The Scarlett Dahlia by Jesse Orr: Heat

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When she found out about Dahlia Manor, everything changed.

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The Scarlett Dahlia Episode 6 Masks by Jesse Orr

The Scarlett Dahlia Episode 6 Masks by Jesse Orr

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked to the door and poked several buttons.

Un-fucking-real...

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

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

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

“Jack?”

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

It was a woman’s voice.

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

“Babe, where’s Jack?”

“He went inside,” Carly said and smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

“JACK!” Marcie screamed.

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

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

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

“You called?”

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

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

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

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

Jack looked confused. “The what?”

“Oh God, did you do it all already?”

“I don’t know what–”

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s going on?”

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

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

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

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

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

It stopped.

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

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

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

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

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

Hans nodded.

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

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

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

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

It was nice to be back at the Manor.

The Scarlett Dahlia : Mornings by Jesse Orr

 

The hour was late the morning after Ruth drank the Dahlia’s water. Birds had long been awake and busy. The slaves had risen with the birds and took great pains not to make more noise than was necessary as they went about their morning tasks. They knew a slave named Ruth from the pens by the creek had been brought to the Dahlia. Nobody had seen her since.

Charles, laden with a silver breakfast tray, padded with care up to the side of the hallway leading to the Dahlia’s room, stepping over the boards he knew had a creak. He had delivered this tray to his mistress times innumerable and never knew exactly what lay on the other side of the door. His heartbeat increased as he grew closer, and his palms dampened with nervous sweat. Running out of the hallway, he tapped the Dahlia’s door with his leather shoe.

“Enter,” came the voice at once. Charles jumped a little at its suddenness and fumbled for the doorknob. Unbidden, it opened.

“Good mornin, Miss Dahlia,” Charles said, maneuvering through the door and closing it behind him with his foot. His eyes fell upon her first. She was sitting on the bed, clad in a red filmy gown, sunlight cascading around her. Not for the first time, he thought she was beautiful.

His eye shifted and he became aware that the gown had not started the night as any color but white. Moving further, his eye observed the crimson sheets were soaked with a darker stain. It was hard to tell, for laying on the bloody sheets was Ruth, her now-sightless eyes frozen forever in terror.

“Good morning, Charles,” the Dahlia said and turned to smile at him. Her eyes pierced his, and for that instant, it took every fiber of his being not to obey his instinct to run. “How are you today?”

“Good, missus,” he said, averting his eyes and placing the tray on the table which stood at the foot of the enormous bed. He saw that blood had splattered all the way across the bed to the table. His heart fluttered.

“I am delighted to hear it.” She returned her attention to the window. “I may have exsanguinated this one, I’m afraid. You may try if you like.”

“’Das all right, missus, plenny mo’ where ‘dey come from,” said Charles, and picked up a large steel syringe, normally used for livestock. He rounded the bed to the side opposite the Dahlia and stopped, surveying what remained of Ruth. She lay on her back, her head pulled back, and her throat cut deep enough for Charles to see her spine. She was nude, and her skin was a pale blueish color.

Charles had learned any blood the Dahlia left would collect at the lowest points of her victims, and using the needle, he pierced the bottom of Ruth’s stomach, where the skin seemed darker. The bed heaved and there was a rustling sound. He looked up as the Dahlia rose to her feet, leaving her robe on the bed. There was nothing beneath it but blood.

Charles tore his eyes away with an effort, horrified at the thought of what would happen if she saw him looking. He dug the needle still deeper into the dead woman and pulled at the plunger. A dark sludgy liquid made its way with reluctance into the syringe, filling it halfway. Charles pulled the needle out and stabbed it into another low place on the body, yanking at the plunger.

“When you are done, please remove this one and everything with a stain. You know what to do,” the Dahlia said, pausing at the door to the room which held her bathing tub. She flashed Charles a smile he was too afraid to see. “I would like another tonight.” The door closed behind her and Charles released a breath he was not aware he had been holding.

He went on milking the body for any liquid the Dahlia had left behind. He had developed a technique over the many slaves the Dahlia had used. He worked his way all around the body where it met the bed, inserting the needle every three or four inches, and by the time he had circled the body, there was nothing more coming into the syringe.

