Only a Doll

Prose, including snippets (mini-memoirs).
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sasha
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Only a Doll

Post by sasha » April 4th, 2018, 9:04 am

The yellow plastic cup hit the linoleum and bounced twice, spraying a starburst of milk onto the kitchen floor. Buddy, the obese, white-muzzled black lab pushed to his feet and ambled over to investigate. His tail began waving from side to side as he comprehended the nature of this windfall, and he undertook with gusto to avail himself of it. Melissa was considerably less delighted. “Elizabeth Barrett Young,” she scolded her 5-year old daughter. “How many times must I remind you not to put your cup so near the edge of the table?”

Elizabeth looked up from the play table with big, solemn eyes. “No, Mommy,” she said. “It wasn’t me, it was Abbey.”

Melissa cocked her head in mock skepticism. “Abbey did it?” she asked, and looked over at the antique doll sitting opposite her daughter. She briefly considered addressing the doll directly, but decided to stick to adult territory instead. “What have we told you about lying, honey?”

“No,” the little girl insisted. “It was Abbey. She was mad because I ate the last cookie.”

Melissa sighed. Maybe she’d need to play along after all. She bent down and fixed her eyes on the china doll. “Did you do this, Abbey?” she asked. The doll, as one would expect, said nothing. Melissa turned her head to look at her daughter. “Abbey isn’t saying anything, honey.”

“Of course not, Mommy. She’s only a doll.”

“Then how could she have knocked the milk over?”

Elizabeth looked down and fumbled with her napkin. “I don’t know. She just did.”

“Elizabeth…”

“She did, Mommy, she did. Sometimes she – sometimes she moves my arms for me, and makes me do things I don’t want.” She looked up at her mother, and there was something in the little girl’s expression that gave Melissa pause. “She scares me sometimes, Mommy.”

Melissa had read enough about child psychology to know about make-believe, projection, and the power of kids’ imaginations to occasionally overwhelm their inexperienced drivers. “Well then, if Abbey’s being naughty, maybe she should go sit in the corner.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened, and her lip began to tremble. “No! Don’t make her go in the corner! She’ll – she said – she’ll be – she’ll be mad, and she said she’d…” but the shuddering sobs cut her off, and with a queer disagreeable flutter that felt a little like fear, Melissa put her arm around her. “Oh, baby, she can’t do anything bad to you – it’s like you said, she’s only a doll.”

“She – she – she’s only a doll – doll - in the day - daytime,” Elizabeth managed between stacatto bursts of snuffling. “At night – at night - she’s – she’s mean to me, sometimes.”

A distant alarm went off in Melissa’s mind, and despite herself, she involuntarily glanced over to the antique doll. For the barest of instants, its impassive, glassy stare chilled her. She imagined in that instant that it looked back, cunningly watching and gauging and regarding from behind a porcelain mask, and in that instant could almost picture malevolent intent. She forced the thought aside and turned back to her daughter. “Maybe it’s Abbey’s nap time,” she offered. “You know how sometimes you get cranky when you’re overtired?” Elizabeth nodded. “I’ll bet Abbey just needs a little rest, and then she’ll be just fine. What do you think?”

The little girl looked down, and reluctantly mumbled. “I don’t know. I guess so.” She seemed to be trying to pull herself together. “Maybe if I put her to bed and sing to her and give her a blanket and some toys, maybe she won’t be mad at me anymore.”

Melissa tried to deny the reluctance she suddenly felt to leave her daughter alone with the doll, but even as she acknowledged the absurd irrationality of that conceit, she nonetheless went with her instincts. “Maybe we could both put her to bed, honey. Do you think she’d like that?”

Elizabeth looked up at her mother, then over to the doll, then back up to her mother. “She says that’d be okay.”

An unexpected relief washed over Melissa, and she let her breath out, unaware until then that she’d been holding it. “All right, then,” she said. “Let’s put Abbey to bed.” She straightened, and Elizabeth slid out of her chair. Buddy, having completed his janitorial duties, happily danced about in anticipation of more fun from his pack-mates, and followed the little girl as she crossed over to the doll and lifted it up in her arms. “Come on, Abbey,” she crooned. “I’ll make a nice bed for you, and you can sleep with my toys.” She turned her tear-streaked face up to her mother and smiled. “You can come too, Mommy.”

Melissa smiled back and gently set her hand against the back of the child’s head. “Thank you, honey. How about Buddy?”

The little girl nodded vigorously. “Yup, he can come too.”

