“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.
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.
Someone was splashing him with water. He didn’t like it.
A stinging slap to the side of his face. His eyes flew open.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.