Roger Hemlock scowled at the bustling of servants going about their chores in preparation for the wedding to be held later in the day. In his mind, the mere thought of what he considered peasants inside his manor home and partaking of his bounty soured his stomach and mood. All that he possessed had been taken from them through his own ruthlessness. The townsfolk and guests had no business being so close to his person and belongings in his eyes. A few he encountered earlier actually had the audacity to make eye contact with him! It had taken every ounce of self-control he possessed to keep from brow beating them then and there. Mr. Hemlock felt a hand upon his shoulder and spun around angrily preparing to put the fool in their place! It was his son, Carter.
His scowl lessened a bit as he was extremely proud of his eldest son. The young man was handsome and well built; qualities that had eluded himself. Yes, Carter would be the perfect heir to his empire and that was one of the few things that brought him true joy. But this wedding business was a burr in his saddle that would not be tolerated.
“Listen to me boy. Just look about you Carter. The townsfolk, the servants; these types are beneath us. We are Hemlocks and that means something! This girl you intend to wed is even lower class than them!” This was not the first time he had voiced his opinion on the matter, yet it would be the last as the day was here. He would make the fool boy see reason. “There is no advantage in marrying a Klein. The whole lot of them are no better than homeless vagrants! They have no wealth or land to absorb into our own. The girl’s father has worked in my mine for years and what has he to show for it? A two-room shack with eight children and a hunched back! Use good sense boy. There is still time to call an end to this farce.”
Carter’s cold and predatory eyes, a trait he shared with his father, locked upon the shorter man. “Abigail Klein will become my personal property today father. Make no mistake about that. I too share your disdain for her kin, yet she is beautiful, more so than any other girl in town.”
“There are many girls with pretty faces to be had boy; lovely girls from families with substantial wealth.”
“Trust me father. Abigail knows how truly fortunate she is to even catch my eye considering her background. I could have chosen anyone, but I stooped down and pulled her from the mire. She will be perfectly content to bare and tend my children while I go about my business.”
“You would be better off in the company of harlots! At least they have the decency to go away for a few coins!” Mr. Hemlock placed his fists upon his hips. “Call it off.” From the tone and stance, Carter recognized this was the final order rather than a suggestion but before he could respond he was interrupted by the arrival of his mother, Moraine.
“There he is! The most handsome groom in all the South!” She followed her declaration with a kiss upon her son’s cheek. Moraine made sure to give her husband a look full of venom before returning her attention to Carter. “Come now. There are some people here from Savannah, I want you to meet before the ceremony. Now don’t give me that look. It won’t take but just a moment.” Carter wasn’t keen on meeting the strangers with whom he would most likely hate but it would get him away from his father, so he allowed himself to pulled away.
Roger Hemlock stood there stewing in his anger. His balding head turning shades of red reminiscent of a sunburn. He was accustomed to getting his way, always. He glared at his son’s escape before turning to towards Cain Thomas who was standing along the far wall looking like a mountain lion about to pounce. Mr. Hemlock nodded towards the young man who returned the gesture knowingly. With that, Cain slipped away amid the people enjoying the festivities. Roger Hemlock would be damned if he had no say in today’s proceedings…damned straight to hell.
Abigail Klein was feeling fretful as she eyed herself in the mirror. She wanted to look absolutely perfect for Carter. He was so wonderful in her eyes, and she still could hardly believe someone as herself had captured his heart. His family had been generous in supplying the extravagant white gown she now wore. Abigail had never owned any dress so ornate in her life. A couple of Carter’s aunts put the finishing touches on her hair before gushing over her as they exited the room. In her wildest dreams she never imagined today would actually be happening. She would be marrying the man of her dreams! A knock at the door snapped her back to reality.
“I hope you’re decent,” said Cain Thomas, Carter’s best friend and man as he stuck his head in the door. He had always wanted Abigail to himself, but she refused each attempt to get close to her. She was wary of his unscrupulous reputation and with good reason. He has used many a trusting maiden to fulfill his carnal desires before casting each aside afterwards. But Abigail never gave him the time of day and he hated her dearly for it. The devilish look he now wore upon his face made her wretch in her stomach. “My if you aren’t the most ravishing woman in the entire county!” Before she could demand he leave, Cain was upon her. He pressed her violently up between himself and the oaken dresser as his hands roamed all over her body.
“Cain! Cain! What are you doing? Stop!” Abigail cried as fear rushed throughout her limbs.
“Not before I get what I came for!” Cain exclaimed as he forced his kiss upon her. She tried desperately to wrestle free of his clutches, but he was too strong. Pulling free of her lips, he began running his tongue down the length of her neck. Abigail took the opportunity to scream for help. Immediately the door burst open with Carter leading a few startled guests.
Cain shoved her away and she lunged for Carter burying her tears into his chest. “What’s going on here Cain?” Carter demanded as he enveloped Abigail safely into his arms.
Cain eyed him coolly and adjusted his coat before responding. “I merely stopped by to offer your bride my best wishes on the day and without warning she came onto me like a harlot. Once I had rebutted her advances, she lost composure and began screaming in anger.” He hoped the performance was worth the Roger Hemlock gold in his pockets. Carter gently pulled Abigail’s sobbing face from his chest and examined it before breaking into a sneer. “Father was right. How dare you make sport of me? I’m Carter Hemlock! You are just the two bits he always said!”
