about to speak when a single tousled head worked its way free of the brown bundle.

“My son—!” Orteg gasped. “That bundle is from my home, made of the bearskin rug upon my floor! How came they hither? Wizard, explain!”

There was no answer. Furious, Orteg turned to see the room empty. The wizard had vanished.

“Well done, Sir Antion,” Barris beamed at the leader of the guards as the man walked in, the large brown sack slung over one wide shoulder. “The mother did not make it in, then?”

“She met with an unfortunate accident, Prefect,” Antion said, a nasty smile on his face. “Would you like to meet your captives?”

“Please,” said Barris, his smile wider than ever across his jowls.

Antion grabbed the bottom of the sack and upended it, sending three little figures tumbling out onto the floor. They whimpered, clutching each other, as they stared into Barris’s meaty features.

“Children,” Barris said, keeping his voice low and soothing. “Little ones. You have nothing to fear from us. Your fate will be decided by another.”

The door banged open and Orteg came lurching in, breathing heavily. “My children! What are you—”

“Daddy!” one child cried. Orteg took a step toward the children, still huddled on the bearskin rug. In a trice, Sir Antion’s sword was at Orteg’s throat, stopping him in his tracks.

“My lord king,” Barris said, his smile now so wide, both sides were in danger of meeting behind his head. “My liege. I have a proposition for you.”

“I will hear any propositions after you have released my children, Prefect! Unhand them at once!” Orteg snarled around Antion’s swordpoint. The latter smirked.

“Not possible I am afraid, Highness, as my proposition includes these three adorable children just as they are.”

“By the gods, unhand me and free them at once or I shall—”

“I offer you a simple choice, Sire,” Barris said loudly. He poured a goblet of wine from a nearby tray and sipped it daintily. “The crown or your children? You must give up one. Choose now.”

Orteg gaped. “Are you telling me… that unless I adjudicate the throne, my children will be murdered?”

“Murdered, done away with, put out of the way, removed, however you wish to phrase it.” Barris waved his glass. “The point is, you cannot have both, and you must choose now.”

“My children… but where… where is my wife? Where is Dashani?” asked Orteg, his voice distant as his brain struggled to comprehend what was happening.

“Yes, Antion, where is the Lady Washburn?” Barris said, his smile huger than ever. “I confess I am curious as well what became of the good woman.”

“That choice has already been made for you, Majesty,” Sir Antion said, his smile nearly as wide as Barris. “She attempted to escape and I was forced to dispatch her.” He tugged at the crotch of his armored trousers, thrusting his hips. “Your wife is—was, a beautiful woman. I confess, I could not control myself.” He laughed at the look on Orteg’s face. “Be comforted, she was no longer alive at the time.”

Orteg let out a roar and would have been upon Antion, sword or no, had the latter not thumped him on the head with the butt of his sword, the heavy ruby sending Orteg into darkness with no more racket.

“Did you really penetrate his wife after you killed her?” asked Barris, fascinated.

“Twice,” Sir Antion said, and grinned. “I did not even get to tell him how the second time I used the wound in her throat.” He licked his lips. “Still warm.”

My Darling Dead : Bastards – Episode Six, Summons

Dashani, wife of Orteg pushed the hair back from her face and tugged at the knot holding the bandage to her gangrenous leg. Ignoring the smell and the pain, she cinched up the knot and turned back to the stove. Stoking the fire within, she stirred the mixture of corn and water she had been boiling for over an hour, softening it for her children who had been blissfully asleep beneath the bearskin rug. For the hundredth time, she leaned back from the stove, looking out the window and up the path for Orteg.

Instead of her husband, she found six large men coming up the path on horses, clad in the black armor of the castle guards. Their spears were tall and sharp, their faces cruel beneath the helmets. Dashani felt her stomach sink into her feet. She dropped the spoon in the pan of corn and limped across the room to her children, reaching them just as the door crashed open. The children, wakened by the noise, cried beneath the blanket as the soldiers stomped into the room, three of them leveling spears at the family.

“Dashani Washburn and children?” said the leader, his face a hard blank.

“Who are you? What are you doing here? Why–?”

The butt of the leader’s spear struck Dashani in the leg on her bandage, bringing a fresh welling of blood forth to redden the dirty cloth. Dashani screamed in agony as the leader bellowed in her face

“Are you Dashani Washburn and are these your whelps or are they not?” The point of the spear swung around to poke her in the throat. She gulped back her screams as blood trickled from the wound in her throat. “By the gods, woman, answer me now or all four of you will perish for the time you have wasted me.”

“I am she!” Dashani wailed, her voice cracking as the children screamed beneath the bearskin rug. The leader swung the spear away from her throat and barked a harsh order in another language to the rest of the men. Four of them grabbed each corner of the bearskin rug, heaving mightily as they brought all four corners together with a twist, locking the three children in a bag with its edges neatly tied. The muffled cries from within pierced Dashani as the fifth soldier leveled his own spear at her.

“Move,” the leader said.

Dashani was bullied out the door, nearly falling from the stairs to the ground but catching herself on her injured leg, which nearly buckled. She turned to see the soldier carrying the sack which contained her children sling it over his horse and seat himself in the saddle behind it. The leader swung himself onto his own horse with a quick practiced movement and before she knew what was happening, she had been pulled forcefully up behind him. He wrapped her arms around his chest and turned his head to speak.

“We ride to the castle. Hold tightly. If you make us stop, you will regret it.”

He shouted a command to the other soldiers, now mounted, and heeled his horse in the ribs. The horse reared, Dashani clutching in terror to the leader’s armored chest. He nudged the horse again and it galloped down the trail. Behind them, Dashani could hear the thunder of the other horses following them. She closed her eyes, resting her head against the impassive back of the man, and waited for the pain in her leg to stop.

Over the course of that long ride, Dashani tried several times to talk to the man, shouting questions in first one ear, then the other, in case he was hard of hearing. Each time she was met with silence. The last time, the man turned his head just a little and the look he gave her was enough to motivate her to stop trying.

They went on and on, over bridges spanning muddy creeks, past withered orchards with hornets buzzing around their heads. At one point, they were followed by several rat people who scurried along the sides of the road after them, making strange shrieking sounds between them. Dashani felt a moment’s fear but the leader just urged his horse on to greater lengths and they were soon lost.

Finally, they rounded a bend and the castle loomed in the distance. The sight of it awoke the terror Dashani had been keeping barely at bay. She fixed her eyes on the castle, the dread in her rising as it got closer. Whatever had caused them to be summoned here, it could be nothing good.

The leader felt her grip on him loosen, then it vanished. Looking around, he saw the foolish woman rolling in the dust before pushing herself to her feet as well she could and diving into the bushes lining the path. With an oath, the leader wheeled his horse around, waving for the other men to continue on their way. Skidding to a halt, he slid to the ground, listening to the hoofbeats of the other soldiers fade. Slowly the silence of the countryside reasserted itself. He stood perfectly still, listening to the sound of birds and the little brook nearby. A puff of wind rattled some leaves. Time passed. Then, a twig snapped. The leader grinned and moved toward the edge of the road.

Dashani crouched in the tall brush lining the road, down several feet in a ditch which ran both sides of this section of road. She was about ten feet off the road and did not dare to make another move. She could not see the road but she couldn’t hear anything. Still, there was no way the man had not stopped to retrieve her. His threat made her blood run cold. She could not believe she had jumped. She could not remember doing it. What had she been thinking?

She was terrified to move, afraid he would hear her. Still, she couldn’t stay here forever. She turned her head. Seeing the brush thin slightly, she moved toward it. Beneath one foot, a twig snapped. She screamed curse words and admonishments inside her head as she held her breath and waited. Several moments passed and she had almost worked up the nerve to try again when she heard the whinny of a horse.

Dread fell upon her like a scalding blanket. As she turned to run, a slim silver dagger flashed through the mid-morning sun and stabbed her through the throat. She fell to her knees, clutching at the handle protruding from her neck as blood spurted from the wound in strengthening gouts. Trying to gasp, she coughed on her own blood, spraying the foliage before her, painting it a bright red. Fighting for breath, she saw the leader materialize out of the bushes right in front of her. She had time to marvel at how quiet he was for such a big man before he pulled the knife from her throat.

“I warned you, foolish woman,” he said. He knelt beside her and pulled her head back, raising the knife. Her eyes grew wide and her bloody mouth managed to form the word NO before the knife’s keen edge sliced all the way through her windpipe.

The man watched her bleed, her eyes wide as she struggled for breath and her hands covered the gash in her throat, mindlessly attempting to stem the flow of blood as her movements grew weaker. He licked his lips and his breathing grew ragged as he surveyed the rest of her. Except for that nasty leg, she was in pretty good condition. He felt himself grow hard as he watched the light fade from her eyes, color rising in his face as it drained from hers. It would be a nuisance to remove his armored leggings, he thought, loosening his belt, but it would be worth it.

My Darling Dead : Bastards – Episode Five, Sharing the News

The sound of hoofbeats roused the castle guard from its late-night lethargy as two horses came thundering up the path. At the gate, the riders halted their steeds. One of the men hallooed the walls, a low echoing sound.

“Who goes?” came a voice from atop the wall, thick with drowsiness.

“The rightful king!” Orteg started to bleat, a kick from the wizard silencing him at the last moment.

“We have a message for the council,” called Zavier, his voice low. “Let us enter, in the name of the kingdom!”

“You have not told me yet who goes, sir,” returned the wall guard. Murmuring voices behind him told of numerous others. “And none enter here without at least that. I’ll ask you again, what your names be.”

Orteg saw Zavier sigh before throwing back his cloak and producing a long staff of polished wood, shining but very dark. Zavier slammed the butt of the staff into the ground beside his horse, sending a tremor through the ground to which only his horse seemed immune. All the men atop the wall went to their knees, fighting to stay upright. Orteg felt as though he had consumed some of the southern ditch liquor which made the drinker go blind and dumb.

“You have twice asked and twice been refused,” Zavier roared, his patience at end. “You will regret pursuing this line of questioning and you are advised to desist and withdraw after opening the gate to allow our passage. This you will do, now.”

The power Zavier had summoned retreated, allowing the guards atop the wall to clamber to their feet. One of them dropped below the wall, and in a moment the gate began to grate open. Zavier stepped forward, muttering, “Honestly!” Orteg followed, attempting to look in every direction at once.

The wizard strode through the courtyard, nearly deserted at this hour, taking one of the doorways with no hesitation. Orteg followed as they turned down a long corridor with many doors opening to each side. Again, with no hesitation, Zavier made for the large door at the far end of the corridor.

Barris started as the door slammed open. A tall figure in a black robe strode in, a small man with an ugly face scuttling in his wake. The tall figure marched up to the council table without a pause and threw back his hood. His long dark hair flew around his face.

“Council members,” the man said, his voice projecting. “I am come to inform you that the time of your rule is at an end. I have the rightful heir to the throne beside me.”

The council was silent, furtive glances darting back and forth between them all. Agathas looked at Barris, her eyes afraid. His were cool as he addressed the wizard.

“Your authority is not recognized, wizard. You come before this council with no papers, no identification and only an unsubstantiated claim that this cringing cur–” he gestured to Orteg, “is the rightful king of Dandoich. Either provide evidence or be thrown from the castle walls for your impertinence.”

“You need not believe the word of the wizard Zavier, when you can see what he speaks is true!” retorted Zavier, the shining staff sliding from its place beneath his robe. Zavier rapped it twice on the chamber floor and spun in a circle, the staff before him.

Immediately the room was drowned in darkness. Before the council members could do more than give a surprised yelp, light blazed into the room in a brilliant flash. They saw Orteg, a tiny baby but unmistakably the same, being born to the Washburn family, saw the tuppence the king provided every month, the loose lips of the father sealing the family’s fate, the child being raised with only part of the truth, resenting the crown he was to inherit, being confronted at the tavern by Zavier…

The room was plunged once more into darkness, then bathed in its natural light as Zavier ended the spell and returned everyone to the present.

“Kneel in the presence of your king,” Zavier commanded, his voice hard. “Unless you feel you have a claim to the throne, this man is your lord and master. Hail, Orteg, King of Dandoich!”

Zavier dropped to one knee before Orteg and bowed his head, the picture of subservience. One by one, the council members rose from their seats and dropped to their knees before Orteg, who had never felt so uncomfortable in his life. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Barris and Agathas sinking slowly to their knees, their faces carefully neutral.

“Er…” Orteg said, raising a hand. “Thank you, all. I’ll be wanting to keep you all on as advisers, of course, since I don’t know the first thing about running a kingdom…”

“Your Majesty!” Barris said, his voice fruity as he struggled to rise his bulk to his feet, Agathas doing likewise beside him. “Let me be the first to welcome you to the castle, and to many years of a fruitful reign of peace and prosperity. And may I just say…”

Barris droned on for a while before Zavier was able to get a word in edgewise and shepherded the new king away from his would-be advisers. The moment the door was shut behind Orteg and the wizard, the smile fell from Barris’ face like a landslide. The council members looked at him, fearful.

“Tell no one of this meeting,” Barris said, his voice low. “Back to your quarters, all of you. Someone send the captain of the guard to me.”

The captain of the guard had been in charge of the castle guards and the dungeons since before Barris had been old enough to know his own name. When Barris first saw the captain, he was a gnarled, wizened old man who somehow radiated a terrible strength. Now, decades later, the captain of the guard who appeared before him looked exactly the same as the one he remembered from his youth.

“Sir, I have need of your unique skillset,” Barris said, offering the man a goblet of fine wine. “I would have your assistance, and your silence.”

The man took the goblet, looking at Barris with no expression. Slowly, he raised the goblet to his lips and took a sip. Barris held his breath.

The man let the silence drag out a few more moments before extending a hand, palm upward. “I am waiting.”

Barris let escape a sigh of relief, then began speaking.

 

My Darling Dead : Bastards – Episode Four/ Council Feasts

The Honorable Prefect Mosh Barris had been running what remained of the kingdom of Dandoich for many years now, ever since he had been slim and a deceptively wide-eyed and innocent youth. He had swindled and conned his way into a position right beneath the then-acting ruler, a duke with pretensions and enough soldiers to back them up. Barris attached himself to the duke and fed off the man’s power for many years, growing more bloated as he did so like any true parasite. When Barris had absorbed enough of the ruler’s power, the man was found dead in his bed by an apparent self-inflicted dose of poison. Only Barris and an apothecary several townships over had any idea otherwise. 

Once Barris had eliminated the apothecary, he wasted no time in claiming rulership of the kingdom, citing his years of experience as the late duke’s advisor. Learning from the example of the many dead kings to precede him, Barris was too wise to declare himself the reigning ruler de facto. Instead, he immediately appointed a council of twelve, with himself at its head, equally matched between the sexes. The decisions of the council would be reached democratically, he explained in those early days to the skeptical kingdom, and would no longer depend on the whims of one man. What Barris failed to divulge was that the council was made up of his own circle of like-minded individuals with whom he had come into contact as the parasite of the previous ruler. This council sought pleasure and had no qualms treading upon the citizens of the kingdom to obtain it. 

It was to this council that the rat woman who had overheard Zavier and Orteg in the forest was brought. The chamber door burst open and two large armored men carrying large pikes in one hand, one of the rat woman’s scrawny arms apiece in the other, her frail body elevated between them. Her biting and scratching glanced harmlessly off the armor with squealing sounds that rose hair on the back of Barris’ neck. 

“Guards!” boomed Agathas Pyle, to Barris’ right. “What is the meaning of this intrusion?” She waved a roast turkey leg in the direction of the rat woman. “Such a creature as this near puts me off my meal.” She belched and tore off another chunk of the turkey leg. Barris chuckled. Several other council members tittered. 

“We crave your pardon, Honorable Prefect,” said one of the armored figures, his voice echoing out of his helmet slits. “This creature did assault the very gates of the castle and raise such a racket that we were compelled to respond.”

“Well, what is it doing here?” Barris asked impatiently, seizing a roast turkey leg of his own and taking a huge mouthful. Bits of flesh sprayed from his mouth as he continued. “The rat creatures are to be flogged until they are driven away, or executed. Why bring it to the council?” He chewed slowly, juice dripping down his chin. 

“Honorable Prefect, it spoke your name.” One of the armored guards gave the rat woman a firm shake, rattling her head on her neck. “’ere you, stop that fussing and say what you said to us.” 

The rat woman’s vocal cords had not been properly used in many years. This one (a long-time tavern wench in her past life) had spoken far more words than many in her days serving customers. She had managed to retain just enough of her speech to be able to relate what she had heard from the treetops. As she did so, the color drained from Barris’s face, his turkey leg falling unbidden to the table. The council members muttered to each other as Agathas looked at Barris, eyebrows raised, chewing. When the rat woman had finished, Barris dipped into his money pouch. 

“Give her this,” Barris said, flicking the coin through the air to one of the guards, who caught it. “Give her meat scraps from the kitchen and then get her far away from this castle. The sight of her sickens me.”

“Barris!” Agathas blurted, shocked, around a mouthful of meat and wine. “Surely you cannot believe anything that it—”

“Do as I have ordered,” thundered Barris, rendering Agathas mute. “By the gods, remove this creature at once.”

The room was silent but for the clanking of armor as the two guards hustled the rat woman out, slamming the stout door behind them. Agathas glanced at Barris, then at the rest of her council members, all of whom were trading their own uneasy looks. 

“Honorable Prefect ,” ventured one of the councilmen. “I must inquire—”

“The matter is closed,” Barris said briskly, pulling his plate closer and reclaiming his turkey leg. “Now, back to our feast, I wish to hear no more about it.” 

The man, Daghved Chancey, pushed his chair back and stood, hands on his hips. “Seems to me, Honorable Prefect, that after such a display as that, your council members are owed an explanation of some sort.”

Barris looked up from his plate, frowning. “Explanation?”

“It is common practice to destroy the rat creatures on sight, not reward them and set them free to infect—”

“I owe you nothing,” said Barris, chewing. “You are advised to desist.”

Chancey advanced on Barris, his voice rising. “You are advised to explain yourself sir, how and why you departed from the law stating—”

Barris moved like lightning, belying his bulk. The silver drinking horn in his hand collided with the side of Chancey’s head, sending him crashing to the ground howling. Blood oozed from the wound to mix with the wine as Barris roared, advancing on the stricken man, “You will not presume to lecture me on laws I myself put into effect, Chancey! The kingdom’s subjects cannot be trusted to think for themselves as I can. Perhaps this will help you to remember everything I have said.” 

Before anybody could react, Barris pulled a mace and chain from the sleeve of his robe and brought the metal ball crashing down on Chancey’s head. The man’s head rebounded from the floor with a dull thud like a falling sandbag. Barris placed one meaty foot on Chancey’s chest, bearing down, forcing the air from Chancey’s lungs as the latter gasped for breath, hands opening and closing as they grasped at nothing. 

“What have I just said to you, Chancey?” Barris asked, grinning, bearing down still harder as Chancey fought to speak. “What did I just tell you to remember?” There was a cracking sound from deep inside Chancey’s chest and he let out a squeak that would have been a scream with more air.

At the council table, Agathas had her hand between her legs beneath her robe, eyes glazed and jaw slack as she watched the life being crushed from the man on the floor. The rest of the council watched avidly, exhibiting their own signs of estrus as the darkness surrounded Chancey and his struggles for breath grew less meaningful. He was about to drift off into a peaceful sleep when the crushing weight lifted and he felt nourishing life-giving air trickle into his lungs like a stone knife. He sucked greedily at it and the darkness cleared a little. 

“What are you supposed to remember, Chancey?” asked Barris, swinging the mace and chain in front of Chancey’s eyes. Fear flashed in them as Chancey attempted to scramble away. One leg was half-paralyzed and hindered his movement as Barris advanced grinning. “Can’t remember?”

Barris raised the mace. Chancey’s breathless scream was cut off by a thick meaty thud and the sound of a woman’s orgasm, Agathas reaching her climax just as Chancey’s brain splattered across the walls. She shuddered in her chair, convulsing, her eyes rolling back as she moaned. Barris dropped the bloody mace on Chancey’s body and wiped his hands on his robe. He stepped back to his seat at the table, drew his chair under him and sat. 

“Agathas, when you’ve recovered, summon a steward for wine and to clean up what’s left of Chancey,” said Barris, and sunk his teeth into another turkey leg. 

My Darling Dead: Bastards Episode 3/ Council Rules

Orteg’s favored tavern was situated in the forest proper. A small dirt road led from the stone-paved thoroughfare to its front doors, the road flanked by huge trees older than time itself. A bird familiar with cartography would see the tavern at the center of a hundred little paths wending their way towards it through the forest, like the center of a spider’s web. It was down one of these paths that Zavier and Orteg now walked, away from the main thoroughfare. 

Orteg gaped. “Who are you? How do you know of all this?”

“I am the son of the counsel to King Wendell, the wizard Sapius was my father and shared with me your entire pathetic history,” Zavier said, waving a hand impatiently. “I have long been searching for you to tell you this, and to tell you: you must be made king!

“When the princess Alasin, your half-sister, was born, she was the recipient of a dreadful curse by a fairy at her christening ceremony. As revenge against the king for two-timing the fairy, the princess was doomed to continually suffer the loss of the one she loved most, which, at the time, was the king. He died as a result and the steps the queen took to preserve her own life ultimately drove the princess mad, though she was none too stable, to begin with. 

“Alasin took a love potion before looking in the mirror beside her mother, and, falling in love with both of them, sealed their fate. The curse dispatched them that night but was never broken by her dying a natural death. Which is the plague, the rat creatures, rampant filth, all the side effects of the curse, are going to continue on and on until a new king is christened, properly. You are that king!”

Zavier halted, breathing heavily, staring at Orteg with hot, unblinking eyes.

“So…what am I supposed to do?” asked Orteg, feeling foolish. 

“You must get to the castle. The council which has attempted to govern in light of a real king will be gathered. In their presence, I will perform a spell which shall reveal your lineage. They will have no choice but to crown you king!” Zavier cried, spittle flying from his mouth in his ardor. “The entire kingdom will fall under your rule, with your divine right as Wendell’s heir a new era will come to the kingdom, one of lawful productivity rather than the dark squalor of insanity, a strong, new…”

They continued down the path, Zavier extolling the upcoming Orteg Era of the kingdom as its namesake listened in a daze, only catching half of what was being said. As the wizard’s voice began to fade, in the foliage of one of the branches looming over the forest path, what had once been a human female crawled from a tree limb. Her eyes glowed with a crazed fire and her matted hair was crusted with dirt and sticks. She had long ago lost the power of speech, but her subconscious retained enough of the language skills she had learned as a child to understand it. She knew the information she had heard would be worth something to the council, and that meant food. After waiting for the sound of footsteps to die away, she slithered headfirst down the tree and set off in the direction of the castle, giving the two men a wide berth. 

The Honorable Prefect Mosh Barris sat at the head of the long council table in the courtroom of the castle, pulled up to the table as close as his ample stomach would allow. Three of his six chins wobbled as he chewed the mouthful of roast oxen with relish. Six men sat to his left and six women sat to his right, making up the government of the kingdom. All were well-fed, though none so well-fed as Barris himself, all were wearing wigs and all were staring down their noses at the little man cringing before them, wringing a filthy hat in his equally filthy hands.

“Farmer Ellis,” Barris rumbled after swallowing, taking care to keep the smile from his meaty features, “The effects of the rat creatures upon your farm is not the concern of this council. The pestilence is your responsibility to control to the best of your ability and is not to interfere with your tithings. Therefore, your request for an extension on your land tax is denied.” 

“But… Your Honor, my entire family has been taken by the pox or the rat plague. It is only me to care for them all and to maintain the farm.” Tears were coursing down his gaunt cheeks as he fell to his knees, beseeching each member of the council in turn. “I beg of you, have mercy.”

“Exceptions cannot be made,” said the woman immediately to Barris’s right. “Any exception would result in the same request being made a thousandfold.”

“Quite right, Agathas,” said Barris, favoring her with a thick-lipped smile. “At any rate, the kingdom needs taxes, not excuses. You may go, Ellis.”

The farmer got to his feet and jammed his hat on his head. Turning to go, he was halfway to the door, before he spun around and threw his hat to the ground.

“Barris! You and your council of toads are nothing but bloated bags of gas feeding on the misfortunes of others! May you one day face the same mercy you have shown!” Ellis shouted, his voice shrill. “There will be others, and before long, you will be buried by them! Selfish pigs—”

“BAILIFF!” screamed Barris, crashing to his feet, his own large features turning a dark purple. “Take this man away and execute him for treason! To speak against the governing faction of the kingdom is to speak against the kingdom itself.” He slumped back in his chair, breathing heavily. 

Before Ellis could react, his arms had been pinioned behind his back by a hulking man in a gray smock who had been standing unnoticed in the corner. The hulking man gave a sharp jerk upward and a wet popping sound filled the room as the farmer’s arm was broken from its socket. Ellis screamed still louder. The woman Agathas watched with rising color of her own, her tongue moistening her lips. Barris could feel himself getting aroused. 

“On second thought, bailiff,” Barris said with a grin, watching Agathas. “Execute him here, for our amusement.”

Ellis began to blubber through his tears and screams, begging and pleading, words about his family, sick and dying without him. The hulking man stunned him with a rap to the back of the head. “As you wish, sir. Would you like it to be quick, or slow?”

Barris looked at Agathas and raised his eyebrows inquisitively. 

“Slowly,” she said. Her hand was already between her legs and her breathing ragged. “But not too slowly.” 

 

 

My Darling Dead : Bastards – Episode 1 The New King

 

Orteg slammed open the door of his hut, a gust of cold wet air following him into the sitting room. The meager fire his wife Dashani had managed to coax from their remaining splinters of wood was almost extinguished by the blast. Orteg, groping with his foot, managed to shut the door behind him without dropping the armful of wood he carried. His three children huddled beneath a moth-eaten bearskin rug beside the smudge of fire. Their mother looked up as the door latched and Orteg stomped over to the fireplace, leaving muddy footprints in his wake. He dropped the pile of soggy logs and wiped his hands on his dirty trousers with a disgruntled sigh.

“Could you get no more?” Dashani asked, her voice sharp and accusatory. She prodded at the pile of wood with a finger. “These’re soaked through.”

Orteg didn’t answer. He had gone into the corner of the sitting room which served as their kitchen and appeared to be tearing it apart, tossing things from their places onto the floor where they rolled until his feet kicked them aside. The children withdrew further into their bearskin sanctuary, becoming little more than brown lumps as the clankings and crashings continued. Dashani pushed herself to her feet with a sound of exasperation and limped toward him. Her leg had been savagely gashed in a fall and the infection was beginning to smell. Orteg attempted in vain to withdraw from her even as he upended a basket. 

“What in the devil are you doing?” she snapped, leaning against the counter as he reached behind a cupboard. “You know no whiskey remains after you drank it all last night. Is this ache not enough to remind you?” She reached up and rapped her knuckles on his skull.

“Devil take you, woman!” he snarled, slapping her hand away and stepping back. “Curse your infernal tongue, why not use it to clean out that festering hole in your leg, that you might stand a prayer of it remaining, and leave me in peace?”

“Do not be speaking to me that way, Orteg Bluenote,” Dashani shrilled, waving a finger in his face. “If you had been better than a no ‘count lazy good-for-nothing drunk you would have seen the morning’s sunrise and I’d have not needed to be crossing the ravine to check your traps, that we might have food for another night for the children you were so keen to put in me that you now scarcely look at! This is all your doing and don’t you forget it!”

Orteg’s hand moved like lightning, connecting with Dashani’s face and sending her sprawling. The lumps under the bearskin let out small cries, mixing with her own cry of pain as her back collided with the bed frame in the other corner of the hut’s single room. Tears rolled down her face unbidden as she cowered on the floor while her husband advanced on her, roaring “SILENCE! By all the gods that are, woman, you will give me peace or I will take it!” He raised a hand again and when she flinched but said nothing, he grunted in satisfaction. 

“Snake-tongued devil bitch,” he flung over his shoulder as he left, allowing another cold blast of wet air into the hut. This time, the fire went out. The children began to weep in earnest, their cries joining in with their mother’s as all four sobbed into the uncaring darkness. 

Orteg stumped through the woods, his feet following the path they had made with no conscious thought required from him. The palm of his hand stung where it had collided with Dashani’s face and he flexed it, relishing its sting. It was difficult for Orteg to remember the fiery young peasant girl he had fingered in the hayloft and impregnated that same summer. Though it had been less than three years ago it seemed as though a lifetime. Now, all he could think was…

He heard the sound of laughter and music up ahead and hastened his footsteps, his mouth-watering. The tavern was well lit, cheery and inviting. Orteg slipped into its comforting bosom and once again, all his cares evaporated. 

Hours later, Orteg stumbled up to the bar, nearly losing his footing and catching himself on it. “Barkeep, more whiskey,” he slurred, rapping his mug on the bar. Holding it out, his bloodshot eyes roved around the bar, taking in its clientele and sifting them for availability, desirability, ease of access and past experience. There was the usual menagerie of rough trade; farmers with dirt crusted so thick on their faces that what lay beneath was a mystery, hags seeking companionship, tavern wenches looking pretty but resigned, the usual riffraff. Further down the bar, a trio of dwarves were laughing uproariously at something. A table of what appeared to be elves were deep in conversation at a table in the corner, a beautiful blade on the table between them. 

Orteg dismissed them as immaterial as his eye made contact with one of the tavern wenches he had known many times, frequently when Dashani’s less than welcoming nature had sent him to the tavern. Sarina had just returned to the main room from the upstairs, where private business was transacted. She straightened her bodice as a man followed her, a silly grin on his features and walking unsteadily. He went to kiss her and she turned her head with a smile, deflecting it to her cheek as she winked at Orteg with one soft brown eye. The man chortled and pecked her on the cheek before stumbling to the bar. Behind him, Sarina beckoned to Orteg, sliding a finger down the center of her décolletage and licking her lips. Draining his glass, Orteg stood and lurched toward the girl, bouncing off another patron with a curse. Attempting to bypass the stranger proved impossible, for he moved to block Orteg. 

“Away, fool,” Orteg muttered thickly, attempting to walk through the man. “Can’t you see what awaits?”

“I would speak with you, Bluenote,” said the figure from beneath its cowl. “What I have to say to you, I daresay you will find more engaging than pleasures of the flesh.” 

Orteg, who could think of no such thing, grunted laughter and attempted again to pass the figure. “I doubt that very much, sir.” The tavern wench grinned, lifted her skirt a little and turned to mount the stairs. 

“Son of Wendell, you must heed me!”

The dead king’s name floated before Orteg’s bloodshot eyes for a moment before vanishing. Sarina smiled prettily, lifting her skirt still higher. Calf gave way to thigh and Orteg felt his own member responding. She grinned and rubbed a hand over her crotch. 

“Outta my way,” Orteg grunted, shouldering the figure aside. The world had dwindled to the tavern wench and Orteg smiled oafishly at her. “‘m comin’ with you.” 

“It is so,” Sarina said with a musical laugh, dropping her skirt to take his hand, rubbing her other hand under his nose. “You like this?” Her smell overwhelmed him. 

“Yuh,” he said, his tongue thick and his hands busy. She slapped at them. “Come,” she said, and turned, ascending the stairs. In a stupor of lust, Orteg followed, panting. 

She slipped into the first door at the top of the stairs and with a giggle ran to the bed. Flouncing upon it, she looked at him prettily as he stumbled through the doorway. He shut the door behind him, turning the key in the lock as he grinned, absently rubbing his crotch. 

“Aren’t you coming?” she asked, her voice demure as she patted the bed beside her. 

“Sure am,” he slurred, and with a stagger, fell onto the bed atop her. 

As he did, the door shuddered as it was splintered by a savage blow. Orteg floundered on the bed, the girl beneath him, unable to get his balance. With another mighty crash, the door caved inward and three scrawny figures on all fours scrabbled into the room. Orteg screamed, trying to get his feet underneath him and stand but Sarina held on, her fingers clutching at his back with sudden needlelike claws. She grinned at him, and Orteg felt a whole new level of fear. Her teeth were now long and sharp, her eyes feline slits. Her expression made him feel like prey.

“Son of the king, I have long awaited my day of reckoning with you,” she rasped, in a voice unlike her own. 

The next moment, he was forcefully yanked off of her and thrown to the ground by two of the thin figures. The third stepped hard on his chest, knocking the breath from him, as the other two held his arms out to his sides. Orteg thrashed his lower half around for a moment until the increasing pressure on his chest compelled him to cease. 

“That’s better,” Sarina said, rising to her feet and moving toward him. “Many years ago, your kin did away with me. Your sister, to be precise. She stabbed me and I bled to death, or so she thought. Now I shall have the pleasure of doing away with the last of her bloodline.” She raised a hand, clawed fingers reaching for Orteg’s throat. 

From the doorway, a firm voice said “Not while I breathe, Esemli, Fairy of Darkness. Stand away from the king’s rightful heir!” 

Orteg jerked his head to the side, seeing the hooded figure which had attempted to detain him on his way upstairs, even as his brain sought to interpret the words he had heard and make sense of them.

King’s…heir?? But…

The fairy wench spun, hissing. “Fool! Leave, while you are still able. This does not concern you.” She pointed a clawed finger at Orteg. “The man is mine!”

“It concerns us all, and he belongs to the kingdom. Now begone!” thundered the hooded man and made a downward slashing gesture with both hands. The figure standing on Orteg’s chest was knocked back against the wall. Blood spurted from its nose and it made desperate moaning noises, eyes bulging before slumping over onto its face. 

Orteg felt the other two release him as air flooded back into his lungs. The fairy wench screamed and leaped for him just as Orteg felt something pass him with frightful speed and strike the woman between the eyes. They met Orteg’s as she flew backward, he seeing the feral slits return to their normal soft brown and her teeth retreat from their sharp points just as she hit the wall with a sickening crunch. Sliding to the ground, she did not move.

With fierce chattering noises, the other two shapes charged at Zavier. The latter raised one hand before him and shut his eyes, screwing up his face in concentration. The air grew very hot, stinging Orteg’s face, causing him to screw up his eyes as the two shapes halted as though they had been frozen. When Orteg opened his eyes again, they were gone, leaving only shimmering air where their bodies had been.

 “They are gone,” Zavier said, breathing hard, “But they will return. My power will only remove them for a short time.” He gestured. “Now, come. We must go. There are things to be said which should not be said here.” Swirling his cloak around him, he was out the door and gone before Orteg could do more than gape. 

After a moment, Orteg blundered to his feet. Trying not to look at the two dead bodies in the room, he stumbled to the door and looked out warily. Down on the main floor, immobile in the sea of bodies in motion, stood the hooded man, staring at Orteg. 

His mouth formed words:

Follow.

Orteg followed. 

My Darling Dead: Episode 13 / The Fairy’s Laughter

The queen’s face was white as she looked at her daughter standing in the doorway behind the fairy’s still bleeding body. Alasin looked back at her mother, breathing heavily and shaking with rage and shock. 

“Cursed…? My whole life I was cursed and you never saw fit to tell me?” Alasin’s voice trembled as well. “All this time and I find it out from the very…creature to put the curse upon me, told as she mocks you with what she has done to the kingdom?” Alasin gestured at the dead rat woman on the ground, revulsion in her voice. “I have seen it. There are more of them. Many more! If not for the kindness of one person, I might have been set upon by them and torn to pieces. But that would likely be a worthy price for you to pay, mother, to get your filthy cursed daughter out of your sight at last!” Her voice had risen steadily until she was screaming. 

Her mother stood impassive, letting her daughter’s words wash over her as any parent does when ignoring the tantrums of their child. Hespa half expected Alasin to begin storming around the room, breaking things and rending hangings from the wall.  

“And yet, I still have no idea the nature of this curse,” Alasin finished at the top of her lungs, her fingers curled into fists. “Tell me what damns me!”

“The fairy said that the one whom you love the most would perish.” Hespa looked at her daughter with something like pity. “Poor thing. It wasn’t your fault.” 

Alasin scarcely heard this last. Her mind was whirling with this latest revelation, much of her life coming in to focus for the first time. Her revolving door of nannies, her mother’s constant icy indifference toward her, some of her earliest memories were of attempting to forge a bond with Hespa only to be coldly rebuffed. She would take solace in the arms of one of her nurses, only to be told the next morning that the nurse had been called away forever and she would be meeting her newest nanny shortly. This new nanny would be an unknown quantity and Alasin would shy from her for some time before trust was built and inevitably love, then the cycle would repeat itself. 

In particular, she was reminded of the way Madam Flood and the blacksmith had met their ends. She particularly remembered the blacksmith and tears of hot shame and regret came to her eyes. 

“Tears won’t help you, my daughter. They did not help me, though buckets of them I cried to watch my only child being raised by others.” Hespa’s face trembled. “It was a pain unlike any other I have borne.”

“Your pain did not stretch so far as to preclude you from sending your only child from all she had known into the world with such a curse attached to her!” Alasin shrieked. “There is blood upon your hands, mother, the blood of innocents!” Her eyes were wide and rolling as she pointed at Hespa with a quivering finger. 

“Blood is upon the hands of your dead father, you little brat!” screamed the queen, for the moment, looking just as unhinged as her daughter. “I was not the one two-timing one of the most powerful species to ever exist even as you were being born! I did nothing I did not have to do in order to preserve the kingdom so you could grow up as a spoiled little hellbitch!” She shrieked this last with such force that it lifted her to her toes. 

Alasin felt burning tears leap to her eyes as she glared at her mother, fists clenched so hard she could barely feel them. “At least now you don’t have to worry about dying because I love you,” she hissed through trembling lips, her cheeks shining. Without another word, she turned and left Hespa staring after her, shaking. 

The wizard sat at his workbench, his great book of spells open before him. The book was very old and had been given to him by his master before the elder had succumbed to the Darkness and departed this realm. Sapius had asked his master to whom the book had originally belonged and the old man had struck him upside the head. He had not dared ask again. All the spells in the world were said to be in that book, and Sapius had been poring over it with increasing desperation in the recent weeks as reports of the rat people increased and the rumblings from the townsfolk grew ever louder. The queen was in denial as the castle staff continued their spiral toward outright mutiny and rebellion, prompting Sapius to redouble his efforts. 

So engrossed was he that his chamber door swinging open scarcely registered on his fevered consciousness. Not until the princess was standing right in front of him did he realize with a start that she was there. 

“By the gods,” he gasped, putting a hand to his heart where the belabored organ pounded frantically in an attempt to recover as he stood. “You gave me a fright, Princess.”

“Wizard, what know you of love potions?” she snapped. 

“They are divided in kind,” he said, remaining standing as he did. He did not care for the look in the eye of the princess at all. It was the look of madness. 

“There are those which provide only a subtle nudge of the heart and take time to build to the desired result. Others are limited in scope to one person for whom the drinker feels amorous. Most dangerous of all are the ones which provide immediate, permanent infatuation to the first person the drinker sees. These are the most risky because there is no way to undo the enchantment and if circumstances go awry, the drinker may fall forever madly in love with the wrong person.”

“I require one of the latter,” said Alasin. “Immediately.” 

Alarm bells were ringing in the wizard’s head. “Might I ask why, Highness?”

“Do not question me!” she shrieked, striding forward and leaning over the workbench in his face. Tiny droplets of her spittle peppered his face. “I am the princess of the realm and it is not your place to question me, wizard! Obey my command or I will see your head on a spike!” 

“Your will, Highness,” said the wizard, unwilling to show her just how disturbed he was by the lack of sanity in her voice and her eyes. “Although if I may caution–“

Her fist pounded the workbench, sending a beaker crashing to the ground. “I will not command you again.” 

