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The Doll Speaks

3rd May 2024 | 1 Views

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The doll had Diane’s full attention the moment she tore the bright pink wrapping paper and yellow ribbons from the box. Staring with eyes full of wonder at the ragdoll the young girl gave her mother a quick hug. It was the same doll she stared at longingly at the downtown street market two weeks ago. At the time it seemed so sad and neglected, sitting alone on a dusty shelf with a torn limb and ratty clothes. Diane was immediately drawn to it. Such a pretty doll did not deserve to sit on a dusty shelf, but she could not bring herself to ask her mother for it. Money was tight after her mother’s surgery and she was still treading carefully after her latest bout of mischief at school.

Her mother loved antiques and Diane frequently accompanied her mother to hunt for timeless pieces. Two weeks ago Diane and her mother found one such timeless piece, a beautiful Victorian-style bedside table. In her mother’s hands the shoddiest of antiques gained new luster. Diane would watch the painstaking restoration process in awe. 

“She’s beautiful.” The girl said before giving her mother a fierce hug. “How did you know, Mom?” 

“A mother knows, my dear. Happy birthday,” Vivian replied, giving her daughter a soft kiss on her cheek. The girl beamed and tucked a stray wisp of mousy hair behind her ear. 

“Well, those antiques won’t restore themselves!” Vivian beamed. Her footsteps sounded heavier than usual on the stairs, painfully reminding Diane about the accident that changed so much. Burying the thought she focussed on the ragdoll again. It had red wool for hair. obsidian glass beads formed her eyes and a red felt triage created the doll’s nose. The torn limb was carefully sewn. Diane recognized her mother’s expert “barely there” stitching. White silk pajamas with red-and-white striped bed socks completed the adorable look.

Clockwork dolls usually had gears and tiny oil stains all over their dresses. The dolls emitted sporadic puffs of steam which added to their mass appeal, but this doll was different. This was an ordinary and extremely rare ragdoll from before the nuclear disaster and medical revolution.  

“I’m going to call you Diane, just like me,” the girl announced. The cotton stitches of the doll’s half-moon smile seemed to stretch wider for a moment. Perhaps it was just Diane’s imagination. “You seem happier now,” she said to the doll. Diane thought for a moment the doll’s glassy eyes shone just a little brighter in response.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of the usual cereal and hot milk at the kitchen table. Diane skipped to the table, doll in hand, and deftly positioned it on a chair. Vivian smiled at the quaint sight of her daughter chatting animatedly to the doll, even offering it a bite of her cereal. Diane and the doll soon grew inseparable. Vivian drew comfort out of this. Her restoration work often required that she spend hours on an antique. 

It was while Vivian was working on an antique, a little hand mirror from the Victorian period when the crash sounded. Nearly dropping the fragile mirror Vivian sprinted toward the direction of the crash. In the kitchen, she found the culprit. A plate was shattered across the floor. Diane’s doll lay discarded on the linoleum floor. 

“Diane!”

The raggedy Ann’s head turned slightly in response to the name. Vivian rubbed her eyes. The gears in her shoulder let off a gentle hum. 

Now the gears are making me see things…she thought bitterly. She had been opposed to the reconstruction of her shoulder using gears, but alas, it was her only option.

“Mom?” 

“What happened here?” Vivian inquired, pointing to the broken plate and the discarded doll.

Diane blinked. Her chubby cheeks flushed. “It slipped…” she admitted, grinding the toe of her shoe into the floor. 

“Well, clean up your mess and go to bed. I still have work to do and it is late.” Vivian turned to leave, locking eyes with the doll for a moment. A chill crept down her spine. 

Later that night Vivian cracked Diane’s bedroom door open. Light from the little steam lamp illuminated her sleeping face gently. A round arm was draped over the doll. Smiling softly, she turned to leave before spying a scrap of paper on the floor. Diane was meticulous about keeping her room neat, but she also loved to draw. Assuming it was one of the girl’s drawings, Vivian quietly pocketed the piece of paper. Kissing her daughter lightly Vivian stole out of the room. 

