My Darling Dead : Bastards / Episode 13

Her husband had become just that. A husband, in name only. There were days she did not even see him, so busy was he flaunting his power over the desirable women of the court. More desirable than his queen. 

When the wizard came upon her at her window, weeping silently into a goblet of wine, he was uncertain. But she had imbibed enough already to unload her heart’s anguish onto him. As she wept, she sought solace in his arms. The wizard’s initial reluctance melted as she moved against him, carnal desire replacing sense, lust overcoming caution. 

Afterward, she had forbidden him to speak of it. It was a promise they both kept until she began to show. Fortunately, it was nearing the frost, nobody thought twice about the extra layers the queen now wore. Clothes only covered so much though and finally, making up a story to the distracted king, the queen took refuge in a cabin in the woods with two of her most trusted ladies in waiting. Upon news of his son’s imminent birth, the wizard set out for the cabin. He arrived just as the child made his first cry and, without a word, took the child from the queen’s midwife and vanished, the queen never even laying eyes upon her son. 

Zavier had clearly been waiting long to share this fact and the light shone from his eyes with the intensity of a bonfire. Orteg and Agathas both were stunned into silence. Zavier paced back and forth before them, gesturing wildly as he continued his soliloquy. 

“A bastard by the queen is nothing to anybody. My father knew that, as did our mother, Orteg. They saw to it that I was kept out of the way, a humble pageboy, and learned all I could from my father in the ways of magic, for the day when he would no longer be there and the kingdom required a leader. But as I watched it descend into more and more chaos, I became certain; the queen’s son would have no right over the throne in the eyes of the people, particularly in these troubled times. It would have to be a man who carries the blood of King Wendell himself, who would reunite the kingdom. 

“When I found you, Orteg, I thought my search had ended. Here was a simple, stupid man who would be easy to install as a figurehead, then direct him to do my will, by one means or another.” Zavier shook his staff. “Then Barris and his disgusting sister here decided to place before you an unthinkable choice, one that no father would have made. My entire plan would fall to ruins if you refused to ascend to the throne. I compelled you to dispose of your obstacles to the throne, but instead of accepting your destiny and becoming king, you had to start conspiring with that bloated sack of offal, Barris. I hoped to teach you a lesson watching him die, but you seem to be the same angry self-righteous peasant as you were born, and you have irked me overlong as it is.”

Color rose in Zavier’s face, veins in his forehead standing out as his face darkened. His eyes bulged and he looked quite demented. Orteg tried with all his might to move any muscle and only succeeded in twitching his nose. Agathas whimpered from the cage. Zavier’s eyes shifted to her. 

“Agathas. You have no reason left to live. You realize that, don’t you?” Zavier said, his voice sympathetic though his eyes lost none of their manic gleam. “You know I have to dispose of you as well as this fool or nothing will ever change.” Zavier began breathing heavily as he pulled out his polished staff, running his fingers over its contours lovingly. “For the kingdom. You understand.” He pointed the staff at Agathas. 

Without warning, a blinding light seared Orteg’s eyes. Unable to throw up a hand to cover them, Orteg screwed his eyelids together tightly, though the light continued to grow. Dimly, he could hear Zavier yelling and Agathas screaming. The light was so bright through his closed eyes it seemed loud, shouting in his ears and even though he could not see, he prayed for release…then it came.

Darkness. Orteg ventured his eyes open only to see more darkness. Gradually he heard the snuffling moans of someone laying on the ground nearby. This reminded him of his previous paralysis and he flexed a finger experimentally. It responded, along with its fellows. His entire hand and arm worked as though there had never been any interruption. He clambered to his feet, his legs aching. The darkness was fading and he could make out the room he was in once again. The light had been so bright it had drowned out the pitiful sunshine from outside. 

The moans came from Zavier, laying spread eagled on the floor on his back, struggling to move his lips to form words. Though he trembled with the exertion, no sound beyond his quiet moaning escaped his mouth. Orteg scarcely noticed Zavier though, his eyes were drawn to the fairy Liseem, standing over Zavier, looking more radiant and lovely than ever in her fury. Agathas was similarly gaping at her, making no effort to hide her awe. 

“Zavier, Son of Hespa, bastard child of the crown, you have disgraced the name of sorcery with your foul actions,” Liseem stated, not raising her voice though it filled the entire room and Orteg’s head rang with it. “Due to your haste to grow beyond your status, you shall henceforth be smaller than the eye may readily see, that you may observe the world you may not engage with. Those who do observe you will hate you upon sight and hasten to murder you.” Liseem spun away from Zavier’s horrified expression, raising her hands to the sky and calling out a strange word. 

The light exploded in the room again. Orteg and Agathas screwed up their eyes at once but the light was not nearly so merciless this time. There was a popping sound and the smell of sulfur. The light winked out and Orteg opened his eyes at once. Zavier was gone. Where he had lay on the floor scurried a large cockroach, antenna twitching frantically as it sought to avoid the humans in the room. It rushed at Liseem, then seemed to think better of it, making for the door. 

“My lady?” Orteg asked, a smile on his face. 

“Please,” said Liseem, her own smile radiating light. 

Orteg raised his boot, bringing it down with all the force he could muster. The cockroach crunched under his boot, sending a stream of yellow goo shooting across the floor. Orteg ground his boot back and forth, the crunching sound beneath his foot giving way to the whisper of dirt on stone. When he raised his foot, there was nothing but a wet spot. 

Orteg Bluenote was crowned king of Dandoich before an enormous crowd. From his viewing point, he could see nothing but his new subjects as far as his eye would reach. As the crown was set on his head by Agathas, the roar of the crowd took his breath away. A tear came to his eye, speedily wiped away, lest he show weakness before his new subjects. Agathas stood at his side, her part in the death of the king’s children having been overlooked in the fate that befell Barris. As the king’s adviser, and with Barris out of the way, as the senior member of the council who had run the kingdom for years, she was uniquely positioned to be invaluable to the inexperienced king. Her mind was already feverishly at work, thinking of how best to turn her new position to her advantage.

After the coronation ceremony, the new king was in his chambers, still attempting to grasp the changes in his life over the last few weeks. His family was gone but he had more wealth and power than he could ever imagine. With the blessing of the fairy, he felt invincible. Pouring himself a glass of the finest wine in his chamber, he toasted the window and the moon pouring its light into the chamber. 

Midway through sipping the wine, Orteg heard a noise from just outside the window. It was a scratching sound, as though a cat were sharpening its claws on the stone below the window. As Orteg listened, it became clearer and more pronounced. A snuffling sound, then a high-pitched giggle floated through the window, chilling Orteg’s bones. His innards turned to ice as a hand, thin and bony, with long filthy ragged nails, crawled up over the windowsill. It was attached to an arm, as scrawny and filthy as the hand. Eyes appeared over the sill, dark slits in the dirty, pointed face twisted in a demented grin. 

The brilliant light appeared in the room, making Orteg and the rat creature shield their eyes. As it faded, Orteg saw that the rat creature had entered the room, along with a second and he could see a third scrabbling at the window and (dear Gods) it sounded like there were more working their way up the wall. A figure had solidified in the center of the room, coalescing out of the whiteness into the fairy who had saved him. 

“Liseem!” Orteg gasped. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me! This creature—”

“These creatures,” Liseem broke in, a nasty grin upon her face, “Will be your doom, Orteg Bluenote.” The fairy touched the face of the first rat creature, delicately pressing her finger against the sharp teeth in the creature’s face. Instantly, all the rat creatures froze. The sound of those climbing the tower ceased. There was nothing but the fairy’s voice.

“Many years before your birth,” Liseem said, turning to face him, “I was in love with a king. The king of Dandoich in fact. Your father.” She fell silent for a moment, looking at Orteg with no kindness in her eyes. “You are of his seed, yet I do not recognize you at all. You are nothing like the king.”

“But—Esemli!” Orteg gasped, his hands clasped before him in an unconscious prayer. “She was in love with the king and was killed by the princess! She has been dead longer than I have been alive! Everyone in the kingdom knows that story!”

“This is where the story ends,” whispered the fairy. “I, Liseem, am the fairy Esemli.” 

A series of images rushed through Orteg’s head. The fairy and the king rutting in his receiving room before being interrupted by the queen. The king groveling as Esemli listened from behind the door, listening as he cast their love aside instead of keeping his promise. Faster, images of the kingdom’s descent into chaos flashed through his mind. Rat creatures feeding on garbage, peasants, each other. Crops rotting on the vine as farmers barricaded themselves in their houses, afraid to tend to the harvest. Esemli laughing, laughing, laughing. 

The images stopped, but the laughing continued. Liseem’s laughter merged into that of Esemli and Orteg knew that she spoke the truth.

“No…” whispered Orteg, feeling as though all blood had drained from his body. 

“Yes,” hissed Esemli, her hatred changed the fairy’s beautiful features into an inhuman rage. “And now, Orteg Bluenote, you shall die carrying on the suffering of your lineage. The kingdom’s spiral into darkness will continue!”

With mad laughter, the fairy vanished. Sound regained its control on the world, the scrabbling sounds of a rat person clawing its way into the room registering first on Orteg’s ear. He realized with a start that his back was against the stone wall opposite the door. The first creature crawled across the floor, its jerky skittering motions sending spasms of horror up and down Orteg’s spine. The thing kept grinning, nose twitching, as it advanced. Orteg tried to make a break for the door, but the creature was too fast, scuttling between Orteg and the door with a drooling grin. There were more crawling in through the window. Cowering back against the wall, Orteg moaned, helpless, frozen in terror as the creatures came for him. 

Agathas had been waiting to visit the new king in his chambers until after he had time to get himself sufficiently drunk. She intended to ask for less oversight on his part as she conducted the day-to-day business of the kingdom, in essence giving her free reign to govern as she saw fit. Under Barris, she had learned from the best and had no interest in the new monarch sticking his nose in her affairs. 

She was lingering in the anteroom below the king’s chambers when the screaming began. The king’s hysterical shrieks brought all within earshot running. Throwing open the door, Agathas and the castle staff beheld the new king, his eyes and throat wide open, gaping in the direction of the door, hand stretched out, even as the humanoid thing that now resembled a rat snuffled and scrabbled at Orteg’s chest, seeking his heart as blood from his neck bathed them both. Other rat creatures prowled the room, looking in corners and under things for their next meal. At the sound of the door, they stopped as one and stared.

Agathas screamed, drawing the attention of the rat creature away from Orteg’s lifeless body. Like a spider, the creature scuttled toward her, eyes twin pinpricks burning brightly amid the face of blood. The next moment, it was flying back, impaled by a long silver spear. Blood ran from its mouth, grinning even as it spluttered for breath. The captain of the guard pushed past Agathas, striding across to the creature. It snarled at him, coughing blood all over his boots as it did. 

The man’s face wrinkled in disgust. In one smooth movement, he drew his sword and struck the head from the creature’s shoulders. It flew across the room, striking the stone wall with a sound like wet sand. Falling to the ground, the jaws gnashed twice, then were still. Looking around, Agathas saw the last rat creature scuttling out the tower window and heard a thud as it hit the ground below. 

“The king is dead,” Agathas said, recovering her composure speedily. “Let it be known throughout the kingdom that the Council once again reigns supreme.” A smile spread across her face. “Inform the council members that their leader has summoned them at once.”

“At once, Honorable Prefect,” said the captain of the guard, sheathing his blade.

“Queen, I think you’ll find, Captain,” Agathas said, smiling an ugly smile. The captain of the guard was only taken aback for a moment, before bowing to her.

“My liege,” he said, already scheming his own rise to power. 

There would never again be another monarch to rule the kingdom. The fairies would see to it. 

My Darling Dead : Bastards Episode 12 / Long Lost Relations


Barris was dead. 

Orteg had awoken one morning to see what remained of the man who had orchestrated the murder of Orteg’s children laying immobile with his usual coating of insects. He had gotten used to the inexorable rising and falling of the hollow wood sitting atop Barris’ chest and its sudden stillness drew his eye immediately. 

Every day Orteg had been given a bladder of water and some days he was given stale or moldy bread which he wolfed down before they could change their minds and remove the crusts. He knew that with Barris dead, they must come for him today; now that Barris was dead, the torture of watching the man be infested and rot from the inside was over. But what would become of him? Would the wizard prove merciful? What would he have to gain by setting Orteg free? 

The answer to which he kept inexorably returning was: nothing. 

Orteg’s black musings were interrupted by the sound of rushing wind, though the trees and grass were still. A piercing light split the early morning air, causing Orteg to throw up his arm and turn away, cowering against the wall of his cage. The sound of the wind tapered off to nothing as the light faded, leaving absolute silence in its wake. Even the creatures of the swamp were silent. 

“Orteg, son of Wendell. Attend me.”

The voice was female, rich, and cultured. Orteg’s eyes opened wide and he turned. The woman standing before him was tall and willowy, silver hair shining from simple braids. A white garment like a toga was wrapped around her from which seemed to emanate the same silvery light. 

“Who–who are you?” Orteg asked, shaking. 

“I am the fairy Liseem,” she said, a smile on her face. “I am come to release you from this captivity, that you may take your rightful place as king.”

Orteg blinked, his stomach spasming as it growled abruptly and the world spun around him. “I’m sorry, you’re who? What? I’ve finally started hallucinating, haven’t I?”

The fairy smiled and extended a finger. The door to the cage simply went away. One moment it was there, the next it had ceased to exist. Orteg gaped. 

“Come, son of Wendell,” Liseem said, holding out her hand. 

Orteg held his own hand out. Touching the fairy’s skin which was softer than anything he had ever experienced. She smelled like life. He smiled at her. “You’re beautiful,” he said. 

She laughed. “Prepare yourself,” she said. 