Mr. Hemlock pushed through the gathering crowd with a satisfied look upon his face. “I knew it! See what she did! We must purge this filth from our wholesome community! Get the rope and take her to the oak!”
“What? Carter! He tried to hurt me! He was trying to force himself on me! I love you! What are you doing? Please Carter! You have to believe me!” Abigail sobbed as she felt hands seize her arms. More than half the onlookers were too frightened to intervene on the poor girls behalf as they knew full well how the man known as Roger Hemlock conducted business. The remaining few were too scared not to follow orders exactly. They dragged her wailing and pleading down the hall towards the large double doors leading outside when her father saw the commotion.
“What are you doing? Release her!” He screamed at the men pulling her along.
“Father! Help me! They’re going to hang me!”
Elder Klein tried to grapple with the men holding his daughter captive, but they were able to effortlessly toss his feeble frame to the floor. Abigail flung herself wildly trying to grasp anything to prevent being taken outdoors but her attempts were in vain just as her pleas for mercy. Lying on the floor Elder pleaded for someone, anyone to intervene. No one would.
The lone massive oak ominously grew larger and larger as they neared it. Beneath its shade the rope was deftly tossed over limb high among the branches. Burly hands strapped the noose around Abigail’s neck making getting the slightest breath difficult. “That’s it lads! String the harlot up!” squealed Roger Hemlock in delight.
Her eyes bulged like they were going to pop out of her head as she felt her feet leave the ground. Higher and higher she went kicking her legs this way and that. She made eye contact with Carter Hemlock. The man she was going to marry. The man she loved. From among the onlookers, he stood with a satisfied grin that killed what remained of her heart.
Elder Klein could see his daughter swinging above the silent throng through the opened doors of the manor. “I curse you all! I curse you Hemlocks; you, your land, and all that you have! I call down a curse that love be barren in word or deed here ever again! I swear it with an oath!”
“Someone silence that old fool!” Demanded Mr. Hemlock.
Cain Thomas produced a blade from his coat and promptly sliced the old man’s throat like he was slaughtering a deer. Elder Klein gurgled and gasped before going still. Blood pooled out from his lifeless form in seconds as he bled out. “It’s finished,” Roger Hemlock said unable to hide the grin marking his face. But what the Hemlock clan considered the mindless ramblings of a terrified father was more real than they could ever have imagined.
The darkness of night found Hemlock Manor silent as a tomb following the events from earlier in the day. With the murders of Elder and Abigail Klein, the townsfolk with any soul whatsoever fled the grounds in the commotion. The ones loyal to Mr. Hemlock for their own reasons did the same soon afterward as the sight of Abigail’s corpse swaying in the breeze was a dreadful sight. Mr. Hemlock refused to have her body taken down until the morning and no one would dare cross the man’s orders. The servants doubled their efforts in cleaning the large home to give the impression nothing of note had even occurred. They removed the many wedding decorations and more importantly, the dead body belonging to Elder Klein on the entrance room floor.
Carter Hemlock sat in his room with candle light causing the shadows upon the walls to dance. He almost dropped the glass of whiskey he held when his door slowly opened with a creak. To his relief it was only his mother, Moraine.
“I’m so sorry for barging in but I just wanted to be sure you were ok before going to bed,” she said softly. “Today was just a horrible scene. One I’ve grown accustomed to over the years spent with your father, but it doesn’t make it any easier it seems.”
Carter could smell the remnants of wine on his mother’s breath when she leaned in to embrace him. He wished she’d spare him the whole loving mother routine as she was as skilled at her games as his father. “I’m fine mother. I’ll sleep perfectly fine once this bottle is gone.”
“Oh, I guess you will. Before I return to my chambers, just know that I love you very much my son.”
A crackle of thunder boomed shaking the foundations of the entire manor. Rain drops driven by a fierce wind tried desperately to break the glass windows and saturate the floor. The night had previously been clear and full of stars when he had staggered inside earlier. Before Carter could contemplate the sudden arrival of the storm, he gasped at the sight of his mother. Her hair that had been pulled tightly into a bun was now wild and spread in all directions. Blue veins criss-crossed her skin looking alive and pulsating beneath flesh now the color of maggots. Moraine’s blue eyes were gone and in their place was wide, pupil-less orbs! “Mother?” he gasped. “What’s wrong?” Moraine just looked at him before speaking in a sing-song rhyme.
“Tis no love here, ne’re err will be!
Love forsaken, dead on the tree!
Can you hear her? She rises again!
To claim her blood of Hemlock men!”
“What?” Carter stood and grasped his mother by the shoulders. “Have you lost your mind?” Moraine kept repeating the lines over and over no matter how hard he shook her. In frustration, he tossed her effortlessly to the floor.
