“Ah, gosh, I didn’t think it was actually going to rain,” Dorothy scowled as her head tilted up towards the sky, prompted by a droplet of rain falling on the side of her nose. She knew Esther was much more keen at divining the weather than Dorothy was, and yet, she didn’t listen once again.
Dorothy looked to her friend, whose curled hair was certainly going to get ruined. Esther was scowling, but at the very least she wasn’t one to yell at or guilt-trip her best friend. “It’s alright, Dorothy. Let’s just gather our stuff and find some shelter right away.”
Esther was sure not happy to be packing up the picnic blankets and throw pillows they had brought along. The bigger loss was the freshly made biscuits she’d brought along. The orange-cranberry recipe was a new one she tried, and she was astounded at how well they came out. Alas, she would have to try to make them another day. Dorothy grabbed the vast amount of belongings, feeling guilty for brushing off Esther’s suggestion to reschedule or at least bring an umbrella. Soon enough, they got their stuff together, and ran off as soon as the drizzle turned into a downpour.
They were certain they weren’t going to find shelter for a reasonable amount of time. After all, they didn’t even bring a map with them. They were a few miles from the town they came from, so running in the rain for 3 or 4 miles would certainly not be ideal. Then again, running around aimlessly was an equally bad idea, but it sure was better to rely on random chance than get drenched for an hour.
They dredged out of the forest, running for the hills. There were a few villas lined across the grasslands, outlooking the nearby pond. Most of them looked occupied by wealthy folk. Dorothy and Esther were not strangers to getting chased out of rich people’s properties because they were caught accidentally trespassing. They avoided the lit up villas for the most part, continuing to run and bicker with each other.
Soon enough, their search for shelter bore fruit. This part of Switzerland held more than its share of summer homes for Europe’s wealthy - but that year the summer had been cold and miserable beyond any other in memory.They found a villa that seemed unoccupied. The lights were turned off, and from a cursory glance through the windows, no one was standing in the massive estate. It seemed pretty far off from the rest of the villas; by the time they’d reached it, they couldn’t see any other houses in sight. Or people, either.
“Well…” Dorothy grinned as she hid under the roof of the porch. “If it’s empty, guess we can relax here until it clears up and some sun starts to shine, hm?”
“I’m not sure how I feel about intruding in on a stranger’s estate, but… whatever you say.” Esther held back her massive exasperated sigh, fairly sick of being dragged into Dorothy’s shenanigans at this point. It was even worse that Esther had actually begun to enjoy it.
Esther and Dorothy settled down, leaning against the wall as they dried off their hair and clothes. They used some of the undirtied picnic blankets to dry themselves off, as they continued to watch the rain pour.
“I wonder if it’s unoccupied…” Dorothy’s hand headed for the door handle.
“No, let’s… let’s not risk it, right?” Esther tried to talk Dorothy out of breaking and entering, much to no avail. Dorothy tried the door handle, fully expecting it to stick in place.
Shockingly, it turned, and the door opened to the sound of silence and the smell of dust and stillness. Esther sneered at Dorothy, trying to figure out why in the world she would try such a thing. On a cursory glance inside, the place seemed like it was unoccupied. However, that didn’t explain the grand furniture in the room, ones that were on the much higher end of the market. Whoever lived here must have been pretty damn rich and powerful — and Esther did not want to chance frustrating the hypothetical aristocrat even in the slightest.
“Dorothy,” Esther scolded under her breath. “I just said let’s not risk it!”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Esther, I just needed to know!” she retorted. “Besides, it doesn’t look like anyone’s inside. No one even saw me do it.”
“They could be sleeping, you dolt,” Esther reminded. “It doesn’t matter. Just please close it, alright?”
Dorothy didn’t adhere to Esther’s request. Instead, she opened the door a little further, coaxed by the apparent smell of something warm, soft, and delicious. She either completely ignored Esther’s pestering, or was too smitten with the smell of scones and blueberry muffins. She opened the door further up. Esther was soon enough dragged inside only because she kept trying to get Dorothy to snap the hell out of it.
The villa was two floors, it seemed. The polished hardwood floor creaked lightly. It was definitely an older house, however it was definitely well maintained. The furniture was a mixture of maroons, browns, and deep purples, and it all looked so cozy. Candle lights lined the walls of the hallways, but they were entirely unlit. The only light stemmed from the fireplace in the living room, crackling intermittently. The most noticeable thing by far was the smell of fresh baked goods on the table in the living room, right where Dorothy was hovering over.