“For what?” Orteg never got the chance to ask. There was a tug at the hand the fairy held and the world around him blurred into dark nothingness. Wind roared in his ears and he got the sensation that there was nothing at all around him. He squeezed and felt Liseem’s hand. He tried to yell but before he could, he was standing in the forest beside Liseem with the castle’s towers visible through the trees. 

“We have arrived,” Liseem said. “Observe yourself; you will find you are no longer weak from hunger and thirst.”

With a start, Orteg realized she was right. He was certainly hungry, but no longer felt as though he might pass out at any moment and, while he felt thirsty, he would not have sold his soul for a cup of water. “Where have we arrived?” he asked dumbly. 

“Your birthright,” Liseem said, gesturing toward the castle. “You have all you require. You only lack the christening of a true king.”

Orteg looked at her blankly. She smiled. “Kneel, son of Wendell.”

He did as she bade, bowing his head. She placed one cool hand on his head, sending chills down his spine. 

“I christen you King Orteg Bluenote of the kingdom of Dandoich. May your reign be as long and happy as it is possible to be!”

A dazzling silver light shone from her hand, enveloping them both. Orteg’s eyes were squeezed tight shut as he heard the rushing of wind but felt nothing. As it died, he noticed that her hand was gone from his head. He opened his eyes a fraction and looked around him. He was alone in the forest, as though there had never been another soul. 

He raised his eyes and took in the castle, still a great distance but near enough to taste. He recalled his hours there, the respect he had been shown, earned or not. He remembered Barris, the man’s bloated visage smirking at him, that same face half-eaten by vermin, pleading for water. He remembered his children being bundled into the castle by a patrol with as little care shown for their well-being as a sack of unwanted kittens. He remembered seeing those same bodies born out of the castle, toward the burying ground. Looking at his hands, those same appendages which had stolen the lives of his children, tears rose to his eyes. He clenched them, taking a deep breath, and began to move. 

Agathas cowered in the corner of her cage, cold iron bars pressing into the naked folds of flesh she normally kept covered by her robes of state. Now, naked, dripping and shivering from the buckets of ice water that had been dumped on her, she watched Sir Antion manipulating himself beneath his trousers, breathing heavily as he stared at her. Another bucket of water sat beside him, this one steaming hot. Her eyes went from his flushed cheeks to the bucket and back in endless cycles. 

Sir Antion grinned, thrusting his hips in her direction as he massaged himself. “You wet enough yet, Prefect? But you look cold. Shall I warm you?”  He made as if to grab the handle of the bucket. 

“NO!” she shrieked. Dropping to her knees, she laced her fingers together. “Please, Sir Antion, don’t burn me…don’t burn me…”

Antion dipped a finger into the bucket of water. Wincing, he pulled it out, waving his finger in the air to cool it. “Mighty hot water, this is,” he said with a grin. “Castle cooks had it boiling all morning. Wouldn’t you care for a little—”

The door banged open. Antion and Agathas both jumped, Antion spinning in place, his foot colliding with the bucket of hot water, sending a flood of scalding liquid cascading across the chamber. Antion scarcely felt it though, occupied as he was by the giant broadsword now protruding from his middle. 

“For my family, you foul scum!” Orteg shrieked, pulling the broadsword clear of Antion’s stomach before running him through once again. The knight screamed, a gout of blood pouring from his mouth as he grabbed at the sword blade, slicing his fingers to the bone as he attempted to pull it out. Orteg pulled the sword from Antion’s belly once again, the latter falling to his knees as he stared down at the ragged holes in his stomach. He looked up just in time to see the massive broadsword blade swinging toward him. 

Sir Antion’s head rolled across the wet floor, splashing in the cooling puddles of water before coming to rest against the cage containing Agathas. The head’s lips twitched into what could be construed as a grin. One eye winked at her once, then was still. Agathas screamed, curling up in the corner farthest from the severed head, unable to take her eyes from its glassy stare, terrified that it would move again. 

“Silence!” roared Orteg, splashing across the floor to the cage. “By the gods, woman, silence your infernal tongue, before—”

“Someone hears the racket you are making and comes to investigate?”

Orteg spun as the door slammed shut. Zavier stood before it, his face a malevolent blank. Before Orteg could react, he felt all the strength draining from his limbs, like water from a pierced gourd. He sank to the ground, fighting to maintain his upright posture and helpless to do so. He gazed up at Zavier from the stone floor, filled with equal parts of hatred and dread. 

“So,” Zavier said, “Now that you won’t be trying anything foolish, we can have a little chat before I am finally rid of you. How did you like my little arrangement for Barris? A friend in a far-off country told me about that method of disposal but I’d never had an opportunity to try it out for myself.”

Orteg’s stomach rolled as his mind flashed back, unbidden, to Barris, grinning with his face that was not a face and drooling as the insects infested him from the bottom up, continuing their life cycle relentlessly inside the body of the dying man. Zavier saw the look on Orteg’s face and smiled. 

“Yes, I thought you would enjoy that. You know, Orteg, all you had to do was take the throne and do what I told you. Had you done that, you would have been the lord of the land with nothing to concern you but which wench you wish to service you. Instead, you allowed yourself to be manipulated by this piece of trash—” Zavier waved at Agathas who cringed as though he had struck her, “and her brother, leaving us where we find ourselves now.” Zavier sighed. “It didn’t have to be this way. You should never have listened to Barris.”

“Barris is… is dead?” Agathas whispered, her voice hoarse. 

“Of course he is,” Zavier said, contempt dripping from his words. “The great fat lump was consumed by the smallest inhabitants of the swamp, with plenty of time to think about his actions, let me assure you. A big man like that probably won’t be fully claimed by the swamp for months…”

“Why, though?” Orteg asked angrily. “Why are you going to this effort?”

Zavier was still for a moment, staring at Orteg. “Do you have family, Orteg?”

“None, they have all been murdered!” Orteg spat from his position on the floor. Try as he might, he could still not move a muscle below the neck. 

Zavier waved a hand, dismissing Orteg’s murdered family. “Family by blood, not a wife or your disgusting spawn.”

“Never,” Orteg said. “My mother died when I was very young and I had no siblings.”

“A lie you have espoused your entire life, without even knowing it,” Zavier said, a mad light in his eye. “You are the bastard son of the king. However, he was not the only one to seek solace outside of his holy union. King Wendell’s wife, the Queen Hespa, had her own child out of wedlock, with the wizard Sapius. Orteg, I am your half-brother. I am the queen’s son!”

My Darling Dead : Bastards Episode 11/ Inevitable Guests

“’ere now, ain’t you a pretty one,” came a voice, followed by a chorus of laughter. Orteg’s head jerked around to see the torturer and his assistants approaching, each bearing two large amphoras. “We was thinking youse lot might be gettin’ ‘ungry so we brung ya some breakfast.” He sloshed one of the amphoras. 

Barris groaned and turned his head away as far as he could. “No… no more milk, please.”

“Now now, we brung ya this special and it ain’t perlite to refuse gifts from your hosts,” the torturer said in a simpering tone, brushing the flies from Barris’s face as his assistants guffawed. “Minky, ‘old his mouth open.”

Once the six amphoras had been emptied into and over the hapless Barris, the head torturer moved to Orteg’s cage and tossed a water bladder through the bars. “Eat ‘earty, mate,” he sneered. “But none for ‘im, unnerstand?” He jerked his head toward Barris. “Less’n it’ll be the worse for you.”

“No,” murmured Orteg, his trembling hands fumbling with the bladder spout. It was warm and brackish and he could feel little shreds of skin from the bladder on his tongue, but no drink in his life had ever been sweeter. 

There was a rumbling, then the sound of diarrhetic voiding. “Fuck!” screamed Barris. Orteg could hear the wretched man’s cramping stomach all the way over here. He closed his eyes, pulling his jerkin up once again. It was going to be a long day. 

Worst by far was the midday heat, during which, seemingly every insect in the swamp seemed to appear in the little clearing to investigate. Some of them were interested in Orteg, but for the most part, their attention was focused solely on Barris. Try as he might, thrashing his head from side to side and blowing frantically did nothing to stop their assault. Orteg did his best to avoid watching Barris as he suffered but sometimes was unable to tear his eyes away. The sound of his tortured bowels continued regularly until Orteg thought he would go mad with the stench which somehow found its way under his jerkin. 

When dusk fell, the worst of the insects left Barris alone and he was reduced to tearful babblings that Orteg could only partially interpret. There were pleas, curses, and nonsensical ramblings. He complained of the flies which had crawled down his body, attracted by the warm moist fecal air between the two hollowed-out shells. He bemoaned how asleep his arms and legs were, after being held in that position for so long. He cajoled and threatened, begged and demanded, that Orteg throw the half-full water bladder to him. Orteg said nothing to this, seeing its futility and fearing retribution by the torturer when he presumably returned the next morning with more milk and honey. 

“…just a little water, nobody’ll ever, if you just—OW!”

Orteg’s head jerked up from a light doze. “What? What’s happening?”

“A rat! A rat!” screamed Barris. “A rat just climbed up the log and bit me on the lip! I’m bleeding! Help! You have to help me!”

“I can’t!” Orteg screamed back, dancing from foot to foot and rattling the cage door. “I can’t get out of this cage you stupid fool!”

“Help! You have to get me out you have to you HAVE TOOOOO…”

Barris began thrashing about with a frenzied strength but the logs did not budge. Orteg could hear the squelch beneath the bottom log and a wave of excrement-smelling air wafted his way. Fighting to control his gorge, he looked up at the sky. Through the haze of tree limbs, he could see a star. 

After panicking for a time, Barris ceased, panting as he licked at his wounded lip. “Can’t fall asleep,” Orteg heard him mumbling. “Got to stay awake. They won’t come if I’m awake. They won’t come if I’m awake. They won’t come—”

He was still repeating this when Orteg fell asleep. 

A bloodcurdling scream rent the night, wrenching Orteg from his dark dreams. Leaping to his feet, he hit his head on the cage. Stars burst in his vision and he grabbed at his head as another scream shot into his ears. Turning to face Barris, Orteg saw something he would never forget. The moon had come out from behind a cloud and illuminated a large mass of squirming bodies completely obscuring Barris’s head. At least ten huge rats squeaked and crawled all over themselves and Barris, licking and chewing the sweet sticky residue from his face. His cries did nothing to deter them, Orteg saw, as one of the rats stuck its head into the screaming mouth, cutting off its cry for a second. There was a crunch and a brief squeal as Barris bit its head off and continued screaming. 

Orteg turned away from the dim shape thrashing around in the silver moonlight, sinking to the bottom of the cage and putting his fingers in his ears. He looked for the star he had found earlier and found solace in the hundreds which had appeared around them. Eventually his ears grew numb to the screams and he drifted off into a slumber, deep and dreamless. 

Orteg stirred, yawning, from some of the best sleep he could recall. It was very still, and the sun streamed through the gnarls of tree branches, illuminating the mist which rose from the swamp. Bars of rising steam were danced and played between the trees, the light creating beauty wherever it touched. Turning, Orteg caught sight of Barris. His stomach contracted violently and seemed to shift inside him as he stared in horror. 

Barris’s face had largely disappeared from the nose down. His teeth were displayed in a hideous grin of agony which made Orteg’s testicles shrivel. His nose had been whittled down to a stub and the nostrils were gaping canyons into his head. The eyes were as yet untouched and the flesh around one of them quivered as a nervous tic made it jump. 

“By the gods,” breathed Orteg. 

Barris’s eyes shifted to Orteg and he grinned at his comrade. Or maybe it was a grimace. “They’re inside me.”

“What’s inside… not the rats?” Orteg asked, his stomach rolling even more at this fantastic but easily visualized horror. 

Barris shook his head, just once, side to side. “Bugs.” He nodded downward, his grinning face a horror show. “They smelled my shit… they came… I couldn’t stop them… now they’re inside me.” A tear ran down his macerated face as his hoarsened voice neared panic again. “They’re inside me… laying their eggs, I can feel it…” He winced and shifted. “I pray to die, but the gods are not listening.”

That night, the rats returned and removed most of the flesh they had not already consumed, ignoring the ragged screaming. Orteg dreaded the visage that would greet him the next morning. When the sun finally came out, Barris’s entire head had been chewed bald and red, several layers of skin missing. The next night they took one of his eyes. Barris had very little use for the other one at this point however as his slide into delirium accelerated. His sentences descended into madness as the insects invaded his festering flesh, moving upwards through his digestive tract. He was reduced to nonsensical babbling, and, most disturbing to Orteg, periods of laughter which could not be stopped. Between these were periods of silence where Barris often stared at the ground with what remained of his face, drool dangling from his mouth on a long string. Every day the torturers brought more milk and honey, but after several days they stopped the charade that the doomed man would drink it and simply dumped it on his head for the vermin. Orteg tried not to look. 

 

My Darling Dead : Bastards Episode 10 / Milk and Honey

A small room on the ground floor was filled with the sound of drugged snoring. Two wooden cages sat at either end of the room, made of the firmest wood known to the kingdom, lashed together with dried sinews. Inside one cage was Barris, on his back, snoring with such enthusiasm that his lips and cheeks flapped together. In the other cage was Orteg, not snoring quite as loudly but making his best showing. 

With a snap, the bolt to the door was drawn back. The hinges groaned in harmony with Orteg as he sat up, wincing at the noise. Barris jerked awake, drool dripping from his chins as he struggled into a sitting position.

Zavier swept into the room and knelt between the two cages, grinning. “You pathetic inferior fools! Did you really expect to deceive me?”

Orteg was terrified but had never backed down from a fight. He managed to adopt a scornful tone, even from his position on the floor. “Do you expect us to be so terrified of you that we don’t even try?”