Amid the stormy night, all the males inside the manor befell a grisly fate; those of Hemlock blood and those of the servants as well. Moraine claimed Abigail had come down off the tree and killed them all and wouldn’t be persuaded otherwise. Her claims and behavior became so erratic the town was forced to have her committed. With Moraine’s forced hospitalization, the surviving female members of the Hemlock family sold the property and fled to unknown whereabouts.
Over the years, the manor passed hands several times as new families purchased it for their own, but each befell the same fate as the Hemlocks. Multiple investigations into the mysterious deaths yielded little in the way of concrete evidence. The survivors, all women, rambled of an other-worldly demon resembling a bride adorned in her gown. They were rarely believed due to their state of mind when recalling the events. Eventually, the once majestic manor fell into disrepair as no one dare to step foot inside the fencing surrounding the land much less actually inhabit the home. It stayed that way until purchased, on the cheap, by Madame Cheshire who turned it into a place for her disreputable business purposes.
Before the purchase, Madame Cheshire had dared to explore the vacant property. Amid the years of built up dust and spider webs, she discovered the written memoirs of one Moraine Hemlock. She had written in vivid detail the massacre that befell her family. Cheshire was certain she could make it work here where others had failed. Though lacking the funds to totally restore the manor to its former glory, she was able to do enough to make it serviceable enough for her and her girls to live and work within its walls. Her vision and savvy were enough to run the place without incident and the authorities let her be as they were rumored to enjoy its morsels as much as the rest. Yet nothing lasts forever.
The sun had fallen behind the pines lining the horizon as a car sped along the corridor that would lead into the heart of Gilmore County. Beyond its interior could be heard the tunes of Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” on factory speakers nearing their limit. The four youths inside were a bundle of nerves for various reasons as their destination was the fabled Madame Cheshire’s Magnolia Club.
“It’s like I told you guys, this is going to be epic!” Tony excitedly bellowed to no one’s surprise as he had been boisterous since the doctor first spanked his behind eighteen years earlier. He motioned to his friend in the passenger seat. “Tell them again Clyde how your brother came here before going off to boot camp. He said it was great! Best time of his life! Tell them Clyde.”
Clyde only nodded in agreement as he was not feeling as full of vigor as he did when they first got in the car. Now that it was really happening, he was feeling rather apprehensive. He looked for support from the driver, Brian, who was doing his best to ignore the conversation as well. He was focusing on the road wanting so desperately to turn back and go home. Darren, who shared the back seat with Tony looked downright ready to bolt. It wouldn’t surprise Clyde in the least if he leapt from the moving vehicle to escape as Darren was never known for his bravery.
“Geez! I’m surrounded by candy asses!” spat Tony in disgust. “Afraid of your own shadow. We are going to Madame Cheshire’s! Madame freakin’ Cheshire’s! Real women boys! Not these little high school chicks we’ve seen for years! Women! Even little Darren here is gonna score with those coke bottle glasses. Dang man. Why don’t your folks use that college money they’ve been saving up and get you some lasik? I can’t believe you guys are so scared.”
“Cool it, Tony!” Clyde interrupted. “Not a one of us has done anything remotely like this before including you no matter how much bragging you do! It’s the truth!”
Tony folded his arms defensively. “I swear y’all are too uptight for your own good. Dude, we’re young. We’re supposed to make bad decisions and do crazy stuff. Clyde, in a few months you’re going to be following your brother’s footsteps into the navy. Little Darren here is gonna be in some Ivy League college or something. And Brian, well, you’ll still be here in “lamesville” with me.” Brian shot him a nasty look. “But this could be our last great adventure as a group! See these hands? These babies are ready to hold some melons! Know what I’m saying?”
“What if our parents or someone from church sees us headed out this way Tony?” asked Brian.
“Who cares? Besides, we haven’t met maybe two or three other vehicles. It’s dark. No one is going to be the wiser.”
“A mile or so back there was a BMW parked off the road Tony. I couldn’t tell who was inside but not just anybody around here drives one of those.” Brian stated.
“God can see us wherever we’re at.” Darren said sheepishly. “He knows.”
“I’m not having religious discussions in this car tonight and that’s that. If it’s bothering, you that bad Darren just pray for me or something. We are doing this come hell or high water.”
“I guess we are. We’re here.” Said Clyde.
Several vehicles were parked along the fence marking the property of Madame Cheshire’s. The head lights of the car illuminated a group of three men speaking outside the gate under a lamp that looked ready to fall at any moment. Two of the men appeared to be your normal average everyday suburban dads but it was the third who caught their attention. He was an older man dressed to the nines in a tailor-made suit.
“I know that guy!” exclaimed Brian. “He’s that senator that’s on T.V. all the time taking down statues and stuff in town.”
“Who?” Asked Clyde.
“Do you guys not watch the news?” Brain questioned as he rolled his eyes.
“Here’s all the news you need Brian,” said Tony. “There’s boobs in there and we are gonna see them! Get out of the car. We are doing this.”
“No way! That senator will have us arrested as we step out of the car!” squeaked Darren.
“Darren, why do you think he’s here? Same as us, to have a little fun. He’s not going to do a thing,” Assured Tony. He exited the vehicle and proudly stepped forward towards the other men with his friends reluctantly following behind. The senator addressed the newcomers immediately.
