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.

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The Scarlett Dahlia by Jesse Orr Episode 10 Lifelines

 

Mr. Fenton Hayes was drunk. Not to the point of seeing double, yet. He squinted his eyes and his wife came into focus a little.

“Whassat?” Fenton said and shook his head.

“I said if you really cared about making sure this wedding didn’t turn into a disaster,” snapped Claudia Hayes, “You’d go with them to make sure they know what they’re getting into!” She lit a cigarette with a shaky hand.

“Claudia, they’re adults.” Fenton chased his own cigarette with the lighter before realizing he was attempting to light the filter. He spat it out and tried again. “They sh’d make their own decisions.”

“No no no,” Claudia shrilled, making Fenton wince. “Not when their decisions are made with our money! That girl will choose some expensive horrid place and we’ll be stuck with the bill. Scarlett Dahlia Manor is the most expensive rental place for miles around, remember the last girl Jack married had almost decided on it before she changed her mind. An entire month’s finances that would have cost us, and now–”

“Bullshit!” Fenton spat, his ire raised by drink and the memory of the injustice on the price tag. “Slimy, weaselly li’l fucker like Dahlia Estates needs the money, that bitch had more dough than she had slaves.” He slopped some more of his drink into his mouth, ice banging against his lips. “Estate doesn’t have to pay for nothin either, juss a groundskeeper and a caretaker for the inside. Investments that were made back then’re worth a fortune now, and I bet juss the interest is enough to pay for that place now.” Fenton gestured with his cigarette, the ember of which had grown cold from inattention. “Scarlett Dahlia’s entire fortune and holdings have been held by South Bank since she died, all waiting for a long-lost relative to show up and claim it.” He ground his cigarette out with a savage twist of his arm. “Just sittin there, doin nobody any good while I’m getting fuckin margin calls…”

“Fenton, that’s all very interesting, but if you don’t get out there and stop them from deciding to rent it, that’s a month’s worth of bourbon you’re dumping down the drain.” Claudia sipped her julep. “At least when you spend it on booze you get something for your money. Something that won’t divorce your son in six months and walk away with half his money.”

“My money, you mean,” growled Fenton. With an effort he stood, staggering. “C’mon.”

Claudia looked down her nose at him, no small feat as she was still seated. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Fenton grabbed her arm, dragging her to her feet.

“You’re hurting me!”

“Claudia, darling, light of my life, you are not only coming with me, you are driving us both unless you want me to wrap the car around a tree.” He released her and plucked her mint julep from her hand. “You won’t be needing this.” He drained it.

To Don, everything felt like a dream.

He saw the world and the vehicle he was driving through heavy vignette, the focus narrowed to the figure of

Scarlett

Carly walking up the steps to the manor and reaching for the door. He felt his foot step on the brake, watched his hand put the car in park, unbuckle his seat belt and open the door. His legs swung out and he was being carried toward the house and Carly. Just then, she turned, and smiled at him, then vanished inside. The Dream Don smiled back and hastened his footsteps. The Don observing his progress fought with all his might to turn his body back from that predatory smile, but as one watching a movie, he was powerless to do anything but scream.

Scarlett crossed the parlor, even in her haste taking the time to appreciate its splendor. Such a beautiful house, she thought. Upstairs, she heard the bathtub running, and smiled. Hans. Her loyal hound, ever faithful, always obedient, and above all else, discrete. Brushing a lock of Carly’s hair behind her ear, she opened a three-inch gash on the side of her head as the fingernail cut through decaying skin. It didn’t matter though. Their salvation was at this moment walking in the door. At the base of the stairs, she turned and waved. It waved back.

“Come on…” she searched Carly’s memory banks for the name, groping, found it. “…Don! Hurry!”

It hastened to follow her. She could practically smell its panting animal lust, buried beneath everything it did. She supposed the body she inhabited must be considered a desirable one, based on its devotion to her. She trotted up the stairs, strands of Carly’s hair drifting down behind her as they came loose from her scalp. One eyelid drooped.

Scarlett came to her bedroom door and flung it open. Her heart gave a sad angry lurch at the sight of her space, stripped of everything that had been hers. Her eyes dropped to her hand, the index finger of which had been stripped of several layers of skin which now hung to the doorknob.