Never taking his eyes off her, Sapius reached inside his robes and brought forth a small brass key which he used to unlock one of the drawers in his workbench. Reaching all the way to the back of the drawer, he brought out a vial filled with a purplish, glowing liquid. The color reflected in Alasin’s eyes as they fixed on it. 

“I only have but one, Lady,” Sapius said, holding it out to her. “Have a care, for it takes many turns of the sun to create more.”

She snatched it from him and turned on her heel in the same motion. She was gone before he could do more than blink. The feeling of disquiet settled deeper within him, along with the sensation that inexorable events had been set in motion. 

******

Queen Hespa stood at her window, staring at her kingdom. Even from here, she could see the small shapes of rat people scuttling around the buildings below. Screams filtered up from the ground and she fancied she could hear the sounds of cracking bones and rending flesh. She had no idea what the rat people actually did to the living but her fertile imagination was only too happy to fill the gaps in her knowledge. 

The smell of the dead rat woman and the blood of the fairy still hung in the air, though their bodies had been removed by two servants who were clearly very reluctant to do so. Hespa thought sourly of the blood, both woman and fairy, that had puddled on her floor. It would need scouring before it faded even the slightest bit and a hundred years from now there would still be some caked in the cracks between the stones. 

A sound made her turn. The door was opening and Alasin came in. Hespa tensed. 

“Are you here to spew more vitriol in my direction, daughter?”

“Mother, please. This bitterness gets us nowhere.” Closing the door, Alasin moved to the cart on which Hespa’s goblets and wine were stored. “All I want is for us to share a glass of wine and make peace together.” 

With her back turned to Hespa, Alasin pulled the tiny flask from her bodice. Setting her nails into the cork, she pulled it out without a sound. 

“Why?” Hespa’s voice was weary but Alasin could tell she had not moved from her place by the window. Alasin upended the flask over one of the goblets, sending bright purple liquid cascading into the glass. 

“You are my mother,” Alasin said. “If you cannot love me, at the least, I wish for you to not hate me.” Stowing the flask back in her undergarments, she poured wine. The purple liquid at the bottom of the glass was swallowed by the dark red wine without a trace. 

“A fine sentiment,” the queen said, turning from the window. “But you and I both know the dangers that lie therein.”

“Come, mother,” said Alasin, lifting both glasses and offering the unadulterated one to her parent. “Taste this wine with me and let us embark upon a new chapter in our lives.” She met Hespa’s eyes unblinking over the goblet, holding it between them. 

For a moment, the queen held her daughter’s gaze. Alasin held her breath while maintaining her contact with her mother’s eyes until the glass was taken from her hand. 

“I say, mother, come look at this with me,” Alasin said, gesturing at the mirror hung on the back of the chamber door, stepping toward it. In her periphery, she could see herself moving in the reflection but refused to focus on it. “If you stand here with me, over a century of the kingdom’s rule will be represented in its reflection.”

The queen joined her daughter before the mirror and stood looking. She saw herself as she always had, an inflexible example of authority and power. Beside her, for once, stood her daughter.

“New beginnings,” Hespa said, raising her glass to the mirror and draining it. 

“New beginnings,” Alasin echoed and drained her own. The potion was barely discernible amid the wine and gave it a sweeter flavor than the dry red taste that Hespa preferred. 

The queen smiled. “It’s good wine, isn’t it?”

Alasin raised her eyes to the mirror just as the wizard’s potion took full effect. What she saw in the mirror was more perfect than anything she could have ever imagined. Her mother seemed almost to glow. Her own smile lit up the room, and in that moment, she felt her heart fall for the figures in the mirror. 

“Very good,” murmured Alasin. “I love you, mother.”

EPILOGUE

Sapius the wizard had lived in the kingdom for many years. He had served the monarchy for most of his adult life and would not have hesitated to use some of his darkest magic on anyone who threatened it. So when the castle guards came pounding at his chamber door the next morning, he was flabbergasted to find their swords drawn as he opened the door. They poured in through the entrance, surrounding him with their sharp steel before he could react. 

Bortix the Captain of the Guard strode forward and struck the wizard full in the face with a mailed glove. Sapius could taste blood in his mouth and felt it trickle from the corner of his mouth. Bewildered, he could do no more than gape at Bortix, with whom he had often shared his dwarf’s tobacco in exchange for the guardsman’s secret recipe mulled mead. 

“What…why…” he managed to stammer, but the look Bortix wore on his face robbed him of any further questions. 

“Save it, wizard,” Bortix spat. In a trice, a dagger was in his hand and the point was under Sapius’s chin, forcing his head back. “We know what you did.” 

“Pray, then, enlighten me,” Sapius managed to choke out, his eyes staring at the ceiling. “I have no idea what I did.”

“The princess and the queen have died at your hands and you dare to play the fool to me?” Bortix roared and punched the wizard square in the face, his meaty fist wrapped around the dagger handle.

Sapius went flying backward and would have certainly hit the floor had one of the guards surrounding him not pushed him back toward Bortix who responded with another fist to the wizard’s face. This time the guard moved to the side so Sapius fell all the way to the floor, where he was greeted by an army of kicking, stomping boots. One collided with the side of his head and a black cloud enveloped him, even as the words echoed in his head. 

Bortix stood over the unconscious wizard, his great hands balled into fists, glaring at the prone figure with hate in his eyes as his guards took turns applying their boots to the fallen man. Normally one of the most rational and level headed men in the kingdom, Bortix made no move to stop his soldiers beating the helpless body. 

When the day had passed its noon and the queen had not stirred, Bortix had entered the queen’s chamber after knocking progressively louder until he was pounding at the stout timbers. The queen lay on her bed, a peaceful smile on her face. Bortix had seen many dead bodies in his time and he did not need to shake the queen by the shoulder or shout her name to know that she had departed this realm. He did so anyway, shouting for the castle medic with tears growing in his eyes and a great sinking feeling in his chest. The medic had arrived and given the sad pronouncement before Bortix thought of the princess. Or, he thought, as she would be known henceforth, the queen. 

Giving strict instructions to the medic to let no one into the queen’s chamber in his absence, Bortix hastened to the room of the princess. His adjurations to open the door resulted in nothing but silence and the door was locked from within. Bortix threw his entire body weight at the door again and again until it yielded to his bulk. There lay the princess on her own bed, arms at her sides, an identical expression of peace on her face. The only difference between her and the queen was the object in her left hand. Bortix had availed himself of the potions the wizard concocted and knew the shape of the glass bottles well. He had no trouble recognizing the bottle in the dead princess’s hand as coming from the chambers of Sapius. 

When the wizard had been burned at the stake, Bortix, yielding to the clamoring of his guards, crowned himself king. This did not sit well with the subjects of the kingdom, who, having tolerated the rise of the rat people and the unwillingness of the crown to address the issue, mobilized enough to storm the castle and slaughter all of the guards. Bortix ultimately threw himself from the tallest tower after a long and protracted battle with the villagers, unwilling to let them have him. The leader of the rebels crowned himself king, only to be slain at his own coronation by what had once been his best friend, who ascended to the throne in his stead. He lasted several days before the new captain of the guards murdered him, plucking the crown from his severed head and settling it atop his own at a jaunty angle until he too was slain. 

The crown passed from hand to hand with its subjects fighting tooth and nail among themselves for it. The rat people flourished and spread, until the land was covered in darkness and filth, the deluded self-proclaimed monarchs afraid to sleep nights lest they wake up dead. 

Underneath it all, with the right ears, could be heard the laughter of the fairies. 

 

My Darling Dead: Episode 12/The Fairy’s Return

For years, Hespa had been plagued by stories of the rat people. She had forbidden their mention in her court, but updates and rumors still flew through the castle in spite of (or perhaps because of) her edict. She knew, for example, that the rat people were taking over her kingdom at an astonishing rate, replacing her subjects with feral monstrosities which fed on death and decay and were eager to spread their disease. She knew that the rat people now outnumbered those not so afflicted and that within weeks if not sooner she would be the head of a kingdom consisting of nothing but rat people. Already several had been found inside the walls of the castle, one of them only a few floors down from her private chambers. Hespa shuddered and drained the wine from the glass she held. She extended her arm and immediately the empty glass was replaced with a full one by her handmaiden. 

“Leave me,” the queen snapped. The handmaiden was happy to do so.

Hespa also knew that the humans still under her rule were muttering and that their mutterings had grown loud enough to be heard clearly by spies and castle guards. The word “rebellion” had not yet been uttered, but any fool could tell that it was on the minds of many. Hespa had witnessed castle guardsmen holding her eye contact longer than was proper, staring back at her insolently until she was forced to drop her own eyes, hating herself as she did so. She had never felt so vulnerable as these past months, surrounded by inhuman things and resented by those in whose hands she placed her life. 

The mid-morning sun reflected from the armor of the guard on duty at the front gate of the castle. He belched and squinted into the sun, straining to discern mirage from reality as a figure approached the castle gate. Or was it two figures? No, just one. 

No…

His eyes widened. 

“Halt and be–”

Esemli raised her left hand and the guard was thrown into the nearest wall with such force that his breaking bones were heard hundreds of feet away. He screamed and she winced. 

“No,” she said, and waved her hand again. The guard continued screaming but no noise came out, eyes bulging as he attempted to cradle his broken parts and give voice to his hurts. The other guards stampeded each other trying to get out of Esemli’s way. She swept through the gate and past them without a look. In her right hand she held a leash and to her leash was attached one of the rat people, a woman who had perhaps once been plump but now appeared emaciated to the point of death. 

Her skin was caked with filth and blood was smeared around her mouth. Her clothes were rags, held together mostly by luck. Her eyes darted this way and that and she never seemed to stop licking her lips. Part of her bottom lip was gone from a time when the woman had been so desperate for meat that she had begun eating her own face. Half of her teeth grinned through her cheek at anybody who looked at her. On all fours, she scuttled behind Esemli like a dog which has been beaten often enough to fear its master but not often enough to attempt escape. 

Esemli did not appear even to notice the creature in her wake. She mounted the stairs to the queen’s chamber with the rat woman at her heels. Raising her left hand, the queen’s chamber door slammed open with such force that the metal handle cracked the stone wall. Hespa whirled as Esemli let the leash go and snapped a word in a strange language that meant nothing to the queen, but the rat woman clearly understood. Still on all fours, she made straight for the queen, a horrifying grin etched on what remained of her features as she snapped her teeth. 

Hespa was frozen only for a moment before countless hours on self defense spent with Bortix the Captain of the Guard leapt to the forefront of her mind. The queen whirled, seizing a long metal spike from beside her window and as the rat woman leaped, Hespa extended her arm and set her feet. The rat woman collided with the spike, the force of her attack impaling her upon the spike through one of her crazed rolling eyes. 

The fairy laughed. “Well done, Queen Hespa. Perhaps you should be standing guard over your castle rather than the bumbling fools currently there.” 

Hespa did not hear. Her eyes were locked on the rat woman’s face, overcome with horror as the woman’s eye ran down her hollow cheek. She had heard of the rat people, yes, but she had never seen one, much less this close. The humanity she could still detect beneath the dirt and waste was worst of all. Now that the woman was dead, Hespa could see the peasant woman who had once resided behind those eyes. Her face was relaxed, her eyes no longer rolling. But for the spike through her eye and half her lip being gone, she could have been asleep. 

Esemli closed the door behind her. “Queen Hespa, you forget your manners. I have brought you a gift, the least you could do is offer me some of your wine.”

This time, the words sunk in. Hespa tore her eyes from the rat woman with an effort and dropped the spike. “Fairy, your presence here is less welcome than the plague. I would sooner spit in your face than offer you wine.” Pasting a sneer on her face, Hespa moved to where her goblet stood and drained it before refilling it from the crystal decanter. 

A flicker of annoyance flashed across Esemli’s face and she moved her left hand, ever so slightly. The decanter overbalanced and splashed wine all over the queen. Hespa swore and drained what was left in the decanter before throwing it out the window in a blind fury that abated as she heard the crystal smash on the stones far below. She did not look at the fairy, sipping her wine from the goblet as she wrestled back control. 

“Decades I have been gone from your eye,” Esemli said, her voice quiet but with an intensity Hespa could hear across the room. “But I have not been gone from this realm. I have watched your daughter grow from innocent child to petulant woman, never able to love her mother because you have made it impossible. I have witnessed your subjects regress and devolve until the wisest of them is merely a few steps above yonder wretch.” She gestured at the rat woman’s body which lay in a puddle of her own blood, eyes still open, one staring at the spike which had impaled its mate. “Your husband’s disrespect was not forgotten and as your daughter was cursed, so was the entire kingdom, to descend slowly into bestial madness. The suffering of the monarchy and the collapse of the kingdom have been a pleasure to behold for all of my kind.” The fairy laughed. 

“Why did you bring that…creature, Esemli?” Hespa asked, staring at her kingdom. 

“Bringing you what hath been wrought, Your Highness,” the fairy said, and sank into a deep and mocking curtsey which was wasted on the impassive queen. “This is one of your subjects with all the trappings of décor stripped away, exposed for what they are. Nothing but a pathetic, slavering, mewling–”

The door slammed open behind Esemli. Her eyes widened and she was halfway through turning toward the door before Princess Alasin’s poisoned dagger buried itself in the fairy’s throat. The blood which spurted from the wound was not precisely red but nearly purple and seemed almost to glow. 

The queen turned just in time to see her daughter lunge through the door. The goblet of wine fell from Hespa’s numb fingers. Her feet seemed rooted to the spot. Her glass shattered on the stone floor as the fairy fell, her throat gushing strange blood.

Esemli sank to her knees, one hand reaching to the handle in her throat. The glowing purple blood coated her fingers and she grimaced as she touched the blade. 

“Guh…” she said and wrapped her fingers around the handle sticking out of her throat. She pulled, the sound of the blade sliding through her flesh sending the queen’s skin crawling as fresh gouts of blood poured from her mouth. “Guh…” she said again, her hand dropping from the handle with the blade still buried in her throat. 

“Isss… too…toooooo…” she said, her words obscured by the blood which flowed, faster now, out of her mouth. The color was draining from her face. “Toooooo…” she moaned and fell forward. She landed on the handle of the dagger and with a horrid squelching sound the point of the blade stabbed out the opposite side of her neck. 

My Darling Dead : Episode 10 | The Blacksmith

As Alasin fled the hut, she forgot that it was not sitting on the ground, but raised on stilts three steps high. She flew out the door and the ground rose to meet her sharply.  Tumbling end over end she landed in a heap at their bottom. She lay there, winded, her eyes unfocused as the cloud of dust she had raised settled in the early morning rays of sunshine. 

There was a scuttling noise from under Madam Flood’s hut that slowly acquired her attention as her eyes began to focus. Finally able to breathe, Alasin pushed herself up as she turned to face the noise. As her eyes focused, at last, she froze, her heart hammering in her chest. 

A small, thin woman had come out from under the house and was creeping toward her, crouched low, eyes bright and teeth bared. Her hair was matted and thick with dust, as were her clothes. Her nails, long and broken, reached out to Alasin, who could smell the foul creature from where she lay. The rat woman let out a high pitched cackle that sounded devoid of sanity and pounced. 

The woman was in the air for the briefest instant before a large hammer swung out of the blue and pulverized her face. Alasin, who had opened her mouth to scream, was showered in bloody chunks of skull, brain and flesh. She spat as though her tongue were afire and finally laid eyes upon her rescuer. He was a large man, thick shouldered with a blacksmith’s apron over a muscled chest. A dripping blacksmith’s hammer swung from one huge arm.

“Strewth! But that’n almost had ye! Still, no harm done, I’ll reckon. Up y’come, miss!” He said, and extended a hand to her with a smile. 

Alasin wiped her hand on her skirt and gave it to the man with a shaken smile. “Thank you, sir, and thank you for dispatching that…what was that?” she asked as she was pulled upright as though she were a feather. 

“Oh, ar,” the man said darkly, swinging his hammer over his shoulder, unmindful of the muck coating its head. “Them’d be the changed ones. Rat people, I call ’em. Best to do is put ’em down before they hurt somethin’.” He sighed. “Even though some of ’em be my best o’ friends.”

“Madam Flood mentioned something about them last night.”

The man’s face brightened. “Ma’am Flood! That’s right, this be her place, don’t it? How be she?”

“She’s, er… fine,” Alasin stammered, hoping he wouldn’t insist on speaking to the old woman.

“She in?” inquired the man. “I hain’t seen Ma’am Flood in an age, and I be–”

“No! She, ah, said she had somewhere to go this morning and left before I woke, so I took myself for a walk and fell down her stairs because I wasn’t used to them you see and then the creature came from under the stairs and–”

“Ne’er mind,” the man boomed, his chuckle cutting off Alasin’s frantic blather. “We best get ye where ye wish to go, little miss, lest one more of the nasty rat people get ye. Strewth!”

Alasin awoke in pitch darkness, a giant weight upon her chest. Her head was pounding and her mouth tasted of rot. She pushed at the weight. It felt like a dead animal, cool and smooth-skinned with a light coating of hair covering it. It was large, and heavy. Her fingers explored down its length. Her heart shot into her mouth as her fingers touched a palm, then fingers. She was able now to identify the giant weight as an arm, slung across her, as she lay in this bed. 

HIS bed, she realized as unbidden, memories began flooding into her fevered brain. Going off with the jolly blacksmith(whose name she could not recall) after he had saved her life, finding out that she really liked him, turning aside his questions about who she was and where she was going so she could spend longer with him, until he finally stopped asking. Becoming tipsy as they dined and drank as the sun first rose and set in the sky, finally a fog of stumbling back to his own hut and going to bed together. Now she could tell that beneath the arm and the animal pelts that served as a blanket, she was naked. 

Whimpering, she pushed at the arm which held her in a death grip, immobile in its deathly contraction. Finally she was able to wriggle out from underneath it and fall to the floor, sobbing as she pushed herself to the farthest corner of the room, wrapping her arms about herself against the night’s chill. There she sat, struggling to produce silent tears as she wept, for her own terror, for poor Madam Flood, for the unnamed blacksmith, before turning her tears back upon herself. 

When she awoke again it was the gray light of dawn, the sound of birds filling the silence that comes when most people are still asleep. Her neck ached from where she finally fallen into a doze, huddled in the corner hunched over. She was still nude, and shivering violently. Her gaze fell upon the corpse in the bed, face frozen in a peaceful expression, massive arm extended over where she had fallen asleep beneath it.

Unbidden, the tears started again, but she knuckled them aside and pushed herself up, hobbling on stiff legs across to the bed and pulling the bearskin blanket off of the blacksmith’s body, wrapping it around herself as she tried not to look at what remained of her lover. She stooped, picking up her scattered clothing piece by piece. As she did, her little bottle of wizard’s powder and chain dropped to the floor with a clink. With a happy swoop of her stomach, she dropped to her knees beside it and availed herself. 

“Farner! Hey mate, ’tis Bron! Yer not at yer shop! What gives?” 

Alasin’s head jerked up at a pounding from the door, white powder coating her nostrils, her eyes wide. She jammed the lid on the bottle and grabbed up her clothes while the pounding increased before the latch was pushed open from the outside and the door banged open. A small squat man stood framed in the early morning light, his face nothing but a silhouette.

“C’mon, I needs me sword t’day, Farn! Git yer…hoho, what’s all this then?” he said, noticing Alasin, looking frenzied as she clutched her clothing to herself. An ugly grin spread across his face. “Well hey there sweet’eart, me name’s Bron and I guess my man Farn’s been stickin’ it to ya, eh?” 

Alasin’s eyes were huge as she did her best to sidle sideways to block Bron’s view of the bed and Farner’s lifeless body. Bron was fortunately too busy examining the curves of the sheet Alasin draped around herself to notice the bed. 

“Porked ya good did ‘e?” giggled Bron, grabbing his crotch and making exaggerated grinding movements with his hips. 

Alasin’s eyes flashed with temper but Bron sniggered and to her great relief turned to leave. As his body moved, the shadow he had cast upon Alison moved as well, letting a slab of sunlight smack her in the face. “Well I’ll not begrudge ‘im a lie-in after a night wid a beauty like you. Yew tell ‘im Bron stopped by, an’…”

He trailed off, eyes widening. He took a step forward and looked more closely at Alasin. 

“You…” he whispered. Alasin’s heart, hammering like mad, simultaneously froze. 

“Yer…yer the princess!” Bron blurted, raising a hand to point at her. 

“Yes, you festering sore,” Alasin said, drawing herself up to her full height and looking down her nose regally at the little man. “I am Alasin, Princess of Dandoich, and I command you to depart from here immediately and speak of this to no one. Is that clear?”

“Yer… the princess,” the man said, a stupid grin spreading over his face. “Huh… what are you doing here?” His eyes crawled over her, insolent in their lingering. His tongue wet his lips. 

“Dog!” shouted Alasin. “How dare you look upon me! You have been given a command and you will obey at once. Leave!” She raised a hand and pointed to the door. The clothing she had clutched to herself slipped and fell to her waist, exposing a breast. 

“Whoaa…” Bron said, his eyes huge. Alasin swore and snatched the clothes to herself again while attempting to maintain her composure. She saw his grin had become nasty. He stepped inside and shut the door. 

“No one knows yer ‘ere, or yew wouldn’t be wid ‘im,” Bron whispered, gesturing to Farner’s still motionless body. “And that means, I can do what I likes wid ya. Farn won’t mind.” He was beginning to breathe heavily, massaging his trousers as he moved toward her. “And you can’ stop me, Princess, wee slip of a girl like ye.” 

Alasin did not move as he advanced. The rage in her at being spoken to thus had completely blotted out any hint of fear. In one move, she dropped all her clothing and stood before him completely nude, sending his jaw dropping. 

“Hear this, you squalid peasant,” Alasin said, her voice like iron. “If you come for me, you will end. Heed my warning, and desist.”

My Darling Dead : Episode 9 | The Outside

 

Alasin stumbled out through the servant’s doorway at the base of the castle, trying to keep from hysterics. She had nearly been attacked by one of the guards, who had to be restrained by his partner. 

“Let ‘er go, matey, she ain’t worth it. Orders from th’ queen.”

“You murdering harlot!” screamed the other man. “What if they come for us? What if it’s war? If we die because of you I will haunt you until the end of your days!”

Alasin would normally have slain him for his insolence then and there. But the hatred in the eyes of both men and her mother’s shrieks ringing in her ears made her race, sobbing, for the nearest exit. As fresh air hit her face, she looked around in a frenzy. She had never been outside the castle by herself. 

To her right, the castle’s outer wall stretched into the darkness of night what seemed forever. To her left, it went on another ten feet before terminating in the north tower’s bulge outward. Before her, a grassy hill sloped gently down some hundred yards or so before the houses of the kingdom’s townsfolk began in earnest. Among them, she could see the shapes of her subjects moving, living, going about their lives. She had never feared them, but her mother’s banishing words and the cries of the guard she had encountered were fresh in her mind. 

She made her way along the path leading from the front gates towards the huts of the town, expecting at any moment to hear someone shout “The princess! Let’s get her!” No shout came, and she found herself walking down the little town’s main street. She searched in her mind for its name and could not get it to come to mind. She knew though that many of the people in this town were servants and workers at the castle during the day and so lived in close proximity. 

Of course, Alasin thought, instinctively leaning into the darkest part of the shadows, the more castle workers there were in this town, the more likely there would be someone who would recognize her. 

A rustling sound caught her attention as she passed a house and she stopped, turning toward it. The sound came from between two houses and sounded large. Larger than a mouse. Her ears strained to the breaking point, she thought she could hear breathing. 

“’ere now… wot’s this, then?” 

Alasin whirled, stifling a scream as her hand flew to her poisoned blade, remembering too late that it was back in her bedchamber. There was a scratching sound and sparks caught the wick of a lantern. The flame grew and illuminated a dumpy woman holding it, dressed in a brown smock with her hair in a bun. When she smiled at Alasin, it was with three teeth. 

“A t’ousand ‘pologies miss, I surely dint mean t’scare ye.” 

Alasin expected her to continue stammering excuses and prostrate herself at Alasin’s feet, begging forgiveness from royalty as was customary. Instead, she continued to smile at Alasin, clearly waiting for the princess to speak. 

“That’s all right,” she said, and tried on a smile. It seemed to fit, so she continued. “My name is Al…uh…”

“Aluh, that’s a n’usual name,” said the woman. “They call me Madam Flood.”

Alasin opened her mouth to correct her, then realized that Madam Flood had no idea she was speaking to the disgraced princess of the kingdom. She shut her mouth with a snap and pasted a smile on her face.

“But what,” Madam Flood continued, “is a girl like y’self doin’ out ‘ere alone at this hour, an’ all gussied up!” The old woman gestured, first at the sky and enveloping darkness then at Alasin’s clothing, her royal dresses more suitable for a fancy dress ball than simple townsfolk. “You know t’ain’t safe ‘ere no more, specially not at night!”

Alasin’s eyes were blanks in the lantern light. “Isn’t it?”

Madam Flood sighed and tutted. “Come wi’ me, foolish girl. Less get indoors where’s safe n’I’ll tell ye some t’ings ’bout the kingdom you livin’ in.” 

Alasin’s eyes flashed at the insult and her hand went to her dagger again before realizing again that it was gone, and for the first time, realized that she had nowhere else to go. A tear ran from an eye as she dropped her hand and followed the old woman.

Down the row of tiny houses she followed Madam Flood until she came to the last one on the row. Madam Flood mounted three rickety steps and pushed through a flap of fur that served as her door. Alasin grimaced as she followed, feeling the shaggy coat rub against her skin. She found herself in a dark little room with a lumpy looking cot, a fireplace with a rocking chair before it, and a small table. A single cupboard hung on the wall opposite the door beside a small window with dirty panes. 

“Well well m’dear,” Madam Flood said, setting the lantern on the table and stoking the fire so a cheery glow filled the room. “Where’ve you been that you d’no what’s ‘appening ’round ‘ere? ‘n what’re y’doin’ wanderin’ aroun’ in the’ middle o’ the’ night, drest like that? Young gel like you oughta be home wi’ her family.” 

“Never mind that,” Alasin said, and moved closer to the fire, warming her hands as it increased in size. “What’s going on outside? Why isn’t it safe?”

Madam Flood shook her head and settled into her rocking chair with obvious relief. “Wan’ t’know what I thinks, ’tis dark wizards.” 

Alasin’s face must have shown skepticism rather than incomprehension for Madam Flood leaned forward, nodding hard for emphasis. “Oh aye Miss Aluh, th’ dark wizards be ’round doin’ their wicked deeds, you can bet y’teeth. ‘ow else can y’explain…” she broke off, looking at the window as though someone could be peeping through at them, before looking back at Alasin and finishing in a hoarse whisper “…people creepin around…like animals…actin’ strange…ol’ farmer Supik sez ‘is foot was ‘arf torn off by a crazy git ‘oo acted like a mad thing, eatin’ dead mice in ol’ Supik’s hut.” 

The princess felt her stomach crawl at the thought of herself wandering around in the darkness, and the rustling sounds she had heard between the two houses before meeting Madam Flood. “What happened?”

“Well, Supik ain’t the’ type to bandy words wid a freak like that’n,” Madam Flood said briskly, rocking back in her chair. “’e grabbed the nearest rock ‘n put paid to ‘im in the’ face, sev’ral times I ‘eard.”

“How awful,” Alasin said, her voice faint. Her knees buckled. Madam Flood was by her side in a moment and turned Alasin so her fall was more of a controlled sinking into the mattress. 

“’ere ‘ere dearie, there I am tellin’ horror stories when yew need t’be gettin’ some rest, ” Madam Flood said, laying Alasin down on the bed. “Y’need yer rest n’you could do a lot worse’n this bed ‘ere. T’ain’t much but is better’n some c’n boast. Yew don’ wanna be goin’ out ’til is morn,” Pulling the blankets up to Alasin’s chin, she smiled her three-toothed smile at the princess. 

“Thank you… Madam Flood,” Alasin murmured, already half asleep. 

“Think nothin’ of it, Miss Aluh,” said Madam Flood, returning to her chair. “I’ll be ‘ere when you’ve rested yer eyes.”

Alasin started awake, the darkness complete around her as she wondered where she was and how she had gotten there. As she lay, staring into the void, she began to remember. She had been banished and taken in by a woman. She had fallen asleep and the woman had been tending the fire. But now the little hut was dark and cold, and the fire was nothing but a few glowing embers which put off no heat. 

Throwing the blankets off of her, Alasin rose to her feet and began groping her way toward what she recalled as being the chair in which her hostess had planted herself. There was no noise in the hut, no sense of another. Another step and her feet found the table, solid and immobile. Cursing under her breath at the world in general, Alasin navigated around the table and to the rocking chair, which sat heavy on the floor, also immobile. There was no breathing. Her heart froze. 

“Madam Flood?” Alasin said, her voice tentative in the pitch blackness. 

There was no answer. 

“Madam Flood!” 

Silence responded. Alasin reached out a reluctant hand, contacting Madam Flood’s shoulder before she expected to. The flesh was stiff below its garments. Stiff and cold. 

“Madam Flood!” Alasin shook the unresponsive shoulder, knowing it was pointless, hoping it would not be. Her hopes were in vain. Madam Flood would never respond to another entreaty again. 

Alasin stood in the dark for some moments, listening to the absolute silence, willing the corpse sitting in the chair to reanimate, to waken, to move, to stand and cheerily tend to the nearly-dead fire. When it became obvious this would not be occurring, Alasin forced herself to move to the fire. She had never stoked a fire in her life, but had witnessed it enough times to know the basic principles. Groping around by the hearth, she found a bundle of dry, brittle twigs and tossed them on the coals before leaning forward to breathe on them. Why, she did not know, but she had seen it done a number of times in the castle, and knew it to be the thing to do. 

The coals brightened under her breath, shriveling the first of the dried twigs with their heat. She continued breathing on them, encouraged by the brightening glow. As she took in her breath to exhale again, the twigs burst into flames. She let out a little squeak and threw more twigs on, which were speedily consumed. Looking around, she saw smaller pieces of wood stacked near the fire and threw two of them on the fire. It almost went out, but flared up when she resumed blowing on it. Within a few moments, she had a fire burning, banishing the worst of the shadows. 

Alasin stood and turned, looking at Madam Flood. The shadows hid much of the woman’s face, but the lack of movement was apparent, even in the low, flickering light. Madam Flood was dead, a fact which was made more apparent when a rodent scurried out of her robes to stare, beady-eyed at Alasin. 

The princess screamed and backpedaled, ramming her legs into the table. Appendages smarting, she wrenched open the door and fled, sobbing. In her home, Madam Flood continued to sit and grin at the ceiling, unblinking, even as the rodent ventured back onto her lap, up her chest and to her face, where it began nibbling the soft meat of her eye.

My Darling Dead : Episode 8 | The Consequences

Hespa looked up from her own window as the princess let herself in. “Idiot child!” she shrieked and seized the nearest thing to hand, an urn containing her husband’s ashes, and threw it at her daughter with all her might. 

“Mother!” cried Alasin, dodging out of the way and taking refuge behind a nearby chair. Behind her, the wizard stood framed in the doorway. 

“Would it have killed you, would it have made your life so unworth living, to have murdered that oaf Heyworth in his bed at night rather than in full view of three loud-mouthed guards?” Hespa asked, hefting a large ornamental vase threateningly. 

“Mother–”

“Your Highness, girl,” snarled the queen. 

“Your Highness,” Alasin said, her words rushing forth in a babble. “Heyworth, that dog, attacked me, would have beaten me and perhaps more! I had to–”

“Kill him in perhaps the bloodiest manner you possibly could conceive right then and there, rather than endure his offenses and murder him in his bed at night?” Hespa finished, her voice cracking as she heaved the vase at her daughter in fury at the last word, shrieking as it crashed to the wall beside Alasin. “Heyworth would have died in silence and been easily disposed of with no one the wiser but you and his kingdom would have become ours. Now his kingdom is trying to kill ME and from OUR kingdom are coming rumblings of dissatisfaction with its figureheads. Which includes you, you witless imbecile.” 

The queen pulled a dagger from a hidden shelf in the serving table and advanced on Alasin, her teeth bared. Alasin cringed against the wall as her mother closed the distance. “This is your doing and I will not have you within this castle to wreak more havoc while I am being hunted. You are not welcome in this castle…” Hespa stopped, the tip of her dagger resting against her daughter’s throat. Alasin’s eyes were huge, rolling, terrified. Hespa stared mercilessly into her eyes and poked the dagger forward to nick Alasin’s smooth neck. “…henceforth.” 

To the wizard, time seemed to stand still, the princess impaled fractionally upon the queen’s dagger as the former tried desperately not to move. Then the latter flicked the dagger down, withdrawing its point and standing aside, leaving the path to the door open. Sapius stepped inside, extending a hand to the open door. As though freed from a spell, Alasin rushed past her mother and out the door, wordless noises of terror spilling from her mouth as she tore down the corridor and was lost to sight and sound as the wizard closed the door to the queen’s chamber. 

Queen Hespa poured herself a glass of wine and sat down in her favorite chair overlooking the window. “Come, wizard, join me.”

Sapius took the second chair beside the queen but did not take a glass of wine. He brought out his pipe, stoking and igniting it without a word, nor a look at the queen. 

“You don’t approve,” Hespa said, sipping from her glass. 

The wizard maintained his silence, peering out the window at the darkness. 

“Loosen your tongue, Sapius, lest I loosen it for you.”

“Madam, it seems improper to punish the princess for the consequences of carrying on as you wished her to,” said the wizard. 

“Can’t you see?” Hespa said, her voice irritable. “Banishing her will secure my safety. It will be impossible for her to ever feel affection for me.” 

“I daresay, Your Highness, that there was very little danger of that to begin with,” Sapius spoke softly, taking care to keep the disdain out of his voice. 

Hespa drained her glass and scoffed. “Ha! What knows a wizard of the trials of a mother, or a queen, especially one whose daughter is cursed in such a dangerous way?” Staggering a little, Hespa lurched to her feet, making for the wine again. 

“Quite right, Highness,” Sapius said, also rising to his feet. “May I depart, I have pressing business to tend to.”

“Yes, begone with you, Sapius,” snarled the queen, overflowing her goblet as she poured. “Begone with your judgmental words of which I have no need.” 

Without a word, the wizard departed, leaving the queen alone in her chamber, clutching an overflowing goblet of wine and staring at her reflection in the window. Her eyes focused on the outside world and her blood ran cold for a moment. Beyond that window, endless blackness with the pinpoints of light denoting civilization as campfires burned, each tended by a subject who may or may not want to murder her. 

She hurled the goblet at the reflection, shattering both it and the window. Wine splattered everywhere.

“See what you’ve done?” she shrieked at the door Alasin had exited. “See what you have wrought?”

When no answer was forthcoming, Hespa pulled the green cord hanging from the ceiling. A bell tolled somewhere in the castle. After a moment, a rapping sound came at the door and a handmaiden entered, looking apprehensive. 

“You summoned, Mightiness?”

“Bring me more wine and a fresh goblet,” Hespa said. “And get someone up here to fix this window, it’s as cold as death.”

“Your will, Highness.” The maiden bowed and retreated.

My Darling Dead: Episode 7 | The Assassin

The captain of the guard, Bortix Legional, stood atop the walls, looking down into the valley. It smelled like rain, and he was looking forward to being indoors for the night, having done his share of guard duties in seasons past. He was distracted from his vigil by the clattering of footsteps as a figure made its way up the dim steps. 

“Beggin yer pardon, sir,” the voice of Klinden the guardsman said, mounting the last step and turning to join Bortix at the battlements, “but there has been an unusual report from the northern realm.”

Bortix rolled his eyes. “There are always unusual reports from the northern realm, Mister Klinden,” he said. “Continue.” He reached into his shoulder bag for his pouch of tobacco and pipe, loading it and striking a match as Klinden continued. 

“Farmer in the near north sez that he came into his abode and beheld a man who resembled a rat. He ate a dead mouse, then attacked the farmer, until the farmer was able to subdue him.” He grinned a little. “Not a pretty sight. Took a rock, an’–”

“I can imagine, thank ye.” Bortix inhaled and sighed. “What the ‘ell am I s’posed to do about it?”

“That’s a good question, sir,” Klinden said, nodding. Bortix glowered at him.

A young cadet named Stroveta sprinted up the stairs and skidded to a halt. “Sir! There has been an assassination attempt upon the queen!”

Bortix stared. “Say again, soldier?”

“Chap with a camouflage robe managed to sneak in somehow, the queen disarmed him herself before he could put a blade in her but she’s not happy at all. She commands you attend her in her chamber after you interrogate the prisoner. Sir!” The cadet threw a salute and stood awaiting further orders. 

Bortix raised an eyebrow at Klinden. “Mind the watch, Mr Klinden. Cadet, back to your post.”

The queen and her daughter had long been students of self-defense, learning from Bortix how to disarm and disable in case their guards should fail in some regard. Bortix, while instructing them, gravely advised that failure on the part of his soldiers to protect the royal family could result in execution, but that a headless guard would never bring the queen or her daughter back to life. So when the man posing as a servant made a wild stab in Hespa’s direction, she reacted without thinking, snatching the man’s wrist, applying pressure to a point in his wrist and twisting his numb hand up behind his back, forcing to him to the ground. At a shout from her, five guards burst into her chamber, swords drawn, spears at the ready. They beheld their monarch standing behind a stranger who was kneeling before her, tears running down a very red face with an expression of agony as she jerked his arm ever higher between his shoulder blades. 

“This scum attempted to put a blade inside me,” snarled Hespa, breathing heavily as she addressed the first guard. “Find out who he is and where he comes from.” She jerked his arm up savagely and a loud, wet pop reverberated in the chamber and in the ears of every guard. The man sucked in a breath to scream but before a sound could escape his throat the queen’s voice was hissing in his ear. “Suffer in silence or I will end you myself right now.” In her hand suddenly appeared a long slim blade, the tip a fraction of an inch from the man’s eye. He shut his mouth, tears streaming down his face as the soldiers jerked him to his feet and marched him from the room. 

Hespa paced back and forth in her chamber, her mind still racing. Her narrow escape bothered her, not because of her own mortality but because it spoke to the lack of security from which the castle suffered. She was not in the habit of looking at her servants as they attended her and only the quick movement in the reflection of the window had alerted her in time to turn and block her would-be assassin’s arm.

There was a knock and Bortix stood in her doorway. “Your Highness.”

“Enter, Bortix, and tell me that the slime has divulged his master and purpose and departed this realm,” the queen snapped, moving to pour herself a glass of amber liquid and sip from it as Bortix made his report. 

“Lady, the assassin was sent by the kingdom of Heyworth, in retaliation for the death of the prince murdered by the Princess Alasin.”

The queen’s eyes grew wide and she swallowed half her drink. “Did you learn anything else?”

“Nay, milady. Alas we were unable to get anything more out of ‘im, for the techniques employed to acquire as much knowledge as we did left the prisoner so diminished that he expired shortly after sharing that information.” A ghost of a smile flitted around his mouth.

“Good,” muttered the queen.  

Alasin stood at her window, staring into the darkness and at her reflection. She blinked. It blinked. She smiled. 

It did not.

“Good evening, Princess.” 

Alasin jumped and whirled, half raising a hand to strike before she saw it was the wizard.

“Sapius!” she gasped. “Announce yourself!”

“I apologize madam, I merely acted in haste to inform you of your mother’s wishes.” He spread his hands apologetically.