“Well, well, well. What have we here? Some young men whom I’m sure are of legal age and consent to partake of the festivities.” Tony nodded vigorously as the other three tried to hide behind him. “Good,” smiled the senator as he started to shake their hands. “I’m always pleased to meet the constituents that I humbly serve each and every day. I’m Senator Phil Brown.”
“And one of my best customers,” came a voice from the shadows. Senator Brown’s aged face smiled broadly at the sound as he instantly lost interest in the boys.
“Guilty as charged dear Madame Cheshire, but few offer the quality of entertainment as do you and your ladies.”
A middle aged woman with dark ringlets of curls falling about her head stepped into the lamplight wearing a red dress that appeared two sizes too small to contain her ample curves. Most red blooded men could attest that she had been an exotic stunner in her younger days, but sported way too much make-up now to cover the years. Her black eyes sparkled regardless as she leaned seductively atop the opposite side of the gate. “Why senator, as usual your words are laced in equal amounts of honey and bullshit.” The men chuckled as her eyes drifted over the night’s clientele. She paused at the boys until even Tony became more interested in his shoes than the woman before him. “It appears some young bucks have found their way to my door as they often do. Don’t worry sugars, all are welcome here provided they have the cash and follow my rules to the letter. Gentlemen! The rules will be followed exactly without fail.” The seriousness on her face could stop a bullet. “Firstly, the price is $250.00 and that is non-negotiable.” She looked at the four lads specifically “Rule number one and the most important, once you enter this gate situated beneath my lovely bosoms, you will not under any circumstances utter the word ‘love’. You will not speak it once or ever.”
“Mame, I beg your pardon, but we ain’t here to fall in love. We just came to see some boobies!” Tony regretted the words immediately as the look on Cheshire’s face could cut stone. She opened the gate and strode past the chuckling men with the grace and authority of a queen where she slapped the taste out of the young man’s mouth before he had time to blink.
“The road that brought you boys here, it’s still there. I suggest you get your asses back on it!”
Tony tried to mumble an apology between the pain of his stinging cheek and the swelling embarrassment. A grinning Senator Brown came to his defense. “That one right there has too big a mouth and too little a brain for his own good but I’m sure he’s deeply sorry for his offense. Surely, he’s not stupid enough to make the same mistake again. Right?” Tony nodded meekly rubbing the side of his face.
“As I was saying, you will not speak the word ‘love’ once you enter the premises until you are once again standing in the very spot you are now. Understand? I cannot make it any plainer.” That was enough for Darren, and he made a break for their car. Brian called after him, but Tony grabbed his arm.
“Let him go. He’d just spoil it for us anyway. You do have the keys, right? He’d leave us in a New York minute.” Brian produced them from his jeans pocket to assure his friend.
“Pity. Looks like I lost one. Rule two. You will not curse, harm, or in any fashion offend even a single one of my girls otherwise I will unleash holy hell upon your persons.” Like a magician performing a trick, a shiny .45 caliber appeared from nowhere in her hand. “Remember my gun is bigger than yours. Rule Three. No cell phones. You are not videoing any of my girls like an amateur pornographer or taking pics of my establishment. It’s not happening. Now if you are able to comprehend and abide by my rules, then welcome to Madame Cheshire’s Magnolia Club!” she stated with flourish and pizzazz of a circus ringmaster. She motioned for them to follow along behind her as her ample bottom swayed side to side.
Clyde leaned over to whisper to Brian. “What the hell are we doing man?”
“Getting in big trouble looks like,” he responded as they passed beneath the massive oak tree on the gravel path leading to the huge manor. Something about the way it stood so tall and alone didn’t set well with the young man. Drawing closer he could now see the shabbiness of the old house despite the darkness. Paint was visibly peeling or missing completely from the old boards. Shutters that once may have appeared stately were now dangling precariously as if to fall at any moment. Brian wondered if the building was structurally sound. The huge double doors looked sturdy enough as Madame Cheshire opened them allowing her guests inside.
Now the inside was a different story. It was stunning compared to the outside. Lamps and candles bathed the painted walls in a soft light that was both welcoming and comforting. The rugs spread out in various spots on the wooden floors were plush and soft like a woman’s touch. Brian was glad he and his companions had wiped their feet on the doormat as there was no telling the punishment for soiling them after the way the Madame had slapped Tony earlier. The air inside was sweet and inviting with hint of lavender in the air.
“Gigi, we have guests,” Announced Madame Cheshire.
Before Brian knew it an exotic looking woman with dark eyes dressed in a flowing sheer robe was handing him a glass of something. He could see everything! She stuck out her free hand as if waiting on something. Did she want a tip he wondered?
“To take the edge off for my guests,” said Cheshire. “As you take a glass, kindly give your cellphone to Miss Gigi. Don’t worry. They’ll be returned to you promptly at the end of your visit.” She took a long sip from her own glass. “Now gentlemen I will accept your payment…cash only.” She sashayed to each man and gently gathered their offering looking satisfied. “Now prepare yourselves for the sweetest peaches to ever grace the tree. Ladies!” she called towards the staircase leading to the second floor.