And with that the four of them retired from the kitchen to the back hall, and ascended the stairs to Elizabeth’s bedroom. Elizabeth led the way carrying the doll, with Melissa right behind her. Buddy sat in the doorway. Elizabeth tenderly lay the doll into a miniature crib, tucked a coverlet around its shoulders, and placed an offering of toys beside it in the crib. Then, after delivering a barnyard inventory of ducks that went quack-quack, cows that went moo-moo, and pigs that went oink-oink, Elizabeth put her fingers to her lips and tiptoed out of the room, beckoning her mother to follow. Buddy clickity-clacked down the stairs ahead of them, and when they reached the bottom, Melissa was more relieved than she cared to admit that for the moment, anyway, Abbey was asleep.

But she was unable to completely dismiss the darkness she thought she’d glimpsed, and later, after she and her husband had put Elizabeth to bed for the night, she confided her impressions.

“It was the strangest thing, Paul,” she said as she nestled against him on the couch. “And I know it makes absolutely no sense – but she seemed so…” here she hesitated and shook her head in bewilderment. “She seemed genuinely frightened. And that frightened me.”

Paul set his wine glass down on the coffee table and drew her in a little closer. “You’ve never cared much for that doll, have you?”

She rested her head against his chest. “It’s hideous,” she said. “And you have to admit it was odd the way we found it.”

“An antique left up in the attic, discovered the day we moved in.” He turned his face into her hair. “People leave stuff behind when they move, Hon. We left boxes of videotapes at our old place, and all those fondue pots your folks gave us every year on our anniversary. And who knows what we forgot about in the shed?”

Despite herself, she laughed. “I pity the new owners.” Then she grew serious again. “But that doll was the only thing in the attic.”

“That and about 100 dead wasps,” he countered.

She playfully punched him in the stomach. “You know what I mean,” she growled.

“No, I’m not sure I do.” He picked up his wine glass and took another sip. “Are you saying you think it was placed there and left behind deliberately?”

“I’m not saying anything, Paul, just that it’s odd that after two centuries of occupancy, this old Colonial house was completely empty when we moved in – except for that damned doll up in the attic.”

He considered this while idly rubbing her upper arm. “You’re really bothered by this, aren’t you?” he said.

She rubbed her eyes. “I shouldn’t be – but yes, I am.”

“What do you think we should do?”

She was silent for a few seconds. “I’d like nothing more than to get rid of that thing.”

“Liz is awfully attached to it.”

“I know,” she sighed. “But I’m not sure it’s a healthy attachment.” She decided not to continue the thought that the doll might be exerting some kind of hold over their daughter.

“Suppose we got her a newer one,” Paul ventured. “Then one day Abbey might just quietly – disappear.”

“Ohhh,” she groaned. “That seems so underhanded.”

“Why? Kids outgrow old toys in favor of new ones all the time. I was inseparable from Cubby Bear until my folks got me a pair of chameleons.”

She shuddered. “We’re not getting her any reptiles,” she insisted.

“Hamsters?”

“No. Pets die. She’ll be traumatized enough when Buddy passes.” She settled against him a little more. “Maybe a plush toy, something softer, something more cuddly, more –“ she paused as she thumbed through her mental thesaurus for the right word – “something more vulnerable.”

Less threatening, she meant.

And so two days later, she, Paul, and Elizabeth piled into their minivan and set out on their usual weekend rounds for groceries and gasoline – plus an unannounced stop at a well-known franchise specializing in children’s toys. Elizabeth was beside herself with excitement and joy at her good fortune, and ran up and down the aisles looking for The One that she would be able to declare her own. At one point it was a pink plastic tricycle; but her parents managed to steer her away from it and into the plush toy section. There a gigantic sleepy-eyed beagle called to her, and she did not find it all odd that her parents needed no persuasion to buy it. Not until they were home and unloading did she become subdued and pensive.

“I hope Abbey likes him,” she said quietly.

Paul and Melissa exchanged glances, then he knelt and kissed Elizabeth on the forehead. “I’m sure she will, Peanut.”

In the kitchen, Buddy gave the newcomer a cursory sniff, then gazed up adoringly at his family. While Paul put away the groceries, Melissa asked, “What do you think we should name him, honey?”

Elizabeth thought for a moment. “Binky,” she declared. “His name is Binky.”

“Well come on, Peanut,” Paul said, closing the refrigerator door. “Let’s show Binky his new quarters, shall we?”

But Elizabeth froze. “Mommy –“

Melissa regarded her daughter. “Yes, Sweetie?”

“What if Abbey doesn’t like him?”

She and Paul gave one another the look again. Then he squatted to give his daughter a hug. “She’ll get used to him,” he said. “And I bet they become the best of friends.”

Elizabeth still looked troubled, but said nothing.

“Well,” Melissa said, trying not to sound as uneasy as she felt, “Shall we introduce Binky to Abbey?”