“Hans!” she hissed.

The servant materialized at the bathroom door. “Madam. Everything is ready.” His face had sagged on one side and his lower lip was nearly gone on the other, as though he had been biting it with anxiety. Scarlett experienced a moment of sick dread.

Oh god if he looks like that what must I look like

“He’s right behind me,” she said, her hand fumbling with the unfamiliar clasps of Carly’s blouse and moving toward Hans. “Hurry.”

“I will be quick madam.” Hans crossed the room in several large strides and took up a spot behind the door.

Scarlett shut the bathroom door behind her, her moldering fingers struggling to work the buttons on the shirt Carly had chosen to wear. She looked up.

Carly looked back at her from the mirror.

Scarlett smiled, and her hands ceased their struggle with Carly’s shirt.

The Carly in the mirror saw herself as though she were an extra in one of the zombie movies Don loved and she hated. Chunks of her hair had fallen out, parts of her seemed to be decaying. Other parts had split open, as though something was eating away at her. More than that, Carly looked into her own eyes and saw who was behind them.

“Darling,” Scarlett said, her smile moist, tears trickling down Carly’s decaying face.

“I’m your–” Carly could not finish, though not for lack of trying. “Your—your–,”

“You are my daughter,” Scarlett said, her eyes shining behind the tears. “How many generations removed is not important.”

Carly’s eyes were huge, taking in what had become of her as well as the fact that she knew to be true. She had found out at a young age that she had been adopted, and while she never wondered who her birth mother had been, she had always been curious where her family had begun. Now, with this being inhabiting her body, she could feel its physiology, and where she had always felt it when she lied, there was no feeling now.

The bathroom door opened, and Hans strode in, cradling Don’s limp body. Carrying him to the full bathtub, Hans leaned Don over the edge of the bathtub, submerging his head. Carly choked back a sob as she saw no bubbles or sign of life from Don’s body.

“One night, when I had just come to the manor, I felt so small and alone. That night, Hans was there for me,” Scarlett said to Carly, gesturing toward Hans before pulling Carly’s shirt over her head and unbuttoning her pants. “Nine months later, the result of that night was taken from the manor forever. I often wondered what became of the little girl.” She slipped the pants off Carly’s thin hips. “sometime later, our own existence had to be paused, leaving us in a kind of purgatory. We waited so long for someone of our blood to come to the manor and awaken us. How I hoped you and…” she searched Carly’s memory again as she stripped the rest of her clothes off. “Don! Would be the first to enter so we could be with you from the beginning. But the slaves placed their own repulsive curse upon the grounds, driving away so many who may have been useful.”

Scarlett lowered herself by degrees into the hot bathtub, running Carly’s fingers through Don’s underwater hair. “But the first ones with any ties to our line finally came, dirty as they were, and awakened us. From there, we were finally led to you.” Scarlett gestured, and Hans pulled a knife from a pocket and lifted Don’s head, stretching his neck. As she watched in horror from the mirror, Carly’s decaying mouth curled up as Scarlett grinned. “It hasn’t gone according to plan, but the end result is the same. In a few moments, everything will be just–”

“What the fuck is happening here?” came the voice of Fenton Hayes from the bathroom door. Behind the voice was the gasp of Claudia Hayes. From the hand of Fenton Hayes came the click of the cocking of a small derringer.

Hans froze, the knife pressed to Don’s neck drawing a thin bead of blood which trickled down his neck to drop into the bathwater. Fenton pointed the Derringer at Hans. “Let him go. Right now, big fella or I’ll drop you where you stand.”

The Scarlett Dahlia: Episode 9 Return to Decay by Jesse Orr

 

The sun beat down like a blanket, hot and oppressive. The humid air was being heated to a thickness that was almost palpable. A small red car materialized through the haze of heat hanging over the blacktop. A hybrid sedan drew nearer, its lines growing sharper as it closed in through the haze.

Taking the road to Scarlett Dahlia Manor, Don slowed the car so it was just creeping along.

“What are you doing?” Carly asked, her voice sharp. She scratched at her arm irritably.

“Just taking it slow,” Don said, his eyes alert. “I don’t know why you even want to come back here.”

“I told you, I want to see it again.”