One by one a dozen of the most beautiful women Brian had ever seen gracefully descended the staircase in lingerie he had only see in the magazines hidden in his uncle Bob’s garage. His breathing increased and he took a sip from the glass in his hand. The contents made him wrinkle his face as it burned going down his throat. What had he gotten himself into? Brian then noticed that even Senator Brown was sweating at the sight as he dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief. Slowly they lined up before men smiling in a way that made him more comfortable staring at his feet instead.
“Due to the fact that my girls are all equally fantastic, you do not choose them. Rather, they choose you. Ladies, kindly make your selections. And gentlemen, remember the rules.” Madame Cheshire flashed the .45 once again to hammer the point home. Brian wondered where she could possibly hide the weapon on her person as the dress, she wore looked like it prohibited even breathing. Six of the ladies stepped forward and made their choices. Before they could say a word, Clyde, Brian, and Tony were being led away in different directions of the labyrinth like halls leading away from the entrance of the manor.
A brunette with wavy hair led Brian by the hand into a room with a massive bed in the center decorated in satin and lace. The only light illuminating it was from a floor lamp in the corner. The scent of honeysuckles penetrated his nose, and he wasn’t sure if it the room or the girl. She then turned to face him with her curves being held by baby blue undergarments that looked soft to the touch. His hands were trembling visibly now as they were alone. She smiled as big as the ocean and introduced herself as Hawaii.
“Look, Hawaii or whatever, I can’t do this. I don’t even know why I came. My friend, Tony, he talked us into it. I’m so stupid for even listening to him. I’m sorry. I hope this doesn’t make you mad.” It all poured out of Brian’s mouth like a pent up avalanche. To his surprise, Hawaii smiled in what looked like genuine empathy and not amusement at his expense. She walked to the bed and took a seat gesturing with her hand for him to join her.
“Most people I know don’t end up in this line of work without a Tony or two in their lives and trust me, I’ve had several.” Brian sat down where she specified but was sure to leave as much room between them as possible. Hawaii grinned. “Now you’ve met Madame Cheshire and are probably aware she isn’t refunding your money for any reason. But we can talk if you’d like. What’s your name?”
“Brian. My name is Brian.”
In another section of the manor, Senator Brown was living it up while wearing only an adult size diaper and matching bonnet with a pacifier jutting out from his wrinkled lips. His girl, Diamond, stalked around him in slow circles letting the whip she held crack with a pop. “You’ve been a bad baby haven’t you!” she accused in a low rasp.
“Ga-ga. Goo-goo. Bad baby,” replied the senator.
“You know what I do to bad babies? I spank them unmercifully!” She then used the butt end of her whip to scrape beneath the senator’s turkey like chin. “I spank them all night long. What do you think about that bad baby?”
Senator Brown stuck his diapered rear out to be more accessible. “Baby love spank-spank.”
Diamond’s eyes widened in horror at hearing the word “love”! She staggered helplessly as her vision blurred before fading to black. Diamond’s body crashed to the tiger print rug adorning the floor that perfectly matched her outfit. The senator turned to see what the sound was as the smack he heard wasn’t the one he was desperately anticipating. He wasn’t too concerned about the unconscious woman lying at his feet as he figured she’d OD’ed on some drug or another. This wasn’t the first time it had happened in his many years as senator. But he knew he better make good his escape as the last thing his political career needed was to be caught in the same room as a dead prostitute…again. Senator Brown was searching for his glasses and clothes when he heard a voice shrieking in the hall outside the door. He thought he could hear men’s voices shouting as well but he wasn’t certain. But the one outside his door was certainly female in origin. He stepped over Diamond’s body and crept to the door before opening it just enough to poke his head outside to see what the commotion was about. He spotted Madame Cheshire at the top of the stairwell. She was the shrieker.
Her hair that earlier had been styled perfectly was disheveled and wild as she clutched at the sides of her head as if to keep it from exploding. The lovely dress adorning her voluptuous form was torn all over looking like she had survived an attack of some kind. Beneath the tattered fabric her skinned had paled like death and dark blue veins were visible all over her body. But it was her wide pupil-less eyes that were just white orbs that caused the senator to shudder and close the door shut. It was then that her screaming stopped and a wide grin spread across her face before she broke into a sing song rhyme over and over.
“Tis no love here, ne’re err will be!
Love forsaken, dead on the tree!
Can you hear her? She rises again!
To claim her blood of Hemlock men!”
Clyde was bounding down one of the numerous hallways calling out for his friends. He swore this place held too many corridors and rooms from what it appeared to from outside the rustic building. Surely his friends were this direction he hoped. Clyde was pulling his shirt back on over his head when ran smack into another person sending them both to the floor. It was one of the suburban dads he had seen earlier.
The suburban dad apologized. “Sorry kid,” he apologized climbing to his feet. “Cinnamon, the girl I was with just fainted out of nowhere! I’ve got to find Madame Cheshire and get my phone to call an ambulance or something. But these halls make no sense. I haven’t seen anything that looks familiar, but I wasn’t paying much attention.”
“My chick fainted too!” added Clyde.