Elizabeth was silent for several seconds. “I guess,” she finally said. Melissa was alarmed at the resignation in her daughter’s voice, and Paul’s expression told her he felt the same. Still, they made a show of introducing Binky to Buddy’s water dish, the back hallway, and the staircase up to Elizabeth’s room. Buddy followed eagerly, aware only that his people were up to something new. They never noticed that he stopped dead at the threshold and sat, nervously licking his chops.

Abbey was sitting on Elizabeth’s bed, surrounded by alphabet blocks and plastic jewelry that the child had left for her playmate to amuse herself with while the family had been out shopping. Melissa took Binky from Paul and showed it to the unblinking doll. “Abbey, this is your new friend, Binky. Binky, this is Abbey. I think you two will become good friends.”

Elizabeth looked stricken, but sat on the bed next to the antique doll. “It’s okay, Abbey,” she whispered. “It’s only a doll.” She sneaked a sideways glance towards her parents. “You’re still my best friend.”

“Of course she is,” Paul said, trying to maintain the jollity. “Binky is just another member of the family, now, a playmate for Buddy.” Melissa couldn’t help but note the lack of conviction in his voice.

Elizabeth looked up at her parents. “Can me and Abbey and Binky be alone for a while? I think they need to get to know each other.”

“Well, sure, Peanut,” Paul began, stopping when he caught Melissa’s startled look. But the damage had been done, so he continued, faltering, “… I guess your mom and I can give the three of you a few minutes to get acquainted…” So saying he moved to the door. Tight-lipped, Melissa followed him, while Buddy led the way downstairs. When they were out of earshot, she hissed, “Just what the hell were you thinking just now?”

He stared at her in incomprehension. “Thinking? About what? About what our daughter’s imaginary friend might think about her new imaginary friend?”

“Paul, our little girl told me that she is scared of Abbey, and the last thing we should have done is leave her alone up there before she could convince herself that Abbey won’t resent the newcomer!”

“You don’t believe that Abbey is – alive!”

“Dammit, Paul, Liz believes it! And she believes that Abbey isn’t always very nice! We should have stayed up there until she could have worked out the new dynamics in her own mind!”

Paul dropped his eyes as if in deference to his wife’s anger without actually understanding it. “Well – let’s give her a minute, then go back up there.”

“I think we should go back up right now,” she snapped. She turned and called, “Liz, honey?”

There was no answer.

Paul frowned and looked towards the doorway. “Hey, Peanut?”

There was still no answer.

Melissa grabbed his arm. “Paul…”

“Peanut?” he called. “Peanut, is it okay if your mom & I come up now?”

The silence replied in the affirmative.

“My God, Paul,” Melissa blurted, and ran towards the base of the stairway. They took the stairs two at a time, and rushed into Elizabeth’s room. There was no sign of the little girl.

“Liz!” Melissa cried, though to Paul it sounded like a shriek. “Liz! Honey, don’t scare Mommy like this!”

Paul pushed past her, stared at the bed, and made a choking sound. It sounded to Melissa like he was trying to say, “Jesus…”

She followed his gaze and screamed.

Abbey sat on the bed surrounded by Elizabeth’s blocks and plastic jewelry; only it wasn’t Abbey any more. Frozen in porcelain, Elizabeth’s face stared glassily and impassively back at them.

Paul had begun an unholy, animal-like moaning. Melissa looked away as if to try again, as if a second look would reveal Abbey and undo the impossible horror of an impossible first impression. And as she did her eyes happened to fall upon Binky, and she stared again with fresh horror. Binky’s expression seemed to have subtly changed. The vapid smile now had a sinister cast, and the sleepy eyes appeared a little more alert. She found herself unable to breathe, and the room seemed to swim in and out of reality. She staggered backward and bumped into her husband’s wailing form.

“You really shouldn’t have done that, you know,” Binky said. "You shouldn't have."
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I'm not an outlier. I just haven't found my distribution yet.

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Terri
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Re: Only a Doll

Post by Terri » April 15th, 2018, 3:02 pm

this should be in a kelly link/terri windling/ellen datlow collection of fantasy and horror
i can't remember which publications they get their stuff from
but this is good and oughta be published

saw
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Joined: May 23rd, 2008, 7:32 am
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Re: Only a Doll

Post by saw » May 15th, 2018, 7:52 am

well written and....Creepy
If you do not change your direction
you may end up where you are heading

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sasha
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Joined: April 12th, 2016, 12:01 pm
Location: SW New Hampshire
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Re: Only a Doll

Post by sasha » May 17th, 2018, 10:04 am

a belated thanks to you both for your comments!
.
I'm not an outlier. I just haven't found my distribution yet.

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