Gypsy Mob : Episode 13/ A Cocktail for Tony

Bianca was wrapped in a heavy mass, her eyes staring without seeing over a heaving shoulder. Sounds filtered into her brain, the sounds of sobbing and meaningless words. Time and time again, she heard her name, first in a womans voice, over and over. Then, a mans voice, whispering her name in a breathy, disbelieving way. The voices seemed to ring a bell, but she could not attach any importance to them. She drifted off into the darkness, neither knowing nor caring if she would ever come out of it, aware only that she had made it home. Not that it mattered.

When her eyes next opened, she was lying in a soft bed and a cool cloth was bathing her face. Remembering the last time she was laying on a bed and what happened, she snapped fully awake, her heart hammering. The cloth jerked away from her face as the shadowy figure sitting beside her gave a start. Bianca began scrabbling at the sides of the bed, forgetting she had only one hand with which to grip. She bumped the wall beside the bed and white-hot fire shot up her arm from where her hand had lived for her whole life. She gave a little scream and moaned as cruel electricity seemed to sizzle up and down her arm.

There were words coming through the pain. She heard her name again in that female voice that rang a bell, louder this time.

Bianca, Bianca, shhyoure homeyoure safe

Home. She seemed to recall having made it back there before the world went black. This bed was far too soft to be the one at the Gypsy encampment. There had been no cool cloth bathing her forehead there; the only bathing of any sort she had experienced in that tent had been between clients and she had done it to herself, not paying any particular attention to anything above the waist. The smell was different here. Her brain tried to register it and slowly it leaked through to her consciousness.

The smell was her.

Her things, her room, her house, her mother.

Home.

Mommy! Bianca screamed, throwing herself into her mothers arms. Mommy, mommy, mommy Her stump bumped into her mothers back, leaving a red stain. Her cries of pain mingled with her tears of happiness and relief.

Lucia wrapped her arms around her daughter, holding her close, tears of her own coursing down her cheeks. She stroked the bedraggled hair as the girl clutched at her, seeming to never let her go.

Hush now, Bi, she said, her voice shaking. Youre home now, youre safeshhh

Over her crooning, she could hear the approach of Gilettis vehicle as it turned down the drive and approached the house. The engine sound died and a car door slammed. From down the hallway, she heard the sound of the front door banging open. Bianca heard it too and froze against her mother, silent tears streaming down her face as she shook with the effort of containing her sobs.

Its all right, Bi, Lucia said, attempting to disentangle her daughter. Its just your father.

Biancas eyes were still wide as she looked up at her mother. I dont think its him anymore she managed to choke out.

Footsteps sounded down the hallway, steady and purposeful. Lucia told herself she was being silly, that Biancas hysteria had just infected her. Why would she be feeling this sense of dread at the sound of her husbands approach?

The footsteps stopped at Biancas door. There was a moment of silence where all that could be heard was the breathing in the bedroom, Biancas short shaky gasps and Lucias, growing more uneasy. Then the door crashed open.

The silhouette of Don Giletti framed in the doorway with a machine gun in his arms froze them both for only half a second. Lucia had been married to the Don long enough to be able to read the look in his eyes. It galvanized her to her feet, just as the barrel of the gun swung around and began to fire.

The bullets ripped into Lucias body, spinning her around as the muzzle blasts lit up the dark room in a hellish strobe. Gilettis face was illuminated, its blankness terrifying Bianca as much as the sight of her mother being torn to pieces by automatic weapon fire. There was nothing of the man who had roared with laughter as he carried her around the mansion piggyback as a child. This man had dead eyes, showing no emotion as he continued to pump rounds into the shredded piece of meat that had once been his wife. Bianca cowered in the corner of the bed farthest from the door, attempting to make herself as small as possible, her ears ringing from the gunfire, her eyes squeezed tightly shut.

Suddenly, it stopped. Her belabored eardrums could barely make out the sound of a metallic clicking coming from the gun her father held. Opening one eye the barest amount, she saw him staring blankly at what used to be her mother. Gunsmoke filled the room. His finger tightened again on the trigger, creating that clicking sound. Mercifully, the gun was empty. It clattered to the floor, coming to rest with the muzzle facing Lucias obliterated face.

Oh, mommy!

Giletti shifted his dead gaze to his daughter cowering on the bed, seeming to regard her thoughtfully. Her lips moved, producing a tiny squeak that her ears could scarcely register.

Daddy, please

He unbuttoned his sport coat and reached inside, toward his left armpit. Bianca had seen her daddy around the mansion enough times in just his shirtsleeves to know what lived under his left arm in a shoulder holster. She began to push with her legs, trying to get farther away from him as her voice mewled protestations. Daddy, no, please no daddy

Giletti unfastened the holster snap and pulled out his handgun.

No, Daddy, dont

He clicked the safety off and racked the slide.

Daddy, please

He leveled it at Biancas face.

Daddy PLEASE! she screamed.

There was a moment where she thought she had gotten through to him.

Oh, thank you, God, thank you for

Then there was one more explosion, and all that Bianca Giletti had ever been or hoped to be was splattered across the wall above her bed.

Tony the Nose drove up to the mansions driveway and parked beside the bosss car. Its door was hanging open and it was parked at an angle at odds with the neat parking job usually done. Tony regarded this as well as the keys hanging in the ignition for a moment before getting out and walking to the front door, which was ajar. His big feet made the tiniest of crunches on the gravel drive, belying his massive bulk. Reaching the doorway, he smelled the acrid stink of gunsmoke. Pulling out his own sidearm, he held it down by his thigh, pointed at the ground, his finger on the trigger. Entering the mansion, he hugged the wall as he made his way silently down the hallway toward the room Bianca occupied. There were feet protruding from the doorway, clad in shoes favored by the boss. They were still, their toes facing down. Their owner was lying face down in the doorway, his upper half inside the room. Gunsmoke drifted lazily out of the room. Tony holstered his weapon and walked up to the doorway, no longer making any effort to conceal his approach. It didnt matter anymore.

Bianca was leaning against the wall, what remained of her head cocked forward, her chin on her chest, her skull an open, empty bowl, still dripping. The wall behind her was riddled with bullet holes and chunky red and grayish-white material was oozing down the wall from a large splash mark. Tonys eyes traveled slowly from this grisly sight to the body on the ground in front of the bed which bore only a slight resemblance to the bosss wife. A large pool of blood was forming around her, and Tony was glad he wouldnt have to bother cleaning that one up. Blood soaking into a carpet was a bitch. The third figure in the room was the boss, his head blown open on one side, a spray of brain matter coating the wall to his left, his gun still clenched in his hand.

Tony looked at the sad tableau for a few moments before turning and going down the hall to the bosss study. Opening the door, he went to the safe and punched in the code on its keypad. Don Giletti would have been furious if he knew that Tony was aware of the safes combination, but Don Giletti would not be feeling any way about anything, ever again. Twisting the handle, Tony opened the safe and, pushing aside the box of fine cigars Giletti favored, began pocketing the stacks of cash. He filled all the pockets in his suit coat and pants pockets with bundles of bills, indulging in only a moments regret that he didnt have larger pockets to accommodate more of them. That was all right though; his years of unwavering loyalty to the Giletti family had made him a very rich man. This was just a bonus.

Turning from the safe, he picked up the cigar Giletti had sitting on his desk. Producing a lighter, he set the tip aflame before the tobacco began to smolder gently, its scent mixing with the gunsmoke that had begun to filter through the house in a very pleasant manner. Tony thought that if they could manufacture a cigar that smelled like that, he would actually start smoking them. As it was, he puffed just long enough to ensure the ember was well lit and would not go out before placing it carefully on the windowsill so the ember was touching the gauzy curtains Lucia Giletti had selected for all the rooms in the mansion. They began to smolder, their own smoke adding to the haze and making the smell much less pleasant. That was all right though; he wouldnt be here much longer.

Going to his own quarters, he gathered what few items of value he possessed and deposited them in a leather valise. Pulling one of the curtains down from the windows, he ripped a long shred off of it. Opening a bottle of the rum he favored, he stuffed the shred of curtain into its neck. Pulling a few inches out of the bottle, he stepped back into the hallway. The flames had caught in the curtains and he could hear the crackle and roar of a bonfire coming from the bosss study. Holding his breath, Tony stepped into the office for the last time, just long enough to touch the wick of the Molotov cocktail he had made to one of the flames licking its way eagerly around the walls of the office.

Holding the flaming bottle away from his face, he strode down the hallway towards the main door, hurtling it into Biancas room with an almost contemptuous flick of his wrist. The bottle exploded against the far wall, sending flaming liquid splattering all over the room.

Immediately the flames took hold of the fabric in the room. Wall hangings, curtains, bedding and clothing caught fire as though they had been waiting for the opportunity. With the fire in the office now roaring and advancing down the hallway, Tony retreated to the front door, locking it behind him as he slammed it. Smoke belched out of the windows as he tossed the valise into what was now his car. Turning the key and dropping the shift lever into drive, he paused for just a moment, looking at the mansion one last time. He let out what might have been a sigh.

Squealing the car around in a circle, he pointed its nose up the driveway. Toward the future.

Gypsy Mob :Episode 12/ Conflagration

Zara had left the Italian bitch in her tent, securely tied, only to step outside the tent to see a conflagration in progress. Wide-eyed, she watched flames lick up the base of the nearest tent until it was engulfed in flames, a process which took only seconds. For a moment, she was paralyzed, watching her family’s property go up in smoke. Only for a moment, though, then her paralysis broke and she looked around to see the rest of her clan reacting similarly. 

WHAT ARE YOU DOING!” she screamed, her hoarse voice scaling down a few notches as her vocal cords ruptured further. “PUT THEM OUT!”

Galvanized into action by her cries, the surrounding Gypsies scattered, running for water, for dirt, for anything they could think of. Such a thing had never been visited upon their camp, and they were largely running in circles in a blind panic. One of the huge Gypsies regained his head first and began organizing a bucket line to the rusty pump situated in the field nearby where they had pitched their tents. By then, the flames had reached high enough on most tents that any firefighting activities were largely symbolic. 

It was as the first few buckets were thrown on the fires that the explosions ripped through the night, sounding to Zara like a string of firecrackers on steroids, as though the crackers had been replaced by dynamite and the fuses shortened to nothing. Indeed, that is what she thought was occurring until she saw some of her clan jerk upright in mid-run and fall to the ground, red mist spraying from multiple wounds in their bodies.  

“GET DOWN!” she bellowed, blood spraying from her throat as she lapsed into a bout of coughing which brought her to her knees just as a hail of bullets passed over her. One of the Gypsies right in front of her was not so lucky, blood and brain matter from his ruptured skull splattering all over her. The rest of her clan hit the ground as bullets whizzed overhead. 

“Keep going!” she roared between coughs as the bullets ceased for the moment, waving her arm in the direction of the pump. “Keep buckets going or we are doomed!” Her throat felt as though it were on fire as well but she continued screaming. “The buckets! Now! NOW!!”

The silhouettes of the clan began creeping from their prone positions, to the pump and back toward the fires, struggling to keep a low profile while carrying buckets of water. Over the next few minutes, the lack of gunfire made some of them raise their heads and stop crouching as they scurried to and fro, before machine gunfire lit up the night, this time coming from the middle of the camp. Many of the Gypsies dropped to the ground, riddled with bullets, but this time Zara could see the source of the chaos. A large man with a huge gun strode up the midway, raking everything that moved with fire, the explosions from the barrel lighting up the night and providing her a clear target. 

With rage burning in her, Zara waited until the next pause in fire before striding into the midway, her hand raised in the direction of the gunman. He was faced away from her, the muzzle of his huge gun turned to one side as he hunted for more targets. 

“PIG!” she screamed. As he began turning in her direction, she raised a ragged fingernail to her arm and slashed it open, blood dripping to the dirt as she locked eyes with him, bringing him to a halt. Speaking in ancient Rom, she spoke words she had long known but never said, words that she had been warned never to speak, words she had feared but always longed to recite. The words which would turn a man’s rage and hatred inward and destroy himself. 

The gunman’s eyes grew glassy and the barrel of his gun dropped toward the ground, his eyes never leaving hers. She finished speaking and waved her bloody arm, red flecks flying in his direction. Without another word or shot fired, the gunman turned and retreated down the midway, his steps purposeful, machine gun held at his side, facing down. As he left, the energy went out of her and she crumpled to the ground, breathing heavily as her family’s tents burned around her. 

Tony the Nose had worked his way around the outskirts of the Gypsy camp, setting fire to the tents doused by the Giletti brothers and spreading gasoline to those they had not yet reached by the time the gunfire began. Recognizing the sound of the light machine gun, he could tell that Don Giletti had at last freed the weapon from its mount in the mansion’s gun room and had come for the Gypsies. Falling to the ground, Tony worked his way outside of the gun’s radius of fire, outside the tents that were being shredded by the gun’s bullets. The screams and constant fire did not bother him in the slightest. He had brought about far worse in his time as the Don’s enforcer. 

When the gunfire ceased, Tony waited until he was sure that the gun had gone silent. From his prone position, he could see the bulky figure with the gun walking slowly out of the Gypsy’s camp, back to the vehicle Tony had spent countless hours maintaining and upgrading at the Don’s request. When the silhouette had rejoined the vehicle and sped away, Tony regained his feet, listening to the cries from within the Gypsy camp as he walked toward the nearest tent that had been doused with gasoline and had not yet caught fire. Pulling a lighter from his pocket, he scratched the flint. Flame leaped to the mouth of the lighter and he held it to the base of the tent. The flame licked for a second before igniting the gasoline fumes and licking around the tent with startling speed. Not hesitating, Tony moved to the next tent, and the next, circling the camp until all the tents were once more ablaze. What little progress the Gypsies had made fighting the fires the Gilettis had set earlier was immediately eclipsed. Occupied as they were by their wounded and the carnage visited upon them by Don Giletti’s lesser henchmen, these new flames had surrounded them and were burning inward toward the center of the camp before its inhabitants were able to do more than register their existence. 

From beneath his tuxedo coat, Tony produced an enormous weapon, capable of raining destruction paralleled by the machine gun brought by the Don. Unlike the Don, Tony did not walk down the center of the midway, presenting a clear target. He moved around the flaming tents, waiting for a clean shot at the Gypsies he could see silhouetted by the flames. A quick burst of extremely accurate fire sent the nearest knot of Gypsies to the ground, screaming. By the time any of the survivors reached the corpses and began looking for the source of the shots, Tony had already moved halfway around the circumference of the camp and was dealing death to the newest targets which presented themselves. 

He continued in this fashion until he had circled the burning camp twice without spying anything alive at which to shoot. Following Don Giletti’s footsteps, he strode up the remains of the midway, kicking aside bodies that stood in his way until he reached what had once been the Pleasure Tent. All around him, flames reached high into the sky, licking at the stars as the tents burned to the ground. There he found Zara, her throat ruptured by one of his bullets, attempting to staunch the flow of blood as she painfully pushed herself away from his approach. 

She tried to speak, raising the hand which was not pressed to her throat as blood poured from her open mouth. “You…from…hell,” she rasped, her once light voice now reduced to a liquid gargle.

Tony raised a mammoth foot and kicked her in the head, knocking her to the ground. Before she could stir again, the barrel of his weapon had obliterated her skull in a spray of blood and brain. 

Wiping the matter from his face, Tony strode from the camp, his skin stinging from the heat. As he stood by his vehicle and surveyed the camp, he could not see anything that was not aflame. Pulling another gas can from the trunk of the car, he cracked the vent and the nozzle before spinning like a shot-putter and throwing the can into the center of the conflagration. Upon hitting the ground, gas sprayed in all directions, further enraging the flames which had already taken hold. A miniature mushroom cloud rose from the impact point, the flames eagerly spreading to nearby tents and working their way outward, helped by the night’s breeze.

Without another look, Tony seated himself behind the wheel of his car and drove away from the burning Gypsy camp, headed for the Giletti mansion. 

Gypsy Mob : Episode 10 / Homecoming

How long she walked, she could not tell. Cradling what was left of her arm, she staggered onward, the blood seeping from her stump slowly turning the rags of her remaining clothing red. The stars shone brightly overhead, twinkling with apathy at her plight. At one point the sky lit up as fragments of disintegrating spacecraft streaked overhead. She did not notice but continued onward, her subconscious mind directing her. 

When she finally beheld the lights of the mansion in which she had lived all her life, she stopped, swaying, gazing stupidly at it, her mind struggling to comprehend what she was seeing. Gradually, it dawned on her that it was home. She had made it. She was safe. 

Willing her limbs to continue moving, she fixed her eyes on the lights surrounding the porch and the walkway leading up to the front door. They did not seem to grow closer, but finally, she could see she was making progress in their direction. It felt as though she were on a treadmill, the road moving beneath her as she walked in place, leaving the mansion as far away as ever, gaining only one step every hour or two. She could do nothing more than continue, for she knew if she stopped, she would not start again. She would die here. 

At long last, somehow, the front door appeared before her. She stared at the doorknob for a few moments before reaching up with her bloody hand to twist the knob. It moved a fractional amount before stopping firmly. She was locked out. All she had learned about how to sneak in and out of the house without anybody knowing had been blasted from her mind and all she could do was stand there stupidly for several minutes before it occurred to her to press the doorbell. 

From within the house, she could hear a buzzing. Some part of her brain registered it as the sound of someone at the door to her house and that someone should answer it, before realizing it was her. She was making the noise by pressing the button. This cycle of realization repeated as she stood there, her finger pressed to the doorbell, eyes fixed on the button. Someone’s at the door, she thought. Someone’s at the door. Someone’s at…

The door opened. 

The woman who opened it was very familiar. It seemed she had seen the woman before, many times, but she could not think where. Her mind already stretched to the breaking point, grappled for the answer. It was her… her…

Her what?

BIANCA!” Lucia screamed, her jaw dropping and involuntarily stepping backward away from the filthy bloody figure that her daughter had become. 

Mother. 

The word came to Bianca’s mind just as it gave up and she sank to the ground, unconscious. 

BIANCA!” Lucia’s shriek cut through the mansion. Giletti, who had been dozing behind his desk with a lit cigar, came awake like a tiger, going in all directions at once before he got his bearings. His wife’s second shriek came down the mansion’s hallway into his office as cleanly as a telegram and he roused his bulk from the chair, dropping his cigar in the ashtray and reflexively grabbing the pistol he kept beneath his desk. Lurching to the door, he threw it open and lumbered down the hallway as rapidly as he could. Already he could see his wife kneeling on the floor, cradling a bundle of filthy rags to her. As Giletti approached, the bundle of rags took shape and formed itself into a person. As he grew closer still, they became—

“Bianca,” Giletti whispered, growing closer. “What—”

His voice died in his throat as his eyes looked over what had just days ago been his spunky, vivacious daughter. They lingered at her face which had been coated in blood and dirt, her hair matted almost beyond recognition. They traveled down the bloody rags swaddling her until they stopped and fixated at where her hand had been. 

Lucia’s wailing as she held Bianca to her barely reached Giletti’s ears. All he heard was the rush of blood running to his head. He had lost henchmen aplenty in his time as the head of the Giletti family. But his daughter used and mutilated as she was, he could not comprehend. 

Turning, Giletti strode back to his office, the cries of his wife ringing in his ears. Booting the door open, he went to the west wall, which was made up of a massive bookshelf. Pulling a large green tome off the shelf, he threw it into a corner with a burst of rage and waited, breathing heavily, as the heavy wall of books swung slowly outward. Behind the bookshelf was a small room, its walls of pegboard, adorned with guns of every size, shape, and caliber. Giletti stepped into the room and reached up high for the weapon he had never used, the weapon he had always wanted to use and had always hoped never to use. There had never been a better time though, and as he pulled the heavy machine gun from its pegs and cradled it in his arms, he could almost hear the screams of the Gypsies as he worked the action. 

From a locker on the sidewall, he pulled a massive belt of ammunition, throwing it over his shoulder. Weighted by the heavy gun, he staggered down the hallway, past his unconscious daughter and wailing wife. Throwing the door open, he made his way to his primary vehicle, a supercharged Jaguar with over 200 horses under the hood. Dropping the ponderous gun on the passenger seat, he slammed the door and rounded the hood, throwing his bulk into the driver’s seat. Twisting the key in the ignition, the horses screamed to life. Without giving them an opportunity to warm up, he threw the car into gear and its engine roared as he floored the accelerator, peeling out of his driveway for the Gypsy camp. 

The glow from the Gypsy’s encampment reached high into the sky and Giletti saw it long before he arrived. Though he had not been informed of the exact plans of his minions, he knew it at once for what it was, having ordered the burning of numerous rivals in his past. As he screeched to a stop in the parking lot, deserted but for the empty cars of his henchmen, he was awarded a grim satisfaction as he saw many of the tents in the encampment were ablaze with flames reaching for the sky, long fingers stretching for the stars. 

Shutting off the engine, Giletti heaved his ponderance from the driver’s seat, pulling from the passenger’s seat the heavy machine gun and ammunition belt which he slung over his shoulder in imitation of the gunners in the war movies he watched regularly. He could smell the stench of gasoline and burning canvas, sweet in his nostrils as he moved to the outskirts of the camp. Squinting past the bright orange light of the flames, he could see dark silhouettes darting between the tents as the Gypsies fought the fire which had descended upon them. Situating himself for maximum visibility on a hill surrounding the tents, Giletti opened fire. 

Gypsy Mob : Episode 10/ Stumped

Her life had always been blessed. Charmed. Being the daughter of a mafia Don had a number of perks. No one troubled her and for the most part, she troubled no one. Her biggest problem in life had been not always getting exactly what she wanted, and even that was easily remedied. A few tears and her father would either make it right for her himself or dispatch Tony to do so, one way or the other. 

When she was taken into the Pleasure Tent, she had raged and screamed, throwing a tantrum until a dark cloud descended over her. It reminded her for a moment of how she had felt when she had tried opium. Then the cloud became complete and she forgot she even had a past. This time there was no warm fuzzy sensation she associated with drugs. All that remained was her basic physical needs; that was all the Gypsy curse allowed to remain. 

The hours had bled together until they felt like days. She was a robotic sex doll, her muffled grunts blending with the slap of flesh and the cries from the far reaches of the Pleasure Tent. These sounds from the darkness were beyond her immediate sphere of existence, the sources of which she neither knew nor cared. Her life had narrowed to the action of spreading her legs for each new client, then rising once he had finished to clean herself robotically with the pail of water beside her mattress. Upon finishing, she lay back down on the mattress to await the next arrival. As the newest member of the Pleasure Tent’s catalog of entertainment, she was not kept waiting long. 

A part of her measured the time by the number of sweaty men who climbed on top of her, eschewing hours, minutes and seconds for this new reckoning. The rest of her could not have cared less about the passage of time, or was incapable of marking it. All she knew was to cleanse her nethers when the crushing weight atop her ceased its grunting and thrusting and climbed off of her. 

Then, blasting through the darkness came the pain. The agony screamed up her arm, snapping her back to reality. The world roared into focus once again, inundating her with memories of her life since coming to the Gypsies. Horror and disgust competed with her missing hand for the place at the forefront of her brain. As blood dripped from where her hand had always been, the memory of other fluids not her own dripping from her added to the coldness she felt. The terror bloomed, consuming her. Now, the fear of what was going to happen to her vied for space with the horrified realization of what had happened to her, what had been happening to her, what she had allowed to happen to her, and what she had ahead of her. Nothing was worse than the other; they were all a nightmare. 

But the pain at the end of her arm would not be silenced, nor pushed aside. In a way, she was grateful for it, for it pulled her out of the darkness and into the present once more. This was not a much better place to be, but it led to the future, to the unknown, rather than to the past. She knew all too well what awaited her there. All she could see of what lay ahead was that her old life was over. She had died, or been murdered, as soon as she set foot into the fortune teller’s tent. There was no returning to what she had been.

After the amputation and Bianca’s awakening, the Gypsies had moved her from the Pleasure Tent, along with the other sex slaves who still had value. Talking rapidly in their own language, they would look at Bianca from time to time and laugh. The Bitch who had amputated her hand came over to her.

“I t’ink we get more use out of you,” she said in her horribly raspy voice, and grinned. Bianca kept the blank look on her face as inwardly she shrieked in fear and rage. . Bianca’s blood was still splattered across the woman’s face and arms. With an absent-minded air, she licked it from her fingers as she looked at the doorway to the smaller tent to which Bianca and her wretched brethren had been taken. 

“We put you back to work tomorrow,” the woman said, turning to leave. “Tonight, I have important business. Sleep well.” 

She vanished out the door, her words echoing in Bianca’s head. Tomorrow, it would resume. She had to get away from here. 

“Hello?” she called, her voice tentative in the silent darkness. No one replied. The other slaves were locked in their own minds, their own clouds of impenetrable darkness, helpless to respond. Hot, furious tears coursed down Bianca’s face as she lifted her body and was immediately halted by the straps holding her limbs to the table. 

Except…

The strap around the wrist where her hand had been felt loose. If not loose, definitely not tight enough to present a problem to a tapered limb without the widening of a hand at its end. Just tight enough to…

She pulled, tears leaping to her eyes as she fought to remain silent, the freshly severed nerves at the end of her stump enthusiastically voicing protests as the strap bit at them. She pulled harder, her mouth open in a silent scream. She thought she could feel her wrist slipping through the strap, but, wary of her mind’s tricks, she closed it to the sensation and kept pulling. The nails on her remaining hand scratched the bed, cracking below the quick, sending needle-like stabs of pain up her other arm, until, with a suddenness that took her off guard, her wrist pulled free of the strap, flying over her body with the residual force. Holding her stump over her eyes she blinked, unable to believe that she was actually free. Without thinking, she went to undo the strap holding her hand, before realizing she had no way to manipulate the buckle without fingers. 

A low whine came from her throat and she pushed at the end of the strap with her stump, the rough leather digging into the fresh meat where her arm now ended. Bolts of agony lanced up her arm, blood renewing its flow sluggishly from the stump at the irritation. Nevertheless, she persisted. Her eyes beheld the strap moving slowly through the loop and she redoubled her efforts, the pain increasing exponentially as her eyes watered. With a final shove, the strap slid through the loop and flapped loose, held only by the pin of the buckle. Sobbing with pain and relief, she raised her body and, gripping the end of the strap with her teeth, she pulled it back, releasing the pin and her hand. 

Falling back on the mattress, she cradled her freshly bleeding stump with her intact arm, silent tears pouring down her face. Staring at the mildewed tent roof, she counted her breaths until she was able to think about something besides the agony coursing through her. By and by, it relented, slightly. Instead of pain, she now thought of survival. 

Sitting up, she fumbled painfully with the straps holding her legs down. Though more difficult with one hand, it was easier than using her stump, which she kept protectively tucked into her armpit, away from all harm. Once her legs were free, she swung them over the mattress and carefully rose to her feet. Her legs wobbled but supported her. She wondered how much blood she had lost, then immediately put it from her mind. It didn’t matter. Looking out the entrance to the tent, she could see the shadows of several Gypsies nearby. She cowered back against the wall of the tent, wondering how she would ever escape, before her overworked mind realized a simple fact. She was not in a prison cell of steel bars. She was in a tent, surrounded on all sides by fabric. 

Crouching, she lifted the tent wall behind her, wriggling underneath it while still keeping her stump carefully shielded. Within a moment, she was outside the tent, smelling the fresh air only slightly marred by evil. Looking around, she saw no one and made her way for the outskirts of the camp as fast as her legs would carry her. 

She missed Tony, her childhood protector, spreading gasoline, by seconds, as she limped out of the camp, bound for home. 

Gypsy Mob: Episode 9/ Auction

Rocco and Brando kept well out of sight of the light emanating from the Pleasure Tent, unaware that cruel eyes watched them edging closer. Rocco’s gas can made sloshing sounds as he poured it around the base of the tent nearest the light, keeping one eye on the door. Across the midway, Brando mirrored his movements, the stench of gas making him light-headed. As he rounded the edge of the tent, a sweet smell like cinnamon and incense wafted over him, breaking through the fumes of gasoline. Pausing in his movements, he looked across at his brother, his vision swimming. Rocco did likewise, a silly grin on his face. 

“Do you smell that?” Brando asked, not troubling to keep his voice down. 

“Smells nice,” Rocco said. 

Movement from the tent caught their eye as Zara stepped into the light, clad in nothing but a g-string, her long dark hair covering her breasts but only barely. Her metallic eye shadow glinted in the light as she raised a hand dripping with red and beckoned to them. Her tongue ran across her lips, leaving an inviting sheen. 

Rocco’s jaw dropped, along with the gas can. Brando was already moving toward her, following as she backed slowly into the tent, shadow stealing over her as the two mobsters entered the tent. The cinnamon and incense smell grew stronger. As it did, their steps grew jerky and halted, their bodies swaying as their belabored nervous systems fought to keep them upright. As they crumpled to the floor, Zara swirled a cloak around her shoulders, hiding her body from sight. She surveyed the unconscious figures with distaste, prodding them with a bare foot. Beckoning to the shadows, two huge Gypsies appeared and lifted them with ease. 

“Take them to the chamber,” Zara rasped, fastening the cloak about her neck. “Customers waiting.”

Gasping and spluttering, Rocco and Brando regained consciousness as a bucket of water was splashed over them. Attempting to thrash, they found their arms and legs to be bound straight out, displaying their nude bodies on two splintered wooden tables. Blinking the water from his eyes, Rocco attempted to yell but found his mouth to be stuffed with a gag that tasted of gasoline. Screaming through the gag, he looked over and saw his brother once again mirroring his movements as they both thrashed within their bonds. Zara, now clothed, stepped forward into the circle of light shed by the naked bulb swinging over their heads. She held up their shredded clothes. 

“You would burn us alive like dogs?” she said, her eyes smoldering. “Taste gas on your clothing, curs. If you were lucky, fumes would put you back to sleep. But we do not show you such mercy.”

Throwing their mutilated garments to the floor, she gestured. A Gypsy stepped forward, holding a tarnished silver tray which may once have been a cookie sheet. Lowering it to their vision, the brother’s struggles renewed as they beheld the sharp and rusty implements laying on it. Placing a hand on each of their heads, Zara patted them. “Now now, be still. You no worry about these being used on you. Yet.”

Exchanging bewildered looks, Rocco and Brando ceased their futile thrashing and concentrated on breathing through their noses without inhaling gasoline fumes from the gags that had once been their fine clothing. 

Stepping back from the brothers, Zara barked an order in another language. Five hooded figures stepped into the light and lowered their hoods. Two women and three men stared at the prone bodies with a look of hunger on their faces. The women were young and attractive, the men fit and looked as though they would be at home in a bank. 

“We have two members of local mafia to offer today. They unharmed and last long time, if you want. Examine them before we start bidding,” Zara said, her new raspy voice carrying well in the stillness of the Pleasure Tent. 

One of the men and one of the women approached Rocco, the other three went to Brando. The brothers squirmed as they were fondled, poked and prodded by the prospective buyers. The woman flicked Brando’s penis with bright eyes, fondling it as it rose to attention against its owner’s will. She nodded gleefully. One of the men by Brando pulled the gag from his mouth, peeling his lips back to examine his teeth. Brando began to scream, his limbs turning to water in his prone position. Immediately Zara was there, silencing him with a firm strike to the side of the head with a small bit of pipe. Cramming the gag back into his mouth, she shot a furious look at the man who had removed it, who gave her an apologetic glance. 

When their examinations of the goods had satisfied them, the five returned to their positions at the edge of the circle of light. All looked excited, breathing heavily as their eyes darted from the tray of tools to their prospective property. 

“The bidding starts at one thousand. We start with this one, since he so excited for it,” Zara said with a grin. The buyers chuckled, glancing at Brando’s now wilting manhood. The woman who had fondled him raised her hand. The other man raised his. By the time the man gave up, Brando’s value had reached $27,000. The woman was breathing harder than ever and her eyes shone as she stepped forward to choose her weapon.

“No, you wait,” Zara said, wagging her finger. “We deal with brother first.”

When both brothers had been purchased for nearly $50,000, the losing bidders melted back into the darkness as silently as they had come. The winning bidders, the blonde woman and a man with carefully parted hair and a pencil-thin mustache, waited, looking excited. 

“Take them to chambers,” Zara said to the Gypsies before turning to the winning bidders and gesturing. “Please, follow purchase. You find everything you need there.” 

The two huge Gypsies came forward and began rolling the tables with the prone figures to separate sides of the tent, out of the circle of light. The brothers were screaming from behind their gags, pleading for mercy as they were separated by the stone-faced Gypsies. Folding screens were erected, shielding them from each other’s view as Zara brought a duplicate tray of implements to each side. The woman had shed her cloak and was tying back her long blonde hair into a tight bun. The man removed his own cloak to reveal a doctor’s scrubs. 

“Have fun,” Zara said with a grin. “You remove gags now, they hear each other die.”

Outside at the entrance to the Gypsy camp, Tony had been standing like a statue, watching where Brando and Rocco had vanished. The seconds ticked away. Once enough of them had elapsed, Tony pulled his own gas can from the trunk and began spreading gas around the border of the camp, taking care that each tent received a full dose. 

From within the camp, two sets of ragged screams began. Tony seemed not to hear it. He had heard far worse. 

Gypsy Mob : Episode 8/Play Me

Lucia Giletti was having a cigarette and a martini on the back patio, attempting to calm her mind as she waited for word of her daughter. She watched Tony finish hacking the last appendage off of the corpse of Ladez Hammalka, tossing it into the flaming incinerator before heaving the torso up and into the inferno. Taking a drag, she glanced up at the sound of the wireless doorbell chiming out over the background. Tony turned, making for the door as he wiped his hands on his suit but Lucia waved him off.

“Make sure that Gypsy burns to ash,” she said, draining her martini and setting it on the patio table. “I’ll see who’s at the door.”

Making her way through the mansion, she passed Giletti’s door, hearing the muffled yelling that was her husband’s phone voice coming from inside. Rolling her eyes, she took a drag of her cigarette as she reached the front door. Peering through the peephole, she saw nothing. Unlatching the lock, she opened the door.

A box, messily gift-wrapped, sat on the step. There was no card. Alarm bells tolled in the back of Lucia’s mind as she reached down to pick it up. The lid to the box was loose and she lifted it off. A nest of newspaper filled the box, but it was too heavy for that to be all it contained. Shutting the door behind her, she set the box on a table beside the door. Digging into the paper, her hand touched something smooth and round. Pushing the paper aside, she pulled a rewritable DVD from the box. On its gray surface, someone had scribbled PLAY ME in black marker. A frown creased her face as she set the disc down on the table and reached back into the box. Pushing through the paper, her hand touched something soft and wet. She upended the box on the table and amid the cascade of papers, something fell out and hit the table with a thump. As the wads of paper fell away, Lucia screamed.

Giletti finished a phone call with his accountant when he heard his wife’s screaming from the front hallway. Bolting from his desk as well as he could, he threw open the door to his study and saw her standing at the front entrance against the wall, her face white, her mouth open as an unholy scream emanated from it. As Giletti approached, he could see something on the table across the hallway from her in a litter of wadded paper. He drew nearer, and his breath caught as he saw the hand sitting on the table, the back emblazoned with a tattoo over which he and his daughter Bianca had fought endless battles when she came home with it. He could even hear his furious words to his daughter.

“You’re lucky I don’t cut that off, young lady!”

Lucia finally stopped screaming but her eyes were huge and her mouth hung open as though screaming silently. Giletti could not stop walking closer, hoping against hope that what he saw was not what was there. The closer he got, the more impossible it was to deny. Bianca’s hand lay on the table, mottled with blood vessels and turning gray.

“TONY!” Giletti’s roar cut through the mansion.

Tony appeared just as Lucia’s eyes rolled back in her head and her knees crumpled. With gargantuan steps, Tony reached her just in time to catch her before her head hit the floor, gently lowering her the rest of the way. His impassive eyes swept from her unconscious form to Giletti’s apoplectic face, to the source of their ire. Expressionless, he stepped forward and scooped the hand and DVD into the box. He glanced at Giletti, whose rage and horror seemed to have rendered him speechless. Silent as ever, Tony took the box and its contents to his quarters, leaving Giletti to deal with his comatose wife.

***

An hour later, Lucia had been revived and sedated. Now she reclined in a window seat overlooking the rear grounds, a cigarette forgotten in a shaking hand as she stared with vacant eyes at the immaculate lawn and garden. Giletti was back in his study, pretending to occupy himself with business affairs while his mind continued returning unbidden to his daughter’s decaying hand sitting on his entryway table.

A tentative knock at the study door made him jump. Cursing his frayed nerves and the Gypsies responsible.