“But WHY?” Don’s voice rose and his hands gestured. “There’s some weird shit going on, and–”

“Don’t be a fool,” Carly snapped and scratched again. “It’s a beautiful old house and grounds, and I simply want to look at it again.”

Don mumbled something that was not important enough for Carly’s ears to register. That was fine. As long as he kept driving them.

Behind the Manor, by the creek, Hans was burying the cocaine-sniffing girl down by the creek after cutting her into manageable pieces. More than anything, Hans was amazed at how things had changed. The slave pen was nothing but a meadow surrounded by trees on three sides, facing the creek, which had shrunk to half its former size.

Hans buried the cocaine girl where he had buried so many others. Digging three feet down in the corner of the meadow nearest the creek, Hans unearthed a skull. He tossed it aside, chuckling. The Dahlia had insisted upon the slaves being buried near their own, and Hans could not remember how many lay below. As he interred one more, he noticed the skin on his hands where he gripped the shovel was turning red and starting to tear. It didn’t hurt though. Hans dug deeper, whistling.

When the soil had been replaced, he strolled through the meadow, plucking a daisy and inhaling deeply before tossing it aside. The sky seemed somehow duller than he remembered, and the plants less green. He remembered the night with the torches, and he had come to be standing before the Dahlia, who was for the moment inhabiting the body of a man. Between those two events, however, was nothing but the sense that he had been asleep for a very, very long time.

He looked up at the manor, just visible from the slave compound. From here, he could see the line of the roof and the top of one window. The Dahlia’s window. The rest of the building was blocked by the hill leading up to the manor grounds. She was on her way back, he could feel her like an ice cube in his mind, pointing in the direction from which she came. The spell she had woven on the night of the torches had worked, that much was demonstrated by their very presence in this world. It had bonded their fates together just as though they had been married. But Hans held no illusions. The Dahlia was a black widow, and she would dispose of him the moment he stopped proving useful to her. Her disgust at the necessity of bonding her life to his had shattered any subconscious wish he may have had in that direction. But like it or not, it had to be done, it had been done, and now he could sense her approaching in one of the wheeled contraptions.

He scratched at a place behind his neck, unmindful of the flesh which scraped off under his fingernails. The Dahlia had warned him that the bodies they inhabited were, after all, technically dead, and would decay unless supplemented by fresh material. The second part of the spell required a great quantity of fresh blood to seal the bodies in their current state and prevent further decay. Once that had been accomplished, there would be nothing to set them apart from normal people. She was on the main road now, but she would be here soon with what they needed. Hans hastened for the manor. The Dahlia did not like to be kept waiting.

Don rounded the last corner of the road and the mansion came into view.

“It’s still so beautiful,” Carly breathed. Don looked at her. Her eyes were wide and sparkling, color in her cheeks as she clasped her hands together.

“Yeah, it is pretty nice,” said Don, shaking his head. His foot, guided almost without his being aware of it, went to the break, halting their progress.

“Why are you stopping?” asked Carly, tearing her eyes away and focusing on Don. The look in them was murderous, and Don felt a moment of fear.

“I was just going to walk down to the yard and get our phones, there’s no need to drive–”

“Just GO,” she yelled. “What are you afraid of?”

“Why are you NOT afraid?” Don yelled back. “Do you not remember those text messages and the pictures? The one of us both dead and mutilated?”

A chill ran up Don’s spine as Carly smiled. As he looked at her for the first time since they had left, he noticed how pale she looked, how dark and sunken her eyes had become, just on the ride out to the manor, and how the arm she had been scratching now had long red welts on them. Before he could say anything, she opened the door and stepped out of the car.

“C…Carly!” he called, but his voice was more of a croak. Nevertheless, she heard and turned to look at him as she walked down the road toward the manor.

“Come on, Don,” she said, and her voice wasn’t angry anymore. “Come on in and let’s take a look around. It’s such a beautiful house. Don’t you want to see it?”

Don found that he did, in fact, want to see it, very badly. He wanted nothing more than to go inside Scarlett Dahlia Manor and look around, see each and every room, really get a feel for the place. His hand, without any appreciable effort on his part, dropped the vehicle back into drive. The hybrid whispered forward. Carly heard the car begin to move and smiled.