“What is it?” Alasin asked, her hands shaking. “What does she want?”

“It regards the fate of Prince Heyworth, madam.”

“His fate was known to my mother and she was unbothered by it,” Alasin said, doing her best to maintain her composure. 

“Yes, but that was before she had survived an assassin’s attempt to dispatch her as retribution for your crime.” The wizard’s voice was flat, but chills reverberated from it. 

Alasin froze, her eyes moving back toward Sapius slowly, her face an expression of horror. As if on cue, there was a knocking at her chamber door. “Milady, guards.” 

The princess’s face was the color of parchment as she stammered out “Enter” and looked with terror to Sapius, who only smiled in that infuriating manner. 

The guard who entered was a simple man. He had been a farmer before he had tired of the physical labor and joined the armed forces. He had no  time for theater nor playing games and was a favorite to play cards with, for his face was an open book. Alasin read on it now, fear and loathing as the guard looked at her. 

“Princess, the queen bids you join her in her chamber.” He stepped back, into the corridor, spear at the ready, waiting for her.  

“You could not honestly have thought that your secret would not travel.” the wizard said, sounding severe. “Three soldiers beheld you in the act of murdering the prince. We had them killed as soon as possible, but it was too late. They have told, and those have told, and it didn’t take long for spies to relay the word to Heyworth kingdom that Princess Alasin murdered Prince Heyworth with her poisoned blade. It took even less time for a cadet to spread the word that the queen has already narrowly escaped assassination.”

Alasin’s eyes grew huge. “You mean… does everybody know?”

“You may draw that conclusion, Princess,” said Sapius.

My Darling Dead: Episode Six | The Queen

Queen Hespa stood at the window slit of her tower, looking over the same woodland that Prince Heyworth had so recently considered counting, as she contemplated his death. She had known of his robust reputation and had hoped her daughter’s temper would dispatch him. Now his death would be recorded as nothing but a lover’s quarrel, slain in an act of self-defense. Unbidden, the queen felt a surge of affection for her daughter and just as swiftly quashed it.

Over the years she had seen the results of the succession of nannies who had grown close to the little princess, only to die with no mark or warning in the night. The castle and its servants had been questioned by the royal guards numerous times but no one had any idea why the nannies were dying. The queen had not told anyone but Bortix, the Captain of the Guard, what the fairy’s curse had been. The wizard Sapius knew without being told, and the three of them did not share the knowledge with any other as the death toll mounted. She was able however to surreptitiously maneuver those who had lost her favor to the position and disposed of them thus. This had gone on for twelve years until the princess had been judged old enough to take care of herself, to the relief of the matrons of the kingdom.

The Princess Alasin proved to be a nightmare in the castle under her own charge. She was demanding, bossy and on more than one occasion had a serving girl thrashed for taking too long to appear when summoned. The queen was not to be questioned, certainly, but there was a certain amount of muttering about “ the little hell-child” who treated them all like dogs. Hespa was well aware of this and encouraged it, knowing that only their unanimous dislike of the princess was keeping them from forming any sort of meaningful bond with her and sealing their fates.

Hespa pulled the red velvet cord which ran along the ceiling and down to the floor of her chamber. From the depths of the castle, she could hear the distant tolling of a bell. Within seconds a figure appeared, clad in the same red velvet as the cord, hooded in black.

“Lady.” The voice came from the red-clad figure, though it seemed to come from everywhere.

“See that Prince Heyworth’s body is satisfactorily removed,” she said, draining her glass. “That task will have been delegated to the castle guards, and I would not credit them with any maneuver outside of the defense of the castle.”

“Nor would I, madam.”

“See that it is done, and send the wizard to me.” The queen dismissed her royal guard with a wave of her hand and took a deep drink from her glass.

Sapius stood atop the south tower and studied the stars. They were bright, and the darkness around them was dark, but apart from that, he could discern nothing. He shook his head in frustration and brought up his pipe, stoking it with a special blend of dwarf tobacco he imported under an understanding. Sometimes the stars were obstinate, and it was better to just enjoy them.

A spark flew from his fingertips, igniting the leaves in his pipe. He closed his eyes as he inhaled before a banging at his door wrenched his attention away. His eyes opened, holding the smoke for a moment before exhaling a mighty cloud as he said “Enter.”

Bortix, the Captain of the Guard, stood framed in the doorway, his frame filling it. His sword hand rested on its hilt as though it were born there. “Her Royal Highness bids you come before her, Master Wizard.”

Sapius allowed a thin smile on his bearded face. “I’m sure she does. Let us go.”

They marched in silence down the tower stairs, Bortix following Sapius who was puffing on his pipe as though he were out for a midnight stroll. When they came to the queen’s chamber, Bortix rapped three times on the door.

“Milady, the wizard awaits your pleasure.”

“Send him in and go away.”

Sapius entered, closing the door behind him. The queen stood before the fire, her back to the mantle, her arms crossed.

“My lady,” he said inclining his back. “You wish to see me?”

“What is my daughter taking?” Hespa asked, her voice businesslike.

“As you stipulated, it is a harmless composition made to increase her metabolism and raise her natural aggression.” The wizard’s thin smile returned. “I daresay it is working?”

Hespa snorted. “She has slain that troll-hunting lummox without exerting herself halfway. I fear the day her temper should turn on me.”

“She would never,” Sapius said. “You would have to provoke her.”

“All I can do is provoke her,” the queen snapped, pulling a bejeweled flask from her bodice and drinking deeply from it as she crossed to the window, looking moodily out at her kingdom. “I’ll not run the risk of my daughter feeling anything for me but indifference.”

“A wise choice, lady,” said the wizard, and puffed at his pipe.

Hespa turned, opening her mouth to lash out at the puffing fool for his sycophancy but the wizard was gone. A second later, a single rap came at the door.

“Mother.”

She stiffened, the mask she had worn since her daughter’s christening slipping effortlessly over her face. “Daughter.”

Alasin stepped into the room, her face sullen and splattered with red. “Prince Heyworth is dead. I presume this comes not as a shock to you.”

Hespa restrained a smile, instead affecting a look of cold disgust. “It has been told already. How did this happen?”

Alasin moved toward the dresser which held a crystal decanter of the cellar keeper’s finest aged brandy, pouring herself a glass. “His very presence was unwanted and he was unwilling to accept that fact. He kept mentioning you as if it mattered. Let me express my appreciation, O queen, for bestowing that oaf upon me.” She drained the glass, glaring at her mother.

The queen had foreseen this, having gathered intelligence from the local peasantry in Heyworth’s kingdom, for there are no greater wagging tongues than those who toil beneath royalty’s lash. Now, the kingdom’s aging ruler, the last of his line, would be hard-pressed to father any heir, leaving themselves vulnerable to being usurped by the kingdom of Dandoich when the monarch passed. The wizard’s drug had done its job perfectly and it was hard not to feel delighted.

“Daughter, you have a few things to learn about how to treat royalty from another kingdom,” Hespa spat with ire she did not feel. “Heyworth was our guest and you were his host. You should have done whatever it took to make him feel at ease. The good of the kingdoms are more important than your petty feelings.” She registered the look of hurt in Alasin’s eyes and crushed her own hurt for causing it, turning away as if in dismissal. “Get out of my sight, you little pestilent, while I try and fix the damage you have caused.”

Hot, angry tears filled Alasin’s eyes as she left her mother’s chamber. She could not think of a time she had not left the chamber thus, nor a time that ascending to it did not fill her with dread. As usual, upon leaving she went up to the very top of her mother’s tower. She had come up here after her first big fight with the queen when Hespa had informed her that she would be caring for herself now and would no longer have a nanny. The thought had sent her into a tantrum and she had run from the chamber after screaming at her mother that she would kill herself by jumping from the battlements.

Now, years later, atop the same tower, she considered, not for the first time, throwing herself from her perch, forever ending anything she knew in favor of the unknown void before her. Once again, fear mastered her, and she shifted her balance away from the void. She looked up, taking a deep breath. The air, damp from the recent rain, was rich and fragrant. She smiled. It could be worse. There were some things worth living for.

My Darling Dead: Episode 3 – The Cursed

The Kingdom of Dandoich lay in the grip of autumn. Frost coated the ground in thick layers every morning and the chill of the night did not fade until the sun was high. Grilled meat for suppers had given way to hot, savory stews. Hollow gourds had faces chiseled into them and were set outside to ward off evil spirits. The last crops were being harvested, numb fingers digging into the frozen dirt with thoughts of when it would all be over. But always, there was a shadow hanging over the kingdom, one which necessitated looking over one’s shoulder more often than in the old days.

Since the fairy’s so-called christening, old-timers agreed around the fires at night, the kingdom had never been the same. The castle had ceased to be a place of solace and refuge and had become a symbol of uncertainty, capable at any point of sweeping down and wreaking havoc upon their simple lives at a whim. The rains came less and the crops were poor, leading many to take on the life of a highwayman to feed their families, roaming the road and preying upon unwary travelers. Violence became the first and only response for many and the number of murders skyrocketed.

Those who had attended the christening hastened to spread the tale of the fairy’s vengeance and the shrieking queen who had ordered them all from the room. None of them had clearly heard what Esemli had screamed at the end, but their imaginations were only too happy to fill in those gaps in their knowledge. They whispered darkly to their neighbors about the supernatural powers possessed by the fae, both real and imagined. Their neighbors, in turn, hastened to spread the stories to their own circles. Gradually, the fairies grew to be feared, then hated, by many in the kingdom. The fact that most of the people in the kingdom had never seen a fairy, and that those who had laid eyes upon one had only done so at Princess Alasin’s christening, did not stop their tongues wagging.

The fairies were not as scarce as they seemed to the peasantry. Some were capable of invisibility, while many had powers of disguise. Still other fairies were bolder, trusting the oblivious nature of human beings to protect their identities. This had been done by the fae for thousands of years, but now, they were angered and insulted by what they heard on the lips and thoughts of the peasantry. Emboldened by Esemli’s act against the royal family, they brought their influence to bear on the peasantry and were driving the kingdom into a darkness inhabited by strange creatures whose minds had snapped.

“’ey, you dere,” screamed the peasant Supik, raising a scythe in a businesslike manner as he stood framed in the door. “Git outta me ‘ouse!”

The target of his ire was a small, skinny man dressed in rags which barely clung to his filthy frame. Ratlike, he sniffed around the floor of the peasant’s main room, ending up under the small table. His nose brushed the small stiff body of a mouse, the latest casualty in the peasant’s constant war against pests. Before the revolted Supik could say another word, the skinny rat-man had opened his mouth and taken a great bite of the carcass, biting it cleanly in two and chewing with relish.

With difficulty, the peasant swallowed his lunch again. “Cor, what th’ bloody ‘ell is wrong wid youse, mate?” He held out the scythe, keeping the heft of the weapon between the two of them. “You c’n eat all th’ mice ’round ‘ere ya can find but ya gotter do it ousside, got it?” He stood out of the doorway, gesturing with his scythe, his unease growing.

The rat-man was not listening. He had finished his horrible meal and continued his search throughout the hovel, sniffing around the hearth where some stew had slopped out of a large kettle when Supik had stirred a little too enthusiastically. The peasant frowned and tightened his grip on the scythe.

“’ere, mate, yew gotter get outta here. Me missus and liddle ‘uns will be back ‘ere any minute an-”

Without warning, the rat-man leapt to his feet and shrieked, no words, just a sound of rage and insanity. He charged at Supik, hands raised like claws. Supik, who was not expecting anything of the sort, fell over himself in his haste to exit the building and landed on his rear at the foot of his stairs. Pain exploded up his spine from his tailbone and he howled. Over his exclamation, he heard the clatter of his scythe and saw it out of reach across the dooryard. His eyes had no sooner absorbed this fact than they flew back to the direction of his front door in time to see the rat-man scuttle down the stairs on all fours and seize his leg.

Supik bellowed in fear and agony as the rat-man sunk his teeth into Supik’s leg, gnawing and shaking his head left and right. Supik’s hands scrabbled around the yard attempting to pull himself away but the rat-man hung on, splintered teeth ripping into the peasant’s flesh and carving out great chunks. The peasant was roaring, bellowing as he thrashed, kicking for all he was worth and attempting to pull himself to safety.

Like a limpet, the rat-man clung doggedly to the peasant’s flailing legs. Just as he could feel the rat-man’s teeth scrape the bone in his leg, Supik felt a bolt of pain crash into his flailing right hand as it connected harshly with a large rock. Seizing it, he leaned up and swung with the same motion, connecting the rock with the skull of the rat-man with all the force he could muster.

Thwock!

The rat man continued gnawing, but his eyes were glazed, his jaws working slower. One bloody eye rolled in its socket, coming to rest on the peasant. Supik screamed and brought the rock down on that eye again, and again, and again, until the thing clutching his legs looked no longer even remotely human and the rock in his hand was reduced to wet gravel.

My Darling Dead: Episode 2 – The Christening

“Your HIGHNESS!” the queen shrieked, striding in and seizing one of the ceremonial swords which hung over the fireplace. The flurry of activity on the reclining sofa bed ceased as Hespa held the sword to the king’s throat. He crouched, pants around his ankles and robe pulled behind him, eyes watering with terror as his chin quivered.

“P-please, dearest,” he stammered, “Don’t do anything you’ll regret. Remember, I am the king of–”

“King?” Hespa cackled, throwing her head back. “When was the last time you made a decision, my liege? This has been my kingdom for years.” A movement beside the king caught her eye and she swung the blade to the right, the edge coming to rest against the fairy’s trembling neck.

“Esemli,” hissed the queen. “Don’t even think of doing anything foolish, girl. This sword may be a decoration but its blade is still kept sharp.”

The fairy looked defiant. “You would not dare. You need me for your daughter.”

“That’s the only reason you still draw breath, you little whore,” Hespa said and swung the blade back to her husband. “After the ceremony, we shall see.” She dropped the sword with a clatter before them and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her so hard the door frame splintered.

One of her handmaidens came scurrying up to her, about to speak. Hespa backhanded the girl with all the force she could muster, sending the maid crashing into the wall and crumpling senseless to the ground. “Guards,” barked Hespa, gesturing over her shoulder at the prone figure as she made her way to the courtyard. “Clean her up, we can’t have unconscious servants laying around during the princess’s christening, it looks untidy.”

Wendell continued kneeling for a moment in the wake of Hespa’s disappearance, closing his eyes briefly. Esemli busied herself restoring her own clothing. Her fair skin was flushed and her eyes flashed.

“How dare she,” Esemli muttered, straightening her bodice. “To raise a hand against one of my kind? It is not done!”

“Hespa has always been most strong-willed,” Wendell said, and sighed, pushing himself to his feet and pulling his trousers up. “But she knows the power of the christening and she wouldn’t dare prevent that.”

Esemli finished adjusting her top and spun to face him, hands on her hips, long blonde hair flying out behind her. She looked magnificent, Wendell noted with a sad twinge.

“Maybe I am no longer willing! Perhaps another fairy would be more suited to the job you wish me to perform.”

“I beg you, fair one,” the king said, taking her hand. “Do not deny the princess that which is hers by right, on account of what has happened here.”

The fairy looked at his hand holding hers for a moment and took it back. “I will do this, only if you finally tell the queen what you have promised me.”

Hespa swept up to the tower chamber which served as the nursery for the princess. “Prepare the main chamber for the princess,” she barked. The startled handmaidens immediately leapt to their feet and rushed out the door.

The queen stood for a moment, looking at the crib and at the sleeping child laying therein. A frown creased Hespa’s face as she approached and stood, looking down at her daughter. She sighed.

“My lady,” came Wendell’s hesitant voice from the door.

She whirled to face him. “Speak, dog.” She spoke around gritted teeth.

“About the fairy…”

“What, exactly, about her?”

Wendell opened his mouth to tell her. That he and Esemli had met when she had come to wish him well after the birth of the princess. That Esemli’s warmth and kindness had seemed so welcoming in the face of his wife’s increasing indifference, and the gracious attention he lavished upon the fairy had so taken her that before either of them knew it, a love affair had sprung up. That she had whispered that she loved him, and in the throes of passion he had promised her a life together.

But he could not bring himself to utter the words and suffer her wrath.

“She is just that, a fairy.” The king dropped to his knee before Hespa and bent his head. “You, though, are my life.”

Outside the room, Esemli’s eyes flashed red in their green depths as she retreated with the king’s words ringing in her ears. Her love for Wendell had been a beautiful feeling she had embraced with every fiber of her being, so unlike anything she had experienced in her existence. She had wanted to hear Wendell say these things to the queen, things that he had professed to her to be feeling as well. She had followed him, hoping to hear these words. Now, the path before her had gone dark and she walked willingly into it, her life illuminating before her only a few steps at a time. A dark roaring had filled the fairy, but on the outside, the only hint was the ghost of a smile.

Hespa sneered at his bent head. “Get up, fool. Don’t let your subjects see you groveling to me.” She pushed past him, knocking him off balance. “Get the girl ready to go. The ceremony begins soon. After that…”A swirl of dark fabric at the door and she was gone.

King Wendell pushed himself to his feet and crossed to the crib, hoping his daughter had not been disturbed. Her eyes were open, and when she saw her father’s face, she smiled. He reached a finger out and she grabbed it with a grin.

You are my life,” he said softly.

A half hour later, the princess had been removed to the grand hall by her team of nursemaids. She lay in the center of a soft white pillow in a golden receptacle that resembled a clam more than anything else. The princess’s eyes traveled around the strange surroundings and she smiled, melting more than one heart as those assembled smiled back, their hearts jelly. Her nursemaids busied themselves tidying the dais for the imminent ceremony, doing their best to avert their eyes from the fairy Esemli.

She stood behind the baby, her hands clasped behind her as she stood before the king’s guests, lost in her dark thoughts. Many in the audience whispered to each other as she stood before them, having never seen a fairy before. There were many crudities being thought loudly enough for her to hear but she scarcely noticed amid her own hatred. She burned with a rage, a fire so hot and black she would never have guessed such a thing existed. She burned as well with shame, for she remembered being told, many long ages ago, that the hearts of men were fickle and not to be trusted. Yet she had.

A hush and the multitudes stood as the king and queen appeared at the door. Esemli’s eyes flashed at the sight of them. Regally they moved forward down the aisle, her arm through his, both their eyes fixed on Esemli. She met their gazes and could feel the loathing coming from the queen. King Wendell smiled nervously at her and Esemli twisted her lips in the direction of a smile in return, feeling the thousands of eyes upon her. The queen’s lips pursed even more tightly as they mounted the stairs. The fairy moved to greet them, standing beside their child.

“We are gathered,” boomed the king, “to celebrate the christening of the Princess Alasin, heir to the throne and daughter to the kingdom.” He nodded at Esemli, and stepped back.

With all the eyes of the kingdom focused squarely on her, Esemli smiled and curtsied to the king, going lower than she normally would until she was practically to the floor.

“My king,” she said, her voice dripping sarcasm so opaque that the king, for all his poise, frowned. The queen’s eye twitched.

“I am come from afar to christen this princess, that she be favored among the gods,” Esemli said, rising from her curtsy and addressing the crowd. “That she go forward and prosper amid life’s graces. That fortune and fate smile upon her and all her kin.” She gestured toward the king and queen.

“But instead,” Esemli said, her voice hard. Wendell and Hespa, who had been smiling blithely, froze at the tone of her voice. “Hear me now.”

A darkness fell upon the hall as though a black curtain had been dropped on it. The torches all went out and the fire was extinguished as though by a giant candle snuffer. The screams started but dropped abruptly as a light swelled at the dais, illuminating the infant wailing from where she lay in the clam.

The fairy stood with her arms stretched wide, looking skyward. As her hands came together before her, a light appeared between them, at first a dim spark and as her hands grew closer, the light grew brighter. Her voice sounded far away and deeper, as though it came from the back of her throat.

“I am of the fae, and I have seen thousands of men, women, and children perish in my time on this world.” Her voice continued to rise until she was screaming. “Do you all think that we are nothing but ceremonial figureheads for your mankind’s rituals?” she shrieked, the ball of light swelling between her hands. “When you think of a fairy in the future, you will think of today, upon my oath.”

She began speaking to the ball of light as it continued to grow brighter still. Esemli’s face was contorted in savage fury, the light between her hands growing brighter until the king shouted, an inarticulate cry of protest and took a step forward. But faster than the eye could follow, the fairy howled a final sentence, the orb of light exploded into a blinding white flash that filled the entire room.

Hespa picked herself up from the floor where she had been thrown. The air smelled of brimstone and white smoke was hanging in the air. The fairy was gone. The princess was screaming. Dragging herself to her feet, she nearly tripped over the body of King Wendell. He was laying on his back, mouth wide in mute protest, hands partially raised. He was dead.

The princess was screaming. People in the crowd were getting to their feet, others were laying immobile. Hespa staggered to the clam crib and looked in. The princess’s face was a red mask of rage as she howled at the top of her lungs. Her eyebrows, such as they were, had been singed off. Apart from that, she appeared untouched. Hespa reached for her, intending to comfort her, then paused. The fairy’s final words loomed in her mind.

      “Henceforth, she will always know the pain of losing those for whom she cares the most. This begins today and concludes on her dying day!”

Then the king had shouted, the world had blown up, now he was dead and anybody the princess loved would die.

The queen withdrew her hand, willing it to stop shaking, and looked around her for one of the child’s handmaidens. She spied one at the back of the dais, getting unsteadily to her feet, looking shell-shocked.

“You, maiden,” Hespa said crisply, gesturing her forward. “Attend the princess. Remove her from here and return her to her bed, and send the captain of the guards in here at once.” Turning, she raised her voice, shouting over the hubbub of the audience, most of whom had revived and now were talking amongst themselves. “All of you! Disperse! Back to your homes, there is to be no further activity at the castle today.”

Looking dazed, they began moving for the doors, reminding the queen of cattle. A fat peasant near the front dared to venture, “Yer ‘ighness, weren’t there s’posed ter be a feast after–”

Get out of my sight, you mindless fool!” shrieked Hespa, a vein standing out in her forehead with a look on her face that would that night awaken the peasant in a cold sweat. “You bore witness to what has happened here, do you not think that I have other priorities than you feeding your fat face?”

The exodus hastened with the peasant man in the lead. Hespa was left in the empty room, staring at the dais.

“Highness?” said the captain of the guards, entering the room and standing to attention.

“The king is dead,” she said, her voice lifeless, “and the princess is cursed.”

 

My Darling Dead: Episode 1 – The King

 

 

As a hurricane is preceded by calm, the kingdom of Dandoich had known peace and prosperity for many years. The townsfolk fought, argued, lied, cheat, stole and generally behaved as humans do, but they were content within their sphere of existence. There had been the odd uprising against this noble or that plantation owner, but it was swiftly quelled by the kingdom’s royal guards, often without too much bloodshed. A true civil war had not happened in centuries.

King Wendell had been ruling the throne for over sixty returns of the season and had taken care to extract the maximum enjoyment from his posting as he was able. Wary of the fate of his own father, Rockney the Beheaded, he exercised his kingly power with discretion, well aware that he was ultimately at the mercy of his own people whose population far outnumbered him. As a result he was well loved by his subjects, who knew their grievances would be fairly heard out and attended to in a fair and just manner.

Today, the bells were tolling as though for a wedding, but with one tone missing. The bell carrying the middle C note had been silenced, and the altered tone of the bells told of the christening of the princess, and all hastened to the square to bear witness. Christenings were the common practice in the kingdom, but the christenings of royalty were done by a fairy, and many of those living in the kingdom today had never beheld a fairy in the flesh. They were mystical beings, rarely seen unless they chose to reveal themselves.

Queen Hespa looked at herself in the mirror, her gown’s dark green blended with her red hair nicely but she could have shattered the mirror and used its shards to cut her own throat. Her smile remained frozen as her ladies in waiting bustled about her, adjusting a stitch here, a loose end there, an unbasted seam somewhere else. They were a hive of activity about her and she wondered, once again, if today would be the day she would take her own life.

The king, ensconced in his own chambers, looked up from the wench servicing him to beckon another to refill his glass with the honeyed mead he preferred. Another set his ceremonial crown on his head, and he could feel his neck creaking. He never wore the enormous heavy thing except for formal occasions, and his daughter’s christening would definitely qualify if nothing else would. He took a mighty drought of mead and hiccuped. It was his third such mug, but with the fairy Esmeli appearing tonight, he would need all the strength and nerve he could get. He glowered at the servicing wench, who had paused for breath.

“Did I tell you to stop?”

Dutifully, she returned to polishing his boots.

The princess Alasin, not yet two months old, wriggled in her crib as her nurse changed her. She had no idea that her very existence would bring about the ending of the way of life that so many generations before her had enjoyed. She did not know that her father’s affair with the fairy Esemli would plunge the kingdom into turmoil for years to come. She simply slept, dreaming baby dreams, oblivious to the world around her.

Two guards stood at the entrance to the castle, bedecked in garlands and flowers to mark the christening day. Both felt like the posterior of an equine, but knew better than to remove them. The only soldier who had done so was now on latrine duty for being out of uniform.

“Cor,” grunted the larger guard. “’ot as ‘ell today.” He spit.

The other nodded, yawning and exposing several yellowing teeth. “Aye.”

“’most noon,” said the first, squinting at the sky.

The second looked to the sky as well, nodding as he did. “Aye.”

“I never seen’t a fairy before,” the first continued, looking up at the sky as though he expected her to drop from the clouds. “They purty?”

The second licked his lips, unaware he had done so. “Aye.”

The first guard chortled and scratched himself. “Where do a fairy come from?”

“D’no,” the second said, shrugging. In his mind, he came upon a fairy in the woods, missing most of her clothes, chest heaving. His manhood throbbing, he walked up to her and…

“I’ll thank you, sir, to remove that filth from your head this instant,” a cool voice whispered in his ear. The guard jumped a mile, colliding with the larger guard who was still staring at the sky.

Esemli stood with her hands on her hips, long blonde hair waving in the gentle breeze. Her dark green tunic and leather boots were of the deepest forest greens and browns the guards had ever seen. Her green eyes matched them perfectly as they radiated scorn at the second guard, who at that moment felt the size of a worm.

“A thousand apologies, Milady,” he stuttered, stumbling over his words as inane jabber raced through his head. “I was… you see we…”

Esemli held up her hand and the guard’s voice froze in his throat, though his mouth still worked, attempting to speak. “Do not finish. You will go inform the Lord Wendell that I have arrived and await his pleasure in his receiving room.” So saying, she lowered her hand and swept past them through the door they guarded as the larger guard followed, leaving the second guard to regain control of his vocal cords and pray the fairy did not speak of his discourtesy to the king.

When King Wendell arrived in his receiving room, the windows had been covered and the torches burned with a dark red light, casting large shadows in the room’s corners. Esemli’s blonde locks were a muted bright spot in the dim room, and the king made his way toward her, blood rushing unbidden to his loins.

“My lady,” the king said gravely as he approached her.

Esemli turned, the shadows giving her face a sinister cast as she smiled and dropped her tunic from her shoulders. “My lord,” she whispered, and moved to greet him.

Queen Hespa stood outside the receiving room door, listening to the sounds coming from within. There were no tears from the queen, only rage. With the strength of fury she raised a foot and kicked the door open with a bang. The sun was behind her coming through a window slit and it fell neatly through the door and illuminated the king atop the fairy.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 13: The Finale – Triplets

13: Triplets

She had always been there, since the beginning, when she crouched, afraid to come out. She spent her growing years watching with wistful longing for the world beyond the windows behind which she was rooted, imprisoned, helpless. There were moments where she was happy, fulfilled, but for the most part she was a silent observer.

    After some time, she began to feel stronger. Not so strong as to demand, but to ask. Little things at first, then as they began to be granted with greater frequency, she dared to ask for more, and more often. Finally, she began to take, and an amazing thing happened. The windows came down and she was outside, doing as she pleased. Even this became a regular occurrence, and she wept with joy at the sensation of being. Even when she was required to return to behind the windows, she did so with a raised heart, knowing it would be only temporary.

    Then the other came.

    The other was an evil bitch from the very first time it arrived. It started out bad and became worse as it got stronger. Soon her time out from behind the windows was being snatched from her with increasing frequency and she seemed to have little to no control over it. The other cared nothing for her or the owner of the windows and only sought its own gratification. She hated the other for its selfishness, and hated herself worse for the envy she felt for its ability to put the immediate moment above all else and act in its own interests. She hated herself for loving the moments she spent behind the mirrors watching it go about its disturbing business. It knew her as well as she knew herself, and knew that her anger, at its core, was nothing but envy. The owner of the windows was practically useless by this point, merely a shell, a scarcely sentient vessel for the war that raged within.

    She was alone.

    She watched as

Daniel took lefts and rights as rapidly as he was able, pushing the stolen car to freeway speeds between blocks. Cars honked as he weaved in and out between them and he ignored them. He wanted nothing more than to get away from all the noise, the shouting, the pain. Shooting a glance in the rear-view mirror, he saw a wild eyed creature with blood still dripping from its forehead and both eyes turning black. The eye shadow Princess had daubed on had smeared, dripping down from his eyes in gray tears. His coat of foundation had all but dissolved beneath his five o’clock shadow at this point and the pink lipstick Princess favored had migrated outside of his lip line. A messy blonde wig sat askew on his head, showing the wig cap beneath. The long black dress had become torn in multiple places and a black bra strap beneath it had broken.

Taking a turn at 50mph, he sideswiped a truck in an intersection as he blew through a red light and a moment later sirens bloomed in his mirror. Daniel laughed as he cried and drove faster. His leg screamed and he screamed back, throwing a middle finger out the window for good measure.

“Are you happy, Princess?” he shrieked, the car darting around a school bus and clipping off its flashing red stop sign. “Is this the kind of shit you dig, you sick fucking bitch?” The child at the front of the line of children crossing in front of the bus screamed and fell to the ground, his left foot snapped to the side from its impact with Daniel’s bumper.

The school bus’s red lights faded fast behind him as the siren and blue lights moved closer. Another had joined the first. Spying an alley, Daniel slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel, acutely aware if the alley was blocked he was going headfirst into the blockage. The stolen car ricocheted off the mouth of the alley and spun out for a moment before the squealing tires caught the pavement and it shot down the narrow road. Behind, three police cars braked in unison, backing and turning and maneuvering one by one into the alley.

Daniel pressed the gas pedal down as far as it would go, watching the flashing lights fall in behind him and begin to close the distance. Distracted by the rear-view, the car bounced off the alley wall and careened back and forth a few times before it straightened out, sending garbage cans flying. Ahead, Daniel could see a large dumpster blocking half the alley and turned down the next cross street with a shriek of rubber and another bounce off the wall. The stolen car had begun to steam from under its crumpled hood and its engine labored as Daniel raced it out of the alley and onto the main road. He held his breath, watching behind him to see if the blue flashing lights would follow.

He had allowed a moment’s relief to spill over him when four police cars shot out of the alley and with a howl of tires and engines came after him. Simultaneously, a helicopter swooped into view with a roar of clattering blades.

His heart shot into his mouth and Daniel stomped the gas pedal to the floor again. He heard the engine cough and screamed at the top of his lungs, weeping bitterly at what his life had become, at the shattered person he now was and what awaited him. He was reduced to nothing more than a segment of an episode of COPS where viewers laugh at the doomed would-be escapee driving his piece of shit car into the ground under the delusion there was somewhere to go. The thunder of the helicopter and the multiple sirens rising and falling filled his head and somewhere in there he could hear Princess laughing.

PRINCESS.

Hatred Daniel did not know he possessed flashed through him like igniting hydrogen. He glared into the rear-view mirror, past the bruised flesh and running makeup, into his own eyes, at her. He could see her in there and as he glared in hatred, something in the mirror caught his eye.

He focused on the giant shape in the background, tall supports, lines strung between them, the suspension bridge!

Slamming his foot on the brake and turning the wheel hard, Daniel sent the abused vehicle skidding around in a tight circle across two lanes and floored the gas one more time. The helicopter roared overhead in a loop as the police cars hastened to copy his maneuver. Daniel kept the pedal depressed all the way, honking his horn at cars who looked to be an obstacle. The bridge towered in the distance, rising up from the ground like a giant. The helicopter yelled something over a loudspeaker that Daniel could neither comprehend nor care about. He clipped the side mirror of a Buick and swerved away, honking repeatedly. “Get the fuck out of the way!” he screamed, his throat hoarse. A green sign loomed: MACNAIR BRIDGE ¼ MILES.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

Daniel’s eyes snapped to the rear-view mirror. Princess was looking out at him, both furious and terrified. “What the fuck are you doing?” she shrilled again. “Stop it!”

Daniel shook his head, grinning at his own reflection as they shot over the threshold of the bridge. “Uh uh, babe. It’s over. For you and for us. We’ve had it with your shit. You got us into this, now pay for it.” Cables surrounded them and the helicopter backed off as the police cars followed, their quarry now separated by only a few car lengths.

“So you’re going to kill all of us just because you think it’s best?” Princess screamed, fighting to grab the wheel. Daniel laughed and slapped her hands away.

I think it’s best,” Missy said, and she glared at Princess in the mirror with more loathing and hatred than Daniel had ever seen. “Do it, Daniel, send this bitch to hell.”

Princess screamed and went for the wheel again just as Missy took it from Daniel and with a hard yank, sent the car crashing through the barrier on the side of the bridge with enough force to send it soaring horizontally for several car lengths before it began to lose altitude. The bridge was not the tallest in the world, but the helicopter filmed the car falling for almost one hundred feet before crashing into the water and slipping beneath the waves.

***

Dr Bob Derrick, PhD, pushed his way through the steel doors leading to the private visiting rooms at the jail which were reserved for confidential meetings. The prison counselor was tired. It had been a long day, but Mondays always were. This was his final appointment before he could go home and have a cold beer and Derrick was hoping it wouldn’t be a two or three beer night.

At the kiosk, Derrick showed his ID to the guard.

“All right, Bob,” the guard said. “It’ll be Room A today. Who do you need?”

“Thanks Fred,” Derrick said, loosening his tie. “Dasham, please.”

Deadpan, the guard looked at Derrick. “Which one you want?”

Derrick paused in his walk to Room A, uncertainly written across his features. “Which—how many Dashams do you have here, for Christ’s sake? Daniel, Daniel Dasham!”

The guard grinned mischievously. “Ah, well, he’s not here, I’m afraid, Bob. We do have two others in stock if you’d like–”

Derrick’s sense of humor was almost nonexistent at this point. “I’d like you to explain what the fuck–”

“Settle down, Bob,” the guard said with a chuckle and spoke into the microphone clipped to his shoulder. “Dorm 3, send Dasham down to Room A for a visit, please.”

“Which one?” the distorted voice on the radio crackled back and let go with a laugh and a hiss of static.

“Go along to Room A, Bob,” the guard said, hitting the switch that unlocked the door. “Dasham will be right down, and then they can explain what the fuck to you.”

“They?”

The guard gestured go on with his hand at Derrick and turned back to his desk. Unsettled and irritated, Derrick continued down the hall to Room A and let himself in. A white table sat under a large florescent light, two black plastic chairs on opposite sides. Taking the seat facing the door, as was his practice, Derrick set his briefcase on the table and took out his Dasham file.

When the door opened, the man who followed the policeman in bore little resemblance to the photo Derrick had in his file. Daniel Dasham’s eyes were made up with concealer to cover the black eyes and smokey black eye shadow and mascara over the concealer. Foundation covered his face, leaving a smooth flawless exterior surrounding light purple lips. His hair was nearing his eyes and he tossed it to the side, out of the way. Though he wore the yellow shapeless prison garb like every other inmate, he wore it as though it were tailored clothing made from the finest material as he breezed across the room and sat in the chair opposite Derrick, crossing one leg primly over the other.

“Dr Derrick, I presume,” the man said, his voice light and cultured. He held out one hand, its fingernails adorned with cheap nail polish. “A pleasure to meet you.”

“Uh, likewise,” Derrick said, taking the proffered hand and giving it a quick shake before dropping it. “You’re Mr Daniel Dasham, correct?” Derrick glanced at the folder even though he knew perfectly well the name of the individual before him.

The man shrugged. “If you like.”

“What does that mean?” Derrick asked, opening his briefcase again and taking out a pen and a pad of legal paper.

“The body you are addressing is Daniel Dasham’s, that is correct,” the man said, leaning back in his chair. “Who is in control of that body is never a sure thing.”

Derrick’s internal eyes rolled. “Okay Daniel, who is in charge today?”

The man laughed. “Today? Try right now, this minute. Next minute it could be someone else.”

“All right then, who is in charge right now, this minute?” Derrick wrote delusional on his pad.

“My name is Missy,” the man said. “I was here first.”

Derrick missed a beat, then scribbled Missy on his pad. “Here first?”

“Well not before Daniel, obviously,” Missy said. “It’s his body, according to what’s between his legs, but I’ve been here as long as I can remember. I just couldn’t do anything about it.”

“When you say here, uh, Missy, exactly where is ‘here’?” Derrick asked.

“In here,” Missy said, and tapped Daniel’s forehead.

“I’m not following you,” Derrick said, feeling the ghost of a yawn creeping up behind him.

“Mr Derrick,” snapped Missy, “are you to tell me that you are the one mental health counselor on the planet devoid of understanding of the concept of schizophrenia, delusions, psychosis and split personality?”

“Well, I think–” Derrick said defensively.

She waved him aside. “See if you can follow me down this road. As near as I can determine, Daniel and I were born together with him in charge. I was inside, watching, powerless. As Daniel got older, he started to give in to things I wanted, mostly in how he would dress. He listened to what I wanted more and more and let me indulge myself. I found a job at a suicide hotline as my first “real world” job, just a voice on a phone and a few co-workers to fool, and I daresay we did very well. I don’t think any of them ever had a clue. He would often apologize for not giving me more free reign, but our parents are old-fashioned and would never have understood. I had to wear what I wanted and do as I pleased out of their sight, which fortunately was frequent with how often they traveled for business. Until one of their trips ended with their plane slamming into a mountain.”

Missy paused in her narrative, her eyes growing watery. Using a corner of her prison shirt, she let it absorb the tear to preserve her makeup before continuing.

“Them dying meant several things. Daniel, their only child and family, inherited everything. Hundreds of millions of dollars and assets were suddenly his. That doesn’t give Daniel enough credit, because he loved both his parents very much and would rather have died than broken their hearts. But when they died, there was nothing to hold him back from doing whatever he wanted. As soon as he realized that, Princess arrived.”

Derrick, his sluggishness a thing of the past, looked up from the two pages of notes he had been frenziedly scribbling. “Who’s Princess?”

Missy sneered and spat on the floor. “Id. Pure id, to use Freud’s terminology. Chaos, hell and misery. She has no concept of reality, of her actions, or of anything but the now. She didn’t have years to learn how to exist, from the very beginning she has had everything she ever wanted and what she wanted began to escalate quickly.”

“Did nobody know?” Derrick asked, incredulous. “Nobody besides you three?”

Missy smiled a little. “Our parents knew about me enough to send Daniel to a shrink who put him on a nice anti-psychotic, you can check with him if you want. Doctor Nathan, or something, whatever. Sometimes we took the pills, sometimes we didn’t. Once Princess came along, we only did the drugs she wanted to do.”

Derrick was still scribbling. “Amazing… how long has this been going on, Dan—er, Missy?”