“Damn. What’s going on? Let’s stick together and see if we can find the entrance room. Surely the madame is there or at least our phones. Oh, I’m Bill by the way.”
“Let’s go,” said Bill and the pair took off down the corridor. They ran for what seemed five minutes or so. “How big is this place? Asked Bill who was getting winded. “We should have already found someone or something.” Clyde was wondering if the drinks they had been offered earlier had something to do with it but didn’t offer his thoughts. Bill had slowed to a walk and was wiping sweat from his brow. “Let’s keep pushing onward.” Finally, they came upon the familiar surroundings of the entrance room from earlier and Clyde’s friends were already there. Brian was on one of the plush couches looking like he might faint. Tony was wildly pacing back and forth ranting.
“Guys! You seen Madame Cheshire?” Clyde gasped trying to catch his breath.
Tony stopped. “No! No, I haven’t, and you can bet your sweet ass I’m gonna give her a piece of my mind! The hooker they gave me was no good! She just flat passed out on me before we could do anything!”
Before anyone could respond a man’s wails from the top of the stairs snapped them to attention. Senator Brown was taking the steps three and four at a time trying to get away from something…still wearing a diaper. They gawked in amazement at the older man half expecting him to fall and break his neck, but his feeble legs carried him safely to the bottom. “That crazy bitch has lost her mind!” he exclaimed as he darted around and cowered behind the young men.
Madame Cheshire appeared at the top of the stairs looking crazed. They couldn’t do anything but stare as she stalked slowly down the stairs still singing that rhyme softly. On the last step, she leaned seductively against the hand rail while staring at them with her pupil-less gaze.
“Madame Cheshire?” asked Bill cautiously. “Look, my girl. The one who, well you know, she needs help, and I can see that you do too possibly. Can you please give me my phone or tell me where it is so we can get help?”
“You have the audacity to call her ‘my girl’ when ‘your girl’ is currently in your home caring for your children? The only girl you need concern yourself with is ‘her’ and she’s coming. Your phones, your viral manliness, nothing is going to save you from ‘her’.” A wide smile spread across her face at the final word.
Tony forced his fear down, but it was hard. “I’m getting my money back you freakin’ psycho! So, you go find your little purse or whatever right now!”
“What an angry young buck you are. Go look outside the window near the oak tree.” Madame Cheshire gestured with her hand as she began to repeat the rhyme again.
Thunder crackled and lighting ripped through the sky as rain began coming down in sheets. Brian edged over to the window and pulled the curtain back just enough to look outside. In the darkness of the storm, he could barely make out the streetlamp at the gate’s edge but little else. But then a bolt of lightning lit up the entire landscape and he saw ‘her’. “Oh shit!” Brian squealed as he backed away from the window trembling.
“What did you see Brian?” asked Clyde?
“A woman or something is hanging from the tree out there!” he squealed looking for a place to hide.
“Bullshit,” said Tony.
Curious, the others gathered around the window looking to see what had frightened Brian so badly. Another flash revealed the thin woman adorned in an elegant wedding dress with her face obscured by her veil as she swayed with the wind from beneath a massive branch. Again, the darkness of the night and rain hid her from view until another burst of lightning streaked across the sky. She was on the ground now! Blackness hid her again until the next bright flash of lightning. The creature was closer than before.
“That’s not good boys!” Clyde gasped.
“No shit!” said Tony pulling the curtain closed with a jerk. “We have got to get the hell out here!”
“The gun!” shouted Bill. “The one Madame Cheshire had! We need it!”
Tony ran up to Madame Cheshire and promptly began to frisk her. To his surprise she didn’t offer any resistance as she softly mumbled the rhyme over and over. He was hoping she would as he would dearly love to repay her for the slap earlier. “There’s nothing here!”
“We need that gun! Clyde, you keep those doors locked and secure and don’t let that thing in here! The rest of us will look for that gun!” ordered Bill.
Everyone started frantically searching for the .45 while Clyde put his shoulder up against the sturdy wood. The metal bolt locks appeared in good condition and that helped ease the young man’s mind somewhat, but he still silently prayed the gun would be found and quickly. It didn’t take the searchers long to completely scour the room and move on to other locations leaving Clyde alone with the madame who was staring off into nothing while continuing to sing low, until she wasn’t. “Sugar. She’s here.”
The large wooden door suddenly burst inward sending Clyde and shards of wood across the floor where he hit the wall on the far side of the room. While blinking to clear the cobwebs from his head, Clyde was terrified to see the bride was already hovering over him. Beneath her veil, he could see her features were indistinguishable from the blood covering it except for her eyes. She had none. Empty sockets where eyes had once been stared at him. Before he could speak, she thrust her hand downward into Clyde’s chest. The blow effortlessly by passed his ribs and he cried out in agony as she retracted her hand from the gaping wound. Before him was his still beating heart before she crushed it in her grasp spraying blood across her rain soaked gown. Clyde’s eyes slipped back into his head, and he was gone.
