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.
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.”