“Enter!” Giletti barked.

Rocco and Brando opened the door and entered, looking grim.

“Yes, what now?” Giletti said, his voice rather higher-pitched than usual.

“Where is Lucia?” Brando asked, his own voice shaking.

“At the back window. Whaddaya want?” Giletti’s lighter chased the tip of a cigar around before the flame connected.

“Good,” Rocco said. He stepped forward, setting a laptop on Giletti’s desk. “She don’t need ta see this. Really, none of us do, but you’re her father, an—”

“For Christ’s sweet sake, Rocco, what do you want?Giletti sucked mightily at his cigar and the tremor in his hands died a little.

Dis is da DVD dat was in da box,” Rocco said, pressing a key on the laptop and turning it around to face Giletti.

Giletti’s eyes lowered to the screen. There was a jumble of motion and blurry figures before the camera auto-focused, bringing into sharp detail a figure laying on a table, naked. The camera panned up the naked body to Bianca’s face, slack and vacant. Her face filled the frame, her blackened eye captured in crystal clear HD before panning down her body to the stump where her hand had once lived. The ragged flesh was dangling under the wire still wrapped around her wrist, swollen and angry as darkening necrotic tissue crept up her arm.

The screen went blank and silent for a few beats, before suddenly cutting to a jumpy shot of a blood-stained floor. The camera jiggled before panning across the bloody floor to what appeared to be a human but with a face so red and mangled that it only resembled a human face. Laughter filled the soundtrack as a hand holding a box cutter reached down and started slashing at the neck of the figure. Gurgling screams emanated from the faceless man.

Giletti’s face was white, his cigar forgotten as the camera jerked away, focusing on a woman with her back to the camera, arms spread out as though being crucified. As she revolved on the spot, Giletti could see her face, but it wasn’t her face. It was Matteo’s severed face she wore like a mask, sticking her tongue through the flayed lips to waggle at the camera cheekily. Pulling the face mask off, Zara leered at the camera, blowing it a kiss before it panned down to the floor and went dark.

Rocco and Brando looked at Giletti with apprehension, their own brutal retributions at his orders paling in the wake of the savagery of the Gypsies. Don Giletti was frozen, his eyes fixed on the now black screen as the blood filled them. Jerking to his feet, Giletti roared “If dis is what dey want, then dis is what dey shall have. Take Tony an exterminate every one of them! Do not let any of em die widout suffering!”

As the Giletti car rolled to a stop at the darkened carnival, the smell of gasoline was strong, the fumes leaching through the trunk and into the cab. Even with all the windows open, Brando and Rocco were still feeling decidedly light-headed. Tony, behind the wheel, was as impassive as ever. Killing the engine, they sat there for a moment, letting their ears adjust to the sound.

It was nearly dead silence. The darkness of the night was broken only by a weak glow from the center of the carnival, the silence only split by the occasional human voice coming from the direction of the glow. Rocco and Brando looked at each other, their unease increased exponentially, having watched the video.

“Right, Tony,” Rocco said, his voice striving to sound tough. “Start spreading gas around th outskirts. We’ll take de other cans inside and spread it around as much as we can. Hopefully if we light it up from de perimeter, de whole fucking place will go up.”

Popping the trunk, Tony unfolded his long form from behind the wheel and grabbed one of the gas cans. He looked around a moment before nodding at Rocco and vanishing into the darkness.

Each grabbing another can, Rocco and Brando advanced on the entrance, nerves strung to the nth degree to where when Rocco stepped on a twig, they both jumped.

Creeping into the tents, they began sloshing the gas over the fabric at the base of the tents, conserving the liquid to ensure maximum saturation as they worked their way inward toward the glow. As they grew closer, they could see everything was dark and shut down except for the Pleasure Tent. Keeping out of sight of its entrance, they continued their work, unaware that eyes within the tent were tracking their every move.

Zara’s throat was sore, but her eyes were bright as she watched them from the shadows, seething with barely controlled rage. She watched them draw closer and an evil grin spread across her face. With a hoarse whisper, she beckoned to one of the Gypsies and whispered instructions. With a chuckle, they both faded back further into the tent, to await the arrival of the Giletti brothers.

Gypsy Mob : Episode 7/ The Amputation

The sun had been up for some time when Zara rose. Catering to the nighttime crowd meant the Gypsy camp went to bed late and was rarely stirring before noon. Which meant by the time she found the body, it could have been there for hours.

The camp was roused by a piercing scream, sending everybody scrambling for the nearest weapon. It was a scream some had never heard in their lives, a scream which some had hoped never to hear again. It spoke of loss, horror, and death.

First responders would never be able to forget the sight of Zara, eldest daughter of Ladez, cradling what at first appeared to be a mangled mannequin with no head, just a mass of hamburger. As they grew nearer and their minds were able to process what they were seeing, they realized it was the naked body of their patriarch, the tattoos covering his chest and arms unmistakable. If not for that, the shredded remains of his face and head would have left them completely at a loss.

Zara was holding the shattered body close to her, rocking back and forth and caressing where the forehead had been, her fingers growing red as she howled her anguish to the sky. One by one, her brethren sank to their knees, unable to continue standing or tear their eyes away from what had once been their leader.

When her throat had grown raw and a red mist was coming from her mouth, Zara was the first to rise. Standing, she dropped the body as though she had no more use for it. Her voice was hoarse but still carried. Every Gypsy present heard her, and no one doubted.

I am the leader now. You will all follow me. If you challenge me, you will end up worse than my poor father. This I say! She screamed the last, her voice hoarsening further as the wind carried specks of blood to coat the faces of those nearest.

Now! she shrieked. Kill the Italian bitch and her boyfriend! Cut them into pieces and send each of them to her family! One by one, so they get a new one every day!

Her wildly rolling eyes caught movement. A wizened old woman several yards into what had become a crowd was moving forward, breaking through the tightly packed ranks. Standing before Zara, the old woman bent to her knee, casting her eyes downward.

Maam, though I do not challenge thee, I must mention; the fresh Italian girl is now our top earner. Do not cut off thy nose to spite thy face.

Zara stared at the woman, her face working. Finally, she arrived at a decision.

As you say then. We will take the bitchs hand and do as I have said with her boyfriend. Then, if need be, we can continue amputating the unnecessary bits from her until her daddy sees reason. Zara looked to the mangled corpse of her father and tears sprung to her eyes which she brushed angrily away. They will pay for what they have done to us.

What was once Bianca stared at the ceiling. It never changed. Sometimes she stared at the ceiling, sometimes at the ground, or to the left or right, depending on what her current client wanted. She was never required to be on top. She lay there, mechanically rising from her cot to swab her nether regions before returning to her supine position. Sometimes she was required to take someone into her mouth, but for the most part, whomever entered her enclosure was content to take his will and be gone.

When the flap which served as her door pushed aside, she barely noticed. Her lizard brain associated the sound with imminent sexual penetration and wearily began sending lubricative signals to what controlled her sexual organs. She heard murmuring of at least two voices and began to relax her nether regions, as she had been conditioned to do upon hearing more than one voice. But these voices were choked neither with rut nor excitement, as she had grown used to. These voices were businesslike as she lay on the cot, her legs spread. Unbidden, her mind regressed to her earliest gynecology appointments, and she felt a twinge of nervousness, as she had always felt before having her private areas examined. At the same time, her lizard brain insisted that she was about to play host to multiple uncaring men and responded enthusiastically by sending hormones to her brain, allowing her body to compensate for it.

She opened her eyes, hoping there was some redemptive feature for her eyes to comprehend. Movement at her feet registered first as she saw one Gypsy wrap a length of chain around both her ankles and before she could think to move, her wrists were seized by two incredibly strong hands and yanked above her head, stretching her body to the limit. She screamed in fear and pain as her muscles were stretched far beyond their normal breaking points. She felt something tear in her right shoulder where she had strained it years ago throwing the javelin in track. She screamed again, helpless in her bonds. Vaguely, she felt a strong pressure around her right wrist. She looked and saw a length of wire wrapped around her forearm just above her wrist.

Zara walked forward, a wide smile across her face as her tongue continually moistened her lips. A small black plastic object stuck out of her tightly clenched fist. As she grinned, her thumb moved and a small narrow silver sliver shot out of its end. It retracted into the black plastic handle then shot out again as Zara advanced, her thumb playing with the release switch of the box cutter, sending its five-inch blade in and out.

Dont worry, bitch, Zara rasped in her new voice, halting the blades action as she drew near, raising the box cutter to level at Biancas face. The blade shot out another several inches. Youll live.

Striding forward, Zara knelt on Biancas hand and began sawing at her wrist, below the wire. Screaming, Bianca fought to free her hand but Zaras weight was relentless and Biancas hand did not move as Zara expertly cut between the radius and ulna, and the scaphoid and lunate bones of Biancas arm and hand, neatly severing her right hand.

Bianca screamed as blood spurted but tapered off quickly, the wire tourniquet doing its job. She bucked and thrashed but the chain remained around her legs and her arms remained securely over her head. As she flailed about, she caught glimpses of the figures holding her arms steady. She spat at them, cursing and swearing between sobs as she berated them, everything, anything, for the pain that she felt, before falling silent at the horrible new voice of Zara, grating in her face:

IT CAN ALWAYS GET WORSE.

Bianca shut up, screams fighting to escape from her mouth as she whimpered, tears rolling down her face as her phantom hand flexed back and forth in agony. Zara picked up the severed hand, waved it at Bianca and raised its middle finger.

Gypsy Mob : Episode 6 / Negotiation

Giletti sat in his study, his latest cigar smoldering in the ashtray. He watched the ribbons of smoke curling up to the ceiling, grinding his teeth in frustration. He was not accustomed to his directives meeting with resistance. Reaching for the cigar, he clamped his teeth around it, drawing smoke into his lungs and holding it there until little sparks burst in his vision and he let out the air in a puff of smoke. 

The door to his study swung open and his wife Lucia entered, bringing with her the scent of flowers. “Are they coming?”

“They better,” Giletti said, stubbing the cigar out and immediately lighting another. “If they don’ return wid de Gypsy leader, more heads will roll.”

At the other end of the mansion, brakes squeaked as the Giletti car pulled to a stop. Rocco and Brando got out of the front seats, opening the rear door for Ladez. Tony shoved him out, knocking him to the ground before hiking him to his feet. 

“Right dis way, gramps,” said Rocco, gesturing to the door with a bow. “The boss can’t wait to make your acquaintance.” 

Looking up into Tony’s blank and menacing face, Ladez swallowed the retort rising to his lips, looking at the silent infant still cradled in one of Tony’s huge hands. Since its skull had been compressed, the child had made no sound and scarcely moved. Fearful of provoking the giant further, Ladez said nothing and made for the mansion. Silently, Brando, Rocco and Tony fell into step on either side, flanking him. 

Ladez was furious and afraid but could not help admiring the opulence of the mansion as he was escorted through it. The wide-open spaces were filled with silence, broken only by the clacking of shoes and rustle of fabric as they made their way to Giletti’s study. The wall was heavy with paintings in ornate frames, sculptures stood on plinths in various corners and the soft light seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. At the end of a long hallway, a tall door stood open. Reaching it, Rocco rapped twice on it and pushed it open. 

The man sitting behind the giant desk was exactly what Ladez would expect a mob boss to look like. He was balding, heavy, immaculately dressed in a gray suit that would have bought an entire Ferris wheel. A fat cigar jutted from his stubby fingers, filling the room with a sweet-smelling smoke. The woman standing beside the man was tall and willowy, her dress hugging her curves just enough to accentuate them without showing them off. Her long dark hair fell below her shoulders and her eyes dripped disdain and hatred as they met his. The Don’s eyes were blank, but Ladez could see the wheels turning behind them. 

“I am Don Giletti,” the seated man said. “What do they call you, Gypsy?”

“Ladez Hammalka. I dere leader.” Ladez gestured to the infant in Tony’s arms. “That my youngest son.”

“How unfortunate for him,” Lucia sneered. Giletti gave her an amused glance. Ladez felt his face grow hot. 

“Why I here? Why you harm a child to get me here?”

“Because, you too have an innocent child ‘eld prisoner. Dis is to give you an idea of how it feels.” Giletti sucked on his cigar, blowing a large cloud of smoke in Ladez’s direction. “Return her to me and cease your trafficking operation. Dis is our territory.”

“Never,” snapped Ladez. “I not born with silver spoon in mouth; de girls will never go out of style and my family must eat.”

“Your family, yes,” Giletti said. “Quite a number to provide for. Nearly one hundred wretched souls, if what I hear is correct.” He looked at Lucia, who was drumming her nails on the desk. “In de interests of moving on wid our lives, I am prepared to offer you a generous sum in exchange for your cessation and departure.”

Lucia walked forward, pulling a check from her cleavage and forcing it into Ladez’s hand. He looked at it, registering the number of zeros before his pride crumpled it up and tossed it in her face. 

“You no buy us off like so many others,” Ladez said. “Our way is our way and has always been. We rely on our own since I led them, and we will always.”

Lucia gave him a look of contempt before returning to the desk. Giletti looked tired. “Dis is your final word?”

“Ya,” said Ladez, drawing himself up to his full height. 

Sighing, Giletti gestured. Tony stepped in front of Ladez and wrapped a hand around the child’s skull once again. Ladez started forward before being hit in the legs by what felt like an iron pipe. Falling to the ground, he looked up in time to see Tony’s long nails stab through the infant’s soft skull, drops of dark red blood dripping down the tiny body and pooling on the floor. The child made a soft sound, twitching its little arms, before lapsing back into stillness. .

Ladez felt hot tears dripping down his face as he watched, unable to move, unable to tear his gaze away. Lucia was breathing hard, licking her lips as Rocco and Brando laughed. Giletti was expressionless, watching Ladez’s face. 

“Is dis what you wanted? Do you feel you are doing right by your people by resisting me?”

Ladez struggled to speak as he watched his son’s life blood pooling on the tile. Finally, he managed to choke out, “You win. We go.”

Giletti’s face broke into a wide grin. “It’s too late for that, Gypsy.” He motioned to Rocco. Ladez was about to speak when the iron pipe smashed into his skull, sending him to the floor as darkness exploded over him. 

Lucia seized the pipe from Rocco and, raising it high, brought it down on Ladez’s skull again, and again. And again. Shrieking incoherently with laughter, she continued until the man’s head no longer resembled anything living. Coming back to herself, she dropped the pipe on his body, breathing heavily. 

“Get dis mess out of here before it stains de tile,” Giletti said, lighting a fresh cigar. “Oh, and Tony, get rid of dat fucking thing.” 

Nodding, the giant took what was once the youngest member of an ancient Gypsy bloodline into the grounds behind the mansion, where they kept the incinerator. 

Gypsy Mob Episode 5 – Childhood

 

In the days Ladez Hammalka was a young boy in an ancient roving Gypsy clan, he remembered hard times, tight belts and empty bellies. He remembered going with his mother to beg on a street corner when he was too young to be on his own. When he reached nine years old, he was sent to find his own street corner along with his brothers and sisters. His mother sometimes went with his father, sometimes on her own, for the more members of their family were out there, the more they would come home with. Living on the public’s kindness, some nights everybody went to bed hungry. 

The Gypsies had no communal property, everything belonged solely to their respective families. There was a code the Gypsies lived by; while they were not above swindling and conning their respective marks, thievery from another within the clan was not tolerated. Ladez Hammalka remembered the screams of those who had found out the hard way as their thieving fingers were severed, before being turned out of the clan for good. But mostly Ladez Hammalka remembered the nights he could not sleep, staring at the ceiling of their tent, hunger growling inside him like a wolf, rocks beneath his back getting larger by each hungry hour. Sometimes he fainted. 

The man who called himself the leader of the clan was a weak individual named Hurfong Sammenz who had been in the position for as long as Ladez had been alive. The rest of the clan possessed no individuals who wanted the responsibility and so they blindly followed Sammenz. They wandered aimlessly across the country, crisscrossing it at random, sometimes buried in snow in the mountains or dehydrating in the desert in August. The older and weaker members of the clan had started expiring before mutterings of removing their leader reached his ears. Rather than take a chance on a violent coup, Sammenz vanished in the night, taking with him as many valuables as he could easily lay his hands on. 

Without a leader, the clan began loosely drifting apart, finally going their own separate ways. The Hammalka family, crammed into two large vans along with everything they owned, never stayed in one place for more than a week before they were told to “move along.” Sometimes these warnings came through official channels; sometimes one of Ladez’s brothers came back to their camp with a broken arm or one of his sisters returned home with a black eye and a split lip, refusing to make eye contact. Then it was time to cram all eight children and all of everyone’s possessions into the two vans again. Over the years as the family grew and the children did likewise, their food situation became more and more dire. More often, all the food went to Mother, who was expecting their next sibling and was eating for two. 

One night, Ladez heard Mother and Father talking outside the tents at night, when they thought the children were all asleep. 

“…can’t go on much longer…”

“…horrible…”

“….no choice.”

“But which?!”

“Shh!”

The voices dropped lower than he could hear, and he fell asleep before he heard another word. 

The next day, the family stopped at a gas station. His parents seemed anxious, glancing at him frequently as the rest of the kids hopped out of the vans, stretching their legs. Elbowing his siblings out of the way, Ladez ran for the store, his stomach churning. Last night, they had eaten from the dumpster of a deli that threw out all its unsold perishable food at closing time. Something had upset his stomach and he was not even sure he could get into the bathroom before everything unloaded in his pants. Bursting through the door, he looked around wildly. 

“Bathroom?” 

The clerk looked up from the register. “Paying customers only.” 

“I’ll buy somethin’, PLEASE…” Ladez said as his stomach gave another almighty creak and groan. 

Another eternal moment as the clerk considered, then nodded towards the back door. “Out the door and to the left.”

Ladez sprinted out the back door and turned left, sobbing with relief as he saw the bathroom door, unoccupied and open. 

When he was certain he was finished, he walked gingerly around the back of the building, picking his way through the overgrowth to make sure the clerk wouldn’t catch sight of him. He was so focused on avoiding the clerk that when he saw his family’s vans pulling out of the station and back onto the main road, it didn’t register until he saw the empty spaces at the pump where the vans had sat. He forgot the burning of his sphincter as he sprinted after the vans on legs that were still weak, yelling hoarsely as they pulled further and further away. Coming to a halt, chest heaving, he watched them drive off down the road, out of his life forever. 

Of course, Ladez didn’t know that yet. Returning to the gas station, he found a spot to wait where he could easily see them returning to pick him up, apologizing profusely for having left him in the commotion of getting everyone back in the car. He would be merciful, he decided, give them some hurt looks and maybe a tear. But he would not rake them over the coals. He loved his family too much for that. 

***

The adult Ladez sat in his motorhome which still reeked of burned flesh. His hand throbbed where he had pierced it, and he flexed it, feeling the torn edges of the puncture knitting together slowly. In a few hours, it would be smooth and unmarked again. 

A rapping at the door of the cruiser opened his eyes. His eldest daughter Zara peered in, her dark eyes wide. “Father?”

“Come, Zara. What have you?”

The girl entered the motorhome, shifting nervously from foot to foot. “There are more men here to see you.”

Ladez raised one bushy eyebrow. “Back for more?”

“They will not enter,” she said, glancing at the door as though to verify it. “They want you to come out and speak to them.”

Something in her tone awoke an uneasy feeling in Ladez, one he had not experienced often. “There is more. Tell me.”

“One of them is darkness,” she said, forking the sign of the Evil Eye at the door. “You should be careful of him.”

Zara had too often been proven correct in her analysis of strangers. This disquiet in her deepened the unease Ladez felt. He stood without speaking, opening the door and stepping out into the night. 

There was a campfire burning outside the camper, casting yellow flickers of light on the faces of the two smaller men standing beside it. Their faces were blank and hard, their arms crossed over expensive suits. The third man towered behind them, a bulky shadow cloaked in darkness, exuding darkness. Ladez, who was nowhere near as sensitive to the auras of others as his daughter Zara, could feel the menace from the tall figure. Unbidden, a chill ran down his spine. 

“What do ye want from me?” he asked, crushing his fear of the tall man down deep where they could not see it. “Do ye come to experience the burning, like yer friends?” He grinned, a smile so fake that the two men could easily tell. 

“We have come to deliver you your last invitation,” Rocco said, his voice flat. “Return wid us to speak wid the Don, or Tony will ‘ave no choice but to make you.” 

The towering figure shifted slightly. Ladez peered into the shadows but could make out nothing but a silhouette. He could smell the menace baking off the man, and tried to keep control of the conversation. 

“And if I don’? You have no power here,” Ladez said dismissively. “I could turn ye to charcoal with a whisper of my will, all t’ree of you.”

Brando laughed and spat into the fire. “Try it.”

Piercing his palm again, Ladez flicked his hand at them and cried “Bur–!” 

Before the word had left his lips, the silhouette had stepped forward, the fire casting light over his chest while leaving his face shrouded in black. Ladez let the word die unfinished as he saw his youngest son, three months old, dangling from the man’s enormous hand by his head. The man held the infant up, his arm straight out. Tendons in his hand stood out as his hand tightened on the child’s skull. Ladez could hear a sickening pop from inside the man’s hand. 

“Now ‘e’s got brain damage,” Rocco said, flicking his cigarette into the fire. “Keep playing wid us and Tony will crush ‘is skull into pulp. Come wid us now, and your boy will just be a little slow in de head. Up to you, Pops.”

Rage and terror fought a bitter battle in Ladez, his child dangling from one enormous hand as the two men in the firelight smirked at him. Behind him, he could hear Zara weeping quietly. 

“I come wi’ you, I have word dat dere be no damage to my family?” Ladez asked, fighting to keep the tremor from his voice. 

“One t’ing at a time, gran’pa,” Brando said. “Let’s go talk to de Don an’ you can hear what he has t’say. Otherwise, Tony’s just getting started.”

Ladez looked over his shoulder at Zara, looking at him with red-rimmed streaming eyes. “Go, papa,” she moaned. “Or they kill us all.”

Turning back, Ladez nodded. “Release me son and I go wi’ you.”

“No, ‘e’ll be coming wid us, in case you get any ideas.” Brando grinned as Tony tucked the little body inside his jacket, where it made only the smallest of bulges. 

Ladez ground his teeth together in impotent fury.

“After you, gramps,” Rocco said, stepping aside and gesturing magnanimously.

Gypsy Mob : Episode Four / Burn

The dark was sticky and warm and the air was so thick it felt as though he could swim through it. He tried but could not move. His head could, but nothing else. Pulling at his hands and legs only caused what felt like razor wire to cut deeper into his wrists and ankles. Trying to open his eyes, he found they were behind a cloth tightly bound around his head. When he tried to take a deep breath, his airway was blocked by a smooth rubber ball gag. From what seemed to be very far away, he could hear the sounds of the Gypsy carnival. Wherever he was had no noise. 

Except…

As he became more alert, he could hear the sound of breathing from behind him. His heart raced and he tried to speak around the ball gag. 

“Hoh, oh eeh–”

It was hopeless. Ball gags were well designed. But without warning, the breathing gave way to footsteps, which approached his chair from behind. There was the sound of fabric stretching and a metallic flexing sound. Then the fabric was ripped from his head, freeing his eyes. The tent he was in had a bed, dresser, mirror and a little fan rotating as it buzzed. All this was lost upon him though. 

The girl from the front of the Pleasure Tent stood before him, nude, one hand on one slender hip, the other hand balancing a metal pie dish on her fingertips as though she were a waitress. His heart leapt into his mouth and despite his predicament, he could feel the beginnings of an erection. 

This was not lost on her, since he was nude, he could now see, spread-eagled on the chair with one leg wrapped to each chair leg with razor wire. She smirked at his member’s pathetic show of force and lowered the pie tin to his eyes. He gazed back at himself from the pool of his own blood, reflected in billions and billions of microscopic cells. 

Rom mikiah wheli fursna,” she hissed at him, dipping a finger in the blood and licking it off sensually. “I enjoy watching you die, white man. Bit by bit.”

He tried to speak but could not even attempt it. He was mesmerized, watching as she dipped her palm into the pool of his blood and reached for him. Stroking him in earnest, it didn’t take long for him to reach his full potential. She straddled him and his vision grew darker and darker as she shouted the words into his face and they both realized culmination. 

Catching her breath, the girl stood and hopped off Matteo, taking no notice of his vacant expression. She filled a pie dish with his fluids.

A Gypsy with long braided hair entered and looked her straight in the eye, paying no mind to her exposed body. One eye was a bright, piercing blue. The other, a bleached white sightless orb. 

“Dai, shivisna ecrusi taruma,” she said, gesturing at Matteo and reaching for a robe. “He is ready.” 

The man nodded, crossing the room to Matteo and lifting both him and the chair to which he was bound. He carried Matteo out of the tent without a sound. The girl picked up the pie dish of Matteo’s fluids, carrying them from the tent, careful not to spill a drop. 

A long black car pulled into the carnival’s parking area and stopped with a crunch of gravel and swirl of dirt. Four men got out, dressed in fine suits with matching fedoras. The bulge under each of their arms and at their waist made it clear these men expected trouble.

Giletti’s goons, Marco, Branden, Lou and Carter, were on high alert, not because of the Gypsies but because Giletti had been apoplectic with rage and let it be known that negative results would not be well received. As they entered the midway, they spread out, heads on swivels, walking with purpose. The public parted before them uneasily, sensing trouble. 

Zara spotted an anomaly in the movement of the crowd. She had been working here her whole life and could easily pick out the signs of anything but the general public plodding through the ritual of a carnival. The four well-dressed men were coming her way with a purpose, looking far too bulky to be carrying anything less than an Uzi each beneath their jackets. 

Carter was in the lead and was not the type of man to be coy. He walked up to Zara and showed her the butt of his gun. “Word is you got someone for sale who ain’t yours, lady,” he said, his voice casual enough that none of the public nearby looked around. “The boss sez you’re to let her go wid us, now, and your boss is s’posed to come back to meet wid our boss also. Now,” Carter gestured at the other three unsmiling men surrounding the entrance. “We can do dis de easy way or de hard way.”

Ladez Hammalka had been leading his clan of approximately one hundred souls for many years. It had started many years ago with two families, roaming the country in their RVs. Over time, marriages and unions had strengthened the bonds of family and increased their numbers. One year, Ladez chanced upon an old carnival ride at an auction. It needed only minor repairs, and nobody else wanted it. For a song, Ladez got them to throw in the trailer that housed the track and cars. In little hamlets they frequented, the locals were thrilled by any entertainment and the ride gave them another reason to visit the Gypsy midway, which was little more than booths selling hand-made items. They flocked to the carnival atmosphere, a fact not lost on Ladez, who began expanding on it, buying rides that needed fixing and having the mechanically gifted members of the family bringing them back to life. 

With their income once again secure, Ladez began seeking not only security but luxury. One of his wives put to him the suggestion of a body shop. Through her connections, she knew no shortage of orphaned or runaway girls that would be happy to lay with a man in exchange for food and shelter. Ladez agreed. 

Now, decades later, as he sat in his Empire Liner motorcoach, looking at the four men who had entered by holding an automatic weapon to his only daughter’s stomach, he felt a cold rage burning within him. Come to take what is ours again, he thought. 

“Release her.” Ladez said.

“I think we’ll just hold on to her while we chat, just for safekeeping, Pops,” Branden, the tallest of the four, was holding Zara around the throat with his Uzi to her head. “Don’t get any funny ideas wid the elbows, honey.”

Carter chuckled, holding his gun lazily on Ladez. “Yeah, I’d hate to have to shoot dis old guy just because you decided to be a hero. We just want Bianca Giletti, and for the old man to come meet our boss.”

Ladez felt the cold rage turn hot. Without looking at his hand, he pierced his palm with a sharpened ring he always wore and hissed, “Calidi.”

The men looked confused and raised their guns sharply as Ladez’s hand rose from behind his back, blood running down his withered arm. He raised his hand high and said it again, just as a drop of blood fell and hit the floor of the RV. 

Calidi!

The two men holding their weapons screamed and dropped them as the metal began to glow a dark red. Blisters shot up on the hands which had been holding their guns. Marco and Lou, their weapons still in their holsters, began to yell and clawed their jackets open, yanking the hot metal from their armpits and dropping them to the floor. Zara elbowed Branden in the stomach and slipped from his grasp, running over to Ladez. Branden doubled over, unable to howl in pain over his burned hand. Carter was squeezing his hand between his legs as tears rolled down his face. His eyes, wide and streaming, stared at Ladez. 

“What—how did you—”

“SILENCE!” thundered Ladez and all four men cringed back, nursing their various hurts. 

“You t’ink you come in here and start giving orders? After years of living off yer filth and offal, we finally able to ‘ave a portion of luxury you ‘ave lived all your life, an’ you come in ‘ere to take from us.” The old man’s voice did not get louder, but it seemed to fill the entire room. The four men cowered as he went on. “You will walk from ‘ere an’ tell your boss of what occurred. Tell him, we not like what he used to, and will not roll over like good dogs.”

Relief washed over the faces of the men as Ladez finished speaking. “We will, sir,” Carter spoke up. “We appreciate you letting us go wid just the warning, we’ll make sure—”

Ladez held up a hand. “Well…not all you,” he said with a leer. Carter’s eyes traveled to the bloody hand, a drop poised to fall. His eyes went back to Ladez’s. There was no mercy there. 

Burn,” Ladez hissed as the drop fell. 

Immediately, Branden and Carter began to scream as a fire as they had never known erupted within them, as though their very souls were being incinerated. Steam poured out of their orifices as they thrashed around, clawing at themselves, unable to quench the internal flames. Lou and Marco flattened themselves against the wall, horrified, unable to look away. Carter’s eyes melted out of his sockets and down his face as his tongue, blackened, flopped uselessly inside his charcoal mouth. Branden had fallen to his knees and was trying to scream, but all that came out was black dust. When they finally toppled over, dead burned husks, they left a charcoal smear on the motorcoach’s carpet. 

Lou and Marco had at some point clutched each other for support as they witnessed the men being burned alive. Huddled together in a wet spot of shared urine, they stared wide-eyed at Ladez. 

The old man took a deep breath and let it out, closing his eyes for a moment. Opening them, he gestured, a sweep of the hand toward the RV’s door. It was with the non-bloody hand, but Lou and Marco still flinched. 

“Now, go from ‘ere.” Ladez clasped his hands before him, the bloody one holding the clean one. “Tell your Don what you ‘ave seen, with my regards. And express my condolences to the families of dese two foolish men.” He nodded at the charcoal husks. 

Marco nodded, his eyes unfocused. Lou croaked something that may have been an affirmative. Neither moved. 

“GO!” screamed Zara. Immediately both men stampeded for the door, nearly tearing it off the frame before realizing it opened outward. With a bang, they fled into the night. 

Don Giletti was just lighting his fourth cigar when Lou and Marco burst into his study, panting heavily, having run the whole way, since the car keys were in Carter’s pocket. Giletti looked at their faces and his heart sank. 

“Where are Carter and Branden?” 

“Charcoal!” screamed Lou, quite hysterical. “He done something, black magic, witchcraft, voodoo, I dunno but he burnt em both, pore ol’ Carter an’ Branden burnt to a crisp from the inside out, on me life sir, they got me too, me and pore Marco, lookit—” 

Dragging Marco(who seemed to be in a daze) forward to the Don’s desk, he pulled Marco’s coat and shirt open. He yanked the undershirt to the side so Giletti could see a blister in the shape of a gun seared into Marco’s chest just beneath the armpit. “I got one too, but we was lucky compare’t to Branden and Carter, poor fellers just burnt up…”

Turning away from the blubbering Lou, Giletti looked at his brother Brando with smoldering eyes. “Get Tony and you go down dere to talk to dat old man. Or rather, let Tony do de talking, as loud as he pleases, as long as de old man is able to answer questions when he gets here.”

Brando smirked. “Tony don’t usually have to speak too loudly before they gets the point.”

Giletti stared at his cigar, smoldering gently away in his hand. “Indeed.”

Gypsy Mob : Episode 3 / Gypsy Traffic

Peter Giletti had just pulled his Ferrari into the Giletti mansion when Matteo came bursting from the front door, his face a mask of terror so stark it made Peter’s balls creep. Putting the sports car in park and setting the emergency brake, he hopped out and waved. 

“Matteo! What the fuck is up?”

Wild-eyed, Matteo looked around. When he spotted Peter, he rushed over, seizing Peter by the shoulders. “Pete! You gotta help me! I lost her and your uncle—”

“Whoa whoa whoa, first things first, drop the Armani,” Peter said, pushing Matteo’s hands away from his tailored jacket. “I just got this. Now what about my uncle?”

“He’s gonna kill me if I don’t find Bianca!” Matteo said, wringing his hands. 

“Wait a minute, where’s Bianca? What happened?”

Matteo blurted out the night’s events, circling back to the salient point. “He’s going to kill me if I can’t find Bianca! Peter, you gotta help me!”

“You really ditched Bianca to go fuck a whore? That’s pretty—”

“Yes, I know what it is, but it is what it is and if I don’t find her, I’ll never fuck anything again! Now will you help me or not?” Matteo waited, shoulders heaving. 

“Yeah, yeah, sure thing,” Peter said, opening the door to his Ferrari and sliding back inside. “Come on.”

They made good time back to the carnival, Peter pushing the little car up to nearly 130mph on the straight stretches. The police in the area knew the Giletti family cars on sight and knew better than to interfere with them. Peter concentrated on his driving, Matteo sat rigid in his seat, savoring each breath he took, wondering if they would be among his last. 

Before long, the lights glowing in the night became brighter and they were pulling into the parking lot of the Gyspy camp. Matteo reached beneath his shirt and pulled out a Glock .9mm. Racking the slide, he ensured a round was in the chamber and stowed the gun away again. Peter watched, an eyebrow raised. 

“Guns blazing?”

Matteo shook his head, scrabbling at the car door handle. “Just a little protection. It’s up to them.” 

Shrugging, Peter chambered a round into his own Glock and tucked it back into his shoulder holster. 

Passing under the gate to the scruffy midway, Peter popped a cigarette into his mouth and lit it with a practiced motion as he surveyed the meager crowd while following Matteo. “Pretty weak carnival. Everything is rusted. You couldn’t pay me to ride one of these fucking things.” He took a drag as his eyes swiveled to follow a blonde girl with a painted face and jeans which looked to be painted on as well. “Rides are for kids anyway.”

“There,” Matteo said, pointing as he quickened his pace. “That’s the tent.”

Peter looked from the sign proclaiming Your Fortune for $5 to the scrawny man beneath it. The man grinned invitingly, gesturing to the door. Rolling his eyes, Peter caught sight of something far more akin to his tastes. 

“You go ahead,” he said to Matteo, who was fumbling in his pocket for a five-dollar bill. Beating him to the draw, Peter pulled out a five and gave it to the skinny man who made it disappear. “My treat. I’ll wait out here, I want to finish this.” He waved the cigarette. 

“Okay. I’ll yell if I need backup.” 

Peter saluted with the cigarette as Matteo disappeared into the tent. He took another drag and dropped it to the ground in front of the Gypsy, grinding it out and turning without a word toward the Pleasure Tent. 

“Hiya,” said the girl attending its entrance, flashing a dazzling white smile over the barest of tops. “Looking for pleasure?”

“Yes, and I’m in a bit of a hurry,” Peter said, glancing over at the fortune tent. 

The girl smiled. “Take our newest girl. Tonight her first night.”

“I’ll take her. How much?”

“$200,” the girl said, holding out a hand. 

Peter’s fingers nimbly extracted two Benjamins from his wallet and slapped them into the girl’s palm. She tucked it down her skirt and beckoned him to follow as she slipped into the tent. Peter followed her through the labyrinth of cloth stalls, adjusting himself as the sounds of sex further stimulated his growing member. The girl stopped at one of the curtains and gestured. 

“She new. Start tonight. No worry ‘bout that. She ready.” With that and a smirk that gave Peter’s peter a twinge, she retreated into the dim of the tent. 

Peter licked his lips and pulled the curtain back. A girl lay on the cot, staring at the ceiling. The shadows hid her face, framed by her long dark hair. She was nude, her arms over her head and legs slightly apart. At the sound of his zipper, her eyes flickered towards him, then back to the ceiling. Unbuckling his pants and pulling down his underwear, he mounted her and slid himself inside. The girl at the front had been right, this girl was prepared. It didn’t take him long and the whole time, her expression never changed. 

Panting, Peter slid out of her and wiped himself on the cot before standing and refastening his pants. “Good for you, honey?”

“Yes.”