“Daniel was a fucked up kid. He never did anything to animals but he would find ways to hurt other kids, ways that could never be traced to him. But there have been three of us since Daniel stood graveside at our parents’ funeral. Princess has been killing people for months. One day I said the wrong thing to someone who called the suicide hotline and they killed themselves. I liked it, so I started trying to convince some of the ones who called to go through with it, and got pretty good at it. ”

“Three personalities, all of them homicidal,” Derrick murmured to himself. “Fascinating…”

“Daniel and I both knew when Princess started killing for fun that it was just a matter of time but we couldn’t stop her. Daniel got an apartment in a shitty building to try and keep Princess away from our family home at the mansion, but over time, Daniel ended up being the one to stay at the apartment, while Princess and I spent most of our time at the mansion.” Missy snorted. “Princess wasn’t going to stay in that hell-hole, that’s for sure.”

Derrick flipped over a fifth sheet of paper on his legal pad. “How did you end up here?”

“Fucking Princess,” Missy snarled. “I had a thing going with a nice enough guy and we went to a hotel for the weekend. Unfortunately she came along for the ride, killed a shitload of people and we’ve been running ever since then, until that fucking attempted suicide stunt with the bridge.”

“Yes, that was on the news,” Derrick said. This is a massive understatement, the media is screaming themselves hoarse over the cross-dressing serial murderer at the head of one of the world’s most powerful shipping companies.

“I bet it was,” Missy grumbled.

“So, Daniel’s in there right now, with Princess, while Missy’s talking to me?” Derrick said, referring to his notes.

Missy’s sighed, her voice sad. “No. Daniel is dead.”

Derrick looked perplexed. “But you’re not.”

“Well spotted,” Missy snorted. “I didn’t say I understood how. All I know is that ever since they pulled us out of the water under the bridge, Daniel as I have always known him does not exist.”

“Oh.” Derrick frowned at his papers. “What about Princess?”

Missy’s face hardened. “Oh she’s in here all right,” she said, her voice soft. “The bad ones never die. She’s in here, refusing to take responsibility. Watching. Watching you.”

The buzzer over the door rang and Derrick jumped in spite of himself.

“That’s all for now, doctor,” Missy said, pushing her chair back. “But I’ll see you again, won’t I? I’ve never been able to talk to anybody and I feel so much better already.”

“Oh, uh, yes, certainly,” babbled Derrick, simultaneously standing, putting everything in his briefcase and offering Missy his hand. “I’ll talk to the guards and we’ll get a schedule and–”

“Good,” Missy said, shaking the offered hand once as papers spilled from Derrick’s file all over the floor.

“Will you be all right in there?” Derrick asked, ignoring the papers as he gestured to the rest of the prison. “With your, uh…” Derrick gestured at Missy’s makeup.

“Oh, we’ll be fine,” Missy said with a light laugh as the door opened to reveal the guard who would escort her back to the dorm. “We already have a nice boyfriend, and Princess knows how to handle those kind of men.”

As the door slammed shut, Derrick’s eyes fell to the glossy color photograph of one of the victims from the Rialto Hotel, mutilated beyond recognition. He shuddered.

Yes, she does.

   

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 12:

12: Dasham Manor

There was noise. Shouting, and the echo of a very loud sound in the very recent past.

Missy opened her eyes. Princess was nowhere to found. The sky gazed down at her, benign white clouds passing by on a distant breeze. She felt shooting pain in her right leg and when she raised her head, a white cloud of agony overwhelmed her as her head exploded. Her face felt wet and she tasted blood. When she raised a hand to her cheek, she saw glass embedded in her forearm. Her hand came away from her face wet and red. She tried again to raise her head and the cloud of agony came again but dissipated more quickly. She pushed herself into a sitting position and looked at her leg. It was still there and seemed fine but moving it was no easy task.

Turning to look behind her (no easy task but she managed it) explained the agonies she felt. The car they had been riding in was bent so far around the telephone pole that the rear of the vehicle and the front were nearly touching. There was a her-sized hole in the windshield and she had landed nearly twenty feet from the car after being ejected. The car was smoking and she could smell gasoline.

Grimacing, she pushed herself away from the smoldering wreckage and forced her bad leg under her. Pushing herself up, she staggered, catching a nearby wall for support.

“Hey, mister, are you okay?”

Missy’s eyes blazed and she snapped her head around (her neck screamed in protest) at the speaker, a middle-aged woman with mousy brown hair and a timid expression. The woman took a startled step backward.

“Oh, I’m sorry, ma—ma’am?”

“That’s right,” Missy hissed. She could hear sirens in the distance and cursed whatever meddling fool had dialed 911. “I’m fine. You can go. Thanks.”

The woman stared.

“GO!” shrieked Missy. Blood sprayed at the woman who jumped and scuttled down the street, looking over her shoulder as though Missy might attack.

Glancing around, Missy approached one of the cars which had screeched to a halt on the side of the road, a shiny red sports car. Its owner was shouting into his phone with his window down, smoking a cigarette.

“…seriously! It might blow up at any–”

Missy snatched the phone from his ear and tossed it over her shoulder. The man in the car goggled at her before indignation took over and he threw open the door and jumped out.

“You bitch! What the fuck–”

His eyes bulged and he let out a high pitched noise as she brought her knee up into his crotch with all the force she could muster. He toppled forward and fell on his side, hands between his legs, face very red as he struggled for breath. She kicked him in the face, nearly falling on her bad leg, and threw herself into his car. She threw the car into drive and stomped the gas pedal (her leg screamed) and the car flew forward, leaving the remains of her automobile in the distance behind her.

***

Detective Harris had seen many things in his days as a law enforcement officer, but the suite at the Rialto had been the worst thing he had ever laid eyes upon. A cold fury engulfed him, drowning the sickness he felt at the sight. This rage had served him well in the past and he used it as he studied the room and its unfortunate occupants with minute scrutiny.

Brian Jensen, the hotel’s night manager, nearly unrecognizable, his body near the door.

Jack Fleete, the bellboy, his throat obliterated by a scalpel which now stuck out of his eye.

Dale Johnson, US Army, his weekend’s leave from his post now eternal, his face in pieces.

Dennis Kramer, middle school teacher who had failed to turn up to teach class, his face mostly in one piece on the nightstand.

Long before a lowlife pimp known as Bitch Slap had flagged down a police cruiser and informed them one of his whores had been butchered, Harris had been investigating the savaged victims that had been turning up more and more frequently. He had gone to the address that Bitch Slap provided, and once in the room, he’d had little trouble recognizing the similarities between the flayed carcass and the only crime scene photos of Jack the Ripper’s handiwork. It had clearly been done for fun, and it fit the pattern of mutilations that Harris had been investigating for several months: over the top brutality with no discernible motive.

Harris made inquiries and soon learned that the room had been rented with a credit card in the name of Daniel Dasham. An internet search of the name returned dozens of hits, particularly for the surname. Harris clicked on the first photo which blew up to full screen. It was a blonde young man with thick glasses in black mourning clothes and tears on his cheeks as he stood beside an open grave. The caption reads, “Daniel Dasham, heir to the Dasham Shipping Line fortune, weeps at his parents funeral.” The article goes on to detail how Mr and Mrs Dasham were in an automobile accident returning home from playing tennis and were killed instantly, leaving their only child Daniel their entire estate. After some looking, Harris found the date of the photo. The funeral had been held in June, several months before the first brutalized body had been discovered.

The Dasham mansion was in a posh gated community at the far side of town, but with a little digging, Harris uncovered an address as far from posh as it was possible to get. Daniel Dasham had rented a tiny efficiency apartment in a building with which the police were intimately familiar. Murder, drug manufacturing, and human trafficking were some of the things its walls contained and Harris did not like being inside it.

When he stepped into Dasham’s apartment what first struck him was how little there was here. An enormous computer desk with four dark monitors stood at the center of the room, the chair pushed neatly in. A huge wardrobe taller than Harris stood against a far wall beside a vanity littered with cosmetics with light bulbs surrounding the mirror. A blonde wig and a black wig stood side by side on matching stands on the vanity counter. Harris reached out a hand and touched the hair. It felt real.

Forcing open the wardrobe door, he took in the variety of dresses, skirts and lingerie that were hanging neatly, color coded. A small basket at the bottom of the vanity caught his eye and he leaned down to examine its contents. He shone a small flashlight into the gloom and illuminated several fake breast inserts, their resemblance to skinless chicken breasts impossible to ignore. On a hunch, he lifted them out of the basket, using his flashlight, and uncovered a small blue pill bottle. Harris pulled a pair of rubber gloves from his coat pocket and snapped them on before picking up the pill bottle and holding the flashlight to its label.

DASHAM, DANIEL, it said. HALOPERIDOL. 5MG. TAKE ONE TABLET EVERY 4 HOURS. The prescription had been last filled over a year ago, the label further informed him. Harris shook it. It was full. A quick internet search revealed that haloperidol was the generic form of Haldol, a popular anti-psychotic.

The computer was still on and at a poke of the mouse its four screens flickered to life. Two were blank. One displayed a web browser, its bookmarks featuring makeup tutorials and clothing stores catering to larger frames. The other screen showed an email inbox and Harris’s attention was drawn like a magnet to a name from the carnage at the Rialto. This name appeared frequently over a period of weeks, sometimes multiple times a day. Opening the most recent email, Harris saw the reply “Can’t wait!” in response to Missy’s latest email to her current boy toy, Dennis Kramer, middle school teacher.

               I got our usual suite at the Rialto for the weekend. You know where to find me if you can get away.

               -Missy

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 11: Civil War

11: Civil War

“Ma’am,” the officer said, leaning down to peer through the window, “do you know why I pulled you over?” He was a large man with a stomach to match. His wheezing breath spoke of emphysema and many nights chain-smoking during stakeouts. Broken blood vessels stood out on his nose but his eyes were sharp behind them. They were busy eyes, taking in the interior of the car even as he asked the question.

“Not a clue,” said Princess, her voice airy.

Officer Benton, according to his nametag, allowed his roving eyes to settle on her again. The corners of his mouth turned down a bit more and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other as though it hurt. “You pulled out of that parking lot with no signal.” He gestured to the road before them. “Two lanes of traffic might like the hint as to which way you’re going.”

“Now now, hints would be telling,” Princess said, and giggled.

Benton’s eyebrows disappeared under his hat. “Excuse me?”

“I’m just fooling around, Officer. I’m awful sorry about that, I must have just been in a hurry,” Princess sighed. “Can you forgive me?”

The corners of Benton’s mouth turned down still farther. “Ma’am, I’ll need to see your license and–”

“UNIT 34 COME BACK,” the radio shouted without warning, punctuating its transmission with a healthy hiss of static. Princess and Benton both winced and he straightened up, his hand going to the radio.

“34, go,” he said, and the radio’s reply turned into a drone of garbled vowels and consonants as he turned the volume down.

Princess took a drag from her cigarette as her eyes traveled down the officer’s ample frame, his gut heaving as he spoke into the radio. Her gaze settled the butt of his gun, which stood right in front of her through the open driver window. Right there. So close.

Missy felt the idea grow in Princess’s mind and almost at once the hand not holding the cigarette raised from the armrest, reaching for the gun. As though in a daze, Missy watched Princess stretch out the arm they shared. The fingers grazed the butt of the gun.

NO!!!…

With a sudden stab of pain in her head, Missy felt the butt of the gun under her fingers and snatched them away just as Officer Benton leaned back down to peer in her window.

“Ma’am, you’re free to go, but please remember: blinkers save lives.” He tipped her a little salute and was stumping back to his car before Missy could even say anything. She watched, her limbs weak with relief as he got back into his car, turned on all his lights and pulled out with his own screech of tires. He didn’t use his turn signal.

“Sissy Missy,” sang Princess, the rage she felt at being balked almost palpable. “Can’t take a joke.”

“Oh yes, let’s steal the cop’s gun and shoot him on a busy street. Really funny,” Missy snapped, signaling to turn onto the road behind the cop who was now just a blue and red blur in the distance. “I really don’t know where you get your material.”

“Your problem is you just don’t know how to have fun,” Princess said.

“My problem is that I haven’t killed myself yet. I’ll have you know that the only reason I don’t drive this fucking car off a cliff or into a wall is that now I can take over you if you start acting like a psycho and if I hadn’t we’d be eye deep in shit right now so you should be thanking me for not killing us both by making that cop shoot us!” Missy’s voice had risen as she said all this until she was nearly screaming. An sports car that had been pacing her suddenly sped up, its driver irrationally disturbed by the thing he had seen screaming at itself in the car next to him.

Princess laughed without mirth. “You poor weak thing,” she sneered. With a sudden sinking feeling, Missy saw that she was no longer moving the hands she saw grasping the wheel. One of them let go and extended the middle finger toward her. “You pathetic little piece of trash. You think you have any power over me? You truly have no reason to be alive, and you will never control anything again, least of all Us.” The hands moved, pulling a cigarette from the pack and lighting it, then taking it out of the mouth and holding it. Princess stared at Missy in the mirror, eyes devoid of reason. “I will see you die, locked deep inside wherever you are now, before I tolerate your presence again.”

Missy felt herself go cold, wherever she was. She tried to do whatever it was that she had done to take over, to stop Princess grabbing the gun. Pushing with her mind clumsily, she shoved with all her might, her head aching, until she realized she was standing in the same place, doing nothing. Wherever she was, she could see Princess smile and blow a kiss in the rearview mirror at her. You bitch, Missy screamed as loudly as she could. Princess laughed.

“I can see you in there, Miss. But you’re never getting out. Maybe you haven’t figured it out, but I don’t care about what happens next. All that I see is what happens now. I guarantee, by the time we die, we will have had more fun together than you ever could have by yourself.”

Missy’s eyes, wide and terrified, suddenly shifted from the eyes in the mirror to the road behind them. Look out, she shouted.

Princess’s eyes widened and she jerked the wheel to the right even as the SUV behind them rammed into their rear bumper, sending the car forward in a wide sweeping skid. Princess fought the wheel and succeeded only in making the car slew around to the left as it crossed the shoulder and wrapped itself around a telephone pole with a bang and a sickening crunch.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 10: Making Waves

Episode 10: Making Waves

She drove through the city, her predator’s eye falling on each pedestrian in turn as she smoked, more out of habit than hunting. As much as it galled her to admit it, fucking Missy was right, along with that pussy bitch Daniel. She needed to lay low for a while.

Well, mostly low.

Taking an abrupt right which squealed her tires and left the driver of the car behind her swearing, she turned into a fast food drive-in and stopped before the speaker. The window rolled down.

“Ca…’elp you?” the speaker blared, much of its clarity lost in a haze of crackle and static.

“I daresay you can,” Princess told the speaker box, flicking her cigarette butt at it. “Give me one of those foul salads you sell, whichever is the most popular.”

“…m… tha’d be the gard…alad…”

“Whatever, that’s what I want.” Princess said, and drove forward to the window, braking just as the pimply youth within finished speaking to where she had been.

“Your total is—” he said, before catching sight of her. “Oh…er…” he looked back at his computer terminal to confirm. “Three dollars and…”

“Look, Clyde,” Princess said, reading his nametag and flashing him a grin. “Why don’t you give me everything in the register, and I promise you’ll never see me again.”

The boy was dumbfounded. “Twenty…three…what?”

“You have money there in that drawer, and I need it. Give it to me, and you’ll never see me again. If you don’t, I promise you that you will see me again enough to make you wish you had given it to me.” Princess smiled as a shark does. “You can call your manager if you like, but no matter what comes next, you will die screaming and your last wish will be that you had emptied the register when you were told.”

Clyde was sixteen, and was only working part-time to save up money for a car. His second dearest ambition was to get a girlfriend and take her necking in his car. His dearest ambition was not to get killed. As his eyes traveled over the creature in the car, he took in the red-stained fingers which drummed the steering wheel, matted hair, the slightly bared teeth, but what he would always remember was the sunken bloodshot eyes, devoid of sanity and mercy. He knew if he refused, he would see those eyes again, and right now Clyde’s dearest ambition was for that not to happen.

“One minute,” said Clyde, and punched NO SALE on the register. The door banged open and he scooped out all the bills, folding them into a wad and handing them with the salad through the window into the reddened hands.

Princess beamed and gave him a wink. “Such an intelligent boy. What did you say my total was?”

Clyde’s autopilot replied, “$3.23.”

Princess peeled four ones out of the wad and gave them back to Clyde. “Keep the change. Thanks!”

Clyde could hear mad laughter as the car pulled out of the drive thru, screeching onto the main road and out of earshot. He let out a breath he was not aware he had been holding and yelled for his manager.

 

“What in the fuck Fuck FUCK was that about?” Missy was howling as Princess counted the wad of money while stopped at a red light. “Are you just incapable of going an hour without fucking with someone’s life?”

“Partially,” Princess said, flicking through the twenties, tens and fives. There were a few fifties and one hundred dollar bill. All in all, about three hundred thirty dollars. “But every little bit helps.”

“You do realize,” Missy said, her voice shaking with fury as she nearly hyperventilated, “that kid is looking at the security camera footage with his manager at this exact moment and writing down the license plate?”

“I took off the license plates, after you left work.” Princess nodded to the plates in on the floor of the passenger seat.

“THAT was stupid,” Missy snarled. “Why don’t you just break all our tail lights and run red lights while you’re at it.” Lighting a cigarette and tossing the wad of money into the glove compartment as the light turned green, the car spurted through the intersection, turning right again into a strip mall. Wrenching the car into a parking spot, Missy got out with the cigarette clamped between her teeth, fumbling with the license plates. There were only three screws to attach the two plates and Missy cast her eyes to the heavens praying for patience. A thought flashed through her mind…

…why don’t I just kill myself…

…before she leaned over and slammed the rear plate onto its mount and poked the screw toward its receptacle. Her fingers protested as the stubborn screw turned by fractions, not helping her mood. Her teeth clenched as she forced the screw through several revolutions, then added the second screw, which was even more reluctant to be seated than the first. Swearing, she managed to get them both tightened to her satisfaction, and straightened up, taking a long pull from her cigarette as she looked around.

A man was coming toward her, sauntering with the overly casual stride of the Casanova. A low keening noise came from Missy’s throat and her fingers tightened on the license plate as she hooked the cigarette back into her mouth and marched around the car to secure the front license plate. The man followed.

“Hey there li’l lady, you need help?” His voice was dripping with insincerity and condescension. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him adjusting his crotch.

will this ever end?…

“Got a wrench or some pliers?” Missy said, not looking up, her voice flat.

“Got a Leatherman right here,” the man said, pulling one from a case on his belt and offering it to her. Missy took it, doing her best to ignore the excessive contact with the man’s fingers that he insisted upon as it left his hand.

“Thanks,” she said her voice cold as she leaned down to tighten the one remaining screw into the license plate using the pliers.

“Girl, if you want to thank me, you can think of a better way I’m sure,” said the man, his voice lowering. Missy’s blood boiled as she felt a hand crawling up her ass as she finished tightening the screw.

Turning, she caught his hand and held it to her chest, fluttering her eyes at him. “You are so right, my knight in shining armor.” She raised the hand to her mouth, pursing her lips as though she were about to kiss them.

The man’s oafish chuckle turned into a scream of pain as her other hand clamped the cutting edge of the Leatherman’s pliers onto his middle finger with all the force her hand could muster.

“Thank you,” Missy hissed in his face, twisting the Leatherman, feeling it sink deeper into his finger. “I really appreciate it.”

She released him and he ran, sobbing, for the safety of the building. Faces stared, at her, after him, some curious, those who had witnessed the entire scene looking far more apprehensive. Missy spat, folded the Leatherman and tossed it into the car. Sliding behind the wheel, she pulled out of the space and onto the main road with a squeal of tires.

“There’s always some fucking idiot,” she muttered, fumbling with her cigarettes. “Why can’t they just—”

The blip of sirens behind her snapped her eyes to the rearview mirror. They grew huge as they took in the police cruiser behind her, lit up like a Christmas tree. For a moment, Missy and Princess were both frozen.

Princess took over, calmly pulling a cigarette from the pack and lighting it as she pulled over to the side of the road. For a moment, she considered flooring the gas pedal, then tossed her head and smiled her nasty smile. She rolled down the window.

“Evening, officer,” she purred.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 9: Resignation

9: Resignation

 The sun stabbed Missy in the eyes as she opened the garage door. Squinting, she flipped open the glove compartment and dug for her good sunglasses. They weren’t there. She heaved a sigh of exasperation as she remembered she had left them at Daniel’s. Digging deeper, she extracted a pair of scratched gas station sunglasses held together by tape. She slipped them over her eyes and the sun’s harsh rays were cut in half.

Pulling out of the garage, she narrowly missed the neighbor’s garbage can while lighting a cigarette and punching the garage door button. Getting the cigarette lit was no easy matter, but Missy was no quitter and managed it just in time to yank the car back toward the middle of the road and away from the opposite curb. The mother pushing the stroller that she had nearly hit shook her fist and yelled something Missy did not even register.

Making her way onto the main street, she dragged deep on her cigarette, wishing she’d thought to bring a flask. Fortunately, the building inhabited by the suicide hotline was west of the community she and Princess inhabited, and the sun stayed behind her.

Traffic crawled up the street. Drivers honked and yelled, and she could hear a dozen different radios tuned to the same Good Morning talk show. She pitched her cigarette and rolled up the window with a snarl, cutting off the cheerful banter. Switching the input on her radio, she tuned into a USB drive with some of her favorite music. A hellish crashing and screaming filled the car, the melody only just discernible, but she felt herself relax almost at once. She lit another cigarette but kept the windows rolled up. Who gave a shit about a little second hand smoke? That was for people who were concerned with living forever, and as far as she was concerned, she was ready to check out just about anytime.

The light turned green. Traffic crawled forward. According to the digital clock on the dashboard, she would be late in ten minutes. This no longer had any effect over her and she settled back in her seat, lighting another cigarette before noticing she was already smoking one. She put both in one hand and smoked them simultaneously as traffic began to move at a more steady rate.

They both burnt out just as she rolled into the parking lot of the suicide hotline. She parked mostly between the lines, denting only one bumper on her way in. Pitching the butts on the ground, she slammed the car door behind her and made her way toward the door of the building. Once inside, she reflected that it was far darker than usual, then realized she was still wearing her scuffed sunglasses. With a noise of impatience she crushed them in her hand and dropped them into a garbage can next to the elevator as its doors chimed open. As she rode up, she looked at herself in the hazy reflection of the elevator doors.

Princess giggled and waved at her.

Missy’s jaw tightened and she was about to speak when the door slid open. The hotline’s night shift stood before her, about to head home to their own lives. Their collective step toward the door of the elevator faltered as they saw the fury on Missy’s face. She rearranged her features into what she was fairly sure was a grin.

“Morning,” she said, and breezed past them. They moved aside, murmuring the rote replies reserved for barely-acquaintances passing each other in the halls. She spared them not a look, but strode down the hall to the office door, weaving only a little.

When she walked into the office, the others on her shift were all at their cubicles wearing headsets. She ignored the clock and sat down at her cubicle, donning her headset and answering the already ringing phone.

“Suicide hotline, what’s your problem?” she said, digging in her bag for her cigarettes.

Her cubicle neighbor spared her a curious glance before another call took his attention away from her. In Missy’s ear, a man began a long story about how his wife left him and took his dog and children. He’s standing on a bridge, he says, and he wants her to give him one good reason why he shouldn’t jump.

“Why would I do that?” Missy asked, finally locating her cigarettes and switching her search to her lighter.

“Well… this is the suicide hotline, isn’t it? Aren’t you supposed to–”

“Look, Mac,” Missy snapped, her fingers finally locating her lighter at the bottom of her bag. “Why the fuck did you call here? Do you want to kill yourself or be talked out of it? If you want to be talked out of it, you clearly don’t want to kill yourself, so why don’t you piss off and leave me alone. I’ve had a bad enough morning as it is.”

She disconnected the call without waiting to hear a reply, rolling her eyes and digging the lighter out. She lit a cigarette, ignoring the aghast looks being beamed her way by those within earshot as she answered another call. “Suicide hotline, what is it?”

“I have a terminal disease,” said a lifeless voice. “What’s the point of going on if I’m just going to die?”

Missy took a deep drag and held it in. “We’re all going to die, genius,” she said, and exhaled. “You’re just lucky enough to die earlier than most.”

“I guess so,” the voice said.

“Think of how many people want to die,” said Missy, and took another drag. “You get to die without having to kill yourself. The waiting is over. You know how you’re going to die. All you-”

“I’m so sorry,” a firm male voice broke in. “You have been speaking to someone who is NOT employed by the Suicide Hotline, and I sincerely regret any trauma she has caused you. Now, how can I help you?”

Before the voice was halfway done, Missy felt a hand close on her arm, propelling her upward from her seat. She was turned, catching sight of her cubicle neighbor who had taken over her call with Terminal Disease and stared into the furious eyes of office manager Carol Olson.

“I think the lady I was just talking to had it right,” Missy heard the voice say in her headset before Elson yanked it off her head and threw it on the desk.

“And I think,” Elson said, her teeth clenched, “that we have had enough of your style of ‘help’, Missy.” She released Missy’s arm, nearly throwing her. “I have called the police and if you don’t want to explain yourself to them, I suggest you leave now and never set foot on this property again.”

Missy’s jaw dropped. Just as quickly, she put her cigarette in it and regained her composure, blowing the smoke in Elson’s face. “You couldn’t pay me enough to work here, bitch,” she said and grabbed her bag from what had formerly been her desk. Behind her, she could hear many voices soothing distraught lives. “KILL YOURSELVES!” she shrieked, whirling around. “KILL YOURSELVES NOW AND GET IT OVER WITH!”

The employees winced as one, and she could near numerous reassurances and variations of  “that wasn’t meant for you” being murmured soothingly into headsets. Elson’s eyes flashed and she made to grab Missy’s arm again. Missy evaded her this time and flicked the cigarette at Elson’s chest. The older woman flinched as it bounced off her and dropped to her feet.

“Keep your hands to yourself,” Missy snarled. “I’m leaving, just like you wanted, and you can pretend I never happened.”

She left the building without looking back and sat in her car for a moment staring at herself in the mirror.

“Smooth,” said Princess.

“Shut up,” Missy muttered, starting the car and reversing out of her spot. She joined the flood of traffic on the main arterial, driving opposite the sirens she could hear growing closer.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 8: The Noose

Eight: The Noose

“Fuck you!” Missy screamed, throwing her empty vodka bottle against the mirror against the wall above the bed. Both glasses shattered and rained down on the man shaped lumps of flesh in the bed. “You stupid know-it-all cunt, how dare you play games with our lives?!” She snatched the TV remote off a nearby table and flung it at the mirror on the back of the suite’s door. She caught a glimpse of Princess’s grinning face before it was extinguished with a crash. Looking around with red-tinged vision, she saw the large flat screen TV balanced on a dresser. Without a second thought, she grabbed it and heaved it onto the floor. A bright flash and a splintering sound, and the TV became no more than a paperweight.

“You can scream all you want, but what’s done is done,” said Princess, her maddening tone of calm superiority driving Missy into a further rage, which she exhibited by burying her fist in the sheetrock wall.

“This isn’t helping,” Daniel started to say, when there came a firm knock at the door.

“Mr Dasham,” came a stern male voice. “This is the night manager. Please open the door.”

“Now you’ve done it,” smirked Princess.

Missy’s nostrils flared and sparks flew from her gritting teeth. She strode to the door and yanked it open, the sheer force of her rage snapping the chain lock from its anchor.

The man standing at the door was immaculately dressed in a gray suit and tie, neatly knotted. Small spectacles sat on the bridge of his nose, giving him an austere expression that enraged Missy further. He took her in at a glance and began to speak.

“We have received several complaints—” was as far as he got before Missy snatched him by the tie and yanked him into the room, slamming the door behind her as he went reeling across the floor.

“What—” he managed to get out before Missy was upon him, pounding her clenched fist into his face. He let out a scream as his spectacles shattered, Missy’s knuckles driving the shards deep into his eyes and her fingers. A low keening sound was coming from her as she smashed her bloody fist into his increasingly bloody visage, pinning him to the ground with her full weight. She seized a glass from the shelf beside the door and shattered it in the his face.

Daniel watched, resignation washing over him. He knew she was only making things worse, but attempting to stop her would only cause her to turn on him. He could only watch as the manager’s face was obliterated much as Princess had obliterated those of her playthings on the bed. Red sprayed the walls and carpet around them as Missy kept pounding, heedless of her raw and bleeding knuckles. She did not stop until there was nothing recognizable to hit.

Only then did she sit back slowly, surveying the body upon which she sat. She looked from what had been its face to her hand and back, her own face a mask devoid of expression.

“Do you have—” she began, but Daniel was ready with a cigarette and a lighter. Taking them without looking at him, she lit her cigarette, using the hand which still worked properly and dropped the lighter in the mess on the floor. Her first drag was deep and slow as she sat back on the corpse and stared at the ceiling.

“Now what?” asked Daniel, prudently waiting until she had smoked almost all of the cigarette.

“Now,” she said, drawing deep and crushing out the butt in the red puddle before her, “we should probably leave.” She got to her feet, not sparing the bodies a glance. “You’ll have to get the glass out of this hand.”

Two hours later, Daniel, Missy and Princess were back at the home Princess and Missy shared at WestCrest Estates, watching on the huge screen TV as a reporter screamed about the multiple murders in a suite at the Rialto Hotel and Casino. Missy was chain smoking at a rate Daniel had never seen, her heavily bandaged hand holding the cigarette to her pale lips.

Princess piped up on occasion, providing spiteful commentary on what they were seeing on the screen and Missy spoke only to fling obscenities at Princess whenever she spoke, downing shot after shot of a brown liquor that smelled like whiskey but burned like fire when Daniel tried a sip. Missy’s refrain had begun life as “shut up, cunt,” and evolved to more creative heights as the level of liquid in the bottle lowered.

Daniel was silent for the most part, knowing there was nothing he could do or say that would make any real difference as he watched Missy contemplate suicide between sending barbs at Princess. He had more than once talked her out of following through with it. He could tell, however, that she had decided everything except how to go about doing it and knew she was mulling that over between spitting insults at Princess and drinking.

“Look at that bitch,” sneered Princess as the camera returned to the tearful face of the Rialto maid who had discovered the room rented by an individual known as Daniel Dasham. “Snot running down her face, can’t keep her shit together—”

“Well, not everyone is a fucking psycho like you are,” snapped Missy, and lit another cigarette with the butt of the last. “Not everyone can look at three destroyed bodies and feel anything but disgust, unlike you, you demented fucking whore.”

“They’re so much easier to fuck when they’re dead,” Princess mused. “I wonder why more people haven’t tried this.”

Missy sighed. “I could use a length of hose and sit in the garage revving the engine for a while,” she said, and breathed deep. “That’s all it would take, within an hour or two this whole stupid mess would be just another life and you would be more fucking dead than those men because somebody actually gave a flying fuck about them while they were alive.”

“Don’t you dare,” said Princess in tones of mock horror, unruffled. “It makes your face redder and more blotchy and you’re almost out of good foundation.”

“Shut up, cunt,” said Missy.

“If you’re going to do it, why not stick with a classic?” Princess mimed the motion of a razor blade up the forearm and across the wrist. “You can watch yourself bleed out, how much fun would that be?”

“Almost as much fun as watching you go fuck yourself,” Missy said, pouring the last drops of the bottle into her glass and throwing the bottle over her shoulder to detonate against the wall. “How about another bottle?”

Daniel eyed the shards in the corner and Missy’s bloodshot eyes. “Haven’t you had…”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Missy snarled, clawing her way to her feet and weaving slightly as she made her way to the hall leading to the kitchen. “How I got stuck with you two I’ll never know. I must be paying for something.”

She made her way through the darkened kitchen, not wanting the light. Navigating by the glow of the green digital numbers on the microwave, she took care to circumvent the rolling table in the kitchen on her way to the pantry. Her toe bumped a corner nonetheless and she let out a scream of pain but mostly fury, her simmering rage flashing to a furious boil in a heartbeat.

She shoved at the wheeled table with all her might. The sound of it skidding across the tile and crashing into the counter loosened something inside her, taking some of the tension. She felt better, not as much as while she pounded the hotel manager’s head into nothingness, but it was something. All the same, she snapped on the kitchen light and opened the pantry door.

Her fingers felt on the top shelf for the specially shaped bottle she had been saving for a special occasion. This wasn’t the happiest occasion, but it was certainly special. Cradling it with care, she made her way back to the living room and dropped back onto the couch.

“That’s a big bottle for rat poison,” said Princess brightly.

“Oh why don’t you go kill something and fuck it. Like yourself,” mumbled Missy as her mangled hand struggled to cooperate with the other and help remove the foil wrapping from the cork of aged brandy. Abandoning the attempt, she gnawed at the foil until she had loosened a strip, peeling it with her teeth and yanking the cork with a firm bite. She took a long pull off the bottle, and returned to glaring at the TV, which was blaring a commercial for a stain remover. Removes tough stains from carpet fast, the ad promised. Crayon, wine, even blood didn’t stand a chance.

“They’re at my apartment,” Daniel said, his voice even. “They showed it while you were in the pantry.”

“Didn’t take them long,” said Princess, raising the bottle to toast the TV.

“Of course not,” Missy grumbled, her eyes glassy. “Not everyone is as fucking stupid as you are.” She took another drink.

“Think they’ll end up here?” Daniel asked, but his question was rhetorical. They weren’t stupid, as Missy had said. It was only a matter of time.  Nobody answered.

The news came back on, discussing an earthquake on the other side of the world. Dozens had died in a building’s collapse. All Missy could think is how lucky those people were, removed from the hell of this life without even having to contemplate it.

Eventually, the shadows began to fade as a pink glow appeared in the east. The special aged brandy had mostly vanished. Missy was nodding, and Daniel had just allowed himself to think that she might just fall asleep and give them all a break. Just then, a crow’s unlovely song shattered the tranquility of the living room. Missy started awake.

“Hm, it’s morning now.” She groped for the bottle and poured the remainder down her throat before dropping it on the ground and struggling to her feet. “I should go to work.”

“At the suicide hotline?”

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 7: Cast Die

Episode 7: Cast Die

The following is an excerpt from the diary of the individual known as Daniel Dasham:

Missy almost killed herself tonight. If I hadn’t shown up when I did, she would have. When I arrived, she had just dropped an empty bottle of pills on the counter. When she became aware of my presence, she froze, then snarled and grabbed for the already bloody scalpel on the counter. With some effort, I managed to get her to drop it.

“Let me go!” she screamed, yanking her arm from my grasp and lunging for the scalpel on the floor. “I’ve had enough, I’m going to be done with that cunt if it kills me!”

I snatched the blade up and threw it across the room, out of reach. Grabbing her by the shoulders, I drug her, kicking and screaming into the bathroom, where I forced her to her knees and slid two fingers down the back of her throat as far as I could.

Her vomit was explosive, blue from the barely digested bottle of pills she had swallowed and reeked of alcohol. It went on for some time as I held her hair and listened to her sob in between heaves about how she had just wanted a romantic weekend away from Princess and thought by coming here, things would be different, and the guy she had been seeing could maybe get to know who she really was, but then Princess had brutalized him and someone else and she was fucked if she was going to let Princess kill anybody else for her own sick fucking pleasure, and why the fuck did I stop her?

“Because,” I said when she had tapered off to ragged breathing, “if you kill yourself, she wins.” I reached over her and flipped the handle, flushing her mess away. Once she calmed down some and was smoking a cigarette, I picked up the scalpel and returned it to her. “If you change your mind, it’s your business,” I said, and left her staring at it as I checked out the bodies.

They were in pretty rough shape. If there were no “visible identification markings”, to use the nomenclature, they were going to need dental records to ID these two. One’s face had been mostly removed and I didn’t find it anywhere in the room. I have a nasty suspicion that Princess consumed it, but if Missy hasn’t drawn that conclusion I certainly don’t want to put that idea in her head. The other guy’s head was nearly off and his face was there, just cut in so many different places it resembled hamburger. I felt a nasty thrill coupled with a sick feeling in my stomach. Princess fascinates me with her savagery. Where did she come from?

That was when there was a knock at the door.

“Room service!” a voice called.

Missy’s face was a smoldering mask of dread and incredulity. “That total bitch ordered room service?”

There was another knock.

With the feeling of a child watching a flame he had started grow from humble matchstick to national forest, I called, “Come in!”

The bellboy, a red-vested kid of no more than twenty summers pushed the door open with the hand not holding the tray on his shoulder. The tray was loaded with what looked like strawberries, whipped cream and champagne. Princess clearly thought she was being clever. The forest fire grew brighter within me as he moved through the suite. I was relieved to see Missy had doused the lights in the part of the suite which contained the bodies, but the switch for the lights nearest the door were out of reach for both of us.

Missy intercepted the bellboy and steered him toward the coffee table in the second room of the suite before his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light. She had found an unstained sheet to wrap around herself, covering the worst of the bloodstains on what clothing she wore. “Thank you so much,” she cooed as the bellboy set the tray on the table and straightened up. “Would you be a dear and open that bottle for us?” Honey dripped from every syllable.

“Certainly, ma’am,” he said, tearing his eyes away from the front of her sheet which was showing more skin than was truly necessary. As he leaned over to take the bottle from its bed of ice, the scalpel appeared in her hand and in the blink of an eye it was thrust into the side of his neck.

His shriek was awful and it only became worse as she withdrew the scalpel only to plunge it back into his neck again, and again, until the sound of his voice had become a gurgling sound as he lay upon the rapidly staining carpet, hands locked around the blade which was buried three quarters of the way into his throat.

Princess(for it was she), plucked the champagne from its bucket and with a deft twist of her wrist, popped the cork from the bottle and took a long drink.

“Thank fuck,” she said, and burped. “I thought I was going to die of thirst before this got here. All the puking and crying and smoking that mopey bitch did leaves me parched.”

“Hello, Princess,” I said, and sighed. “I’m sorry to see you.”

She rolled her eyes and took another long drink. “Sorry to see you too. Want a strawberry?” She dipped one into a generous portion of whipped cream and popped it into her mouth.

“You’ve really fucked up this time,” I said, my voice conversational as I too selected a strawberry and doused it in cream. “Don’t you think they’ll be looking for this fellow soon?”

“Like they’ll come in here,” she scoffed. “They wouldn’t dare.”

“Are you willing to bet your life on that?” I took a bite of the strawberry. It was good, but not as good as one right off the vine. Princess’s face seemed frozen.

“Don’t you see?” I said, and chewed. “You already have. Missy’s too. Even mine, since I’m here.”

Princess took another deep pull from the champagne bottle. Her eyes darted around the room, reminding me of a caged animal as she took in the blood that had spread far and wide, the two dead and mutilated bodies on the bed, the indelible stain becoming more so every minute the hapless bellboy bled out onto the carpet. I had never seen her appreciate the consequences of her actions and it was most enjoyable. Still, it was Missy’s ass too.

“If you get out of here now, you’ll have some time to put some distance between you and this place.” I chose another strawberry, anointed it in cream and consumed it. “I think you may have really done it this time though. Did you use your name—I mean Missy’s to book the room?”

She looked at me like I was an idiot and smirked. “No. She used your name, Daniel.

That’s all for now.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 6: Romantic Getaway

Six: Romantic Getaway

Missy awoke from darkness to darkness. It was so closely packed around her that she could not breathe and for a moment her disorientation was complete. She was spinning. In a panic, she glanced around and her eyes fell upon the unfamiliar green clock radio. Its very unfamiliarity jogged her memory and with a snap, darkness took on the shape of the suite at the Rialto Hotel.

