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.