“Dorothy, please, they obviously didn’t set out a feast if they were sleeping! I shouldn’t need to remind you not to touch other people’s things, let alone eat their food,” she groaned. “Let’s just dry off and wait outside, please.” Her tone of voice was becoming more curt and abrupt by the second, frustrated with Esther’s need to search around.
“They won’t notice just one or two…”
“Yes, they will, Dorothy. Please, can we just—” Esther walked forward, accidentally tripping and falling down. In her stumble, she steadied herself onto one of the couches. The first thing she noticed afterwards was the supremely warm and soft throw blanket, and then the ultra-plush pillow. She must have only seen this kind of coziness on play sets, to be on one of them was so sublime, so relaxing…
In fact, Esther felt her body and mind relax so much she didn’t even notice Dorothy taking much more than two baked goods. She took a handful of biscuits, multiple muffins, and what shockingly looked to be half of the banana bread. Esther wanted to fight back, but somehow, she felt unable to. She felt so… calm. Serene. Reasoning with Dorothy was too hard; why not just lean into it — as she could lean back on the sofa? Dorothy sat down as well, on the plush chair next to Esther. She grabbed one of the soft throw blankets and tossed it around her body, gathering up warmth. They both let out a sigh of relief, their inhibitions washing past them.
Dorothy stuffed one of the muffins into her mouth. A look of pleasant surprise washed over her face, followed by sheer bliss. “These are quite delicious! Esther, please try one.”
“Mm…” Esther hummed. There was a hint of resistance in her voice that also quickly disappeared. “Sure, why not?” Taking some of the muffins from Esther’s hands, Dorothy also began lightly eating them. She promised only one or two for herself as well, and she also went overboard. They were so good! Whoever cooked these must have been an expert in the kitchen. If only I could get a husband like that, Dorothy thought…
“What a surprise! I didn’t expect to have company today.”
Much to both of their horrors, they heard another voice pipe up from behind them. Esther’s soul nearly left her body, and Dorothy felt as if she were about to die right then and there.
They turned around in a millisecond. Standing behind them, lighting the candles in the hallways, was a tall man with slick black hair combed back. His toned face was peppered with bits of neatly shaven facial hair around his chin and cheekbones. The man was donning a fancy suit that the girls couldn’t even begin to picture being sold to peasants. But the most noticeable part about him was… his face. He wore some kind of warm, welcoming smile that exuded a sense of esteem and confidence. The man didn’t seem *angry* that either of them were there; quite the opposite, in fact, he seemed pleased to have unexpected visitors. Regardless — Esther began quickly gathering her stuff, the evidence of her thievery clear as day.
“W-we’re just heading out right about now!” Dorothy came to their defense. “We just… needed some shelter from—“
“Oh, please, there is no rush,” the man continued in his soft spoken tone. “I was a bit surprised, is all it was. I’m in no way opposed to two charming ladies staying in my home. Please, make yourselves at home! Sit, rest.”
Dorothy felt her tension fade away, both at his words and the sound of his voice. He seemed so kind, with a warmness she hadn’t seen from many folks ever. Esther was, on the other hand, more than happy to sit back and relax with the warm treats.
“Well, if you say so, just until the rain passes…” Dorothy exhaled. She tensed right back up, realizing something worse. “Ah— your food! We’re so sorry, we thought this place was unoccupied…”
“Oh, please, it’s no worry at all!” he chuckled. “I wasn’t sure it was in my power to eat all of them anyways. I’m delighted you’re enjoying them so much.” He paused, if only to flash a big grin with his teeth almost lighting up the room on their own. “If I may ask one favor, though… may I have your names?”
“Ah! My apologies,” Dorothy said politely. “I am Dorothy. It’s a huge pleasure.”
“And I am Esther,” the other woman echoed. “An enormous fan of your food.”
The man bowed slightly in return. “My name is Gordon Bryan. It’s quite a pleasure myself.”
Dorothy was about to echo his sentiment, before she immediately noticed Esther’s eyes widened in shock. “Bryan… Bryan. Do you mean you’re…”
Bryan’s smile turned from genuine happiness to showing a tinge of sadness. “Yes, I am Lord Bryan. I take it you’ve heard of me… as most people have.”