She sighed and reached out her left hand to the bedside table. Her fingers found the switch to the lamp and a soft glow filled her corner of the room. She stared at the ceiling, feeling her heart rate slow back to normal. Again, her hand reached out and found her pack of cigarettes. She brought them to her chest and extracted one, tossing the pack back on the table and reaching for her lighter. She couldn’t find it. A sigh of exasperation and she levered herself up on one elbow, looking for the damn thing. She froze.

In the bed beside her lay a piece of meat in the shape of a man. It had once been alive, but its resemblance to human features was so vague as to be considered coincidental. Blood covered the sheets and slicked the raw flesh of what could once have been a face. What may have been a mouth gaped, and where a tongue could have been, the suggestion of a mouth gaped empty.

Missy’s eyes traveled up and down the lump in the sheets beside her, before moving back to the bedside table. Her lighter had migrated to the farthest edge and was in danger of falling behind the table. She snatched it and lit her cigarette, inhaling deeply before turning her head to gaze again at what was beside her. A vein was throbbing in her neck and her cheeks were flaming red, otherwise she appeared unperturbed. She was, in fact, contemplating the logistics which went into the manufacture of her cigarette, because if she didn’t think about something mundane, then she would have to think about what Princess had done…

The knock at the door brought an avalanche of memory to her, stopping Missy in mid-smoke. She had originally come to this swanky place for an evening of physical intimacy with the man she was currently seeing. She had come here early to wait for him, and she had somehow lost track of the time. Now it was later, and Dennis Nelson was knocking at the door, likely with a bouquet of flowers in his hand.

“Hey, it’s Denny,” the knock again. “You there, Miss?”

She stood up, stuck the smoke in her mouth, and swirled one of the Rialto’s white fuzzy bathrobes around herself before shutting the light off. Stopping at the mirror beside the door to the suite, she snapped the light on, leaving the rest of the suite in darkness. Taking a look at herself, she pulled the opening to her robe farther apart, down to the navel, then past it.

“Coming, baby,” Princess said, and answered the door.

Dennis Nelson stood at the door, a bouquet of cheap gas station flowers in his hand, a growing rod in his pants. Missy never said come over and bone, but he knew what it meant when she invited him to a hotel room to Netflix and chill. Sometimes they even watched Netflix.

The door swung open and Missy stood there, a fluffy white bathrobe open to the sash with a salacious grin on her face. “Hey.”

Dennis grinned. “Hey baby, these are for you.” He held out the flowers.

She took them, buried her face in them, inhaled deeply. “Mmm.” She looked at him. “They smell as good as I bet you taste.”

He blinked. “Uh, I—”

“Come in,” she said and yanked him across the threshold. Before the door snapped shut behind him, she was forcing her tongue down his throat as she rubbed his crotch.

“Whoa, Miss—” Dennis attempted to say around her tongue, vaguely wondering why he was complaining. “You okay?”

“I’m drunk,” she purred in his ear, chewing on his lobe. “You should be too.”

He chuckled, sliding his hands up her sides toward her breasts. “Okay, honey, where’s the booze?”

She kissed him, hard, and shoved him against the wall. “You stay right there, and I’ll get you some.” She went behind the bar in the first room of the suite and he heard the clink of glass and the swish of liquor in the gloom.

“This is a nice place, baby,” he said, surreptitiously adjusting himself. “You been here before?”

There was a crunching sound as she replied, “No, I just looked for the nicest place I could find, just to show you how much I appreciate you.” She smiled as she came around the bar holding two cups half full of brown liquid which reeked of whiskey. She handed one to him and tapped the rim of hers against his. “Cheers.”

He was touched and downed his glass, barely noticing the gritty substance clinging to the bottom of the cup as she did the same before launching herself onto him and kissing him with such force his lips felt bruised against his teeth. He had never known her to be so aggressive.

“I want you,” she growled in his ear as she steered him back into the darkness.

He tried to reciprocate but her tongue was down his throat again and all he could do was try to breathe until his feet stopped moving and he was tossed onto what felt like a wet sticky mattress. The sheets stuck to his skin as she crawled on top of him, shedding the bathrobe as she did. He tried to reach up and to her breasts but found his hands were moving in slow motion, and only with the greatest of effort.

“Mi…ss…y,” he said, his jaw feeling as though it weighed a thousand pounds. She laughed as she pushed his hands down to his sides.

“What makes you think you are speaking to Missy?” she hissed in his ear, biting it hard this time. A cry of pain escaped his locked jaw and his eyes bulged in terror as she straightened up, blood from his ear dripping down her chin.

“Welcome to the party,” Princess said and turned on the bedside lamp again. Dennis screamed, his rolling eyes taking in the gore-soaked sheets on which he was pinned and the body-shaped mass of flesh which once had been a breathing human being which lay beside him. His screams were muffled when Princess pressed her lips to his once again as she lifted the scalpel she had bought on Amazon to his face and began cutting.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 5: A Matter of Taste

Five: A Matter of Taste

The Rialto Hotel and Casino was one of the largest of its sort, stretching fifteen stories into the air and covering half a city block. Gold lions nearly twenty feet high stood guard over the valet parking zone, and the sky was projected onto the ceiling inside by clever use of live video feeds and LCD screens. In the dimly lit chaos of the main floor, blue and purple lights from the corners gave it an ethereal feel among the chorus of slot machines, laughter and the occasional yell of glee as someone struck a jackpot.

Through this cacophony, Dale Johnson drug his small suitcase by the wheels. It was just big enough to fit under an airliner’s seat back. It didn’t have to be large, this was only three days leave from his post, and he was hoping not to spend much time clothed anyway. His army uniform chafed at his neck under his blonde buzz cut and he longed to be rid of it. He had already returned the salute of several drunken patrons who thanked him for his service. He didn’t feel the need to inform them that he had barely made it through boot camp and was little more than a glorified security guard on the local base. Better to let them think he had just returned from the front line(wherever those might be these days) as a war hero.

He glimpsed the elevators and struggled to pull his room’s key card from his tight uniform pocket. Confirming these went to the correct floor, he altered his course and was soon standing before one, staring at himself reflected in the brightly polished elevator doors as the green arrow beside them informed him that one was on its way down. His face was pocked by adolescent acne and he all too well remembered the shouts and jeers from his fellow students growing up as he battled with the red spots on his face and his slowly shrinking belly.

Well, he would show them now. His face had nothing but a ghost of his former spottiness and he was fit and trim, a real lady-killer. He was on leave for the next three days with the goal of fucking as many bitches as he could get into his room, making up for lost time. His first dalliance with the fairer sex had been on his prom night when Sandy Caltrop had rolled her eyes in the back of his mother’s station wagon and said if he was done he may as well get off of her because she had to be home before midnight. That had also been his only dalliance, for he had been shipped off to boot camp hours after his graduation, with that one liaison under his belt. Now, with his improved physique and smoldering resentment, he was on a quest to get his dick wet and keep it wet for three days. Prostitution was not legal, but his friends in boot had told him a few workarounds he was quite keen on trying.

The elevator door chimed and rolled open. Two giggling blondes with short skirts and shorter tops tumbled out, giving him only a passing glance. The same could not be said for Dale Johnson, who ogled their asses so long the elevator nearly left without him. Coming back to reality, he shoved a hand through the narrowing slot, causing the doors to spring open again. Entering the elevator, he punched the button for the 15th floor and resumed watching the blondes until the elevator doors hid them from his view.

As he rode up, he was treated to an increasingly grand view of the city, stretched out beneath the rising elevator’s glass walls. Farther down the block, he could see a huge woman made of pink neon lights with impossibly large breasts and spread legs, an enormous wink, and hands pointing between the legs with a sign saying “Cum On In.” He had seen the sign from the street level in the Uber he had summoned to pick him up from the airport and knew she was pointing toward the door of one of the nearest strip clubs. His penis stirred as he thought about what was in the club and he promised himself that after a quick shower and change of clothes, that would be his first stop.

The elevator chimed and the doors purred open. An expanse of beige and crimson patterned carpet stretched out before him. The corridor went on for what seemed like an eternity, crossroads to other rooms every so often meeting its expanse. Consulting his key card once again, Dale set off down the hall toward his room at the farthest end from the elevators. As he walked, he heard shouts, laughter, and once, a scream from the rooms he passed. Others were silent.

Passing one of the crossroads, Dale’s eyes flicked to the right as one of the doors down the hall leading to the right was cracked open. A head with long blonde hair came out first, the face with the unmistakable look of makeup that had been scrupulously applied, then destroyed in a bout of passion. The eyes were blue and rimmed with black that had smeared down the cheeks to where lips of red had been nearly worn off. Below the messy hair, a nearly see-through negligee which clung by one strap left almost nothing to the imagination, open down the thorax and a hem just below the waist.

Princess smiled at Dale and slid the one remaining strap down her pale shoulder. The negligee clung only to a prayer as Dale came to a halt, his mouth hanging open. His hand loosened its grip on his luggage and it fell to the ground.

She blew him a kiss and turned to disappear back behind her door. Just before passing over its threshold, she turned and looked at him once more and beckoned with one finger. She did not shut the door behind her.

A large grin on his face and straining his briefs, Dale strutted down the corridor, leaving his bag in the middle of the hallway. Coming to the blonde’s door, he pushed through and shut it behind him, setting the chain stop on its runner. He adjusted himself.

“Where you at, baby?”

The answer came from the darkened end of what had to be a suite, judging by its resonances. “Back here, mister. I hope you’re ready to party.”

Dale grinned a big, ugly grin. “Better believe it, babe. This bad boy is ready to get… Why is it so dark in here?” It was, too. Even now that his eyes had adjusted to the gloom, he could barely see outlines.

“I like it in the dark,” the voice said, petulant, slightly raised. “If you don’t like it you can get the fuck out!”

“No, no, that’s cool, that’s… kinky,” Dale said, his mind clumsily pawing through adjectives. “So, uh…” he moved forward, toward the voice. “Wanna get nasty?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” said the voice, now sounding coy and inviting. “Come and find me.”

Dale thought about asking for some light, then decided the bitch would probably start yelling again. Well, whatever. He could pretend he was blind if it would get him laid. He started across the room and immediately tripped over something. The voice giggled as he clawed his way upright.

“Careful, clumsy, we don’t want you too busted up yet.”

Stretching his arms out before him like a child playing Blindman’s Bluff, Dale felt around with his feet even as his mind turned over her words, in particular, the implications within the word “yet.”

The voice sighed and tsked. “We’ll be here all night at this rate. Here.”

A click and shadows leaped up the walls around the little bedside lamp. There were vague shapes around what was not a suite but a large double room, with a threshold separating the two by several inches. At the far end, the lamp sat beside a huge bed covered in plush purple fabric. Beneath a huge thick comforter, Princess fluttered her eyelashes as she tossed her negligee toward Dale.

“Is that better?”

Dale’s brain ceased functioning as he accelerated his movements toward the bed. Once he was between the sheets and naked, she grabbed him with more force than he was expecting and he barely stifled a yelp.

“Whassamatter,” she purred, sharp nails digging into his most sensitive skin. “Doncha like it rough?”

“Oh-oh ye—” he tried to say but then her lips were mashed against his and he was struggling to pull his tongue from between her teeth. The pain in his tongue kept growing until he heard a ghastly sound in his mouth and she released him, laughing.

His tongue was in agony and he automatically raised his hands to his mouth, assessing the damage. His fingers jerked as they touched the ragged edge of the tip of his tongue, which was now missing a piece about the size of a dime. His eyes, however, were the size of silver dollars as he looked at her in the lamplight. She was chewing and grinning at him. As he stared, numb with horror, she swallowed.

“You… you just ate my…”

“You said you were ready to get nasty, daddy,” Princess said, biting her nail and smiling around it. To his shame and disgust, he felt himself getting his erection back, which had fled as soon as she started chewing on him. “I thought you were ready.”

Dale found his legs and used them, pushing himself away from her as he threw the sheet back, his voice hitching between sobs and trying to scream. Before he could get them under him and exit the bed, she was upon him, pinning him to the purple sheets with her knees by his arms. His legs flailed as she slit his throat with the razor she had been holding in her other hand.

His legs ceased their efforts as his hands fought to reach up to grab the leaking folds of his neck. Her knees never left his arms as she slashed at his neck, then his face, then his chest, every swipe of the razor opening up more of him. Blood splashed up, sprinkling Princess with red drops. She dropped the blade and kissed the meat that had once been Dale Johnson’s face, forcing her tongue between his dying lips as she moaned into his mouth.

Outside, two honeymooners passed by the door and paused just long enough to give each other knowing looks.

“Sounds like they’re enjoying themselves in there.”

She pressed herself against him. “Not half as much as you will be in a moment.”

They hurried on, not noticing Dale Johnson’s abandoned bag. Later, a maid would deliver it to the lost and found. It would never be claimed.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 4: Problem Solving

Four: Problem Solving

The following is an excerpt from the diary of the individual known as Daniel Dasham:

Missy came over tonight after work.

Princess came too.

Missy blames me for not being able to keep Princess in line. She’s right, but really, what can I do? Missy can’t keep her in line either. Princess is a law unto herself, coming and going as she pleases, and no one can tell her what to do. Our only hope is to convince her that she’s not as smart as she thinks she is, and that sooner or later she’s going to destroy herself as well as Missy.

The police came as well. Their timing could not have been more perfect. Right as Princess was sneering about how clever she is, they knocked on my door to ask me some questions. It sure wiped the smile off Princess’s face. That was almost worth the minor heart attack it caused in Missy and myself. Fortunately, it was just about some of the recent break-ins in my apartment building, so I guess the police haven’t found out about my upstairs neighbors yet. They shouldn’t start to smell for another week or so.

I wanted to tell Missy about them when she came over, but she wasn’t in any mood to listen. When they first moved in upstairs, I thought I would go insane. It had been pretty quiet upstairs, the last tenants moved out weeks ago and the place hasn’t rented since. But now, there were two adults constantly screaming at each other and their four boys, all of whom run back and forth and scream as well. All hours of the day and night, with no rhyme, reason, or pattern. They moved in during the summer months and one of the only things that kept me going was the knowledge that they would be going to school soon and I would have at least some peace. The start of the school year came and went, though, with no relief. At first I thought they were home schooled, but I never heard anything even approximating school lessons from upstairs. Instead, there were deafening noises from some console game that I’m pretty sure was used to drown out the sound of the kids screaming, running, crying and vomiting when there was sickness being passed around.

The final straw was the day that brought a deafening, wall-shaking crash from upstairs. I don’t know what its origin was, but it dislodged the hook which held a globe lamp hanging from a chain that I’ve had as long as I can remember, a gift from my parents. The lamp fell to the ground and shattered.

Next time I saw the husband/father outside, I engaged him in conversation. I’ve heard from their screaming that he has PTSD from his military service, so I don’t know how he could play games like Call of Duty at top volume without getting flashbacks. Maybe he couldn’t, maybe that’s what all the screaming was about.

“Man, your kids are sure loud,” I said to him, a congenial smile pasted on my face.

He immediately assumed the defensive. “Hey man, just let them be kids, there’s no need–”

I raised my hands in a gesture of disarmament. “It’s cool, it’s cool, I’m not pissed or anything,” I lied, taking care to keep my jaw from clenching my smile into a grimace. “I just don’t know how you can deal with it.”

“Huh?” His face was blank, clearly not expecting this.

I moved closer, putting my hand on his arm. He twitched. “After everything you’ve been through,” I said, keeping my voice conspiratorial and understanding, “you deserve peace and quiet.” I didn’t actually believe that, but I knew that I, at least, deserved peace and quiet. “Those kids keep you awake all night and all day with their screaming, don’t they? How often do they all sleep at the same time?”

He snorted and swiped at his greasy hair with a dirty hand. “Fuckin never, man. I didn’t even want kids, but that bitch won’t even hear the word ‘abortion’ without throwing a fit.”

“Well if she won’t,” I said, “it’s up to you, isn’t it? You’ll never have any peace with those little hellions running around screaming.”

A wild light came into his eyes for a second, before being extinguished. “Yeah but she’s always nagging and yelling too, even with the Xbox going full blast I can still hear her. I can’t get away.”

“She’d just find you,” I agreed. “Bitches like that will always find you to extract their piece of your soul. Doesn’t matter where you go.”

“Yeah,” he said, and scuffed at the dirt.

“There’s only one option left, you know,” I said, my voice low. I handed him a white box filled with cotton, and something heavy. He opened it and his eyes grew huge when he saw what was inside. He looked at me in disbelief.

“I’ll never tell,” I assured him. “Your secret is safe with me.”

Having planted the seed, I made sure to water it whenever I saw him outside. He had begun taking walks, eschewing the Xbox therapy, and I joined him on some occasions, pumping him full of dread of what awaited him upon his return to their apartment. I never asked about the heavy little white box, but I knew he had it stashed somewhere, and I was betting his thoughts never left it for long.

Last night, he left for one of his walks. I didn’t join him, and he was gone for a very long time. He finally returned sometime after midnight. The moment their door opened, she started screaming. I couldn’t hear it exactly, but the gist was “where have you been, why do you keep walking out and leaving me alone with these kids for hours, don’t you think I need a break” and so forth. Normally he shouted right back, harmonizing with the children who would chime in as soon as mom started yelling. This time, he said nothing. I could hear her voice following him through the apartment as he went to the kitchen, opened the fridge, and he must have started drinking something because she switched gears and began berating him for drinking directly out of the carton.

Then, there was a loud bang.

She stopped screaming at him and just started screaming. I heard him clearly shout “NOW you’ll shut the fuck up, by God,” and there was another bang. She fell silent, but the kids picked up where she left off, inarticulate childish howls. From those old enough to speak, I could hear the occasional word, “mommy” and “daddy” being the most prevalent. For the next five minutes, their cries were all over the apartment, punctuated by soft thumps as those who could run did so, followed by louder thumps as Daddy chased them. There were more bangs, and with each one, the noise diminished by exactly one child. After the sixth bang, there was silence. The thumps Daddy made moved back to the kitchen, where I can only presume he finished drinking from his carton of whatever. I heard the fridge close, and he moved into the living room. The Xbox began blasting at its usual top volume before being turned down to a more reasonable level. I guess with no one left to drown out, there was no need for top volume.

This morning, it was dead quiet upstairs. No footsteps, no TV. A reddish stain was seeping through my ceiling in a few places. I went upstairs and knocked, not really expecting anything, and I was not surprised. When I had moved in, there had been a key to the unit upstairs in my apartment, for some reason I don’t know. Using it now, I let myself in.

The stench of death was the most noticeable, and blood. Underneath those smells were those of spoiled food, dirt and old feces. Mommy was still in the kitchen, her glazed eyes staring at the ceiling from a puddle of her own blood which was seeping through to my ceiling. The two smallest children, big enough to walk and run but small enough to be confined to a playpen, were in their room. They had been unable to run from Daddy, and had died in their pen, a gunshot wound in each of their heads. One had fallen on top of the other, intersecting at almost a perfect 90-degree angle. The sheet beneath them was soaked in blood.

Moving down the hallway, the eldest lay in a crumpled pile at the end of the hallway, next to an open closet door. I guessed he had tried to hide in it. Most of his face was missing, but I found pieces of it on the wall. It took a while to find the last child, but he was eventually located in the stained bathtub. At least the splatters of blood and chunks of brain would be easy to clean up.

Finally, I arrived at the family room. Daddy was laying in his recliner, his head tilted back, an enormous throat wound yawning at me as I came in. The pistol I had given him in the white box was laying in his lap, empty.

I smiled. Peace at last.

I went downstairs to my apartment and slept like the dead.

Until Missy arrived.

Diary entry ends here.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 3: Group Therapy

Three: Group Therapy

Missy steps back onto the street and as she does after every shift of convincing the desolate there is hope, she lights a cigarette. Inhaling deep, she closes her eyes, savoring the burn in her lungs and the rush to her head. She opens her eyes, and exhales. It is beginning to be cold at night and the warmth of her breath mixes with the smoke.

She savors her cigarette, relishing its toxic taste more than the air she breathes as she walks the two blocks to the bus stop. Several of the city’s homeless population inquire as to whether or not she possesses any money she is not currently using, or any cigarettes she does not intend to smoke. She remains deaf to their inquiries, and finds an unoccupied corner of the bus shelter. Checking her phone, she sees from a local news outlet that Debra, the unfortunate damsel from Maine, has been found with some of her head intact.

Missy is still smiling as the bus pulls up and offers her passage. Stowing her phone, she deposits her fare in the slotted box and finds an empty seat beside an elderly gentleman who seems to be asleep. Placing headphones in her ears, she loses herself in music as she says a fervent prayer that the man will not awaken until she has left the bus. This prayer will be granted.

Stepping off the bus and removing the headphones, Missy strides down the chipped sidewalk, stepping around piles of dog refuse and broken glass. She hears whistles from across the road and rolls her eyes as the catcalls start. It never lasts longer than a few seconds, for here is the double door at the base of a short, squat apartment building coated in peeling beige paint. Once through the door, the oafish shouts are cut off.

The metallic smell of burning methamphetamine no longer register as anything but a fact of life as Missy bypasses the elevator she knows to be broken and makes for the stairway. After three flights of dirty stairs, all of which reek of outhouse, Missy opens the door to a dim hallway stretching in both directions, in which rats scurry from the sound of her heels in the flickering florescent light. She raps upon the door nearest the elevator while fumbling in her purse, and within a few seconds the pinprick of light at the door’s peephole vanishes, before reappearing as the bolt shoots back.

Thick glasses are framed by thicker blonde hair as the door opens first a crack, then swings open to reveal a skinny young man, headphones draped around his neck. Silver athletic shorts glimmer in the surreal light from a large aquarium as he leads her into the living room where she flops onto the couch as he takes a seat in the computer chair installed before the four glowing monitors. Electronic music plays from speakers flanking the computer desk as the young man swivels, spinning the chair and looking at Missy.

“So…?”

Missy looked away. “Just one.” She lit a cigarette. “Where’s a drink?”

The young man looked on with disapproval.

“You said you wouldn’t-”

“I know!” She took a mighty drag. “I was stressed. Where’s a drink?”

“Why were you so stressed?”

“Because I need a fucking drink!” Missy snapped. The young man leaned forward and opened a small refrigerator, extracting a small carton of wine. He tossed it to Missy, who butted her cigarette in the handy ashtray before uncapping the carton and draining it. Slumping back into the couch, she sighed, and lit another cigarette.

The young man’s face showed resigned disgust. “Princess?”

“She doesn’t fucking get it!” Missy exploded, rising to her feet in agitation and striding back and forth, waving her arms. “It’s all just a dream to her! She just wakes up, ready to go and there’s nothing I can do to stop her.” She stopped before a large mirror and stared at herself.

“She’s in there, now. Watching.” Missy glowered at her reflection. “I can feel her.”

Daniel came up behind her. “Calm down,” he said, catching her by the shoulders. “You’re not doing anybody any good.”

Missy drew on her cigarette, averting her eyes from those of his reflection. “Nobody is doing anybody any good.”

Daniel drew back, frowning. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“You promised me you could control her!” Missy yelled. “You told me, when this all got started! You told me… you told me…” Her voice cracked. “You don’t have any fucking idea… what it’s like…”

“I’ll talk to her,” said Daniel. “She’ll listen. She has to. She has to realize this can’t go on.”

“Good fucking luck!” Missy said with a shrill laugh which reeked more of hysteria than humor. “She’s never had to deal with anything her whole fucking life! She’s-”

With no warning, Daniel recoiled in surprise as the glowing tip of Missy’s cigarette was extinguished in the smooth palm. The smell of charring flesh filled his nostrils. His eyes were huge.

“If you would both like to cease your moaning and crying over what the naughty girl has done,” came the mocking tones of Princess, “I would like to remind you of a few facts.” She flexed her hand, relishing the sting of the cigarette burn.

“Nobody cares what you think you know,” sneered Missy. Daniel was taken aback by the loathing in Missy’s eyes as she looked at her reflection which no longer belonged to her. “You’re just a stupid spoiled whore and that’s all you’re ever going to be.”

“Thanks to Missy,” Princess said loudly, “all of my clothing from that night has been destroyed, and any forensic evidence has been washed from the shower. With bleach,” she added almost as an afterthought. “Nothing was left at the crime scene, and there is nothing to see in such a shithole.”

“You’re sure?” Daniel asked.

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” Princess said, shooting him her prettiest smile.

“I should be so lucky,” Missy snarled.

“Please, Missy. I very much doubt if anybody will even bother filing a report.” Princess smirked. “Nothing of value was lost.”

These words had barely finished coming from Missy’s mouth when a loud knocking, punctuated by the crackle of radio static cut through the apartment’s gloom.

“Police! Daniel Dasham, we have some questions for you. Please open the door.”

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode Two: Angel of Mercy

Two: Angel of Mercy

Missy wakes and spends a few moments staring at the ceiling, reflecting on her prospects for the day. She has a longer than usual shift, and she needs to check the news for last night’s proclivity. After a period of time in which she respires thirty times, she drags herself from her bed, makes her way to the bathroom, and to the kitchen. Her still fuzzy eyes see a note hanging on the fridge, secured by a rainbow magnet. A heart drawn in a pink marker. From Princess. Missy plucks the note from the fridge and wads it up, tossing it in the garbage before opening the cupboards to assemble the components for coffee.

As it brews, filling the room with a rich, dark scent, Missy retrieves a flask of whiskey from a smaller cupboard in the corner. She adds two fingers of liquor to her coffee cup, then fills it to the brim with coffee. Replacing the whiskey bottle after taking a quick swig, she glances at the clock. She has one hour to be at her desk.

Sipping at regular intervals from her Irish coffee, Missy checks the various news and police feeds online. The emergency call list, police social media bulletins and regular news outlets are all screaming about the savaged carcass Bitch Slap the pimp has discovered in his quest for cash. Missy’s eyes fly through the words and photos, sipping her coffee with greater frequency as her teeth grind together. There is only fractional comfort to be found in the bewildered tone of all statements by law enforcement; it is still early.

Finishing her coffee, Missy tosses the cup into the sink and returns to her room. She dresses, tying her hair back into a ponytail. Brushing her teeth and applying makeup is done without any conscious thought. She is thousands of miles away, traveling at speeds immeasurable by science. That damn Princess, she’s thinking, as she wonders not for the first time how to kill her.

As the thought turns itself over and over, she returns to reality with a snap as she realizes she isn’t looking at Missy anymore. The face in the mirror smiles at her.

“Hello, you bitch,” Missy said, her voice a monotone as she applied eyeliner. “Don’t move.”

“Bitch yourself,” said Princess, keeping her head still. “I told you I took care of it. They don’t know anything.”

“YOU don’t know anything,” Missy sighed. “They could know exactly who did it, it’s not like they would tell the press that.”

“I took care of it,” said Princess, daubing lipstick on Missy’s lips. “So just quit worrying. It’s not like anything can be done now anyway.” She blew a kiss at her reflection. Missy scowled.

“It’s not like you’ll have to deal with it,” she said, her voice indignant. “As soon as anything gets dangerous, you’ll run and hide. It’s always my fucking problem. That’s too much lipstick. I’ll look like a whore.”

“I like it that way.”

“Looking like a whore?”

“Shut up, cunt.” Princess jerked her hand and the lipstick scrawled a jagged line across Missy’s cheek.

Missy gasped in outrage. “You miserable fucking…”

“Whatever,” Princess says, and then it’s only Missy, staring in silent fury at her lipsticked face in the mirror.

When Missy walks into the office with a freshly made-up face, the others on her shift are all at their cubicles wearing headsets, and eyes flick to the clock to see how late she is: twenty minutes. She’s definitely going to get a scolding.

Going to her spot and sitting down, Missy groans inside as she sees the supervisor’s door open right on cue. She straightens up and looks with artificial crispness and respect at the woman striding in her direction. Carol Elson is a large woman with iron gray hair and a fondness for tweed, as well as the rules. She stops before Missy’s desk and speaks in a voice pitched low enough not to intrude upon the telephone conversations, but not pitched so low that those not on the phone cannot eavesdrop on their conversation.

“Missy, do you know what time it is?”

“Yes, Miss Elson,” Missy says, and no more. She has learned through experience and observation that extra words prolong the suffering.

“Twenty minutes past the time you were supposed to be here, am I wrong?”

“You’re not wrong, ma’am,” Missy says. “It won’t happen again.”

“See that it doesn’t. Just to be sure, I’ll be subtracting twenty minutes from your pay this week.” The woman’s face breaks into her first smile of the day, her teeth large and wide like a horse’s. They always remind Missy of tombstones. “Now that’s enough chit-chat! Someone needs you!” She points to Missy’s phone, where a light blinks with the urgency which means incoming call.

“Yes ma’am,” Missy says, attempting not to clench her teeth as her mind flashes back to last night when Princess had peeled the skin from the girl’s body as she screamed to die. Maybe something of it shows in Missy’s eyes, for her supervisor’s malevolent smile falters a little.

Before Carol Elson can say anything, Missy dons her headset and says in a voice dripping with sympathy and understanding, “Thank you for calling the Suicide Hotline. I’m so glad you did. How can I help you?”

Her smile returning, Miss Elson retreats to her office. Missy’s eyes follow her all the way to her office door, and only when the door clicks shut does her own smile slip from her face. Taking a deep breath, Missy reaches for a pen and legal pad and begins to doodle as she listens to the tearful soliloquy pouring forth from the earpiece.

Debra lives in Maine and is calling while her boyfriend is in the shower. She tells Missy she has her phone in one hand and her boyfriend’s gun in the other. She’s just found emails containing naked photos of another girl on her boyfriend’s laptop. The photos go back for months. Boyfriend and the girl have been talking about getting married. Debra’s voice breaks as she says this, and Missy can barely make out that Debra and Boyfriend have been talking about getting married as well, before Debra dissolves into hysterical sobs.

“Debra,” Missy says, raising her voice just a little and losing none of her honeyed tones of sympathy and understanding. She lowers the volume on her earpiece, and Debra’s tears become softer. “Debra?”

A snuffling, wailing affirmation. Debra is listening.

“I understand you don’t feel like living right now,” Missy says, her tone as comforting as a mother removing a bee sting. “I don’t blame you. This is the kind of suffering that leaves a scar and changes who you are, deep down, as a person.”

A cry leading into more tears and blubbering. Debra was happy the way things were, she doesn’t want things to change. She wants to be with Boyfriend the way they had planned and can’t stand for it to be any other way. She continues to repeat herself and Missy draws a cat on the legal pad clawing at the margin. She is adding whiskers and a spike on the tail when Debra finally runs out of steam and is nothing but noisy breathing in Missy’s ear.

“I know, honey, but that can’t happen. If you can’t stand to have anything change, you should probably kill yourself.” Missy adds a mouse under the cat’s claw and elongates the claw, so it pierces the mouse through the stomach.

Debra sounds shocked.

“There’s no other solution,” says Missy, and draws a large pair of jaws around the cat. “You don’t want it to change, but it’s going to whether you want it to or not. It’s going to hurt you forever, so why don’t you just do it already?”

Debra is crying louder than ever.

Missy draws large fangs from the disembodied jaws, stabbing through the cat and mouse alike. “Kill yourself now, while he’s in the shower, and leave his laptop nearby so he knows why. You owe him that much at least.”

Debra’s crying stops abruptly as a loud BANG sounds in Missy’s ear, making her wince a little. She can hear, in the house somewhere in Maine, some guy shouting “Deb? You okay?” After a moment’s silence, he begins to scream.

“Thank you for calling the Suicide Hotline, and I hope you have a wonderful day,” Missy says, and disconnects the call. She smiles and looks at the clock. Nine more hours to go.

The Scarlett Dahlia by Jesse Orr Episode 10 Lifelines

 

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

Scarlett

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.”

The Scarlett Dahlia: Episode 9 Return to Decay by Jesse Orr

 

The sun beat down like a blanket, hot and oppressive. The humid air was being heated to a thickness that was almost palpable. A small red car materialized through the haze of heat hanging over the blacktop. A hybrid sedan drew nearer, its lines growing sharper as it closed in through the haze.

Taking the road to Scarlett Dahlia Manor, Don slowed the car so it was just creeping along.

“What are you doing?” Carly asked, her voice sharp. She scratched at her arm irritably.

“Just taking it slow,” Don said, his eyes alert. “I don’t know why you even want to come back here.”

“I told you, I want to see it again.”

“But WHY?” Don’s voice rose and his hands gestured. “There’s some weird shit going on, and–”

“Don’t be a fool,” Carly snapped and scratched again. “It’s a beautiful old house and grounds, and I simply want to look at it again.”

Don mumbled something that was not important enough for Carly’s ears to register. That was fine. As long as he kept driving them.

Behind the Manor, by the creek, Hans was burying the cocaine-sniffing girl down by the creek after cutting her into manageable pieces. More than anything, Hans was amazed at how things had changed. The slave pen was nothing but a meadow surrounded by trees on three sides, facing the creek, which had shrunk to half its former size.

Hans buried the cocaine girl where he had buried so many others. Digging three feet down in the corner of the meadow nearest the creek, Hans unearthed a skull. He tossed it aside, chuckling. The Dahlia had insisted upon the slaves being buried near their own, and Hans could not remember how many lay below. As he interred one more, he noticed the skin on his hands where he gripped the shovel was turning red and starting to tear. It didn’t hurt though. Hans dug deeper, whistling.

When the soil had been replaced, he strolled through the meadow, plucking a daisy and inhaling deeply before tossing it aside. The sky seemed somehow duller than he remembered, and the plants less green. He remembered the night with the torches, and he had come to be standing before the Dahlia, who was for the moment inhabiting the body of a man. Between those two events, however, was nothing but the sense that he had been asleep for a very, very long time.

He looked up at the manor, just visible from the slave compound. From here, he could see the line of the roof and the top of one window. The Dahlia’s window. The rest of the building was blocked by the hill leading up to the manor grounds. She was on her way back, he could feel her like an ice cube in his mind, pointing in the direction from which she came. The spell she had woven on the night of the torches had worked, that much was demonstrated by their very presence in this world. It had bonded their fates together just as though they had been married. But Hans held no illusions. The Dahlia was a black widow, and she would dispose of him the moment he stopped proving useful to her. Her disgust at the necessity of bonding her life to his had shattered any subconscious wish he may have had in that direction. But like it or not, it had to be done, it had been done, and now he could sense her approaching in one of the wheeled contraptions.

He scratched at a place behind his neck, unmindful of the flesh which scraped off under his fingernails. The Dahlia had warned him that the bodies they inhabited were, after all, technically dead, and would decay unless supplemented by fresh material. The second part of the spell required a great quantity of fresh blood to seal the bodies in their current state and prevent further decay. Once that had been accomplished, there would be nothing to set them apart from normal people. She was on the main road now, but she would be here soon with what they needed. Hans hastened for the manor. The Dahlia did not like to be kept waiting.

Don rounded the last corner of the road and the mansion came into view.

“It’s still so beautiful,” Carly breathed. Don looked at her. Her eyes were wide and sparkling, color in her cheeks as she clasped her hands together.

“Yeah, it is pretty nice,” said Don, shaking his head. His foot, guided almost without his being aware of it, went to the break, halting their progress.

“Why are you stopping?” asked Carly, tearing her eyes away and focusing on Don. The look in them was murderous, and Don felt a moment of fear.

“I was just going to walk down to the yard and get our phones, there’s no need to drive–”

“Just GO,” she yelled. “What are you afraid of?”

“Why are you NOT afraid?” Don yelled back. “Do you not remember those text messages and the pictures? The one of us both dead and mutilated?”

A chill ran up Don’s spine as Carly smiled. As he looked at her for the first time since they had left, he noticed how pale she looked, how dark and sunken her eyes had become, just on the ride out to the manor, and how the arm she had been scratching now had long red welts on them. Before he could say anything, she opened the door and stepped out of the car.

“C…Carly!” he called, but his voice was more of a croak. Nevertheless, she heard and turned to look at him as she walked down the road toward the manor.

“Come on, Don,” she said, and her voice wasn’t angry anymore. “Come on in and let’s take a look around. It’s such a beautiful house. Don’t you want to see it?”

Don found that he did, in fact, want to see it, very badly. He wanted nothing more than to go inside Scarlett Dahlia Manor and look around, see each and every room, really get a feel for the place. His hand, without any appreciable effort on his part, dropped the vehicle back into drive. The hybrid whispered forward. Carly heard the car begin to move and smiled.

Upstairs, in the Dahlia’s chamber, Hans found that the room had been emptied of all its furniture, but that was all right. All they really needed was the bathtub. To his surprise, the bathtub was as it had been the last time he helped the Dahlia enter her crimson bath. Turning the knob, Hans noticed it sinking into the meat of his hand, leaving an impression. He fought a rising wave of nausea and fear and forced himself to be calm. The Dahlia would be here soon, and the material with her would be more than adequate to seal them both.

The Scarlett Dahlia by Jesse Orr Episode 8 Moonshine Bathwater

 

The Scarlett Dahlia by Jesse Orr Episode 8 Moonshine Bathwater

 

Janis, a seer to the slaves, sits by the fire, staring into its embers without seeing them.

Around her, the sounds of people living their lives in the slave quarters by the creek. A baby crying. Men talking. A woman laughs. Anyone of them could be next though. Delivered to the Scarlett Dahlia, only to vanish until what little is left of them is sold among the Manor slaves. As far as she’s concerned, the slaves who use the Dahlia’s leftovers as an aphrodisiac are no better than the dark mistress they all serve thinks Janis and spits into the fire. The saliva crackles for an instant and is gone.

The blood trade goes back to the year Miss Scarlett, fresh from the untimely death of her parents, came to stay at Dahlia Manor, home of her dearly departed aunt Laurie. Janis remembers the day she arrived, pretty as a picture in spite of her recent tragedy, in a white dress with a little parasol. The young lady had been taken through the Manor by that creep of an overseer Hans Dasham and had eventually been escorted through the grounds and down to the slave pen by the creek. Janis had been unfortunate enough to have been carrying a load of firewood back to her hut and never saw Hans until she bumped into him, knocking the wood to the ground. Scarlett stepped back, alarmed.

“WHY YOU–” Hans bellowed, and grabbed the long braids Janis wore pulled back in a ponytail. “I’ll teach you to watch where your fuckin feet are going.” He threw her to the ground and snatched one of the heftier pieces of wood Janis had been carrying. He drew an arm back to swing, then paused, uncertain. He looked back at his new mistress.

Her eyes were wide and shining with madness. Color had risen to her milk-white cheeks and her hands clutched her parasol with white knuckles. Her tongue moistened her lips. She nodded at him, the look in her eyes one of eagerness.

Hans grinned, and the stick had come down on Janis over and over until she was no longer sure what was happening. She knew at some point they switched and it was Hans who watched as the girl, beginning tentatively but graduating to outright viciousness, beat Janis unconscious. They had left her there, lying in the dirt, and none of the other slaves dared touch her. After an unknowable amount of time, Janis had returned to the world, and drug herself back to her hut.

Janis sighs, and throws a stick on the fire from the pile beside her. Her tongue probes the blank spots in her mouth as her breath whistles through them. She can’t breathe well through her nose, but that and a few missing teeth are all the price she ultimately paid for bumping into Hans Dasham that day, once the healing was done. Janis has never been acknowledged by Scarlett Dahlia again, and she is fairly sure the Dahlia would never remember something so mundane as the identity of the first(or possibly third, if you believe the rumors about the death of her parents) victim in a long line of successive acts of cruelty.