Returning the needle to the silver tray, the rest of the routine came easy. The bedsheets were bundled around what remained of Ruth. Tying the corners, Charles went to the door and whistled, long and high. After a moment, a pair of dark hooded eyes showed at the door. Mary the slave girl entered and without a sound she and Charles lifted the blanket off the bed and out the door. They deposited their bundle in the small staging room off the black and white tiled ballroom. Without a word, Charles picked up the bucket of water and followed Mary and the mop back to the Dahlia’s chamber. By the time the Dahlia emerged from her bathing room, the bed was once again spotless and the servants and silver tray with its syringes were nowhere to be seen.

Back in the staging room, Charles handed one of the syringes to Mary. Expressionless, she upended the syringe over her mouth and pressed the plunger. Dark sticky blood dripped into her mouth, and she closed her eyes, her normally downcast lips turning upward in a smile. She sighed, savoring the taste, as a shudder ran through her. Charles felt his pulse quicken again as he followed suit with his own syringe. Before he was through ingesting its contents, he felt himself stiffening into a regular railspike. This was not lost upon Mary, who fell to her knees before him. Charles reflected as she undid his trousers that there was only one syringe left, then even that was gone from his mind as she took him into her mouth.

The Scarlett Dahlia by Jesse Orr — The Happy Couple

by Jesse Orr

The Happy Couple

The squeal of tires turned heads in the parlor. Carly’s sister Marcie got to her feet, leaving her betrothed, Jack, sitting with a quizzical look on his face.

“It’s Carly and Don,” she said, her voice accusing. “Why is he driving so fast?”

“How should I know?” asked Jack, his tone rising. “But he’s going to leave a skid mark on Dad’s new driveway, the dumb shit!” The two stormed out, leaving Jack’s elders sipping their juleps and contemplating how hot-headed young people were these days and whether or not Marcie was worthy of their son.

Out on the newly black-topped driveway, Don had turned off the car and was sitting quite still, staring into space. Carly looked at him and shook his arm. Don blinked.

“Huh?”

“We’re here,” she said. Don looked around.

“So we are,” he agreed and opened the door. Before getting out, he paused and looked at her.

“We imagined that, right, honey?”

She looked at him, was about to speak, stopped. Shrugged her shoulders.

“Hey, asshole!”

Don’s head struck the top of the car as his body was jerked backward by an unseen force. Carly screamed and clawed the door open. She saw that Jack had pulled Don out of the car and was shouting at him over a fistful of Don’s shirt.

“…cost him ten grand and you better be able to come up with that if this doesn’t come out, because–”

“Oh shut the fuck up, Jack you asshole!” Carly screamed.

“All of you shut the fuck up!” Marcie yelled and the fight ground to a halt. She looked at Jack. “Will you knock it off, you can’t even see there was ever a car here. Let go of him.” Jack released Don’s shirt and stepped back, glowering.

“Marcie!” Carly cried and the fear was back in her eyes. “We were at the Scarlett Dahlia, and–”

Her sister’s eyes lit up. “Yeah, how was it?”

“We, we didn’t get a chance…” Carly looked at Don for help but he was engaged in the business of smoothing his shirt and avoiding Jack’s baleful glare. “There were these weird messages coming to our phones, and… we…” She trailed off as Marcie’s stare grew cold.

“Weird, how were they weird?” Jack’s voice came.

“They said stuff like get out, fuck you, that kind of thing, and they came from really weird numbers–”

“There was no service,” Don said, still pretending Jack didn’t exist. “There was no service and we kept getting texts faster than I’ve ever seen.”

“Could I see these texts?” Marcie asked, her voice that of someone humoring a very dumb child.

“We—I–” Carly stuttered.

“We both dropped our phones,” muttered Don, finally smoothing his shirt to his satisfaction.

“Ooh, did the big scary text messages freak you out, Donny-wonny?” Jack said and laughed. Don said nothing.

“Shut up, Jack,” Marcie snapped. “We only have a few weeks until the wedding and we have to find a place. Scarlett Dahlia Manor is one of the nicest mansions in the county and if none of you are capable of looking it over, I’ll just do it myself.” She held out her hand to Don. He dropped the key into her hand like he was handling a rodent.

Throwing the door open, Marcie pulled out the detritus Carly and Don had accumulated in their travels and dropped it on the driveway. She tossed Carly her purse and got in, slammed the door and looked at Jack. “Let’s go.”