Dorothy was just as shocked as Esther, now, having put together the pieces of the puzzle. This was… the Lord Bryan. Poet of renown, breaker of hearts and one-man scandal. Dorothy only ever heard rumors about him, as she wasn’t taken to gossip as Esther so much was.
Dorothy’s heart pounded. They had essentially met a celebrity — quite an infamous one.
“I hope that doesn’t deter you from staying here,” Lord Bryan’s face tilted towards the glass window, “and going back out into the disgusting weather. I assure you I have no ill intentions.”
“Oh, no, that’s not a problem at all, I’m just…” Esther grinned, in a fashion Dorothy was familiar with. She was ravenous. “I’m a big fan.”
Dorothy wanted to place her head in her hands. Esther was not just a big fan; she *adored* his poetry. She remembered Esther explicitly proposing a date to a crush of hers with an excerpt of Lord Bryan’s poetry; unfortunately for her, this was not too long after his exile, so her crush was immediately turned away by it.
“Oh, wow, I didn’t expect to meet a fan ever again! Not after all that happened. Please, I’d love to have someone to share my newer works with.” Lord Bryan sat down on the last chair, reclining in it. He then turned his attention to Dorothy. “And are you by any chance a fan, as well?”
She was not. She had grown weary from how many times Esther read Bryan’s poetry to her. And from the way she understood that he was chased out of London, she suspected that many of the British peers were not fans these days, either, albeit for more personal and scandalous reasons.
“I… not particularly, no. It’s nothing personal, I just prefer novels.” That wasn’t a complete lie.
“That’s understandable.” Bryan chuckled for a moment, before standing up. “I am going to put on some boiling water… would you like some tea?”
“Of course!” Esther grinned.
“I’m fine with regular water,” Dorothy responded. Bryan walked away, out of earshot of both of them. He left both of them to their devices for a while. Immediately, Esther glanced at Dorothy with shocked, bewildered eyes.
She must have been thinking, “Are you kidding me?”
Dorothy almost wished this was a joke.
At the very least, their time spent there was overall pleasant. Lord Bryan had left them alone for a bit longer to attempt to find some of his newer journals. As expected, the journals were also as high quality as everything else was. They must have been bound with silver string, or something like that; the covers were also engraved leather, with his initials in the corner. He owned multiple of them, and most of them were filled out from cover to cover. Graciously, he read some of the poetry while he was in a depressive funk from his exile. It was definitely his weakest work, but Dorothy and Esther admired that he was so trusting.
As he looked through the journals, trying to find one of a higher caliber, he found one in particular. Lord Bryan stared at it for a second before chuckling and attempting to shuffle it away.
Unfortunately, it didn’t escape Esther’s eyes. “Which one is that?”
“Oh,” he sighed. “This one’s full of… special, shall I say, poetry. I’m not sure you two would like it. It’s a lot of sappy romance stuff, overly flowery. I call it my ‘garbage writing’ journal. I’ve heard some people oddly enjoy this type of writing, but I can’t imagine two ladies such as yourself with refined taste would be into it.”
Esther leaned in, curiosity overtaking any sense of rationality. “I’m quite fascinated, actually… this sounds exactly like what I’d love to hear.”
“Fantastic!” Bryan clasped his hands together with a grin, tilting his head towards Dorothy. “And you, my dear?”
Dorothy sighed, deflating back into the chair. A wave of tension and suspicion washed over her, despite how cozy and comfortable she was. There was definitely something weird about Lord Bryan, and this house, and the way she felt so comfortable. Dorothy knew that. But for some reason, her mind couldn’t fully process that idea. It was like the air of coziness was some kind of drug that inhibited her thinking. Either way, she couldn’t disagree or talk back. She would love to hear his trashy poetry, too…
“Sure,” Dorothy yawned. “I’m curious as well. How bad could it be?”
“Oh, I assure you, I think it has quite a unique style that you may find yourselves losing brain cells,” Lord Bryan chuckled, and Dorothy and Esther laughed along with the suggestion. He opened his book, clearing off the sheet of dust from the covers, and flipped a few pages. He read a few lines of poetry he’d started — one was about a fish scouring the lake for some bread, another was about traveling to a distant land and dying of heartbreak — before Lord Byan landed on one he stated was “not actually awful.”