Peter’s hands froze in the act of buckling his belt. It was not the word itself, nor its delivery, flat, dead, devoid of any emotion. The voice he had heard at the Giletti mansion more times than he could count. It was Bianca’s voice. 

“…Bi?” Peter croaked. 

She looked at him blankly. With shaking hands, he pulled his lighter from his pocket. Flicking it open, he cast a soft glow over the room, illuminating the face of his cousin, Bianca Giletti.

“Bianca! What the fuck are you doing here!”

She said nothing, just continued staring at him. If not for her breathing, she could have been dead. 

“I’ve got to get you out of here. Can you walk?” Peter reached for her, weak-kneed at the thought of touching her again after what he had just done. “Bi, I’m sorr—”

A harsh whisper of canvas behind Peter made him spin. An enormous man covered in tattoos and body hair had torn the curtain back and was reaching for him. Peter’s heart leaped into his mouth as he staggered backward. 

“Where you tink you goin’ wit our girl, eh?” the man growled, stepping forward. 

Peter’s reflexes, honed by years of the family business, came to his rescue, drawing his Glock from the shoulder holster and pointing it squarely between the man’s eyes. The big man halted, the gun’s barrel an inch from his forehead. 

“Go ‘head, city boy,” he sneered. “If you got da guts—”

The Gypsy’s hand moved, amazingly fast for his size. Unfortunately, his aim was not good; as he attempted to grab the gun from Peter, one sausage-sized finger slid into the trigger guard of the gun, its girth inexorably pressing Peter’s more modest digit into the trigger. There was a shot. The giant man’s ugly sneer turned into a look of shock as the back of his skull and brains splattered across the tent wall. 

Peter was still trying to process what had happened when the screams began, galvanizing him into action. Pulling the gun from the finger of the dead giant, he looked around wildly. Bianca lay on the cot, splattered with bits of bone and brain, her expression as vacant as ever. There were yells from within the tent as interrupted men and women expressed their fear and concern. There was no choice. 

“I’ll get you out of here, Bi, I promise,” he whispered to her, unsure if she would hear him or if it would even register. Slipping out of the stall’s entrance over the dead giant, he fled down one of the corridors between the stalls, heading for the exit. The girl who had admitted him was standing in it, a machete in her hand. She had dispensed with the knowing smirk and her face was a mask of rage. 

“You murder a Rom, white man,” she hissed, raising the machete. “You will pay.”

Peter raised the gun, pointing it at her chest. “Step aside, lady, or those pretty tits of yours will be the next thing to get splattered.” 

Curling her lip, the girl stood aside, still holding the machete. Peter eased around her, trying to keep an eye on the machete and the rest of her at the same time. As he passed her, she spat at him. 

“I’ll remember that, babe. You’ll be hearing from me again real soon,” he snarled, slipping into the crowd of oblivious carnival patrons outside the tent who had somehow not heard the gunshot. 

Elbowing his way through the throng, Peter halted, panting, before the fortunes tent, his gun beneath his bloody Armani coat. The scrawny Gypsy eyed his hectic expression with what appeared to be a look of amusement. 

“Where’s my friend?” Peter demanded, looking over his shoulder toward the Pleasure Tent, sure the girl would be coming after him with the machete. 

“You friend ‘as gone,” the Gypsy said, spreading his fingers. “He say, he see you later.”

Peter pulled the gun from beneath his coat, keeping it low. “He wouldn’t do that, don’t take me for a moron. Now you tell me where he is, or—”

Behind the scrawny man, another mammoth Gypsy appeared out of the darkness of the fortunes tent. “Or what, slicker?”

Peter heard shouts from the direction of the Pleasure Tent and, performing an analysis of his odds, holstered his weapon and took off, shouldering his way through the crowd of increasingly agitated carnival-goers. He did not stop until he was in his Ferrari pushing sixty mph on his way out of the parking lot.

***

Matteo pushed into the dimly lit interior of the fortunes tent to see a thin old woman wrapped in shawls seated before a dark glass orb. She raised her eyes to his, and a smile crept across her mouth. “So, you come for your fortune?”

“I come for my girlfriend, Bianca,” Matteo said. He pulled his phone from his pocket and showed the woman his phone’s wallpaper. From the screen, Bianca was blowing a kiss with a bottle of tequila in her other hand. “She got her fortune read earlier tonight and now she’s missing.”

“I donno whatcha talkin ‘bout,” the woman said. Her smile widened. “If I read ya fortune, maybe we find hers?”

“Sure, fine, whatever, only her dad has told me he’ll cut off my nuts if I can’t find her so I really need—”

The woman threw up her hand, freezing Matteo in mid-sentence as the crystal ball’s surface flared bright blue. “Silence!”

She moved her long fingers over the ball, peering deep into its depths. Matteo waited impatiently, hopping from one foot to the other. Waste of time, this, he thought furiously as the woman whispered gibberish to the ball. Bianca’s father is going to have me castrated and I’m sitting here watching this old bat poke a piece of glass.

“Well?” he demanded when he could stand it no longer. 

The woman looked a moment longer and then raised her eyes to meet his. “Well what?”

“Where is Bianca?” Matteo’s voice was becoming shrill. 

“Ah,” the woman said, and shook her head. “I can no tell you dat. But I tell you, you be reunited wid her soon. You VERY HANDSOME!” she shouted this last, causing Matteo to recoil. 

“What the—”

“You VERY. HANDSOME.” She repeated, if anything, louder. 

“Listen,” Matteo said, his voice cracking as he pulled the Glock from his waistband. “If you don’t tell me where Bianca is—”

There was a rustling noise behind him. He half-turned in time to see an enormous man swinging a baseball bat at his head before the world exploded into blackness. 

“I tell you, Matteo,” Madam Zara stood, looking down at the prostrate form of Matteo. “You be seeing her soon.” 

The giant snickered.

“Good swing, Grog,” she said with a smile. “Take him to tent.”

***

The sound of a Ferrari caught Don Giletti’s ear and he turned, frowning, to glance out the window behind the desk in his study. Not just because he and his wife Lucia had bought it for their son Peter not six months ago, but because he had made the modifications to that engine himself, and he couldn’t mistake the sound of its tachometer reaching the red line. 

He turned back to face the room. His brother Rocco stood by the tray of amber-filled decanters, pouring himself a snifter of cognac. Giletti’s wife Lucia leaned against the front of his desk, her cosmetically perfect ass seated a few feet from Giletti. “I’m sorry, my dear, what were you saying?”

Lucia rolled her eyes. A few years Giletti’s senior, she sometimes felt as though she were a mother chiding her son. Turning to face him, she leaned against the desk, palms down. “The body trade is down all of a sudden, and you know that is one trade that is recession-proof. Something has changed, Lorenzo, and we need to figure out what it is. I have girls sitting idle at night.”

“My supplier is getting ratty as well,” Rocco said, coming back from the bar with a drink and lit cigarette in the other hand. “I told him I only needed half a container this week and he warned me not to let it become a habit, then hung up.”

Giletti snorted. “I try not to lose sleep over it.”

With a sudden bang, the doors to the study flew open, making them all jump. The men had their guns half drawn before their brains registered that their brother, Brando, towed his son Peter by the arm. The latter’s eyes were giant saucers, staring around though not seeing. Coming to a halt, Brando dropped Peter’s arm and slammed the doors shut, locking them. He strode forward and prodded Peter in the back, pushing him forward. 

“Go on, tell them!” he barked. “Spit it out, boy!” His face was red and his hair looked as though he had been pulling chunks of it out. Giletti had never seen his brother looking quite so deranged and felt a hint of an unusual emotion he was able to identify as fear. What the hell had happened?

“I—they—there’s a car—carnival, up the road,” Peter gabbled, still staring around as though he had never seen the place before. “They had—girls. Bianca. They—I—” Peter shivered mightily and wrapped his arms around himself as though he were freezing. 

“What de absolute fuck are you gabbling about?” Giletti roared, on his feet, fingernails unconsciously digging into the desk. 

“You’ve been wondering why the girl trade is down,” Brando said, striding forward and shoving Peter out of the way, who took no notice. “I think you’ll find it’s been down the exact length of time as a certain Gypsy carnival has been set up in the area. As near as I can tell, Peter, saw a tent set up as a brothel, and when he went in to, um, investigate, the girl they gave him…was Bianca, Lorenzo. They’ve got your little girl, brother,” Brando said, tears of rage standing in his eyes.

Gypsy Mob : Episode 2 / Don Giletti

Don Giletti stood at the window behind his desk, staring at the darkness outside his mansion. Behind him, the hulking figure of a man stood in one corner of the room, his features obscured. He may have been looking at the third man in the room, the one cowering before Don Giletti’s desk, cradling his right hand. The fingers of this hand were bent at odd angles and the middle finger looked to be pulled from its socket. The man’s breathing was harsh, the only sound in the room. 

“You ‘ave made me displeased wit’ you,” Giletti said, his voice regretful. “De only question left is whether or not to let you walk from here, boasting of your incompetence and lack of consequences.”

“Don Giletti,” the man whispered, straining to speak through a throat swollen by two enormous handprints. “I crave…I beg your pardon. Had I but known the territory was yours, I never—”

“It is ALL my territory!” Giletti thundered, turning from the window to fix the man with a cold stare. “De very ground you walk on is under our control for hundreds of miles in all directions. Yet you see fit to set up shop in what amounts to my front yard.”

“Yes, of course,” the man panted, his eyes straying to the silent figure in the corner. “Please, Don Giletti, let me prove to you my loyalty. Allow me the chance to do this, killing me will do no—”

“You are correct, death would hinder your chance at redemption. I only question whether or not your redemption is worth it,” Giletti said. He folded his hands before him, staring the man down. 

“Don Giletti, sir, I will be your most loyal, most trustworthy—”

“Tony,” Giletti said, interrupting the stammered protests of devotion. He had heard them all before. “Mr Sanders has pleaded his life, but cannot be allowed to walk free. Please give him a lasting reminder of our feelings for interlopers, that his loyalties never waver again.”

The man’s eyes grew huge and shot to the hulking figure which had come to life. Stepping out of the shadows was a huge man, easily over seven feet tall, in an immaculate black tuxedo. His head was bald as a cue ball, his hands the size of dinner plates. His face was an expressionless blank as he advanced on Sanders, the smaller man squealing with fear, his feet scrabbling for purchase on the slick tile floor. 

“Nonono Don Giletti no you don’t have to do that please no—” 

His words degenerated into gibberish as the giant man knelt beside the chair, seizing Sanders’ calf in one giant hand, his foot with the other. Tendons stood out on Tony’s massive hands as he twisted. 

Sanders screamed, an inarticulate sound of agony and horror as the bones in his ankle cracked in with a sickening wet pop. Tony twisted in the other direction, bringing more popping and screaming sounds from the man as his bones were neatly sheared from each other. Setting his grip, Tony pulled. The muscles under his tuxedo arms bulged and with a sickening sound of tearing meat, the foot of Albert Sanders was torn off in his hand. The wretched man’s screams pleased Don Giletti as he trimmed the end of a large cigar. 

“Thank you, Tony. Now please escort Mr Sanders to the door before he bleeds all over my floor.”

The big man lifted one of Sanders’ arms, placing it around his own massive shoulders and hiking Sanders to his foot. Dragging the sobbing man to the door of the study, Tony booted it open and dropped Sanders in a pile over its threshold. 

“You’ll see yourself out, Mr Sanders?” Giletti asked, lighting his cigar with a silver lighter. “Do try and make it outside before expiring. Good night.”

Tony shut the door, blotting out the man’s suffering. Going to a cupboard in the corner, he pulled out a mop, bucket, and bleach. Going to the French doors on one side of the room, he slid one open, taking the bucket outside to the expansive grounds, and hose outlet. 

Giletti surveyed the blood around the chair Sanders had occupied. A few buckets of bleach water and it would be as though it had never happened. Picking up the phone on his desk, he pressed a button to connect him to the local police station. The other end rang twice before it was picked up. 

“Giletti?” The voice was low and gravelly, hesitant and slightly fearful. 

“Yes, Chief Murphy, and if anybody else ever calls you from this number, I want to know about it,” said Giletti, blowing a perfect smoke ring at the ceiling. “I wanted to thank you personally for your information regarding the late Albert Sanders, it was most entertaining to speak wid him.”

“Of course, sir, you know anything I can do—”

“I do know, and I appreciate you doing it. Tomorrow there will be two tickets to the opera on your desk, along with your favorite whiskey. Don Giletti always rewards loyalty.” A second smoke ring joined the first. Behind him, Tony re-entered from the grounds, the bucket full of water. He closed the French door silently and set the bucket down beside the puddle of blood. Splashing a healthy portion of bleach into it, the huge man set to with the mop. 

“Thank you very much, sir, please don’t hesitate—”

Don Giletti hung up the phone, puffing on his cigar as he watched Tony mopping. 

“Once you are done wid de stain, find Mr Sanders and dispatch him cleanly, will you, Tony? His life no longer seems worth living.”

The man nodded once, never looking up from his work. 

Two raps came at Giletti’s door, light and reluctant. 

“Enter,” said Giletti, sucking on his cigar. 

Matteo entered, his eyes on the trail of blood. Behind him, Giletti could see the pile that was Albert Sanders laying in the hallway, having drug himself only a few feet before passing out. 

“Tony, dis blood puddle can wait. Please tend to what’s left of Mr Sanders before de stain in de hallway becomes permanent.” Giletti gestured with his cigar.

Obediently, Tony stood, leaving the mop in the bucket. Stepping carefully over the puddles, he walked around Matteo, who flinched noticeably as he neared. The big man turned, shutting the double doors softly behind him. 

“Matteo!” Don Giletti said expansively, leaning back in his seat with the cigar in his mouth. “How did my little girl enjoy de carnival?”

“Don Giletti…” Matteo said before trailing off, his mouth dryer than he could ever remember. The whole way back from the Gypsy encampment, he had been rehearsing what to tell his prospective father-in-law and had gotten no further than those two words. “Don Giletti…” he said again, once again coming up short. 

Giletti took the cigar from his mouth and frowned. “Where is Bianca, Matteo?”

“G-gone,” Matteo squeaked, his eyes falling again and again on the puddle of blood and bucket before him. 

Giletti stared at him wordlessly, the cigar describing lazy curls of smoke up to the ceiling. Matteo felt two inches tall. 

“Sir, she went to the fortune teller’s tent. I went…somewhere else, and when I came back to the fortune tent, they told me she had left. I could not find her anywhere and her phone goes to voice mail. I thought I should come back and tell you, sir, before much more time had passed.”

Giletti continued to stare, eyes boring holes into Matteo. 

“Sir, I’m sorry,” Matteo gabbled, now talking faster as though to buy himself time. “If you want me to sir I’ll go back and find her I know I can, maybe I just didn’t check closely enough because I thought maybe she could have—”

“Where did you go, Matteo, dat you left my daughter alone wid de Gypsies?”

Giletti’s voice was very quiet but it cut through Matteo’s babble, shutting the young man up with a snap as his heart sank. Very few had successfully lied to Giletti. 

“I—uh, that is to say, I went—”

“You have one chance to tell me de truth, young man. I would advise you to take it.”

The stories of Giletti’s responses to deceit came back to Matteo, that coupled with the blood on the floor compelled him to the truth, come what may. 

“I went to the Pleasure Tent, sir,” Matteo said in a rush, as though hoping hearing it quickly would be easier for the patriarch. 

“De Pleasure Tent,” repeated Giletti, still staring.

“Yes sir.”

“Am I correct in assuming dat is what it sounds like?”

Matteo’s eyes dropped. “Yes, sir,” he mumbled. 

“You mean to sit dere and tell me dat while on a date wid my daughter, you ditched her to go to bed wid a Gypsy prostitute and now have no idea where she is?”

Matteo was sure he was sealing his fate as he whispered, “Yes, sir.”

The Don’s face was a mask of cold fury as he stubbed the cigar out in a gold ashtray. “De only ting keeping you alive is de fact dat you did not try to conceal dis from me. I will consider de matter closed if you can produce her, tonight. If you cannot, Tony will have to get involved. You don’t want Tony to get involved.”

“No, sir,” squeaked Matteo, hardly daring to believe his reprieve. 

“Get out of my sight, Matteo,” Giletti’s voice was laden with disgust. “If I see you again widout my daughter—”

But he was talking to an empty room; Matteo had already wrenched the door open and fled. 

 

Gypsy Mob : Episode One / The Pleasure Tent

The Ferris wheel whirled as the midway lights flickered, lit by the secondary generator also powering the staticky sound system piping carnival music through the meager lane of tents pitched along a lane that may have constituted a midway. A few dogs begged at the hands of the well-dressed patrons lined up at the booths, but for the most part, the only scavengers were the Gypsy carnies. 

“Step righ’ up, hit the tits off da bull wid a dart, and win a stuffed monkey!”

“Ladies and gents, if’n youse can fill this balloon wid a water gun, you get a ticket for our private show featuring the stunning Ms. Gingerette!”

“Guess da number o’ clams inside th’ bucket o’ sand and you wins a million dolla! Okay, not a million, but ONE HUND’RD DOLLARS! Ladies and gents, how ‘bout dat! For th’ price of a pounda clams…”

Bianca’s eyes shined as the Ferris wheel’s cars swooped past her, the lights of the cars reflected in her eyes. “Matty, this is so much fun! I haven’t been to a carnival in… ever!”

“Don’t get carried away, Bi,” Matteo said, his hand tightening on hers involuntarily as a carny whirled by in a fiery cartwheel, somehow juggling the Earth and two flaming torches. “This isn’t a carnival, just a campground of Gypsies with a few rusty rides.” As he spoke, the Ferris wheel whirled behind him, neglected joints letting out a squeak with every car. 

“Spoilsport,” Bianca shot back, dropping his hand and flouncing ahead. Matteo cursed and followed her, shouldering his way through the people crowding the midway. He was amazed at the number of people in the Gypsy encampment. Didn’t these people realize that Gypsies were scum and would only bring them heartache? Grinding his teeth, he followed Bianca’s short-skirted ass as it weaved through the crowd. 

“Ooh, fortunes!” Bianca squealed, coming to a halt at a black-bordered booth studded with blue stars. A banner proclaimed “Your fortune for only $5.00.” Beneath it, a scrawny dark-skinned man with greasy hair and a scraggly mustache grinned, holding out his hand. Matteo groaned, coming to a stop behind her and catching her arm, bringing her to a stop. 

“Bi, maybe we should go find somewhere else to spend our money,” Matteo said, neglecting to mention that the last time she laid down any money for their extracurricular activities was the last time they had bought coke(months ago) and hoping that she would move on rather than costing him another ten dollars for unmitigated Gypsy bullshit. 

“Maybe you want to go on and spend your own money,” Bianca said, her voice clearly inviting him to go fuck himself. 

Matteo sighed, glancing around them for a diversion. His eyes fell upon a tent much larger than the others, a banner over its entrance reading “Pleasure Tent.”  His eyes widened as, with a yank, Bianca pulled her arm free from his gripping hand. With a vindictive look at Matteo, Bianca dropped a five-dollar bill and a single into the bowl before the booth. 

“Look, Bi, if you want your fortune so bad, go and get it,” Matteo said, thrusting his hands into his pockets. “I’ll wait here.”

Bianca rolled her eyes before turning her million-dollar smile towards the carny. The greasy man smiled, vanishing her bills as though he had a conduit to another world. Turning to the side, he barked a word. Behind him, a wall of curtains they had not noticed parted and an old woman appeared, shrouded in ragged robes. Frizzy white hair surrounded her face as she beckoned Bianca forward. With a last vicious look at Matteo, Bianca disappeared behind the curtain. 

Matteo watched Bianca disappear into the fortune tent and rolled his eyes. It would be a long drive back to the Don’s mansion with her in that mood. With a sigh, he set his sights on the Pleasure Tent, the entrance attended by a Gypsy girl behind a wooden booth. She wore a long swishy skirt with the barest of tops covering her ample breasts. The fabric was translucent, making it abundantly clear that she wore nothing beneath it. Matteo felt himself stiffening as he walked towards her. The girl noticed him and smiled slyly as he approached. 

“Bitta pleasure?” she asked as he halted in front of her. 

“How much?” Matteo asked, glancing around and seeing no one to notice him patronizing the tent. 

“$100, you choose girl.”

Matteo put on his boyish charming face. “How about you?”

The girl laughed, the barest hint of disdain in it. “I not work inside. $100 and you make choice here.”

Fumbling, Matteo pulled his wallet from his pocket and extracted a bill. The girl made it disappear with the alacrity of the fortune teller before pulling a battered three-ring binder from beneath the booth. Opening it to the first page, she tapped the glossy color photograph of a pretty brunette. “She new. Just start tonight.”

“Do you have any blondes?” Matteo asked, glancing around again. 

“Accourse,” the girl said, selecting a bookmark and opening the binder to the section marked BLONDE. “Nonna them are…fresh as new girl.”

Matteo paged through the section, evaluating each prospect until one caught his eye. She had long blonde hair, down past her shoulders, full pouting lips and a haughty expression that made his groin twinge. He pointed. “How is she?”

“Well, I donno mysel’,” the girl said with a laugh. “But no complains. She very popular.”

Popular. Matteo knew what that meant. “Which is the newest blonde you have?” 

Leafing back several pages, the Gypsy pointed one out. “This one our newest blonde.”

Matteo gazed at the girl. Her face was lovely enough but the expression on it was vacant, the eyes a thousand miles away. “Is she… popular?” 

“Not as much, but you no sorry,” she said with a wink. 

Matteo moistened his lips. “I’ll take her,” he said, his voice husky. 

“You no sorry,” repeated the girl, coming around the booth and taking his arm. “Follow.” 

Matteo felt one full breast pressing against his arm and felt another twinge in his groin. “Are you sure you couldn’t work inside, just this once?”

The girl laughed as they entered the tent. “Sorry. But you be very pleased with Dora.”

As Matteo’s eyes adjusted to the gloom in the tent, he could see it was separated into sections by thick curtains. He could hear various liquid sounds, male groans and the slap of flesh on flesh. The scent of rut filled the air, swelling his member further. 

Leading Matteo down an aisle, the Gypsy girl stopped at one of the sections. Releasing his arm, she pulled the curtain back and gestured for him to enter. Peering past the curtain, Matteo saw the blonde girl reclining on a bed, nude, her eyes on him. With no expression, she gestured him forward. Glancing at the Gypsy girl, Matteo stepped forward, feeling the curtain fall into place behind him. 

Throughout their session, the girl’s blank face did not change, even when she took him in her mouth. Matteo was disconcerted but found that by taking her from behind, it rendered her expression immaterial. As he came, she let out a sigh, her only vocalization. 

Pulling out of her, Matteo spotted a roll of paper towels on a table beside the bed. Wiping himself, he buckled his pants, noting with unease that the girl had not moved, laying on her stomach with only her breath to show she still lived. 

“Well…thanks…” Matteo said, unsure of what to do or say. None of the other working women he had patronized had been so…lifeless. She continued saying nothing, so with a shrug, he pushed back the curtain and left the tent. 

The Gypsy girl was showing the book to another prospective client, her untethered breasts jiggling as she laughed at something the man had said. Her eyes met his, and she grinned. “Please come again, we have new girls very soon!”

“Right,” Matteo said uneasily. He escaped into the crowd, feeling dirty. Sniffing himself, he did not detect any smells that would arouse Bianca’s suspicions. 

Making his way back to the fortune tent, he was surprised not to see Bianca there. Walking up to the scrawny Gypsy at the entrance, he asked, “Is my girlfriend still in there?”

“No, sirrah. She gone.”

“Without me?” Matteo swore, not really surprised. 

“She very beautiful,” the man said, and grinned. “You lucky man.”

“Thanks,” Matteo mumbled, pulling his phone from his pocket as he walked away. Dialing Bianca’s number, a crease appeared on his forehead as it went directly to voice mail. Bianca NEVER had her phone off. 

“Hey Bi, where are you? Call me.”

Inside the fortune tent, the old woman ushered Bianca to a seat on one side of a crystal ball. Swirling her rags around her, she seated herself at the single stool opposite Bianca and steepled her fingers before her face. 

“Fortune a mysterious thing,” she said, her voice dry and thin. “It come with fame, herald it, be preserved within cookie, but nobody know where it comes from.” She tapped the crystal ball twice and its clear surface filled with gray clouds. “We may read it…here.”

Bianca leaned forward, entranced. 

With a wave of her hand, the woman plunged the room into darkness and leaned forward over the crystal ball, from which emanated a soft white glow. The shadows it cast over the woman’s face made her skull stand out, sinking her eyes into her head. For a moment, it looked as though across from her sat a grinning, skeletal ghost. Bianca let out a little squeak. The woman did not notice, leaning over the crystal ball as though she were reading a fascinating novel. 

“Ahhh young lady, you will go on to marry good, prosperous man. Your life will be everything you wished it could be…”

She trailed off. Bianca leaned forward, riveted. “Yes? What else?”

“I see you very beautiful,” the woman nearly shouted, and Bianca recoiled. “Yes, you be fine mother for your children and good wife to your husband.”

“Children?” Bianca said, her voice unnerved. “But I don’t want–”

“Ball has spoken!” the woman barked. “But I see you are very beautiful.” She nearly shouted this last phrase and turned her rotten smile upon Bianca. “Fates never lie.”

Bianca stood, her slightly shaky legs betraying her outward calm. “I will never breed,” she said, her voice haughty. “You have misread me, foolish woman.”

“Ah, p’rhaps,” the Gypsy said and leered. “If you wish, you go now.”

Without a word, Bianca turned toward the door to the tent through which she had entered. 

“Ah, miss, this way,” said the woman, gesturing to an arch in the cloth behind her Bianca had not noticed. “We must keep d’traffic flowing, yes?” She cackled. 

  Without saying anything more, Bianca pushed past the table and out the archway. She stood for a moment in the fresh air, savoring her relief from the heavily perfumed atmosphere of the fortune-teller’s tent. 

As she stood there, breathing, an enormous Gypsy man approached her. He grinned, showing teeth as rotten and black as the fortune-teller’s. 

“Miss, you very beautiful? Is what Madam told you?”

“Yes, and I don’t think it was worth what I paid her. I know I’m beautiful, I don’t need her to–”

Without warning, Bianca was hit from behind by a massive weight, sending her crashing to the dirt as a spray of red formed before her eyes. “Oh no, that’s blood,” she thought, as the ground rushed up to meet her and the world turned black. 

“You right,” said the huge Gypsy man. “She very beautiful.”

“She be perfect,” Madam Zara said, dropping the rock back inside the tent. “Now get her out of here.”

 

My Darling Dead : Bastards / Episode 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Darling Dead : Bastards Episode 12 / Long Lost Relations


Barris was dead. 

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

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

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

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

“Orteg, son of Wendell. Attend me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She laughed. “Prepare yourself,” she said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Darling Dead : Bastards Episode 11/ Inevitable Guests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was still repeating this when Orteg fell asleep. 

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

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

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

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

“By the gods,” breathed Orteg. 

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

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

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

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

 

My Darling Dead : Bastards Episode 10 / Milk and Honey

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You spineless worm!” Orteg spat. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“By the gods…”

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

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

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

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

“Orteg! Orteg!”

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

“ORTEG!”

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

“Barris? What is it? What’s—”

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

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

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

My Darling Dead : Bastards Episode 9 / Conscious Acts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

“For the crown—” choked Barris. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are too kind, Prefect.”

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

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

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

“Perhaps.”

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

“To the kingdom!”

“To the kingdom,” Zavier agreed. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lies?” Orteg ventured. 

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

My Darling Dead : The Bastards – Unconscious Acts

Moonlight fell through the single barred window of the jail cell atop the castle’s west tower. A thin rectangle of it moved slowly across the floor as the hours passed, finally illuminating the rightful king of Dandoich, curled up on his side in a fetal position. A trickle of dried blood streaked the side of his face from where the ruby pommel of Sir Antion’s sword had struck him. His unconscious body shivered from the night’s cold which also seeped through the one window high above. 

Far below, Barris and Agathas had the three children taken to a large bedroom on the ground floor for the evening. The eldest had seen nearly three summers while the youngest was barely half a year old. Barris and Agathas had not the slightest idea what to do with children, and had immediately sent for the three best nannies in the castle to look after them. The nannies fed and bathed the children and dressed them in clean clothing from the castle nursery. The youngest was unable to do much more than lay on the stone floor, swaddled in cloth, looking around with wide eyes. The middle child was almost two and together with the eldest child, made the room echo with their shouts and laughter as they played with a stuffed jester provided by one of the nannies. 

When the youngest child began to cry, a nanny picked her up and held her close. Noting the little one seemed cold, the nanny moved nearer the fire. As the little body warmed, the cries stopped. The nanny found the old bear skin rug they had come in, and, thinking that familiar smells and textures may be comforting, fashioned a little nest near the fire for the youngest. In a trice, she was asleep. When the boys tired, more bear skins were summoned and before long a large furry place had been established before the fire, three children sleeping on it as though they had lived there all their lives. 

“Look at them, Barris,” Agathas said. “Like little angels.”

“They will be, one way or the other,” Barris muttered. “No matter what that lout Orteg does, we cannot let them live.”

“Of course not.” 

Above, in Orteg’s cell, a rattling at the door echoed in the small stone chamber as a key was inserted in the lock. The deadbolts shot back with a bang and Zavier entered, his black robe swirling around him in the moonlight. He stopped and looked at Orteg’s immobile form with an expression of amusement and disdain. He prodded Orteg with one boot. Orteg slept on. 

The wizard’s staff tapped the floor once, twice, a third time, then touched Orteg on the forehead.

“Rise,” Zavier said. 

Unbidden, Orteg’s eyes opened. He clambered to his feet and stood, eyes staring sightlessly at the wall in front of him. Zavier waved a hand before Orteg’s face. Orteg did not flinch, nor did his eyes. 

“Go,” Zavier said and waved his staff in the direction of the doorway. 

Orteg’s face did not change under his sightless eyes, nor did they move as he walked sure-footed across the cell and out the door. After giving Orteg a prudent lead, Zavier followed. 

Orteg walked down the spiral stairs, never missing a step and turned right at the corridor at the bottom. After several more twists, turns and stairways, all made with no hesitation, he came to a bedroom door on the ground floor. Making a fist, Orteg pounded twice upon the door. After a moment, the door creaked open. Barris stood there, his bloated face grotesquely lit by torchlight. 

“Your Highness,” said Barris, his tone one of surprise. “We did not expect—”

“The children.” Orteg said. His voice was devoid of any inflection. 

“They are here, Sire,” Barris said. He observed the lack of movement in Orteg’s eyes with some interest. Barris had seen this lack of movement before in enchanted individuals, and he opened the door for Orteg. “Won’t you come in?” 

Orteg moved forward, his unmoving eyes scanning the room, zeroing in upon the pile of bearskin rugs and the three little ones asleep on it before the large fireplace. Agathas stood in front of them, looking as surprised by Orteg’s appearance as Barris. 

“My Lord King,” she said, with the hint of a curtsy. “We just succeeded in putting them to—”

Orteg shouldered her aside, not looking at her, causing her to stagger. Her bewildered face fell upon Barris. The look of elation on his own features told her much. Quietly, she stepped back from the fireplace as Barris closed the door softly and moved to join her. He slipped an arm around her, fondling her breast as Orteg sunk to his knees on the bearskin. Barris and Agathas held their breaths as Orteg reached down and put both hands around the neck of the eldest child. 

Zavier stood outside the locked door to the chamber containing the children, their father and the two prefects. There was not a sound from inside. The wizard’s face was lit by a smile. There was a green flash as a stone he held in his hand ignited with an emerald light burning deep within. The light turned clear and inside the stone he could see the occupants of the room, moving in real-time. Zavier watched as Orteg methodically strangled his two eldest children before snapping the neck of the youngest as though he were dispatching a chicken. Getting to his feet, he turned and walked past Agathas and Barris, opening the door just as Zavier melted into the shadows behind it. Still not present behind his eyes, the king shuffled down the hallway, back to the king’s chambers.

Zavier waited in the shadows for some time, watching the figures of Barris and Agathas in the emerald stone. Finally, he marched forward, stowing the stone in his cloak as he did so, and threw the door open wide with a bang. 

“Honorable Prefects!” barked Zavier, striding into the room and slamming the door behind him. He turned to face Barris and Agathas on the bearskin rug, grinning as they moved awkwardly to cover their nakedness. He stared, eyes wide and mad as they pulled their clothing back on, breathing heavily, darting their eyes at the bodies of the three children, now arranged against the wall like an audience for their coupling. 

“This will be the talk of the kingdom for years, don’t you agree, Barris?” Zavier said, his voice light and musing though malice shone from his every feature. Barris cursed the wizard mentally as he continued. “For some time now, it has been known to me that you and your sister Agathas have been having relations, Barris, but until now it has been of no consequence to me. Now, I have reason for wanting your bloated behind out of this castle, and I daresay that those you have governed so harshly for so long would perhaps be sufficiently moved by your incestuous ways to make an example of you. As for you, Agathas—” Zavier grinned at her, so much like a shark she flinched. “It will reflect very poorly on you if it is known that it was your idea to use the bodies of three dead children to simulate an audience for your coupling.”

“What do you want, wizard?” Barris asked, his voice filled with anger and fear. 

“If you are never seen nor heard from again, there would be no reason for me to say anything to anyone,” Zavier said, extending a hand. “The choice is yours.”

My Darling Dead : Bastards – Episode Seven, Crown and Children

Orteg was drunk. Ensconced in the king’s chambers, he had been supplied with a bottle of wine so far removed from the ditch liquor he usually could afford that his taste buds could scarcely cope with it. He lolled on the private throne, drinking from the bottle, wine slopping down his chin. Zavier stood at the window overlooking the kingdom to the east, listening to wine dripping from Orteg’s face.

“King!” he slurred, waving the bottle. “I rather like it. Now, Zavver, you said you’d be staying around?”

“If it is the king’s will, Sire.”

Orteg nodded vigorously, taking another drink. “I need a magishan around, thas for sure. Who knows when things’ll get all bollocksed up.” He squinted at Zavier. “Can I make you my adviser?”

“The king may do anything he wishes, Sire.”

“Then I hereby pronounce you my Royal Adviser,” said Orteg, and giggled.

“Your Majesty bestows a great honor upon me,” the wizard said, bowing his head slightly. “Might my first suggestion be an official proclamation, lest the council members become threatened by my position and hasten to remove me.”

“Yesh! Of course,” Orteg cried, waving his wine goblet. “None shall dare say a word against you, Zavver, because if it wasn’t for you, I’d still be in that miserable tavern, with a miserable life, wishing every day for death–”

“Your pardon, Majesty,” Zavier said, and gestured out the window. “But unless I am mistaken, trouble comes yonder.”

“Eh? Wha’ trouble?” Orteg heaved himself up from the throne and joined Zavier at the window, shouldering him out of the way.

“A party of guards is returning to the castle, Sire,” said Zavier, moving from his spot. “Unless my eyes deceive me, there appears to be a bundle containing three small children carried betwixt them.”

Orteg lowered the bottle, squinting in an attempt to bring the scene below into greater focus with only marginal success. “I can’t see. Whatsit you—”

The world shifted before him, things far away rushing toward him as his feet stood still. With a yell, he threw up an arm to block everything crashing into him.

“Your Highness, you have nothing to fear, I have merely enhanced your vision,” Zavier said, his voice respectfully amused. “Look again.”

Orteg opened first one eye, then the other in amazement. He watched one of the guards slide to the ground from his horse, so clear he was able to see the light reflecting off the beads of sweat on the man’s brow. He looked to the bundle they carried beneath them and his brow furrowed. He was about to speak when a single tousled head worked its way free of the brown bundle.

“My son—!” Orteg gasped. “That bundle is from my home, made of the bearskin rug upon my floor! How came they hither? Wizard, explain!”

There was no answer. Furious, Orteg turned to see the room empty. The wizard had vanished.

“Well done, Sir Antion,” Barris beamed at the leader of the guards as the man walked in, the large brown sack slung over one wide shoulder. “The mother did not make it in, then?”

“She met with an unfortunate accident, Prefect,” Antion said, a nasty smile on his face. “Would you like to meet your captives?”

“Please,” said Barris, his smile wider than ever across his jowls.

Antion grabbed the bottom of the sack and upended it, sending three little figures tumbling out onto the floor. They whimpered, clutching each other, as they stared into Barris’s meaty features.

“Children,” Barris said, keeping his voice low and soothing. “Little ones. You have nothing to fear from us. Your fate will be decided by another.”