“Do I need to go? I was going to–”

“Fine,” Marcie said, and though the car was rolling, the tone of her voice had Jack scuttling up to the car door in no time. Don grinned.

Marcie glanced in the rearview mirror at the receding figures and rolled her eyes.

“What a bunch of babies, huh,” Jack said, and guffawed. “Evil text messages.”

Marcie didn’t answer as she pulled a tiny vial of white powder from her bra. Jack’s eyes widened as she put it to her nostril and sniffed hard..

“Heyy, babe, what’s that?” Jack’s tone would have charmed baby birds from their nests. Marcie repeated the performance on the other nostril “Can I have some?”

She shot him a dark look. “I thought you didn’t want to come.”

His smile faltered. “Well…”

Marcie laughed and tossed him the bullet. “It’s not the best blow but it’ll do. Don’t hog all of it.”

Jack complied, and soon they were both laughing at the top of their lungs at Carly and Don as they flew down the sleepy street at near freeway speeds.

Screeching around the corner to the manor’s driveway, Marcie floored it, racing down the winding road in spite of Jack’s increasing protests. Rounding the final corner, she slammed on the brakes in the Manor’s gravel drive, skidding to a halt.

“Are you crazy?” Jack gasped, rubbing his nose. “You could have–”

“Yeah, yeah,” Marcie muttered, pulling the vial from his shaking hands and helping herself to more. “We’re fine, aren’t we?” She tucked the bullet into her bra.

“Hey, give it back,” Jack whined. Marcie ignored him and got out, stretching and speed-walking toward the entrance. She looked at the trees leaning over them, limbs reaching like fingers. She shuddered. Jack was following her babbling something about what was in her bra and she wished he would just shut up.

Mounting the stairs, she glimpsed a black and white room through the glass of the large doors before a hand fell on her shoulder. Her nerves tuned several octaves higher than normal, nearly snapped.

“It’s just me,” Jack said, beads of sweat dripping down his face. “Can I have…”

“Take it!” she shrieked, pulling the vial from her bra and throwing it at him. “Will you shut up now?”

“Don’t be such a bitch,” he pouted, slick fingers fumbling with the smooth glass. She returned to ignoring him and turned back to the doors. The black and white room on the other side intrigued her. She pulled at the door. It did not move.

“Of course they’re not going to leave it open,” Jack said, pushing past her to try the door for himself nevertheless. White powder crusted one nostril. Resisting the urge to kick him, Marcie left him trying the door and headed back down the stairs and around the house, following the lawn. She couldn’t get over how green it was.

Rounding the corner, she stopped. The carpet of grass stretched for what seemed like forever before sloping down and disappearing. The weeping willow trees shaded the backyard from the worst of the Louisiana sun without making it seem gloomy. Marcie smiled, her jaw tight. This was where she would marry Jack.

The man in question, meanwhile, had just finished ingesting more cocaine and turned to see Marcie had vanished. Hurrying down the stairs with an oath, he took a left around the house, grinding his teeth as he set off in opposite direction she had taken.

As he rounded the corner of the manor, a small door caught his eye. It was set back into the wall of the mansion, and if his eyes had not been nearly popping out of his head he would have missed seeing it. As it was, he pulled at the door and when it opened without a sound, he entered without a second thought. As he did so, Marcie rounded the opposite corner of the mansion and beheld the acres of plush green splendor.

Jack found himself in a small dim room, not much larger than his shoe closet back home. Squinting, he groped his way through the twilight before his hand fell on a doorknob. Turning it, his tense jaw dropped at the white-tiled ballroom before him. The pillars went so far up they seemed out of sight in the shadows lurking in the corners. The opulent staircase was lit by a chandelier on the first landing, and it drew first Jack’s eye, then his body moved to follow.

At the sound of his footfalls on the cold tile, a door at the end of the dark hallway shifted, then opened a crack. What seemed to be an eye appeared, then faded into nothing. The door opened further, and something left the room.

Jack moved up the staircase in a dream, his eyes fixed on the chandelier, cocaine was forgotten. He had never seen such a perfect explosion of light, sparkles reflecting from a million tiny crystals, suspended by a chain so fine he could hardly see it. It was a thing of such exquisite beauty, an unconscious tear formed in the corner of an eye.