Zavier’s face grew red. With an invisible quickness, a dagger appeared from within his sleeve. He tapped it on the bars of Orteg’s cage. “Orteg, I can do horrible things with this blade. Would you like to see?” He rapped the cage of Barris. “I can show you on this piece of offal,” he said, and swung the blade to point at Orteg. “Or I can show you on yourself. Maybe once you see how many pieces into which you can be divided, you will wish you had held your tongue.”

“Please,” Barris said, his voice quavering. “If you have to, kill him. Torture him. Not me. Just…not me.”

“You spineless worm!” Orteg spat. 

Zavier laughed. “For once, I agree with you,” he said, returning his dagger to whence it came with one quick movement. “For that astonishing display of cowardice, Barris, you shall be the first to die. And you—” Zavier said, spinning from the former’s horrified face to spear Orteg’s expression of relief. “—will watch him. You shall be there, hale and hearty, for every step of his death. Who knows, if it goes well, perhaps I shall dispose of you in the same fashion, Orteg. If not, I have an entire tome of excruciating dispatches at my disposal.”

The cage of Barris was opened and he was dragged, screaming, from its interior, pleading that he would comply with whatever was asked, even as he was taken to a nearby swamp and put into the hollowed-out shell of a log which resembled a canoe. It was only then that his cries ceased, only because the torturer’s head was swollen with drink from the night before and insisted upon a gag for the screaming condemned before proceeding. 

Once the man had been gagged, an identical but smaller canoe-shaped log was placed atop him. The torturer’s assistants guided the unfortunate’s arms and legs through the holes which had been bored in the smaller log shell while Barris tried to yell, plea and bargain through the gag. Large stones were piled atop the smaller shell, pinning the man neatly between the two. The torturer pushed at the smaller log shell and felt a little give. 

“Can yeh breathe?” he asked, and yanked the gag free, holding it ready should the fool resume his racket.

Barris’s chest hurt, but he could breathe, and he answered “I have money. Gold coins, buried in a swamp. I’ll take you there. You can have it all. Please…”

“’e can breathe,” grunted the torturer, and signaled. Two of his assistants hurried forward, each carrying a large ceramic amphora. The first handed it to the torturer, who took it and tilted the mouth of the amphora toward Barris. 

“Drink,” he said, and tipped. Barris was drenched in a tide of thick, sweet liquid. He sputtered and gasped, turning his head this way and that, spitting and wheezing. 

“’ere,” said the torturer, lowering the amphora and gazing at Barris threateningly. “Either you drink it, or we ‘old your gob open an’ you drink that way. Now, drink.”

The torturer poured. Barris drank. It was sweet and cold, fresh milk with a taste of honey. For a moment, Barris’s qualms were forgotten and he drank greedily. The torturer tipped the amphora up still further and Barris’s eyes widened. There was a lot left. He tried to speak, but the thick sweet milk slopped into his mouth and down his chin. He choked, spraying the torturer with white drops. The man frowned, lowering the amphora. “’ere…that’s fuckin disgusting. You do it again, it’ll be the worse for you.”

“I can’t,” gasped Barris. “I can’t drink anymore.”

“You’ll drink it,” the torturer said grimly. “Or it’ll be worse still.”

An hour later found Barris sobbing as his mouth was held open, a sixth amphora of honeyed milk being tipped, overflowing, into his yawning mouth. One torturer held his nose, forcing him to swallow. Pinned between the two hollowed out logs, his stomach bulged, distended with gallons of milk. His stomach groaned as he swallowed yet another mouthful, excess trickling down the sides of his head into his ears, sticky and wet. He sobbed, gasping in air as the amphora mouth withdrew, only to sputter and gasp as it was upended over his face, the thick milky honey coagulated at the bottom of the amphora splattering like excrement all over him.

“That does it for now,” the torturer said, turning away and tossing an amphora to the side with indifference. “Good ‘nuff for a start, leastways.” His assistants snickered as they followed, pausing only to pick up the amphoras. As their footsteps faded, the only sound left was that of Barris’s ragged breathing as he labored to catch his breath. Orteg had watched with revulsion, neither moving nor speaking in his cage lest he draw the attention of the torturers. 

Barris’s face was red and sweating beneath the drying glaze of milk and honey. He licked his lips and gasped “Water…my entire soul…for some… water…”

Orteg said nothing, and wondered, if he could get it for Barris…would he?

A fly settled on Barris’s face and he blew a puff of air up his face, dislodging it, but only for a moment. It returned, bringing one of its brethren. Another joined. Barris’s breath refused to move them this time. “Curse these…flies…” he grunted. His face screwed up in agony and the sound of diarrhetic voiding echoed from the interior of the two logs. In a moment, the smell reached Orteg.

“By the gods…”

“I can’t help it!” Barris moaned over the sound of more voiding. “All that milk…an’ honey…I didn’t want it, but they kept—”

Orteg turned away, raising his jerkin over his face and replacing the smell of sick feces with his own spicy aroma. Behind him, Barris’s body continued its purge. Glancing back, Orteg could see Barris’s face speckled with more and more flies as the smell attracted them. Averting his eyes once again, Orteg breathed as lightly as possible into his makeshift mask, hoping the night would bring relief. 

By the time dark had fallen completely, Orteg had begun to wish half-heartedly for death, for both of them. Barris’s innards had not ceased in their efforts and every quarter hour or so another explosion would come from beneath the log, bringing with it another wave of ghastly stench. Barris moaned and sobbed, treating Orteg to a litany of complaints, so detailed that Orteg felt as though he were being tortured as well. 

So the night went, until the wee hours of the morning, when Barris’s lamentations had ceased and only snoring came from that part of the swamp. Orteg lay down in his cage, thanking the gods for this brief respite, and shut his eyes. 

“Orteg! Orteg!”

Orteg heard his name being screamed as though from afar and forced his eyelids to open. He squinted at the sun. Nearly up. Already it was warm. 

“ORTEG!”

The panic in the voice brought him to his senses as quickly as a slap to the face. Wrenching his face from the sky, he looked at the cage opposite his own.

“Barris? What is it? What’s—”

His voice stopped, his mouth frozen in horror. Barris had completely disappeared under a seething black mask of insects, crawling and buzzing and every one dedicated to obtaining the sticky residue completely covering him. 

“By the gods!” breathed Orteg, his flesh crawling. 

“Orteg! Help me!” Barris was hysterical. “They’ll eat my face and I can feel them crawling down! Help me! Help meeeeee!” His voice atrophied into a pleading mewl, completely forgetting that they were both imprisoned and no help was to come. Not to them, not to anyone. Orteg could only look on in horror as the black mask moved and shifted over the features of the wretched man. 

My Darling Dead : Bastards Episode 9 / Conscious Acts

The king’s chamber was filled with snores, loud enough for Zavier the wizard to hear from the other end of the corridor leading to the door from behind which they emanated. The wizard wore a smile as he strode its length, not pausing as the door flew open before him. Orteg lay spread-eagled on his bed, head hanging off one side, drool dripping from one lip. As Zavier watched, Orteg let out another mighty snore, severing the line of drool and sending it to splatter into a sizable pool. 

Zaiver pointed at the prostrate king and snapped his fingers. At once, Orteg was yanked into a sitting position in mid-snore, his eyes flying open with a startled grunt. 

“Uh! Wha—who—what happened?” Orteg’s hand went to his head, his eyes clenching back shut against the pounding of his temples. “Where am I?”

“The king’s chambers, sire,” Zavier said, his smile turned down to a lower wattage. 

“What happened last night?” Orteg asked, his face scrunched up as he massaged his aching head. 

The wizard’s smile widened. Pulling his staff from beneath his robe, he swirled it before him, plunging the room into darkness, despite the bright sun streaming through the windows. In the middle of the room, a large silver ball appeared. It grew transparent, then figures appeared, solidifying into Orteg watching his children arrive via the guards Barris had sent out. 

Orteg’s mouth dropped open as he watched his confrontation with Antion and Barris, his fury so great that the ache in his head was completely forgotten. “How dare—how dare they—” he spluttered, unable to articulate his rage. 

The real Orteg watched with growing horror as his past self entered the bedroom to which Barris and Agathas had taken his children. Watched as he pushed past Agathas and knelt to strangle them. When he snapped the last child’s neck, the real Orteg vomited, a great red glut reeking of sour grapes and bile. 

“You—” the real Orteg screamed, before being cut off by another retch that brought up nothing but pink gruel. He was screaming at nothing though. The room was empty. 

Hearing a sound, he looked around, just in time to see the coupling of Barris and Agathas before the figures blurred, the ball grew silvery once more before vanishing. Cheerful sunlight streamed in through the windows once more. 

***

Orteg kicked open the door to Barris’ chambers and strode into the room, his teeth clenched, stomach churning with rage and the horror of what he had seen. Barris looked up from his well-laid breakfast table, his fat features frozen in surprise, a ham falling from between his jaws. “Highness?”

Orteg decked the man, his fist sinking into the flesh surrounding Barris’ face before connecting with bone. With a howl, Barris hit the floor as Orteg continued pummeling him. 

“You fat shit, why would you put forth that condition?” Orteg howled, kicking Barris repeatedly as the latter curled up on his side trying to avoid the blows. “I would have left and returned to the forest, never to set foot forth again, rather than harm my children. Even for the crown!” he screamed, planting one foot squarely in Barris’ gut. The huge man wheezed. “The wizard would not have it and bewitched me. Did you honestly think I could do what you saw?”

“For the crown—” choked Barris. 

Orteg’s face was nothing but disgust as he withdrew his foot. “I am glad you and your disgusting sister enjoyed watching me murder my children, for your time to pay for it has come. That is, if you do not want the entire kingdom to know of your incestuous proclivities and you wish to have a prayer of returning things to the way they were before that miserable wizard showed up in my tavern with talk of royalty and riches and ruined my life!” His voice had risen to a scream. “Are you ready to listen?” He punctuated this last with another kick at Barris’ ample stomach, nearly losing his balance as his foot sunk into the big man’s gut. 

“Yes! Yes!” sobbed Barris, gasping for air. “Your Majesty, I crave your pardon!”

Orteg stopped his assault, breathing heavily. “You are, Barris, without a doubt, the most repulsive individual I have ever laid eyes on. If I didn’t need you, I would have no hesitation in sharing your secrets with everybody I met so they would have no choice but to murder you for me, just on general principles.”

Barris said nothing, busily attempting to regain his own breath. He hurt all over from the beating he had taken but did not feel anything was damaged. His ample padding had absorbed every blow with ease. His ego had taken the hardest hit. For the first time, he felt small and inferior in the face of the king. 

“The wizard,” Orteg said, walking back and forth in front of Barris’ prone form. “It’s the wizard. He made me murder my children. I don’t know what he wants but that cannot be allowed to stand. But he is powerful. I will need your help, Barris. If I do not get it, a tar and feather party will be the best thing you can look forward to.”

“My liege,” Barris wheezed, the kowtowing tone in his voice making him sick to his considerable stomach. “I live to serve.”

“Yes, yes,” said Orteg impatiently. “What resources have you to bring the wizard to heel?”

“You are the king, Sire, you have but to command the guards and the wizard shall be clapped in irons.” Barris said, keeping his tone respectful lest more kicks fly. 

“Idiot!” spat Orteg. “You have seen evidence of the wizard’s power, three times as I murdered my own children without a second thought. You think he would hesitate to use it on the castle guards?”

“You are speaking then of subterfuge, Sire,” Barris said, righting the toppled chair and collapsing into it with a grateful sigh. 

“Obviously,” Orteg said. “It must be done on the sly or the wizard will see it coming.”

“Poison, it would seem, would be the logical choice, Sire,” said Barris. “The wizard does enjoy his drink.”

Orteg could find nothing wrong with this suggestion. “How?”

“I will summon him to my chamber,” Barris said. As he expounded, back into the familiar territory of deception, his breathing steadied, his many chins ceasing their tremble. “I will offer him a full-time position at court. He will accept, and I will pour him a glass of wine. He will drink it, and cease to be a problem. I have done it before, many times.” He tapped a ring on one chubby finger. “This contains enough shredded blackbane to kill a reindeer. Half the amount would put paid to the wizard easily.”

“Are you certain?” Orteg asked, his voice firm. “What if he does not accept? Do not underestimate the wizard, Prefect.”

“He will accept. You will see. He is nothing I have not faced. Power-hungry men always grab before they think.” Barris levered himself with difficulty out of the chair. “You should depart, Sire. I will summon you when the deed is done.”

“You will summon me? You forget to whom you speak, I think.” Orteg’s voice held a hint of cruel amusement. “You will come to me, the moment the deed is done, or I shall have your head.”

“Of course, my liege.” Barris bent a knee as far as he was able, dropping his eyes. Orteg snorted and walked out, slamming the door behind him. Barris stood where he was for a moment, breathing heavily as he weighed his options. He crossed to the door and bolted it, checking first to see if the corridor was deserted. 

Going to his bar, Barris brought out a bottle of fine wine, a burgundy so dark it was almost black. Two silver goblets were set on a tray beside the bottle of wine. Extending the ring on his smallest sausage finger, Barris carefully levered open the ring’s red gem to reveal a blood red powder the consistency of sand. He upended the ring over the left goblet, tapping the back of his finger. A slight wisp of smoke rose into the air from the grains rubbing against each other as the sand whispered into the goblet. Barris held his breath until it dissipated. It would not do to breathe the smoke. 

Without warning, the bolt to the chamber door shot back with a bang. Barris whirled, his heart in his throat as the door swung open. Zavier stood framed in the doorway, his hood down, a smile of good cheer on his face. He raised a hand with awful casualness.

“Honorable Prefect Barris, how finds thee this evening?” Zavier beamed as he stepped over the threshold into the room. Behind him, the door slammed shut and bolted itself. 

Barris forced a practiced smile onto his fat features. “The very man I wished to see, delivered unto me in the flesh!” He clapped his pudgy hands. 