The door banged open and Orteg came lurching in, breathing heavily. “My children! What are you—”

“Daddy!” one child cried. Orteg took a step toward the children, still huddled on the bearskin rug. In a trice, Sir Antion’s sword was at Orteg’s throat, stopping him in his tracks.

“My lord king,” Barris said, his smile now so wide, both sides were in danger of meeting behind his head. “My liege. I have a proposition for you.”

“I will hear any propositions after you have released my children, Prefect! Unhand them at once!” Orteg snarled around Antion’s swordpoint. The latter smirked.

“Not possible I am afraid, Highness, as my proposition includes these three adorable children just as they are.”

“By the gods, unhand me and free them at once or I shall—”

“I offer you a simple choice, Sire,” Barris said loudly. He poured a goblet of wine from a nearby tray and sipped it daintily. “The crown or your children? You must give up one. Choose now.”

Orteg gaped. “Are you telling me… that unless I adjudicate the throne, my children will be murdered?”

“Murdered, done away with, put out of the way, removed, however you wish to phrase it.” Barris waved his glass. “The point is, you cannot have both, and you must choose now.”

“My children… but where… where is my wife? Where is Dashani?” asked Orteg, his voice distant as his brain struggled to comprehend what was happening.

“Yes, Antion, where is the Lady Washburn?” Barris said, his smile huger than ever. “I confess I am curious as well what became of the good woman.”

“That choice has already been made for you, Majesty,” Sir Antion said, his smile nearly as wide as Barris. “She attempted to escape and I was forced to dispatch her.” He tugged at the crotch of his armored trousers, thrusting his hips. “Your wife is—was, a beautiful woman. I confess, I could not control myself.” He laughed at the look on Orteg’s face. “Be comforted, she was no longer alive at the time.”

Orteg let out a roar and would have been upon Antion, sword or no, had the latter not thumped him on the head with the butt of his sword, the heavy ruby sending Orteg into darkness with no more racket.

“Did you really penetrate his wife after you killed her?” asked Barris, fascinated.

“Twice,” Sir Antion said, and grinned. “I did not even get to tell him how the second time I used the wound in her throat.” He licked his lips. “Still warm.”

My Darling Dead : Bastards – Episode Six, Summons

Dashani, wife of Orteg pushed the hair back from her face and tugged at the knot holding the bandage to her gangrenous leg. Ignoring the smell and the pain, she cinched up the knot and turned back to the stove. Stoking the fire within, she stirred the mixture of corn and water she had been boiling for over an hour, softening it for her children who had been blissfully asleep beneath the bearskin rug. For the hundredth time, she leaned back from the stove, looking out the window and up the path for Orteg.

Instead of her husband, she found six large men coming up the path on horses, clad in the black armor of the castle guards. Their spears were tall and sharp, their faces cruel beneath the helmets. Dashani felt her stomach sink into her feet. She dropped the spoon in the pan of corn and limped across the room to her children, reaching them just as the door crashed open. The children, wakened by the noise, cried beneath the blanket as the soldiers stomped into the room, three of them leveling spears at the family.

“Dashani Washburn and children?” said the leader, his face a hard blank.

“Who are you? What are you doing here? Why–?”

The butt of the leader’s spear struck Dashani in the leg on her bandage, bringing a fresh welling of blood forth to redden the dirty cloth. Dashani screamed in agony as the leader bellowed in her face

“Are you Dashani Washburn and are these your whelps or are they not?” The point of the spear swung around to poke her in the throat. She gulped back her screams as blood trickled from the wound in her throat. “By the gods, woman, answer me now or all four of you will perish for the time you have wasted me.”

“I am she!” Dashani wailed, her voice cracking as the children screamed beneath the bearskin rug. The leader swung the spear away from her throat and barked a harsh order in another language to the rest of the men. Four of them grabbed each corner of the bearskin rug, heaving mightily as they brought all four corners together with a twist, locking the three children in a bag with its edges neatly tied. The muffled cries from within pierced Dashani as the fifth soldier leveled his own spear at her.

“Move,” the leader said.

Dashani was bullied out the door, nearly falling from the stairs to the ground but catching herself on her injured leg, which nearly buckled. She turned to see the soldier carrying the sack which contained her children sling it over his horse and seat himself in the saddle behind it. The leader swung himself onto his own horse with a quick practiced movement and before she knew what was happening, she had been pulled forcefully up behind him. He wrapped her arms around his chest and turned his head to speak.

“We ride to the castle. Hold tightly. If you make us stop, you will regret it.”

He shouted a command to the other soldiers, now mounted, and heeled his horse in the ribs. The horse reared, Dashani clutching in terror to the leader’s armored chest. He nudged the horse again and it galloped down the trail. Behind them, Dashani could hear the thunder of the other horses following them. She closed her eyes, resting her head against the impassive back of the man, and waited for the pain in her leg to stop.

Over the course of that long ride, Dashani tried several times to talk to the man, shouting questions in first one ear, then the other, in case he was hard of hearing. Each time she was met with silence. The last time, the man turned his head just a little and the look he gave her was enough to motivate her to stop trying.

They went on and on, over bridges spanning muddy creeks, past withered orchards with hornets buzzing around their heads. At one point, they were followed by several rat people who scurried along the sides of the road after them, making strange shrieking sounds between them. Dashani felt a moment’s fear but the leader just urged his horse on to greater lengths and they were soon lost.

Finally, they rounded a bend and the castle loomed in the distance. The sight of it awoke the terror Dashani had been keeping barely at bay. She fixed her eyes on the castle, the dread in her rising as it got closer. Whatever had caused them to be summoned here, it could be nothing good.

The leader felt her grip on him loosen, then it vanished. Looking around, he saw the foolish woman rolling in the dust before pushing herself to her feet as well she could and diving into the bushes lining the path. With an oath, the leader wheeled his horse around, waving for the other men to continue on their way. Skidding to a halt, he slid to the ground, listening to the hoofbeats of the other soldiers fade. Slowly the silence of the countryside reasserted itself. He stood perfectly still, listening to the sound of birds and the little brook nearby. A puff of wind rattled some leaves. Time passed. Then, a twig snapped. The leader grinned and moved toward the edge of the road.

Dashani crouched in the tall brush lining the road, down several feet in a ditch which ran both sides of this section of road. She was about ten feet off the road and did not dare to make another move. She could not see the road but she couldn’t hear anything. Still, there was no way the man had not stopped to retrieve her. His threat made her blood run cold. She could not believe she had jumped. She could not remember doing it. What had she been thinking?

She was terrified to move, afraid he would hear her. Still, she couldn’t stay here forever. She turned her head. Seeing the brush thin slightly, she moved toward it. Beneath one foot, a twig snapped. She screamed curse words and admonishments inside her head as she held her breath and waited. Several moments passed and she had almost worked up the nerve to try again when she heard the whinny of a horse.

Dread fell upon her like a scalding blanket. As she turned to run, a slim silver dagger flashed through the mid-morning sun and stabbed her through the throat. She fell to her knees, clutching at the handle protruding from her neck as blood spurted from the wound in strengthening gouts. Trying to gasp, she coughed on her own blood, spraying the foliage before her, painting it a bright red. Fighting for breath, she saw the leader materialize out of the bushes right in front of her. She had time to marvel at how quiet he was for such a big man before he pulled the knife from her throat.

“I warned you, foolish woman,” he said. He knelt beside her and pulled her head back, raising the knife. Her eyes grew wide and her bloody mouth managed to form the word NO before the knife’s keen edge sliced all the way through her windpipe.

The man watched her bleed, her eyes wide as she struggled for breath and her hands covered the gash in her throat, mindlessly attempting to stem the flow of blood as her movements grew weaker. He licked his lips and his breathing grew ragged as he surveyed the rest of her. Except for that nasty leg, she was in pretty good condition. He felt himself grow hard as he watched the light fade from her eyes, color rising in his face as it drained from hers. It would be a nuisance to remove his armored leggings, he thought, loosening his belt, but it would be worth it.

My Darling Dead : Bastards – Episode Five, Sharing the News

The sound of hoofbeats roused the castle guard from its late-night lethargy as two horses came thundering up the path. At the gate, the riders halted their steeds. One of the men hallooed the walls, a low echoing sound.

“Who goes?” came a voice from atop the wall, thick with drowsiness.

“The rightful king!” Orteg started to bleat, a kick from the wizard silencing him at the last moment.

“We have a message for the council,” called Zavier, his voice low. “Let us enter, in the name of the kingdom!”

“You have not told me yet who goes, sir,” returned the wall guard. Murmuring voices behind him told of numerous others. “And none enter here without at least that. I’ll ask you again, what your names be.”

Orteg saw Zavier sigh before throwing back his cloak and producing a long staff of polished wood, shining but very dark. Zavier slammed the butt of the staff into the ground beside his horse, sending a tremor through the ground to which only his horse seemed immune. All the men atop the wall went to their knees, fighting to stay upright. Orteg felt as though he had consumed some of the southern ditch liquor which made the drinker go blind and dumb.

“You have twice asked and twice been refused,” Zavier roared, his patience at end. “You will regret pursuing this line of questioning and you are advised to desist and withdraw after opening the gate to allow our passage. This you will do, now.”

The power Zavier had summoned retreated, allowing the guards atop the wall to clamber to their feet. One of them dropped below the wall, and in a moment the gate began to grate open. Zavier stepped forward, muttering, “Honestly!” Orteg followed, attempting to look in every direction at once.

The wizard strode through the courtyard, nearly deserted at this hour, taking one of the doorways with no hesitation. Orteg followed as they turned down a long corridor with many doors opening to each side. Again, with no hesitation, Zavier made for the large door at the far end of the corridor.

Barris started as the door slammed open. A tall figure in a black robe strode in, a small man with an ugly face scuttling in his wake. The tall figure marched up to the council table without a pause and threw back his hood. His long dark hair flew around his face.

“Council members,” the man said, his voice projecting. “I am come to inform you that the time of your rule is at an end. I have the rightful heir to the throne beside me.”

The council was silent, furtive glances darting back and forth between them all. Agathas looked at Barris, her eyes afraid. His were cool as he addressed the wizard.

“Your authority is not recognized, wizard. You come before this council with no papers, no identification and only an unsubstantiated claim that this cringing cur–” he gestured to Orteg, “is the rightful king of Dandoich. Either provide evidence or be thrown from the castle walls for your impertinence.”

“You need not believe the word of the wizard Zavier, when you can see what he speaks is true!” retorted Zavier, the shining staff sliding from its place beneath his robe. Zavier rapped it twice on the chamber floor and spun in a circle, the staff before him.

Immediately the room was drowned in darkness. Before the council members could do more than give a surprised yelp, light blazed into the room in a brilliant flash. They saw Orteg, a tiny baby but unmistakably the same, being born to the Washburn family, saw the tuppence the king provided every month, the loose lips of the father sealing the family’s fate, the child being raised with only part of the truth, resenting the crown he was to inherit, being confronted at the tavern by Zavier…

The room was plunged once more into darkness, then bathed in its natural light as Zavier ended the spell and returned everyone to the present.

“Kneel in the presence of your king,” Zavier commanded, his voice hard. “Unless you feel you have a claim to the throne, this man is your lord and master. Hail, Orteg, King of Dandoich!”

Zavier dropped to one knee before Orteg and bowed his head, the picture of subservience. One by one, the council members rose from their seats and dropped to their knees before Orteg, who had never felt so uncomfortable in his life. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Barris and Agathas sinking slowly to their knees, their faces carefully neutral.

“Er…” Orteg said, raising a hand. “Thank you, all. I’ll be wanting to keep you all on as advisers, of course, since I don’t know the first thing about running a kingdom…”

“Your Majesty!” Barris said, his voice fruity as he struggled to rise his bulk to his feet, Agathas doing likewise beside him. “Let me be the first to welcome you to the castle, and to many years of a fruitful reign of peace and prosperity. And may I just say…”

Barris droned on for a while before Zavier was able to get a word in edgewise and shepherded the new king away from his would-be advisers. The moment the door was shut behind Orteg and the wizard, the smile fell from Barris’ face like a landslide. The council members looked at him, fearful.

“Tell no one of this meeting,” Barris said, his voice low. “Back to your quarters, all of you. Someone send the captain of the guard to me.”

The captain of the guard had been in charge of the castle guards and the dungeons since before Barris had been old enough to know his own name. When Barris first saw the captain, he was a gnarled, wizened old man who somehow radiated a terrible strength. Now, decades later, the captain of the guard who appeared before him looked exactly the same as the one he remembered from his youth.

“Sir, I have need of your unique skillset,” Barris said, offering the man a goblet of fine wine. “I would have your assistance, and your silence.”

The man took the goblet, looking at Barris with no expression. Slowly, he raised the goblet to his lips and took a sip. Barris held his breath.

The man let the silence drag out a few more moments before extending a hand, palm upward. “I am waiting.”

Barris let escape a sigh of relief, then began speaking.

 

My Darling Dead : Bastards – Episode Four/ Council Feasts

The Honorable Prefect Mosh Barris had been running what remained of the kingdom of Dandoich for many years now, ever since he had been slim and a deceptively wide-eyed and innocent youth. He had swindled and conned his way into a position right beneath the then-acting ruler, a duke with pretensions and enough soldiers to back them up. Barris attached himself to the duke and fed off the man’s power for many years, growing more bloated as he did so like any true parasite. When Barris had absorbed enough of the ruler’s power, the man was found dead in his bed by an apparent self-inflicted dose of poison. Only Barris and an apothecary several townships over had any idea otherwise. 

Once Barris had eliminated the apothecary, he wasted no time in claiming rulership of the kingdom, citing his years of experience as the late duke’s advisor. Learning from the example of the many dead kings to precede him, Barris was too wise to declare himself the reigning ruler de facto. Instead, he immediately appointed a council of twelve, with himself at its head, equally matched between the sexes. The decisions of the council would be reached democratically, he explained in those early days to the skeptical kingdom, and would no longer depend on the whims of one man. What Barris failed to divulge was that the council was made up of his own circle of like-minded individuals with whom he had come into contact as the parasite of the previous ruler. This council sought pleasure and had no qualms treading upon the citizens of the kingdom to obtain it. 

It was to this council that the rat woman who had overheard Zavier and Orteg in the forest was brought. The chamber door burst open and two large armored men carrying large pikes in one hand, one of the rat woman’s scrawny arms apiece in the other, her frail body elevated between them. Her biting and scratching glanced harmlessly off the armor with squealing sounds that rose hair on the back of Barris’ neck. 

“Guards!” boomed Agathas Pyle, to Barris’ right. “What is the meaning of this intrusion?” She waved a roast turkey leg in the direction of the rat woman. “Such a creature as this near puts me off my meal.” She belched and tore off another chunk of the turkey leg. Barris chuckled. Several other council members tittered. 

“We crave your pardon, Honorable Prefect,” said one of the armored figures, his voice echoing out of his helmet slits. “This creature did assault the very gates of the castle and raise such a racket that we were compelled to respond.”

“Well, what is it doing here?” Barris asked impatiently, seizing a roast turkey leg of his own and taking a huge mouthful. Bits of flesh sprayed from his mouth as he continued. “The rat creatures are to be flogged until they are driven away, or executed. Why bring it to the council?” He chewed slowly, juice dripping down his chin. 

“Honorable Prefect, it spoke your name.” One of the armored guards gave the rat woman a firm shake, rattling her head on her neck. “’ere you, stop that fussing and say what you said to us.” 

The rat woman’s vocal cords had not been properly used in many years. This one (a long-time tavern wench in her past life) had spoken far more words than many in her days serving customers. She had managed to retain just enough of her speech to be able to relate what she had heard from the treetops. As she did so, the color drained from Barris’s face, his turkey leg falling unbidden to the table. The council members muttered to each other as Agathas looked at Barris, eyebrows raised, chewing. When the rat woman had finished, Barris dipped into his money pouch. 

“Give her this,” Barris said, flicking the coin through the air to one of the guards, who caught it. “Give her meat scraps from the kitchen and then get her far away from this castle. The sight of her sickens me.”

“Barris!” Agathas blurted, shocked, around a mouthful of meat and wine. “Surely you cannot believe anything that it—”

“Do as I have ordered,” thundered Barris, rendering Agathas mute. “By the gods, remove this creature at once.”

The room was silent but for the clanking of armor as the two guards hustled the rat woman out, slamming the stout door behind them. Agathas glanced at Barris, then at the rest of her council members, all of whom were trading their own uneasy looks. 

“Honorable Prefect ,” ventured one of the councilmen. “I must inquire—”

“The matter is closed,” Barris said briskly, pulling his plate closer and reclaiming his turkey leg. “Now, back to our feast, I wish to hear no more about it.” 

The man, Daghved Chancey, pushed his chair back and stood, hands on his hips. “Seems to me, Honorable Prefect, that after such a display as that, your council members are owed an explanation of some sort.”

Barris looked up from his plate, frowning. “Explanation?”

“It is common practice to destroy the rat creatures on sight, not reward them and set them free to infect—”

“I owe you nothing,” said Barris, chewing. “You are advised to desist.”

Chancey advanced on Barris, his voice rising. “You are advised to explain yourself sir, how and why you departed from the law stating—”

Barris moved like lightning, belying his bulk. The silver drinking horn in his hand collided with the side of Chancey’s head, sending him crashing to the ground howling. Blood oozed from the wound to mix with the wine as Barris roared, advancing on the stricken man, “You will not presume to lecture me on laws I myself put into effect, Chancey! The kingdom’s subjects cannot be trusted to think for themselves as I can. Perhaps this will help you to remember everything I have said.” 

Before anybody could react, Barris pulled a mace and chain from the sleeve of his robe and brought the metal ball crashing down on Chancey’s head. The man’s head rebounded from the floor with a dull thud like a falling sandbag. Barris placed one meaty foot on Chancey’s chest, bearing down, forcing the air from Chancey’s lungs as the latter gasped for breath, hands opening and closing as they grasped at nothing. 

“What have I just said to you, Chancey?” Barris asked, grinning, bearing down still harder as Chancey fought to speak. “What did I just tell you to remember?” There was a cracking sound from deep inside Chancey’s chest and he let out a squeak that would have been a scream with more air.

At the council table, Agathas had her hand between her legs beneath her robe, eyes glazed and jaw slack as she watched the life being crushed from the man on the floor. The rest of the council watched avidly, exhibiting their own signs of estrus as the darkness surrounded Chancey and his struggles for breath grew less meaningful. He was about to drift off into a peaceful sleep when the crushing weight lifted and he felt nourishing life-giving air trickle into his lungs like a stone knife. He sucked greedily at it and the darkness cleared a little. 

“What are you supposed to remember, Chancey?” asked Barris, swinging the mace and chain in front of Chancey’s eyes. Fear flashed in them as Chancey attempted to scramble away. One leg was half-paralyzed and hindered his movement as Barris advanced grinning. “Can’t remember?”

Barris raised the mace. Chancey’s breathless scream was cut off by a thick meaty thud and the sound of a woman’s orgasm, Agathas reaching her climax just as Chancey’s brain splattered across the walls. She shuddered in her chair, convulsing, her eyes rolling back as she moaned. Barris dropped the bloody mace on Chancey’s body and wiped his hands on his robe. He stepped back to his seat at the table, drew his chair under him and sat. 

“Agathas, when you’ve recovered, summon a steward for wine and to clean up what’s left of Chancey,” said Barris, and sunk his teeth into another turkey leg. 

My Darling Dead: Bastards Episode 3/ Council Rules

Orteg’s favored tavern was situated in the forest proper. A small dirt road led from the stone-paved thoroughfare to its front doors, the road flanked by huge trees older than time itself. A bird familiar with cartography would see the tavern at the center of a hundred little paths wending their way towards it through the forest, like the center of a spider’s web. It was down one of these paths that Zavier and Orteg now walked, away from the main thoroughfare. 

Orteg gaped. “Who are you? How do you know of all this?”

“I am the son of the counsel to King Wendell, the wizard Sapius was my father and shared with me your entire pathetic history,” Zavier said, waving a hand impatiently. “I have long been searching for you to tell you this, and to tell you: you must be made king!

“When the princess Alasin, your half-sister, was born, she was the recipient of a dreadful curse by a fairy at her christening ceremony. As revenge against the king for two-timing the fairy, the princess was doomed to continually suffer the loss of the one she loved most, which, at the time, was the king. He died as a result and the steps the queen took to preserve her own life ultimately drove the princess mad, though she was none too stable, to begin with. 

“Alasin took a love potion before looking in the mirror beside her mother, and, falling in love with both of them, sealed their fate. The curse dispatched them that night but was never broken by her dying a natural death. Which is the plague, the rat creatures, rampant filth, all the side effects of the curse, are going to continue on and on until a new king is christened, properly. You are that king!”

Zavier halted, breathing heavily, staring at Orteg with hot, unblinking eyes.

“So…what am I supposed to do?” asked Orteg, feeling foolish. 

“You must get to the castle. The council which has attempted to govern in light of a real king will be gathered. In their presence, I will perform a spell which shall reveal your lineage. They will have no choice but to crown you king!” Zavier cried, spittle flying from his mouth in his ardor. “The entire kingdom will fall under your rule, with your divine right as Wendell’s heir a new era will come to the kingdom, one of lawful productivity rather than the dark squalor of insanity, a strong, new…”

They continued down the path, Zavier extolling the upcoming Orteg Era of the kingdom as its namesake listened in a daze, only catching half of what was being said. As the wizard’s voice began to fade, in the foliage of one of the branches looming over the forest path, what had once been a human female crawled from a tree limb. Her eyes glowed with a crazed fire and her matted hair was crusted with dirt and sticks. She had long ago lost the power of speech, but her subconscious retained enough of the language skills she had learned as a child to understand it. She knew the information she had heard would be worth something to the council, and that meant food. After waiting for the sound of footsteps to die away, she slithered headfirst down the tree and set off in the direction of the castle, giving the two men a wide berth. 

The Honorable Prefect Mosh Barris sat at the head of the long council table in the courtroom of the castle, pulled up to the table as close as his ample stomach would allow. Three of his six chins wobbled as he chewed the mouthful of roast oxen with relish. Six men sat to his left and six women sat to his right, making up the government of the kingdom. All were well-fed, though none so well-fed as Barris himself, all were wearing wigs and all were staring down their noses at the little man cringing before them, wringing a filthy hat in his equally filthy hands.

“Farmer Ellis,” Barris rumbled after swallowing, taking care to keep the smile from his meaty features, “The effects of the rat creatures upon your farm is not the concern of this council. The pestilence is your responsibility to control to the best of your ability and is not to interfere with your tithings. Therefore, your request for an extension on your land tax is denied.” 

“But… Your Honor, my entire family has been taken by the pox or the rat plague. It is only me to care for them all and to maintain the farm.” Tears were coursing down his gaunt cheeks as he fell to his knees, beseeching each member of the council in turn. “I beg of you, have mercy.”

“Exceptions cannot be made,” said the woman immediately to Barris’s right. “Any exception would result in the same request being made a thousandfold.”

“Quite right, Agathas,” said Barris, favoring her with a thick-lipped smile. “At any rate, the kingdom needs taxes, not excuses. You may go, Ellis.”

The farmer got to his feet and jammed his hat on his head. Turning to go, he was halfway to the door, before he spun around and threw his hat to the ground.

“Barris! You and your council of toads are nothing but bloated bags of gas feeding on the misfortunes of others! May you one day face the same mercy you have shown!” Ellis shouted, his voice shrill. “There will be others, and before long, you will be buried by them! Selfish pigs—”

“BAILIFF!” screamed Barris, crashing to his feet, his own large features turning a dark purple. “Take this man away and execute him for treason! To speak against the governing faction of the kingdom is to speak against the kingdom itself.” He slumped back in his chair, breathing heavily. 

Before Ellis could react, his arms had been pinioned behind his back by a hulking man in a gray smock who had been standing unnoticed in the corner. The hulking man gave a sharp jerk upward and a wet popping sound filled the room as the farmer’s arm was broken from its socket. Ellis screamed still louder. The woman Agathas watched with rising color of her own, her tongue moistening her lips. Barris could feel himself getting aroused. 

“On second thought, bailiff,” Barris said with a grin, watching Agathas. “Execute him here, for our amusement.”

Ellis began to blubber through his tears and screams, begging and pleading, words about his family, sick and dying without him. The hulking man stunned him with a rap to the back of the head. “As you wish, sir. Would you like it to be quick, or slow?”

Barris looked at Agathas and raised his eyebrows inquisitively. 

“Slowly,” she said. Her hand was already between her legs and her breathing ragged. “But not too slowly.” 

 

 

My Darling Dead : Bastards – Episode 1 The New King

 

Orteg slammed open the door of his hut, a gust of cold wet air following him into the sitting room. The meager fire his wife Dashani had managed to coax from their remaining splinters of wood was almost extinguished by the blast. Orteg, groping with his foot, managed to shut the door behind him without dropping the armful of wood he carried. His three children huddled beneath a moth-eaten bearskin rug beside the smudge of fire. Their mother looked up as the door latched and Orteg stomped over to the fireplace, leaving muddy footprints in his wake. He dropped the pile of soggy logs and wiped his hands on his dirty trousers with a disgruntled sigh.

“Could you get no more?” Dashani asked, her voice sharp and accusatory. She prodded at the pile of wood with a finger. “These’re soaked through.”

Orteg didn’t answer. He had gone into the corner of the sitting room which served as their kitchen and appeared to be tearing it apart, tossing things from their places onto the floor where they rolled until his feet kicked them aside. The children withdrew further into their bearskin sanctuary, becoming little more than brown lumps as the clankings and crashings continued. Dashani pushed herself to her feet with a sound of exasperation and limped toward him. Her leg had been savagely gashed in a fall and the infection was beginning to smell. Orteg attempted in vain to withdraw from her even as he upended a basket. 

“What in the devil are you doing?” she snapped, leaning against the counter as he reached behind a cupboard. “You know no whiskey remains after you drank it all last night. Is this ache not enough to remind you?” She reached up and rapped her knuckles on his skull.

“Devil take you, woman!” he snarled, slapping her hand away and stepping back. “Curse your infernal tongue, why not use it to clean out that festering hole in your leg, that you might stand a prayer of it remaining, and leave me in peace?”

“Do not be speaking to me that way, Orteg Bluenote,” Dashani shrilled, waving a finger in his face. “If you had been better than a no ‘count lazy good-for-nothing drunk you would have seen the morning’s sunrise and I’d have not needed to be crossing the ravine to check your traps, that we might have food for another night for the children you were so keen to put in me that you now scarcely look at! This is all your doing and don’t you forget it!”

Orteg’s hand moved like lightning, connecting with Dashani’s face and sending her sprawling. The lumps under the bearskin let out small cries, mixing with her own cry of pain as her back collided with the bed frame in the other corner of the hut’s single room. Tears rolled down her face unbidden as she cowered on the floor while her husband advanced on her, roaring “SILENCE! By all the gods that are, woman, you will give me peace or I will take it!” He raised a hand again and when she flinched but said nothing, he grunted in satisfaction. 

“Snake-tongued devil bitch,” he flung over his shoulder as he left, allowing another cold blast of wet air into the hut. This time, the fire went out. The children began to weep in earnest, their cries joining in with their mother’s as all four sobbed into the uncaring darkness. 

Orteg stumped through the woods, his feet following the path they had made with no conscious thought required from him. The palm of his hand stung where it had collided with Dashani’s face and he flexed it, relishing its sting. It was difficult for Orteg to remember the fiery young peasant girl he had fingered in the hayloft and impregnated that same summer. Though it had been less than three years ago it seemed as though a lifetime. Now, all he could think was…

He heard the sound of laughter and music up ahead and hastened his footsteps, his mouth-watering. The tavern was well lit, cheery and inviting. Orteg slipped into its comforting bosom and once again, all his cares evaporated. 

Hours later, Orteg stumbled up to the bar, nearly losing his footing and catching himself on it. “Barkeep, more whiskey,” he slurred, rapping his mug on the bar. Holding it out, his bloodshot eyes roved around the bar, taking in its clientele and sifting them for availability, desirability, ease of access and past experience. There was the usual menagerie of rough trade; farmers with dirt crusted so thick on their faces that what lay beneath was a mystery, hags seeking companionship, tavern wenches looking pretty but resigned, the usual riffraff. Further down the bar, a trio of dwarves were laughing uproariously at something. A table of what appeared to be elves were deep in conversation at a table in the corner, a beautiful blade on the table between them. 

Orteg dismissed them as immaterial as his eye made contact with one of the tavern wenches he had known many times, frequently when Dashani’s less than welcoming nature had sent him to the tavern. Sarina had just returned to the main room from the upstairs, where private business was transacted. She straightened her bodice as a man followed her, a silly grin on his features and walking unsteadily. He went to kiss her and she turned her head with a smile, deflecting it to her cheek as she winked at Orteg with one soft brown eye. The man chortled and pecked her on the cheek before stumbling to the bar. Behind him, Sarina beckoned to Orteg, sliding a finger down the center of her décolletage and licking her lips. Draining his glass, Orteg stood and lurched toward the girl, bouncing off another patron with a curse. Attempting to bypass the stranger proved impossible, for he moved to block Orteg. 

“Away, fool,” Orteg muttered thickly, attempting to walk through the man. “Can’t you see what awaits?”

“I would speak with you, Bluenote,” said the figure from beneath its cowl. “What I have to say to you, I daresay you will find more engaging than pleasures of the flesh.” 

Orteg, who could think of no such thing, grunted laughter and attempted again to pass the figure. “I doubt that very much, sir.” The tavern wench grinned, lifted her skirt a little and turned to mount the stairs. 

“Son of Wendell, you must heed me!”

The dead king’s name floated before Orteg’s bloodshot eyes for a moment before vanishing. Sarina smiled prettily, lifting her skirt still higher. Calf gave way to thigh and Orteg felt his own member responding. She grinned and rubbed a hand over her crotch. 

“Outta my way,” Orteg grunted, shouldering the figure aside. The world had dwindled to the tavern wench and Orteg smiled oafishly at her. “‘m comin’ with you.” 

“It is so,” Sarina said with a musical laugh, dropping her skirt to take his hand, rubbing her other hand under his nose. “You like this?” Her smell overwhelmed him. 

“Yuh,” he said, his tongue thick and his hands busy. She slapped at them. “Come,” she said, and turned, ascending the stairs. In a stupor of lust, Orteg followed, panting. 

She slipped into the first door at the top of the stairs and with a giggle ran to the bed. Flouncing upon it, she looked at him prettily as he stumbled through the doorway. He shut the door behind him, turning the key in the lock as he grinned, absently rubbing his crotch. 

“Aren’t you coming?” she asked, her voice demure as she patted the bed beside her. 

“Sure am,” he slurred, and with a stagger, fell onto the bed atop her. 

As he did, the door shuddered as it was splintered by a savage blow. Orteg floundered on the bed, the girl beneath him, unable to get his balance. With another mighty crash, the door caved inward and three scrawny figures on all fours scrabbled into the room. Orteg screamed, trying to get his feet underneath him and stand but Sarina held on, her fingers clutching at his back with sudden needlelike claws. She grinned at him, and Orteg felt a whole new level of fear. Her teeth were now long and sharp, her eyes feline slits. Her expression made him feel like prey.

“Son of the king, I have long awaited my day of reckoning with you,” she rasped, in a voice unlike her own. 

The next moment, he was forcefully yanked off of her and thrown to the ground by two of the thin figures. The third stepped hard on his chest, knocking the breath from him, as the other two held his arms out to his sides. Orteg thrashed his lower half around for a moment until the increasing pressure on his chest compelled him to cease. 

“That’s better,” Sarina said, rising to her feet and moving toward him. “Many years ago, your kin did away with me. Your sister, to be precise. She stabbed me and I bled to death, or so she thought. Now I shall have the pleasure of doing away with the last of her bloodline.” She raised a hand, clawed fingers reaching for Orteg’s throat. 

From the doorway, a firm voice said “Not while I breathe, Esemli, Fairy of Darkness. Stand away from the king’s rightful heir!” 

Orteg jerked his head to the side, seeing the hooded figure which had attempted to detain him on his way upstairs, even as his brain sought to interpret the words he had heard and make sense of them.

King’s…heir?? But…

The fairy wench spun, hissing. “Fool! Leave, while you are still able. This does not concern you.” She pointed a clawed finger at Orteg. “The man is mine!”

“It concerns us all, and he belongs to the kingdom. Now begone!” thundered the hooded man and made a downward slashing gesture with both hands. The figure standing on Orteg’s chest was knocked back against the wall. Blood spurted from its nose and it made desperate moaning noises, eyes bulging before slumping over onto its face. 

Orteg felt the other two release him as air flooded back into his lungs. The fairy wench screamed and leaped for him just as Orteg felt something pass him with frightful speed and strike the woman between the eyes. They met Orteg’s as she flew backward, he seeing the feral slits return to their normal soft brown and her teeth retreat from their sharp points just as she hit the wall with a sickening crunch. Sliding to the ground, she did not move.

With fierce chattering noises, the other two shapes charged at Zavier. The latter raised one hand before him and shut his eyes, screwing up his face in concentration. The air grew very hot, stinging Orteg’s face, causing him to screw up his eyes as the two shapes halted as though they had been frozen. When Orteg opened his eyes again, they were gone, leaving only shimmering air where their bodies had been.

 “They are gone,” Zavier said, breathing hard, “But they will return. My power will only remove them for a short time.” He gestured. “Now, come. We must go. There are things to be said which should not be said here.” Swirling his cloak around him, he was out the door and gone before Orteg could do more than gape. 

After a moment, Orteg blundered to his feet. Trying not to look at the two dead bodies in the room, he stumbled to the door and looked out warily. Down on the main floor, immobile in the sea of bodies in motion, stood the hooded man, staring at Orteg. 

His mouth formed words:

Follow.

Orteg followed. 

My Darling Dead: Episode 13 / The Fairy’s Laughter

The queen’s face was white as she looked at her daughter standing in the doorway behind the fairy’s still bleeding body. Alasin looked back at her mother, breathing heavily and shaking with rage and shock. 

“Cursed…? My whole life I was cursed and you never saw fit to tell me?” Alasin’s voice trembled as well. “All this time and I find it out from the very…creature to put the curse upon me, told as she mocks you with what she has done to the kingdom?” Alasin gestured at the dead rat woman on the ground, revulsion in her voice. “I have seen it. There are more of them. Many more! If not for the kindness of one person, I might have been set upon by them and torn to pieces. But that would likely be a worthy price for you to pay, mother, to get your filthy cursed daughter out of your sight at last!” Her voice had risen steadily until she was screaming. 

Her mother stood impassive, letting her daughter’s words wash over her as any parent does when ignoring the tantrums of their child. Hespa half expected Alasin to begin storming around the room, breaking things and rending hangings from the wall.  

“And yet, I still have no idea the nature of this curse,” Alasin finished at the top of her lungs, her fingers curled into fists. “Tell me what damns me!”

“The fairy said that the one whom you love the most would perish.” Hespa looked at her daughter with something like pity. “Poor thing. It wasn’t your fault.” 

Alasin scarcely heard this last. Her mind was whirling with this latest revelation, much of her life coming in to focus for the first time. Her revolving door of nannies, her mother’s constant icy indifference toward her, some of her earliest memories were of attempting to forge a bond with Hespa only to be coldly rebuffed. She would take solace in the arms of one of her nurses, only to be told the next morning that the nurse had been called away forever and she would be meeting her newest nanny shortly. This new nanny would be an unknown quantity and Alasin would shy from her for some time before trust was built and inevitably love, then the cycle would repeat itself. 

In particular, she was reminded of the way Madam Flood and the blacksmith had met their ends. She particularly remembered the blacksmith and tears of hot shame and regret came to her eyes. 

“Tears won’t help you, my daughter. They did not help me, though buckets of them I cried to watch my only child being raised by others.” Hespa’s face trembled. “It was a pain unlike any other I have borne.”

“Your pain did not stretch so far as to preclude you from sending your only child from all she had known into the world with such a curse attached to her!” Alasin shrieked. “There is blood upon your hands, mother, the blood of innocents!” Her eyes were wide and rolling as she pointed at Hespa with a quivering finger. 

“Blood is upon the hands of your dead father, you little brat!” screamed the queen, for the moment, looking just as unhinged as her daughter. “I was not the one two-timing one of the most powerful species to ever exist even as you were being born! I did nothing I did not have to do in order to preserve the kingdom so you could grow up as a spoiled little hellbitch!” She shrieked this last with such force that it lifted her to her toes. 