Something descended the familiar stairs with speedy elegance, coming to stop behind Jack as he likewise stopped beneath the chandelier, as close as he was able to get. He could not stop staring. What a wondrous-

“Excuse me,” came a light, cultured female voice from right behind him.

Jack let out an involuntary scream and spun, raising both fists. He had the briefest glimpse of a gorgeous Southern belle with red hair smiling at him with shark’s eyes. Then Jack, as the world knew him, ceased to exist forever.

The Scarlett Dahlia : Fodder by Jesse Orr

The Scarlett Dahlia : Fodder by Jesse Orr

The light-skinned slaves stoked the fires and replenished the torches in the Manor as the darker-skinned slaves quaked in their pens. Mother shushed fretful babes and the fathers dug nervously in their meager bags for a few scraps of tobacco. Always, these nights had ended in crazed screaming emanating from the Manor, and nightmares for the fortunate.

Ruth remembered the night they had come for her youngest sister, not yet three, and had wrenched her, screaming, from her mother’s arms. Their mother, mute, curling in upon herself and dying of grief two days later. She had been alone ever since, spared in miracle after miracle as her companions were picked off from around her like flies. Every day, food made it to her, and she survived. At night, when she had no one but the screaming for company, she wondered why she tried.

Her heart sank as she saw one of the white slavers make eye contact, and his thin lips turned upward in a grin. He gestured, and two more sauntered over and peered in the pen at Ruth. She stared back, unsure what would be best.

“Yeah,” said the fattest, oldest one, and turned, heading back toward the Big House. The second nodded and watched as the first slavers started toward Ruth, reaching a hand behind him to where Ruth knew all slavers kept a length of hardwood, or pipe, if they were cruel. This was Hans who threatened her now, and Ruth knew it would likely be pipe stuffed with lead.

Hans opened the door to the pen and smiled at her. She gave him a fraction of a smile and slipped out through the opening he had made, hearing it lock swiftly behind her. She turned to look at him, catching his eyes traveling up her body as she did.

“Missus Dahlia wants to see you,” Hans said, his eyes stopping just short of her collarbone and lingering there. “I think you know the way.”

“Yeah,” Ruth said, and turned in that direction. Next thing she knew she was on the ground and the back of her head was screaming from where Hans had struck her.

YES SIR,” screamed Hans, leaning down, his mouth in her ear. “Yes sir or I’ll break your fucking head open you filthy bitch!”

“Yessir!” cried Ruth, her will broken as she cowered on the ground in the fetal position, her mind desperately seeking peace.

“Get the fuck up there,” Hans bellowed, “and don’t let me catch you looking back.”

Sobbing, Ruth scrambled to her feet and sped off for the Big House, hating Hans, and herself more.

The slaves were kept in pens below the Big House, separated by a narrow winding path going up a hill and on a rotten bridge over a creek. In the summer, stinging nettles grabbed at those traversing the trail, and welts broke out. Ruth had learned to pull up her outer skirt and shield her face and arms with it, but a stray leaf managed to score her on the arm as she pushed her way through. She grit her teeth and plowed on, emerging at the creek. A lantern hung from a pole at the start of the bridge, casting an eerie glow on the moving water.

Taking the lantern down, Ruth moved with care out onto the bridge, moving with careful but steady footsteps. In the daylight, the bridge was simple to navigate, each gap visible. At night, with the swinging lantern and gloomy moonlight, it was easy to trip and break something. It had happened, and the poor woman had been left to drag herself back to the slave pens with a broken arm and a leg. As Ruth stepped from the last slat to the ground, she heard it crack beneath her, and groaned. On her way back, she’d have to remember that one.

The manor stood before her, facing away from her toward the opulent driveway. Its sprawling lawns curved around its sides and met in the back, extending for several acres to the rear where the land dropped away and led to the creek, and the path to the slave quarters. As Ruth came to the manicured grass, she removed her shoes and left them where the path ended and the grass began. The last time she had forgotten to remove her shoes before walking on the grass, Missus Dahlia had forced her to stand on hot coals for what seemed like forever. It was this memory and the glee which had been in Dahlia’s eyes that now beat in Ruth’s mind as she hurried across the plush grass and to the servant’s entrance. She knocked, using the special knock all the slaves used, and after a second, the door opened to her.