According to the rumors in the slave pen, Scarlett Dahlia is a vampire, a witch, a ghoul, a demon. She eats people’s flesh, she drinks their blood, she wears their skins, she converses with their dead bodies long after their souls have departed. She has no children, she has one child to whom she is teaching her cruelty, she has had many children and murdered them all to absorb their youth. Janis does not know truly where the line between truth and fiction has been drawn in the case of their terrifying mistress but she knows that the rumors of the blood trade are true. For those to be true, the blood has to come from somewhere. Janis doesn’t know if any of the other slaves have figured it out, and she supposes it doesn’t really matter.

From the bag she wears across her shoulder, she pulls out a leather pouch. Loosening the drawstring, she reaches into the pouch and throws a handful of white powder into the flames. With a whooshing sound, the powder ignites and the flames turn green. With her face bathed in the unearthly light, Janis begins to speak. Her words are slow at first, the syllables enunciated with care. It is not a language known by any of the other slaves, and they know to keep away when the fire burns green. Janis continues speaking, her words gathering speed as the air drains of sound. The crackle of the fire and the noises of the night are fading away as though getting farther. Even her voice is fading, though she is still speaking. Without taking her eyes from the green flames or halting in her speech, she reaches deeper inside her shoulder bag and pulls forth a small red-haired doll, clad in a white dress, her torso and head wrapped in the thorny tendril of a blackberry. The dress Janis had made from the white parasol Scarlett Dahlia had dropped and forgotten the day she beat Janis senseless. Janis can feel the Dahlia in the dress as she holds the doll. Hatred, fury, disgust, fear. She uses them all, her voice rising. Her hand balls into a fist, tightening on the doll. Blood begins to run from her palm, blood from wounds Janis will not feel until tomorrow. The doll, made from substandard cotton and burlap, becomes saturated and begins to drip down her forearm. Janis feels her voice cracking and knows she has nearly peaked. All she sees is a green flame. The world has narrowed to that tiny green spark and she chokes out the name.

“Scarlett… Dahlia…”

She flings the doll into the fire and it explodes in a black inky smoke that smells of rotting flesh, filth and despair. The world rushes back to her, expanding from the center of the green spark to which the fire has narrowed. Sound screams at her. The fire has burnt down to ashes, but the night is deafening. The world whirls and she slumps over beside the warm puddle of her hand’s blood, not unconscious but in a sleep so deep she seems dead.

As the doll exploded, Scarlett Elizabeth Dahlia was slipping her robe from her shoulders to enter her bath. A chill came over her and a far away look came into her eyes. Hans Dasham waited beside the tub for her to return from wherever she had gone. Eventually, she did.

“Is my headstone prepared, Hans?” she asked him, lowering herself into the steaming water. “The slaves are becoming restless. One of them has struck me.”

“Soon, missus,” Hans said. “The stone you wanted was hard to find.”

“Yes, soon,” she said and looked at him. She said nothing more, but Hans felt a sense of inescapable dread gnawing deep inside him.

“It’ll be done, ma’am,” he said, hoping she couldn’t hear the tremor in his voice. But of course, she did. Maybe that was why she smiled.

“You may proceed,” she said, reclining against the cushion at the edge of the tub, a tumbler of white lightning in hand. She looked at him, but this was the one that made him excited, not the one that turned his blood to ice.

“Yes ma’am,” Hans said with a wolfish grin. Pulling a straight razor from his pocket, he reached down behind the rim of the tub and lifted up an unconscious young slave by one thin arm. The boy was shirtless, and his upper body was crisscrossed with scars, some old, some new.

“Ooh,” hissed Scarlett. “He likes to fight, does he?” She sipped her drink. “Do it, Hans.”

Hans held the boy’s head over the tub and tilted it back. Almost quicker than the eye could follow, Hans had cut the boy’s throat from ear to ear. Blood goosed from the cut, spraying into the bathwater, turning it first pink, then red as the gash continued flowing.

Scarlett cooed, leaning forward, thrusting her free hand under the fountain gushing from under the boy’s chin. Bringing her fingers to her mouth she sucked them like a peppermint stick while holding her moonshine glass to catch some of the blood spurting forth. The oily liquid turned a dark, viscous red.

“Thank you, Hans,” she said and smiled at him. “You may go. Take this one to Charles and Mary, see what they get out of it.” She sipped her drink and trailed a finger in the crimson water. “I have all I need.”

 

The Scarlett Dahlia : Mornings by Jesse Orr

 

The hour was late the morning after Ruth drank the Dahlia’s water. Birds had long been awake and busy. The slaves had risen with the birds and took great pains not to make more noise than was necessary as they went about their morning tasks. They knew a slave named Ruth from the pens by the creek had been brought to the Dahlia. Nobody had seen her since.

Charles, laden with a silver breakfast tray, padded with care up to the side of the hallway leading to the Dahlia’s room, stepping over the boards he knew had a creak. He had delivered this tray to his mistress times innumerable and never knew exactly what lay on the other side of the door. His heartbeat increased as he grew closer, and his palms dampened with nervous sweat. Running out of the hallway, he tapped the Dahlia’s door with his leather shoe.

“Enter,” came the voice at once. Charles jumped a little at its suddenness and fumbled for the doorknob. Unbidden, it opened.

“Good mornin, Miss Dahlia,” Charles said, maneuvering through the door and closing it behind him with his foot. His eyes fell upon her first. She was sitting on the bed, clad in a red filmy gown, sunlight cascading around her. Not for the first time, he thought she was beautiful.

His eye shifted and he became aware that the gown had not started the night as any color but white. Moving further, his eye observed the crimson sheets were soaked with a darker stain. It was hard to tell, for laying on the bloody sheets was Ruth, her now-sightless eyes frozen forever in terror.

“Good morning, Charles,” the Dahlia said and turned to smile at him. Her eyes pierced his, and for that instant, it took every fiber of his being not to obey his instinct to run. “How are you today?”

“Good, missus,” he said, averting his eyes and placing the tray on the table which stood at the foot of the enormous bed. He saw that blood had splattered all the way across the bed to the table. His heart fluttered.

“I am delighted to hear it.” She returned her attention to the window. “I may have exsanguinated this one, I’m afraid. You may try if you like.”

“’Das all right, missus, plenny mo’ where ‘dey come from,” said Charles, and picked up a large steel syringe, normally used for livestock. He rounded the bed to the side opposite the Dahlia and stopped, surveying what remained of Ruth. She lay on her back, her head pulled back, and her throat cut deep enough for Charles to see her spine. She was nude, and her skin was a pale blueish color.

Charles had learned any blood the Dahlia left would collect at the lowest points of her victims, and using the needle, he pierced the bottom of Ruth’s stomach, where the skin seemed darker. The bed heaved and there was a rustling sound. He looked up as the Dahlia rose to her feet, leaving her robe on the bed. There was nothing beneath it but blood.

Charles tore his eyes away with an effort, horrified at the thought of what would happen if she saw him looking. He dug the needle still deeper into the dead woman and pulled at the plunger. A dark sludgy liquid made its way with reluctance into the syringe, filling it halfway. Charles pulled the needle out and stabbed it into another low place on the body, yanking at the plunger.

“When you are done, please remove this one and everything with a stain. You know what to do,” the Dahlia said, pausing at the door to the room which held her bathing tub. She flashed Charles a smile he was too afraid to see. “I would like another tonight.” The door closed behind her and Charles released a breath he was not aware he had been holding.

He went on milking the body for any liquid the Dahlia had left behind. He had developed a technique over the many slaves the Dahlia had used. He worked his way all around the body where it met the bed, inserting the needle every three or four inches, and by the time he had circled the body, there was nothing more coming into the syringe.

Returning the needle to the silver tray, the rest of the routine came easy. The bedsheets were bundled around what remained of Ruth. Tying the corners, Charles went to the door and whistled, long and high. After a moment, a pair of dark hooded eyes showed at the door. Mary the slave girl entered and without a sound she and Charles lifted the blanket off the bed and out the door. They deposited their bundle in the small staging room off the black and white tiled ballroom. Without a word, Charles picked up the bucket of water and followed Mary and the mop back to the Dahlia’s chamber. By the time the Dahlia emerged from her bathing room, the bed was once again spotless and the servants and silver tray with its syringes were nowhere to be seen.

Back in the staging room, Charles handed one of the syringes to Mary. Expressionless, she upended the syringe over her mouth and pressed the plunger. Dark sticky blood dripped into her mouth, and she closed her eyes, her normally downcast lips turning upward in a smile. She sighed, savoring the taste, as a shudder ran through her. Charles felt his pulse quicken again as he followed suit with his own syringe. Before he was through ingesting its contents, he felt himself stiffening into a regular railspike. This was not lost upon Mary, who fell to her knees before him. Charles reflected as she undid his trousers that there was only one syringe left, then even that was gone from his mind as she took him into her mouth.

The Scarlett Dahlia by Jesse Orr — The Happy Couple

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.

“Huh?”

“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.

“Hey, asshole!”

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.

The Scarlett Dahlia : Fodder by Jesse Orr

The Scarlett Dahlia : Fodder by Jesse Orr

The light-skinned slaves stoked the fires and replenished the torches in the Manor as the darker-skinned slaves quaked in their pens. Mother shushed fretful babes and the fathers dug nervously in their meager bags for a few scraps of tobacco. Always, these nights had ended in crazed screaming emanating from the Manor, and nightmares for the fortunate.

Ruth remembered the night they had come for her youngest sister, not yet three, and had wrenched her, screaming, from her mother’s arms. Their mother, mute, curling in upon herself and dying of grief two days later. She had been alone ever since, spared in miracle after miracle as her companions were picked off from around her like flies. Every day, food made it to her, and she survived. At night, when she had no one but the screaming for company, she wondered why she tried.

Her heart sank as she saw one of the white slavers make eye contact, and his thin lips turned upward in a grin. He gestured, and two more sauntered over and peered in the pen at Ruth. She stared back, unsure what would be best.

“Yeah,” said the fattest, oldest one, and turned, heading back toward the Big House. The second nodded and watched as the first slavers started toward Ruth, reaching a hand behind him to where Ruth knew all slavers kept a length of hardwood, or pipe, if they were cruel. This was Hans who threatened her now, and Ruth knew it would likely be pipe stuffed with lead.

Hans opened the door to the pen and smiled at her. She gave him a fraction of a smile and slipped out through the opening he had made, hearing it lock swiftly behind her. She turned to look at him, catching his eyes traveling up her body as she did.

“Missus Dahlia wants to see you,” Hans said, his eyes stopping just short of her collarbone and lingering there. “I think you know the way.”

“Yeah,” Ruth said, and turned in that direction. Next thing she knew she was on the ground and the back of her head was screaming from where Hans had struck her.

YES SIR,” screamed Hans, leaning down, his mouth in her ear. “Yes sir or I’ll break your fucking head open you filthy bitch!”

“Yessir!” cried Ruth, her will broken as she cowered on the ground in the fetal position, her mind desperately seeking peace.

“Get the fuck up there,” Hans bellowed, “and don’t let me catch you looking back.”

Sobbing, Ruth scrambled to her feet and sped off for the Big House, hating Hans, and herself more.

The slaves were kept in pens below the Big House, separated by a narrow winding path going up a hill and on a rotten bridge over a creek. In the summer, stinging nettles grabbed at those traversing the trail, and welts broke out. Ruth had learned to pull up her outer skirt and shield her face and arms with it, but a stray leaf managed to score her on the arm as she pushed her way through. She grit her teeth and plowed on, emerging at the creek. A lantern hung from a pole at the start of the bridge, casting an eerie glow on the moving water.

Taking the lantern down, Ruth moved with care out onto the bridge, moving with careful but steady footsteps. In the daylight, the bridge was simple to navigate, each gap visible. At night, with the swinging lantern and gloomy moonlight, it was easy to trip and break something. It had happened, and the poor woman had been left to drag herself back to the slave pens with a broken arm and a leg. As Ruth stepped from the last slat to the ground, she heard it crack beneath her, and groaned. On her way back, she’d have to remember that one.

The manor stood before her, facing away from her toward the opulent driveway. Its sprawling lawns curved around its sides and met in the back, extending for several acres to the rear where the land dropped away and led to the creek, and the path to the slave quarters. As Ruth came to the manicured grass, she removed her shoes and left them where the path ended and the grass began. The last time she had forgotten to remove her shoes before walking on the grass, Missus Dahlia had forced her to stand on hot coals for what seemed like forever. It was this memory and the glee which had been in Dahlia’s eyes that now beat in Ruth’s mind as she hurried across the plush grass and to the servant’s entrance. She knocked, using the special knock all the slaves used, and after a second, the door opened to her.

A pair of dark hooded eyes looked at her for a moment, then slid away to the right. The door opened wider and the owner of the eyes revealed herself to be a very light-skinned girl, no more than twenty. Ruth thought her name was Mary.

“Missus waitin’ fo’ ya,” maybe-Mary said to Ruth’s feet, not meeting her eyes. “Troo’ dat do’, up de stairs.” She waved at another small servant’s door at the other side of the small room.

“What’s she want?” asked Ruth, a noticeable tremor in her voice. She was not soothed by the little noncommittal shrug from maybe-Mary, nor her unwillingness to meet Ruth’s eyes.

Opening the door, Ruth stifled a gasp at the enormous white-tiled room before her. The ceilings stretched almost out of sight and a huge staircase flanked by pillars led up to the second floor. Enormous potted plants stood in corners. Ruth’s bare foot on the tile made a sound as loud as a clicking tongue.

A hand fell on her shoulder and she gave a little cry. The hand tightened and spun her around. It was maybe-Mary, staring fiercely at her.

“You need t’be still, girl,” MM said in a hushed whisper. “they don’ like noise.” She held up two little crumpled balls. “Put dese booties on ya feet or you muck up the flo’.”

Ruth took them and slid her feet into them, trying to do it without making a noise. “Thank–” she started, when the door shut with a snap. Maybe-Mary had vanished back into her little room. Ruth heard a click as the door was locked, and her disquiet grew. The enormous room behind her seemed to wait as she turned back to it and crossed to the staircase. With every instinct in her body screaming for her to turn and run, she began to mount the stairs.

At the top, she stopped, confused. She had not received any further instructions. To her left were several doors that overlooked a balcony-like landing beneath the flight of stairs leading to the third floor. To her right was a longer hallway that curved around the wall and out of sight. She was about to start knocking at the doors she could see when a light-skinned man in an immaculate white suite came around the corner and beckoned to her.

“Let’s go, Miz Dahlia is waiting,” he said, his voice high pitched and gravelly. He smiled at her, but it was not a smile she enjoyed. She did not like walking past him and turning her back to him as they walked down the darkening hallway to a door at the far end. As they walked, Ruth noticed the smell of flowers, faint at first, growing stronger the farther they walked. Stopping at the door, Ruth could tell it was the source of the flowers, and dreaded entering that concentrated stench.

The light-skinned man slipped past her and through the door. Ruth heard voices but could not make out words. Her sense of foreboding continued to increase and she had almost convinced herself to take her chances running away when the light-skinned man reappeared in the doorway.

“Miss Dahlia is ready for you,” he said in a courtly manner, opening the door for her and bowing.

Trembling all over, Ruth slipped past him and found herself in a room with an enormous fireplace taking an entire corner. A large black armchair sat before it glowing in the firelight. The opposite wall was taken up by a wardrobe carved from some sort of black wood, reminding Ruth of a church gate. The rest of the room was empty save for the vanity.

Spanning from floor to ceiling, the vanity’s mirror was flanked by dozens of smaller mirrors set on pivots. A vast array of implements were laid out neatly upon its black wood surface. Ruth could see the shine of silver in several of the mirrors. The rest were blocked from view by Scarlett Dahlia.

Her face was almost pure white, but for two spots of color at her cheeks and her bright red lips. Her eyes were a bright pale blue, framed by dark red which tumbled down her back. She was sitting before her vanity, both hands clasped in front of her, resting on her flowing black gown. A pendant with a shimmering red stone hung from her neck by a silver chain. Ruth’s eyes continued to be drawn to it as she struggled to speak. Finally she managed.

“M-missus?”

“Sit down,” Scarlett said. Her voice was light and devoid of any expression. Her eyelid twitched. “Charles. Fetch water for her.”

Ruth sank to her knees on the floor before Scarlett, they nearly buckling beneath her at the last moment. She could not take her eyes from the woman, who stared back, unblinking. Behind her, she heard the light-skinned man making sounds with liquid.

“Missus, what can I do fo’ you?” Ruth could not help asking. Her voice only shook a little and she forced herself to look the pale woman in the eyes.

“That is none of your concern,” the red lips replied. She lifted a glass of wine to them and Ruth’s heart stopped

that looks like blood for a moment”

don’t be ridiculous get hold of yourself Ruth” then restarted.

“You are here, that is sufficient to the moment.” Scarlett’s eyes flicked to the side, where Charles was offering Ruth a clear liquid in a crystal goblet. “Drink.”

The thought of swallowing anything made Ruth feel sick, but she knew better than to refuse the Dahlia. She raised the goblet to her mouth, steeling herself for the worst. But it was water, cool and sweet. Shooting a glance at Scarlett, Ruth was heartened to see those red lips curling up at the corners. Ruth finished the goblet, and set it on the floor before her.

“That was good, thank you missus,” Ruth said, but Scarlett was ignoring her. Her attention was directed at Charles. Ruth attempted to do the same, but she could not focus her eyes. His words washed over her like a tide. Some words had meaning; most did not.

“It don’ take long, Joseph say. T’ree minutes, maybe five,” Charles explained. “Den she too dopey to do mo’ than sit dere.” He turned and waved a hand before Ruth’s eyes. Her eyes did not follow it. “See, it be quick. ‘ventual she come out of it but it be hours. Plenny ‘o time for you, Miz Dahlia.”

Standing, Scarlett raised her wine glass to the fire and toasted it. “Let this one taste better than the last.” She drank, tilting her head back and training every thick viscous drop before hurtling the glass into the fireplace. Her eyes were wide and her breath was heavy. Charles felt the familiar excitement stealing over him as he tried not to look at Ruth, now rigid on the floor, her eyes wide open and vacant, but alive. If she was lucky, she would never come out of it. If she was not, she would.

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!

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GET OUT

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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.

Through Dolls Eyes by Jesse Orr

ThroughDollsEyes

Party’s Over

Nancy crept around the side of the Sutton house, avoiding the upper story windows as she peered into the basement. The glass was frosted and she could see shapes, but that was all. She listened for any sound of disturbance. It didn’t sound like Hoffman had rung the doorbell yet. Slipping past the last window, she hurried around to the back entrance of the house. There was a back door underneath the rear porch, and she ducked into the shadow it cast. She crept up to the door and tried the knob, her touch as light as a feather. It was not locked.

How long she stood there waiting she did not know. Time ceased to function. The minutes turned from hours to seconds and back like elastic taffy. She thought about the brief but firm tap to the jaw Hoffman had administered to the pizza delivery man, knocking him out with cold precision. She thought about the hours they had spent sitting outside the Sutton house, waiting, watching, hoping for anything, any opportunity. She thought about roaring away from the hated mental hospital in a stolen car, with the easy part of their task behind them. She thought about the way Hoffman had dispatched the startled orderly they had come upon, seeming to take his keys and his life in one quick movement. She thought about her daughter, Sandra, taken by the dolls on her birthday. She ground her teeth. The fear she was feeling went down some, quelled by rage and hatred. Those fucking things were going to pay for taking her daughter.

Hoffman looked at the receipt he held, his other arm occupied by a hot bag of pizzas. “Looks like thirty even,” he said, loud enough for his voice to carry. He handed her the receipt, shooting her a look which she missed altogether. He noted that her hands were wrapped in bandages and it looked as though large chunks her hair had been torn out. The dark circles under her eyes screamed for help as she looked at the paper.

“No, this says thirty-nine…” she trailed off, her eyes focusing more on the paper and what was written above the total.

HERE TO KILL DOLLS.

She gasped, then looked behind her into the house to see if anyone had noticed. “Who are you?” she whispered. “How did you get here?”

“I’m a cop, but I’m a father first,” said Hoffman in an undertone. “You get me?”

She nodded, glancing behind her again. “What are you going to do?”

“I have someone with me, she’s going to the back door now. Is it locked?”

“No, never!”

“If we can-”

“Hey, girl!” Sofia’s voice came from the base of the stairs. “What is taking you so long?”

Olivia’s eyes widened and she shoved the receipt back at him. “Take it!” she hissed. “And give me the pizzas! If she finds me with this-”

Hoffman could not take it. His hands, so steady before when holding both pizza and paper, now noticeably trembled. “Oh my God…”

“What?!” Olivia whispered, trying to stuff the incriminating paper into Hoffman’s hand. “Quick, give me-”

“Hey girl!” Sofia’s shout grew louder. She was coming up the stairs. Olivia looked terrified. Hoffman looked sick.

“Quick!” Olivia moaned, tearing at the flap of the pizza carrier. “Hurry, she’s-”

“My daughter,” said Hoffman, and a tear fell from his eye. “My Sofia.”

“Girl!”

Sofia stood at the top of the stairs, hands on her hips and an evil look on her face. Olivia gave an involuntary shriek and nearly dropped the pizzas with which she had been grappling. “I’ve got them!” she wailed. “I’ve got them right here! Please don’t hurt me anymore, see, I’ve got them!”

Sofia ignored her, ignored the pizzas, ignored the cheers from the basement as they heard Olivia’s cries, ignored all but the man standing outside, looking at her with an expression of heartfelt sorrow and longing. As she stared at him, the look of malice and viciousness began to fade from her face. In its place, a little girl began to emerge. This little girl had wandered too far from the physical bodies of the dolls for their power to wholly dominate her, and, for the first time, the foothold of Junie and Janie in the soul of Sofia Hoffman, slipped.

“Daddy?”

She took a step forward, the dolls fighting to keep their hold, and she tottered.

“Daddy, help me!”

“Sofia!” Hoffman said, tears running free from his eyes now. “Honey, are you all right?”

The girl nearly fell over, then staggered backward. She took a step down the staircase.

“No!” Hoffman cried. “No! Honey, fight them!”

“Too late, fool,” Sofia snapped. She tossed her hair back over her shoulder. “We let her get a little too far, but don’t start thinking she’s yours now.” Her gaze shifted back to Olivia who stood stock-still, watching in horror, clutching the pizzas. “What are you waiting for, girl? Get downstairs with those.”

Before Olivia could move, Sofia let out an earsplitting scream of agony. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! STOP! STOP IT NOW!” she screeched. Her skin began to blister as though she had spent too much time in the hot sun. “I COMMAND IT!”

Turning, she stumbled, crashing down the stairs, still screaming.

Nancy had waited with mounting tension outside the door for Hoffman to ring the doorbell. She had tried the door several more times and assured herself it was unlocked. When she finally heard the chime of the doorbell, the door opened before her easily. She slipped inside, shutting the door with care behind her. She was in a convenient little alcove, sharing space with a few coats and boots left by those who used the basement entrance. Mostly small shoes. She crept forward.

The children were standing in the same position, eyes glassy and bodies rigid as they stood at attention, facing the stairway. Sofia stood before them, also facing the stairs. Nancy hardly noticed them, though her attention was fixed upon the two dolls which sat atop the TV, watching over all.

“Hey girl!” Sofia shouted, and started up the stairs. “What is taking you so long?”

The moment she had vanished up the stairwell, Nancy braced herself for an assault and broke from cover. The children did not impede her, nor move from their rigid parade ground rest, facing after Sofia with expressionless faces. Nancy made her way between the children to the TV, and picked up the dolls.

Revulsion filled her. The smell of death clung heavy about them, and their grins were wider, more sinister than Nancy had seen when she picked them up at the thrift store. Some little girl had given them eye shadow, and one sported a beauty mark on her cheek. The crack both dolls had above their eyes, which had given them a slanted eyebrow, had spread across their faces, bisecting them neatly. They leered at Nancy, who was seized by a sudden premonition and whirled, raising the dolls to strike at–

No one was there. The children kept up their eerie vigil, and the voices from the top of the stairs continued unabated. Looking back at the dolls, Nancy saw their heads had rotated to look at each other. One of them touched Nancy’s hand with its plastic hand and looked at her.

“You’re too late,” it said, though its lips did not move.

With a cry of disgust, Nancy threw both dolls to the floor and dug a lighter from her pocket. Striking it, she held the flame to the hem of the dress of the first one, then the other. The dresses were old and very dry and burned well. The flames licked up the dolls and engulfed their heads as upstairs, Sofia began to scream.

Olivia dropped the pizzas as Hoffman charged past her, bellowing like a wounded bull with no sense in his eyes. Lunging into the house and down the stairs, he reached for Sofia just as she tripped. If either of them had been watching the doll known as Junie at that moment, they would have seen her head amidst the fire turning in Sofia’s direction the tiniest amount. Just enough to lose her balance.

Nancy watched in horror as the darkness and misery left Sofia’s eyes as her feet left the ground. A cry escaped her mouth as she flew through the air and down the stairs, hitting the wall headfirst with a sickening crack that echoed in the basement playroom. She slid to the floor and did not move.

With a howl of rage, Nancy snatched up a nearby can of bug spray and squeezed it at the dolls. A jet of flame enveloped the already well-burning playthings, engulfing them in an inferno. Nancy kept the trigger depressed, spraying without end into the fireball on the ground as the children lurched sluggishly toward her, the fire in their eyes flickering. Black smoke began to rise from the fireball. Nancy’s finger cramped and she switched hands, never letting up on the trigger. Now there was a shrieking sound inside of her head, getting louder, as though something was trying to tear her head apart. Gritting her eyes shut, she concentrated all her will on maintaining the spray.

Olivia stood at the bottom of the stairs, her face pale as she surveyed the pizza delivery man’s sobbing form cradling his daughter’s limp body. The children moved jerkily toward the woman blazing a fireball at the two prone, helpless little figures on the floor. Olivia’s heart went out to them.

Poor little things, she thought, they were just two against a big unfair world. This man was to blame, she thought, and the woman.

If I just crept up behind the man and smashed his head into the floor, the bitch woman would stop burning the poor dolls, Olivia thought. She looked around with doll’s eyes for a weapon.

Hoffman could feel no pulse on Sofia’s neck. Her eyes were half open, looking at him with a blank expression. There was nothing behind them. Shoulders heaving, he held her to him.

Something hit him in the back of the head, hard, and he went down, crushing his daughter beneath him as he fell to the floor on top of her. He saw stars, and when his head cleared he saw the woman Sofia had called Girl drawing back a stone doorstop for another swing at him.

“What the hell are you doing?!” he roared, ducking the swing and scrabbling away from her, still holding Sofia to him.

“We are sending you to hell!” Olivia hissed and brought the stone down hard.

Across the room, Nancy’s fingers had developed cramps and the children were now doing nothing more than bumping into her and pawing at her in a half-hearted way. When Hoffman yelled, she looked up, startled. As if in horror, her left index finger finally let up its pressure on the spray can as the rock connected with Hoffman’s skull. He hit the ground and lay still, as still as his daughter. Blood oozed from the wound on his skull. Grinning, Olivia drew back the rock for another blow and dropped it. Nancy could see Hoffman’s blood staining the rock had made it slippery.

Nancy looked down and saw the dolls twitching, struggling to move their deformed appendages. The jet of fire had melted their faces into unrecognizable blobs and they resembled nothing so much as vaguely humanoid plastic. But they were moving. They were moving Olivia.

Snatching the dolls up, Nancy looked around the basement. Shoving one of the children out of the way, she stabbed her finger at a button and threw both dolls into the microwave which adorned the mini fridge beside the TV stand. Slamming the door, she punched +30 SEC, again, and again, over and over. The microwave whirred to life.

The scream inside her head now was so piercing, it brought her to her knees. She cried out and could not hear herself over the thrashing of the dolls inside her head. Olivia dropped the rock again and shrieked, clapping her hands to her ears along with the children whose eyes were now their own. Inside the microwave, the melted shapes bubbled and began to turn black. A noxious smell filled the basement as the screaming went on and on and the microwave counted down.

When the microwave dinged, it did so into a kind of daze. The occupants of the basement were not awake, but not asleep. They sat where they had fallen, staring at the wall, with the sounds of agony and suffering ringing in their heads. Nancy was the first to realize the screaming had stopped, along with the microwave, some time ago. She took her hands from over her ears (she hadn’t even realized they were there anymore) and looked around.

Olivia lay beside what remained of the Hoffman family in the fetal position, one ear pressed to the carpet, a hand pressed tightly to the other. Her eyes were open wide and staring, but they were beginning to move and twitched to meet Nancy’s. The terror which had filled them since Sofia had come was fading.

The children were all crying, and Nancy’s maternal instincts roused her the rest of the way from her stupor. Shaking her head to clear it did no good, it just seemed to start an echo of the screaming again in the back of her mind. Pushing herself up, she began to move around the children, speaking soothing words in a low voice. Working her way across the room, spreading comfort as she went, she got to Olivia.

“Go outside and get help,” she told Olivia. “Hurry, these kids need it.” She looked at Olivia with empathy. “So do you.”

Olivia’s face was blank with expression fighting to resurface. “They told me… they’ll…”

They are dead,” Nancy said, taking Olivia’s hand, avoiding the one with three fingers. “Dead and gone in a nuclear holocaust thanks to America’s favorite appliance. They can’t hurt us anymore.”

Olivia looked at her with a mixture of petulance and dawning hope. “But… they said…”

Going back to the microwave, Nancy punched the button and retrieved the still warm and smoking remains of the dolls. They did not now resemble humans in the slightest and shared more characteristics with a pancake of Silly Putty. She showed these to Olivia, whose eyes lost their petulance as she poked at them and grinned.

“Go get help,” Nancy said and gave her a push toward the stairs. This time, Olivia went.

EPILOGUE

The last ambulance roared down the street and turned left, away from the Sutton house and toward the nearest hospital with the remaining children. Once there, they would be fed and pampered by the pediatric staff, one of the best in the county. It would heal their hurts, but nothing could be done about the dreams from which they would awaken screaming for the rest of their lives.

Hoffman and Sofia were placed with great care on a hearse and whisked away to the finest funeral home in town, where Hoffman’s eventuality instructions had been on file for years, awaiting just such a calamity. Within seven days, the entire Hoffman family was beneath the ground.

Nancy and Olivia watched the last ambulance drive away, having declined the offer to be chauffeured in like manner. There was a lengthy interview with one of the police officers who had responded, which culminated in taking his card and promising to come to the station as soon as they were done at the hospital to make their formal statement.

Escaping finally to the safety of the car Hoffman had stolen for him and Nancy so long ago, they both sighed in relief as the doors slammed behind them.

“Let’s go,” said Olivia. She reclined the seat, and closed her eyes, sighing. “I want to get this over with.”

Nancy nodded, starting the engine. She could not have agreed more. The name she had given to the officer had been enough to prevent him associating her with a mental patient who had escaped from the asylum, and that was all that mattered.

As she pulled onto the street, the streetlights flickered on as dusk settled over the neighborhood. The dolls, safely hidden inside Nancy ever since they had first touched her, looked out over the unrolling street beneath them. The glow of the florescent bulbs lit far back in the depths of Nancy’s eyes, and if Olivia had been watching, she would have screamed at what she saw there.

Smiling, Nancy turned left and followed the ambulance into the city, where the nearest brick wall put an end to her and Olivia’s torment forever.

Through Doll’s Eyes by Jesse Orr Episode 10 Slumber Party

ThroughDollsEyes

“If ever a day comes,” Sofia had said to Olivia on the first day, her voice low and pleasant as she held a knife to little Eve’s throat, “when we summon you, and you do not come running, we will start with this one.”

Eve grinned and stretched her neck back further, seeming to lean into the blade. The trickle that ran down her white throat was a brilliant red against her skin. “They will, ‘livia,” said the girl, as she gouged her neck against the knife. “I like it.”

“Stop it!” Olivia cried, her voice shrill. “I won’t run!” Tears flowed down her cheeks as she fought to restrain herself from grabbing the child away from the knife, from this foul thing inside Sofia who was licking Eve’s blood from the knife and grinning at her. “Let her go!”

“We’re glad to hear you say that,” Sofia said. “But as you can see, we’re not holding her here.” It was true. Sofia was holding the knife immobile as Eve rubbed herself against it, digging the blade deeper into her neck and giggling as the keen point forged deeper into her neck, the blood running from the wound now down to stain Eve’s light blue dress.

“You know what I mean, you fucking TOYS!” Olivia screamed, turning from Sofia and directing the force of her anger at the dolls, Junie and Janie, who were sitting on top of the TV, watching over all. “QUIT TORTURING A LITTLE GIRL!” She rushed at them.

As one the children were upon her, bearing her once again to the floor with practiced ease. The dolls smirked down on her as Eve left off gouging herself and skipped over to lend her weight to holding one of Olivia’s legs down.

Sofia pulled the rag from Olivia’s hand and Beth knelt on her forearm, pinning it to the ground. Beth looked at the gap where her finger had once lived, and giggled. Olivia couldn’t help but flush with embarrassment.

“You don’t learn very quickly,” Sofia hissed, and began sawing at the joint which joined Olivia’s middle finger to her hand. “Are we going to have to take all of your digits before you figure it out?”

Sam had given his brother a bloody nose in a vicious fight over the finger and claimed possession of it as Robert lay sobbing in a puddle of his own tears and snot. Grinning, Sam raised it like a turkey leg to his mouth and gnawed it down to the bone, never breaking eye contact with Olivia who could not look away. Beth, Eve and Lisa cheered. Sam took a bow. Robert wiped his nose with vacant eyes.

The sound of Disney’s The Fox and the Hound filled the basement, bringing Olivia back to the present. Since the deaths of Joe Sutton and his sister, life at the Sutton home for cast-off children had become one large slumber party. This party came with its own dedicated servant, who now trudged up the stairs, laden with the dirty dishes the children accumulated over the course of the day. Her hair was torn out in places, leaving bald patches. Blood dripped down her scalp from where a particularly well-rooted piece of hair had been snatched. She had been administered another punishment for not being good, this time for not coming downstairs quickly enough.

Sofia, with an ethereal smirk, had paused the animated fox in mid-leap, and called to them.

“All of you, come over here.”

She hadn’t needed to speak; they were gathered at the base of the stairs as soon as she had stopped the film. Beth snapped her gum and stared at Olivia with the blank expressionless eyes all the children wore, unless Sofia was tormenting one of them. Right now, though, Olivia was the target.

“How long ago did we summon Olivia?” asked Sofia in a lilting singsong voice.

“Too long, too long,” chorused the children. Their harmony of their voices made Olivia want to scream.

“It was two minutes! I was in the bathroom!” Olivia cried, knowing it was hopeless but unable to save her breath. “I’m sorry!”

“Janie says we have to punish you,” said Beth, and smiled.

“Puuu-niiiish…” sang five year-old Eve.

“Punish,” echoed the twins Robert and Sam.

“Junie says you were bad,” said Lisa, matching Beth’s smile.

“Well get it over with!” screamed Olivia, her nerves on edge. All the creepy singing children, it was like a fucking horror movie. “Just kill me!”

“Kill you?” Sofia asked, her face a mock expression of shock. “Goodness, why would we do such a thing for a little tardiness? Let’s just give you something to look at in the bathroom mirror while you’re in there.”

Ten eager little hands went to work.

Back upstairs, Olivia dumped the dishes in the overflowing sink and wiped the blood from her face. Tears mixed with the blood, and she sniffed them back. Her scalp ached as she rewound the dirty rag around her severed fingers, which thankfully only gave occasional throbs to remind her they were there. Going to the bathroom as Sofia said she would, she looked at herself in the mirror. She stifled a sob. Just days ago she had been sure of her life and her purpose. Now she was trapped in a house with two unholy things which were using all of them, even Sofia, for their own entertainment.

“Hey, girl!” Sofia’s voice drifted up the hallway and Olivia’s severed fingers gave a great THROB of recognition.

Hastening downstairs, she stopped at the bottom step, as a mouse will peek out of its burrow before committing itself fully to the danger zone. “Yes?”

The hound and the fox were all grown up now. Sofia took Jenny Sutton’s cell phone from Beth and tossed it to Olivia. “Get the kids some pizza. They don’t like your cooking.”

Olivia fumbled the phone with her eight fingers and nearly dropped it. She caught it by her fingernails and wrapped her hands around it before they could betray her further. “What kind of pizza?”

“They don’t care.” Sofia favored Olivia with a condescending smile. “They’ll eat what we tell them to eat.”

“Of course,” Olivia mumbled, retreating back up the stairs. Once she had called the nearest delivery place and ordered three large cheese pizzas, she sat slumped in a corner of the kitchen, staring at the wall and making as little noise as possible. She found that if she didn’t move or call attention to her presence upstairs, Sofia left her alone for longer. Sometimes.

“Hey, girl!” came Sofia’s all purpose call. Olivia dragged herself upright again, wondering if this would be her life, and drug herself downstairs.

“Where’s the pizzas? They’re hungry.” Sofia stared at Olivia, who stared back, trying to stay calm.

“They’re coming. They said it could be an hour,” Olivia said, pulling the phone out of her pocket and looking at it. “I only ordered it–”

“We know,” Sofia snarled, snatching the phone out of Olivia’s hand. “If pizza doesn’t get here soon, they’ll have to eat something else. Like you.”

Olivia felt a familiar thud of horror, but now it was coupled with a sick kind of hope. An end to suffering. “Let me go see if they’re coming,” she stammered, turning to retreat. Halfway up the stairs, the doorbell rang.

She screamed with relief and hurried to the door, flinging it open wide and digging in her pocket for cash. “How much is it?” she asked, looking from the bills in her hand to the delivery man’s face.

“Let me check your receipt, ma’am,” said Detective Eric Hoffman.

Through Dolls Eyes by Jesse Orr

ThroughDollsEyes

                                                                                     Episode Nine:  Don’t Do Anything Stupid 

Sofia’s new home had three flights of stairs to accommodate all the bedrooms for the foster children, and a big TV in the basement for all her new brothers and sisters. They spent most of their time down there, watching movies, playing video games and generally forget about the lousy hand life had dealt them as their parents thrashed around in their own decaying lives.

Besides her, there were three other girls and two boys, all between five and ten years old. The two twin boys Robert and Sam were nine years old had lost their entire family in a fire, save for one old family black sheep who was currently in rehab and being judged in ninety days as to his fitness to raise a child. The five-year-old girl Eve had bruises on her eyes and throat which were just beginning to fade from a brutal beating she had taken last weekend from her mother’s latest boyfriend. Lisa was eight and had been found wandering the streets last month after her mother had OD’d in their apartment and Lisa had taken to wandering the street for food. Ten year old Beth’s stepfather had raped her and was on trial for that as well as the disappearance of Beth’s mother.

They were all ruled by Mr. and Mrs. Joe and Olivia Sutton, and Joe’s sister Jenny. Joe Sutton had grown up in the church’s shadow and had tried hard to live his life according to the good book. He went to church every Sunday he could, but was not averse to a little hard work on the Sabbath should prudence dictate. His wife Olivia was likewise inclined, and as a means of giving back to the world, with the help of Joe’s sister, they fostered as many unfortunate little souls as they could comfortably take in. Little Sofia, left with nothing but her two dolls for company after she had been abandoned in the backyard by her crazy father upon the murder of her mother, would fill their house to capacity and they could all begin the healing together.

When Sofia arrived, all the children were playing in the basement. Olivia saw the car driven by Child Protective Services pull into their driveway and called to Joe. “They’re here!”