Zavier made a little bow. “As I sat, deep in meditation, it came to me that my presence was needed, Prefect. Naturally I hastened to your side at once.”

Despite his unease, Barris felt his ego expand at the wizard’s subservience. “That’s mighty fine. Yes, the very man, yes indeed. You know, the kingdom has been without a wizard at court since time out of mind and if you would see fit to join us here, it would be a privilege to have you.” He dropped a huge wink. “I daresay the council can find another seat at the table.” A wide smile pasted to his blubbery lips, Barris waited, trying to ignore the crawling sensation in his stomach. 

Zavier stood for a moment, speechless, before dropping to one knee and bowing his head. “My talents are at your disposal, and that of the kingdom, Honorable Prefect.”

“Excellent news!” Barris cried. “Come, a toast to your appointment!”

“You are too kind, Prefect.”

Barris did his best to conceal the shaking of his hands as he removed the cork, keeping his body between the goblets and the eyes of the wizard. As he poured wine into the poisoned goblet, the little wisp of smoke rose once again. Once again, Barris held his breath. 

“Honorable Prefect, what became of Orteg?” Zavier asked. 

Barris let his breath out slowly as he poured into the other goblet. “I have not seen him this day. Perhaps he is abed still.”

“Perhaps.”

Barris turned, holding tightly to the harmless goblet on the right. He held the left goblet out to Zavier, who took it. Barris raised his glass. 

“To the kingdom!”

“To the kingdom,” Zavier agreed. 

Barris felt his fingers twitch as he drunk deep from his own goblet but he was so intent upon Zavier that he scarcely noticed. Zavier downed his glass in one mighty swallow and hurled the glass against the wall where it vanished in an explosion of fire. Barris sputtered, spraying wine every which way. Zavier roared with laughter as Barris wheezed, wiping wine from the crevices of his fleshy face. 

“Just a little trick of the trade, my dear Prefect,” said Zavier, the smile falling from his face as though by magic. Barris felt his heart sink like a dead sparrow. The poison should have been enough to decimate a full-grown man within seconds. He was positive he had given Zavier the correct goblet. But then why did he feel so…

“Much like the simple matter switching spell I performed as you drank from your goblet. You were in fact drinking the wine from my goblet as I drank the wine from yours.” Zavier smiled at him. “Simple but useful. Most of my spells are that way. Like the one which allows me to see what is happening in any room at any given time. It appears Orteg and I are both using the perversions of you and your sister against you. It is most thoughtful of you to have provided us with such a large and useful bit of leverage.”

Barris felt his stomach dropping further and further, the awful realization that this was the end growing larger along with the darkness which enveloped his vision. He crumpled to the floor, twitching. Zavier produced his staff and tapped Barris on the head. Immediately his twitching ceased and his breathing evened out. 

“You’ll live,” Zavier said, a mad light in his eye. “But you’ll wish you hadn’t.”

Orteg paced the king’s chambers, the overwhelming gold décor in the room disturbing his eye. He had never liked gold, but now that he was king, he supposed it was de rigueur. Still, the yellow light reminded him of the color of baby excrement. 

A knock at the door jerked his head around. “Enter!” Orteg called, striding toward the door. 

The door swung open, framing Zavier in the light emanating from the corridor. 

“Wizard!” Orteg exclaimed. Dread and hatred shot through him. Barris should have disposed of him by now. “What brings you here?”

“Lies, my King,” Zavier said, striding forward. Orteg instinctively recoiled from him. Zavier’s eyes were wild and his nostrils were flared.

“Lies?” Orteg ventured. 

“Lies!” Zavier screamed, bringing his staff forward and down onto the ground with a mighty crash. There was an explosion of darkness from Zavier’s staff, rushing at Orteg like a hurricane. Before he could react, there was nothing but blackness.

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 11/ The Tipping Point

Bron was torn. The girl was not much larger than his own daughter, who was docile enough during his visits to her at night, but the tone of her voice made him uneasy. He stood, uncertain, adjusting his wilting manhood through his dirty trousers. Alasin continued to stare at him, hands on her hips, making no effort to cover herself. 

Then his sneer returned, along with his erection. “No one would believe you,” he said, unfastening his trousers. “An’ if they did, no one would care. Yer name’s dirt ’round ‘ere, Your Highness.” The sneer sounded in his voice as he shot the bolt to the front door. “Yer mine.”

His insolence made Alasin’s blood boil. She had never wished harder for her poisoned blade, to plunge into the fat greasy man over and over until the walls were red with his blood. He started toward her, one hand reaching into his pants to grip whatever was in there, the other holding his pants up so they did not fall until he reached her. In spite of the wizard’s drug, Alasin felt the touch of fear. Bron smelled it on her. His member grew in his hand and his pace quickened. Involuntarily, Alasin retreated as he advanced upon her, backing until her legs encountered the bed behind her. They buckled, spilling her backward on to the mattress and the dead man. 

Bron was on her almost before she could react. His slobbering breath assaulted her nostrils as his tongue lolled from his mouth, drooling on her as he scrabbled between her legs with one hand, holding one of her arms immobile above her head with his other hand. Her free hand flailed, striking him, her short nails finding no purchase in the fat man’s flesh. Her arm went wide, searching for anything, and her hand closed around a sturdy wooden handle just as she felt something unspeakable and wet attempting to burrow between her legs. 

The blacksmith’s hammer glanced off Bron’s head with the first blow, sending him reeling away from her. Alasin shoved herself to her feet, getting a better grip on the handle just as Bron turned back to her, blood streaming from behind an ear. 

“Whu…you…b-b-b-” he said, and lurched toward her, arms reaching out as his pants fell around his ankles. His face drooped on the side she had hit him and one eye was bloody and dilated. He tripped and would have fallen had Alasin not swung the hammer once more with all her strength, caving in the side of his head and sending him to the ground. He spasmed once and she hit him again, and again, and again until nothing was left of his face and she realized she was screaming. 

She stopped, dropping the hammer into what was left of the peasant’s skull and stood, breathing heavily as she listened. No sounds from outside, nobody pounding but her heart. She listened to it thud in her chest and in time it slowed until she could no longer hear it.

She looked down at herself, fighting a wave of revulsion at the blood which covered her. Water. Was there any water here? A bucket by the front door caught her eye. She picked it up and set it on the small table that sat by the window. Opening the curtains just enough to allow a sliver of light, she could see clear liquid in the bucket. She tasted it. Water. 

Once she had satisfied her thirst and cleansed herself as best she could, she stood for a moment, looking at her reflection in the slowly calming water. A haggard wreck stared back at her, dark circles under her eyes, hair matted and straggly. A sob forced its way from her throat and she slapped at the water, destroying her reflection. A princess of the realm? Princess of dirt. 

Alasin moved about the small hut, gathering her clothing once more. Once she put on her underthings, she looked with distaste at the finery in which she had fled the castle and absorbed so much dirt. She did not want to attract attention as she had with the blacksmith. There were his clothes, but he was a giant; none would fit her. 

Her eyes shifted to the other dead body with whom she was currently keeping company, seeing him in a new light as she sized him up. He was wider by far but not much taller than she was, and if she blackened her face and hid her hair…

She knelt beside what remained of Bron, trying not to look at his face or genitals as she removed his minimally bloody clothes and failing at both. They both nauseated her. To her relief, his clothing fit her better than she had hoped. She even found a greasy cap crammed into the pocket of the filthy trousers into which she tucked her hair, pulling the cap down tight around her ears. In the corners of the hut she found a reasonable supply of dirt which she smeared on her face and neck. 

When she returned to the bucket, the face which looked back was dirty but unremarkable. The cap had a slight brim which she pulled down as low as it would go. On the open street, no one would look twice at her. The smell the clothes gave off stung her nostrils, forcing her to breathe through her mouth. She was almost certain she felt bugs crawling in her hair beneath the cap. 

Going to the door, she unbolted it and opened it just a crack. There was nobody within her field of view and nobody appeared as she opened it further. The street was deserted. She turned and looked at what she was leaving in her wake. Two dead bodies, one of whom was barely recognizable and the other who did nothing to deserve his fate but show a girl a good time. 

Tears sprang to her eyes and she pushed out of the door, slamming it behind her with a resounding snap as she strode up the street, toward the castle, toward the queen, toward everything she had known. She did not look back. If she had, she would have seen two rat people appear from the gap between huts and begin sniffing at the open window and the scent of death inside. 

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 5 – The Suitor

Prince Heyworth had come from the kingdom of Duyuwan, over a hundred leagues away, in troll country. He had grown into a tall strong man and had made quite a name for himself in his home kingdom thumping trolls before turning his attention to a far more unwinnable prize: the princess Alasin of Dandoich. Over a dozen suitors had left the kingdom with their hearts in tatters after attempting to tame the princess. Heyworth had been at the task for a week and was unable to admit, even to himself, that his goal was likely to be a doomed one.

The first night, he had arrived to a feast in his honor. The queen had seated Heyworth and Alasin together and, installing herself on his other side, proceeded with an interview clearly meant to highlight his virtues to the sullen princess to his right who was doodling on a scrap of parchment with a quill she had brought to the table. The queen continued in this vein for some time, making it difficult for Heyworth to consume any amount of food set before him, he was so occupied with his narrative. By the end of the feast, the princess had met his eyes once, and she retired early to her bedchamber without inviting him to join her. Each night had ended thus, and he felt as though he had spent the week trying to woo a brick wall.

Now it was approaching the evening meal and he had not laid eyes upon his target since that morning when, in response to his inquiry, she had curtly told him she was going out and would be back later. He had spent the day wandering the castle, yet again. He had gathered some knowledge from questioning the farrier as to the shoeing preferences of the castle’s horses, admired the swords in the armory and endured a highly uncomfortable tea with the queen, at which she had hinted extensively that any prince worth his salt should have her daughter smitten by now. He was just about to go up to the tallest tower and start counting the trees he could see through the gathering dusk in the distant forest when he heard the lookout’s shout.

“Princess Alasin returns! Have open the gates!”

An unconscious set to his jaw, Heyworth strode to the battlements overlooking the gate, watching the princess’s litter draw closer up the roadway leading to the castle. He tapped his fingers, glancing to the sunset. Nine hours she had been gone.

If he was to win her, he would have to instill respect.

He started down from the battlements as the drawbridge clanked down, the gate clanked up, then the process reversed itself as the litter came to a stop in its accustomed place near the stable. Without delay, the litter bearers dispersed, eager to put as much distance between themselves and its inhabitant as possible. As Heyworth stood there, waiting for the princess to emerge, he could hear a loud sniffing sound, as though one were sampling the fragrance of a good meal. No sooner had the sound dissipated than the Princess Alasin emerged, eyes streaming and a manic grin on her face that only fell slightly when she beheld him.

“Hey…it’s you…Haystack, am I right?” Alasin giggled, nearly losing her balance as she stepped down from the litter.

Heyworth reached out a hand to steady her. “Princess…please allow me to assist you.” He stepped forward, intending to put an arm about her waist. She pushed him away.

“No touching! Seriously, Haystack, I require no assistance. Please leave me.”

He caught her by the upper arm, tightening his grip so she could not pull away. “Well, my lady, I would like an explanation where you have been lo these many hours with no word of your whereabouts to your mother or suitor.” His grip tightened further.

Alasin snorted, her gaze sharpening. “I’m not sure who you think you are, by the gods, but I owe my mother nothing, and you less than that. Unhand me this instant!”

Heyworth felt a minor explosion in his chest as rage flooded through him. He grabbed her other arm. “That is all the disrespect I will tolerate from you, princess or no!” Digging his meaty fingers in, he pulled her toward the door leading to the castle’s sleeping quarters he was currently occupying. Alasin scratched and bit but Heyworth’s muscles had grown up fighting trolls and she was dragged, cursing, up the stairs toward his bedchamber. Fight though she did, the thought of screaming never entered her mind.

Slamming his chamber door behind them, Heyworth threw her from him, sending her flying across the room and knocking her head into one of the four poster bed’s pillar. She sat down hard, swaying. The world swam before her as the rug beneath the bed came into focus. She could see clumps of dust clinging to the fibers and she thought dazedly, must remember to thrash the cleaners for that.

She heard the sound of panting, like a dog’s. He was breathing fast as his hands worked his belt buckle and there was an ugly glint to his eyes. “Need a lesson in manners,” he muttered as he jerked the belt from his pant loops and adjusted himself. “Respect. Deference. You WILL give them to me.” Snapping the belt between his balled fists, he started toward her. “Princess, I regret that you’ve made me do this, but if you just–”

He stopped, mid-stride, narrowed eyes taking in the small blade poised to throw in Alasin’s hand from where she crouched on the floor beside the bed frame. Now she rose to her feet, keeping the blade leveled at him.

“Listen, cretin,” she said flatly, her breathing rapid, “the only reason you are not dead where you stand is that the fact of your death would benefit me less than your survival. Depart from here immediately and never darken the land near me for the remainder of your days. I am the princess of the realm and I have spoken. Now depart, before I am forced to end you regardless of the ramifications.”

Heyworth licked his lips, feeling the blood drain a little from his loins. The belt drooped. He attempted a sneer. “You’re just a princess. You haven’t got what it takes.” He stood a little taller to enhance his stature. “I have single-handedly slain more trolls and enemies than I can recall if–”

“Listen to me Heyworth,” Alasin said, stepping closer to him, her teeth bared. “You have no idea of who I am, nor what I am capable of. I suggest you leave, before I show you. You have no more warnings.” Her eyes never left his.