Alasin felt burning tears leap to her eyes as she glared at her mother, fists clenched so hard she could barely feel them. “At least now you don’t have to worry about dying because I love you,” she hissed through trembling lips, her cheeks shining. Without another word, she turned and left Hespa staring after her, shaking. 

The wizard sat at his workbench, his great book of spells open before him. The book was very old and had been given to him by his master before the elder had succumbed to the Darkness and departed this realm. Sapius had asked his master to whom the book had originally belonged and the old man had struck him upside the head. He had not dared ask again. All the spells in the world were said to be in that book, and Sapius had been poring over it with increasing desperation in the recent weeks as reports of the rat people increased and the rumblings from the townsfolk grew ever louder. The queen was in denial as the castle staff continued their spiral toward outright mutiny and rebellion, prompting Sapius to redouble his efforts. 

So engrossed was he that his chamber door swinging open scarcely registered on his fevered consciousness. Not until the princess was standing right in front of him did he realize with a start that she was there. 

“By the gods,” he gasped, putting a hand to his heart where the belabored organ pounded frantically in an attempt to recover as he stood. “You gave me a fright, Princess.”

“Wizard, what know you of love potions?” she snapped. 

“They are divided in kind,” he said, remaining standing as he did. He did not care for the look in the eye of the princess at all. It was the look of madness. 

“There are those which provide only a subtle nudge of the heart and take time to build to the desired result. Others are limited in scope to one person for whom the drinker feels amorous. Most dangerous of all are the ones which provide immediate, permanent infatuation to the first person the drinker sees. These are the most risky because there is no way to undo the enchantment and if circumstances go awry, the drinker may fall forever madly in love with the wrong person.”

“I require one of the latter,” said Alasin. “Immediately.” 

Alarm bells were ringing in the wizard’s head. “Might I ask why, Highness?”

“Do not question me!” she shrieked, striding forward and leaning over the workbench in his face. Tiny droplets of her spittle peppered his face. “I am the princess of the realm and it is not your place to question me, wizard! Obey my command or I will see your head on a spike!” 

“Your will, Highness,” said the wizard, unwilling to show her just how disturbed he was by the lack of sanity in her voice and her eyes. “Although if I may caution–“

Her fist pounded the workbench, sending a beaker crashing to the ground. “I will not command you again.” 

Never taking his eyes off her, Sapius reached inside his robes and brought forth a small brass key which he used to unlock one of the drawers in his workbench. Reaching all the way to the back of the drawer, he brought out a vial filled with a purplish, glowing liquid. The color reflected in Alasin’s eyes as they fixed on it. 

“I only have but one, Lady,” Sapius said, holding it out to her. “Have a care, for it takes many turns of the sun to create more.”

She snatched it from him and turned on her heel in the same motion. She was gone before he could do more than blink. The feeling of disquiet settled deeper within him, along with the sensation that inexorable events had been set in motion. 

******

Queen Hespa stood at her window, staring at her kingdom. Even from here, she could see the small shapes of rat people scuttling around the buildings below. Screams filtered up from the ground and she fancied she could hear the sounds of cracking bones and rending flesh. She had no idea what the rat people actually did to the living but her fertile imagination was only too happy to fill the gaps in her knowledge. 

The smell of the dead rat woman and the blood of the fairy still hung in the air, though their bodies had been removed by two servants who were clearly very reluctant to do so. Hespa thought sourly of the blood, both woman and fairy, that had puddled on her floor. It would need scouring before it faded even the slightest bit and a hundred years from now there would still be some caked in the cracks between the stones. 

A sound made her turn. The door was opening and Alasin came in. Hespa tensed. 

“Are you here to spew more vitriol in my direction, daughter?”

“Mother, please. This bitterness gets us nowhere.” Closing the door, Alasin moved to the cart on which Hespa’s goblets and wine were stored. “All I want is for us to share a glass of wine and make peace together.” 

With her back turned to Hespa, Alasin pulled the tiny flask from her bodice. Setting her nails into the cork, she pulled it out without a sound. 

“Why?” Hespa’s voice was weary but Alasin could tell she had not moved from her place by the window. Alasin upended the flask over one of the goblets, sending bright purple liquid cascading into the glass. 

“You are my mother,” Alasin said. “If you cannot love me, at the least, I wish for you to not hate me.” Stowing the flask back in her undergarments, she poured wine. The purple liquid at the bottom of the glass was swallowed by the dark red wine without a trace. 

“A fine sentiment,” the queen said, turning from the window. “But you and I both know the dangers that lie therein.”

“Come, mother,” said Alasin, lifting both glasses and offering the unadulterated one to her parent. “Taste this wine with me and let us embark upon a new chapter in our lives.” She met Hespa’s eyes unblinking over the goblet, holding it between them. 

For a moment, the queen held her daughter’s gaze. Alasin held her breath while maintaining her contact with her mother’s eyes until the glass was taken from her hand. 

“I say, mother, come look at this with me,” Alasin said, gesturing at the mirror hung on the back of the chamber door, stepping toward it. In her periphery, she could see herself moving in the reflection but refused to focus on it. “If you stand here with me, over a century of the kingdom’s rule will be represented in its reflection.”

The queen joined her daughter before the mirror and stood looking. She saw herself as she always had, an inflexible example of authority and power. Beside her, for once, stood her daughter.

“New beginnings,” Hespa said, raising her glass to the mirror and draining it. 

“New beginnings,” Alasin echoed and drained her own. The potion was barely discernible amid the wine and gave it a sweeter flavor than the dry red taste that Hespa preferred. 

The queen smiled. “It’s good wine, isn’t it?”

Alasin raised her eyes to the mirror just as the wizard’s potion took full effect. What she saw in the mirror was more perfect than anything she could have ever imagined. Her mother seemed almost to glow. Her own smile lit up the room, and in that moment, she felt her heart fall for the figures in the mirror. 

“Very good,” murmured Alasin. “I love you, mother.”

EPILOGUE

Sapius the wizard had lived in the kingdom for many years. He had served the monarchy for most of his adult life and would not have hesitated to use some of his darkest magic on anyone who threatened it. So when the castle guards came pounding at his chamber door the next morning, he was flabbergasted to find their swords drawn as he opened the door. They poured in through the entrance, surrounding him with their sharp steel before he could react. 

Bortix the Captain of the Guard strode forward and struck the wizard full in the face with a mailed glove. Sapius could taste blood in his mouth and felt it trickle from the corner of his mouth. Bewildered, he could do no more than gape at Bortix, with whom he had often shared his dwarf’s tobacco in exchange for the guardsman’s secret recipe mulled mead. 

“What…why…” he managed to stammer, but the look Bortix wore on his face robbed him of any further questions. 

“Save it, wizard,” Bortix spat. In a trice, a dagger was in his hand and the point was under Sapius’s chin, forcing his head back. “We know what you did.” 

“Pray, then, enlighten me,” Sapius managed to choke out, his eyes staring at the ceiling. “I have no idea what I did.”

“The princess and the queen have died at your hands and you dare to play the fool to me?” Bortix roared and punched the wizard square in the face, his meaty fist wrapped around the dagger handle.

Sapius went flying backward and would have certainly hit the floor had one of the guards surrounding him not pushed him back toward Bortix who responded with another fist to the wizard’s face. This time the guard moved to the side so Sapius fell all the way to the floor, where he was greeted by an army of kicking, stomping boots. One collided with the side of his head and a black cloud enveloped him, even as the words echoed in his head. 

Bortix stood over the unconscious wizard, his great hands balled into fists, glaring at the prone figure with hate in his eyes as his guards took turns applying their boots to the fallen man. Normally one of the most rational and level headed men in the kingdom, Bortix made no move to stop his soldiers beating the helpless body. 

When the day had passed its noon and the queen had not stirred, Bortix had entered the queen’s chamber after knocking progressively louder until he was pounding at the stout timbers. The queen lay on her bed, a peaceful smile on her face. Bortix had seen many dead bodies in his time and he did not need to shake the queen by the shoulder or shout her name to know that she had departed this realm. He did so anyway, shouting for the castle medic with tears growing in his eyes and a great sinking feeling in his chest. The medic had arrived and given the sad pronouncement before Bortix thought of the princess. Or, he thought, as she would be known henceforth, the queen. 

Giving strict instructions to the medic to let no one into the queen’s chamber in his absence, Bortix hastened to the room of the princess. His adjurations to open the door resulted in nothing but silence and the door was locked from within. Bortix threw his entire body weight at the door again and again until it yielded to his bulk. There lay the princess on her own bed, arms at her sides, an identical expression of peace on her face. The only difference between her and the queen was the object in her left hand. Bortix had availed himself of the potions the wizard concocted and knew the shape of the glass bottles well. He had no trouble recognizing the bottle in the dead princess’s hand as coming from the chambers of Sapius. 

When the wizard had been burned at the stake, Bortix, yielding to the clamoring of his guards, crowned himself king. This did not sit well with the subjects of the kingdom, who, having tolerated the rise of the rat people and the unwillingness of the crown to address the issue, mobilized enough to storm the castle and slaughter all of the guards. Bortix ultimately threw himself from the tallest tower after a long and protracted battle with the villagers, unwilling to let them have him. The leader of the rebels crowned himself king, only to be slain at his own coronation by what had once been his best friend, who ascended to the throne in his stead. He lasted several days before the new captain of the guards murdered him, plucking the crown from his severed head and settling it atop his own at a jaunty angle until he too was slain. 

The crown passed from hand to hand with its subjects fighting tooth and nail among themselves for it. The rat people flourished and spread, until the land was covered in darkness and filth, the deluded self-proclaimed monarchs afraid to sleep nights lest they wake up dead. 

Underneath it all, with the right ears, could be heard the laughter of the fairies. 

 

My Darling Dead: Episode 12/The Fairy’s Return

For years, Hespa had been plagued by stories of the rat people. She had forbidden their mention in her court, but updates and rumors still flew through the castle in spite of (or perhaps because of) her edict. She knew, for example, that the rat people were taking over her kingdom at an astonishing rate, replacing her subjects with feral monstrosities which fed on death and decay and were eager to spread their disease. She knew that the rat people now outnumbered those not so afflicted and that within weeks if not sooner she would be the head of a kingdom consisting of nothing but rat people. Already several had been found inside the walls of the castle, one of them only a few floors down from her private chambers. Hespa shuddered and drained the wine from the glass she held. She extended her arm and immediately the empty glass was replaced with a full one by her handmaiden. 

“Leave me,” the queen snapped. The handmaiden was happy to do so.

Hespa also knew that the humans still under her rule were muttering and that their mutterings had grown loud enough to be heard clearly by spies and castle guards. The word “rebellion” had not yet been uttered, but any fool could tell that it was on the minds of many. Hespa had witnessed castle guardsmen holding her eye contact longer than was proper, staring back at her insolently until she was forced to drop her own eyes, hating herself as she did so. She had never felt so vulnerable as these past months, surrounded by inhuman things and resented by those in whose hands she placed her life. 

The mid-morning sun reflected from the armor of the guard on duty at the front gate of the castle. He belched and squinted into the sun, straining to discern mirage from reality as a figure approached the castle gate. Or was it two figures? No, just one. 

No…

His eyes widened. 

“Halt and be–”

Esemli raised her left hand and the guard was thrown into the nearest wall with such force that his breaking bones were heard hundreds of feet away. He screamed and she winced. 

“No,” she said, and waved her hand again. The guard continued screaming but no noise came out, eyes bulging as he attempted to cradle his broken parts and give voice to his hurts. The other guards stampeded each other trying to get out of Esemli’s way. She swept through the gate and past them without a look. In her right hand she held a leash and to her leash was attached one of the rat people, a woman who had perhaps once been plump but now appeared emaciated to the point of death. 

Her skin was caked with filth and blood was smeared around her mouth. Her clothes were rags, held together mostly by luck. Her eyes darted this way and that and she never seemed to stop licking her lips. Part of her bottom lip was gone from a time when the woman had been so desperate for meat that she had begun eating her own face. Half of her teeth grinned through her cheek at anybody who looked at her. On all fours, she scuttled behind Esemli like a dog which has been beaten often enough to fear its master but not often enough to attempt escape. 

Esemli did not appear even to notice the creature in her wake. She mounted the stairs to the queen’s chamber with the rat woman at her heels. Raising her left hand, the queen’s chamber door slammed open with such force that the metal handle cracked the stone wall. Hespa whirled as Esemli let the leash go and snapped a word in a strange language that meant nothing to the queen, but the rat woman clearly understood. Still on all fours, she made straight for the queen, a horrifying grin etched on what remained of her features as she snapped her teeth. 

Hespa was frozen only for a moment before countless hours on self defense spent with Bortix the Captain of the Guard leapt to the forefront of her mind. The queen whirled, seizing a long metal spike from beside her window and as the rat woman leaped, Hespa extended her arm and set her feet. The rat woman collided with the spike, the force of her attack impaling her upon the spike through one of her crazed rolling eyes. 

The fairy laughed. “Well done, Queen Hespa. Perhaps you should be standing guard over your castle rather than the bumbling fools currently there.” 

Hespa did not hear. Her eyes were locked on the rat woman’s face, overcome with horror as the woman’s eye ran down her hollow cheek. She had heard of the rat people, yes, but she had never seen one, much less this close. The humanity she could still detect beneath the dirt and waste was worst of all. Now that the woman was dead, Hespa could see the peasant woman who had once resided behind those eyes. Her face was relaxed, her eyes no longer rolling. But for the spike through her eye and half her lip being gone, she could have been asleep. 

Esemli closed the door behind her. “Queen Hespa, you forget your manners. I have brought you a gift, the least you could do is offer me some of your wine.”

This time, the words sunk in. Hespa tore her eyes from the rat woman with an effort and dropped the spike. “Fairy, your presence here is less welcome than the plague. I would sooner spit in your face than offer you wine.” Pasting a sneer on her face, Hespa moved to where her goblet stood and drained it before refilling it from the crystal decanter. 

A flicker of annoyance flashed across Esemli’s face and she moved her left hand, ever so slightly. The decanter overbalanced and splashed wine all over the queen. Hespa swore and drained what was left in the decanter before throwing it out the window in a blind fury that abated as she heard the crystal smash on the stones far below. She did not look at the fairy, sipping her wine from the goblet as she wrestled back control. 

“Decades I have been gone from your eye,” Esemli said, her voice quiet but with an intensity Hespa could hear across the room. “But I have not been gone from this realm. I have watched your daughter grow from innocent child to petulant woman, never able to love her mother because you have made it impossible. I have witnessed your subjects regress and devolve until the wisest of them is merely a few steps above yonder wretch.” She gestured at the rat woman’s body which lay in a puddle of her own blood, eyes still open, one staring at the spike which had impaled its mate. “Your husband’s disrespect was not forgotten and as your daughter was cursed, so was the entire kingdom, to descend slowly into bestial madness. The suffering of the monarchy and the collapse of the kingdom have been a pleasure to behold for all of my kind.” The fairy laughed. 

“Why did you bring that…creature, Esemli?” Hespa asked, staring at her kingdom. 

“Bringing you what hath been wrought, Your Highness,” the fairy said, and sank into a deep and mocking curtsey which was wasted on the impassive queen. “This is one of your subjects with all the trappings of décor stripped away, exposed for what they are. Nothing but a pathetic, slavering, mewling–”

The door slammed open behind Esemli. Her eyes widened and she was halfway through turning toward the door before Princess Alasin’s poisoned dagger buried itself in the fairy’s throat. The blood which spurted from the wound was not precisely red but nearly purple and seemed almost to glow. 

The queen turned just in time to see her daughter lunge through the door. The goblet of wine fell from Hespa’s numb fingers. Her feet seemed rooted to the spot. Her glass shattered on the stone floor as the fairy fell, her throat gushing strange blood.

Esemli sank to her knees, one hand reaching to the handle in her throat. The glowing purple blood coated her fingers and she grimaced as she touched the blade. 

“Guh…” she said and wrapped her fingers around the handle sticking out of her throat. She pulled, the sound of the blade sliding through her flesh sending the queen’s skin crawling as fresh gouts of blood poured from her mouth. “Guh…” she said again, her hand dropping from the handle with the blade still buried in her throat. 

“Isss… too…toooooo…” she said, her words obscured by the blood which flowed, faster now, out of her mouth. The color was draining from her face. “Toooooo…” she moaned and fell forward. She landed on the handle of the dagger and with a horrid squelching sound the point of the blade stabbed out the opposite side of her neck. 

My Darling Dead: Episode 11/ The Tipping Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Darling Dead : Episode 10 | The Blacksmith

As Alasin fled the hut, she forgot that it was not sitting on the ground, but raised on stilts three steps high. She flew out the door and the ground rose to meet her sharply.  Tumbling end over end she landed in a heap at their bottom. She lay there, winded, her eyes unfocused as the cloud of dust she had raised settled in the early morning rays of sunshine. 

There was a scuttling noise from under Madam Flood’s hut that slowly acquired her attention as her eyes began to focus. Finally able to breathe, Alasin pushed herself up as she turned to face the noise. As her eyes focused, at last, she froze, her heart hammering in her chest. 

A small, thin woman had come out from under the house and was creeping toward her, crouched low, eyes bright and teeth bared. Her hair was matted and thick with dust, as were her clothes. Her nails, long and broken, reached out to Alasin, who could smell the foul creature from where she lay. The rat woman let out a high pitched cackle that sounded devoid of sanity and pounced. 

The woman was in the air for the briefest instant before a large hammer swung out of the blue and pulverized her face. Alasin, who had opened her mouth to scream, was showered in bloody chunks of skull, brain and flesh. She spat as though her tongue were afire and finally laid eyes upon her rescuer. He was a large man, thick shouldered with a blacksmith’s apron over a muscled chest. A dripping blacksmith’s hammer swung from one huge arm.

“Strewth! But that’n almost had ye! Still, no harm done, I’ll reckon. Up y’come, miss!” He said, and extended a hand to her with a smile. 

Alasin wiped her hand on her skirt and gave it to the man with a shaken smile. “Thank you, sir, and thank you for dispatching that…what was that?” she asked as she was pulled upright as though she were a feather. 

“Oh, ar,” the man said darkly, swinging his hammer over his shoulder, unmindful of the muck coating its head. “Them’d be the changed ones. Rat people, I call ’em. Best to do is put ’em down before they hurt somethin’.” He sighed. “Even though some of ’em be my best o’ friends.”

“Madam Flood mentioned something about them last night.”

The man’s face brightened. “Ma’am Flood! That’s right, this be her place, don’t it? How be she?”

“She’s, er… fine,” Alasin stammered, hoping he wouldn’t insist on speaking to the old woman.

“She in?” inquired the man. “I hain’t seen Ma’am Flood in an age, and I be–”

“No! She, ah, said she had somewhere to go this morning and left before I woke, so I took myself for a walk and fell down her stairs because I wasn’t used to them you see and then the creature came from under the stairs and–”

“Ne’er mind,” the man boomed, his chuckle cutting off Alasin’s frantic blather. “We best get ye where ye wish to go, little miss, lest one more of the nasty rat people get ye. Strewth!”

Alasin awoke in pitch darkness, a giant weight upon her chest. Her head was pounding and her mouth tasted of rot. She pushed at the weight. It felt like a dead animal, cool and smooth-skinned with a light coating of hair covering it. It was large, and heavy. Her fingers explored down its length. Her heart shot into her mouth as her fingers touched a palm, then fingers. She was able now to identify the giant weight as an arm, slung across her, as she lay in this bed. 

HIS bed, she realized as unbidden, memories began flooding into her fevered brain. Going off with the jolly blacksmith(whose name she could not recall) after he had saved her life, finding out that she really liked him, turning aside his questions about who she was and where she was going so she could spend longer with him, until he finally stopped asking. Becoming tipsy as they dined and drank as the sun first rose and set in the sky, finally a fog of stumbling back to his own hut and going to bed together. Now she could tell that beneath the arm and the animal pelts that served as a blanket, she was naked. 

Whimpering, she pushed at the arm which held her in a death grip, immobile in its deathly contraction. Finally she was able to wriggle out from underneath it and fall to the floor, sobbing as she pushed herself to the farthest corner of the room, wrapping her arms about herself against the night’s chill. There she sat, struggling to produce silent tears as she wept, for her own terror, for poor Madam Flood, for the unnamed blacksmith, before turning her tears back upon herself. 

When she awoke again it was the gray light of dawn, the sound of birds filling the silence that comes when most people are still asleep. Her neck ached from where she finally fallen into a doze, huddled in the corner hunched over. She was still nude, and shivering violently. Her gaze fell upon the corpse in the bed, face frozen in a peaceful expression, massive arm extended over where she had fallen asleep beneath it.

Unbidden, the tears started again, but she knuckled them aside and pushed herself up, hobbling on stiff legs across to the bed and pulling the bearskin blanket off of the blacksmith’s body, wrapping it around herself as she tried not to look at what remained of her lover. She stooped, picking up her scattered clothing piece by piece. As she did, her little bottle of wizard’s powder and chain dropped to the floor with a clink. With a happy swoop of her stomach, she dropped to her knees beside it and availed herself. 

“Farner! Hey mate, ’tis Bron! Yer not at yer shop! What gives?” 

Alasin’s head jerked up at a pounding from the door, white powder coating her nostrils, her eyes wide. She jammed the lid on the bottle and grabbed up her clothes while the pounding increased before the latch was pushed open from the outside and the door banged open. A small squat man stood framed in the early morning light, his face nothing but a silhouette.

“C’mon, I needs me sword t’day, Farn! Git yer…hoho, what’s all this then?” he said, noticing Alasin, looking frenzied as she clutched her clothing to herself. An ugly grin spread across his face. “Well hey there sweet’eart, me name’s Bron and I guess my man Farn’s been stickin’ it to ya, eh?” 

Alasin’s eyes were huge as she did her best to sidle sideways to block Bron’s view of the bed and Farner’s lifeless body. Bron was fortunately too busy examining the curves of the sheet Alasin draped around herself to notice the bed. 

“Porked ya good did ‘e?” giggled Bron, grabbing his crotch and making exaggerated grinding movements with his hips. 

Alasin’s eyes flashed with temper but Bron sniggered and to her great relief turned to leave. As his body moved, the shadow he had cast upon Alison moved as well, letting a slab of sunlight smack her in the face. “Well I’ll not begrudge ‘im a lie-in after a night wid a beauty like you. Yew tell ‘im Bron stopped by, an’…”

He trailed off, eyes widening. He took a step forward and looked more closely at Alasin. 

“You…” he whispered. Alasin’s heart, hammering like mad, simultaneously froze. 

“Yer…yer the princess!” Bron blurted, raising a hand to point at her. 

“Yes, you festering sore,” Alasin said, drawing herself up to her full height and looking down her nose regally at the little man. “I am Alasin, Princess of Dandoich, and I command you to depart from here immediately and speak of this to no one. Is that clear?”

“Yer… the princess,” the man said, a stupid grin spreading over his face. “Huh… what are you doing here?” His eyes crawled over her, insolent in their lingering. His tongue wet his lips. 

“Dog!” shouted Alasin. “How dare you look upon me! You have been given a command and you will obey at once. Leave!” She raised a hand and pointed to the door. The clothing she had clutched to herself slipped and fell to her waist, exposing a breast. 

“Whoaa…” Bron said, his eyes huge. Alasin swore and snatched the clothes to herself again while attempting to maintain her composure. She saw his grin had become nasty. He stepped inside and shut the door. 

“No one knows yer ‘ere, or yew wouldn’t be wid ‘im,” Bron whispered, gesturing to Farner’s still motionless body. “And that means, I can do what I likes wid ya. Farn won’t mind.” He was beginning to breathe heavily, massaging his trousers as he moved toward her. “And you can’ stop me, Princess, wee slip of a girl like ye.” 

Alasin did not move as he advanced. The rage in her at being spoken to thus had completely blotted out any hint of fear. In one move, she dropped all her clothing and stood before him completely nude, sending his jaw dropping. 

“Hear this, you squalid peasant,” Alasin said, her voice like iron. “If you come for me, you will end. Heed my warning, and desist.”

My Darling Dead : Episode 9 | The Outside

 

Alasin stumbled out through the servant’s doorway at the base of the castle, trying to keep from hysterics. She had nearly been attacked by one of the guards, who had to be restrained by his partner. 

“Let ‘er go, matey, she ain’t worth it. Orders from th’ queen.”

“You murdering harlot!” screamed the other man. “What if they come for us? What if it’s war? If we die because of you I will haunt you until the end of your days!”

Alasin would normally have slain him for his insolence then and there. But the hatred in the eyes of both men and her mother’s shrieks ringing in her ears made her race, sobbing, for the nearest exit. As fresh air hit her face, she looked around in a frenzy. She had never been outside the castle by herself. 

To her right, the castle’s outer wall stretched into the darkness of night what seemed forever. To her left, it went on another ten feet before terminating in the north tower’s bulge outward. Before her, a grassy hill sloped gently down some hundred yards or so before the houses of the kingdom’s townsfolk began in earnest. Among them, she could see the shapes of her subjects moving, living, going about their lives. She had never feared them, but her mother’s banishing words and the cries of the guard she had encountered were fresh in her mind. 

She made her way along the path leading from the front gates towards the huts of the town, expecting at any moment to hear someone shout “The princess! Let’s get her!” No shout came, and she found herself walking down the little town’s main street. She searched in her mind for its name and could not get it to come to mind. She knew though that many of the people in this town were servants and workers at the castle during the day and so lived in close proximity. 

Of course, Alasin thought, instinctively leaning into the darkest part of the shadows, the more castle workers there were in this town, the more likely there would be someone who would recognize her. 

A rustling sound caught her attention as she passed a house and she stopped, turning toward it. The sound came from between two houses and sounded large. Larger than a mouse. Her ears strained to the breaking point, she thought she could hear breathing. 

“’ere now… wot’s this, then?” 

Alasin whirled, stifling a scream as her hand flew to her poisoned blade, remembering too late that it was back in her bedchamber. There was a scratching sound and sparks caught the wick of a lantern. The flame grew and illuminated a dumpy woman holding it, dressed in a brown smock with her hair in a bun. When she smiled at Alasin, it was with three teeth. 

“A t’ousand ‘pologies miss, I surely dint mean t’scare ye.” 

Alasin expected her to continue stammering excuses and prostrate herself at Alasin’s feet, begging forgiveness from royalty as was customary. Instead, she continued to smile at Alasin, clearly waiting for the princess to speak. 

“That’s all right,” she said, and tried on a smile. It seemed to fit, so she continued. “My name is Al…uh…”

“Aluh, that’s a n’usual name,” said the woman. “They call me Madam Flood.”

Alasin opened her mouth to correct her, then realized that Madam Flood had no idea she was speaking to the disgraced princess of the kingdom. She shut her mouth with a snap and pasted a smile on her face.

“But what,” Madam Flood continued, “is a girl like y’self doin’ out ‘ere alone at this hour, an’ all gussied up!” The old woman gestured, first at the sky and enveloping darkness then at Alasin’s clothing, her royal dresses more suitable for a fancy dress ball than simple townsfolk. “You know t’ain’t safe ‘ere no more, specially not at night!”

Alasin’s eyes were blanks in the lantern light. “Isn’t it?”

Madam Flood sighed and tutted. “Come wi’ me, foolish girl. Less get indoors where’s safe n’I’ll tell ye some t’ings ’bout the kingdom you livin’ in.” 

Alasin’s eyes flashed at the insult and her hand went to her dagger again before realizing again that it was gone, and for the first time, realized that she had nowhere else to go. A tear ran from an eye as she dropped her hand and followed the old woman.

Down the row of tiny houses she followed Madam Flood until she came to the last one on the row. Madam Flood mounted three rickety steps and pushed through a flap of fur that served as her door. Alasin grimaced as she followed, feeling the shaggy coat rub against her skin. She found herself in a dark little room with a lumpy looking cot, a fireplace with a rocking chair before it, and a small table. A single cupboard hung on the wall opposite the door beside a small window with dirty panes. 

“Well well m’dear,” Madam Flood said, setting the lantern on the table and stoking the fire so a cheery glow filled the room. “Where’ve you been that you d’no what’s ‘appening ’round ‘ere? ‘n what’re y’doin’ wanderin’ aroun’ in the’ middle o’ the’ night, drest like that? Young gel like you oughta be home wi’ her family.” 

“Never mind that,” Alasin said, and moved closer to the fire, warming her hands as it increased in size. “What’s going on outside? Why isn’t it safe?”

Madam Flood shook her head and settled into her rocking chair with obvious relief. “Wan’ t’know what I thinks, ’tis dark wizards.” 

Alasin’s face must have shown skepticism rather than incomprehension for Madam Flood leaned forward, nodding hard for emphasis. “Oh aye Miss Aluh, th’ dark wizards be ’round doin’ their wicked deeds, you can bet y’teeth. ‘ow else can y’explain…” she broke off, looking at the window as though someone could be peeping through at them, before looking back at Alasin and finishing in a hoarse whisper “…people creepin around…like animals…actin’ strange…ol’ farmer Supik sez ‘is foot was ‘arf torn off by a crazy git ‘oo acted like a mad thing, eatin’ dead mice in ol’ Supik’s hut.” 

The princess felt her stomach crawl at the thought of herself wandering around in the darkness, and the rustling sounds she had heard between the two houses before meeting Madam Flood. “What happened?”

“Well, Supik ain’t the’ type to bandy words wid a freak like that’n,” Madam Flood said briskly, rocking back in her chair. “’e grabbed the nearest rock ‘n put paid to ‘im in the’ face, sev’ral times I ‘eard.”

“How awful,” Alasin said, her voice faint. Her knees buckled. Madam Flood was by her side in a moment and turned Alasin so her fall was more of a controlled sinking into the mattress. 

“’ere ‘ere dearie, there I am tellin’ horror stories when yew need t’be gettin’ some rest, ” Madam Flood said, laying Alasin down on the bed. “Y’need yer rest n’you could do a lot worse’n this bed ‘ere. T’ain’t much but is better’n some c’n boast. Yew don’ wanna be goin’ out ’til is morn,” Pulling the blankets up to Alasin’s chin, she smiled her three-toothed smile at the princess. 

“Thank you… Madam Flood,” Alasin murmured, already half asleep. 

“Think nothin’ of it, Miss Aluh,” said Madam Flood, returning to her chair. “I’ll be ‘ere when you’ve rested yer eyes.”

Alasin started awake, the darkness complete around her as she wondered where she was and how she had gotten there. As she lay, staring into the void, she began to remember. She had been banished and taken in by a woman. She had fallen asleep and the woman had been tending the fire. But now the little hut was dark and cold, and the fire was nothing but a few glowing embers which put off no heat. 

Throwing the blankets off of her, Alasin rose to her feet and began groping her way toward what she recalled as being the chair in which her hostess had planted herself. There was no noise in the hut, no sense of another. Another step and her feet found the table, solid and immobile. Cursing under her breath at the world in general, Alasin navigated around the table and to the rocking chair, which sat heavy on the floor, also immobile. There was no breathing. Her heart froze. 

“Madam Flood?” Alasin said, her voice tentative in the pitch blackness. 

There was no answer. 

“Madam Flood!” 

Silence responded. Alasin reached out a reluctant hand, contacting Madam Flood’s shoulder before she expected to. The flesh was stiff below its garments. Stiff and cold. 

“Madam Flood!” Alasin shook the unresponsive shoulder, knowing it was pointless, hoping it would not be. Her hopes were in vain. Madam Flood would never respond to another entreaty again. 

Alasin stood in the dark for some moments, listening to the absolute silence, willing the corpse sitting in the chair to reanimate, to waken, to move, to stand and cheerily tend to the nearly-dead fire. When it became obvious this would not be occurring, Alasin forced herself to move to the fire. She had never stoked a fire in her life, but had witnessed it enough times to know the basic principles. Groping around by the hearth, she found a bundle of dry, brittle twigs and tossed them on the coals before leaning forward to breathe on them. Why, she did not know, but she had seen it done a number of times in the castle, and knew it to be the thing to do. 

The coals brightened under her breath, shriveling the first of the dried twigs with their heat. She continued breathing on them, encouraged by the brightening glow. As she took in her breath to exhale again, the twigs burst into flames. She let out a little squeak and threw more twigs on, which were speedily consumed. Looking around, she saw smaller pieces of wood stacked near the fire and threw two of them on the fire. It almost went out, but flared up when she resumed blowing on it. Within a few moments, she had a fire burning, banishing the worst of the shadows. 

Alasin stood and turned, looking at Madam Flood. The shadows hid much of the woman’s face, but the lack of movement was apparent, even in the low, flickering light. Madam Flood was dead, a fact which was made more apparent when a rodent scurried out of her robes to stare, beady-eyed at Alasin. 

The princess screamed and backpedaled, ramming her legs into the table. Appendages smarting, she wrenched open the door and fled, sobbing. In her home, Madam Flood continued to sit and grin at the ceiling, unblinking, even as the rodent ventured back onto her lap, up her chest and to her face, where it began nibbling the soft meat of her eye.

My Darling Dead : Episode 8 | The Consequences

Hespa looked up from her own window as the princess let herself in. “Idiot child!” she shrieked and seized the nearest thing to hand, an urn containing her husband’s ashes, and threw it at her daughter with all her might. 

“Mother!” cried Alasin, dodging out of the way and taking refuge behind a nearby chair. Behind her, the wizard stood framed in the doorway. 

“Would it have killed you, would it have made your life so unworth living, to have murdered that oaf Heyworth in his bed at night rather than in full view of three loud-mouthed guards?” Hespa asked, hefting a large ornamental vase threateningly. 

“Mother–”

“Your Highness, girl,” snarled the queen. 

“Your Highness,” Alasin said, her words rushing forth in a babble. “Heyworth, that dog, attacked me, would have beaten me and perhaps more! I had to–”

“Kill him in perhaps the bloodiest manner you possibly could conceive right then and there, rather than endure his offenses and murder him in his bed at night?” Hespa finished, her voice cracking as she heaved the vase at her daughter in fury at the last word, shrieking as it crashed to the wall beside Alasin. “Heyworth would have died in silence and been easily disposed of with no one the wiser but you and his kingdom would have become ours. Now his kingdom is trying to kill ME and from OUR kingdom are coming rumblings of dissatisfaction with its figureheads. Which includes you, you witless imbecile.” 

The queen pulled a dagger from a hidden shelf in the serving table and advanced on Alasin, her teeth bared. Alasin cringed against the wall as her mother closed the distance. “This is your doing and I will not have you within this castle to wreak more havoc while I am being hunted. You are not welcome in this castle…” Hespa stopped, the tip of her dagger resting against her daughter’s throat. Alasin’s eyes were huge, rolling, terrified. Hespa stared mercilessly into her eyes and poked the dagger forward to nick Alasin’s smooth neck. “…henceforth.” 

To the wizard, time seemed to stand still, the princess impaled fractionally upon the queen’s dagger as the former tried desperately not to move. Then the latter flicked the dagger down, withdrawing its point and standing aside, leaving the path to the door open. Sapius stepped inside, extending a hand to the open door. As though freed from a spell, Alasin rushed past her mother and out the door, wordless noises of terror spilling from her mouth as she tore down the corridor and was lost to sight and sound as the wizard closed the door to the queen’s chamber. 

Queen Hespa poured herself a glass of wine and sat down in her favorite chair overlooking the window. “Come, wizard, join me.”

Sapius took the second chair beside the queen but did not take a glass of wine. He brought out his pipe, stoking and igniting it without a word, nor a look at the queen. 

“You don’t approve,” Hespa said, sipping from her glass. 

The wizard maintained his silence, peering out the window at the darkness. 

“Loosen your tongue, Sapius, lest I loosen it for you.”

“Madam, it seems improper to punish the princess for the consequences of carrying on as you wished her to,” said the wizard. 

“Can’t you see?” Hespa said, her voice irritable. “Banishing her will secure my safety. It will be impossible for her to ever feel affection for me.” 

“I daresay, Your Highness, that there was very little danger of that to begin with,” Sapius spoke softly, taking care to keep the disdain out of his voice. 

Hespa drained her glass and scoffed. “Ha! What knows a wizard of the trials of a mother, or a queen, especially one whose daughter is cursed in such a dangerous way?” Staggering a little, Hespa lurched to her feet, making for the wine again. 

“Quite right, Highness,” Sapius said, also rising to his feet. “May I depart, I have pressing business to tend to.”

“Yes, begone with you, Sapius,” snarled the queen, overflowing her goblet as she poured. “Begone with your judgmental words of which I have no need.” 

Without a word, the wizard departed, leaving the queen alone in her chamber, clutching an overflowing goblet of wine and staring at her reflection in the window. Her eyes focused on the outside world and her blood ran cold for a moment. Beyond that window, endless blackness with the pinpoints of light denoting civilization as campfires burned, each tended by a subject who may or may not want to murder her. 