Joe hurried to the front door and out to the porch to greet the car. It crunched through the gravel to the foot of the stairs, skidding to a halt faster than usual. The front doors popped open and two women got out. One went to the back and retrieved a small case out of the trunk, while the passenger went to the back door and opened it. Joe could hear her speaking something into the depths of the car as the driver carried the little girl’s suitcase up the stairs.

“Hey Joe,” she said, handing the bag over to him. “Just between you and me, this little girl gives me the creeps. She doesn’t say anything unless you talk right to her and she won’t go anywhere without those two dolls.” She looked back at the car where Sofia was just stepping down from the seat, clutching two dolls as though they were life preservers.

“Jan,” Joe said with a note of reproach, “You know perfectly well a child who has experienced a traumatic–”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Jan the driver, waving a hand at him. “I know perfectly well. But she still gives me the creeps.”

Joe turned his attention to the little girl who came up his stairs. She was hollow-eyed, and looked at the ground. The dolls she clutched to her chest in a monstrous bear hug, her arms wrapped around herself. Joe noted the bandage around one hand and recalled her injury from her file. One finger severed and unable to be reattached. Paramedic’s note states she said the doll took it. Pasting his number-one smile on his face, he went to one knee.

“Hi there Sofia, my name is Joe and it’s great to have you here today!”

Her eyes flickered up once, then back down to the ground. “Hi.”

Joe threw a triumphant glance in Jan’s direction, then gestured behind him to where Olivia was standing with Jenny, wearing identical expressions of greeting. “This is my wife Olivia and my sister Jenny, they’re going to take you inside and get you settled before you meet everyone, okay?”

This time, her eyes came up and met his, and the voice that came out of her was smoother and somehow fuller than should come from a little girl. It seemed far older than the body it inhabited.

“Are there any other children here?”

Joe’s smile broadened and became more genuine. Maybe there was hope for this little girl, he thought, and replied “There sure are! There are two brothers and three other girls for you to play with. Once you get settled, maybe Olivia or Jenny will take you downstairs to play with them.”

Olivia stepped forward to take Sofia inside. “Hi there Sofia, I’d be happy to take you down to play once we get you settled in. Can you come with me for right now though?”

Sofia looked at the ground again. Her arms loosened her grip on the dolls, and she looked at one of them. It was just a glance but Joe’s flesh crawled at it.

“We want to go play now,” the little girl said, and her voice carried an unmistakable note of menace. Her eyes shifted to Jenny, and she repeated herself. “Now.”

Now it was Jan’s turn to shoot Joe a triumphant glance which he missed entirely, gaping at Sofia. “We’ll be on our way now, Mr Sutton,” Jan said, already moving down the steps with the driver. “Have a good day.” They were in the car and driving away before Jenny spoke up, her voice dreamy.

“Why don’t I take her downstairs to meet her new brothers and sisters. It shouldn’t take long.” She smiled at Sofia, who smiled back. Olivia saw the smile was the same on both faces. Vacant and slack, insincere, as though its bearer was not used to the action.

“That would be very nice,” Sofia said and moved toward Jenny before Joe could object, passing Olivia as though she weren’t even there and not giving Joe a glance. “It’s been so lonely with just the three of us, Janie and Junie are getting bored.”

Smiling at Joe and Olivia, Jenny followed Sofia into the house and down the stairs. Joe and Olivia looked at each other, releasing breaths they had not been aware they were holding.

“What in the name of God was that?” Joe whispered.

“Jenny just wants her to feel more comfortable,” Olivia said, her voice unsteady and unbelievable.

Joe opened his mouth for a rebuttal but was cut off by a terrible scream from inside. Olivia had already darted inside as he followed. She shrieked, “Jenny!” and Joe saw her go bounding down the stairs to the basement. He reached the head of the stairs and looked down.

His sister lay in a crumpled heap at the foot of the stairs, her legs twisted beneath her, white shards of bone sticking out at all angles. One arm was underneath her and blood ran from her unmoving eyes and ears, her head resting against the wall which had stopped her fall. Her jaw was slack, a loosened tooth hanging from a thread as blood dripped from her mouth. At the bottom of the stairs, Sofia stood smiling at Jenny’s broken body as she stroked the doll’s hair.

Olivia knelt beside Jenny’s still form, crying and digging in her pocket for her cell phone. Setting the dolls carefully beside Jenny’s broken body, Sofia turned to the children who had moments before been engaged in a rousing game of UNO. They had leaped up at the sound of Jenny crashing down the stairs, and the younger ones were crying. As Olivia raised the phone to her ear after dialing 911, Sofia snatched the phone and darted behind the children who were clustered around Jenny. Olivia’s snatch at Sofia was too late.

“Give me the phone back!” she screamed, causing the children to cry harder. “I have to call the ambulance!”

“No you don’t,” said Sofia, her face a mask of cruel malice. “She’s dead.”

“No!” howled Joe, taking the stairs two at a time and landing beside Jenny. “She’s just knocked out, I can see her breathing. Give us the phone!” Forgetting he carried his own, he made for Sofia.

The children as one stopped crying. The twins Robert and Sam latched on to Joe’s legs, one wrapping around each shin and halting his progress toward Sofia. The tallest girl, Beth, slipped up beside Joe and relieved him of his own cell phone, dropping it to the cement floor and stepping on it with a crunch. The other two girls grabbed Joe’s arms and pulled him over backwards with all their might, his head meeting the floor with an audible crack. Joe Sutton died without ever knowing it was coming.

Olivia was not so lucky. As she watched the children come to life and end Joe’s as though it were some horrible sequel to Children of the Corn, her eyes were drawn to Sofia. She stood in the middle of the basement, eyes fixed on Olivia.

“You’re not going to try anything stupid, are you?” Sofia asked, and Olivia trembled. There was no little girl in that voice. There was nothing human in that voice. Sofia’s eyes burned with terrible power and intelligence and Olivia shook her head, afraid to speak in the presence of one so clearly her superior.

“Go sit in the corner while they clean up these two,” Sofia said, gesturing to the corner at the far end of the room. Olivia did as she was bidden, putting her nose in the corner as she had when she was a child.

“No!” barked Sofia, and Olivia jumped. “Face out. I want you to watch this.”

Turning around, Olivia stood with her back to the corner as Sofia turned her attention back to the children who had brought down Joe. After he had hit the ground, Robert and Sam had let go of his legs and all the children stood assembled in a group, watching Sofia. Waiting. Sofia pointed at the bodies at the base of the stairs. The five children grabbed Joe’s body and drug it to the corner of the basement opposite Olivia’s corner.

Sofia was supervising the work with her back to Olivia, and it occurred to Olivia that the little girl’s head was unguarded. If she could tackle Sofia to the ground and knock her out, whatever power she had over the children would cease. Olivia’s pulse beat faster at the thought, but she knew it could be her only chance. At the thought, she moved forward, being as silent as possible, but Sofia was already turning. Throwing caution to the winds, Olivia leapt at Sofia, hoping to catch the girl in a flying tackle. Sofia merely stepped to the side and let Olivia’s leap carry her onto the floor, where the five children left off their grisly work to pin Olivia to the ground in a trice.

Sofia’s face was contorted in a furious sneer as she stalked up Olivia’s body to stand on her chest, compressing her lungs. “You said you wouldn’t be trying anything stupid,” she snarled, bouncing a little on the woman’s chest. Olivia heard a rib crack a microsecond before a thunderous pain roared through her torso. Her scream was a labored wheeze. “Now I have to show you what happens when you’re stupid.” Looking at Beth as she knelt beside Olivia, Sofia snapped, “Hold out her hand.”

Beth grabbed Olivia’s left hand and with a strength which did not belong to her ten year old body, bent Olivia’s hand and arm into position before Sofia. “This is just the first one,” Sofia breathed in Olivia’s ear, taking hold of the finger adorned with Joe’s wedding ring. “There are nine more.” Gripping the finger like a vice and holding Olivia’s hand steady, Sofia began to twist. The agony was beyond anything she had ever experienced. Olivia screamed and thrashed as the bones cracked and tissue tore. The five children she had taken in pinned her like iron the floor and not until Sofia was holding Olivia’s severed finger and grinning did they let her up.

“Are you going to be good now?” Sofia asked, wagging Olivia’s finger at her and giggling.

Olivia nodded through her grimace of agony, tears coursing down her face as she clamped her traumatized hand in her armpit, hoping by squeezing it there she could stem the awful pain roaring through her entire arm. Her broken rib stabbed with each breath.

Sofia tossed the finger into the corner with Joe’s body, then picked up her two dolls. She smoothed their hair and kissed each one in turn.

“Junie, Janie, I think we’re going to like it here,” she said to them and smiled.

Through Doll’s Eyes by Jesse Orr Lack of Insanity

ThroughDollsEyes

Lack of Insanity

“I’m not crazy,” Nancy said.

“I’m not crazy either,” Hoffman replied.

There was silence. They looked at each other.

“What are you doing here then?” They spoke at once, and grinned a little.

Nancy glanced around. They were in the common room. The therapy session had broken up, and this was what was known as “association time.” A nice term for “put them in an enclosed area and see what they do.” The doctors had vanished, and orderlies had replaced them. There were more clubs and orderlies than usual, just in case the crazies started being crazy.

So far, the men and women were segregated except for one or two small knots around a game board and several listening to a nurse read a story. Some terminally insane patients stared out the windows. Nancy and Hoffman were seated by a window looking out over the water.

“The truth, is that I bought two dolls for my daughter’s birthday from a thrift store. Somehow, they took over her mind and I had to kill her.” Nancy said this in a rush, but with her chin up, eyes fixed on his. “That’s the truth, for all the fucking good it does in here.” She gestured at the room and Stonebriar at large.

Hoffman nodded. “That sounds fucking crazy,” he said. “I see why you’re in here if that’s what people hear.”

“Yeah, well you’re the one who left his daughter out in the garden for days to play with a goddamn doll so you sound like a fucking pansy,” Nancy shot back.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Hoffman said, lowering his voice. “What happened is insane, and the truth sounds equally insane. I’m just saying it’s no wonder we’re both in here.”

For a moment, Nancy’s eyes held his, piercing them with her own. Then they dropped, and her anger and bravado dropped with it. “I’m sorry. I don’t sleep well in here and I’m tired of people saying I’m crazy.”

Hoffman lowered his voice further. “Is there any way out of here?”

Nancy rolled her eyes. “You mean past the locked doors, fences, guards and cliffs? I’m pretty sure once we got outside the fence we could just walk down the road.”

“Out of the building itself,” he said, rolling his own eyes back at her.

“I’m sure, if we had keys, it would be easy enough,” she said, and shook her head. “What are you driving at, Eric?”

“If we could get outside, there’s a rope ladder hanging from the cliff.” He practically mouthed the words. “Local law requires facilities like hospitals to have escape routes from high places like cliffs, just in case something would keep people from evacuating from the front. I’ve inspected this facility myself and I’ve tested their rope ladder. It’s little more than a formality, but it passed the inspection. It could be our only hope.”

Nancy’s eyes had widened as Hoffman explained, and now she spoke. “You’re crazy! That’s hundreds of feet down into the water! What are we supposed to do when we get there, swim to the nearest town and ask for sanctuary in their bell tower?”

“No, we’re supposed to sit here and let those fucking dolls have their way with my daughter.” Hoffman said, glaring at her.

Nancy looked as though she were chewing on her tongue. “Eric, your daughter is dead. They won’t keep her alive this long.”

“How do you know?” Hoffman was suddenly shouting. “How the fuck do you know that? How the fuck do you know anything?” He was standing now, screaming down in the face of the woman before him, venting his rage and pent-up frustrations onto this unfortunate source. A large orderly hurried over, but Hoffman’s focus had narrowed. “Just because you killed your daughter to get rid of them doesn’t mean you know shit about what they’re doing! Why did they keep me alive so long? You don’t know what they do!”

He spun, whirling, toward the room. “None of you know!” he howled, then was silent, as the orderly’s club connected with the back of his head. The world went black.

He awoke an immeasurable amount of time later, his head wreathed in bandages and pain. He had been dumped in a pile on his bed and his arm was asleep. It was dim in his cell and silent on the other side of his cell’s door. It was nighttime then, he thought, pushing himself up and massaging his dead arm. He shook his head to clear it and a bolt of pain shot through his skull, bringing back his yelling fit and subsequent clubbing.

He sighed. Ranting at a bunch of people like a lunatic. Sure, he wasn’t crazy. Who would think such a thing?

A tapping at his door raised his head. Nancy was looking through the window.

A great surge went through him and the pain was shoved to the back of his mind as he leaped to his feet and went to the door. “Nancy!” he hissed.

Raising a finger to her lips, she mouthed “shut up stupid” and ducked out of sight. There was a grating sound and a muffled clicking from the locking mechanism. Hoffman had just enough time to reflect on the surreal nature of what was happening when the door clicked louder and swung open slightly.

Nancy darted inside and pushed it shut, taking care not to let the lock catch all the way. “Don’t make a sound,” she breathed. “There’s a guard making rounds.”

Hoffman held his breath, listening to the guard’s feet nearing his cell door. It occurred to him that he would be on his bunk at this hour, sleeping off a conk to the head, and he hurtled without a sound across the room. He had just settled on the bunk as the orderly glanced in through the window Nancy crouched beneath, assuring himself that there was indeed a man-shaped lump on the bed before exiting the men’s ward.

Nancy let out a slow rush of air. Hoffman found he had nearly stopped breathing, and gasped in a breath.

“Let him get a few minutes away and we can go,” she whispered, cracking the door and peering outside. “There’s only a skeleton crew at this hour. I know about a back door they never keep locked so the orderlies can sneak a smoke.”

“How do you know all this?” Hoffman asked.

“Because I listen in the common room,” she said, and glanced outside again. “Orderlies and nurses don’t usually bother keeping their voices down around a bunch of crazies who can’t even remember who they are.” She looked at him. “Let’s go.”

The lights shone overhead, marking a straight line as they crept down the hall, keeping to the meager shadows on the sides. A cough from one of the cells froze them. No sound came but the mutter of one of the patients sleep. After a time’s agonized silence in which Hoffman counted thirty of his own rapid breaths, Nancy tugged his sleeve and moved forward.

At the door leading out of the men’s ward, she paused, and checked the door through which the guard had passed. The handle turned. She grinned. “Lazy guards don’t bother to lock doors.”

“I’ll make sure to mention it in my report,” Hoffman muttered as he slipped past her through the crack in the door. She followed and pushed it softly closed behind her.

She led him to a small door recessed in the stone walls that he had not observed on his way in. It sat several feet back from the main hallway, and was concealed in a slit not easily observable to the casual eye. Nancy disappeared through it, and Hoffman followed, glancing around. Was that the sound of their own footsteps echoing?

Nancy knelt before the door and began fiddling with the lock. Hoffman could not see what she held but he recognized one familiar with picking locks when he saw one. He knelt beside her and whispered “Who are you? How do you know how to pick locks so well?”

The lock clicked and she opened the door to the surprised face of one of the orderlies on his way in from a cigarette, whose key was halfway to the lock.

Through Dolls Eyes by Jesse Orr “The First Step”

ThroughDollsEyes

The First Step

Stonebriar Mental Hospital stood atop a cliff overlooking the sea. Waves crashed at the base of the rocks, sending plumes of spray grasping at the lower windows of the mental hospital. Those skittish inhabitants of the lower levels scurried away from the windows and the storm’s fury. Stonebriar had been strategically placed atop the cliff, its rear to the ocean, to deter escapees. The front of the building was ringed by a huge razor wire fence with an iron gate protected around the clock by a guard and a bank of switches controlling the locks. To the rear, the windows faced a spectacular view of the ever-changing waters, unmarred by tree nor power line as the land ended some fifty yards from the back of the building. There was no need for a fence around the back, as the cliff took care of all the security they required.

On the fourth floor, Jaci Wayne was making her rounds, always starting from the top of the building and working her way down. Being higher up in a storm like this always made her very nervous, ever since a seabird had been blown through one of the windows and turned the hurricane loose inside. The inhabitants of the top floor were, fortunately, some of the lower maintenance patients, not given to making a bad situation worse, and had shepherded themselves down to the third floor while Jaci and another nurse who quit the next day tried to chase the bird out of the hole in the window. Tonight, the wind was strong, but nowhere near as dangerous as it had been the night of the bird, and the patients were calm, accepting their afternoon dose of medication without a qualm.

Jaci stepped into the elevator after the last patient had swallowed their dose, trundling her little cart before her into a florescent lit cubicle of an elevator. Pale linoleum glinted in the harsh light. She pressed the button marked 3 and adjusted her ponytail, securing a few wisps of her dark hair which had tried to make a break for it. The elevator chugged down the track, coming to a screaming halt on the third floor as she stabbed a bobby pin into her hair. The third floor was populated by patients who suffered from various maladies but were not judged to be inherently dangerous. Jaci began her rounds with the woman who peeked out from her room just long enough to snatch her medication from Jaci before slamming the door behind her.

“Have a good day, Mrs. Smith,” Jaci called through the door. The woman within waved through the window with a cheery smile. As long as she never had to leave her room, everything was fine. Jaci passed out her pills to the depressed man who sat in the corner of the TV room and spoke to himself, to the man who had tried to shoot himself and now walked around the halls drooling from a reconstructed face, to the woman who laughed and had to be restrained physically from drawing upon the walls. Everyone on the floor was dosed without incident.

The second floor was also the ground floor, and housed the most dangerous patients. Here were the pyromaniacs, the self-harmers, the stalkers. On this floor stood two guards, or orderlies, as the staff was required to refer to them as such. These two gentlemen were armed with hefty batons. Jaci always managed to get through her rounds on this floor in under an hour though it seemed like much longer. She always took a break before going to the first floor. She needed the rest.

The first floor was poorly named. It was below the surface of the earth and housed the rapists, the murderers, the child molesters, and others who had committed an unpardonable sin and had been judged unfit to stand trial for one reason or another.

Jaci told the intercom, “Going down to the dungeon, please buzz me in.”

The cart jerked as the elevator rose a fraction then began descending at a regular rate. Jaci used the time to tie her ponytail back into a tight bun, where it could not become a handle. She tucked her smock into her scrub pants and squared her shoulders. The door crashed open.

The hallway was white, shining and reflecting the hidden fluorescent with savage intensity. The guards, or “orderlies” at the station by the door were armed. There were four cells in all, each the size of a small bedroom. For twelve hours a day at least, the patients did not leave them. There were no timekeeping pieces on this level, save what the guards wore or carried upon their person.

She walked down the hall, referring to her clipboard and dispensing medication to those cells whose inhabitants required them, even though she knew her rounds by heart. The clipboard kept her from making eye contact. Two purple pills for the rapist on the right, one green pill immediately across from the rapist for the arsonist who burned down his ex wife’s house with her inside. Next to the arsonist was a kidnapper who had been judged to have the mind of a fourteen-year-old boy despite his huge size. He received four purple pills Jaci knew were equivalent to horse tranquilizers, and she was grateful. The last thing they needed was that moose running rampant.

Four pills to the moose. The fourth cell was empty, and Jaci was buzzed through a door at the end of the hall. Through the door, there was a short hallway which led to the door to the women’s cells. She was buzzed through it into an identical hallway of four cells. The first occupant on the right had split open her landlord’s head with a hammer and eaten part of his brain before the police had broken in and stopped her. A single large white pill for that lady. The cell beside hers contained a mother who had smothered both her children and their father when she found out he had been having an affair. She had been found walking through the street sobbing and had not stopped until she had been at Stonebriar for some time. Now with the help of a tranquilizer equal to the dose given to the moose, she just stared.

The cell beside her was empty. Across from it was the last cell on the block, which held a woman who had murdered her daughter because she had turned into a doll or something. Jaci was hazy on the details, as the woman had come in after her last two-week shift. The doll lady would be receiving one bright blue pill Jaci recognized as a strong anti-psychotic. Jaci checked it off on her clipboard and stepped to the slot in the door. It snapped open before her and she jumped back with an involuntary gasp.

“Hello,” Nancy said, smiling at Jaci through the window as she held the medication slot open for Jaci to pass through the pill. “I hope I didn’t startle you.”

“Not at all,” Jaci said, composing herself in an instant. “Take those now so I can see you.”

Nancy the Doll Lady tossed the pill down like a shot of whiskey followed by the paper cup of water Jaci passed through the slot. Crumpling both cups, Nancy opened her mouth and leaned forward to the window. Jaci did likewise, checking that the pill was not hidden beneath Nancy’s tongue. Satisfied, she nodded. “Have a good night.” Turning her cart around, she trundled back to the door separating the men’s ward and disappeared through it.

Nancy hurried to her toilet and stabbed a finger at the back of her throat, bringing up a bit of gruel and one mostly intact blue pill. Another stab brought up a little more gruel, some of it blue. She burped, and flushed the toilet as her stomach gave another heave. Going to the sink, she washed her face and rinsed out her mouth. On wobbly knees, she went to her bed and lay down on the stiff sheets, pulling what passed for a pillow under her head and staring at a ceiling she was getting to know all too well.

As far as she could reckon it, she had been here more than a week but not two. Time ceased to exist but for the medications and mandatory group therapy sessions. Her turn to share her story had come around once so far in their handful of sessions on the block and had earned her the distinction of Doll Lady from everyone, though the staff would not have said it to her face. She endured smirks and jibes from other inmates with stoic silence, knowing there was no point in arguing with the insane.

She had wondered often if she was insane. If she had imagined the hate and insanity and lack of humanity in her daughter’s face and eyes as she stabbed with the knife. She relived it often enough in her dreams and awake, that she felt she could not be wrong. There could be no mistaking that in her own daughter.

Tears came to her closed eyes as she began to review it again, powerless to stop it. She turned to the wall as the tears trickled down her face.

A voice crackled over the intercom.

“Attention patients. The evening group therapy session will take place in fifteen minutes. Thank you.” A click and the voice was gone.

Nancy’s eyelids flickered but she did not move. All the announcement said was that in an unmeasurable period of time, she would be herded into a room with a bunch of lunatics and forced to either listen to their stories or tell her own. She was in no rush. They could take as long as they wanted. After an unmeasurable period of time, the cell doors crashed open and she was herded into a common room off the hallway between the two cell blocks along with all the other loonies. The common room had been set up into rows of chairs with a white board at the front. As they were jostled into their seats, Nancy noticed a man she had not yet seen at their sessions. The huge moose saw her noticing the man and guffawed.

“Hey Doll Lady, this’n guy sez a doll drove ‘im and ‘is daughter insane!” He chuckled. “Maybe youse guys can swap yore stories about th’ scary dolls and we c’n have us a campfire!”

Nancy’s heart stopped, then restarted. She watched the man settle into his seat. He was staring straight ahead as seats filled around him, ignoring even the argument taking place over the chair behind him. She grabbed the moose’s elbow as he lumbered away. “What else did he say? Quick! Tell me!”

The moose looked startled. “He didn’t say nothin’, I ‘eard it from ‘im.” He pointed over his shoulder to the rapist, who was staring at the girl who had eaten her landlord’s brain.

Nancy’s stomach turned but she as she started forward, a portly man with a beard and a woman with short brown hair came into the room and stood before the white board. They both carried clipboards and wore white lab coats. The moose melted into a seat and everyone seemed instantly to find theirs. Silence fell.

“Good afternoon,” the woman said. “My name is Dr Axton. This is my colleague Dr Winston.” The portly man nodded. “Those of us not new to group will recognize us. Those who are new, welcome.”

Nancy shot a glance at the man the moose had pointed out to her. He was looking Dr Axton in the eye as she continued “Our newest member will traditionally stand and introduce himself and explain why he or she is or are here.” Dr Axton inclined her head to the new guy, bidding he stand and do so.

As he rose, Dr Winston smiled. “Please tell the truth about why you are here, we will know if you are not being accurate and disciplinary measures may be enacted.” He tapped his clipboard for emphasis.

The new guy looked around him and said in a clipped, neutral tone, “Eric Hoffman. I’m here because a doll took over me and my daughter’s minds and made us do things we didn’t want to do.”

There was a pause and several of the patients burst out laughing. Dr Axton whirled on them and snarled “Silence!”

They subsided, snickering.

“Now, Eric,” Dr Winston said, wearing the exact same smile. It looked pasted on to Nancy. “You know dolls can’t do anything we don’t want them to do, right? They’re just toys!”

“I know that, sir,” Hoffman said, and offered no more.

Dr Winston’s fake smile twitched at one corner as he looked at Dr Axton, who stepped forward. “Mr Hoffman, how could the dolls take over your minds? Do you hear how absurd that sounds?”

“I do,” said Hoffman, and kept a respectful silence.

Dr Axton sniffed. “Perhaps later you and Nancy can discuss your doll fantasies. For now, we will focus on patients who are not having issues with children’s toys.

Hoffman’s calm facade broke and he looked truly awake for the first time. “Wait, what? Who’s Nancy?”

“You’re obsessed, the pair of you,” Dr Axton said, gesturing in Nancy’s direction. “She says her daughter was possessed by a doll. You can talk after group. Now please, sit down.”

Hoffman sat, and his eyes met Nancy’s. She stared at him. He stared back. Dr Winston began to drone something about impulses.

She mouthed ‘I’m not crazy.’

He nodded and mouthed back ‘neither am I.’

Through Doll’s Eyes: Intervention Part II by Jesse Orr

ThroughDollsEyes

Through Doll’s Eyes: Intervention Part II by Jesse Orr

Ever since Mommy had stopped moving, Sofia had been living outside with Janie. It was great fun. Sometimes she missed Junie and her mommy, but Janie said not to worry. Her daddy was with Janie’s sister while mommy was in the forever sleep.

When Janie told her about the forever sleep, Sofia had been scared. What if she, Sofia, went to sleep one night and it was the forever sleep? Janie said not to worry, that Sofia was safe from the forever sleep as long as she did exactly as Janie told her.

Sometimes Sofia wondered about Daddy, but she didn’t ask anymore. The first time she had, Janie had said Daddy was fine, with Junie. The second time she asked, Janie got mad, and said that she hoped Daddy hadn’t fallen into a forever sleep. She asked Sofia if she should go and see. The look in Janie’s eyes made Sofia shake her head, and that night, Janie had punished her for asking. She had not asked about Daddy since. Besides, she had such fun with Janie that she hardly thought of Mommy or Daddy anymore.

She and Janie were having tea in the garden as was their custom, when Janie told her that very soon, some men would come.

“What men?” Sofia asked, setting down her cup of tea. She didn’t like tea much, but Janie told her she did when they played tea party. “What do they want?”

Janie said they were going to take Sofia and her daddy away so they couldn’t play with Janie and her sister Junie anymore.

“Why?” Sofia was horrified. Lose Janie? Her closest friend in the world? They couldn’t!

The men wouldn’t understand that they were friends, Janie explained. The men would insist that Janie and Junie weren’t worth bothering with, and they would take Sofia and her daddy away.

“No!” Sofia said, beginning to cry. “They can’t do that, can they? Can’t you stop them?”

Janie told her not to worry, there was nothing to fear. Daddy would be taken somewhere else, but as long as Sofia did exactly as Janie told her, the two of them would not have to part. Sofia skipped over what would happen to her father, fixating like a dog with a bone on the most important facts. If Sofia listened to Janie, they wouldn’t take her away.

Sofia promised to listen. “When is this going to happen?” she asked, her voice still shaky.

Janie said it would be very soon.

Eduardo the paramedic was already on edge. The scene in the house had been weird to begin with, without the stench and the oppressive mugginess. Eduardo ducked outside to the marginally fresher air and stood gulping in breaths. The stench of rotting meat surrounded the house, baking in the heat. He looked around the garden, seeking diversion.

A little girl with brown hair sat in a plastic chair with her back to him, apparently engaged in a tea party with a plastic doll set. Eduardo started. “Hey, there’s a little girl back here!” he shouted to the people inside the house. “Hey! Little girl! Are you ok?”

Eduardo jumped down from the porch and walked toward her, glad to get away from the stink of the house. Mentally he ran through his opening line. Hi honey, my name is Eduardo and I’m with the paramedics, how are you today?

His little speech arranged, Eduardo reached the tea party. “Hi honey, my name is E–”

His name died in his mouth as he took in the scene. The little girl sat at the green plastic table, knees tucked under its faded surface. Her hands were on the table, palms flat, as she stared at a doll seated across from her. She was nodding as though it spoke to her. Her hair was not brown, as he had thought, but a blonde so dirty it appeared to be a brown wig. In her matted hair were branches and leaves from a bed she had dug herself under a bush. Looking at the girl’s hands, Eduardo’s stomach swooped as he saw she had only nine fingers, her left smallest finger gone above the first knuckle. The wound was gray with dirt and infection. A puffy scratch above her eyebrow had swollen her left eye half shut, giving her eyelid a droop.

Hiding a sob, Eduardo sank to a knee, his speech forgotten. “Oh my god, what happened to your finger?”

The girl looked at him without a hint of emotion. “Janie took it.”

The paramedic heard others crossing the garden and felt sweet relief flooding into him. Relief that he was no longer alone with this horror. “Who’s Janie?”

Raising her four-fingered hand, the girl pointed at the doll sitting across from her.

Eduardo looked at the doll, and his stomach swooped again. The fucking thing was creepy. “Well that wasn’t very nice of her, now was it?” He glanced over his shoulder. Swanson and another paramedic were approaching. “Honey, we’re going to take you with us, somewhere safe. How about that?”

Her eyes shot to his. “And Janie?”

Taken aback, Eduardo nodded. “Of course, you can bring your doll.” He plucked Janie from her seat and deposited her in Sofia’s lap. He missed the look of peace which came over Sofia’s face as she wrapped her arms around the doll. She smiled as he stood up and turned to the two men. “Little girl’s lost a finger, she’ll need to roll.” The medic knelt down beside her.

“She’d have to roll to a foster home anyways,” said Swanson, glancing down at Sofia’s hand. “Father’s off his rocker, can’t leave her with him.” He shook his head. “Fucking sad.”

Eduardo nodded, his face grim. “I think we got here just in time.” He gestured at the house. “What are we doing with him?”

“They’ll take him to the mental hospital up at Stonebriar,” Swanson said. “Once they patch up his missing finger, they’ll–”

“Wait a minute,” Eduardo said, turning to look at the detective. “His missing finger?”

Swanson nodded. “Left pinky, lopped clean off. Says the doll took it.”

Through Dolls Eyes Intervention

ThroughDollsEyes

 

   Through Dolls Eyes – Intervention


Sergeant Thomas Richard Swanson burst through the door after knocking and waiting three times. He had emailed, texted, called, knocked and left twice, and enough was enough. He hadn’t heard from Hoffman in over a week. That was beyond fucked up.

Whenever they were working a case, they were never out of contact for more than a few hours. Behind him, two uniformed officers followed with their guns drawn.“Hoffman? Where the hell are you?” There was no sound from his partner or his partner’s family. The hallway before him was empty and his voice echoed up the stairway to his left. But there was a reek. A foul stench permeated the house, reminding Swanson of the time he had killed eight rats with a baited trap and tossed their bodies into the dumpster on the hottest week of the year. It was the smell of decomposing bodies which Swanson smelled now, making him feel as though he should be standing outside next to his dumpster in the alley behind his house.

“Do you smell that, sarge?” asked one of the uniforms, the one with the mustache. He looked a little green.

“You’d have to be a freak not to,” Swanson growled and swallowed his gorge back down.

“Check upstairs.”

“On it, sir,” Mustache said, and began mounting the stairs. Halfway up, he groaned.

“God, it’s even worse up here.”

“Swallow your vomit, officer,” Swanson snapped, unholstering his own weapon and moving further down the hallway.

The other uniformed officer, looking even greener, followed him. Swanson issued orders without looking.

“Officer Wilde, please check these rooms.” He gestured to the three rooms opening off the hallway.

“Right, sarge,” Wilde said, and swallowed, opening the door to his right and vanishing inside.

Swanson continued down the hall and into the kitchen, where flies buzzed around a sink stacked high with dishes. Bits of food littered the table and counters, crumbs bearing the imprint of small feet, rodent, and insect. The microwave hung open, splatters of red and brown caking the inside. Cupboard doors had been pulled half off and yawned empty with their contents crusted with filth and stacked in the sink and on the counter. A pile of decaying hamburger lay forgotten by all but the maggots on the table, still half in its plastic wrapper.

Around the table places were laid using a child’s plastic tea party set. There was something red and viscous inside the little pink cups, drawing the attention of the flies. On one of the plates lay a finger. Swanson’s stomach gave a sick lurch as he once again fought to control his gorge. Grabbing the radio from his pocket, he pressed the button.

“This is Swanson, I’m at the Hoffman residence and I’m going to need medical assistance and backup immediately!” The radio gurgled at him but his attention was arrested by Officer Mustache flying down the stairs with a look of horror on his face.

“Tom!” he yelled at Swanson, ignoring protocol. “Hoffman’s wife is up there, dead and mutilated! She’s at the bottom of the ladder to the attic and her face is all fucked up and it looks like someone fucking crushed her chest, she’s fuckin’–”

“Enough!” Swanson roared, grabbing the hysterical officer by the shoulders and shaking him hard.

“Enough that she’s dead, now get the hell out of here and get on the horn to headquarters, tell them to send people here pronto!”Mustache made haste for the front door down the hallway whence they had come, before being stopped short by a bloodcurdling screech from the room Officer Wilde had entered.

Mustache leaped back, almost into Swanson’s arms, who had been close behind. “What in the fuck was that?”Swanson threw the petrified officer aside, making a subconscious note to have a word with Mustache’s superior about his future in law enforcement. Gun ready, Swanson kicked the door in and froze.

His gun wavered and the barrel dropped, though he did not notice. Officer Wilde lay on the floor, gurgling and trying to pull a large pair of scissors from his throat while breathing through his own blood. Hoffman stood over him, shoulders hunched, clad in a pair of stained boxers and a yellowed white undershirt. His eyes snapped to the new intruders, and he recoiled,scuttling around to the other side of his desk which was piled high with delivery cartons and bottles of beer and whiskey. He peered out at them from between the mountains of Chinese containers and pizza boxes, his eyes distorted by the whiskey bottle he stared through. Swanson could see madness there, and it chilled him more than anything he had seen.

“I know what you want,” Hoffman hissed, and Swanson was without warning transported back to the theater when he and his children had watched Lord of the Rings and laughed at the creature Gollum, alias Sméagol.

This living Gollum glared at him. “You want her back, don’t you. Well, you can’t have her. She likes me, and she likes it here with her sister.” Hoffman looked down at the desk, between two bottles.

“Don’t worry,” he said, and now his voice was fatherly and gentle.

“I won’t let them take you from her.”Swanson, taking some comfort from the siren he now heard approaching, pulled himself together and raised the gun again.

“Eric Hoffman, you are under arrest for the attempted murder of Officer Wilde down there. Put your hands on your head and turn around, man. Don’t make me kill you.”

Hoffman looked up at Swanson and raised his hands with deliberation. “Promise me you’ll leave her here? You won’t separate them?

Swanson could not help but note with the sickness that one of Hoffman’s fingers was missing as he laced his them behind his head and turned around.

“I can’t promise anything, who are you talking about?” He moved forward, pulling his handcuffs from his pocket. Hoffman nodded at the desk.

“June.” Snapping the cuffs around Hoffman’s wrists, Swanson relaxed a fraction and holstered his weapon as he followed Hoffman’s nod down to the desk. A doll in black and white sat there looking up at him, one cracked eyebrow giving her a sinister leer. An involuntary shudder went through Swanson and he nodded.

“No problem, Eric. She’ll stay right here.”

“That’s real good,” Hoffman said with a smile. “They’ve been together for so long, they’d hate to get separated.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Swanson said, hearing the siren stop its approach outside the house and the slamming of doors as the EMTs unloaded their gear for the now unmoving Officer Wilde.

“Let’s go, Eric.”Hoffman allowed himself to be led out as the paramedics rushed in, and put into the back of one of the police cars he used to drive, calling back to the house,

“Don’t worry, Junie! I’ll be back soon!”

“Not fucking likely, sport,” Swanson muttered as he opened the car door to get behind the wheel.

“Hey!” yelled a paramedic. “There’s a little girl back here!”

 

Through Doll’s Eyes by Jesse Orr

ThroughDollsEyes

 

Mary stepped outside, breathing in the cooling evening air. She could taste the pollen from the garden’s many flowers and hear the trickle of a small water feature she thought was a waste of money but Eric fussed over like a baby. A giggle from around the corner and the sound of her daughter’s voice. Mary couldn’t make out all of what she was saying, but she knew with whom the conversation took place. She grimaced.

Mary reached into the wooden box screwed to the side of the house and grabbed a pack of cigarettes she had stashed there. Lighting one, she took a puff and looked up at the sky. Clouds were beginning to form. She glanced at the grill. It was covered. Bring the rain, she thought, the plants can use it. A frown creased Mary’s face. Those god damned dolls.

She decided on the spur of the moment to hide them in the attic that night. Sofia was afraid of the attic and the evils it concealed, and would not venture up there if her life were at stake. Once those horrors were safely locked in some box out of her daughter’s sight, Mary would breathe a sigh of relief.

“Sofia? Honey, it’s time to brush teeth and get ready for bed! Pick up your toys, please.”

Looking over toward the corner of the garden, she could just see the edge of Sofia’s playset. She raised her voice, “Sofia Ann, right now!”

There was still no answer. With a sigh, Mary took another drag on her cigarette and stubbed it out against the wall, stowing it back inside the box for later. Wiping her hands on her jeans, she walked down the few steps from the little porch and headed for the corner of the garden, hidden from view by the corner of the house. “Sofia Ann Hoffman, when I tell you to do something, you mind me.”

Rounding the corner, she saw her daughter staring with a horrible fixation at one of the dolls sitting across the table from her. Sofia’s head cocked to the side like she did when she listened to music, nodding as though the fucking thing were telling her something she liked. Even as her stomach knotted with an uneasy fear, Mary’s jaw clenched with anger. Gratefully, she gave herself to this more familiar comforting emotion. Storming up to the table she snatched up the doll and shook it, displacing some of her anger onto the wretched thing.

“If you can’t be bothered to listen to me because of this dusty old thing, I think it’ll just have to be put away fro awhile until you learn it’s more important to heed your patents than your toys,” Mary barked, covering the fear in her voice with a layer of steel. “Now, young lady, you march yourself upstairs, put on your pj’s, brush your teeth and get into bed.” She pointed to the porch and the door leading within. “NOW.”

“I’m sorry, Mommy,” Sofia said, and Mary was dismayed to see a tear squeeze out from beneath one of Sofia’s eyelids and trickle down her cheek. She got up and went to the porch and inside without looking back at Mary, head down, shoulders slumped. In that instant, Mary hated herself almost as much as she hated these fucking dolls.

After finishing the second half of her cigarette, Mary was about to get baby Rachel ready for bed, when she remembered Eric had put her down already. She would check on Rachel after getting rid of this horrid stuffed thing which was always grinning at her whenever she caught sight of its face. Then, she would wash her hands, and check on Rachel.

Climbing the stairs to the attic door, she forgot about the step in the middle that wasn’t nailed down properly, caught it with her toe and ripped the nail halfway off. At least, that was what it felt like as she stood there swearing under her breath. Once it no longer felt as though her foot were going to fall off, she hobbled up the remainder of the steps, opened the attic door and flicked the light switch. With a dazzling pop, the light bulb shorted out and the entire attic was illuminated for a split second with a strobe light’s clarity. All Mary saw was Sofia’s face, twisted in the nightmarish grin of glee as she stepped forward and shoved.