In other circumstances, this may have worked. But Heyworth’s trollish pride had been wounded, and the ugly look returned to his head. A grin that may have been a leer appeared on his face. He raised the belt and took a step closer as well. “Listen here, brat, wave that knife of yours in my face and your mother–”

Quicker than the eye could follow, an expression of fury flashed across Alasin’s face and letting out a scream, her arm flicked out and she cut his throat as deeply as she could, scraping her knife on his vertebrae. Blood spurted across her face and she wiped it from her eyes as Heyworth sank to the floor, dropping his belt and clawing at his throat as though he could mend the damage she had done. Alasin smirked as she sank to her knees, her eyes following those of the dying Prince Heyworth, waving the blade in front of his face as it drained of color.

“I told you, pig,” she hissed, wiping the knife on Heyworth’s cheek, leaving a bloody smear and a fresh gash as the keen blade kissed his cheek. “I owe my mother nothing.”

She pushed him and he fell backward, striking his head hard against the stone floor. Dazed and struggling for breath, he sank back, his view of the ceiling impeded by the large dark circles that had begun to spin in the forefront of his vision. He remembered hearing rumors throughout the kingdom that the princess carried a poison blade. He had discounted it as just the rumors of common folk. Now as the dark circles claimed him, for the first time, he wondered if he could have been wrong…

“Princess! Princess Alasin!”

The door crashed open. Alasin looked up to see three of the castle guards struggling to be the first through the door. The first guard came forward, uncertainty on his features. “Lady, the wizard bade us come to aid with the greatest of speed. Do you require assistance?”

She rose to her feet, looking disdainfully down at the dead prince. “Yes,” Alasin said, and prodded Heyworth’s corpse with her foot. “Remove this from the castle and inform the queen that her latest suitor is rejected.” She felt the bottle hanging between her breasts and her pulse quickened in anticipation as she hurried out the door.

The three guards looked at each other and at the body on the floor of the bedchamber. Together, the two older guards looked at the youngest. The eldest guard gestured at the corpse as they took their hasty leave of the room.

“Mind you soak up the blood after you move him.”

My Darling Dead: Episode 4 -The Princess

The princess Alasin poked her head out of the canopied carrier and screamed, “GUARDS!”

Immediately the litter ground to a halt. The guards stood rigid, not daring to look at the princess as they strained to maintain their hold on the rain-soaked handles to the carrier. Her litter consisted of a small canopied tent on a platform and required four servants to support the four corners by long poles protruding. Her blonde hair swung in her face as she stood, leaning out of the tent and directing her glare at the guard responsible for the front left of the carrier, who was looking both guilty and apprehensive as the rain battered the ground around them.

“Yes, Your Highness?” The guard had to twist his body in order to meet her eyes.

“Why are we still blundering around out here and not on our way back to the castle with our errand accomplished?” Alasin spat, her fingers gripping the canopy with white knuckles.

“Your order was to find the wizard in the forest, O fair one,” said the guard, unable to keep a hint of petulance out of his voice. “He is proving elusive.”

“And you are at the moment disobeying orders, guardsman,” sneered Alasin. “So if you want to keep your head, I suggest you accomplish your mission and FIND HIM!”

“Look, princess, he’s a flippin’ wizard and if he don’t want to be found we ain’t gonna find him,” the guard whined, giving voice to his chilled bones and soaked feet. “Now why don’t you let us all go back in and look for him tomorrow?”  

Alasin stared at the guard, whose indignation wilted. The blood of the more experienced litter bearers ran cold as her voice turned silky.

“What did you say?”

The guard gulped. “I said–” he began, then stopped. A quizzical expression spread across his face as he looked down at the pearl-handled dagger that was now growing from his chest. He looked back up at the Princess as the litter handle slipped from his grasp, his knees giving out from under him as he crumpled to the muddy earth. The other front bearer shifted to the right, catching the other handle and taking up the extra strain without a word.

“’Ain’t’ is such a filthy word,” sighed Alasin. She snapped her fingers in the direction of the dead guard. “Return my blade to me and let us go on.”

The front guard pulled the poisoned dagger from the chest of his dead compatriot and handed it back to the princess, his one arm quivering as it strove to support the front of the litter on its own. She took it from him and resumed her seat as she gestured. “Onward!”

The litter resumed its rocking motion as it moved forward through the path between the trees, albeit slower now that it was being born by three rather than four. Inside the canopy, the princess settled herself against the fabric throne, grumbling under her breath as she pulled the glass bottle from inside her robes, lifting it by its long silver chain. Normally filled with white powder, the bottle now held only a sprinkle of white at the very bottom. Grinding her teeth, Alasin unscrewed the cap and upended the bottle on the back of her hand. Jamming the hand to her face, she sniffed, inhaling the remainder of the powder in one go. One eye twitched, but that was all. The drugs the wizard had given her, in the beginning, had become so much a part of her life that she physically ached to be without them. She dreaded how she would begin to feel in just a few hours time unless the wizard was found. A pang of fear shot through her at the thought of suffering discomfort and she stuck her head out the canopy.

“Faster, fools!” she shrilled, clenching the curtains with shaking hands. “Unless you all want to end up like your friend back there!”

The pace increased.

The wizard in question was up in a tree seeking mistletoe when he heard the voice of the princess drawing nearer as she berated her litter bearers. He sighed, cutting one last bunch of mistletoe and stowing it in his harvest bag. Climbing down from the tree, he stood beside the trunk under the branches and watched the litter round the corner of the muddy path. The guards all wore identical expressions of weary resignation until the first guard’s face brightened upon seeing the wizard.

“Lady, the wizard Sapius appears!”

The princess ripped open the curtains of the litter and clawed her way down, scarcely waiting for the litter to come to a complete stop and nearly tripping and landing in the mud. The guards made no move to help her, and the wizard was sure he could detect a smile on the face of one of them.

“Wizard!” Alasin snarled, regaining her balance. “What do you do out here in this rain for hours? I have been waiting for your return!”

“I gather herbs and other ingredients, for my potions, Your Highness,” the wizard said with a little bow. “My apologies if I have kept you waiting overlong.”

Alasin scrubbed at her arms. “You have, but no matter. I come for your potions. My, er-” she glanced over her shoulder at the guards who were making quite a business of ignoring what she was saying. She finished in a hoarse whisper. “My medicine!”

A ghost of a smile flitted about the wizard’s own face. “But of course, my lady.” He turned his back to the guards and reached inside his robes, bringing out a duplicate bottle to the one she wore about her neck. “If you would?”

She pulled the slim chain over her head and handed the wizard the empty bottle, taking the full one from him in return. Her eyes lit up as she turned to go, but was stopped by the wizard’s hand on her arm.

“Be warned, lady. This making of your medicine is more powerful than the last bottle you had. You should only take a little for the same effect.”

“Yes, yes, I’ll be careful,” Alasin said, wrenching her arm away and making her way back through the mud to the litter. Climbing aboard, she barked “Back to the castle. Now!”

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 Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode One: Jill the Ripper

 

Episode 1: Jill the Ripper

The moon was a bright smear in the cloudy sky, casting a dim light on the city’s uneasy rest. In the lower east side, streetlights flickered and sirens wailed. Occasionally a shot rang out. Across the city, on the west hill, a gated community slumbered behind its fences, secure in the protection of a drowsy rent-a-cop at a booth by the gate.

Under the irregular pulses of the streetlights came a figure, wrapped in a long brown coat, its collar turned up. Its face was shrouded by a scarf and was cast in shadow by a black peaked cap with a wide brim. A police car went howling past, sending it cringing into the darkness. The figure let out a breath and hurried on.

Several blocks down, it stopped at an old brown town car with a cracked windshield and dented bumper. Fumbling in its pockets with slick red fingers, it dropped a key chain on the ground with a muffled squeak and a jingle. Stooping to pick it up, a lock of long blond hair fell forward from the hat. They finally managed to unlock the car and the figure hurtled itself inside, slamming the door behind it and banging down the lock.

Starting the engine, the figure guided the car down the street and turned right, toward the hills. Behind it, more police cars screamed through the night. Flashing red and blue lights lit the low-hanging fog that shrouded the east side. The figure cracked its window and lit a cigarette with its crimson fingers as the car made its way farther from the sounds of emergencies.

By the time the cigarette had burned down to its filter, the car was turning into the narrow road which led to the gated community known as WestCrest Estates. As the car approached the gate, a sensor was triggered and the gate swung open with a tiny creak. The security guard noted the vehicle on his clipboard and waved. The vague figure inside the vehicle waved back as it passed. The gate swung shut, latching itself with a snap as the guard returned to his game of solitaire.

The town car made its way through the tidy streets, slipping past large multistory homes in the steady glow of the streetlights. Slowing before a large three-story house, it turned into the driveway as one of three garage doors began to open, exposing an empty spot beside a shiny black Camaro. The beat-up town car slid into the empty slot and the garage door closed behind it, sealing it off from the world.

The figure killed the engine and for a moment just sat in the driver’s seat, staring at itself in the mirror. Its eyes were brown, its lashes accented by falsies applied with the same expert touch which had applied the eyeliner and eye shadow. This careful work had been splattered by a red mist and a splotch of red across the middle of one well-lined eyebrow.

Pulling off the hat, a cascade of blonde hair came tumbling down past the figure’s shoulders. The hair was also streaked and splattered with red, the tips appeared to be soaked with it. Unwrapping the scarf from its face revealed red painted lips and a complexion too smooth and flawless to be anything but high-powered cosmetics. It too had been splattered with red. The red lips turned down in a frown at the sight, but then curved up, remembering how it had come about. The lips parted in a giggle, and the figure opened the door and stepped out. The brown coat flapped around its feet, also stained with red in the dim garage light.

Kicking off its shoes, the figure mounted the stairs which led to the rest of the house, tossing the bloody coat in the direction of the washing machine in the corner of the garage. The coat missed and slid to the floor.

It was dark in the kitchen, but the figure moved with surefooted ease. Making its way around the kitchen island and opening the refrigerator door, it selected a carton of juice, opened it and took a long drink. As it did so, the kitchen lights came on in a blazing display. The figure blinked, still holding the carton.

“Welcome back, Princess,” said a voice. It came from the tall girl with long dark hair in a black bathrobe who had turned the lights on and was looking at the figure with weary but unmistakable disdain.

Princess flashed the girl a smile. “Missy, you didn’t need to wait up for me. I’m fine.”

“I don’t have a choice,” Missy snapped, moving to the bar in the corner of the kitchen and dropping chunks of ice into a glass and splashing vodka over them. “I can’t sleep until you’re back here. You know that.”

Rolling her eyes, Princess swept across the kitchen and plucked the glass from Missy’s hand, draining it and handing it back to her. “That doesn’t sound like my problem. If you could just mind your own business you’d be a lot happier.”

Missy refilled the glass and swallowed half of it. “You silly bitch, if the police show up here looking for you, that is absolutely my business.”

Princess scoffed, pulling the scarf from around her neck and tossing it onto the counter. “The police don’t know anything. Quit being such a drama queen.”

“They will,” Missy snapped. “Look at your face. Covered in blood. Look at this scarf!” She picked it up and shook it. Red drops fell to the counter. “You’re not being careful. Don’t be such a fucking idiot!”

“Missy,” Princess said with great delicacy. “Go to bed. We can talk about it tomorrow. I’m tired.”

Draining the rest of her glass and grabbing the bottle, Missy glared at Princess as she left the room. “Sleep well, Your Fucking Highness.”

“Good night, Missy,” Princess said, unruffled. Missy snarled something but Princess tuned her out. It was easy. Missy had been around all her life, and Princess was used to tuning her out.

Leaving the kitchen, Princess padded down the hallway and up the stairs to her master bedroom and bathroom. Shutting the door behind her, she crossed the room to the bathroom and its giant jacuzzi tub. Turning the water on full hot, she left the tub to fill as she took stock of herself in the mirror.

The black dress and long black gloves she had donned at the beginning of the night had mostly dried by now to a reddish crust that chafed her skin. Missy was right about the blood on her face. Peeling the stiff gloves from her arms, Princess went to work with makeup remover and soap.

Across town, in the east side, a pimp who had adopted the colorful moniker of Bitch Slap opened his car door and got out. Two hours ago, he had watched his bitch take a trick into her hotel room, and unless the bitch had found the next Ron Jeremy, everything should have been settled some time ago. Bitch Slap’s rings glittered as he pounded on his bitch’s door, employing his considerable vocabulary to suggest the young lady inside present herself immediately at the front door. When no answer from within was forthcoming, Bitch Slap grabbed the doorknob and turned. It was not locked.

The scene which greeted Bitch Slap upon opening the door was nothing he could have imagined in his nightmares. His bitch(he could vaguely recall her name being something like Macy) was leaning against the headboard, her legs, or what was left of them, splayed wide. One leg had been partially amputated, the other had been flayed down to the grisly white bone. Both of the girl’s breasts had been severed and were laying in her lap, along with several of her fingers. As Bitch Slap’s bulging eyes took in the scene, they stopped at her face, which was laying on the side table.

In the house in WestCrest Estates, Princess stepped out of the jacuzzi, toweling her hair dry and wrapping another towel around herself. As Bitch Slap leaped into his Cadillac and sped away, Missy finished the bottle of vodka and lit another cigarette. She went to the window, cracked it a fraction and watched the smoke streaming out. Her eyes dropped to her reflection in the glass. The towel Princess had wrapped around herself was wrapped around Missy. The cigarette Missy had lit was in Princess’s hand. Princess’s face looked back at Missy in the window.

“I hate you,” Missy told the face.

“I know,” it replied, and smiled.

The Scarlett Dahlia Episode 11: Night of Torches by Jesse Orr

 

 

“You foolish man,” Scarlett hissed, bending Carly’s head back to stare upside-down at Fenton Hayes. His eyes bulged and the derringer swung from her, back to Hans, back to her.

“Carly? What the…” Fenton’s eyes were locked on her even as the gun moved. “Your face!”