Upstairs, in the Dahlia’s chamber, Hans found that the room had been emptied of all its furniture, but that was all right. All they really needed was the bathtub. To his surprise, the bathtub was as it had been the last time he helped the Dahlia enter her crimson bath. Turning the knob, Hans noticed it sinking into the meat of his hand, leaving an impression. He fought a rising wave of nausea and fear and forced himself to be calm. The Dahlia would be here soon, and the material with her would be more than adequate to seal them both.

The Scarlett Dahlia by Jesse Orr Episode 8 Moonshine Bathwater

 

The Scarlett Dahlia by Jesse Orr Episode 8 Moonshine Bathwater

 

Janis, a seer to the slaves, sits by the fire, staring into its embers without seeing them.

Around her, the sounds of people living their lives in the slave quarters by the creek. A baby crying. Men talking. A woman laughs. Anyone of them could be next though. Delivered to the Scarlett Dahlia, only to vanish until what little is left of them is sold among the Manor slaves. As far as she’s concerned, the slaves who use the Dahlia’s leftovers as an aphrodisiac are no better than the dark mistress they all serve thinks Janis and spits into the fire. The saliva crackles for an instant and is gone.

The blood trade goes back to the year Miss Scarlett, fresh from the untimely death of her parents, came to stay at Dahlia Manor, home of her dearly departed aunt Laurie. Janis remembers the day she arrived, pretty as a picture in spite of her recent tragedy, in a white dress with a little parasol. The young lady had been taken through the Manor by that creep of an overseer Hans Dasham and had eventually been escorted through the grounds and down to the slave pen by the creek. Janis had been unfortunate enough to have been carrying a load of firewood back to her hut and never saw Hans until she bumped into him, knocking the wood to the ground. Scarlett stepped back, alarmed.

“WHY YOU–” Hans bellowed, and grabbed the long braids Janis wore pulled back in a ponytail. “I’ll teach you to watch where your fuckin feet are going.” He threw her to the ground and snatched one of the heftier pieces of wood Janis had been carrying. He drew an arm back to swing, then paused, uncertain. He looked back at his new mistress.

Her eyes were wide and shining with madness. Color had risen to her milk-white cheeks and her hands clutched her parasol with white knuckles. Her tongue moistened her lips. She nodded at him, the look in her eyes one of eagerness.

Hans grinned, and the stick had come down on Janis over and over until she was no longer sure what was happening. She knew at some point they switched and it was Hans who watched as the girl, beginning tentatively but graduating to outright viciousness, beat Janis unconscious. They had left her there, lying in the dirt, and none of the other slaves dared touch her. After an unknowable amount of time, Janis had returned to the world, and drug herself back to her hut.

Janis sighs, and throws a stick on the fire from the pile beside her. Her tongue probes the blank spots in her mouth as her breath whistles through them. She can’t breathe well through her nose, but that and a few missing teeth are all the price she ultimately paid for bumping into Hans Dasham that day, once the healing was done. Janis has never been acknowledged by Scarlett Dahlia again, and she is fairly sure the Dahlia would never remember something so mundane as the identity of the first(or possibly third, if you believe the rumors about the death of her parents) victim in a long line of successive acts of cruelty.

According to the rumors in the slave pen, Scarlett Dahlia is a vampire, a witch, a ghoul, a demon. She eats people’s flesh, she drinks their blood, she wears their skins, she converses with their dead bodies long after their souls have departed. She has no children, she has one child to whom she is teaching her cruelty, she has had many children and murdered them all to absorb their youth. Janis does not know truly where the line between truth and fiction has been drawn in the case of their terrifying mistress but she knows that the rumors of the blood trade are true. For those to be true, the blood has to come from somewhere. Janis doesn’t know if any of the other slaves have figured it out, and she supposes it doesn’t really matter.