“Let’s hear it,” Esther smiled, sinking further into the couch.
Lord Bryan cleared his throat, and began to read.
*She speaks to me in her soft, kind voice
Her words fill the air with deep silence
The lady drags me deeper into a state of bliss
She makes me stop, relax, and drop*
Esther and Dorothy found themselves sinking even further into the furniture, but also sinking into their minds. They could hear the thoughts in their head still, the room becoming quieter, and their muscles relaxing from all the tension they’d felt earlier. They felt as if they themselves were stopping, relaxing, and dropping into a blissful state.
They drifted into a light trance. The girls closed their eyes, blissfully unaware of the way Lord Bryan’s smirk turned from genuine to devillish.
He continued reading.
“She finds the same
Peace in me, comfort in my voice
Guided by my voice, guided into love and bliss
Time slowing down—“
Time slowed down. Dorothy and Esther lost track of it.
“Time dropping into darkness”
They dropped. The world became dark. They knew they weren’t asleep — but they couldn’t know or think of much else.
“The clock is ticking
As she drops, into hell”
They did as told — even if they knew they weren’t being given any actual orders to do so.
“Because there’s beauty in hell,
The girls were completely asleep. Before they heard the poetry, they assumed it was just going to be garbage sappy romantic writings, but it… was so beautiful… they just found themselves lost in trance, lost in the poetry, lost in Lord Bryan himself. The last strand of consciousness they had knew something was wrong, but the rest of them didn’t care. They were so cozy…
And that was exactly the plan.
“I’m sure you two might have realized I wasn’t actually reading you poetry — none of my poetry would actually be garbage. You know that… right?”
They nodded. They didn’t know what they were nodding to, but they agreed with him.
“Good,” Lord Bryan chuckled. “Just sink deeper and deeper. And when you wake up, you may find your mind a little bit different than how it was before. So… shall we get started?”
“Mmmh… ah!” Dorothy started as her eyes drifted open and she found she was no longer on the sofa, but in a king-sized plush bed. Esther was also in the bed with her, still asleep. The next and more alarming thing Dorothy noticed was that both of them were stripped down to their undergarments — and she only noticed it because of the cold draft through the window sill.
“W-what… what happened?” Dorothy got out of bed and looked around for her clothes. Esther was still sound asleep, somehow. How was she not cold? Or awake? What… happened to them? The last thing Dorothy remembered was Lord Bryan reading them some of his bad poetry, that wasn’t actually half bad, and then—
“Oh, lord.” The blood drained from Dorothy’s face as she realized what had happened. It wasn’t like they were actually drugged, but their minds certainly had been. Why would he do something like that? Why—
“Ah, I see you’re awake.” Dorothy almost died of shock from hearing Lord Bryan’s voice, who was standing at the door — naked himself from the waist up. He sported a devious grin, blatantly knowing what he had done. “I didn’t expect you two to fall into quite that deep of a slumber.”
“You—!” Dorothy was getting ready to tear his teeth out. She had never fought before, but the realization he had toyed with them — like she expected he would… it felt vile. Adrenaline rushed through her body as she advanced on Lord Bryan, ready to—
“There’s beauty in hell.”
Suddenly, Dorothy felt as though a wave had crashed over her. What was she… doing? Why did she feel so tense, and why was she angry at Lord Bryan? He was so loving, and kind, and generous. He welcomed them into his mansion when they were intrusive strangers! He didn’t do anything to them, or… wait, now she remembered!
“W-what did you do?” Dorothy stammered out, realizing she couldn’t move.
“I didn’t do anything,” Lord Bryan lied. “You two ladies came into my house, uninvited, and honestly trashed my estate. I just dealt out a fitting punishment.”
“You — you said we could —“
“There’s beauty in hell.”
There was that phrase again. Why did it make Dorothy feel… a certain way towards Lord Bryan? She felt hot, and flustered, and… oh no. She realized just how pent up she suddenly felt. Like she wanted to wrap her arms around him, please him, serve him—
Dorothy stumbled back onto the bed, sitting down and clutching her head. What was going on… Was she supposed to be here?
“You’re my servant, remember?” He mused, advancing on Dorothy and putting his hands on her bare shoulders. “Well, you’re my servant, and also Esther’s. Esther, dear, wake up?”