She hurled the goblet at the reflection, shattering both it and the window. Wine splattered everywhere.

“See what you’ve done?” she shrieked at the door Alasin had exited. “See what you have wrought?”

When no answer was forthcoming, Hespa pulled the green cord hanging from the ceiling. A bell tolled somewhere in the castle. After a moment, a rapping sound came at the door and a handmaiden entered, looking apprehensive. 

“You summoned, Mightiness?”

“Bring me more wine and a fresh goblet,” Hespa said. “And get someone up here to fix this window, it’s as cold as death.”

“Your will, Highness.” The maiden bowed and retreated.

My Darling Dead: Episode 7 | The Assassin

The captain of the guard, Bortix Legional, stood atop the walls, looking down into the valley. It smelled like rain, and he was looking forward to being indoors for the night, having done his share of guard duties in seasons past. He was distracted from his vigil by the clattering of footsteps as a figure made its way up the dim steps. 

“Beggin yer pardon, sir,” the voice of Klinden the guardsman said, mounting the last step and turning to join Bortix at the battlements, “but there has been an unusual report from the northern realm.”

Bortix rolled his eyes. “There are always unusual reports from the northern realm, Mister Klinden,” he said. “Continue.” He reached into his shoulder bag for his pouch of tobacco and pipe, loading it and striking a match as Klinden continued. 

“Farmer in the near north sez that he came into his abode and beheld a man who resembled a rat. He ate a dead mouse, then attacked the farmer, until the farmer was able to subdue him.” He grinned a little. “Not a pretty sight. Took a rock, an’–”

“I can imagine, thank ye.” Bortix inhaled and sighed. “What the ‘ell am I s’posed to do about it?”

“That’s a good question, sir,” Klinden said, nodding. Bortix glowered at him.

A young cadet named Stroveta sprinted up the stairs and skidded to a halt. “Sir! There has been an assassination attempt upon the queen!”

Bortix stared. “Say again, soldier?”

“Chap with a camouflage robe managed to sneak in somehow, the queen disarmed him herself before he could put a blade in her but she’s not happy at all. She commands you attend her in her chamber after you interrogate the prisoner. Sir!” The cadet threw a salute and stood awaiting further orders. 

Bortix raised an eyebrow at Klinden. “Mind the watch, Mr Klinden. Cadet, back to your post.”

The queen and her daughter had long been students of self-defense, learning from Bortix how to disarm and disable in case their guards should fail in some regard. Bortix, while instructing them, gravely advised that failure on the part of his soldiers to protect the royal family could result in execution, but that a headless guard would never bring the queen or her daughter back to life. So when the man posing as a servant made a wild stab in Hespa’s direction, she reacted without thinking, snatching the man’s wrist, applying pressure to a point in his wrist and twisting his numb hand up behind his back, forcing to him to the ground. At a shout from her, five guards burst into her chamber, swords drawn, spears at the ready. They beheld their monarch standing behind a stranger who was kneeling before her, tears running down a very red face with an expression of agony as she jerked his arm ever higher between his shoulder blades. 

“This scum attempted to put a blade inside me,” snarled Hespa, breathing heavily as she addressed the first guard. “Find out who he is and where he comes from.” She jerked his arm up savagely and a loud, wet pop reverberated in the chamber and in the ears of every guard. The man sucked in a breath to scream but before a sound could escape his throat the queen’s voice was hissing in his ear. “Suffer in silence or I will end you myself right now.” In her hand suddenly appeared a long slim blade, the tip a fraction of an inch from the man’s eye. He shut his mouth, tears streaming down his face as the soldiers jerked him to his feet and marched him from the room. 

Hespa paced back and forth in her chamber, her mind still racing. Her narrow escape bothered her, not because of her own mortality but because it spoke to the lack of security from which the castle suffered. She was not in the habit of looking at her servants as they attended her and only the quick movement in the reflection of the window had alerted her in time to turn and block her would-be assassin’s arm.

There was a knock and Bortix stood in her doorway. “Your Highness.”

“Enter, Bortix, and tell me that the slime has divulged his master and purpose and departed this realm,” the queen snapped, moving to pour herself a glass of amber liquid and sip from it as Bortix made his report. 

“Lady, the assassin was sent by the kingdom of Heyworth, in retaliation for the death of the prince murdered by the Princess Alasin.”

The queen’s eyes grew wide and she swallowed half her drink. “Did you learn anything else?”

“Nay, milady. Alas we were unable to get anything more out of ‘im, for the techniques employed to acquire as much knowledge as we did left the prisoner so diminished that he expired shortly after sharing that information.” A ghost of a smile flitted around his mouth.

“Good,” muttered the queen.  

Alasin stood at her window, staring into the darkness and at her reflection. She blinked. It blinked. She smiled. 

It did not.

“Good evening, Princess.” 

Alasin jumped and whirled, half raising a hand to strike before she saw it was the wizard.

“Sapius!” she gasped. “Announce yourself!”

“I apologize madam, I merely acted in haste to inform you of your mother’s wishes.” He spread his hands apologetically.

“What is it?” Alasin asked, her hands shaking. “What does she want?”

“It regards the fate of Prince Heyworth, madam.”

“His fate was known to my mother and she was unbothered by it,” Alasin said, doing her best to maintain her composure. 

“Yes, but that was before she had survived an assassin’s attempt to dispatch her as retribution for your crime.” The wizard’s voice was flat, but chills reverberated from it. 

Alasin froze, her eyes moving back toward Sapius slowly, her face an expression of horror. As if on cue, there was a knocking at her chamber door. “Milady, guards.” 

The princess’s face was the color of parchment as she stammered out “Enter” and looked with terror to Sapius, who only smiled in that infuriating manner. 

The guard who entered was a simple man. He had been a farmer before he had tired of the physical labor and joined the armed forces. He had no  time for theater nor playing games and was a favorite to play cards with, for his face was an open book. Alasin read on it now, fear and loathing as the guard looked at her. 

“Princess, the queen bids you join her in her chamber.” He stepped back, into the corridor, spear at the ready, waiting for her.  

“You could not honestly have thought that your secret would not travel.” the wizard said, sounding severe. “Three soldiers beheld you in the act of murdering the prince. We had them killed as soon as possible, but it was too late. They have told, and those have told, and it didn’t take long for spies to relay the word to Heyworth kingdom that Princess Alasin murdered Prince Heyworth with her poisoned blade. It took even less time for a cadet to spread the word that the queen has already narrowly escaped assassination.”

Alasin’s eyes grew huge. “You mean… does everybody know?”

“You may draw that conclusion, Princess,” said Sapius.

My Darling Dead: Episode 5 – The Suitor

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

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

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

“Princess Alasin returns! Have open the gates!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Princess! Princess Alasin!”

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

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

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

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

My Darling Dead: Episode 4 -The Princess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you say?”

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

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

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

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

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

The pace increased.

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

“Lady, the wizard Sapius appears!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Darling Dead: Episode 3 – The Cursed

The Kingdom of Dandoich lay in the grip of autumn. Frost coated the ground in thick layers every morning and the chill of the night did not fade until the sun was high. Grilled meat for suppers had given way to hot, savory stews. Hollow gourds had faces chiseled into them and were set outside to ward off evil spirits. The last crops were being harvested, numb fingers digging into the frozen dirt with thoughts of when it would all be over. But always, there was a shadow hanging over the kingdom, one which necessitated looking over one’s shoulder more often than in the old days.

Since the fairy’s so-called christening, old-timers agreed around the fires at night, the kingdom had never been the same. The castle had ceased to be a place of solace and refuge and had become a symbol of uncertainty, capable at any point of sweeping down and wreaking havoc upon their simple lives at a whim. The rains came less and the crops were poor, leading many to take on the life of a highwayman to feed their families, roaming the road and preying upon unwary travelers. Violence became the first and only response for many and the number of murders skyrocketed.

Those who had attended the christening hastened to spread the tale of the fairy’s vengeance and the shrieking queen who had ordered them all from the room. None of them had clearly heard what Esemli had screamed at the end, but their imaginations were only too happy to fill in those gaps in their knowledge. They whispered darkly to their neighbors about the supernatural powers possessed by the fae, both real and imagined. Their neighbors, in turn, hastened to spread the stories to their own circles. Gradually, the fairies grew to be feared, then hated, by many in the kingdom. The fact that most of the people in the kingdom had never seen a fairy, and that those who had laid eyes upon one had only done so at Princess Alasin’s christening, did not stop their tongues wagging.

The fairies were not as scarce as they seemed to the peasantry. Some were capable of invisibility, while many had powers of disguise. Still other fairies were bolder, trusting the oblivious nature of human beings to protect their identities. This had been done by the fae for thousands of years, but now, they were angered and insulted by what they heard on the lips and thoughts of the peasantry. Emboldened by Esemli’s act against the royal family, they brought their influence to bear on the peasantry and were driving the kingdom into a darkness inhabited by strange creatures whose minds had snapped.

“’ey, you dere,” screamed the peasant Supik, raising a scythe in a businesslike manner as he stood framed in the door. “Git outta me ‘ouse!”

The target of his ire was a small, skinny man dressed in rags which barely clung to his filthy frame. Ratlike, he sniffed around the floor of the peasant’s main room, ending up under the small table. His nose brushed the small stiff body of a mouse, the latest casualty in the peasant’s constant war against pests. Before the revolted Supik could say another word, the skinny rat-man had opened his mouth and taken a great bite of the carcass, biting it cleanly in two and chewing with relish.

With difficulty, the peasant swallowed his lunch again. “Cor, what th’ bloody ‘ell is wrong wid youse, mate?” He held out the scythe, keeping the heft of the weapon between the two of them. “You c’n eat all th’ mice ’round ‘ere ya can find but ya gotter do it ousside, got it?” He stood out of the doorway, gesturing with his scythe, his unease growing.

The rat-man was not listening. He had finished his horrible meal and continued his search throughout the hovel, sniffing around the hearth where some stew had slopped out of a large kettle when Supik had stirred a little too enthusiastically. The peasant frowned and tightened his grip on the scythe.

“’ere, mate, yew gotter get outta here. Me missus and liddle ‘uns will be back ‘ere any minute an-”

Without warning, the rat-man leapt to his feet and shrieked, no words, just a sound of rage and insanity. He charged at Supik, hands raised like claws. Supik, who was not expecting anything of the sort, fell over himself in his haste to exit the building and landed on his rear at the foot of his stairs. Pain exploded up his spine from his tailbone and he howled. Over his exclamation, he heard the clatter of his scythe and saw it out of reach across the dooryard. His eyes had no sooner absorbed this fact than they flew back to the direction of his front door in time to see the rat-man scuttle down the stairs on all fours and seize his leg.

Supik bellowed in fear and agony as the rat-man sunk his teeth into Supik’s leg, gnawing and shaking his head left and right. Supik’s hands scrabbled around the yard attempting to pull himself away but the rat-man hung on, splintered teeth ripping into the peasant’s flesh and carving out great chunks. The peasant was roaring, bellowing as he thrashed, kicking for all he was worth and attempting to pull himself to safety.

Like a limpet, the rat-man clung doggedly to the peasant’s flailing legs. Just as he could feel the rat-man’s teeth scrape the bone in his leg, Supik felt a bolt of pain crash into his flailing right hand as it connected harshly with a large rock. Seizing it, he leaned up and swung with the same motion, connecting the rock with the skull of the rat-man with all the force he could muster.

Thwock!

The rat man continued gnawing, but his eyes were glazed, his jaws working slower. One bloody eye rolled in its socket, coming to rest on the peasant. Supik screamed and brought the rock down on that eye again, and again, and again, until the thing clutching his legs looked no longer even remotely human and the rock in his hand was reduced to wet gravel.

My Darling Dead: Episode 2 – The Christening

“Your HIGHNESS!” the queen shrieked, striding in and seizing one of the ceremonial swords which hung over the fireplace. The flurry of activity on the reclining sofa bed ceased as Hespa held the sword to the king’s throat. He crouched, pants around his ankles and robe pulled behind him, eyes watering with terror as his chin quivered.

“P-please, dearest,” he stammered, “Don’t do anything you’ll regret. Remember, I am the king of–”

“King?” Hespa cackled, throwing her head back. “When was the last time you made a decision, my liege? This has been my kingdom for years.” A movement beside the king caught her eye and she swung the blade to the right, the edge coming to rest against the fairy’s trembling neck.

“Esemli,” hissed the queen. “Don’t even think of doing anything foolish, girl. This sword may be a decoration but its blade is still kept sharp.”

The fairy looked defiant. “You would not dare. You need me for your daughter.”

“That’s the only reason you still draw breath, you little whore,” Hespa said and swung the blade back to her husband. “After the ceremony, we shall see.” She dropped the sword with a clatter before them and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her so hard the door frame splintered.

One of her handmaidens came scurrying up to her, about to speak. Hespa backhanded the girl with all the force she could muster, sending the maid crashing into the wall and crumpling senseless to the ground. “Guards,” barked Hespa, gesturing over her shoulder at the prone figure as she made her way to the courtyard. “Clean her up, we can’t have unconscious servants laying around during the princess’s christening, it looks untidy.”

Wendell continued kneeling for a moment in the wake of Hespa’s disappearance, closing his eyes briefly. Esemli busied herself restoring her own clothing. Her fair skin was flushed and her eyes flashed.

“How dare she,” Esemli muttered, straightening her bodice. “To raise a hand against one of my kind? It is not done!”

“Hespa has always been most strong-willed,” Wendell said, and sighed, pushing himself to his feet and pulling his trousers up. “But she knows the power of the christening and she wouldn’t dare prevent that.”

Esemli finished adjusting her top and spun to face him, hands on her hips, long blonde hair flying out behind her. She looked magnificent, Wendell noted with a sad twinge.

“Maybe I am no longer willing! Perhaps another fairy would be more suited to the job you wish me to perform.”

“I beg you, fair one,” the king said, taking her hand. “Do not deny the princess that which is hers by right, on account of what has happened here.”

The fairy looked at his hand holding hers for a moment and took it back. “I will do this, only if you finally tell the queen what you have promised me.”

Hespa swept up to the tower chamber which served as the nursery for the princess. “Prepare the main chamber for the princess,” she barked. The startled handmaidens immediately leapt to their feet and rushed out the door.

The queen stood for a moment, looking at the crib and at the sleeping child laying therein. A frown creased Hespa’s face as she approached and stood, looking down at her daughter. She sighed.

“My lady,” came Wendell’s hesitant voice from the door.

She whirled to face him. “Speak, dog.” She spoke around gritted teeth.

“About the fairy…”

“What, exactly, about her?”

Wendell opened his mouth to tell her. That he and Esemli had met when she had come to wish him well after the birth of the princess. That Esemli’s warmth and kindness had seemed so welcoming in the face of his wife’s increasing indifference, and the gracious attention he lavished upon the fairy had so taken her that before either of them knew it, a love affair had sprung up. That she had whispered that she loved him, and in the throes of passion he had promised her a life together.

But he could not bring himself to utter the words and suffer her wrath.

“She is just that, a fairy.” The king dropped to his knee before Hespa and bent his head. “You, though, are my life.”

Outside the room, Esemli’s eyes flashed red in their green depths as she retreated with the king’s words ringing in her ears. Her love for Wendell had been a beautiful feeling she had embraced with every fiber of her being, so unlike anything she had experienced in her existence. She had wanted to hear Wendell say these things to the queen, things that he had professed to her to be feeling as well. She had followed him, hoping to hear these words. Now, the path before her had gone dark and she walked willingly into it, her life illuminating before her only a few steps at a time. A dark roaring had filled the fairy, but on the outside, the only hint was the ghost of a smile.

Hespa sneered at his bent head. “Get up, fool. Don’t let your subjects see you groveling to me.” She pushed past him, knocking him off balance. “Get the girl ready to go. The ceremony begins soon. After that…”A swirl of dark fabric at the door and she was gone.

King Wendell pushed himself to his feet and crossed to the crib, hoping his daughter had not been disturbed. Her eyes were open, and when she saw her father’s face, she smiled. He reached a finger out and she grabbed it with a grin.

You are my life,” he said softly.

A half hour later, the princess had been removed to the grand hall by her team of nursemaids. She lay in the center of a soft white pillow in a golden receptacle that resembled a clam more than anything else. The princess’s eyes traveled around the strange surroundings and she smiled, melting more than one heart as those assembled smiled back, their hearts jelly. Her nursemaids busied themselves tidying the dais for the imminent ceremony, doing their best to avert their eyes from the fairy Esemli.

She stood behind the baby, her hands clasped behind her as she stood before the king’s guests, lost in her dark thoughts. Many in the audience whispered to each other as she stood before them, having never seen a fairy before. There were many crudities being thought loudly enough for her to hear but she scarcely noticed amid her own hatred. She burned with a rage, a fire so hot and black she would never have guessed such a thing existed. She burned as well with shame, for she remembered being told, many long ages ago, that the hearts of men were fickle and not to be trusted. Yet she had.

A hush and the multitudes stood as the king and queen appeared at the door. Esemli’s eyes flashed at the sight of them. Regally they moved forward down the aisle, her arm through his, both their eyes fixed on Esemli. She met their gazes and could feel the loathing coming from the queen. King Wendell smiled nervously at her and Esemli twisted her lips in the direction of a smile in return, feeling the thousands of eyes upon her. The queen’s lips pursed even more tightly as they mounted the stairs. The fairy moved to greet them, standing beside their child.

“We are gathered,” boomed the king, “to celebrate the christening of the Princess Alasin, heir to the throne and daughter to the kingdom.” He nodded at Esemli, and stepped back.

With all the eyes of the kingdom focused squarely on her, Esemli smiled and curtsied to the king, going lower than she normally would until she was practically to the floor.

“My king,” she said, her voice dripping sarcasm so opaque that the king, for all his poise, frowned. The queen’s eye twitched.

“I am come from afar to christen this princess, that she be favored among the gods,” Esemli said, rising from her curtsy and addressing the crowd. “That she go forward and prosper amid life’s graces. That fortune and fate smile upon her and all her kin.” She gestured toward the king and queen.

“But instead,” Esemli said, her voice hard. Wendell and Hespa, who had been smiling blithely, froze at the tone of her voice. “Hear me now.”

A darkness fell upon the hall as though a black curtain had been dropped on it. The torches all went out and the fire was extinguished as though by a giant candle snuffer. The screams started but dropped abruptly as a light swelled at the dais, illuminating the infant wailing from where she lay in the clam.

The fairy stood with her arms stretched wide, looking skyward. As her hands came together before her, a light appeared between them, at first a dim spark and as her hands grew closer, the light grew brighter. Her voice sounded far away and deeper, as though it came from the back of her throat.

“I am of the fae, and I have seen thousands of men, women, and children perish in my time on this world.” Her voice continued to rise until she was screaming. “Do you all think that we are nothing but ceremonial figureheads for your mankind’s rituals?” she shrieked, the ball of light swelling between her hands. “When you think of a fairy in the future, you will think of today, upon my oath.”

She began speaking to the ball of light as it continued to grow brighter still. Esemli’s face was contorted in savage fury, the light between her hands growing brighter until the king shouted, an inarticulate cry of protest and took a step forward. But faster than the eye could follow, the fairy howled a final sentence, the orb of light exploded into a blinding white flash that filled the entire room.

Hespa picked herself up from the floor where she had been thrown. The air smelled of brimstone and white smoke was hanging in the air. The fairy was gone. The princess was screaming. Dragging herself to her feet, she nearly tripped over the body of King Wendell. He was laying on his back, mouth wide in mute protest, hands partially raised. He was dead.

The princess was screaming. People in the crowd were getting to their feet, others were laying immobile. Hespa staggered to the clam crib and looked in. The princess’s face was a red mask of rage as she howled at the top of her lungs. Her eyebrows, such as they were, had been singed off. Apart from that, she appeared untouched. Hespa reached for her, intending to comfort her, then paused. The fairy’s final words loomed in her mind.

      “Henceforth, she will always know the pain of losing those for whom she cares the most. This begins today and concludes on her dying day!”

Then the king had shouted, the world had blown up, now he was dead and anybody the princess loved would die.

The queen withdrew her hand, willing it to stop shaking, and looked around her for one of the child’s handmaidens. She spied one at the back of the dais, getting unsteadily to her feet, looking shell-shocked.

“You, maiden,” Hespa said crisply, gesturing her forward. “Attend the princess. Remove her from here and return her to her bed, and send the captain of the guards in here at once.” Turning, she raised her voice, shouting over the hubbub of the audience, most of whom had revived and now were talking amongst themselves. “All of you! Disperse! Back to your homes, there is to be no further activity at the castle today.”

Looking dazed, they began moving for the doors, reminding the queen of cattle. A fat peasant near the front dared to venture, “Yer ‘ighness, weren’t there s’posed ter be a feast after–”

Get out of my sight, you mindless fool!” shrieked Hespa, a vein standing out in her forehead with a look on her face that would that night awaken the peasant in a cold sweat. “You bore witness to what has happened here, do you not think that I have other priorities than you feeding your fat face?”

The exodus hastened with the peasant man in the lead. Hespa was left in the empty room, staring at the dais.

“Highness?” said the captain of the guards, entering the room and standing to attention.

“The king is dead,” she said, her voice lifeless, “and the princess is cursed.”

 

My Darling Dead: Episode 1 – The King

 

 

As a hurricane is preceded by calm, the kingdom of Dandoich had known peace and prosperity for many years. The townsfolk fought, argued, lied, cheat, stole and generally behaved as humans do, but they were content within their sphere of existence. There had been the odd uprising against this noble or that plantation owner, but it was swiftly quelled by the kingdom’s royal guards, often without too much bloodshed. A true civil war had not happened in centuries.

King Wendell had been ruling the throne for over sixty returns of the season and had taken care to extract the maximum enjoyment from his posting as he was able. Wary of the fate of his own father, Rockney the Beheaded, he exercised his kingly power with discretion, well aware that he was ultimately at the mercy of his own people whose population far outnumbered him. As a result he was well loved by his subjects, who knew their grievances would be fairly heard out and attended to in a fair and just manner.

Today, the bells were tolling as though for a wedding, but with one tone missing. The bell carrying the middle C note had been silenced, and the altered tone of the bells told of the christening of the princess, and all hastened to the square to bear witness. Christenings were the common practice in the kingdom, but the christenings of royalty were done by a fairy, and many of those living in the kingdom today had never beheld a fairy in the flesh. They were mystical beings, rarely seen unless they chose to reveal themselves.

Queen Hespa looked at herself in the mirror, her gown’s dark green blended with her red hair nicely but she could have shattered the mirror and used its shards to cut her own throat. Her smile remained frozen as her ladies in waiting bustled about her, adjusting a stitch here, a loose end there, an unbasted seam somewhere else. They were a hive of activity about her and she wondered, once again, if today would be the day she would take her own life.

The king, ensconced in his own chambers, looked up from the wench servicing him to beckon another to refill his glass with the honeyed mead he preferred. Another set his ceremonial crown on his head, and he could feel his neck creaking. He never wore the enormous heavy thing except for formal occasions, and his daughter’s christening would definitely qualify if nothing else would. He took a mighty drought of mead and hiccuped. It was his third such mug, but with the fairy Esmeli appearing tonight, he would need all the strength and nerve he could get. He glowered at the servicing wench, who had paused for breath.

“Did I tell you to stop?”

Dutifully, she returned to polishing his boots.

The princess Alasin, not yet two months old, wriggled in her crib as her nurse changed her. She had no idea that her very existence would bring about the ending of the way of life that so many generations before her had enjoyed. She did not know that her father’s affair with the fairy Esemli would plunge the kingdom into turmoil for years to come. She simply slept, dreaming baby dreams, oblivious to the world around her.

Two guards stood at the entrance to the castle, bedecked in garlands and flowers to mark the christening day. Both felt like the posterior of an equine, but knew better than to remove them. The only soldier who had done so was now on latrine duty for being out of uniform.

“Cor,” grunted the larger guard. “’ot as ‘ell today.” He spit.

The other nodded, yawning and exposing several yellowing teeth. “Aye.”

“’most noon,” said the first, squinting at the sky.

The second looked to the sky as well, nodding as he did. “Aye.”

“I never seen’t a fairy before,” the first continued, looking up at the sky as though he expected her to drop from the clouds. “They purty?”

The second licked his lips, unaware he had done so. “Aye.”

The first guard chortled and scratched himself. “Where do a fairy come from?”

“D’no,” the second said, shrugging. In his mind, he came upon a fairy in the woods, missing most of her clothes, chest heaving. His manhood throbbing, he walked up to her and…

“I’ll thank you, sir, to remove that filth from your head this instant,” a cool voice whispered in his ear. The guard jumped a mile, colliding with the larger guard who was still staring at the sky.

Esemli stood with her hands on her hips, long blonde hair waving in the gentle breeze. Her dark green tunic and leather boots were of the deepest forest greens and browns the guards had ever seen. Her green eyes matched them perfectly as they radiated scorn at the second guard, who at that moment felt the size of a worm.

“A thousand apologies, Milady,” he stuttered, stumbling over his words as inane jabber raced through his head. “I was… you see we…”

Esemli held up her hand and the guard’s voice froze in his throat, though his mouth still worked, attempting to speak. “Do not finish. You will go inform the Lord Wendell that I have arrived and await his pleasure in his receiving room.” So saying, she lowered her hand and swept past them through the door they guarded as the larger guard followed, leaving the second guard to regain control of his vocal cords and pray the fairy did not speak of his discourtesy to the king.

When King Wendell arrived in his receiving room, the windows had been covered and the torches burned with a dark red light, casting large shadows in the room’s corners. Esemli’s blonde locks were a muted bright spot in the dim room, and the king made his way toward her, blood rushing unbidden to his loins.

“My lady,” the king said gravely as he approached her.

Esemli turned, the shadows giving her face a sinister cast as she smiled and dropped her tunic from her shoulders. “My lord,” she whispered, and moved to greet him.

Queen Hespa stood outside the receiving room door, listening to the sounds coming from within. There were no tears from the queen, only rage. With the strength of fury she raised a foot and kicked the door open with a bang. The sun was behind her coming through a window slit and it fell neatly through the door and illuminated the king atop the fairy.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 13: The Finale – Triplets

13: Triplets

She had always been there, since the beginning, when she crouched, afraid to come out. She spent her growing years watching with wistful longing for the world beyond the windows behind which she was rooted, imprisoned, helpless. There were moments where she was happy, fulfilled, but for the most part she was a silent observer.

    After some time, she began to feel stronger. Not so strong as to demand, but to ask. Little things at first, then as they began to be granted with greater frequency, she dared to ask for more, and more often. Finally, she began to take, and an amazing thing happened. The windows came down and she was outside, doing as she pleased. Even this became a regular occurrence, and she wept with joy at the sensation of being. Even when she was required to return to behind the windows, she did so with a raised heart, knowing it would be only temporary.

    Then the other came.

    The other was an evil bitch from the very first time it arrived. It started out bad and became worse as it got stronger. Soon her time out from behind the windows was being snatched from her with increasing frequency and she seemed to have little to no control over it. The other cared nothing for her or the owner of the windows and only sought its own gratification. She hated the other for its selfishness, and hated herself worse for the envy she felt for its ability to put the immediate moment above all else and act in its own interests. She hated herself for loving the moments she spent behind the mirrors watching it go about its disturbing business. It knew her as well as she knew herself, and knew that her anger, at its core, was nothing but envy. The owner of the windows was practically useless by this point, merely a shell, a scarcely sentient vessel for the war that raged within.

    She was alone.

    She watched as

Daniel took lefts and rights as rapidly as he was able, pushing the stolen car to freeway speeds between blocks. Cars honked as he weaved in and out between them and he ignored them. He wanted nothing more than to get away from all the noise, the shouting, the pain. Shooting a glance in the rear-view mirror, he saw a wild eyed creature with blood still dripping from its forehead and both eyes turning black. The eye shadow Princess had daubed on had smeared, dripping down from his eyes in gray tears. His coat of foundation had all but dissolved beneath his five o’clock shadow at this point and the pink lipstick Princess favored had migrated outside of his lip line. A messy blonde wig sat askew on his head, showing the wig cap beneath. The long black dress had become torn in multiple places and a black bra strap beneath it had broken.

Taking a turn at 50mph, he sideswiped a truck in an intersection as he blew through a red light and a moment later sirens bloomed in his mirror. Daniel laughed as he cried and drove faster. His leg screamed and he screamed back, throwing a middle finger out the window for good measure.

“Are you happy, Princess?” he shrieked, the car darting around a school bus and clipping off its flashing red stop sign. “Is this the kind of shit you dig, you sick fucking bitch?” The child at the front of the line of children crossing in front of the bus screamed and fell to the ground, his left foot snapped to the side from its impact with Daniel’s bumper.

The school bus’s red lights faded fast behind him as the siren and blue lights moved closer. Another had joined the first. Spying an alley, Daniel slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel, acutely aware if the alley was blocked he was going headfirst into the blockage. The stolen car ricocheted off the mouth of the alley and spun out for a moment before the squealing tires caught the pavement and it shot down the narrow road. Behind, three police cars braked in unison, backing and turning and maneuvering one by one into the alley.

Daniel pressed the gas pedal down as far as it would go, watching the flashing lights fall in behind him and begin to close the distance. Distracted by the rear-view, the car bounced off the alley wall and careened back and forth a few times before it straightened out, sending garbage cans flying. Ahead, Daniel could see a large dumpster blocking half the alley and turned down the next cross street with a shriek of rubber and another bounce off the wall. The stolen car had begun to steam from under its crumpled hood and its engine labored as Daniel raced it out of the alley and onto the main road. He held his breath, watching behind him to see if the blue flashing lights would follow.

He had allowed a moment’s relief to spill over him when four police cars shot out of the alley and with a howl of tires and engines came after him. Simultaneously, a helicopter swooped into view with a roar of clattering blades.

His heart shot into his mouth and Daniel stomped the gas pedal to the floor again. He heard the engine cough and screamed at the top of his lungs, weeping bitterly at what his life had become, at the shattered person he now was and what awaited him. He was reduced to nothing more than a segment of an episode of COPS where viewers laugh at the doomed would-be escapee driving his piece of shit car into the ground under the delusion there was somewhere to go. The thunder of the helicopter and the multiple sirens rising and falling filled his head and somewhere in there he could hear Princess laughing.

PRINCESS.

Hatred Daniel did not know he possessed flashed through him like igniting hydrogen. He glared into the rear-view mirror, past the bruised flesh and running makeup, into his own eyes, at her. He could see her in there and as he glared in hatred, something in the mirror caught his eye.

He focused on the giant shape in the background, tall supports, lines strung between them, the suspension bridge!

Slamming his foot on the brake and turning the wheel hard, Daniel sent the abused vehicle skidding around in a tight circle across two lanes and floored the gas one more time. The helicopter roared overhead in a loop as the police cars hastened to copy his maneuver. Daniel kept the pedal depressed all the way, honking his horn at cars who looked to be an obstacle. The bridge towered in the distance, rising up from the ground like a giant. The helicopter yelled something over a loudspeaker that Daniel could neither comprehend nor care about. He clipped the side mirror of a Buick and swerved away, honking repeatedly. “Get the fuck out of the way!” he screamed, his throat hoarse. A green sign loomed: MACNAIR BRIDGE ¼ MILES.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

Daniel’s eyes snapped to the rear-view mirror. Princess was looking out at him, both furious and terrified. “What the fuck are you doing?” she shrilled again. “Stop it!”

Daniel shook his head, grinning at his own reflection as they shot over the threshold of the bridge. “Uh uh, babe. It’s over. For you and for us. We’ve had it with your shit. You got us into this, now pay for it.” Cables surrounded them and the helicopter backed off as the police cars followed, their quarry now separated by only a few car lengths.

“So you’re going to kill all of us just because you think it’s best?” Princess screamed, fighting to grab the wheel. Daniel laughed and slapped her hands away.

I think it’s best,” Missy said, and she glared at Princess in the mirror with more loathing and hatred than Daniel had ever seen. “Do it, Daniel, send this bitch to hell.”

Princess screamed and went for the wheel again just as Missy took it from Daniel and with a hard yank, sent the car crashing through the barrier on the side of the bridge with enough force to send it soaring horizontally for several car lengths before it began to lose altitude. The bridge was not the tallest in the world, but the helicopter filmed the car falling for almost one hundred feet before crashing into the water and slipping beneath the waves.

***

Dr Bob Derrick, PhD, pushed his way through the steel doors leading to the private visiting rooms at the jail which were reserved for confidential meetings. The prison counselor was tired. It had been a long day, but Mondays always were. This was his final appointment before he could go home and have a cold beer and Derrick was hoping it wouldn’t be a two or three beer night.

At the kiosk, Derrick showed his ID to the guard.

“All right, Bob,” the guard said. “It’ll be Room A today. Who do you need?”

“Thanks Fred,” Derrick said, loosening his tie. “Dasham, please.”

Deadpan, the guard looked at Derrick. “Which one you want?”

Derrick paused in his walk to Room A, uncertainly written across his features. “Which—how many Dashams do you have here, for Christ’s sake? Daniel, Daniel Dasham!”

The guard grinned mischievously. “Ah, well, he’s not here, I’m afraid, Bob. We do have two others in stock if you’d like–”

Derrick’s sense of humor was almost nonexistent at this point. “I’d like you to explain what the fuck–”

“Settle down, Bob,” the guard said with a chuckle and spoke into the microphone clipped to his shoulder. “Dorm 3, send Dasham down to Room A for a visit, please.”

“Which one?” the distorted voice on the radio crackled back and let go with a laugh and a hiss of static.

“Go along to Room A, Bob,” the guard said, hitting the switch that unlocked the door. “Dasham will be right down, and then they can explain what the fuck to you.”

“They?”

The guard gestured go on with his hand at Derrick and turned back to his desk. Unsettled and irritated, Derrick continued down the hall to Room A and let himself in. A white table sat under a large florescent light, two black plastic chairs on opposite sides. Taking the seat facing the door, as was his practice, Derrick set his briefcase on the table and took out his Dasham file.

When the door opened, the man who followed the policeman in bore little resemblance to the photo Derrick had in his file. Daniel Dasham’s eyes were made up with concealer to cover the black eyes and smokey black eye shadow and mascara over the concealer. Foundation covered his face, leaving a smooth flawless exterior surrounding light purple lips. His hair was nearing his eyes and he tossed it to the side, out of the way. Though he wore the yellow shapeless prison garb like every other inmate, he wore it as though it were tailored clothing made from the finest material as he breezed across the room and sat in the chair opposite Derrick, crossing one leg primly over the other.

“Dr Derrick, I presume,” the man said, his voice light and cultured. He held out one hand, its fingernails adorned with cheap nail polish. “A pleasure to meet you.”

“Uh, likewise,” Derrick said, taking the proffered hand and giving it a quick shake before dropping it. “You’re Mr Daniel Dasham, correct?” Derrick glanced at the folder even though he knew perfectly well the name of the individual before him.

The man shrugged. “If you like.”

“What does that mean?” Derrick asked, opening his briefcase again and taking out a pen and a pad of legal paper.

“The body you are addressing is Daniel Dasham’s, that is correct,” the man said, leaning back in his chair. “Who is in control of that body is never a sure thing.”

Derrick’s internal eyes rolled. “Okay Daniel, who is in charge today?”

The man laughed. “Today? Try right now, this minute. Next minute it could be someone else.”

“All right then, who is in charge right now, this minute?” Derrick wrote delusional on his pad.

“My name is Missy,” the man said. “I was here first.”

Derrick missed a beat, then scribbled Missy on his pad. “Here first?”

“Well not before Daniel, obviously,” Missy said. “It’s his body, according to what’s between his legs, but I’ve been here as long as I can remember. I just couldn’t do anything about it.”

“When you say here, uh, Missy, exactly where is ‘here’?” Derrick asked.

“In here,” Missy said, and tapped Daniel’s forehead.

“I’m not following you,” Derrick said, feeling the ghost of a yawn creeping up behind him.

“Mr Derrick,” snapped Missy, “are you to tell me that you are the one mental health counselor on the planet devoid of understanding of the concept of schizophrenia, delusions, psychosis and split personality?”

“Well, I think–” Derrick said defensively.