A pair of dark hooded eyes looked at her for a moment, then slid away to the right. The door opened wider and the owner of the eyes revealed herself to be a very light-skinned girl, no more than twenty. Ruth thought her name was Mary.

“Missus waitin’ fo’ ya,” maybe-Mary said to Ruth’s feet, not meeting her eyes. “Troo’ dat do’, up de stairs.” She waved at another small servant’s door at the other side of the small room.

“What’s she want?” asked Ruth, a noticeable tremor in her voice. She was not soothed by the little noncommittal shrug from maybe-Mary, nor her unwillingness to meet Ruth’s eyes.

Opening the door, Ruth stifled a gasp at the enormous white-tiled room before her. The ceilings stretched almost out of sight and a huge staircase flanked by pillars led up to the second floor. Enormous potted plants stood in corners. Ruth’s bare foot on the tile made a sound as loud as a clicking tongue.

A hand fell on her shoulder and she gave a little cry. The hand tightened and spun her around. It was maybe-Mary, staring fiercely at her.

“You need t’be still, girl,” MM said in a hushed whisper. “they don’ like noise.” She held up two little crumpled balls. “Put dese booties on ya feet or you muck up the flo’.”

Ruth took them and slid her feet into them, trying to do it without making a noise. “Thank–” she started, when the door shut with a snap. Maybe-Mary had vanished back into her little room. Ruth heard a click as the door was locked, and her disquiet grew. The enormous room behind her seemed to wait as she turned back to it and crossed to the staircase. With every instinct in her body screaming for her to turn and run, she began to mount the stairs.

At the top, she stopped, confused. She had not received any further instructions. To her left were several doors that overlooked a balcony-like landing beneath the flight of stairs leading to the third floor. To her right was a longer hallway that curved around the wall and out of sight. She was about to start knocking at the doors she could see when a light-skinned man in an immaculate white suite came around the corner and beckoned to her.

“Let’s go, Miz Dahlia is waiting,” he said, his voice high pitched and gravelly. He smiled at her, but it was not a smile she enjoyed. She did not like walking past him and turning her back to him as they walked down the darkening hallway to a door at the far end. As they walked, Ruth noticed the smell of flowers, faint at first, growing stronger the farther they walked. Stopping at the door, Ruth could tell it was the source of the flowers, and dreaded entering that concentrated stench.

The light-skinned man slipped past her and through the door. Ruth heard voices but could not make out words. Her sense of foreboding continued to increase and she had almost convinced herself to take her chances running away when the light-skinned man reappeared in the doorway.

“Miss Dahlia is ready for you,” he said in a courtly manner, opening the door for her and bowing.

Trembling all over, Ruth slipped past him and found herself in a room with an enormous fireplace taking an entire corner. A large black armchair sat before it glowing in the firelight. The opposite wall was taken up by a wardrobe carved from some sort of black wood, reminding Ruth of a church gate. The rest of the room was empty save for the vanity.

Spanning from floor to ceiling, the vanity’s mirror was flanked by dozens of smaller mirrors set on pivots. A vast array of implements were laid out neatly upon its black wood surface. Ruth could see the shine of silver in several of the mirrors. The rest were blocked from view by Scarlett Dahlia.

Her face was almost pure white, but for two spots of color at her cheeks and her bright red lips. Her eyes were a bright pale blue, framed by dark red which tumbled down her back. She was sitting before her vanity, both hands clasped in front of her, resting on her flowing black gown. A pendant with a shimmering red stone hung from her neck by a silver chain. Ruth’s eyes continued to be drawn to it as she struggled to speak. Finally she managed.

“M-missus?”

“Sit down,” Scarlett said. Her voice was light and devoid of any expression. Her eyelid twitched. “Charles. Fetch water for her.”

Ruth sank to her knees on the floor before Scarlett, they nearly buckling beneath her at the last moment. She could not take her eyes from the woman, who stared back, unblinking. Behind her, she heard the light-skinned man making sounds with liquid.

“Missus, what can I do fo’ you?” Ruth could not help asking. Her voice only shook a little and she forced herself to look the pale woman in the eyes.

“That is none of your concern,” the red lips replied. She lifted a glass of wine to them and Ruth’s heart stopped

that looks like blood for a moment”

don’t be ridiculous get hold of yourself Ruth” then restarted.