Scarlett’s rage flashed across Carly’s decaying features. “Yes, I’m not as pretty as once I was I’m afraid.” She grinned, her upside-down smile half gone. “I bet you still want to fuck me though, don’t you, Mr. Hayes?”

Fenton spluttered, struggling to form words as the thing in the tub which resembled Carly rose, water dripping from its scabrous curves over which he had lusted since her accursed sister had walked into their son’s life and led them all to this point in space and time. One of her breasts had lost a nipple, the other was split open. Gray flesh peeked out like stuffing from a pillow. As Fenton and Claudia watched in horror, the Carly-thing reached a torn finger into its mouth and pulled out a tooth.

“I bet you’d like me better without any teeth,” she leered, “the better to please you with, my dear.”

Fenton’s wife let out a moan, pawing at her husband’s shoulder, mewling inarticulate prayers. “Please, God, please, God, please, God…”

The Carly-thing lifted itself from the water and stepped onto the floor, leaving large bits of skin and hair floating on the surface of the tub. Her feet flattened out like a thick batter. “Don’t talk to me about God,” she rasped, walking toward Fenton and his wife. As she walked, layers of skin remained on the floor and it occurred to Claudia that if enough layers of skin were peeled from those feet, they would begin to hear the sound of bone walking on the tile, and if that happened, she would surely go mad. “God is content to let us die. I have made it closer to immortality than any before me, and I will not be put off by a drunken fool!”

“Get back!” Fenton shouted, jostling Claudia backward. “I swear to Christ I’ll shoot!”

“No,” whispered the Carly-thing. “You’d never shoot me.” It smiled. “You still want to fuck me.” A piece of Carly’s cheek fell to the floor with a wet plop.

A hand, purple and waterlogged, reached up and touched the barrel of the derringer.

“No!” Fenton screamed. He jerked the little pistol to the side and fired.

At the tub, Hans grunted and Don splashed into the tub, bobbing as Hans released him. Hans raised a hand to the side of his head and felt the small hole there, circling it with his fingertips even as his knees gave way beneath him.

“Miss–”

Hans crumpled to the floor, eyes staring at the Carly-thing as they glazed over. A twitch of the arm, then, nothing.

Fenton stared at the body of the man he had just killed with his little derringer, the only time it had ever been fired. Before he could dig too deeply into the ramifications, a horrible sound filled the air. His flesh crawled as he realized it was the Carly-thing trying to scream through decaying vocal cords. It coughed and reddish black chunks came spewing from its mouth. It lurched forward, the tips of those squishy fingers reaching, clawing, clutching. It was still screaming, inarticulate expressions of hate that sprayed across Fenton’s face as Claudia screamed behind him and the world bloomed into giant gray roses which turned black and silent.

The fire burned bright, red light bathing the slaves as they gathered around Janis, who stood silhouetted against the flames in the night. Only her eyes showed, twin specks of fury.

“The Dahlia and her slaves are evil!” cried Janis. “She uses us like cattle! We nothing but livestock for them in the house!”

“You watch your fuckin mouth,” shouted a tall bald man with skin the color of coal. “My cousin Mary work in the manor and she ain’t no evil thing.”

“Mary?” spluttered Janis, so taken aback she could scarcely form words for a moment. “Mary has sucked down the blood of more of us than anyone else, you numb shithead! Mary and Charles SELL US our own after they’ve done with them!”

“Bull shit!” the man shouted back, beginning to elbow his way to the front of the crowd. “Mary wouldn’t do dat!”

“Mary wouldn’t do that?” Janis flung her arms wide, looking at one and all. “Who here bought blood from that bitch?”

Mary’s cousin looked around, seeing hands in the air. Half. More than half. He felt sick. His eyes dropped.

“And for what?” Janis yelled, looking at all of them. “Why you niggas buyin each other’s blood?” She glared around, demanding an answer.

One of the men whose hand had been up said something. “What?” Janis snapped. “You got somethin to say say it.”

“I say Charles told me!” the man cried. “Charles told me it be the best cure for a limp dick and he right!”

“He right, is he,” Janis said, her voice low. “You know your sister never come back from the Manor when she went. But that didn’t stop you at all, did it.”

The man’s eyes filled with tears and he stared at the ground.

“That dick was more important than your own sister!” Janis screamed at him, her shadow dancing in the firelight. “You drank your sister’s blood and got a pretty good bone on, didn’t you, you sicko? Was it worth it? You think your mom and dad had that in mind when they looked at the two of you? Huh?”

The man was crying now, curling in on himself as everyone looked somewhere else.

“You high when you drink they blood because you drinkin they lives!” Janis looked around at the hushed slaves. “This ain’t normal and you know it! THEY doin this!” Janis pointed to the manor. “This all started when Scarlett Dahlia came here! It never stop while she lives!”

“Murderers!” screamed the prone form on the ground. The crowd took up the chant. “Murderers! Murderers!”

Mary stood in the servant’s kitchen, her shaking hands poised over a small stew pot. In her right hand, she held a paring knife. Her left was balled up into a fist and her eyes were screwed tight shut as the knife kissed her wrist. She was about to cut when the door from the parlor burst open and Charles blew in, eyes wide, face pale.

“They gon’ be comin soon! The ones from the pen by the river comin tonight with torches and they mad about the blood and the Dahlia and– ” His eyes fell from hers, which had popped open, to the knife in her hand. “What you doin?”

“Do you have any?” Mary’s voice jerked and quavered. “I need some.”

“Girl what the hell is wrong with you? Now ain’t the time to be getting high, the slaves is comin and they–”

“I don’t care!” Mary screamed, raising the knife to eye level between them. “I need it and if you don’t got any I’ll do what I have to!”

“Bitch, you crazy!” Charles armed sweat from his forehead and stepped out of knife range. “What I got’s up in my room but–”

Mary pushed him aside and scrambled for the stairs. She registered what Charles had said about the slaves from the river, but it was unimportant. All she knew is that the entire world would fall apart if she didn’t get more blood and there might be some in his room upstairs.

“Mary!” Charles stood, rocking from foot to foot, his unease building. “You let the slaves rip you apart if you want, I’m the fuck out!”

She heard neither this proclamation nor the sound of the door slamming behind him, because Scarlett Dahlia, hearing the commotion, had emerged from her chambers and now held Mary by the throat.

“Mistress,” Mary gasped, her hands clawing at Scarlett’s iron grip. “Please. Blood. I need it.”

“Of course you do, you little junkie slut,” Scarlett snarled into Mary’s face, “once you start sucking down the lives of others in any quantity you need more and more, but if you don’t tell me what that other fool was yelling about I’ll crack you open and feed you your own heart.”

Mary was ashamed to admit, even to herself, in this moment, how desirable it sounded to be fed her own heart by this beautiful creature. “He says,” she managed to choke out, “that the slaves—they know—about the blood—they’re coming–”

Scarlett’s eyes widened, but only for a moment. “Little junkie slut,” she muttered and released her hold on Mary’s throat. “Go find your medicine.” She turned and strode back into her chamber.

“Thank you, mistress,” Mary sobbed, tearing great ragged breaths from the air as she staggered down the hall to the tiny room Charles occupied just off the Dahlia’s suites. Later, after the slaves had stormed the manor, her cousin found her. Mary was nearly gray, cold as the air around her, and dead. Charles had had no blood, and her mouth was stained red from the gash on her wrist where she had cut herself to drink her own.

The fat old overseer had seen the flickering lights on the tops of the trees and thought the idiot slaves had set their compound on fire. As fast as he could go, he made his way down the path to the creek, almost hoping to see them running around with their heads on fire, screaming. He grinned at the thought. The grin vanished when he rounded the final bend and saw the gathering around the bonfire. All at once, it seemed, they turned to meet his eyes.

As one, the slaves stood and rushed the fence that made up the pen. There were stout posts laced with a tangle of barbed and razor wire and the ferocity of the guards coupled with the sharp edges had been sufficient to discourage much freedom-seeking. Those who had succeeded had always been fetched back swiftly and the horrific fates meted out upon runaways were second only to the rumors about the Dahlia. Now, as the fat old overseer stood, seemingly rooted to the spot, he watched what seemed to be all the slaves falling with a savagery on the poles which held the wire in place. An ominous cracking sound filled the night, and before he could even consider moving, most of his important internal organs had been crushed by one of the main support beams. There were enough vital parts remaining, however, for the fat old guard to have time to relive most of his life at Scarlett Dahlia Manor and to weep at the waste of it all.

Charles knew all too well that the treatment the Dahlia would receive at the hands of her slaves would be gentle compared to what awaited him. She had only used them. He had betrayed them. He saw the light from the torches coming up the path, and his stomach tightened in a grip of horror when he realized there was nowhere to go. The overseers all clustered around the front of the manor at night to gamble and drink and a lone guard patrolled the backgrounds, but the only way out was through the slave pens and down the river.

He would have to hide until the slaves had gone to the manor. Casting about, he spied a small corner of darkness at the edge of the grounds which seemed blacker than all the rest. Making for it as fast as he could, he threw himself behind a stone which jutted straight up from the smooth ground. Peering around its base, he watched as a crowd of yelling slaves strode up the path and across the grounds of the manor. He heard the thud as they pounded the door leading to the servant’s kitchen, and could even from this distance hear the cracking wood. It wouldn’t last long.

A hand fell on his shoulder and he screamed. He couldn’t help it. The handspun him, hard, and he fell to the ground, hitting his head upon the stone. A lantern bloomed and Charles saw Hans in the flickering yellow light. A large hand produced a knife and before Charles could react, he was reeling from the slash which opened his throat almost to the spine. As he fell to the ground, he saw his blood spray across what he could now recognize in the light as a headstone. Before the light faded from his eyes, he saw the headstone soaking up the blood.

“Fenton.”

Someone was splashing him with water. He didn’t like it.

A stinging slap to the side of his face. His eyes flew open.

“Jesus, Claudia–”

His wife was leaning down in front of him, arm poised for another slap. “Are you awake now?”

“Yes… yes I’m awake, what the fuck–?” He tried to push himself up but found his hands would not move. They were bound tight together by a strip of light blue fabric he recognized as the tie he had put on that day.

“I want to talk to you, Mr. Hayes, and I’d rather your hands be stationary while I do so.” Claudia knelt before him, legs folded under her, hands clasped before her. She looked at him, her face cold and expectant. “Are you listening?”

Fenton was not listening, in fact, his attention was drawn by the wasted rotting body which lay on the floor beside him. It bore no more resemblance to Carly than a side of beef.

Another stinging slap and his eyes whipped around.

“Are you listening to me?” Claudia’s eyes glinted dangerously. “I have had a long day and I have no more patience for games.”

“Claudia, what the fuck are you talking about?” Fenton tugged at his wrists. “Let me go.”

“I told you, we are going to talk.” She leaned back onto Claudia’s heels. “First, let’s introduce each other. I am Scarlett Dahlia.”

Fenton snorted. “Claudia quit fucking around and–”

“STOP CALLING ME THAT!” Scarlett shrieked. Claudia’s eyes were huge and mad, her cheeks flushed as Scarlett leaned forward, grasping Fenton by his collar and screaming “Your wife is gone, you stupid blind fatcat, and unless you do exactly as I say she will never come back!”

Fenton recoiled in horror, slamming his head into the wall. The face was Claudia’s, but the voice…

And the look on her face…

“Will you do as I say?” Scarlett raised a nail to her cheek and sliced a thin gash in Claudia’s smooth pale skin. “Or would you rather watch her decay before your eyes until she looks like that one?” She waved a hand at the pile of what once had been Carly.

“What do you want?” Fenton’s voice shook as he watched the blood dripping down the cheek he had caressed times without measure.

Claudia’s head jerked toward the tub and Don’s lifeless body lolling in the water. “You need to cut his throat. The blood will seal this body and then your wife will stay as you remember her.”

“Except for you. You’ll be in her.”

“Well, yes. Except for that.” Claudia’s face curled into that predatory grin. Fenton felt his balls contracting as chills ran down his spine.

“You can’t make me slit that kid’s throat,” Fenton said, struggling to keep his voice from shaking any further. “That’s murder.”

“The boy was dead when you arrived and slitting his throat will not make him any deader.” Claudia’s eyes bored into his. “What is your answer? Will you see her rot before you, or save what is left? Perhaps you would like her more with one eye.” Scarlett raised Claudia’s hand, perfectly manicured fingernails filed to points (Fenton remembered with horrid clarity the argument they had had about the cost of those fingernails just last week) moving toward her left eye.

“No!” cried Fenton, moving forward. “Don’t hurt her. Just leave her be.” He swallowed. “I’ll do what you want.”

Claudia’s face broke into a large smile. “I’m glad to hear that. Everybody wins if you say that.” She untied Fenton’s hands.

“Except the kids you’ve already murdered,” Fenton couldn’t help adding.

Scarlett was unmoved as she began undressing for the tub. “You’ll find, Fenton, being with me is not without its benefits.” Scarlett surveyed Claudia’s body with an appraising look. “You’ll find I can convince people of just about anything, and it shouldn’t be too hard to explain away your drugged-out son and daughter-in-law. The ones in here,” she gestured to the remains of Carly, Don, and Hans, “clearly were doing something very strange. But by the time anybody thinks to ask us any further questions, we’ll be so far away they won’t even bother looking for us.”

Fenton gaped at her.

“What if I refuse? You’ll kill me I suppose.”

Scarlett smiled at him, and nearly looked like her old self for a moment. “Of course not. If you fail to cooperate completely in any way, your wife will begin to lose parts of her body in most interesting ways. First a finger, maybe, then pieces of skin.” The smile warped from the Claudia he knew to this new horror that now faced him, for the foreseeable future.

“It all depends on you,” Scarlett whispered, “but rest assured, my dear Fenton, if anything happens to this body, you will pay for it for the remainder of your days.”

