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.

Advertisements

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.”