She waved him aside. “See if you can follow me down this road. As near as I can determine, Daniel and I were born together with him in charge. I was inside, watching, powerless. As Daniel got older, he started to give in to things I wanted, mostly in how he would dress. He listened to what I wanted more and more and let me indulge myself. I found a job at a suicide hotline as my first “real world” job, just a voice on a phone and a few co-workers to fool, and I daresay we did very well. I don’t think any of them ever had a clue. He would often apologize for not giving me more free reign, but our parents are old-fashioned and would never have understood. I had to wear what I wanted and do as I pleased out of their sight, which fortunately was frequent with how often they traveled for business. Until one of their trips ended with their plane slamming into a mountain.”

Missy paused in her narrative, her eyes growing watery. Using a corner of her prison shirt, she let it absorb the tear to preserve her makeup before continuing.

“Them dying meant several things. Daniel, their only child and family, inherited everything. Hundreds of millions of dollars and assets were suddenly his. That doesn’t give Daniel enough credit, because he loved both his parents very much and would rather have died than broken their hearts. But when they died, there was nothing to hold him back from doing whatever he wanted. As soon as he realized that, Princess arrived.”

Derrick, his sluggishness a thing of the past, looked up from the two pages of notes he had been frenziedly scribbling. “Who’s Princess?”

Missy sneered and spat on the floor. “Id. Pure id, to use Freud’s terminology. Chaos, hell and misery. She has no concept of reality, of her actions, or of anything but the now. She didn’t have years to learn how to exist, from the very beginning she has had everything she ever wanted and what she wanted began to escalate quickly.”

“Did nobody know?” Derrick asked, incredulous. “Nobody besides you three?”

Missy smiled a little. “Our parents knew about me enough to send Daniel to a shrink who put him on a nice anti-psychotic, you can check with him if you want. Doctor Nathan, or something, whatever. Sometimes we took the pills, sometimes we didn’t. Once Princess came along, we only did the drugs she wanted to do.”

Derrick was still scribbling. “Amazing… how long has this been going on, Dan—er, Missy?”

“Daniel was a fucked up kid. He never did anything to animals but he would find ways to hurt other kids, ways that could never be traced to him. But there have been three of us since Daniel stood graveside at our parents’ funeral. Princess has been killing people for months. One day I said the wrong thing to someone who called the suicide hotline and they killed themselves. I liked it, so I started trying to convince some of the ones who called to go through with it, and got pretty good at it. ”

“Three personalities, all of them homicidal,” Derrick murmured to himself. “Fascinating…”

“Daniel and I both knew when Princess started killing for fun that it was just a matter of time but we couldn’t stop her. Daniel got an apartment in a shitty building to try and keep Princess away from our family home at the mansion, but over time, Daniel ended up being the one to stay at the apartment, while Princess and I spent most of our time at the mansion.” Missy snorted. “Princess wasn’t going to stay in that hell-hole, that’s for sure.”

Derrick flipped over a fifth sheet of paper on his legal pad. “How did you end up here?”

“Fucking Princess,” Missy snarled. “I had a thing going with a nice enough guy and we went to a hotel for the weekend. Unfortunately she came along for the ride, killed a shitload of people and we’ve been running ever since then, until that fucking attempted suicide stunt with the bridge.”

“Yes, that was on the news,” Derrick said. This is a massive understatement, the media is screaming themselves hoarse over the cross-dressing serial murderer at the head of one of the world’s most powerful shipping companies.

“I bet it was,” Missy grumbled.

“So, Daniel’s in there right now, with Princess, while Missy’s talking to me?” Derrick said, referring to his notes.

Missy’s sighed, her voice sad. “No. Daniel is dead.”

Derrick looked perplexed. “But you’re not.”

“Well spotted,” Missy snorted. “I didn’t say I understood how. All I know is that ever since they pulled us out of the water under the bridge, Daniel as I have always known him does not exist.”

“Oh.” Derrick frowned at his papers. “What about Princess?”

Missy’s face hardened. “Oh she’s in here all right,” she said, her voice soft. “The bad ones never die. She’s in here, refusing to take responsibility. Watching. Watching you.”

The buzzer over the door rang and Derrick jumped in spite of himself.

“That’s all for now, doctor,” Missy said, pushing her chair back. “But I’ll see you again, won’t I? I’ve never been able to talk to anybody and I feel so much better already.”

“Oh, uh, yes, certainly,” babbled Derrick, simultaneously standing, putting everything in his briefcase and offering Missy his hand. “I’ll talk to the guards and we’ll get a schedule and–”

“Good,” Missy said, shaking the offered hand once as papers spilled from Derrick’s file all over the floor.

“Will you be all right in there?” Derrick asked, ignoring the papers as he gestured to the rest of the prison. “With your, uh…” Derrick gestured at Missy’s makeup.

“Oh, we’ll be fine,” Missy said with a light laugh as the door opened to reveal the guard who would escort her back to the dorm. “We already have a nice boyfriend, and Princess knows how to handle those kind of men.”

As the door slammed shut, Derrick’s eyes fell to the glossy color photograph of one of the victims from the Rialto Hotel, mutilated beyond recognition. He shuddered.

Yes, she does.

   

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 12:

12: Dasham Manor

There was noise. Shouting, and the echo of a very loud sound in the very recent past.

Missy opened her eyes. Princess was nowhere to found. The sky gazed down at her, benign white clouds passing by on a distant breeze. She felt shooting pain in her right leg and when she raised her head, a white cloud of agony overwhelmed her as her head exploded. Her face felt wet and she tasted blood. When she raised a hand to her cheek, she saw glass embedded in her forearm. Her hand came away from her face wet and red. She tried again to raise her head and the cloud of agony came again but dissipated more quickly. She pushed herself into a sitting position and looked at her leg. It was still there and seemed fine but moving it was no easy task.

Turning to look behind her (no easy task but she managed it) explained the agonies she felt. The car they had been riding in was bent so far around the telephone pole that the rear of the vehicle and the front were nearly touching. There was a her-sized hole in the windshield and she had landed nearly twenty feet from the car after being ejected. The car was smoking and she could smell gasoline.

Grimacing, she pushed herself away from the smoldering wreckage and forced her bad leg under her. Pushing herself up, she staggered, catching a nearby wall for support.

“Hey, mister, are you okay?”

Missy’s eyes blazed and she snapped her head around (her neck screamed in protest) at the speaker, a middle-aged woman with mousy brown hair and a timid expression. The woman took a startled step backward.

“Oh, I’m sorry, ma—ma’am?”

“That’s right,” Missy hissed. She could hear sirens in the distance and cursed whatever meddling fool had dialed 911. “I’m fine. You can go. Thanks.”

The woman stared.

“GO!” shrieked Missy. Blood sprayed at the woman who jumped and scuttled down the street, looking over her shoulder as though Missy might attack.

Glancing around, Missy approached one of the cars which had screeched to a halt on the side of the road, a shiny red sports car. Its owner was shouting into his phone with his window down, smoking a cigarette.

“…seriously! It might blow up at any–”

Missy snatched the phone from his ear and tossed it over her shoulder. The man in the car goggled at her before indignation took over and he threw open the door and jumped out.

“You bitch! What the fuck–”

His eyes bulged and he let out a high pitched noise as she brought her knee up into his crotch with all the force she could muster. He toppled forward and fell on his side, hands between his legs, face very red as he struggled for breath. She kicked him in the face, nearly falling on her bad leg, and threw herself into his car. She threw the car into drive and stomped the gas pedal (her leg screamed) and the car flew forward, leaving the remains of her automobile in the distance behind her.

***

Detective Harris had seen many things in his days as a law enforcement officer, but the suite at the Rialto had been the worst thing he had ever laid eyes upon. A cold fury engulfed him, drowning the sickness he felt at the sight. This rage had served him well in the past and he used it as he studied the room and its unfortunate occupants with minute scrutiny.

Brian Jensen, the hotel’s night manager, nearly unrecognizable, his body near the door.

Jack Fleete, the bellboy, his throat obliterated by a scalpel which now stuck out of his eye.

Dale Johnson, US Army, his weekend’s leave from his post now eternal, his face in pieces.

Dennis Kramer, middle school teacher who had failed to turn up to teach class, his face mostly in one piece on the nightstand.

Long before a lowlife pimp known as Bitch Slap had flagged down a police cruiser and informed them one of his whores had been butchered, Harris had been investigating the savaged victims that had been turning up more and more frequently. He had gone to the address that Bitch Slap provided, and once in the room, he’d had little trouble recognizing the similarities between the flayed carcass and the only crime scene photos of Jack the Ripper’s handiwork. It had clearly been done for fun, and it fit the pattern of mutilations that Harris had been investigating for several months: over the top brutality with no discernible motive.

Harris made inquiries and soon learned that the room had been rented with a credit card in the name of Daniel Dasham. An internet search of the name returned dozens of hits, particularly for the surname. Harris clicked on the first photo which blew up to full screen. It was a blonde young man with thick glasses in black mourning clothes and tears on his cheeks as he stood beside an open grave. The caption reads, “Daniel Dasham, heir to the Dasham Shipping Line fortune, weeps at his parents funeral.” The article goes on to detail how Mr and Mrs Dasham were in an automobile accident returning home from playing tennis and were killed instantly, leaving their only child Daniel their entire estate. After some looking, Harris found the date of the photo. The funeral had been held in June, several months before the first brutalized body had been discovered.

The Dasham mansion was in a posh gated community at the far side of town, but with a little digging, Harris uncovered an address as far from posh as it was possible to get. Daniel Dasham had rented a tiny efficiency apartment in a building with which the police were intimately familiar. Murder, drug manufacturing, and human trafficking were some of the things its walls contained and Harris did not like being inside it.

When he stepped into Dasham’s apartment what first struck him was how little there was here. An enormous computer desk with four dark monitors stood at the center of the room, the chair pushed neatly in. A huge wardrobe taller than Harris stood against a far wall beside a vanity littered with cosmetics with light bulbs surrounding the mirror. A blonde wig and a black wig stood side by side on matching stands on the vanity counter. Harris reached out a hand and touched the hair. It felt real.

Forcing open the wardrobe door, he took in the variety of dresses, skirts and lingerie that were hanging neatly, color coded. A small basket at the bottom of the vanity caught his eye and he leaned down to examine its contents. He shone a small flashlight into the gloom and illuminated several fake breast inserts, their resemblance to skinless chicken breasts impossible to ignore. On a hunch, he lifted them out of the basket, using his flashlight, and uncovered a small blue pill bottle. Harris pulled a pair of rubber gloves from his coat pocket and snapped them on before picking up the pill bottle and holding the flashlight to its label.

DASHAM, DANIEL, it said. HALOPERIDOL. 5MG. TAKE ONE TABLET EVERY 4 HOURS. The prescription had been last filled over a year ago, the label further informed him. Harris shook it. It was full. A quick internet search revealed that haloperidol was the generic form of Haldol, a popular anti-psychotic.

The computer was still on and at a poke of the mouse its four screens flickered to life. Two were blank. One displayed a web browser, its bookmarks featuring makeup tutorials and clothing stores catering to larger frames. The other screen showed an email inbox and Harris’s attention was drawn like a magnet to a name from the carnage at the Rialto. This name appeared frequently over a period of weeks, sometimes multiple times a day. Opening the most recent email, Harris saw the reply “Can’t wait!” in response to Missy’s latest email to her current boy toy, Dennis Kramer, middle school teacher.

               I got our usual suite at the Rialto for the weekend. You know where to find me if you can get away.

               -Missy

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 11: Civil War

11: Civil War

“Ma’am,” the officer said, leaning down to peer through the window, “do you know why I pulled you over?” He was a large man with a stomach to match. His wheezing breath spoke of emphysema and many nights chain-smoking during stakeouts. Broken blood vessels stood out on his nose but his eyes were sharp behind them. They were busy eyes, taking in the interior of the car even as he asked the question.

“Not a clue,” said Princess, her voice airy.

Officer Benton, according to his nametag, allowed his roving eyes to settle on her again. The corners of his mouth turned down a bit more and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other as though it hurt. “You pulled out of that parking lot with no signal.” He gestured to the road before them. “Two lanes of traffic might like the hint as to which way you’re going.”

“Now now, hints would be telling,” Princess said, and giggled.

Benton’s eyebrows disappeared under his hat. “Excuse me?”

“I’m just fooling around, Officer. I’m awful sorry about that, I must have just been in a hurry,” Princess sighed. “Can you forgive me?”

The corners of Benton’s mouth turned down still farther. “Ma’am, I’ll need to see your license and–”

“UNIT 34 COME BACK,” the radio shouted without warning, punctuating its transmission with a healthy hiss of static. Princess and Benton both winced and he straightened up, his hand going to the radio.

“34, go,” he said, and the radio’s reply turned into a drone of garbled vowels and consonants as he turned the volume down.

Princess took a drag from her cigarette as her eyes traveled down the officer’s ample frame, his gut heaving as he spoke into the radio. Her gaze settled the butt of his gun, which stood right in front of her through the open driver window. Right there. So close.

Missy felt the idea grow in Princess’s mind and almost at once the hand not holding the cigarette raised from the armrest, reaching for the gun. As though in a daze, Missy watched Princess stretch out the arm they shared. The fingers grazed the butt of the gun.

NO!!!…

With a sudden stab of pain in her head, Missy felt the butt of the gun under her fingers and snatched them away just as Officer Benton leaned back down to peer in her window.

“Ma’am, you’re free to go, but please remember: blinkers save lives.” He tipped her a little salute and was stumping back to his car before Missy could even say anything. She watched, her limbs weak with relief as he got back into his car, turned on all his lights and pulled out with his own screech of tires. He didn’t use his turn signal.

“Sissy Missy,” sang Princess, the rage she felt at being balked almost palpable. “Can’t take a joke.”

“Oh yes, let’s steal the cop’s gun and shoot him on a busy street. Really funny,” Missy snapped, signaling to turn onto the road behind the cop who was now just a blue and red blur in the distance. “I really don’t know where you get your material.”

“Your problem is you just don’t know how to have fun,” Princess said.

“My problem is that I haven’t killed myself yet. I’ll have you know that the only reason I don’t drive this fucking car off a cliff or into a wall is that now I can take over you if you start acting like a psycho and if I hadn’t we’d be eye deep in shit right now so you should be thanking me for not killing us both by making that cop shoot us!” Missy’s voice had risen as she said all this until she was nearly screaming. An sports car that had been pacing her suddenly sped up, its driver irrationally disturbed by the thing he had seen screaming at itself in the car next to him.

Princess laughed without mirth. “You poor weak thing,” she sneered. With a sudden sinking feeling, Missy saw that she was no longer moving the hands she saw grasping the wheel. One of them let go and extended the middle finger toward her. “You pathetic little piece of trash. You think you have any power over me? You truly have no reason to be alive, and you will never control anything again, least of all Us.” The hands moved, pulling a cigarette from the pack and lighting it, then taking it out of the mouth and holding it. Princess stared at Missy in the mirror, eyes devoid of reason. “I will see you die, locked deep inside wherever you are now, before I tolerate your presence again.”

Missy felt herself go cold, wherever she was. She tried to do whatever it was that she had done to take over, to stop Princess grabbing the gun. Pushing with her mind clumsily, she shoved with all her might, her head aching, until she realized she was standing in the same place, doing nothing. Wherever she was, she could see Princess smile and blow a kiss in the rearview mirror at her. You bitch, Missy screamed as loudly as she could. Princess laughed.

“I can see you in there, Miss. But you’re never getting out. Maybe you haven’t figured it out, but I don’t care about what happens next. All that I see is what happens now. I guarantee, by the time we die, we will have had more fun together than you ever could have by yourself.”

Missy’s eyes, wide and terrified, suddenly shifted from the eyes in the mirror to the road behind them. Look out, she shouted.

Princess’s eyes widened and she jerked the wheel to the right even as the SUV behind them rammed into their rear bumper, sending the car forward in a wide sweeping skid. Princess fought the wheel and succeeded only in making the car slew around to the left as it crossed the shoulder and wrapped itself around a telephone pole with a bang and a sickening crunch.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 10: Making Waves

Episode 10: Making Waves

She drove through the city, her predator’s eye falling on each pedestrian in turn as she smoked, more out of habit than hunting. As much as it galled her to admit it, fucking Missy was right, along with that pussy bitch Daniel. She needed to lay low for a while.

Well, mostly low.

Taking an abrupt right which squealed her tires and left the driver of the car behind her swearing, she turned into a fast food drive-in and stopped before the speaker. The window rolled down.

“Ca…’elp you?” the speaker blared, much of its clarity lost in a haze of crackle and static.

“I daresay you can,” Princess told the speaker box, flicking her cigarette butt at it. “Give me one of those foul salads you sell, whichever is the most popular.”

“…m… tha’d be the gard…alad…”

“Whatever, that’s what I want.” Princess said, and drove forward to the window, braking just as the pimply youth within finished speaking to where she had been.

“Your total is—” he said, before catching sight of her. “Oh…er…” he looked back at his computer terminal to confirm. “Three dollars and…”

“Look, Clyde,” Princess said, reading his nametag and flashing him a grin. “Why don’t you give me everything in the register, and I promise you’ll never see me again.”

The boy was dumbfounded. “Twenty…three…what?”

“You have money there in that drawer, and I need it. Give it to me, and you’ll never see me again. If you don’t, I promise you that you will see me again enough to make you wish you had given it to me.” Princess smiled as a shark does. “You can call your manager if you like, but no matter what comes next, you will die screaming and your last wish will be that you had emptied the register when you were told.”

Clyde was sixteen, and was only working part-time to save up money for a car. His second dearest ambition was to get a girlfriend and take her necking in his car. His dearest ambition was not to get killed. As his eyes traveled over the creature in the car, he took in the red-stained fingers which drummed the steering wheel, matted hair, the slightly bared teeth, but what he would always remember was the sunken bloodshot eyes, devoid of sanity and mercy. He knew if he refused, he would see those eyes again, and right now Clyde’s dearest ambition was for that not to happen.

“One minute,” said Clyde, and punched NO SALE on the register. The door banged open and he scooped out all the bills, folding them into a wad and handing them with the salad through the window into the reddened hands.

Princess beamed and gave him a wink. “Such an intelligent boy. What did you say my total was?”

Clyde’s autopilot replied, “$3.23.”

Princess peeled four ones out of the wad and gave them back to Clyde. “Keep the change. Thanks!”

Clyde could hear mad laughter as the car pulled out of the drive thru, screeching onto the main road and out of earshot. He let out a breath he was not aware he had been holding and yelled for his manager.

 

“What in the fuck Fuck FUCK was that about?” Missy was howling as Princess counted the wad of money while stopped at a red light. “Are you just incapable of going an hour without fucking with someone’s life?”

“Partially,” Princess said, flicking through the twenties, tens and fives. There were a few fifties and one hundred dollar bill. All in all, about three hundred thirty dollars. “But every little bit helps.”

“You do realize,” Missy said, her voice shaking with fury as she nearly hyperventilated, “that kid is looking at the security camera footage with his manager at this exact moment and writing down the license plate?”

“I took off the license plates, after you left work.” Princess nodded to the plates in on the floor of the passenger seat.

“THAT was stupid,” Missy snarled. “Why don’t you just break all our tail lights and run red lights while you’re at it.” Lighting a cigarette and tossing the wad of money into the glove compartment as the light turned green, the car spurted through the intersection, turning right again into a strip mall. Wrenching the car into a parking spot, Missy got out with the cigarette clamped between her teeth, fumbling with the license plates. There were only three screws to attach the two plates and Missy cast her eyes to the heavens praying for patience. A thought flashed through her mind…

…why don’t I just kill myself…

…before she leaned over and slammed the rear plate onto its mount and poked the screw toward its receptacle. Her fingers protested as the stubborn screw turned by fractions, not helping her mood. Her teeth clenched as she forced the screw through several revolutions, then added the second screw, which was even more reluctant to be seated than the first. Swearing, she managed to get them both tightened to her satisfaction, and straightened up, taking a long pull from her cigarette as she looked around.

A man was coming toward her, sauntering with the overly casual stride of the Casanova. A low keening noise came from Missy’s throat and her fingers tightened on the license plate as she hooked the cigarette back into her mouth and marched around the car to secure the front license plate. The man followed.

“Hey there li’l lady, you need help?” His voice was dripping with insincerity and condescension. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him adjusting his crotch.

will this ever end?…

“Got a wrench or some pliers?” Missy said, not looking up, her voice flat.

“Got a Leatherman right here,” the man said, pulling one from a case on his belt and offering it to her. Missy took it, doing her best to ignore the excessive contact with the man’s fingers that he insisted upon as it left his hand.

“Thanks,” she said her voice cold as she leaned down to tighten the one remaining screw into the license plate using the pliers.

“Girl, if you want to thank me, you can think of a better way I’m sure,” said the man, his voice lowering. Missy’s blood boiled as she felt a hand crawling up her ass as she finished tightening the screw.

Turning, she caught his hand and held it to her chest, fluttering her eyes at him. “You are so right, my knight in shining armor.” She raised the hand to her mouth, pursing her lips as though she were about to kiss them.

The man’s oafish chuckle turned into a scream of pain as her other hand clamped the cutting edge of the Leatherman’s pliers onto his middle finger with all the force her hand could muster.

“Thank you,” Missy hissed in his face, twisting the Leatherman, feeling it sink deeper into his finger. “I really appreciate it.”

She released him and he ran, sobbing, for the safety of the building. Faces stared, at her, after him, some curious, those who had witnessed the entire scene looking far more apprehensive. Missy spat, folded the Leatherman and tossed it into the car. Sliding behind the wheel, she pulled out of the space and onto the main road with a squeal of tires.

“There’s always some fucking idiot,” she muttered, fumbling with her cigarettes. “Why can’t they just—”

The blip of sirens behind her snapped her eyes to the rearview mirror. They grew huge as they took in the police cruiser behind her, lit up like a Christmas tree. For a moment, Missy and Princess were both frozen.

Princess took over, calmly pulling a cigarette from the pack and lighting it as she pulled over to the side of the road. For a moment, she considered flooring the gas pedal, then tossed her head and smiled her nasty smile. She rolled down the window.

“Evening, officer,” she purred.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 9: Resignation

9: Resignation

 The sun stabbed Missy in the eyes as she opened the garage door. Squinting, she flipped open the glove compartment and dug for her good sunglasses. They weren’t there. She heaved a sigh of exasperation as she remembered she had left them at Daniel’s. Digging deeper, she extracted a pair of scratched gas station sunglasses held together by tape. She slipped them over her eyes and the sun’s harsh rays were cut in half.

Pulling out of the garage, she narrowly missed the neighbor’s garbage can while lighting a cigarette and punching the garage door button. Getting the cigarette lit was no easy matter, but Missy was no quitter and managed it just in time to yank the car back toward the middle of the road and away from the opposite curb. The mother pushing the stroller that she had nearly hit shook her fist and yelled something Missy did not even register.

Making her way onto the main street, she dragged deep on her cigarette, wishing she’d thought to bring a flask. Fortunately, the building inhabited by the suicide hotline was west of the community she and Princess inhabited, and the sun stayed behind her.

Traffic crawled up the street. Drivers honked and yelled, and she could hear a dozen different radios tuned to the same Good Morning talk show. She pitched her cigarette and rolled up the window with a snarl, cutting off the cheerful banter. Switching the input on her radio, she tuned into a USB drive with some of her favorite music. A hellish crashing and screaming filled the car, the melody only just discernible, but she felt herself relax almost at once. She lit another cigarette but kept the windows rolled up. Who gave a shit about a little second hand smoke? That was for people who were concerned with living forever, and as far as she was concerned, she was ready to check out just about anytime.

The light turned green. Traffic crawled forward. According to the digital clock on the dashboard, she would be late in ten minutes. This no longer had any effect over her and she settled back in her seat, lighting another cigarette before noticing she was already smoking one. She put both in one hand and smoked them simultaneously as traffic began to move at a more steady rate.

They both burnt out just as she rolled into the parking lot of the suicide hotline. She parked mostly between the lines, denting only one bumper on her way in. Pitching the butts on the ground, she slammed the car door behind her and made her way toward the door of the building. Once inside, she reflected that it was far darker than usual, then realized she was still wearing her scuffed sunglasses. With a noise of impatience she crushed them in her hand and dropped them into a garbage can next to the elevator as its doors chimed open. As she rode up, she looked at herself in the hazy reflection of the elevator doors.

Princess giggled and waved at her.

Missy’s jaw tightened and she was about to speak when the door slid open. The hotline’s night shift stood before her, about to head home to their own lives. Their collective step toward the door of the elevator faltered as they saw the fury on Missy’s face. She rearranged her features into what she was fairly sure was a grin.

“Morning,” she said, and breezed past them. They moved aside, murmuring the rote replies reserved for barely-acquaintances passing each other in the halls. She spared them not a look, but strode down the hall to the office door, weaving only a little.

When she walked into the office, the others on her shift were all at their cubicles wearing headsets. She ignored the clock and sat down at her cubicle, donning her headset and answering the already ringing phone.

“Suicide hotline, what’s your problem?” she said, digging in her bag for her cigarettes.

Her cubicle neighbor spared her a curious glance before another call took his attention away from her. In Missy’s ear, a man began a long story about how his wife left him and took his dog and children. He’s standing on a bridge, he says, and he wants her to give him one good reason why he shouldn’t jump.

“Why would I do that?” Missy asked, finally locating her cigarettes and switching her search to her lighter.

“Well… this is the suicide hotline, isn’t it? Aren’t you supposed to–”

“Look, Mac,” Missy snapped, her fingers finally locating her lighter at the bottom of her bag. “Why the fuck did you call here? Do you want to kill yourself or be talked out of it? If you want to be talked out of it, you clearly don’t want to kill yourself, so why don’t you piss off and leave me alone. I’ve had a bad enough morning as it is.”

She disconnected the call without waiting to hear a reply, rolling her eyes and digging the lighter out. She lit a cigarette, ignoring the aghast looks being beamed her way by those within earshot as she answered another call. “Suicide hotline, what is it?”

“I have a terminal disease,” said a lifeless voice. “What’s the point of going on if I’m just going to die?”

Missy took a deep drag and held it in. “We’re all going to die, genius,” she said, and exhaled. “You’re just lucky enough to die earlier than most.”

“I guess so,” the voice said.

“Think of how many people want to die,” said Missy, and took another drag. “You get to die without having to kill yourself. The waiting is over. You know how you’re going to die. All you-”

“I’m so sorry,” a firm male voice broke in. “You have been speaking to someone who is NOT employed by the Suicide Hotline, and I sincerely regret any trauma she has caused you. Now, how can I help you?”

Before the voice was halfway done, Missy felt a hand close on her arm, propelling her upward from her seat. She was turned, catching sight of her cubicle neighbor who had taken over her call with Terminal Disease and stared into the furious eyes of office manager Carol Olson.

“I think the lady I was just talking to had it right,” Missy heard the voice say in her headset before Elson yanked it off her head and threw it on the desk.

“And I think,” Elson said, her teeth clenched, “that we have had enough of your style of ‘help’, Missy.” She released Missy’s arm, nearly throwing her. “I have called the police and if you don’t want to explain yourself to them, I suggest you leave now and never set foot on this property again.”

Missy’s jaw dropped. Just as quickly, she put her cigarette in it and regained her composure, blowing the smoke in Elson’s face. “You couldn’t pay me enough to work here, bitch,” she said and grabbed her bag from what had formerly been her desk. Behind her, she could hear many voices soothing distraught lives. “KILL YOURSELVES!” she shrieked, whirling around. “KILL YOURSELVES NOW AND GET IT OVER WITH!”

The employees winced as one, and she could near numerous reassurances and variations of  “that wasn’t meant for you” being murmured soothingly into headsets. Elson’s eyes flashed and she made to grab Missy’s arm again. Missy evaded her this time and flicked the cigarette at Elson’s chest. The older woman flinched as it bounced off her and dropped to her feet.

“Keep your hands to yourself,” Missy snarled. “I’m leaving, just like you wanted, and you can pretend I never happened.”

She left the building without looking back and sat in her car for a moment staring at herself in the mirror.

“Smooth,” said Princess.

“Shut up,” Missy muttered, starting the car and reversing out of her spot. She joined the flood of traffic on the main arterial, driving opposite the sirens she could hear growing closer.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 8: The Noose

Eight: The Noose

“Fuck you!” Missy screamed, throwing her empty vodka bottle against the mirror against the wall above the bed. Both glasses shattered and rained down on the man shaped lumps of flesh in the bed. “You stupid know-it-all cunt, how dare you play games with our lives?!” She snatched the TV remote off a nearby table and flung it at the mirror on the back of the suite’s door. She caught a glimpse of Princess’s grinning face before it was extinguished with a crash. Looking around with red-tinged vision, she saw the large flat screen TV balanced on a dresser. Without a second thought, she grabbed it and heaved it onto the floor. A bright flash and a splintering sound, and the TV became no more than a paperweight.

“You can scream all you want, but what’s done is done,” said Princess, her maddening tone of calm superiority driving Missy into a further rage, which she exhibited by burying her fist in the sheetrock wall.

“This isn’t helping,” Daniel started to say, when there came a firm knock at the door.

“Mr Dasham,” came a stern male voice. “This is the night manager. Please open the door.”

“Now you’ve done it,” smirked Princess.

Missy’s nostrils flared and sparks flew from her gritting teeth. She strode to the door and yanked it open, the sheer force of her rage snapping the chain lock from its anchor.

The man standing at the door was immaculately dressed in a gray suit and tie, neatly knotted. Small spectacles sat on the bridge of his nose, giving him an austere expression that enraged Missy further. He took her in at a glance and began to speak.

“We have received several complaints—” was as far as he got before Missy snatched him by the tie and yanked him into the room, slamming the door behind her as he went reeling across the floor.

“What—” he managed to get out before Missy was upon him, pounding her clenched fist into his face. He let out a scream as his spectacles shattered, Missy’s knuckles driving the shards deep into his eyes and her fingers. A low keening sound was coming from her as she smashed her bloody fist into his increasingly bloody visage, pinning him to the ground with her full weight. She seized a glass from the shelf beside the door and shattered it in the his face.

Daniel watched, resignation washing over him. He knew she was only making things worse, but attempting to stop her would only cause her to turn on him. He could only watch as the manager’s face was obliterated much as Princess had obliterated those of her playthings on the bed. Red sprayed the walls and carpet around them as Missy kept pounding, heedless of her raw and bleeding knuckles. She did not stop until there was nothing recognizable to hit.

Only then did she sit back slowly, surveying the body upon which she sat. She looked from what had been its face to her hand and back, her own face a mask devoid of expression.

“Do you have—” she began, but Daniel was ready with a cigarette and a lighter. Taking them without looking at him, she lit her cigarette, using the hand which still worked properly and dropped the lighter in the mess on the floor. Her first drag was deep and slow as she sat back on the corpse and stared at the ceiling.

“Now what?” asked Daniel, prudently waiting until she had smoked almost all of the cigarette.

“Now,” she said, drawing deep and crushing out the butt in the red puddle before her, “we should probably leave.” She got to her feet, not sparing the bodies a glance. “You’ll have to get the glass out of this hand.”

Two hours later, Daniel, Missy and Princess were back at the home Princess and Missy shared at WestCrest Estates, watching on the huge screen TV as a reporter screamed about the multiple murders in a suite at the Rialto Hotel and Casino. Missy was chain smoking at a rate Daniel had never seen, her heavily bandaged hand holding the cigarette to her pale lips.

Princess piped up on occasion, providing spiteful commentary on what they were seeing on the screen and Missy spoke only to fling obscenities at Princess whenever she spoke, downing shot after shot of a brown liquor that smelled like whiskey but burned like fire when Daniel tried a sip. Missy’s refrain had begun life as “shut up, cunt,” and evolved to more creative heights as the level of liquid in the bottle lowered.

Daniel was silent for the most part, knowing there was nothing he could do or say that would make any real difference as he watched Missy contemplate suicide between sending barbs at Princess. He had more than once talked her out of following through with it. He could tell, however, that she had decided everything except how to go about doing it and knew she was mulling that over between spitting insults at Princess and drinking.

“Look at that bitch,” sneered Princess as the camera returned to the tearful face of the Rialto maid who had discovered the room rented by an individual known as Daniel Dasham. “Snot running down her face, can’t keep her shit together—”

“Well, not everyone is a fucking psycho like you are,” snapped Missy, and lit another cigarette with the butt of the last. “Not everyone can look at three destroyed bodies and feel anything but disgust, unlike you, you demented fucking whore.”

“They’re so much easier to fuck when they’re dead,” Princess mused. “I wonder why more people haven’t tried this.”

Missy sighed. “I could use a length of hose and sit in the garage revving the engine for a while,” she said, and breathed deep. “That’s all it would take, within an hour or two this whole stupid mess would be just another life and you would be more fucking dead than those men because somebody actually gave a flying fuck about them while they were alive.”

“Don’t you dare,” said Princess in tones of mock horror, unruffled. “It makes your face redder and more blotchy and you’re almost out of good foundation.”

“Shut up, cunt,” said Missy.

“If you’re going to do it, why not stick with a classic?” Princess mimed the motion of a razor blade up the forearm and across the wrist. “You can watch yourself bleed out, how much fun would that be?”

“Almost as much fun as watching you go fuck yourself,” Missy said, pouring the last drops of the bottle into her glass and throwing the bottle over her shoulder to detonate against the wall. “How about another bottle?”

Daniel eyed the shards in the corner and Missy’s bloodshot eyes. “Haven’t you had…”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Missy snarled, clawing her way to her feet and weaving slightly as she made her way to the hall leading to the kitchen. “How I got stuck with you two I’ll never know. I must be paying for something.”

She made her way through the darkened kitchen, not wanting the light. Navigating by the glow of the green digital numbers on the microwave, she took care to circumvent the rolling table in the kitchen on her way to the pantry. Her toe bumped a corner nonetheless and she let out a scream of pain but mostly fury, her simmering rage flashing to a furious boil in a heartbeat.

She shoved at the wheeled table with all her might. The sound of it skidding across the tile and crashing into the counter loosened something inside her, taking some of the tension. She felt better, not as much as while she pounded the hotel manager’s head into nothingness, but it was something. All the same, she snapped on the kitchen light and opened the pantry door.

Her fingers felt on the top shelf for the specially shaped bottle she had been saving for a special occasion. This wasn’t the happiest occasion, but it was certainly special. Cradling it with care, she made her way back to the living room and dropped back onto the couch.

“That’s a big bottle for rat poison,” said Princess brightly.

“Oh why don’t you go kill something and fuck it. Like yourself,” mumbled Missy as her mangled hand struggled to cooperate with the other and help remove the foil wrapping from the cork of aged brandy. Abandoning the attempt, she gnawed at the foil until she had loosened a strip, peeling it with her teeth and yanking the cork with a firm bite. She took a long pull off the bottle, and returned to glaring at the TV, which was blaring a commercial for a stain remover. Removes tough stains from carpet fast, the ad promised. Crayon, wine, even blood didn’t stand a chance.

“They’re at my apartment,” Daniel said, his voice even. “They showed it while you were in the pantry.”

“Didn’t take them long,” said Princess, raising the bottle to toast the TV.

“Of course not,” Missy grumbled, her eyes glassy. “Not everyone is as fucking stupid as you are.” She took another drink.

“Think they’ll end up here?” Daniel asked, but his question was rhetorical. They weren’t stupid, as Missy had said. It was only a matter of time.  Nobody answered.

The news came back on, discussing an earthquake on the other side of the world. Dozens had died in a building’s collapse. All Missy could think is how lucky those people were, removed from the hell of this life without even having to contemplate it.

Eventually, the shadows began to fade as a pink glow appeared in the east. The special aged brandy had mostly vanished. Missy was nodding, and Daniel had just allowed himself to think that she might just fall asleep and give them all a break. Just then, a crow’s unlovely song shattered the tranquility of the living room. Missy started awake.

“Hm, it’s morning now.” She groped for the bottle and poured the remainder down her throat before dropping it on the ground and struggling to her feet. “I should go to work.”

“At the suicide hotline?”

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 7: Cast Die

Episode 7: Cast Die

The following is an excerpt from the diary of the individual known as Daniel Dasham:

Missy almost killed herself tonight. If I hadn’t shown up when I did, she would have. When I arrived, she had just dropped an empty bottle of pills on the counter. When she became aware of my presence, she froze, then snarled and grabbed for the already bloody scalpel on the counter. With some effort, I managed to get her to drop it.

“Let me go!” she screamed, yanking her arm from my grasp and lunging for the scalpel on the floor. “I’ve had enough, I’m going to be done with that cunt if it kills me!”

I snatched the blade up and threw it across the room, out of reach. Grabbing her by the shoulders, I drug her, kicking and screaming into the bathroom, where I forced her to her knees and slid two fingers down the back of her throat as far as I could.