“You are here, that is sufficient to the moment.” Scarlett’s eyes flicked to the side, where Charles was offering Ruth a clear liquid in a crystal goblet. “Drink.”

The thought of swallowing anything made Ruth feel sick, but she knew better than to refuse the Dahlia. She raised the goblet to her mouth, steeling herself for the worst. But it was water, cool and sweet. Shooting a glance at Scarlett, Ruth was heartened to see those red lips curling up at the corners. Ruth finished the goblet, and set it on the floor before her.

“That was good, thank you missus,” Ruth said, but Scarlett was ignoring her. Her attention was directed at Charles. Ruth attempted to do the same, but she could not focus her eyes. His words washed over her like a tide. Some words had meaning; most did not.

“It don’ take long, Joseph say. T’ree minutes, maybe five,” Charles explained. “Den she too dopey to do mo’ than sit dere.” He turned and waved a hand before Ruth’s eyes. Her eyes did not follow it. “See, it be quick. ‘ventual she come out of it but it be hours. Plenny ‘o time for you, Miz Dahlia.”

Standing, Scarlett raised her wine glass to the fire and toasted it. “Let this one taste better than the last.” She drank, tilting her head back and training every thick viscous drop before hurtling the glass into the fireplace. Her eyes were wide and her breath was heavy. Charles felt the familiar excitement stealing over him as he tried not to look at Ruth, now rigid on the floor, her eyes wide open and vacant, but alive. If she was lucky, she would never come out of it. If she was not, she would.

Scarlett Dahlia: Salutations by Jesse Orr

Salutations

Hot and oppressive, the sun beat down like a blanket, heating the humid air to a thickness that was almost palpable. Through the haze of heat hanging over the patched blacktop, a small red car materialized. It drew nearer, becoming clearer that it was a hybrid sedan, Louisiana plates framed by a plastic barbed-wire frame. The car whispered to a halt in the middle of the road, and the passenger window rolled halfway down. A face peered out, tanned to the point of sunburn, and framed by curly blond hair.

“Just a few miles down this road now,” Carly said, looking down her burnt nose at her iPhone as a ding heralded another text message. “You can’t miss it.”

“Can’t I?” muttered Don. He tweaked the wheel and the sedan turned onto the road without a sound. A clanging resounded in the car, and Don grabbed his phone from his breast pocket. He glanced at it, and stuffed it back into his pocket.

“I wish you’d change that text message sound,” Carly said. “It always makes me jump.”

“Well, we can’t have that can we, darling.” Don’s voice sounded resigned and more than a little weary.

“Don’t start,” snapped Carly. She swiped a few spots on her phone and held it to her ear. After a moment, she spoke in a different tone. “Hi, mommy? We’re almost to the plantation, we’re going to look around and—”

She broke off, frowning as her eyes squinted and she held a finger to the ear opposite the phone, raising her voice as though to be heard over a great wind. “Mom? I can’t—you’re breaking up—can you hear me? Hello?”

Taking the phone from her ear, she beheld the No Service notification with mounting irritation. It fucking figured. This entire day had turned into one headache after another, running from place to place scouting a site for her sister’s stupid wedding. Don had been willing to help, but as they sped around the county, his enthusiasm had waned and been replaced by a surliness which made her wonder what she saw in him anyway. Neither of them had eaten yet, and she just wanted to look at this last possibility and go find the nearest burger joint.

“No service,” she said, tossing her phone into the cupholder and folding her arms across her chest. “It’s not like we’re in the middle of nowhere…”

“I’ll file a complaint with the phone company,” Don said, his voice dripping sarcasm. “Just as soon as we’re done with this delightful tour.”

“Oh shut up,” Carly sighed. “You think this is what I wanted to be doing on my Saturday? My stupid sister is just going to divorce this guy too and this is a day of watching TV and eating Chinese food that you and I are never going to get back.”

“I hope it’s a messy divorce and costs her every penny,” Don said with real malice. “I hope–”

“Oh!” Carly gasped as they rounded a corner and beheld Scarlett Dahlia Manor.

A great white building was framed by weeping willows, green hanging arms framing the pillars which supported the mansion’s second and third story. Opulent staircases descended from the left and right of the enormous main door to the immaculate grass of the enormous sloping lawn.