From the bag she wears across her shoulder, she pulls out a leather pouch. Loosening the drawstring, she reaches into the pouch and throws a handful of white powder into the flames. With a whooshing sound, the powder ignites and the flames turn green. With her face bathed in the unearthly light, Janis begins to speak. Her words are slow at first, the syllables enunciated with care. It is not a language known by any of the other slaves, and they know to keep away when the fire burns green. Janis continues speaking, her words gathering speed as the air drains of sound. The crackle of the fire and the noises of the night are fading away as though getting farther. Even her voice is fading, though she is still speaking. Without taking her eyes from the green flames or halting in her speech, she reaches deeper inside her shoulder bag and pulls forth a small red-haired doll, clad in a white dress, her torso and head wrapped in the thorny tendril of a blackberry. The dress Janis had made from the white parasol Scarlett Dahlia had dropped and forgotten the day she beat Janis senseless. Janis can feel the Dahlia in the dress as she holds the doll. Hatred, fury, disgust, fear. She uses them all, her voice rising. Her hand balls into a fist, tightening on the doll. Blood begins to run from her palm, blood from wounds Janis will not feel until tomorrow. The doll, made from substandard cotton and burlap, becomes saturated and begins to drip down her forearm. Janis feels her voice cracking and knows she has nearly peaked. All she sees is a green flame. The world has narrowed to that tiny green spark and she chokes out the name.

“Scarlett… Dahlia…”

She flings the doll into the fire and it explodes in a black inky smoke that smells of rotting flesh, filth and despair. The world rushes back to her, expanding from the center of the green spark to which the fire has narrowed. Sound screams at her. The fire has burnt down to ashes, but the night is deafening. The world whirls and she slumps over beside the warm puddle of her hand’s blood, not unconscious but in a sleep so deep she seems dead.

As the doll exploded, Scarlett Elizabeth Dahlia was slipping her robe from her shoulders to enter her bath. A chill came over her and a far away look came into her eyes. Hans Dasham waited beside the tub for her to return from wherever she had gone. Eventually, she did.

“Is my headstone prepared, Hans?” she asked him, lowering herself into the steaming water. “The slaves are becoming restless. One of them has struck me.”

“Soon, missus,” Hans said. “The stone you wanted was hard to find.”

“Yes, soon,” she said and looked at him. She said nothing more, but Hans felt a sense of inescapable dread gnawing deep inside him.

“It’ll be done, ma’am,” he said, hoping she couldn’t hear the tremor in his voice. But of course, she did. Maybe that was why she smiled.

“You may proceed,” she said, reclining against the cushion at the edge of the tub, a tumbler of white lightning in hand. She looked at him, but this was the one that made him excited, not the one that turned his blood to ice.

“Yes ma’am,” Hans said with a wolfish grin. Pulling a straight razor from his pocket, he reached down behind the rim of the tub and lifted up an unconscious young slave by one thin arm. The boy was shirtless, and his upper body was crisscrossed with scars, some old, some new.

“Ooh,” hissed Scarlett. “He likes to fight, does he?” She sipped her drink. “Do it, Hans.”

Hans held the boy’s head over the tub and tilted it back. Almost quicker than the eye could follow, Hans had cut the boy’s throat from ear to ear. Blood goosed from the cut, spraying into the bathwater, turning it first pink, then red as the gash continued flowing.

Scarlett cooed, leaning forward, thrusting her free hand under the fountain gushing from under the boy’s chin. Bringing her fingers to her mouth she sucked them like a peppermint stick while holding her moonshine glass to catch some of the blood spurting forth. The oily liquid turned a dark, viscous red.

“Thank you, Hans,” she said and smiled at him. “You may go. Take this one to Charles and Mary, see what they get out of it.” She sipped her drink and trailed a finger in the crimson water. “I have all I need.”

 

The Scarlett Dahlia by Jesse Orr: Heat

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When she found out about Dahlia Manor, everything changed.

The Scarlett Dahlia Episode 6 Masks by Jesse Orr

The Scarlett Dahlia Episode 6 Masks by Jesse Orr

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked to the door and poked several buttons.

Un-fucking-real...

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

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

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

“Jack?”

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

It was a woman’s voice.

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

“Babe, where’s Jack?”

“He went inside,” Carly said and smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

“JACK!” Marcie screamed.

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

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

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

“You called?”

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

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

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

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

Jack looked confused. “The what?”

“Oh God, did you do it all already?”

“I don’t know what–”

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s going on?”

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

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

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

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

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

It stopped.

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

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

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

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

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

Hans nodded.

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

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

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

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

It was nice to be back at the Manor.