Screaming, Mary flew backwards down the stairs and landed in an untidy heap at the bottom with an audible crunch. Bones ground in her ears as she tried to scream through a punctured lung and a broken jaw. All she produced was an anguished hiss.

Sofia descended the stairs with care, stopping at the bottom to pick up Janie, dust her off and adjust her hair and skirts. Then, she looked at Mary, who was still trying to take in a breath and looking desperate. Mary held out a hand in a silent plea.

Sofia looked at Janie. Janie smiled at Sofia. Sofia smiled back at Janie, relieved and settled herself on her mother’s chest to wait. It wouldn’t be long now, Janie assured her.

 

Through Doll’s Eyes by Jesse Orr

ThroughDollsEyes

It looked like tapioca.

It wasn’t.

Brain dripped down the wall in a Niagara of Vivian and Eric. Everything they ever had been, everything they had hoped to become, was smeared across the brick face.

Detective Hoffman had seen his share of automobile accidents, but not as many as one would think. There was precious little use for a homicide detective on the streets mopping up impaired drivers, normally. Normally, though, cars did not smash at full speed into a solid object which had been there for decades with no attempt at brake application.

It was due to this last anomaly that Hoffman stood here now, regarding dual brain prints on the wall and wondering what his daughter saw in tapioca. He had already photographed the scene several hundred times from varying angles and was waiting for the tow truck to fight its way through the traffic caused by the accident so it could remove the largest bit of detritus from the roadway. Once it was gone, Hoffman could document the spot it had lay in an attempt to divine further clues.

In an attempt to distract himself from the dessert on the wall, he lifted the digital camera around his neck to his eyes and pressed the View button. The most recent image leaped onto the LCD and he was treated to a close-up of the tapioca. Grimacing, he flicked backward through the images until the brain documentation had passed.

Here was the front seat from the driver’s side, both passenger, and a driver having exited through the windshield. Only their legs from the knees down remained in the car. The rest of them were alternatively smashed into the brick wall and laying on the hood. Here was the front seat from the passenger’s side and the accompanying closeups. Here was the backseat, which was attempting to get into the front seat. And sitting in the back seat…

Hoffman blinked. He flicked to another photo of the backseat, this from a closer angle.Then from the other side of the car. Finally, the camera had been held right inside the smoking ruin and a photo had been snapped. Two dolls, sitting side by side as neat as though they had been placed with care and seat belted in. Everything in the car had been thrown forward, but these dolls looked to be out for a day cruise. Hoffman was sure they had not been there when he took the photo. He lowered the camera and stepped around the corpse of the car to look in the back window.

There they sat, smiling with a blank vacuity, eyebrows raised at the world they regarded. Hoffman gazed back, a smile coming over his face. They were actually pretty cute, those little things. His daughter collected dolls, and she sure would love these.

Without having any idea how it had happened, Hoffman was sitting in his unmarked police car, piloting it away from the smoldering wreck in which Eric and Vivian had met their end. Beside him, strapped in with care in the passenger seat, sat the two dolls. They looked out the windshield, over the dashboard, eager for their approaching new home. Their chauffeur sat rigid in his seat, his mind a roaring blank save how much his daughter was going to love adding these two to her collection.

Hoffman arrived home earlier than usual. He probably should have stayed longer at the scene, but it didn’t seem very important. Compared to the look he knew would appear on his daughter’s face, some drunken fatcat smearing he and his wife’s brains across a brick wall didn’t seem to be so much as a blip on his radar. He turned into his driveway and his eyes fell to the dolls. He smiled. So cute.

“Daddy, they’re so cute!” Sofia squealed, cuddling the dolls to her.
“Where did you find them?”

“Never mind,” Hoffman said, beaming, the roaring in his mind as gentle as the sound of surf on a beach. “Why don’t you go show them to your mommy?”

Sofia was off like a shot, up the stairs, and into her little sister’s bedroom. Her mother, Mary, was putting her sister Rachel down for a nap when Sofia burst in.

“Mommy, mommy, look what daddy got for me!” She displayed the dolls with glee. Her mother’s expression of shock and distaste went unnoticed.
“Wasn’t that sweet of him,” Mary said, pasting a smile on her face. Her hand went unbidden to the baby Rachel, reassuring and soft, cooing in her sleep.

She was going to have to talk to Dave. These dolls were fucking creepy, the way they were leering at her. “I’m naming this one June and this one Janie!” Sofia babbled, shoving each doll in turn into Mary’s face. “Want to hold them?”

“Oh, no, honey, I’ve got to get Rachel to bed,” Mary said, regardless of the fact that Rachel was in bed and asleep. “Run along now and play with… with June and Janie while I put your sister down for her nap.”

Sofia skipped out the door and down the hall to her room. She had just the outfits in mind for the two dolls. She dropped them on her bed and went to her closet. She was rummaging through the piles when her hands slowed their feverish digging and her eyes lost their focus.

Really, there was no need to change their clothes. They liked it just the way they were.

From that day forward, more and more, Sofia could not find June, though she was sure she had not moved June from her spot. That was all right with Sofia, she liked Janie better anyway. They would go out to the garden, and eventually, June would end up back in her room so what did it matter?

Hoffman smiled at June and gestured toward the window of his study with his lit cigarette.

“You didn’t want to go out and pretend to drink stupid tea anyways did you? Never mind, you can keep me company.”

June said that would be just fine, she preferred coffee anyways.

“I hear that,” Hoffman said, nodding. “Tea is just pee from a tree, I always say.” He didn’t, but he thought it sounded clever. He didn’t want June to think he was a bumbling rube.

June complimented him on his eloquence and expressed her disappointment that his wife didn’t seem to like Janie and her.

Hoffman wrinkled his nose and puffed. “She just doesn’t appreciate good company, Juney darlin’. Don’t you go worrying about her, she’s just too wrapped up with baby Rachel.”

All the same, June said, she would feel far better if everybody in the house got along.

“Well I hear you, but what can we do?”

June considered for a time and suggested that perhaps if his wife had fewer demands on her time, she would be able to get to know June and her sister better. Hoffman nodded as he thought about it.

“That could work, you know she’s been awful stressed lately and not sleeping too well. What could we do for her to ease her mind?” June told him.

Mary hurried down the hall, wiping the soap off her hands. She had been washing dishes when she thought she had heard the baby cry out. Their baby monitor’s battery had been dead for a week or more and the house was fresh out of nine-volt batteries so she wasn’t entirely sure what she’d heard was real.

Steve Hoffman stood facing her beside Rachel’s crib, cradling her blanketed little body in his arms. Mary leaned against the doorway and smiled. As the doorway creaked, Steve looked over at her.

“She was getting a little fussy so I calmed her down,” he said and smiled back.“Thank you,” Mary said gratefully. “I don’t remember Sofia running me quite so ragged.”

She glanced at the wall clock. “Speaking of which, it’s about time for little girls of all ages to be washing up. Is she out in the garden with her dolls?”

“Just Janie,” Steve said, pulling the blanket from Rachel’s crib and tucking it around her.
“June is in my study.”

“My mistake,” mumbled Mary, moving down the hallway toward the door leading to the garden and the back door.

“Things are going to get easier, you’ll see,” Steve called down the hallway to Mary. “June said so.”

He smiled at the baby in his arms. When he had smothered her, she had only made a single noise. Nothing for Mary to worry about, now or ever again. Now, they could be a family. The five of them.

Through Doll’s Eyes by Jesse Orr

ThroughDollsEyes

Through Doll’s Eyes by Jesse Orr

ThroughDollsEyes

 

The gurgle of pouring liquid. The clunk of a half-full bottle being set back down on a solid wooden surface, then the double gulp of someone downing a good belt. A bit of a gasp from the throat of a woman as the bourbon slides down her throat, then the sound of her picking up the bottle and pouring another. This she downs as well, but with a little less urgency, and sets the glass back beside the bottle. This time, the glass remains empty for ten seconds or so, ten seconds she examines her hand in the kitchen light, forcing it to remain steady. Bourbon has killed some of the shakes, willpower does a little more. The blood streaming from the gash in her palm runs down her forearm, the red brilliant in the florescent light above. It is not deep, physically, but shows no signs of stopping. She pulls the edges apart, her stomach rolling a bit at the sight of her exposed meat. It does not appear to be debilitating. That’s good. The tremors come back as she pours for the third time. She’ll need it. She has to kill her daughter tonight.

The belt she administers herself this time makes the others seem like cheap imitations, filling the glass near to the top, and her willpower alone this time keeps her stomach from rejecting the poison she drops into it. She leans back into the corner of the kitchen counter, arms bracing her upright against the two sides surrounding her. She’s dripping onto the counter, faster as the alcohol thins her blood, pooling and dripping from the counter to the floor. The world spins when she shuts her eyes and doubles when she opens them. Closing one seems to be just the ticket though. The spins go away and there is only one of everything. Once this last dose hits bottom and gets comfortable, she can get down to business.

The business of killing her daughter.

Chuck E Cheese is a pit of madness, and a child’s birthday party is only another layer of madness atop it. On this day, there are no less than three separate bashes going on amid the general chaos. Through this maelstrom Nancy fights her way, clutching her daughter’s birthday present, narrowly avoiding a dancing mouse and a screaming two year-old. Someone bumps into her, hard, and she curses. Her ex-husband would choose to have Sandra’s birthday party here, in the middle of downtown, in the middle of rush hour, at the end of his weekend with her.

The thrift store across the road had offered the only parking within blocks of Chuck E’s, and for a mere $15 she secured a space of pavement for two hours with just enough time to dash inside and find a present for her daughter. Nancy had always struggled with procrastinating, and promised to rectify it every January 1st. Now as she rummaged through a wet-smelling selection of other people’s leftovers, she made the promise again. She hadn’t forgotten about the party, or Sandy’s birthday, but the time had just gotten away from her. Now she would have to show up with thrift gifts and Eric would smile that smug smile and point out the brand new bike or designer clothes he had bought for Sandy with his fancy salary and he could go fuck himself already…

Her hand stopped. It had been pawing through a pile of dolls. Now almost of its own volition, it moved aside a Raggedy Anne who had seen better days. Two pairs of black eyes looked at Nancy from worn china faces.

The decision was made. Yanking them from the back of the pile caused the rest to tumble to the floor but Nancy was already halfway down the aisle to the checkout. She thrust the dolls at a tattooed cashier who raised an eyebrow at Nancy’s harried expression.

“Something wrong, ma’am?”

“No, nothing’s wrong, just in a hurry,” Nancy said, and tried a smile in the cashier’s direction. It must have looked as phony as it felt, for the cashier’s raised eyebrow stayed.

“You sure? If you’re in some trouble…”

“I’m sure!” Nancy’s voice was a trifle hysterical, and several people looked over. She lowered her voice. “I’m just in a hurry to get to a goddamn birthday party with these dolls, that’s all.”

“Chuck E’s?” the cashier inquired, at last dropping her eyebrow and beginning to ring up the dolls in slow motion.

“Yes,” Nancy said, closing her eyes for a moment and praying for patience. “Do you gift wrap?”

The cashier barked a laugh, dropping the dolls into a plastic shopping bag. “There you are. $24.57, with tax, that’ll be–”

“Keep the change,” Nancy said, dropping thirty dollars on the till and snatching the bag, already halfway out the door.

“Mommy!” Sandra squealed, threading her way through Chuck E children like a nimble snake. All Nancy’s irritation at the store, the day, at Eric and the world in general evaporated as Sandra leapt into her arms and she clung her daughter to her, laughing.             “Happy birthday you little stinkpot!” Nancy cried, spinning Sandra in her arms as her daughter giggled. “You’re way too big for your old mom these days, gonna break my–”

“Nice of you to join us, Nancy,” came a voice which brought the world back in a crashing rush.

Nancy pretended not to hear. “How’s your party, honey? Are you having any fun?”

“Yeah I’m having fun,” Sandra bubbled, already squirming to get down. “We were playing tag, then the pizza came and we all ate and then I saw you!”

“You’d better get back to it,” Nancy said, depositing the girl back on her feet. “Come get your present when you’re ready for a break.”

“Okay mommy!” She was off like a shot.

“Didn’t think you were going to make it,” the voice came again, closer. Resigned, she turned around.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Nancy said, the coldness in her voice palpable. The man standing before her had possessed her heart once. Now, he turned her stomach. “How are you, Eric?” She turned to the blonde standing beside him and a little behind. “And you, Vivian?”

A sneer from the blonde. “Nancy.”

“We are doing fabulously, thank you,” Eric said, straightening his straight tie. “Our new house is nearly built, my investments are performing above market averages, and every day is better than the last.”

“Fan-fucking-tastic,” Nancy said, turning to watch Sandra run screaming after a little boy who had possibly stolen her tickets. “I’m starting a career in porn next month, maybe you could give me some pointers in fucking yourself.”

The children ran and screamed, the adults mingled and bemoaned the fact that Chuck E’s had no bar. Nancy was gratified to see the children slowing down and some parents beginning to gather the belongings which had been scattered. She had judged the ebb and flow of the party correctly. Everything went well, and she had to suffer less than an hour under the same roof with the new Mr and Mrs Eric Mayhew. She did not envy the bitch for ascending to this title in her, Nancy’s, stead. She just wanted herself and Sandra as far as possible.

By the time Sandra, yawning, had been buttoned into her coat and shepherded into Nancy’s vehicle, the parking lot’s sodium lights overhead had begun popping on in the dusk. Between yawns, Sandra kept up a nonstop stream of chatter as Nancy drove, narrating the weekend and the party as only a little girl can. Nancy nodded in the right places and exclaimed over her daughter’s doings, keeping her opinions of ”daddy’s new friend” to herself.

“Mommy!” Sandra cried, astonishment breaking through the enormous yawn that threatened to consume her face. “I forgot about your present!”

“That’s okay honey,” Nancy said, glancing into the rearview. Sandra looked genuinely distressed.

“You’re my mommy, I shouldn’t have forgotten your present.”

“Well here you go, stinkpot,” Nancy said with a smile and and grabbed the bag of dolls from the passenger seat, handing it back to Sandra. “Sorry I didn’t have a chance to wrap them.”

“Them?” Sandra asked, diving into the plastic bag. She stopped short, inhaling sharply. “Oh, mommy!”

She reached into the bag and pulled out the larger of the two dolls. It was dressed in a plain white dress which in the rearview reminded Nancy of the garb she had seen on women in stories about polygamist sects. The collar was buttoned all the way up and the doll’s long blonde hair was in twin pigtails down to her chest, tied with pale blue ribbons. The face had a sweet smile, but there was a crack above one of the black eyes, giving it a wicked glare from one angle. Sandra’s face was a mask of wonder and delight as her eyes took in the doll.

“Mommy she’s so pretty!”

“Did you see the other one, honey?” Nancy said, watching her daughter’s avid face with greed. Eat your heart out, Eric, you and your blonde bimbo, she thought with savage glee.

Instead of answering, Sandra brought out the other doll. This one was shorter than her companion, her hair in black pigtails instead of blonde, and the dress was black with shorter sleeves. The eyes were the same, down to the evil slant.

“They’re beautiful, mommy, thank you, thank you thank–”

Nancy’s eyes were caught by the glare on the doll. Just like the other.

A horn blared and Nancy’s eyes snapped back to the road. She yanked the wheel hard to the right and the car leaped back into its lane, narrowly avoiding an oncoming minivan whose driver laid on the horn another few seconds for good measure.

“Oh Christ,” Nancy gasped, her heart pounding in her mouth. “Shit, shit, shit, Sandy, honey, are you ok? Sandy?”

She spared a glance in the rearview. Sandra was gazing at the two dolls cradled in her lap, stroking the black pigtails with one slow hand.

“Sandy?”

A glance at the road. Nothing ahead but blackness. Back to her daughter. Sitting. Staring. Stroking.

“Sandy, are you all right? What’s wrong? Answer me!”

The eyes raised and met Nancy’s in the rearview.

“She’s fine,” Sandra said.

That night, Nancy slept badly. She tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable, while in her dreams she was chased through moldering old houses with piles of dolls in every corner, begging her to come play with them, forever, while her daughter’s unintelligible screams echoed through the halls. She raced into the only room with light, and the door slammed behind her.

Nancy jumped, and her eyes opened. She was in bed, her room lit by the streetlamp outside.  Sandra stood by the closed door, her face a blank. Then, she grinned. It was monstrous, and Nancy felt her nerve quiver.

“Sandy, what’s wrong?”

“Sandra isn’t here anymore,” the little girl said, and with a swooning sickness Nancy knew it was true. The voice coming out of that body was manufactured by Sandra’s vocal cords, but there the similarity ended. There was nothing human in that voice. As though whomever had originally owned it may have once been human but that was long forgotten in a history of deceit and camouflage.

“You’re the dolls,” Nancy said. “You’re those fucking dolls, aren’t you?” Her voice shook with terror, and outrage. “You took my daughter.”

Sandra’s face twisted in a grimace of fury. This wasn’t part of the plan. They aren’t supposed to figure out until later. With a scream, she raised the butcher knife from the kitchen and charged.

Nancy’s bedsheets nearly killed her. In an attempt to vault from the side of the bed opposite the door, they had tangled around her feet and she vacated the mattress just in time. Her screaming daughter slashed at the mattress she had occupied so recently and came around the bed waving the knife. She rushed at Nancy, who stepped to the side and threw Sandra against the wall behind her with a sob of grief as her little girl’s skull connected with the wall and she fell to the ground. Nancy ran for the door, scrabbled at the doorknob with a sweat-slick fist and had the door half open before the slightest sound alerted her.

She turned just in time to raise her hand to block the knife her daughter swung at her throat. Blood streamed from Sandra’s nose and trickled from her ears. One eye was dilated, the other glared madly as she sawed the knife into Nancy’s palm  Nancy screamed a guttural cry of horror, pain and revulsion. She grabbed Sandra by the shoulders and heaved the girl bodily from her, nearly losing an eye to the flying blade. Sandra hit the ground hard but was back up almost immediately, ramming into the door just as Nancy slammed it. She locked the knob a split second before it began jiggling with mad fury from the inside

 

Now, downstairs, Nancy pours one last drink. Maybe. Maybe she’ll have another. She’s in no real hurry. Sandra can’t get out through that door. Even if she does, there’s only one way out of the house, and she has to go through the kitchen. The second story bedroom’s window overlooks a concrete walk.

No, her little bird is safely caged. Caged and dangerous. The proof drips from her hand as she drinks again. Her other hand walks over the knives in the block set, looking for the right one. The butcher knife is already upstairs, of course, and the proof drips from her hand as she pulls out the bread knife, tests its serrated edge, slides it back in. She drains her glass and pulls out the second largest knife. This one was always her favorite. The butcher knife was too unwieldy for all but the largest squash or watermelon. This one she always kept sharp and ready for cutting meat.

She goes upstairs, and the thing inside the bedroom has gone quiet. She doesn’t trust it, and is ready for any tricks as she unlocks the door as silently as possible, muscles tense and ready for the ambush that never comes. The thing is sitting on the bed, and tries to talk to her, tries to trick her, to convince her it is her daughter again. But Nancy knows better. Even as she drags the screaming, pleading thing out from under the bed and slits its throat, she knows it can never be the way it was, it can never go back to the way it was before she walked into that thrift store. Now that she’s seen the dolls behind her daughter’s eyes, it can never be the same.

Egg Hunting: by Jesse Orr

Egg Hunting
by Jesse Orr
The day of the egg hunt dawned cool, mostly clear, and breezy. The parents were relieved; they would not have to supervise in the rain, as had been forecast. The egg hunters were relieved, the fiercely competitive hunt would not be made any easier by wet underfoot.
Almost a thousand children, ages old enough to walk to twelve, milled around the stadium
parking lot, clamoring to be allowed inside. The local team had no game on Easter, and the team’s owner (who was running for mayor) had invited the public to bring their young. So they can restlessly search for the ten thousand hollow plastic eggs which had been hidden throughout the stadium’s bleachers and playing field. A prize would be given to the children with the most eggs, second most, third, and honorable mentions as Egg-Hunter Extraordinaire for all the rest.
As promised, on the stroke of noon, the doors opened and ticket takers appeared in the kiosks, marshaling people inside and down the stairs to the field. They were relieved, the event was a free one, without the headaches of fake tickets and sports-crazed fans that so often plagued their working hours. The news reporters found talking to them later to be an absolute waste of time. Since being outside they didn’t see anything that happened.
When finally the parking lot had streamed into the field as directed, a deafening voice filled the stadium.
“ALL HUNTERS TO THE CENTER OF THE FIELD!”
The children squealed and dashed forward in a tidal wave of glee, buckets, baskets and bags eager to hold the bright plastic booty. In no time a sizable knot clustered in the middle of the grass, positively quivering with anticipation. The parents spread to the edges of the field closest to their children, glowing with benevolence and raising cameras to document the precious moment. Mad rumors had been flying about the nature of the prizes, the most popular belief being that a local chocolate factory had donated several hundred pounds of their best rabbits for the purpose.
“ALL RIGHT CHILDREN!” the voice yelled, sounding beside itself with excitement. “ON
YOUR MARKS, GET SET, GO!!!”
But this was only heard in its entirety by Charles Bucket, Sr., the owner of the team, the
stadium, the voice, and one young lad by the name of Charles Bucket Jr., who coincidentally was the reason for this selective hearing. Junior (to which he was naturally referred) stood before the knot of children, both hands clasped around daddy’s gun, his five year old fingers struggling to work the stiff action of the trigger. It was the first explosion which had blocked the last of Charles Senior’s message to the crowd.
Junior had thrown a fit when Charles explained that his son could absolutely not participate in the egg hunt contest, for it would reek of favoritism and not benefit his coming election. He was neither cheered when Charles attempted to console him by saying that all the eggs surely wouldn’t be found, and after the hunt was over Junior could have a go at them. It was only when Charles suggested Junior might just rather stay at home in his room with the babysitter watching TV that the fit ceased. They had
left an hour later and Junior had been a little quieter than usual, but perfectly well behaved.
At least until now.
Bullets ripped through hunters and parents alike, some passing through the former to strike the latter who were rushing forward to save their hunters. One bullet exited one girl’s eye to slam into the kneecap of her mother, shattering it and causing her to yowl in agony and limp for the rest of her life. Junior turned, his sore fingers continuing their squeezing sending out the next shot, and the next, and the next, knocking a pair of twins to the ground with sucking chest wounds and piercing a small boy’s hand with a neatly placed bullet in the middle of the palm. By now everyone was too far away for him
to aim well, and the trigger produced nothing but a clicking sound. He tossed it aside and looked around.
It had been far louder than he expected, and the silence was comforting. Except for the screams. But it had worked. The field was deserted except for those who could not walk. Some were still moving, but that was OK, they probably wouldn’t feel like egg hunting anymore anyway. Some weren’t moving at all, and that was OK too. One of the immobile was Janie Somers, and that was great.
Janie was the one who had taken the first shot through the head for laughing at him for not being allowed to hunt. Janie was always being so mean to him. He’d show her now. He’d show his daddy too. He grabbed Janie’s basket and started toward the first egg he could see in the bleachers, taking care to step on Janie’s head. He could almost taste the chocolate already.

Free Fiction Friday: Gluttony by Jesse Orr

GLUTTONY

by Jesse Orr

It had made it through security, only by an amazing stroke of good luck. A razor blade is just the kind of thing which all TSA agents are supposed to be on the lookout. But, some stupid crackhead in the line ahead of me tried smuggling a few kilos of what looked like powdered sugar out of town. He should have tried harder. A lot of people in wherever were going to be very disappointed. Anyway, while they were busy screwing with him, I calmly walked through the metal detector, not flinching as it beeped in protest. I held my arms up and assumed the position, so to speak. The lady with the wand was distracted by the ensuing drama and probably more than a little pissed off that she was the one who had to scan people who set off the stupid alarm with their watches and necklaces. I said, “It’s the bracelet,” and pointed to my right arm where a chain link bracelet was welded on. She ran the wand over it, it beeped, and she waved me through, satisfied. Her attention was already back with the smuggler while I walked through security with a razor blade.

You may ask, why exactly did I risk bringing a razor blade on board a commercial jetliner? Mostly to see if I could. A little for the thrill. For the sheer joy of it. Who cares? Stop asking stupid questions.

I stopped at the bar for a few shots of Cognac to take the edge off the hopeless flock mentality that was beginning to set in, and made my way to the gate, sparsely populated an hour before boarding. Finding an out-of-the-way looking row of chairs, I sat down and began the new Zhane Brock novel. Better than most bestsellers out today, many of the inspirations for my work come from Mr Brock’s twisted mind.

I was jolted from a seedy bathroom in Queens by a man sitting down two seats from me, yakking on a cell phone and oblivious to all but what was right in front of him.

Surely, I reasoned, the terminal had filled up rapidly while I was reading Mr Brock’s words, and this was the best place to sit? But no. There were two people sitting in the terminal, their numbers dwarfed by the empty seats surrounding them.

My attention turned back to this man, taking in details. He fairly reeked of yuppie. His khaki shorts had been out of the packaging less than a day, the creases so sharp they could slice elephant steaks. I could smell them, the steaks, along with the new clothes smell emanating from his green polo shirt. His cell phone was the latest model, a tablet-smart phone hybrid. Probably did everything but talk for him, and as soon as they came out with a model that did, he’d be the first one in line to buy it.

Gary [it was stitched on his carryon] continued talking without a care in the world, oblivious to my scrutiny. He blathered on about golf, bars and bikini clubs, punctuating sentences with phrases reeking of irritating enthusiasm and shifting constantly in his chair, swaying the row of chairs. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. He was truly one of the most repulsive individuals I had ever laid eyes upon.

As soon as he was done talking and bouncing around, Gary brought a takeout box seemingly from nowhere. The second that box came into my eyesight, the stench of cheap curry hit me square in the nostrils, almost before my eyesight told me it was a box. My eyes beheld a green lumpy mess, which Gary proceeded to shovel into his mouth at a terrific rate, unhindered as he was by napkin or paper towel.

I knew once he finished his aromatic feast he’d be heading for the bathroom. Sure enough, once Gary the Yuppy finished licking green slime off his fingers, he crammed the box into a trash can and headed off down the terminal. I gave him a minute, stretched, and followed him. Luck stayed with me. Gary brought out a card, swiped it through a slot in the wall, and disappeared through a door saying MVP Platinum Members Only.” Hastening my footsteps, I stopped the door surreptitiously with my foot and made a show of fumbling in my jacket. Bringing out my wallet, I pulled out, swiped and replaced my imaginary card, then let myself in the door.

Again, luck was with me and nobody else was in that exclusive bathroom, save Gary and his fancy phone, which were both in a stall together. I knew luck wouldn’t keep the bathroom empty for long. Slipping off my shoe and sock, I slid the sock over my hand and grabbed the razor blade hidden inside the shoe.

Kicking Gary’s stall door in, I wasted no time. Before Gary could say a word, I lashed out with the razor blade, catching him across the throat, parting the layers of skin and tissue almost to the point of death. He would live, but would never again be able to speak above a gravelly whisper. For now, he sat partially on the toilet seat, pants around his ankles, grasping at his throat while making the first of many years worth of wheezing gasps. I put on my sock and my shoe, and dropped the razor in his lap. Maybe they would think it was a suicide attempt. I didn’t care. It was almost time to board.

 

There was a scream. Taking my boarding pass back from the attendant, I looked over my shoulder across the terminal. One of airport security was attempting to comfort a hysterical woman by the MVP Platinum Members Only door, another was coming out of it, his shoes red and his face green. I shook my head and padded down the jetway to my seat.

I was just about to open Mr Brock’s book again when I was distracted by a large someone clambering into the seat next to me. I blinked. There should be no one sitting there. I always bought two seats side by side, just so no one sat next to me. And yet, here was someone…sitting next to me. I bit my tongue. Maybe the rest of the plane was full and he was one of those lucky ones who gets an empty seat ten minutes before departure.

No…I watched and plenty of people were still getting on. There were plenty of open seats. This was getting to be routine. Meanwhile, the man to my right [I always get a window seat] was settling in, putting his laptop away, getting comfortable. He put his arms on the armrest, sat back and sighed.

My eye twitched. To avoid touching this man, I was sitting against the wall, practically on the wing of the plane, and had my elbows on the top of my hips. That’s when I noticed a lady’s pointed shoe under my window, considerably detracting from my arm space. The approximately three square feet the airline had allotted me was being invaded with extreme prejudice. The man to my left shifted, getting comfortabler, which I know is not a real word, and elbowed me in the side. The elbow stayed in my side. The shoe on my right nudged my arm.

That was enough. I opened Mr Brock’s book and began thumbing through it for inspiration, even committing my own faux pas and looking past the part  to which I had read, seeking key words. I was so absorbed in my study that we had been pushed back, taxied, took off, and were cruising at 36,000 feet, before my seatmate’s standing to go to the bathroom roused me.

The bathroom?

Well why not.

Once again, I gave him time to make his way back and inside the stall before sliding past the man in the aisle seat and heading to the lavatories. Miraculously, only one of them was occupied. This was almost too easy.

Quickly and quietly, I jimmied the bolt with the second razor blade which I had tucked into my wallet and slid in with him, locking the door and knocking him silly with a slap to the brains before he really comprehended that something out of the ordinary was happening. As he reeled back, dazed, I took his left arm and slit first his wrist, then his inner forearm, then his upper inner arm, and stuffed as much of his fist as would fit into his mouth. The blood flew from his slashed arm, spattering the walls as he fought to free both his arm and his fist. It wasn’t hard to hold his fist and arm in place until his twitching subsided and his eyes glazed over.

Once he was dead, I wadded up a bunch of toilet paper over the gashes and put the razor blade in his right hand, after taking the fist out of his mouth, and left him sitting there with his pants around his ankles holding a razor blade. The next day’s paper would record it as a man who wanted to make a statement by snuffing himself in an airplane bathroom but had second thoughts and used TP to dam the red river, unsuccessfully. But by then I was in Europe and could have cared less.

The man in the aisle seat had ordered a Bloody Mary in my absence, the smell of which was enough to make me gag, and I was entertaining the possibility that the lady with the shoe had epilepsy, but only in the foot that kept kicking me. However, the luck had shifted from me to them, because I had left my last razor blade in the bathroom.

**********

Jesse Orr was born and raised in Alaska and has no idea, nor do his parents, when or how he began reading and writing; as is the case with so many things, they just are. Moving to Seattle in 2007, he settled down to a life of recording and performing music as well as writing whatever caught his fancy. He has a dog named Mr Dog and lives in West Seattle.

https://www.facebook.com/murd3rweapon5

Grant Me Serenity: The End Part 2

gms

“Well now,” Len said pleasantly, not moving. “I see we have quite a quandary.”
“Yeah?” Harding sneered. “I don’t see a quandary. You don’t get moving, there’ll be a bullet in your head before you can think about saying goodbye.”
“How are you going to do that without having to explain a lot of things to them?” Len nodded at the door leading to the hallway which opened to the parking lot. Decent group tonight, judging by the amount of door-slamming and the volume of residual chatter as the AA members who smoked lit up around the ashtray. “I don’t see a silencer on that gun of yours. Your arm must be getting tired, by the way.”
Harding’s face was frozen in the sneer but his eyes had filled with an uncertainty Len recognized. His arm, whether genuinely tired, or inspired to be so by the power of suggestion, began to tremble.
Len began to move forward, hands held out to his sides, a placid smile on his face. Harding raised the gun anew. “Get moving out that back door motherfucker, I swear to Christ I’ll blow your fucking head off. Don’t push me.”
“Oh I’m sure you would,” Len replied, still coming forward, still with hands out. “I’m not as heavily armed as that man but my pockets are full of shadows. Who knows, one of them could be an automatic.”
“Shut up!” Harding’s gun pointed at Len’s head, then his stomach, then his chest. “Just shut the fuck up and get out the door!” His voice had risen noticeably.
The smile dropped off Len’s face. Only some had seen the look which replaced it, most of whom were dead. “Last chance, EX-detective. Put your gun away and leave. You can continue being whatever you are now instead of what you will become.”
“Fuck you!” Harding raised the gun again and aimed it between Len’s eyes. “This is your last fucking chance!”
Len sighed, and plunged his hand into his pocket. Harding, his nerves strung tighter than a guitar string, fired.

“The jury finds the defendant guilty of the charge of murder in the first degree.”
The words hung in the courtroom, leaden. Guilty. Murder. Harding could scarcely believe it. Hearing the jury recommend the death penalty was even more surreal. Death penalty? For him? What the fuck had happened? How had he gotten here?
His mind whirred through the past like a flipbook. Yesterday’s meeting with his lawyer. Good record, recovery, acquittal is a sure thing, blah blah blah. The weeks leading up to that meeting, the trial, the hell of being torn apart in front of crowd, a judge, a newspaper, with the press, always the press out for his blood, and some days those four smirking faces from the church in the crowd, right there but unattainable. The months of incarceration prior to that whole media frenzy, pacing his cell, desperate for time with his lawyer, because then, only then, did he feel like he was making progress, moving forward. The weeks immediately afterward, when he had been in the purgatory of jail, not knowing what was coming, only knowing it was taking its sweet time and that it was going to be bad, then being proved correct in his worst assumptions. That horrible night he had been taken into the police station in the humiliating perp-walk, handcuffed past his peers, some of them gawking, some shaking their heads, some smirking like the pieces of shit they were. His mug shot, the most painful moment of all, somehow, was when they had fingerprinted him. Finally the ghastly night in the basement of the church when he had somehow, like a fucking idiot…

A small round dot appeared between Len’s eyes, visible for a split second before his head jerked back and threw him to the floor, arms flying out, hands open, nothing but emptiness inside. Unarmed.
“No,” Ed groaned, dropping to his feet beside Len and dropping his gun. “No, oh God oh God NO!” he screamed, pawing desperately at Len’s hand, as though by magic he could make a weapon appear in it. He slapped Len’s legs, hoping to manifest a gun in a holster, a knife in a pocket, something, anything, oh holy fuck not again…
“Oh my God!”
This new hellishly unwelcome voice cut in. Ed jerked his head around, eyes bulging, staring at the first alcoholic to enter the room, a matronly woman in a pink pants suit, whose face was hidden behind her ringed hands, horror in her eyes.
Ed held out his hands to her, numbly glad he had dropped the gun, his mouth working on excuses, somehow blurting out, “I can explain…”

His last meal was a big decision, and Ed thought about it long and hard. Finally, he settled on Shepherd’s Pie, sauerkraut, and pistachio ice cream, washing it down with two cans of Mountain Dew. He immediately regretted it upon finishing, wishing instead he had ordered beef stew, or ravioli, but that was just who Ed Harding was. Had he ordered all three, he would have wished for something different. As he sat there, tasting the sauerkraut and fishing errant strings of it from his back teeth, a guard appeared at his door. It was time.
As he was being strapped in to the chair, trying to keep from hyperventilating, the door in the back of the death chamber opened. Dr Pudge entered. Missy followed. She looked straight at him, with not a hint of recognition. His jaw dropped.
“Hey…”
The guard, moving so swiftly he seemed not to move at all, fixed a gag across Ed’s mouth. The room returned to its normal silence as the necessary plumbing was hooked up to Ed’s body. His eyes grew huger as he saw Jerry, Jessica and Paul sitting in the gallery. No one else was there. Paul smiled and waved. Jessica glared. Jerry’s face was a mask.
The guard, seeing the prisoner was ready for execution, made his speech. “Edward Harding, you have been sentenced to die by a jury of your peers. Do you have anything to say before sentence is carried out?” The guard removed the gag, and Ed filled his lungs.
“Listen to me. This is the truth. That crazy bitch there,” he nodded in Missy’s direction. Her face didn’t move. “and those three assholes–” nodding toward the gallery, “are psychopaths! Murderers! I killed one of their little group after they sat around telling stories about how they’d done it as kids! Ask them! Go on!”
The guard nodded as though he believed every word. This was not the first time someone in the chair had screamed accusations with their last breath. It would not be the last. He looked at Missy. She nodded in return, and began opening valves in her deadly dance. Ed was still ranting as he noticed his eyes growing heavy. He began to yell, but by then, it was over.

Until his eyes opened.

“Oh, there he is, I told you he’d wake up, didn’t I?” A woman’s voice, nearly crowing with delight. Horrible to hear. Horribly familiar.

“Well done, Missy,” a male voice said.

Ed was shivering, but could not move. Was he still in that god damn death room? Was his execution still going on? Then why did the ceiling look so much darker?

A stinging smack on the side of his face brought the ceiling in to focus. He shook his head and looked around him just in time for the rolled up towel someone was snapping to take him in the eye and nearly gouge it out by the feeling, holy shit he had never felt that much pain in an eyeball and what the FUCK was going on..?

“Did that rouse you a bit honey?” Another female voice was crooning next to his ear. “Wouldn’t want you to sleep through Len’s memorial now would we?” She had just finished the last word when a fist smashed into Ed’s nose, bending it to the left with a crack. Ed howled.

“Cool it,” the first woman said. “There’s no rush, and we want him to stay conscious at least for a little while.” Harsh laughter.

The abuse ceased and Ed shook his head, trying to clear his vision. His right eye was a stinging slit of agony misted with red, but the left was taking things in all too well. His mind began to process them.

He was in a chair, arms behind him, stripped to the shorts and soaked. Apparently he’d been doused with water to wake him up. He tried to bring his hands around front and found, to no real surprise, that they had been restricted behind him. He pulled, expecting to hear the clank of chains and heard… nothing. No movement either. They had glued his hands together behind his back, as though he were rubbing them together. He could not move so much as a finger.

They stood around him, over him, surveying him. Missy still wore her business suit but her hair had come out of its bun.

“Curious? I bet you are.” A hand dropped into her pocket and procured a little glass vial. “I just switched out the deadly stuff for some sugar water and switched you for some other corpse on the way out of the morgue, once I declared you legally dead.” She grinned, and Ed felt his blood run cold.

“Brilliant, doctor,” Jerry said, and applauded her. Paul and Jessica joined in, giving Missy a well deserved ovation.

“Thank you,” she said, giving them a curtsy and turning to give one to Ed as well. “Len has been cremated long since, but we waited to have the memorial until you could join us for the fun. It wouldn’t be the same without you.”

Ed could only look on in dumbstruck horror as she picked up the briefcase sitting beside her and turned to place it on a counter nearby. She opened it.

Fluorescent light ricocheted off the angles of the cutting tools filling the briefcase. Razor blades, scalpels, assorted knives and something which looked horribly like a cheese grater grinned at Ed with shining teeth.

Ed began to blubber.

Jerry reached forward and took a scalpel. Jessica grabbed a razor blade. Paul took a large butcher knife. Missy took her favorite, the cheese grater, and the small salt shaker that came with it.

Ed began to plead, to threaten, to bargain, forgetting that for all intents and purposes, to the world, Ed Harding was already dead.

The four of them lined up, Missy at their lead. They would continue taking turns, until the sport had worn off. But it would take a while. They were in no rush.

Ed began to scream.

Missy walked forward, her eyes searching for the perfect patch of skin to begin her ministrations. Behind her, she heard them praying.

Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.

THE END

**********

Jesse Orr was born and raised in Alaska and has no idea, nor do his parents, when or how he began reading and writing; as is the case with so many things, they just are. Moving to Seattle in 2007, he settled down to a life of recording and performing music as well as writing whatever caught his fancy. He has a dog named Mr Dog and lives in West Seattle.

https://www.facebook.com/murd3rweapon5