In the early seventeenth century, this had once been one of the larger plantations in the state, growing cotton and butchering livestock. The family had owned dozens of slaves, and the unsavory reputation it had accrued had not placed it high on the list of potential wedding sites for Carly’s sister. But it was the last one on the list she and Don had agreed to scout, and she was just a few photos away from being on her way to a cheeseburger.

“Not bad,” Don said, pulling to a halt at the base of one of its pillars. They got out, unfolding themselves from the car and stretching the way one does after a long journey.

Carly looked around them at the drooping boughs of the weeping willow. It’s so green, she thought to herself, it’s suffocating – and then she realized it was the silence. The willow branches hung low and heavy around them, blocking their view of the house. Carly looked up into the tree and saw what was missing.

“There are no birds. It’s so quiet in here,” she said, her own voice hushed to match. “The air almost feels dead.”

“It feels hot,” Don said and gestured. “Come on, come on, let’s get it over with.”

Quelling the rising desire to kick Don in the shin, Carly retrieved her phone from the dashboard and raised it to eye level. Before she could open the camera, the phone vibrated in her hand and the ding of a text message sounded in the dead silence.

“I thought you said there was no service,” Don said, his voice accusing.

“There isn’t,” Carly shot back. “There’s no… no…”

“No WHAT?”

“What the fuck?” Carly said, enraged. “Look at this text!”

She held her phone out to Don.

From: Éx1Ã0¿¦Ñþ

leeve now

slut

“What the fuck?” Carly reiterated, grabbing her phone back from Don and looking at it again as though to confirm the insult. “Is somebody here?” She looked toward the mansion, back at Don, then around them in a circle.

“It doesn’t look like it,” Don said. “I’ve never seen a number like that anyway.”

Carly selected the option to call the sender and was treated to a recording stating that there was no service where she was located and would she please try again later. As she hung up in disgust, her phone dinged again. She looked at it and uttered another cry of shock and indignation. “What the actual fuck?” Her hand shot out, shoving her phone into Don’s face.

Ding!

From: ќє…g13пИp

get u away hore

beat it

“Someone has to be here,” Don said, his voice betraying a hint of nervousness. “It’s got to be some stupid joke.”

“Then why is there still no fucking service?” shouted Carly, her voice beginning to touch the outer edge of hysterical. She tapped Reply. Who the fuck are you? She asked, her fingers flying over the screen. Send.

Almost immediately.

Ding!

From: xx¦ðè552

fukn bitch

“Who the fuck is in there?” screamed Carly, one hand clenching her phone, the other balled into a fist as she started toward the staircases of the mansion. A sudden clanging sound made her jump and turn. Don’s phone began to vibrate as texts began arriving. He looked at her, eyes huge as their phones struggled to keep up with the flood of messages.

Ding!

from 0oњш31ОşŒ

no1 wants uhere

Clang!

From: 1ĀÛ+–Â÷ĩ33

get ot

Ding!

From: ÎŊüľ20299

get out

Clang!

From: ÎxŊxüľxľ¶´¸ô

GET OUT

DingClangDingClangDingClang!

From: +++Ë3Æ3¿3Ã3Ã3

GETOUTGETOUTGETOUTGETOUTGETOUTGETOUT

The texts came in as fast as their phones would display them, paragraphs of GETOUT over and over, all from different strings of numbers and characters. Then, silence. They looked at each other, frozen.

“I think we should go,” Carly said, her voice a tremulous whisper that sounded very loud in the sudden silence.

Don was about to speak, when Carly’s phone dinged again, making them both wince. She looked at it, and her face turned white. She showed it to Don.

It was a photo of the two of them, taken moments ago, taken from inside the mansion. As they stared in horror, a new message arrived. Carly opened it and screamed. Don grabbed the phone as she dropped it, and gaped. It was a photo of the two of them, on their backs in a ditch, eyes glassy, jaws slack and very, very, dead.

Now it was Don who screamed and threw the phone across the immaculate grass of the lawn. It landed and at once began dinging with the arriving photos that no one was viewing: Carly draped over a wooden stump, her back flayed into bloody ribbons; Don on his back in the mud, a dark bloody hole where his genitals had been; Carly with her ears missing and great slits carved into her cheeks and nose; Don cradling both of his severed feet as he stared wide-eyed at his bloody stumps. By then, both Don and Carly were back in Don’s car, speeding away from the mansion as fast as the hybrid would carry them.