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!

From: ÎŊüľ20299

get out

Clang!

From: ÎxŊxüľxľ¶´¸ô

GET OUT

DingClangDingClangDingClang!

From: +++Ë3Æ3¿3Ã3Ã3

GETOUTGETOUTGETOUTGETOUTGETOUTGETOUT

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.