The morning after.
Mark took a big gulp of his coffee, by that time reduced to a lukewarm state. It wasn’t good, but it was what he needed. Waking up in his own bed, the events of the last twenty four hours seemed like they might have just been a bad dream. It was a nice but fleeting feeling.
He’d noticed Bella acting strange. Anybody would have. Acting distantly, disappearing for hours at a time with no explanation, even… barking. When she cut up her wedding dress, he’d been worried she was having a nervous breakdown. But the reality was far worse.
“Do you really think they’ll believe this? Any of it? I don’t even know if I believe it,” said Bella.
The three of them were seated around the oak table in the living room of their house.
“Well, they say three men make a tiger,” said Maddy. “We’ll have to see if one man, two women, some photographs and an audio recording is enough. I think we have enough evidence for coercion and attempted murder.”
“You really came through for us,” said Mark. “I’m just relieved we all got out of there in one piece.”
They all nodded silently, in unison. For a moment, nobody said anything. The ticking of the clock and the hum of the refrigerator dominated the room.
“It was… it was weird,” said Bella. “I can remember it, but it’s sort of distant. I have to try pretty hard.”
Mark reached out and touched her hand. She squeezed his tightly in return.
“But it was also… sort… exciting, in a way. I… It’s confusing,” she said, biting her lip and turning red.
He could see that it was having an effect on Madison, too.
“You don’t hate me for what I did, do you?” said Maddy.
“What? Why would I hate you for that?” he replied. “That sick fuck put you under his control and forced you to do things. It wasn’t you at all.”
“Well…” she began. “It wasn’t completely untrue. What he said.”
“What do you mean?”
“The part about… him not making me do anything I didn’t want to. I was under his control to a certain extent. But he hadn’t spent weeks working on me like he did with Bella.” He felt a shiver run through Bella as Maddy mentioned that. He put his hand on her shoulder to reassure her.
“He only put me under with that stuff one time, at the party,” Maddy continued. “I don’t know what he planned for us, but whatever it was, he was going to get around to the rest of the group later. He planted triggers in all of us, but if he asked me to do something I really didn’t want to do, I wouldn’t have done it.”
The gears clicked and whirred inside Mark’s head.
“You’re saying you um…”
“I wanted to please you,” she whispered. “Oh gosh,” she said, now blushing brightly. “I’ve wanted you for a long time.”
Now it was Mark’s turn to blush. He looked over at Bella, but if it was bothering her, it didn’t show. Then, it was her turn to speak.
“We’ve been talking.”
It hung in the air for a moment until she found the words she was looking for.
“We want you to have this,” said Bella.
She slid a small notepad in front of him. It was one they’d had around the house recently, he remembered seeing it come in with the last lot of stationary they bought. There was a bulge in it. Mark studied the words. They were written in Bella’s handwriting.
Madison – Do You See The King of Diamonds?
Isobel – Do You See The Red Queen?
Preparation phrase – Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?
He turned the page in the notepad. Two playing cards were stacked neatly side by side.
“Do you think I can undo what he’s done with this?” said Mark. “I’m not exactly a professional.”
“I’m not sure,” said Madison. “Whoever he was working for is probably lying low right now, but they could show up again some day, so we definitely can’t just do nothing about it. We’re going to need to talk to the other bridesmaids and explain the entire situation to them and maybe try to help deprogram them. But… um…”
She fell silent.
“What she’s trying to say is,” said Bella, “For the two of us, we don’t necessarily want them removed. We thought maybe you could just change the command phrases to something else instead. Something only you know.”
Madison was breathing heavily. She didn’t seem able to look Mark in the eye.
“I don’t know exactly what was part of me all along and what he put there,” Bella continued. “But fuck, Mark, I want nothing more than to be a good little bitch for you. And I think about being that way… being under somebody’s control, being in a trance and following orders and it feels right. It’s where I belong. I want to feel that way again. I want to feel that way with somebody I can trust. Somebody we can both trust.”
Mark held her gaze for a moment, then looked at Madison. She nodded silently.
“We’re yours, Master. If you’ll have us.”