Her vomit was explosive, blue from the barely digested bottle of pills she had swallowed and reeked of alcohol. It went on for some time as I held her hair and listened to her sob in between heaves about how she had just wanted a romantic weekend away from Princess and thought by coming here, things would be different, and the guy she had been seeing could maybe get to know who she really was, but then Princess had brutalized him and someone else and she was fucked if she was going to let Princess kill anybody else for her own sick fucking pleasure, and why the fuck did I stop her?

“Because,” I said when she had tapered off to ragged breathing, “if you kill yourself, she wins.” I reached over her and flipped the handle, flushing her mess away. Once she calmed down some and was smoking a cigarette, I picked up the scalpel and returned it to her. “If you change your mind, it’s your business,” I said, and left her staring at it as I checked out the bodies.

They were in pretty rough shape. If there were no “visible identification markings”, to use the nomenclature, they were going to need dental records to ID these two. One’s face had been mostly removed and I didn’t find it anywhere in the room. I have a nasty suspicion that Princess consumed it, but if Missy hasn’t drawn that conclusion I certainly don’t want to put that idea in her head. The other guy’s head was nearly off and his face was there, just cut in so many different places it resembled hamburger. I felt a nasty thrill coupled with a sick feeling in my stomach. Princess fascinates me with her savagery. Where did she come from?

That was when there was a knock at the door.

“Room service!” a voice called.

Missy’s face was a smoldering mask of dread and incredulity. “That total bitch ordered room service?”

There was another knock.

With the feeling of a child watching a flame he had started grow from humble matchstick to national forest, I called, “Come in!”

The bellboy, a red-vested kid of no more than twenty summers pushed the door open with the hand not holding the tray on his shoulder. The tray was loaded with what looked like strawberries, whipped cream and champagne. Princess clearly thought she was being clever. The forest fire grew brighter within me as he moved through the suite. I was relieved to see Missy had doused the lights in the part of the suite which contained the bodies, but the switch for the lights nearest the door were out of reach for both of us.

Missy intercepted the bellboy and steered him toward the coffee table in the second room of the suite before his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light. She had found an unstained sheet to wrap around herself, covering the worst of the bloodstains on what clothing she wore. “Thank you so much,” she cooed as the bellboy set the tray on the table and straightened up. “Would you be a dear and open that bottle for us?” Honey dripped from every syllable.

“Certainly, ma’am,” he said, tearing his eyes away from the front of her sheet which was showing more skin than was truly necessary. As he leaned over to take the bottle from its bed of ice, the scalpel appeared in her hand and in the blink of an eye it was thrust into the side of his neck.

His shriek was awful and it only became worse as she withdrew the scalpel only to plunge it back into his neck again, and again, until the sound of his voice had become a gurgling sound as he lay upon the rapidly staining carpet, hands locked around the blade which was buried three quarters of the way into his throat.

Princess(for it was she), plucked the champagne from its bucket and with a deft twist of her wrist, popped the cork from the bottle and took a long drink.

“Thank fuck,” she said, and burped. “I thought I was going to die of thirst before this got here. All the puking and crying and smoking that mopey bitch did leaves me parched.”

“Hello, Princess,” I said, and sighed. “I’m sorry to see you.”

She rolled her eyes and took another long drink. “Sorry to see you too. Want a strawberry?” She dipped one into a generous portion of whipped cream and popped it into her mouth.

“You’ve really fucked up this time,” I said, my voice conversational as I too selected a strawberry and doused it in cream. “Don’t you think they’ll be looking for this fellow soon?”

“Like they’ll come in here,” she scoffed. “They wouldn’t dare.”

“Are you willing to bet your life on that?” I took a bite of the strawberry. It was good, but not as good as one right off the vine. Princess’s face seemed frozen.

“Don’t you see?” I said, and chewed. “You already have. Missy’s too. Even mine, since I’m here.”

Princess took another deep pull from the champagne bottle. Her eyes darted around the room, reminding me of a caged animal as she took in the blood that had spread far and wide, the two dead and mutilated bodies on the bed, the indelible stain becoming more so every minute the hapless bellboy bled out onto the carpet. I had never seen her appreciate the consequences of her actions and it was most enjoyable. Still, it was Missy’s ass too.

“If you get out of here now, you’ll have some time to put some distance between you and this place.” I chose another strawberry, anointed it in cream and consumed it. “I think you may have really done it this time though. Did you use your name—I mean Missy’s to book the room?”

She looked at me like I was an idiot and smirked. “No. She used your name, Daniel.

That’s all for now.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 6: Romantic Getaway

Six: Romantic Getaway

Missy awoke from darkness to darkness. It was so closely packed around her that she could not breathe and for a moment her disorientation was complete. She was spinning. In a panic, she glanced around and her eyes fell upon the unfamiliar green clock radio. Its very unfamiliarity jogged her memory and with a snap, darkness took on the shape of the suite at the Rialto Hotel.

She sighed and reached out her left hand to the bedside table. Her fingers found the switch to the lamp and a soft glow filled her corner of the room. She stared at the ceiling, feeling her heart rate slow back to normal. Again, her hand reached out and found her pack of cigarettes. She brought them to her chest and extracted one, tossing the pack back on the table and reaching for her lighter. She couldn’t find it. A sigh of exasperation and she levered herself up on one elbow, looking for the damn thing. She froze.

In the bed beside her lay a piece of meat in the shape of a man. It had once been alive, but its resemblance to human features was so vague as to be considered coincidental. Blood covered the sheets and slicked the raw flesh of what could once have been a face. What may have been a mouth gaped, and where a tongue could have been, the suggestion of a mouth gaped empty.

Missy’s eyes traveled up and down the lump in the sheets beside her, before moving back to the bedside table. Her lighter had migrated to the farthest edge and was in danger of falling behind the table. She snatched it and lit her cigarette, inhaling deeply before turning her head to gaze again at what was beside her. A vein was throbbing in her neck and her cheeks were flaming red, otherwise she appeared unperturbed. She was, in fact, contemplating the logistics which went into the manufacture of her cigarette, because if she didn’t think about something mundane, then she would have to think about what Princess had done…

The knock at the door brought an avalanche of memory to her, stopping Missy in mid-smoke. She had originally come to this swanky place for an evening of physical intimacy with the man she was currently seeing. She had come here early to wait for him, and she had somehow lost track of the time. Now it was later, and Dennis Nelson was knocking at the door, likely with a bouquet of flowers in his hand.

“Hey, it’s Denny,” the knock again. “You there, Miss?”

She stood up, stuck the smoke in her mouth, and swirled one of the Rialto’s white fuzzy bathrobes around herself before shutting the light off. Stopping at the mirror beside the door to the suite, she snapped the light on, leaving the rest of the suite in darkness. Taking a look at herself, she pulled the opening to her robe farther apart, down to the navel, then past it.

“Coming, baby,” Princess said, and answered the door.

Dennis Nelson stood at the door, a bouquet of cheap gas station flowers in his hand, a growing rod in his pants. Missy never said come over and bone, but he knew what it meant when she invited him to a hotel room to Netflix and chill. Sometimes they even watched Netflix.

The door swung open and Missy stood there, a fluffy white bathrobe open to the sash with a salacious grin on her face. “Hey.”

Dennis grinned. “Hey baby, these are for you.” He held out the flowers.

She took them, buried her face in them, inhaled deeply. “Mmm.” She looked at him. “They smell as good as I bet you taste.”

He blinked. “Uh, I—”

“Come in,” she said and yanked him across the threshold. Before the door snapped shut behind him, she was forcing her tongue down his throat as she rubbed his crotch.

“Whoa, Miss—” Dennis attempted to say around her tongue, vaguely wondering why he was complaining. “You okay?”

“I’m drunk,” she purred in his ear, chewing on his lobe. “You should be too.”

He chuckled, sliding his hands up her sides toward her breasts. “Okay, honey, where’s the booze?”

She kissed him, hard, and shoved him against the wall. “You stay right there, and I’ll get you some.” She went behind the bar in the first room of the suite and he heard the clink of glass and the swish of liquor in the gloom.

“This is a nice place, baby,” he said, surreptitiously adjusting himself. “You been here before?”

There was a crunching sound as she replied, “No, I just looked for the nicest place I could find, just to show you how much I appreciate you.” She smiled as she came around the bar holding two cups half full of brown liquid which reeked of whiskey. She handed one to him and tapped the rim of hers against his. “Cheers.”

He was touched and downed his glass, barely noticing the gritty substance clinging to the bottom of the cup as she did the same before launching herself onto him and kissing him with such force his lips felt bruised against his teeth. He had never known her to be so aggressive.

“I want you,” she growled in his ear as she steered him back into the darkness.

He tried to reciprocate but her tongue was down his throat again and all he could do was try to breathe until his feet stopped moving and he was tossed onto what felt like a wet sticky mattress. The sheets stuck to his skin as she crawled on top of him, shedding the bathrobe as she did. He tried to reach up and to her breasts but found his hands were moving in slow motion, and only with the greatest of effort.

“Mi…ss…y,” he said, his jaw feeling as though it weighed a thousand pounds. She laughed as she pushed his hands down to his sides.

“What makes you think you are speaking to Missy?” she hissed in his ear, biting it hard this time. A cry of pain escaped his locked jaw and his eyes bulged in terror as she straightened up, blood from his ear dripping down her chin.

“Welcome to the party,” Princess said and turned on the bedside lamp again. Dennis screamed, his rolling eyes taking in the gore-soaked sheets on which he was pinned and the body-shaped mass of flesh which once had been a breathing human being which lay beside him. His screams were muffled when Princess pressed her lips to his once again as she lifted the scalpel she had bought on Amazon to his face and began cutting.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 5: A Matter of Taste

Five: A Matter of Taste

The Rialto Hotel and Casino was one of the largest of its sort, stretching fifteen stories into the air and covering half a city block. Gold lions nearly twenty feet high stood guard over the valet parking zone, and the sky was projected onto the ceiling inside by clever use of live video feeds and LCD screens. In the dimly lit chaos of the main floor, blue and purple lights from the corners gave it an ethereal feel among the chorus of slot machines, laughter and the occasional yell of glee as someone struck a jackpot.

Through this cacophony, Dale Johnson drug his small suitcase by the wheels. It was just big enough to fit under an airliner’s seat back. It didn’t have to be large, this was only three days leave from his post, and he was hoping not to spend much time clothed anyway. His army uniform chafed at his neck under his blonde buzz cut and he longed to be rid of it. He had already returned the salute of several drunken patrons who thanked him for his service. He didn’t feel the need to inform them that he had barely made it through boot camp and was little more than a glorified security guard on the local base. Better to let them think he had just returned from the front line(wherever those might be these days) as a war hero.

He glimpsed the elevators and struggled to pull his room’s key card from his tight uniform pocket. Confirming these went to the correct floor, he altered his course and was soon standing before one, staring at himself reflected in the brightly polished elevator doors as the green arrow beside them informed him that one was on its way down. His face was pocked by adolescent acne and he all too well remembered the shouts and jeers from his fellow students growing up as he battled with the red spots on his face and his slowly shrinking belly.

Well, he would show them now. His face had nothing but a ghost of his former spottiness and he was fit and trim, a real lady-killer. He was on leave for the next three days with the goal of fucking as many bitches as he could get into his room, making up for lost time. His first dalliance with the fairer sex had been on his prom night when Sandy Caltrop had rolled her eyes in the back of his mother’s station wagon and said if he was done he may as well get off of her because she had to be home before midnight. That had also been his only dalliance, for he had been shipped off to boot camp hours after his graduation, with that one liaison under his belt. Now, with his improved physique and smoldering resentment, he was on a quest to get his dick wet and keep it wet for three days. Prostitution was not legal, but his friends in boot had told him a few workarounds he was quite keen on trying.

The elevator door chimed and rolled open. Two giggling blondes with short skirts and shorter tops tumbled out, giving him only a passing glance. The same could not be said for Dale Johnson, who ogled their asses so long the elevator nearly left without him. Coming back to reality, he shoved a hand through the narrowing slot, causing the doors to spring open again. Entering the elevator, he punched the button for the 15th floor and resumed watching the blondes until the elevator doors hid them from his view.

As he rode up, he was treated to an increasingly grand view of the city, stretched out beneath the rising elevator’s glass walls. Farther down the block, he could see a huge woman made of pink neon lights with impossibly large breasts and spread legs, an enormous wink, and hands pointing between the legs with a sign saying “Cum On In.” He had seen the sign from the street level in the Uber he had summoned to pick him up from the airport and knew she was pointing toward the door of one of the nearest strip clubs. His penis stirred as he thought about what was in the club and he promised himself that after a quick shower and change of clothes, that would be his first stop.

The elevator chimed and the doors purred open. An expanse of beige and crimson patterned carpet stretched out before him. The corridor went on for what seemed like an eternity, crossroads to other rooms every so often meeting its expanse. Consulting his key card once again, Dale set off down the hall toward his room at the farthest end from the elevators. As he walked, he heard shouts, laughter, and once, a scream from the rooms he passed. Others were silent.

Passing one of the crossroads, Dale’s eyes flicked to the right as one of the doors down the hall leading to the right was cracked open. A head with long blonde hair came out first, the face with the unmistakable look of makeup that had been scrupulously applied, then destroyed in a bout of passion. The eyes were blue and rimmed with black that had smeared down the cheeks to where lips of red had been nearly worn off. Below the messy hair, a nearly see-through negligee which clung by one strap left almost nothing to the imagination, open down the thorax and a hem just below the waist.

Princess smiled at Dale and slid the one remaining strap down her pale shoulder. The negligee clung only to a prayer as Dale came to a halt, his mouth hanging open. His hand loosened its grip on his luggage and it fell to the ground.

She blew him a kiss and turned to disappear back behind her door. Just before passing over its threshold, she turned and looked at him once more and beckoned with one finger. She did not shut the door behind her.

A large grin on his face and straining his briefs, Dale strutted down the corridor, leaving his bag in the middle of the hallway. Coming to the blonde’s door, he pushed through and shut it behind him, setting the chain stop on its runner. He adjusted himself.

“Where you at, baby?”

The answer came from the darkened end of what had to be a suite, judging by its resonances. “Back here, mister. I hope you’re ready to party.”

Dale grinned a big, ugly grin. “Better believe it, babe. This bad boy is ready to get… Why is it so dark in here?” It was, too. Even now that his eyes had adjusted to the gloom, he could barely see outlines.

“I like it in the dark,” the voice said, petulant, slightly raised. “If you don’t like it you can get the fuck out!”

“No, no, that’s cool, that’s… kinky,” Dale said, his mind clumsily pawing through adjectives. “So, uh…” he moved forward, toward the voice. “Wanna get nasty?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” said the voice, now sounding coy and inviting. “Come and find me.”

Dale thought about asking for some light, then decided the bitch would probably start yelling again. Well, whatever. He could pretend he was blind if it would get him laid. He started across the room and immediately tripped over something. The voice giggled as he clawed his way upright.

“Careful, clumsy, we don’t want you too busted up yet.”

Stretching his arms out before him like a child playing Blindman’s Bluff, Dale felt around with his feet even as his mind turned over her words, in particular, the implications within the word “yet.”

The voice sighed and tsked. “We’ll be here all night at this rate. Here.”

A click and shadows leaped up the walls around the little bedside lamp. There were vague shapes around what was not a suite but a large double room, with a threshold separating the two by several inches. At the far end, the lamp sat beside a huge bed covered in plush purple fabric. Beneath a huge thick comforter, Princess fluttered her eyelashes as she tossed her negligee toward Dale.

“Is that better?”

Dale’s brain ceased functioning as he accelerated his movements toward the bed. Once he was between the sheets and naked, she grabbed him with more force than he was expecting and he barely stifled a yelp.

“Whassamatter,” she purred, sharp nails digging into his most sensitive skin. “Doncha like it rough?”

“Oh-oh ye—” he tried to say but then her lips were mashed against his and he was struggling to pull his tongue from between her teeth. The pain in his tongue kept growing until he heard a ghastly sound in his mouth and she released him, laughing.

His tongue was in agony and he automatically raised his hands to his mouth, assessing the damage. His fingers jerked as they touched the ragged edge of the tip of his tongue, which was now missing a piece about the size of a dime. His eyes, however, were the size of silver dollars as he looked at her in the lamplight. She was chewing and grinning at him. As he stared, numb with horror, she swallowed.

“You… you just ate my…”

“You said you were ready to get nasty, daddy,” Princess said, biting her nail and smiling around it. To his shame and disgust, he felt himself getting his erection back, which had fled as soon as she started chewing on him. “I thought you were ready.”

Dale found his legs and used them, pushing himself away from her as he threw the sheet back, his voice hitching between sobs and trying to scream. Before he could get them under him and exit the bed, she was upon him, pinning him to the purple sheets with her knees by his arms. His legs flailed as she slit his throat with the razor she had been holding in her other hand.

His legs ceased their efforts as his hands fought to reach up to grab the leaking folds of his neck. Her knees never left his arms as she slashed at his neck, then his face, then his chest, every swipe of the razor opening up more of him. Blood splashed up, sprinkling Princess with red drops. She dropped the blade and kissed the meat that had once been Dale Johnson’s face, forcing her tongue between his dying lips as she moaned into his mouth.

Outside, two honeymooners passed by the door and paused just long enough to give each other knowing looks.

“Sounds like they’re enjoying themselves in there.”

She pressed herself against him. “Not half as much as you will be in a moment.”

They hurried on, not noticing Dale Johnson’s abandoned bag. Later, a maid would deliver it to the lost and found. It would never be claimed.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 4: Problem Solving

Four: Problem Solving

The following is an excerpt from the diary of the individual known as Daniel Dasham:

Missy came over tonight after work.

Princess came too.

Missy blames me for not being able to keep Princess in line. She’s right, but really, what can I do? Missy can’t keep her in line either. Princess is a law unto herself, coming and going as she pleases, and no one can tell her what to do. Our only hope is to convince her that she’s not as smart as she thinks she is, and that sooner or later she’s going to destroy herself as well as Missy.

The police came as well. Their timing could not have been more perfect. Right as Princess was sneering about how clever she is, they knocked on my door to ask me some questions. It sure wiped the smile off Princess’s face. That was almost worth the minor heart attack it caused in Missy and myself. Fortunately, it was just about some of the recent break-ins in my apartment building, so I guess the police haven’t found out about my upstairs neighbors yet. They shouldn’t start to smell for another week or so.

I wanted to tell Missy about them when she came over, but she wasn’t in any mood to listen. When they first moved in upstairs, I thought I would go insane. It had been pretty quiet upstairs, the last tenants moved out weeks ago and the place hasn’t rented since. But now, there were two adults constantly screaming at each other and their four boys, all of whom run back and forth and scream as well. All hours of the day and night, with no rhyme, reason, or pattern. They moved in during the summer months and one of the only things that kept me going was the knowledge that they would be going to school soon and I would have at least some peace. The start of the school year came and went, though, with no relief. At first I thought they were home schooled, but I never heard anything even approximating school lessons from upstairs. Instead, there were deafening noises from some console game that I’m pretty sure was used to drown out the sound of the kids screaming, running, crying and vomiting when there was sickness being passed around.

The final straw was the day that brought a deafening, wall-shaking crash from upstairs. I don’t know what its origin was, but it dislodged the hook which held a globe lamp hanging from a chain that I’ve had as long as I can remember, a gift from my parents. The lamp fell to the ground and shattered.

Next time I saw the husband/father outside, I engaged him in conversation. I’ve heard from their screaming that he has PTSD from his military service, so I don’t know how he could play games like Call of Duty at top volume without getting flashbacks. Maybe he couldn’t, maybe that’s what all the screaming was about.

“Man, your kids are sure loud,” I said to him, a congenial smile pasted on my face.

He immediately assumed the defensive. “Hey man, just let them be kids, there’s no need–”

I raised my hands in a gesture of disarmament. “It’s cool, it’s cool, I’m not pissed or anything,” I lied, taking care to keep my jaw from clenching my smile into a grimace. “I just don’t know how you can deal with it.”

“Huh?” His face was blank, clearly not expecting this.

I moved closer, putting my hand on his arm. He twitched. “After everything you’ve been through,” I said, keeping my voice conspiratorial and understanding, “you deserve peace and quiet.” I didn’t actually believe that, but I knew that I, at least, deserved peace and quiet. “Those kids keep you awake all night and all day with their screaming, don’t they? How often do they all sleep at the same time?”

He snorted and swiped at his greasy hair with a dirty hand. “Fuckin never, man. I didn’t even want kids, but that bitch won’t even hear the word ‘abortion’ without throwing a fit.”

“Well if she won’t,” I said, “it’s up to you, isn’t it? You’ll never have any peace with those little hellions running around screaming.”

A wild light came into his eyes for a second, before being extinguished. “Yeah but she’s always nagging and yelling too, even with the Xbox going full blast I can still hear her. I can’t get away.”

“She’d just find you,” I agreed. “Bitches like that will always find you to extract their piece of your soul. Doesn’t matter where you go.”

“Yeah,” he said, and scuffed at the dirt.

“There’s only one option left, you know,” I said, my voice low. I handed him a white box filled with cotton, and something heavy. He opened it and his eyes grew huge when he saw what was inside. He looked at me in disbelief.

“I’ll never tell,” I assured him. “Your secret is safe with me.”

Having planted the seed, I made sure to water it whenever I saw him outside. He had begun taking walks, eschewing the Xbox therapy, and I joined him on some occasions, pumping him full of dread of what awaited him upon his return to their apartment. I never asked about the heavy little white box, but I knew he had it stashed somewhere, and I was betting his thoughts never left it for long.

Last night, he left for one of his walks. I didn’t join him, and he was gone for a very long time. He finally returned sometime after midnight. The moment their door opened, she started screaming. I couldn’t hear it exactly, but the gist was “where have you been, why do you keep walking out and leaving me alone with these kids for hours, don’t you think I need a break” and so forth. Normally he shouted right back, harmonizing with the children who would chime in as soon as mom started yelling. This time, he said nothing. I could hear her voice following him through the apartment as he went to the kitchen, opened the fridge, and he must have started drinking something because she switched gears and began berating him for drinking directly out of the carton.

Then, there was a loud bang.

She stopped screaming at him and just started screaming. I heard him clearly shout “NOW you’ll shut the fuck up, by God,” and there was another bang. She fell silent, but the kids picked up where she left off, inarticulate childish howls. From those old enough to speak, I could hear the occasional word, “mommy” and “daddy” being the most prevalent. For the next five minutes, their cries were all over the apartment, punctuated by soft thumps as those who could run did so, followed by louder thumps as Daddy chased them. There were more bangs, and with each one, the noise diminished by exactly one child. After the sixth bang, there was silence. The thumps Daddy made moved back to the kitchen, where I can only presume he finished drinking from his carton of whatever. I heard the fridge close, and he moved into the living room. The Xbox began blasting at its usual top volume before being turned down to a more reasonable level. I guess with no one left to drown out, there was no need for top volume.

This morning, it was dead quiet upstairs. No footsteps, no TV. A reddish stain was seeping through my ceiling in a few places. I went upstairs and knocked, not really expecting anything, and I was not surprised. When I had moved in, there had been a key to the unit upstairs in my apartment, for some reason I don’t know. Using it now, I let myself in.

The stench of death was the most noticeable, and blood. Underneath those smells were those of spoiled food, dirt and old feces. Mommy was still in the kitchen, her glazed eyes staring at the ceiling from a puddle of her own blood which was seeping through to my ceiling. The two smallest children, big enough to walk and run but small enough to be confined to a playpen, were in their room. They had been unable to run from Daddy, and had died in their pen, a gunshot wound in each of their heads. One had fallen on top of the other, intersecting at almost a perfect 90-degree angle. The sheet beneath them was soaked in blood.

Moving down the hallway, the eldest lay in a crumpled pile at the end of the hallway, next to an open closet door. I guessed he had tried to hide in it. Most of his face was missing, but I found pieces of it on the wall. It took a while to find the last child, but he was eventually located in the stained bathtub. At least the splatters of blood and chunks of brain would be easy to clean up.

Finally, I arrived at the family room. Daddy was laying in his recliner, his head tilted back, an enormous throat wound yawning at me as I came in. The pistol I had given him in the white box was laying in his lap, empty.

I smiled. Peace at last.

I went downstairs to my apartment and slept like the dead.

Until Missy arrived.

Diary entry ends here.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode 3: Group Therapy

Three: Group Therapy

Missy steps back onto the street and as she does after every shift of convincing the desolate there is hope, she lights a cigarette. Inhaling deep, she closes her eyes, savoring the burn in her lungs and the rush to her head. She opens her eyes, and exhales. It is beginning to be cold at night and the warmth of her breath mixes with the smoke.

She savors her cigarette, relishing its toxic taste more than the air she breathes as she walks the two blocks to the bus stop. Several of the city’s homeless population inquire as to whether or not she possesses any money she is not currently using, or any cigarettes she does not intend to smoke. She remains deaf to their inquiries, and finds an unoccupied corner of the bus shelter. Checking her phone, she sees from a local news outlet that Debra, the unfortunate damsel from Maine, has been found with some of her head intact.

Missy is still smiling as the bus pulls up and offers her passage. Stowing her phone, she deposits her fare in the slotted box and finds an empty seat beside an elderly gentleman who seems to be asleep. Placing headphones in her ears, she loses herself in music as she says a fervent prayer that the man will not awaken until she has left the bus. This prayer will be granted.

Stepping off the bus and removing the headphones, Missy strides down the chipped sidewalk, stepping around piles of dog refuse and broken glass. She hears whistles from across the road and rolls her eyes as the catcalls start. It never lasts longer than a few seconds, for here is the double door at the base of a short, squat apartment building coated in peeling beige paint. Once through the door, the oafish shouts are cut off.

The metallic smell of burning methamphetamine no longer register as anything but a fact of life as Missy bypasses the elevator she knows to be broken and makes for the stairway. After three flights of dirty stairs, all of which reek of outhouse, Missy opens the door to a dim hallway stretching in both directions, in which rats scurry from the sound of her heels in the flickering florescent light. She raps upon the door nearest the elevator while fumbling in her purse, and within a few seconds the pinprick of light at the door’s peephole vanishes, before reappearing as the bolt shoots back.

Thick glasses are framed by thicker blonde hair as the door opens first a crack, then swings open to reveal a skinny young man, headphones draped around his neck. Silver athletic shorts glimmer in the surreal light from a large aquarium as he leads her into the living room where she flops onto the couch as he takes a seat in the computer chair installed before the four glowing monitors. Electronic music plays from speakers flanking the computer desk as the young man swivels, spinning the chair and looking at Missy.

“So…?”

Missy looked away. “Just one.” She lit a cigarette. “Where’s a drink?”

The young man looked on with disapproval.

“You said you wouldn’t-”

“I know!” She took a mighty drag. “I was stressed. Where’s a drink?”

“Why were you so stressed?”

“Because I need a fucking drink!” Missy snapped. The young man leaned forward and opened a small refrigerator, extracting a small carton of wine. He tossed it to Missy, who butted her cigarette in the handy ashtray before uncapping the carton and draining it. Slumping back into the couch, she sighed, and lit another cigarette.

The young man’s face showed resigned disgust. “Princess?”

“She doesn’t fucking get it!” Missy exploded, rising to her feet in agitation and striding back and forth, waving her arms. “It’s all just a dream to her! She just wakes up, ready to go and there’s nothing I can do to stop her.” She stopped before a large mirror and stared at herself.

“She’s in there, now. Watching.” Missy glowered at her reflection. “I can feel her.”

Daniel came up behind her. “Calm down,” he said, catching her by the shoulders. “You’re not doing anybody any good.”

Missy drew on her cigarette, averting her eyes from those of his reflection. “Nobody is doing anybody any good.”

Daniel drew back, frowning. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“You promised me you could control her!” Missy yelled. “You told me, when this all got started! You told me… you told me…” Her voice cracked. “You don’t have any fucking idea… what it’s like…”

“I’ll talk to her,” said Daniel. “She’ll listen. She has to. She has to realize this can’t go on.”

“Good fucking luck!” Missy said with a shrill laugh which reeked more of hysteria than humor. “She’s never had to deal with anything her whole fucking life! She’s-”

With no warning, Daniel recoiled in surprise as the glowing tip of Missy’s cigarette was extinguished in the smooth palm. The smell of charring flesh filled his nostrils. His eyes were huge.

“If you would both like to cease your moaning and crying over what the naughty girl has done,” came the mocking tones of Princess, “I would like to remind you of a few facts.” She flexed her hand, relishing the sting of the cigarette burn.

“Nobody cares what you think you know,” sneered Missy. Daniel was taken aback by the loathing in Missy’s eyes as she looked at her reflection which no longer belonged to her. “You’re just a stupid spoiled whore and that’s all you’re ever going to be.”

“Thanks to Missy,” Princess said loudly, “all of my clothing from that night has been destroyed, and any forensic evidence has been washed from the shower. With bleach,” she added almost as an afterthought. “Nothing was left at the crime scene, and there is nothing to see in such a shithole.”

“You’re sure?” Daniel asked.

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” Princess said, shooting him her prettiest smile.

“I should be so lucky,” Missy snarled.

“Please, Missy. I very much doubt if anybody will even bother filing a report.” Princess smirked. “Nothing of value was lost.”

These words had barely finished coming from Missy’s mouth when a loud knocking, punctuated by the crackle of radio static cut through the apartment’s gloom.

“Police! Daniel Dasham, we have some questions for you. Please open the door.”

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode Two: Angel of Mercy

Two: Angel of Mercy

Missy wakes and spends a few moments staring at the ceiling, reflecting on her prospects for the day. She has a longer than usual shift, and she needs to check the news for last night’s proclivity. After a period of time in which she respires thirty times, she drags herself from her bed, makes her way to the bathroom, and to the kitchen. Her still fuzzy eyes see a note hanging on the fridge, secured by a rainbow magnet. A heart drawn in a pink marker. From Princess. Missy plucks the note from the fridge and wads it up, tossing it in the garbage before opening the cupboards to assemble the components for coffee.

As it brews, filling the room with a rich, dark scent, Missy retrieves a flask of whiskey from a smaller cupboard in the corner. She adds two fingers of liquor to her coffee cup, then fills it to the brim with coffee. Replacing the whiskey bottle after taking a quick swig, she glances at the clock. She has one hour to be at her desk.

Sipping at regular intervals from her Irish coffee, Missy checks the various news and police feeds online. The emergency call list, police social media bulletins and regular news outlets are all screaming about the savaged carcass Bitch Slap the pimp has discovered in his quest for cash. Missy’s eyes fly through the words and photos, sipping her coffee with greater frequency as her teeth grind together. There is only fractional comfort to be found in the bewildered tone of all statements by law enforcement; it is still early.

Finishing her coffee, Missy tosses the cup into the sink and returns to her room. She dresses, tying her hair back into a ponytail. Brushing her teeth and applying makeup is done without any conscious thought. She is thousands of miles away, traveling at speeds immeasurable by science. That damn Princess, she’s thinking, as she wonders not for the first time how to kill her.

As the thought turns itself over and over, she returns to reality with a snap as she realizes she isn’t looking at Missy anymore. The face in the mirror smiles at her.

“Hello, you bitch,” Missy said, her voice a monotone as she applied eyeliner. “Don’t move.”

“Bitch yourself,” said Princess, keeping her head still. “I told you I took care of it. They don’t know anything.”

“YOU don’t know anything,” Missy sighed. “They could know exactly who did it, it’s not like they would tell the press that.”

“I took care of it,” said Princess, daubing lipstick on Missy’s lips. “So just quit worrying. It’s not like anything can be done now anyway.” She blew a kiss at her reflection. Missy scowled.

“It’s not like you’ll have to deal with it,” she said, her voice indignant. “As soon as anything gets dangerous, you’ll run and hide. It’s always my fucking problem. That’s too much lipstick. I’ll look like a whore.”

“I like it that way.”

“Looking like a whore?”

“Shut up, cunt.” Princess jerked her hand and the lipstick scrawled a jagged line across Missy’s cheek.

Missy gasped in outrage. “You miserable fucking…”

“Whatever,” Princess says, and then it’s only Missy, staring in silent fury at her lipsticked face in the mirror.

When Missy walks into the office with a freshly made-up face, the others on her shift are all at their cubicles wearing headsets, and eyes flick to the clock to see how late she is: twenty minutes. She’s definitely going to get a scolding.

Going to her spot and sitting down, Missy groans inside as she sees the supervisor’s door open right on cue. She straightens up and looks with artificial crispness and respect at the woman striding in her direction. Carol Elson is a large woman with iron gray hair and a fondness for tweed, as well as the rules. She stops before Missy’s desk and speaks in a voice pitched low enough not to intrude upon the telephone conversations, but not pitched so low that those not on the phone cannot eavesdrop on their conversation.

“Missy, do you know what time it is?”

“Yes, Miss Elson,” Missy says, and no more. She has learned through experience and observation that extra words prolong the suffering.

“Twenty minutes past the time you were supposed to be here, am I wrong?”

“You’re not wrong, ma’am,” Missy says. “It won’t happen again.”

“See that it doesn’t. Just to be sure, I’ll be subtracting twenty minutes from your pay this week.” The woman’s face breaks into her first smile of the day, her teeth large and wide like a horse’s. They always remind Missy of tombstones. “Now that’s enough chit-chat! Someone needs you!” She points to Missy’s phone, where a light blinks with the urgency which means incoming call.

“Yes ma’am,” Missy says, attempting not to clench her teeth as her mind flashes back to last night when Princess had peeled the skin from the girl’s body as she screamed to die. Maybe something of it shows in Missy’s eyes, for her supervisor’s malevolent smile falters a little.

Before Carol Elson can say anything, Missy dons her headset and says in a voice dripping with sympathy and understanding, “Thank you for calling the Suicide Hotline. I’m so glad you did. How can I help you?”

Her smile returning, Miss Elson retreats to her office. Missy’s eyes follow her all the way to her office door, and only when the door clicks shut does her own smile slip from her face. Taking a deep breath, Missy reaches for a pen and legal pad and begins to doodle as she listens to the tearful soliloquy pouring forth from the earpiece.

Debra lives in Maine and is calling while her boyfriend is in the shower. She tells Missy she has her phone in one hand and her boyfriend’s gun in the other. She’s just found emails containing naked photos of another girl on her boyfriend’s laptop. The photos go back for months. Boyfriend and the girl have been talking about getting married. Debra’s voice breaks as she says this, and Missy can barely make out that Debra and Boyfriend have been talking about getting married as well, before Debra dissolves into hysterical sobs.

“Debra,” Missy says, raising her voice just a little and losing none of her honeyed tones of sympathy and understanding. She lowers the volume on her earpiece, and Debra’s tears become softer. “Debra?”

A snuffling, wailing affirmation. Debra is listening.

“I understand you don’t feel like living right now,” Missy says, her tone as comforting as a mother removing a bee sting. “I don’t blame you. This is the kind of suffering that leaves a scar and changes who you are, deep down, as a person.”

A cry leading into more tears and blubbering. Debra was happy the way things were, she doesn’t want things to change. She wants to be with Boyfriend the way they had planned and can’t stand for it to be any other way. She continues to repeat herself and Missy draws a cat on the legal pad clawing at the margin. She is adding whiskers and a spike on the tail when Debra finally runs out of steam and is nothing but noisy breathing in Missy’s ear.

“I know, honey, but that can’t happen. If you can’t stand to have anything change, you should probably kill yourself.” Missy adds a mouse under the cat’s claw and elongates the claw, so it pierces the mouse through the stomach.

Debra sounds shocked.

“There’s no other solution,” says Missy, and draws a large pair of jaws around the cat. “You don’t want it to change, but it’s going to whether you want it to or not. It’s going to hurt you forever, so why don’t you just do it already?”

Debra is crying louder than ever.

Missy draws large fangs from the disembodied jaws, stabbing through the cat and mouse alike. “Kill yourself now, while he’s in the shower, and leave his laptop nearby so he knows why. You owe him that much at least.”

Debra’s crying stops abruptly as a loud BANG sounds in Missy’s ear, making her wince a little. She can hear, in the house somewhere in Maine, some guy shouting “Deb? You okay?” After a moment’s silence, he begins to scream.

“Thank you for calling the Suicide Hotline, and I hope you have a wonderful day,” Missy says, and disconnects the call. She smiles and looks at the clock. Nine more hours to go.

The Other Woman by Jesse Orr Episode One: Jill the Ripper

 

Episode 1: Jill the Ripper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hate you,” Missy told the face.

“I know,” it replied, and smiled.