That definitely was wrong. Dorothy was of a far higher class than Esther! If anything, Esther should be serving Dorothy, not the other way around! Dorothy felt her world spin, like there was something important she was forgetting. Like there was a giant blank spot in her memory.
“Esther… no, no! I’m not her servant! You, maybe — um, no!” Dorothy’s thoughts were a complete mess. “Why would I serve her?”
“Oh, it’s obvious. Don’t you remember? I gave Esther a higher ranking than you — after all, it was quite an ego boost how she was such a devoted fan of my poetry. Besides, this makes more sense. Don’t you remember all of that?”
She didn’t… no. Why didn’t she remember? Lord Bryan was saying it, so it must have been true. But why did those memories feel so… fuzzy?
Lord Bryan clapped his hands. “Esther! Wake up, my dear.”
“Mmm?” Esther stirred, sitting up in bed and stretching. “Yes, my Lord?”
“H-huh?” Dorothy felt her headache sear through her skull even more. “I… um… what was I… why are you…”
“Oh, you were just a little confused, dear. I think you must have had a bad dream. Perhaps, one where you didn’t belong with me?” His touches were so sympathetic, and they riled Dorothy up in the best possible way. She wanted more, more from her Lord—
“I… it wasn’t a dream, was it? I…”
“Is Dorothy okay, my Lord?” Esther asked. “After all, she’s also my subordinate. I wouldn’t want anything to plague her.”
“Yes, my dear servant,” Lord Bryan grinned at Dorothy, holding Dorothy’s knee with one hand and Esther’s thigh with the other.. “I think she’s just a bit disoriented. Would make sense after all the fun we had, hm?”
The… fun? What had happened to her? What did they do, and more importantly, why couldn’t Dorothy remember that kind of moment with Bryan— with her Lord?
“Dear Dorothy, why don’t you grab some water for me, and for yourself too?” Lord Bryan asked — though it wasn’t really an offer.
Dorothy tried to fight back and sit still, before another phrase got her out of the bed and ready to serve obediently. “The clock is moving.”
Suddenly, the task felt a lot more urgent — as if serving Lord Bryan was her main task. It was, wasn’t it? There wasn’t anything else she was forgetting… and why was Esther acting so weird? Regardless, Dorothy stood up, ready to go to the kitchen to grab some water. Time was ticking, after all.
She began walking to the door, before Esther called out too. “Dorothy, can you please get me a glass as well?”
“Please be a dear, Dorothy.”
Another phrase — this one with the same effect as the clock one from Lord Bryan, but this one left Dorothy with the urge to serve Esther as well. Why? Why couldn’t she remember…
Dorothy walked to the door of the room, ready to complete the task. Maybe water would help clear her head a little… Before she left, Lord Bryan stopped her, with the same evil grin he had on before. He always had that grin on him, that evil, cruel grin. And Dorothy loved it… right?
“Dorothy, aren’t you forgetting something?”
Dorothy paused. She was. She forgot the protocol, right? “I… yes, Lord Bryan and Miss Esther.”
“Good girl,” Lord Bryan chuckled. “Get going now, you wouldn’t want to keep us waiting.”
Dorothy didn’t. It was in her soul to serve them. She could almost remember now — Esther was Lord Bryan’s servant, and she was both Esther and Lord Bryan’s server. He was their king — Esther was just second-in-command, so to speak. She quickly poured the water, hoping that the icy cold of it would end her pounding headache. She brought it back to the room, setting it tenderly in front of them at the table. Lord Bryan and Esther gave Dorothy a satisfied grin.
“Now,” Lord Bryan started, “shall I read you some more poetry?”
“Yes, please, my Lord,” Esther grinned, leaning forward enthusiastically. Dorothy sat down as well, downing the entire glass of water. She didn’t want to miss this either, after all.
Lord Bryan pulled out the same book as last night — the one with pages upon pages of hypnotic inductions. “And tell me, dears, before I start reading…” He opened to a page he liked, and paused. “Do you two miss your old lives at all?”
“Old lives?” Esther turned to Lord Bryan, and then Dorothy who looked equally as puzzled. “We’ve been serving you our whole lives, my Lord.”
He grinned. “Good. Correct answer. Now, where were we…”