Scarlett lowered herself into the water for the second time that night, her eyes never leaving Fenton’s. She reached below the surface and brought up the knife Hans had dropped upon being shot. She held it out to Fenton.

“Do it now,” she intoned, “and your life can be whole again.”

Fenton stumbled forward and took the knife from her. His thumb felt along the edge, testing its sharpness as he looked at the body slumped over the edge of the tub. Scarlett reclined, running Claudia’s arms along the edge of the tub and keeping her eyes on Fenton as he reached below the water and pulled Don’s lifeless head up from its depths. Pressing the knife to Don’s throat, he stopped. Wavered.

“Do it,” snarled Scarlett, clenching Claudia’s fingers on the edge of the tub until her knuckles turned white. “Now!”

Squeezing his eyes tight together, he reached beneath Don’s chin and cut.

Blood poured from the cut, turning the water pink, and Scarlett moaned at the sight, hands reflexively flying forward to bathe in it. Then she screamed as Fenton seized Claudia’s wrist and dragged what had once been his wife toward him. Scarlett attempted to push back but the bloody water in the tub splashed all over, leaving her no traction. Don’s body bobbed between them, still leaking blood into the water, turning it from pink to a dark red.

“I love you, Claudia,” Fenton sobbed and plunged the knife into his wife’s throat. Scarlett’s scream sprayed into his face, words becoming more and more unintelligible the more Fenton twisted the knife. Her hands fought his at her throat at first, then fell away. He let go, and it stayed in her throat for a few seconds, then with a horrid slimy sound, it slipped from the wound and clattered to the floor.

Sobbing, Fenton slid to the floor and pushed himself across the room away from Claudia’s body, only stopping when he hit the wall. She had landed slumped over the edge of the tub and her eyes stayed on him, blank, glassy, accusing. Claudia’s eyes.

Scarlett’s words spun in his head.

If anything happens to this body. You will pay for the remainder of your days.

The remainder of your days.

Fenton pushed himself back across the room toward the knife. Once he had opened both his forearms from wrist to elbow to his satisfaction, he took his wife’s hand and leaned his head against hers, which is how they were eventually found.

Scarlett Dahlia stood before her resting place and admired it.

Set back from the side of the manor, it was neatly tucked away between the grass and the trees. A circle had been cleared of all foliage and scraped clean. The hole Hans had dug stood in the shadow of the dirt which had filled it, six feet deep and six feet long.

The stone for which she had waited so long was finally in place, casting a shadow over the hole dug at its base. She stroked its smooth surface with a pale hand. It was as tall as she, its surface a glossy onyx with shades of white and gray quartz. It tapered from the ground up to a plateau. On the flat surface was etched what appeared to be a sideways number eight, and a dripping flower. Scarlett’s fingers found the chiseled marks and ran across them dreamily.

The night before, out in the yard, she had carved them into the rock herself. Blood dripped from gashes in her wrists down her hands onto the carvings. The world had shrunk around her until there was nothing but the stone and the blade of the chisel. Even the hammer was gone as she swung it until the last line had been carved. As she struck the final blow, the headstone inhaled the drops of blood pooled on its surface and the world exploded around her in a rush.

Now as she touched the headstone, she could feel its power radiating like heat from its smooth surface. The power, waiting to be harnessed, instructed and flung into the ether to do her bidding. She smiled.

“Come,” she said, beckoning him forward. “One thing more must be done if you are to join me.”

Hans joined her by the stone. “Shall I do it, or would you like to, madam?”

Scarlett extended her hand. In it lay a small silver knife, its handle facing Hans. “It works better if you do.”

Hans took the knife, his face betraying his trepidation as he inspected its edge.

“Don’t worry,” Scarlett soothed. “It will be over in no time, and before you know it you’ll be somewhere else. It will be strange, but I will be there.” She looked over her shoulder at the creek where almost inaudible shouts could be heard. “Our time here is nearly done.”

Hans raised the blade to his eyes, looking along its length. Looking at Scarlett, his hand shook only once before he plunged the blade into his throat, dragging it from ear to ear and opening a wide gaping red grin below his jawline.

By reflex, Scarlett’s hand shot forward, bathing in the blood pouring from Hans’ neck. The fiendish light came into her eyes again as she brought her hand back to her mouth, sucking his blood from her fingers. She stared at him as she took the knife from his hand and his face drained of color. Her other hand came up to caress his cheek, paper-white beneath the smudges of dirt. He looked back at her, his knees weakening but refusing to go down. Bringing her lips to his, she kissed him, leaving a smear of his blood across his mouth. She stepped back and pushed.

Hans leaned back, caught between two worlds as he teetered on the brink, his body fighting to remain upright. She looked at him and mouthed the words “let go.”

The shouts of the approaching slaves were blotted out by the deepening black spiral as Hans let go. He was dead before he reached the bottom of the grave he had dug.

The slaves burst into the manor, streaming through the servant’s kitchen. Many of them had never gone beyond the threshold of the manor and some got lost in its many rooms as they searched, but the Dahlia and her manservant were nowhere to be found. Reasoning that they could not have gone far, Janis and several of the more quick-witted slaves hurried down the stairs as the rest of their companions continued ransacking the manor for any sign of the evil ones. As soon as she set foot out of the manor, Janis was the first to spy the Dahlia standing by the headstone, one of two silhouettes against the lantern light.

“Over there!” she yelled, waving her torch, and took off across the grounds. Those who had followed her broke into a run, adding their shouts to the din of the night.

“Murderers!”

“Death to the Dahlia!”

“Back to hell where you belong!”

As Janis ran and yelled, she saw one of the silhouettes, the tall wide one, fall to the ground and disappear. She ran faster, thinking insanely that they were escaping through tunnels, and let out a bloodcurdling scream as she prepared to chase the woman who fed upon them as though they were cattle.

Scarlett Dahlia watched them approach, carrying torches, some carrying whatever crude weapons they had managed to find. She stood, calm and erect, hands clasped behind her. The slaves slowed, then stopped several yards from her, uncertainty creeping across their features. They had expected her to run, to chase, to bring her down and make her scream before wiping her from the face of the earth. Instead, she stood before them, smiling.

Janis raised her torch, pointing it at Scarlett. “Devil woman, this your night to die.”

Scarlett nodded. “Oh yes. Perhaps yours as well.”

One of the slaves screamed laughter, an unbalanced sound. “Bitch, you outnumbered! Say yo’ prayers.”

“I have said my prayers,” Scarlett said and laughed. “Did you ever wonder why your little hocus-pocus had no effect?” She looked at Janis, who cowered back. “That sad ritual you performed with your cute little doll was nothing to me! My aunt has left me the secrets of which you could only dream, you insignificant weed.

“However,” she said, and now her face held a hint of regret, “the lot of you will soon have to explain the murder of your owner to whoever comes looking for me. I imagine they will take a dim view of you slitting my wrists and leaving me to die in my own grave.”

“We ain’t gon’ slit your wrists, bitch, that be too good for the likes of you,” Janis said, and spat.

“But I’ve done it for you,” said Scarlett, and held out her hands. Blood dripped from her fingers in steady streams, and as the slaves stared in horror she staggered a little.

“If I were you I would start running,” she said, waving her hands in a dismissive gesture, and laughed. “I feel tired.”

They scattered.

Scarlett Dahlia stood before her resting place, watching the night grow darker as the light from the torches faded and the light faded from her eyes. She admired the darkness as it slipped forward to seduce her, and as it folded her in its embrace, she fell back, landing atop Hans at the bottom of the grave, a smile on her face.

Epilogue

The slaves escape, most of them, after beating most of the remaining overseers to death. One survives and eventually makes it to the nearest people, where he gasps out that the slaves have revolted and killed everyone, before expiring on the floor. Upon investigating, neighbors find exactly that. They bury Scarlett Dahlia and Hans where they have fallen, and for years the manor has a revolving door of ownership.

Some say it is haunted.

Fenton and Claudia are discovered when Mr. and Mrs. Darren Smith is taking a look around the manor to see if they want to use it for their upcoming nuptials. They might not have ventured so far into it, had it not been for the smell. By then, Carly and Maurice the unfortunate landscaper are so badly decomposed they are only identifiable by their dental records. Don, partially submerged in the tub still, along with Claudia, has turned a slimy white. The lack of clear answers adds to the mystique of the Manor, and needless to say, Mr. and Mrs. Darren Smith decline to rent the facility.

Had they done so, their wedding would have been without parallel, their guests in awe of the grounds on which the ceremony would be performed, the parlor in which the reception could be held, and the bedrooms which could be rented (for an additional fee) for overnight use by inebriated guests. It would have been a beautiful and joyous occasion, because of the simple fact that Mr. or Mrs. Darren Smith share no blood with Scarlett Dahlia’s line.

But at this moment, three states away, two little girls named Beth and Nancy are asleep in their beds. Beth and Nancy are different because they were born to a girl named Carly when Carly was not yet a sophomore. Both were whisked away by Carly’s adoptive parents at the moment of their birth, and have no idea that they were the only two in existence with the power to awaken Scarlett Dahlia. Of course, three states lie between Beth and Nancy and Scarlett Dahlia Manor. But as the bloodline spreads, like a river flowing from the ocean to thousands of smaller tributaries, eventually, one of those will reach the Manor.

After all, eternity is plenty of time to wait.

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 by Jesse Orr: Heat

 

 

What came to be Scarlett Elizabeth Dahlia had been found under a tree by a river one scorching August day. She was found by her adoptive parents, Cynthia and Mason Sterling. Later Mason told his friends that he and Cynthia would have ridden right past if the baby had not been screaming at the top of her little lungs. The tree was far enough off the path that the basket in which the baby lay could not be seen, and the steady clop clop of the horse’s hooves on the hard gravel made enough noise. But screaming she was and had been for some time, it seemed, for by the time they had reined their horses in and dismounted, the baby’s face was a bright, furious red. Scarlet, thought Cynthia, before scooping the baby from the basket and holding her close.

“Mason, she’s burning up!” Cynthia said and looked at her husband who was standing at arm’s length. “The river! Mason! Your jacket!”

Mason looked down at his waistcoat, which had cost a pretty penny and with which he was loth to part. “My jacket…”

“Quick!” Cynthia cried. The little thing in her arms was burning up, and he was just standing there! If she could count on him not to just drop the poor child she would have done it herself by now.

With some reluctance, Mason dragged the jacket from his shoulders and went to the riverbank. Crouching, he held one sleeve and tossed the rest of the coat into the water, looking resigned as the water turned its light blue to dark. Hauling it back in, he carried it to her and held it out.

Cynthia took the sodden jacket and wrapped it around the baby before bathing its tiny brow with a sleeve. “There, there, you poor little thing! It’s okay, it’s okay, shhh…”

After a while, the scarlet color of the baby’s skin began to calm to its natural shade, and she began to quiet, looking at the two strangers with wide eyes. Those eyes in that moment melted both their hearts.

They searched dutifully for the baby’s parents as they cared for her, but every inquiry they made was done with a hope for its failure. In this they were diligent, for they were good folk and did not wish to steal the child of another. As time went by, and the little girl grew, little by little, their search tapered to nothing.

Though her color had faded, the name stuck, and Scarlett became a permanent member of Mason and Cynthia Sterling’s world. They were both overjoyed. After years of fruitless(but enjoyable) years trying to have their own children, they had begun to accept that there would be no pitter-patter of little feet for them. Now Scarlett, who was just learning to walk, filled their house with the sounds of youth.

And what a house it was! The Sterling estate was not the biggest or the richest, but to a child Scarlett’s size, it went on for what seemed like miles, and she never forgot it. The slaves adored her and would often comment on how she was “jus’ cute as a li’l button” when she came toddling their way. Mason and Cynthia were delighted with her, and the speed with which she learned. She did not speak as often as some children, but the insight she demonstrated in what she did say never ceased to amaze Mason.

As she grew older, she would often stand for long periods of time perfectly still holding on to two rails on her own little balcony, looking at all the world she could see. From there, she could see over the lawn and the slave quarters, and into the fields beyond where the slaves worked. The Sterling estate grew some of the best cotton for miles around, and the slaves took great pride in that fact.

As the little girl continued through adolescence, her curiosity seemed to grow with her. One night, she began to wonder, then ask about herself, as all children do. Mason and Cynthia were taken by surprise by the question and before they could consult with each other on the subject or plan what to say, Mason blurted out the truth. Scarlett’s whole world fell apart. She was nothing more than a throwaway. Discarded trash that had been left for the scavengers to find.

Nobody, not even Scarlett herself, knew that as she lay beneath the tree that hot August day, she had sustained permanent brain damage. Deep within the gray matter of her mind, something had gotten hot enough to rewire itself and was just waiting for something else to activate it. In the trauma of learning her origins, this new connection had lit up and changed Mason and Cynthia’s little girl forever.

That night, there was a fire in the Sterling Manor. A modern fire inspector would have looked upon it with great suspicion, for it started at the door of the master bedroom, on a hardwood floor, with no natural tinder. The sleeping Mason and Cynthia Sterling were dead of asphyxiation long before they were consumed by flames, along with the rest of their house. The slave quarters started to burn as well but were caught in time and the fire extinguished. The main house was a total loss.

Only Scarlett survived. One of the slaves found her, dry eyed, at the edge of the lawn, watching the fire burn. The slave spoke, and Scarlett turned to her, but not before the woman saw the savage expression of satisfaction on the girl’s face turn into tears as fake as she had ever seen. The slave woman never spoke of it to anyone, but she was sure she had seen the devil.

In the following weeks, the Sterling estate was dismantled and parceled out to the highest bidders. Slaves were sold and the property went for a staggering sum after a fierce auction. What little was not destroyed in the fire was included in the auction. Scarlett Sterling, not yet seventeen years of age, had inherited a fortune.