Bill had heard the door crash and came back just in time to witness Clyde’s final moments. The bride slowly cocked her bloody visage his direction causing Bill to scramble up the stairs for a place to hide. He heard an otherworldly howl and glanced back to see she was giving chase. Bill opened the first door he encountered and slammed it shut behind him frantically looking for a hiding place. He chose the closet to his left and hid inside while holding it firmly shut. Despair overwhelmed him as he was unable to quieten his breath as it sounded just slightly lower than a herd of charging elephants. He was certain she would come right to him.
Upon reaching the top of the stairs, the bride saw no sight of her quarry and forcibly opened a door at random. There upon the bed was the other suburban dad from earlier bound by his arms and legs to the four corner posts. The gag in his mouth muffled his screams as the bride neared him. He thrashed wildly but was unable to break his bonds. The woman lying unconscious on the floor had secured him firmly and it left him defenseless against the hand thrust into his chest. She pulled the heart free to casually examine the organ before crushing it within her grasp splattering blood in all directions. With that, she exited the room.
From a downstairs hiding spot, Senator Brown had witnessed Clyde’s death in all its glory and the creature that had chased Bill upstairs. He hoped that while it was busily killing the fool, he could sneak away to freedom if he could be quiet. Senator Brown stepped cautiously past Clyde’s grisly corpse and saw the double doors leading to freedom were missing chunks of wood where the locks had been! The rainy night was easily visible through them. He was going to live! He enthusiastically pulled and pushed but they wouldn’t budge in the least as if they held closed by an unseen force. “No. No. No. No. No. No.” He repeated over and over before redoubling his efforts to no avail. Defeated, he dropped to his knees and lay his forehead against the wood preventing his escape.
“Scoot over baby dumpling!” demanded Tony who was flanked by Brian. “I’m opening these doors.” With that, the young man charged at the doors with all his might lowering his shoulder and smacked into them with the force of an automobile wreck, but it didn’t work. Tony crumpled to the floor wincing in pain. It felt as if his shoulder was on fire, possibly dislocated. Brian tried to check on his friend, but Tony waved him away with his good arm.
“The windows!” exclaimed Brian. He and the senator quickly checked them out only to find them sealed and bolted closed as if they hadn’t been opened in years. “Who the hell does this?” asked Brian incredulously. He tried punching the glass but the only thing that gave was his hand as he cursed in pain.
Tony pushed the pain aside and got up to look for anything they could use to break the glass of the windows. It was then that he first saw his friend, Clyde’s corpse. He instinctively knew not to draw attention to it as Brian may lose it on him and he needed his friend to be in the moment if they were to survive. He spied a chair along the wall and grabbed it up inviting the pain the action caused. “I hope this is a priceless antique,” he said as he brought it against the window over and over until the glass gave way bursting into the mud outside underneath. Little remained of the chair in Tony’s hands as he beckoned for them to join him at the window. Brian fist bumped Tony with his good hand but their momentary celebration was interrupted by a shriek at the top of the stairs as the bride descended towards them.
“Get them!” Pointed Senator Brown at the boys before taking off down a hallway.
“Asshole!” shouted Tony as he and Brian ran the opposite direction.
Brian led the way and spotted a door. They slipped in with Tony quickly closing it behind them. They saw four lifeless prostitutes littered about the floor. “Dude, we need to hide quick!” Tony said when he spied a massive armoire along the wall. “We can both fit in there!” He opened it up and pushed the hanging clothes aside to slip in. “Come on Brian!” But Brian ignored his friend’s plea and knelt beside one of the unconscious women on the floor. Tony closed the doors in frustration hoping his friend would do the smart thing and hide. Brian was overwhelmed. Earlier, Brian had spotted Clyde’s lifeless eyes staring off into nothing and he couldn’t force the image from his head. It was like he couldn’t concentrate or keep a coherent thought. All he could do was gently stroke the woman’s cheek while wishing the entire night hadn’t happened.
From inside the pitch black of the armoire, Tony heard the door forced opened and the screams of his friend begging for mercy. Brian pleaded with sobs and wails, but Tony couldn’t force himself to move. It was an unusual feeling he couldn’t understand as he couldn’t recall being afraid of anything before in his life. Pain overwhelmed him as tears rolled down his cheeks with each one accusing him of cowardice. But Tony couldn’t muster the courage to move an inch. He could only cower with the warm wetness of his own urine soaking his pants. It was almost a relief when the room went silent.
In the opposite direction, Senator Brown stopped inside what looked like a tea parlor once he realized the bride had chased after the boys instead of himself. He took the moment to hunch over and wrest his arms atop his knees. The strain of the night was taking its toll on him. “Pssst. Senator.” He was startled to see one of the men he was talking to at the gate earlier tonight still alive. He assumed him long since dead. “Where is she at?” Bill asked.
“Back that way somewhere. She came after me and those boys, but I managed to fight her off and save us,” The Senator said with a sense of bravado.
“Wow! That’s amazing Senator,” Bill had been wondering lost since earlier evading the bride. Each hallway he silently crept along only led to another and then another. It was terribly frustrating as the manor’s layout made no sense. He refused to give up as he was determined to see his wife and kids again.
“We’ve got to stick together Bill. It’s our only chance.” Reasoned the senator.
