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.”

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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