As the only remaining Sterling, Scarlett could have stayed and used the money to rebuild, but she had no interest in staying. While the estate of her so-called parents was divided, she had been staying in an orphanage. The other girls had been leaving her alone to grieve her loss, which suited her just fine. She used the time to plan. She would lie about her age and get as fine a house as she could with what she received from the sales, and start a new life. She was frightened but determined.

When she found out about Dahlia Manor, everything changed.

The Scarlett Dahlia Episode 6 Masks by Jesse Orr

The Scarlett Dahlia Episode 6 Masks by Jesse Orr

 

The being controlling Jack had never been in an automobile. It had heard of them existing in far-off lands and dismissed their tales as immaterial. Now, as it approached the Prius, it had not the slightest clue how to start. The reflection of the body it inhabited seemed to have its own ideas, and moved to the left side of the vehicle, digging in a pants pocket. A small black device with buttons was in its hand now, and the being inside regarded it with curiosity. Unbidden, the thumb crept to one of the buttons and pressed it. The car’s lights flashed and it beeped. Jack’s heart hammered in its chest.

“It’s okay,” Jack’s voice said, unbidden, yet reassuring to the thing inside. “Perfectly normal.”

Jack’s body went to the front left-hand door, where it took it only a moment to figure out the door handle, then it was sitting behind the wheel of a 2017 Toyota Prius, a piece of technology so far removed from the Manor that it may as well have been science fiction. It cast Jack’s eyes over the dashboard, reading labels on buttons and knobs with care, finally stopping on a large round button saying “ENGINE START STOP.”

The being inside Jack hesitated a few minutes, wondering how an ENGINE could start and stop at the same time. A more thorough examination of the dash revealed no alternative potential power source. Bracing Jack’s body against one of the vehicle’s pedals(the brake, fortuitously), the being poked Jack’s finger at the button as though it expected an explosion. Instead, the seat beneath it quivered and with a beep, the dashboard lit up with an entire galaxy of blue lights.

Jack’s eyes were wide as it stared at everything for a few moments, trying to take it all in, before taking the steering wheel in hand. It turned the wheel back and forth and after experimenting with the two pedals at Jack’s feet, it discovered one made the ENGINE louder. The other pedal was a mystery, but it figured the pedal would reveal its use once they started moving. Jack’s hand touched the blue knob sticking up and Jack’s thumb caressed its smooth surface. Jack’s eyes took in the options. R, N, D, or B.

D, the body said, and slid the shifter to the left, and down. The vehicle began to roll. Jack’s voice yelled in alarm and Jack’s hands twisted the wheel just before the Prius ran into the staircase. Jack’s heart hammered as the being guiding it in a wide turn back toward the driveway. By the time the driveway returned to the main road, the being controlling Jack had figured out how to roll down the window and was enjoying the breeze. It was nice to be a physical being once more.

Mr Fenton Hayes looked over the rim of the glass containing his third mint julep at his wife. Mrs Claudia Hayes was reaching into her pocketbook for her silver cigarette case. She met his eyes, and they shared a look of long-suffering. Mr Hayes drained his glass as his wife lit her cigarette and reclaimed her own julep.

“How long are we stuck here?” Mrs. Hayes asked, her voice low and whining. With them, his eyes said with a flick in the general direction of the kitchen where Don and Carly had retreated. “We don’t even know them, we hardly know Marcie. Jack hardly knows Marcie! They just met at school, now they’re getting married and there are two strangers in our kitchen!”

Her voice had risen and Mr. Hayes waved a hand at her, whispering, “Shhhh…”

Mrs. Hayes’s voice dropped again but continued in an urgent tone. “Two strangers in our kitchen, and you just sit there drinking-”

“Claudia!” Mr. Hayes snapped. “Our son and Marcie are going to be back any minute, then she and her sister…” Damned if he hadn’t forgotten her name. Oh well, not like it mattered.

“Carly,” Mrs. Hayes said, taking a nervous sip at her own drink.

“Well, whatever, her and her boyfriend and Marcie will be going back to wherever she and her sister live, so relax.”

“They could be stealing the good silver!” Claudia Hayes hissed, gripping the edge of the couch and her cigarette with fierce intensity.

Mr. Hayes was about to retort that they didn’t have any good silver or china, because he didn’t hold with such rubbish, when the kitchen door swung open, admitting Don, bearing a tray, and Carly, bearing nothing but a strained smile.

The Hayes elders beamed at them, masks well in place. Claudia extended an arm. “Thank you, dear! Come, sit by me.”

Don moved with care, his tray laden with a cheese, crackers, and pitcher of mint juleps. “Set it here, son,” Fenton Hayes said and moved his empty glass from the coffee table in front of them. He held it up, rattling the ice. “You are just in time.”

Don’s smile was mechanical. “Let me pour you another, sir,” he said and filled up Fenton’s proffered glass.

Carly gestured at Claudia’s cigarette. “Ma’am, would you mind if I asked you for a cigarette?”

A flash of contempt in Claudia’s eyes could have just been Carly’s imagination, but she didn’t think so. “Of course, dear, help yourself.”

Carly did so, lighting up and puffing quickly. She glanced at Don, who was devoting his attention to the cheese, crackers, and juleps, and not looking at anybody.

“So!” Fenton said, his voice too loud for the room. “Dan-”

“Don,” Carly said to her cigarette, and not even Claudia heard.

“-what do you do for work?” Fenton raised his glass and drained half of it. Claudia’s lips pursed.

Small talk, thought Don and prayed for deliverance. “Well, I’m in-”

“They’re back!” Claudia broke in, the note of delight undisguised in her voice.

Carly turned and looked out the large window behind them. It overlooked the front lawn and the immaculate new driveway, and she could see only one head in the Prius. “Not they,” she murmured and crushed her cigarette out on the ashtray beside her. She didn’t smoke anyway. “Which one?”

“Looks like Jack. Maybe Marcie went to get her hair or nails done,” said Don, and stood up. “Sir, might I use your facilities before we depart?”

Fenton took another mighty swallow of his drink and set it down. “Oh, why not. Let me show you where it is.”

“Thank you, sir. Carls, I’ll be right out,” Don said.

She nodded, watching the Prius lurch to a halt. Probably high, the numb shithead, she thought, and sighed. She’d have to look over the Prius once he turned over the key fob.

Outside was like a furnace. The heat and humidity made her long for air conditioning. Jack wasn’t getting out of the car, probably for the same reason. Too bad. At almost a run, she crossed the scorching asphalt and pulled at the door. It didn’t open.

Numb shit, she thought. “Jack, unlock the door!”

Jack was studying the buttons on the dashboard like he was going to be tested on them later. “Oh my God it’s on the door you idiot!” she howled.

He looked to the door and poked several buttons.

Un-fucking-real...

The door made a chunk and she grabbed at the door handle before the numb shit could lock her out again. The door opened and blessed cool air hit her in the face. She hopped in, slamming the door behind her.

“What the fuck, Jack? You know how hot it is out there, why didn’t you unlock the fucking door?” She glared at him, pushing her hair out of her sweaty face. “Where’s Marcie?”

Jack was staring at her as though he had never seen her before, his eyes traveling up and down her body. Carly felt her irritation turn to unease and discomfort. She had never liked Jack but had never been afraid of him until now.

“Jack?”

“Marcie stayed at the Manor,” he said, though his eyes never stopped roaming. “She wants you to join her.” They stopped on her eyes at last, and his smile was that of a predator’s. “You’re PERFECT,” he said, and it wasn’t what he said that made her scream. It was the voice in which he said it.

It was a woman’s voice.

Don emerged from the home of Fenton and Claudia, tucking his shirt into his pants. He could see Carly had already taken her spot in the Prius and that was fine as paint with him. He just wanted to get the fuck out of here before he had to spend any more time with Jack’s frigid parents. Going around to the driver’s side door, he noticed it was half open.

“Babe, where’s Jack?”

“He went inside,” Carly said and smiled.

“Weird, I didn’t pass him,” Don muttered, getting in and slamming the door behind him. He looked at Carly. “Ready to go?”

“Yes,” she said. “Can we go to the Manor first? I want to see it again.”

“Scarlett Dahlia Manor?” Don looked at her as though she were mad. “That’s completely out of the way, and have you forgotten the texts we were getting? What happens if-”

“I would like to go back now,” she said, and the tone of her voice made Don look at her. She was staring at him with a look in her eye that he had never seen. It was almost as though…

“All right, Carl, we’ll go back now, damn.” He put the Prius in drive and it whispered forward. “At least I can grab our phones. But I don’t want to stay long.”

“Of course not,” Carly agreed. “Not a moment longer than necessary.”

The Prius turned out of the driveway and accelerated. In the trunk, the body that had once belonged to Jack Hayes rolled over on its side as the vehicle hit a bump. Blood trickled from its unseeing eyes and ears, staining the carpet in the trunk a dark, sticky, red.

 

 

THE SCARLETT DAHLIA BY JESSE ORR EPISODE 5 BLEACH AND HEDGE CLIPPERS

 

THE SCARLETT DAHLIA BY JESSE ORR EPISODE 5 BLEACH AND HEDGE CLIPPERS

 

“JACK!” Marcie screamed.

Her voice echoed in the still air before being swallowed by the trees. There was no answering call.

“Stupid motherfucker, probably in a bathroom doing the rest of that blow,” she muttered. Turning to go, she saw movement in the shadows of the largest tree at the edge of the house. Her nerves, jacked on white powder, jerked her heart into her throat and she froze. Her bulging eyes remained locked on the spot and the lump in the shadows which had moved. Just as she was about to dismiss it, it moved again, this time enough that she could make out the shape of a large burly man, apparently asleep next to a set of hedge clippers which leaned against the trunk of the tree which shaded him.

A landscaper, her mind informed her, and red alert was canceled. Her jaw relaxed at the familiar sight of an underlying, employed to complete menial tasks beneath her own station. She smiled. Calm down, Marcie.

“You called?”

She screamed and whirled, her hands clutched into involuntary fists. Jack raised a hand. “It’s just me,” he said.

“God damn it!” she snapped. “Didn’t you hear me yelling?”

“That’s why I came out.” His hand lowered.

“Thank you so much,” she said and thrust her hand out, open this time. “Gimme the bullet.”

Jack looked confused. “The what?”

“Oh God, did you do it all already?”

“I don’t know what–”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Marcie snarled, and yanked Jack forward by his shirt, digging her hand into his pants pockets. “The fucking bullet, that holds the fucking coke you’ve been sniffing all day you fucking RETARD!” She yelled the last in his face as she dug the bullet out of his left pocket and waving it in his face. “See?”

Jack’s face showed dawning comprehension as Marcie unscrewed the business end and dumped a healthy pile onto the hollow between her thumb and forefinger. Jamming her nose into the pile, she inhaled and gasped.

“HOLY SHIT!” she screamed, dropping the pieces of the bullet and grabbing for her throat. “What the fuck was that?”

“I’m not sure what Tide is,” Jack said, a smile playing around his lips, “but the box also said powdered bleach.”

Marcie didn’t hear him. She had fallen to her knees and was both gasping for air and vomiting, her eyes streaming red. “Jack! Get me to a fucking–” she retched again “–doctor!”

“What’s going on?”

The commotion had finally roused Maurice, the landscaper Marcie had spied napping. He stood at the edge of the lawn, eyes wide as he stared at Marcie. “Oh my… is she okay?”

“Does she look okay?” Jack asked, smiling pleasantly. “I put bleach in her cocaine device, although I did not know it was called a ‘bullet.’” He stepped around his stricken fiancee. “You are going to put her out of her misery for me.”

Maurice’s brain, never his strongest muscle, was still struggling to comprehend what he was seeing. “You gave her… what? Misery?”

“That is correct,” Jack said, and grasped Maurice’s calloused hand.

The laborer’s body gave a mighty convulsion, his eyes rolling back and staring, unseeing at the sky. His wide open mouth gaped without a sound. Spittle dribbled from one corner. In Jack’s grip, the hand was vibrating as though an electric current were flowing through it. Maurice felt as though his brain had been whisked out of his skull and replaced with a large empty room. Inside that room a man and a woman were laughing while something screamed. The man’s laughter got louder and louder until it was all Maurice could hear, he wanted to die if that was what it took to stop this…

It stopped.

Maurice’s eyes rolled forward and his knees buckled. Jack was expecting it, and reached to catch him. He needn’t have worried; the being which now inhabited Maurice’s body was already rising back to his full height, taking in the world as it did so.

“Missus?” came the voice of Hans the slave master, looking doubtfully at Jack.

“Yes,” said Jack, and a ghost of a grin flitted across his face. “He was the best I could do on short notice.” He gestured at his body.

Hans grunted, flexing his arms and taking some breaths. “This one feels good, missus.” His gaze shifted to the prone figure on the ground. At some point, Marcie had passed out. “What ’bout that’n?”

Jack looked at her with disdain. “She’s dirty. So is this one, but she’s just disgusting. I can smell her. That’s why you’re going to put her out of her misery. You remember where the bodies go?”

Hans nodded.

“Then do it,” Jack said, “and go back to minding the yard. I’ll be back with some more after I slip into someone more comfortable.”

“It will be as you say, missus,” Hans said and grinned. “If you don’t mind me saying, I’m looking forward to you getting back to your old self.”

“So am I, Hans,” Jack said, his voice prim. “Be about your work now.” He turned and rounded the corner of the house toward the car.

Hans grinned, and after a little searching picked up the hedge clippers Maurice had left under the tree. He gave them an experimental snip, and his grin grew wider. He liked the sound they made. Maybe he would see if he could wake up the bitch on the ground so she could hear it before dispatching her.

It was nice to be back at the Manor.

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!

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.