“Your chances have all ran out.” Came a voice from the doorway. It was Madame Cheshire. She started singing the rhyme again in the style and tone of a child. Bill promptly charged the woman and sent her to the floor with a solid right hand.
“No one asked you.” He snarled.
The madame wiped at the trickle of blood dripping from her nose as she lay on the floor. Bill felt ashamed at having hit the woman but he soon wished he’d finished the job as Madame Cheshire started screaming, “They’re here! They’re right here! Come have your fill of blood! Don’t let them escape!”
Before they could react, the bride was in the room with them. The senator shoved Bill directly into the bride and slipped by narrowly dodging Cheshire’s attempt to trip him. “Senator Brown! Help me!” shouted Bill but the senator was already gone. The bride grappled with Bill, and he couldn’t believe the strength she possessed. It was unworldly. Despite this he fought desperately because he needed the second chance to be the husband and father he should have been all along. He tired quickly and the bride used the opportunity to fling Bill crashing into a piano adorning the room. He fell in a heap to the floor registering pain all over his body except his legs. He couldn’t feel them! The bride gracefully floated over to him and pulled him up by the neck to look into her eyeless sockets amid the blood covering her face.
“Please.” Bill panted. “I’m sorry. Just give me the chance to be a good man. I’ve done wrong. Please.”
She violently thrust her hand into his chest and took her prize.
Tony was vainly trying to force the image of Brian’s corpse from his head he had seen when climbing from the armoire he’d been hiding in. He was shuffling like a zombie down the hallway in a shock induced daze. He had been the one who insisted they come and not chicken out. Now he looked completely defeated with his injured arm dangling at his side. Stumbling into the entrance room he saw the hind end of someone wearing a diaper halfway out the window he had broken earlier. Senator Brown was trying to wiggle out without impaling himself on the remaining glass shards holding in place. A final jiggle of his legs sent him slipping into the mud and broken glass littering the ground. A piercing shriek brought Tony to his senses. The bride was barreling in on him. With all the strength he could muster, he dove carelessly through the opening the senator had just escaped through. The senator was already making a break for the flashing police car lights at the gate. He felt a renewed hope swell within himself. He might survive after all.
He heard the double doors explode off their hinges as the bride burst out enraged! Tony began to doubt if he could outrun her with the sheets of rain and mud hindering each step. But that fear fueled each step to go faster. He could see Senator Brown had already reached the gate and was frantically yelling at the police officer there. The officer pushed the senator aside and pulled his service pistol from his hip and aimed. “Freeze! Stop or I’ll shoot!” he ordered.
Tony wasn’t sure if the officer meant that for him but there was no way he was complying. He was twenty feet away. He could feel the wind from the bride’s movements almost upon him. Now it was ten feet. Was that the heat of her breath on his neck? Tony dove past the officer and heard round after round being fired. Looking back, he could see the bride stopped dead at the gates opening. Even with the bullets ripping through her center mass, she hovered in place unharmed. With his weapon clicking empty, the officer stumbled back in fear and shock still pulling the trigger. “What the hell is that?”
Darren was at Tony’s side in seconds. “Tony! Are you ok? Where’s Brian and Clyde? Look. I got scared at the noises I heard and called 911! I’m sorry I was just so scared!” Tony put the hand of his good arm on his friend’s shoulder to reassure him but couldn’t speak.
“Phillip Adger Brown! You son of a bitch!” Is this where you go to meet with your ‘constituents’?” The senator looked more frightened at the sight of his wife storming towards him from the driver’s side of her BMW than he had the entity who had been trying to kill them all.
“Mabel, my love! I was so frightened I’d never see you again!” He tried to embrace her, but she shoved him away. “Look. I’m part of a multi-jurisdictional task force including even the FBI to infiltrate this den of sin! I’m under cover honey! See what they forced me to wear?” He pointed to the muddy diaper covering himself. At least Tony hoped that was mud soiling it. “I only subjugated myself to this in order to bring this place down and restore the wholesomeness of the community!”
“You’re a lying sack of shit!” Mabel shoved the senator again but this time it was into the waiting arms of the bride who promptly wrapped Senator Brown in an embrace that was almost sensual.
“No! Mabel! Help me!” The senator was wide eyed with fear as he turned to look at the entity’s face that held him tight. The creature appeared to grin as it took his heart from his chest.
The police officer barked for back up into his walkie-talkie as he eyed the bride, afraid to look away. The dispatcher’s voice on the other end sounded skeptical of the scene he was trying to describe. Once he was positive that reinforcements were on the way, he strode over to Mabel Brown who stared with indifference at the corpse of her husband on the ground. She had her fill of the good senator and his antics. Darren helped his friend Tony to his feet. Tony’s eyes locked with the bride’s dead sockets. It was as if she was daring him to cross the threshold to meet his fate, but he had no intentions of that ever happening. With a voice gravelly and low, the bride spoke to the four of them.
“Guard the intentions of your heart, or you will lose it.” She rose off the ground to the limb towering over head. In midair, she faded from sight to the shock of them all. The rain continued to fall but even if it continued for days on end, it would never be enough to cleanse the horrible curse infecting Hemlock Manor…ever.
Credit : Trinsey Watch
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