Her curiosity stirred about the drawing. Carefully illuminating it with the steam lamp revealed it to be a note scrawled clumsily in red ink. 

HELP ME!! 

The gears in Vivian’s shoulder tensed. It was probably one of Diane’s games. Thinking no more of the subject she crumbled the scrap of paper and tossed it into the kitchen trash can. She had no time to worry about Diane’s fanciful games. There was a big auction for restored antiques coming up and Vivian was pressed for time. Perhaps she would make enough to replace the hated gear in her shoulder with a better-quality model. She was certain it was poisoning her slowly. Once again, a common side-effect of having gear reconstruction using shoddy parts and a backyard doctor-mechanic. Alas, what choice did she have? Diane still needed her mother. sighing heavily, Vivan pushed the dark thoughts from her mind. There was work that needed to be done. 

Screams tore through Vivian’s sleep. Distant, panicky screams, laced with angst. With effort, she sat upright. She had once again fallen asleep at her desk. Bleary-eyed and covered in paint chips, Vivian decided to continue working on the mirror. 

The neighbors must be quarreling again. 

Once again screams sounded in the night. This time the screams grew louder and more desperate. 

Funny, the screams sound just like…

“Diane!” 

Vivian bolted from her desk and ran to her daughter’s bedside. She was screaming in her sleep. Blood covered her nose and stained the doll’s pajamas and pillow. 

“Diane!” Frantically she shook her daughter’s shoulders. “Diane, wake up!” 

The acrid stench of panic filled the air. Long seconds passed before Diane awoke from her screaming sleep. 

“Mom!” the girl yelped and leaped into Vivian’s arms. Her little, chubby body was clammy and shaking. All Vivian could do was console her daughter as she blubbered incomprehensibly. When Diane was calm enough to speak, Vivian enquired about the screaming.

“I had a bad dream…” Diane admitted guiltily, her cheeks flushed. 

Vivian sighed and wiped the dried blood from her daughter’s nose. The nightmares and nosebleeds had been at bay for a long time. She should have expected them to resurface, but Diane’s therapist assured them that it was a thing of the past. Vivian knew it would never be a thing of the past, the gear in her shoulder reminded her every day of that reality.

“Do you want to tell me about your dream?” Vivian asked, knowing full well it would be about the accident and her surgery.

Diane merely shook her head. Pale from lack of sleep the girl felt around for her doll. 

“Mom, did you see my doll? It was right here,” she said, indicating a space on her pillow.  

“She must have fallen off the bed from all the excitement,” Vivian responded and stooped to scoop up the doll, only to find that the doll was not on the floor.

“There it is! But how did it get there?” Diane pointed to the door. Vivian’s blood ran cold when she saw the doll slumped against the door frame. She could recall that the doll was next to Diane when she entered the room. 

“Perhaps it was flung from the bed?” Vivian answered as she retrieved the doll. A quick inspection revealed the doll’s pajamas to be as clean and crisp. Vivian shook her head. It must have been her imagination acting up. Perhaps it was the adrenaline rush from being woken by screams paired with the pressure of the coming auction. Ultimately she resorted to her fail-safe excuse.

These gears are making me see things!

 Diane clutched her doll fiercely. Vivian scrutinized the scene closely, half expecting the doll to move, but it remained limp. Feeling foolish for having thought the doll was capable of movement Vivian pushed the matter from her mind. A clean cover was drawn over the pillow and Diane was soon fast asleep again. 

Vivian before sunrise as usual to prepare breakfast. Bleary-eyed she stumbled into the kitchen. After Diane’s screaming last night it was difficult for her to fall asleep again. The gear in her shoulder caused her considerable pain this morning. It was the pain of gears needing oil. a dreadful thought, which meant another visit to that infamous backyard mechanic-doctor.

Just another excuse to poison my body.

Dismissing the much-needed maintenance, Vivian struck a match and lit a tea candle, placing it in the hollow kettle base. The attractive round kettle had a homely, rustic look about it. Soon little turbines whirred and steam poured from the spout. The clicking sound from the tiny turbines was comforting and eased Vivian’s nerves somewhat. What she needed now was a strong cup of coffee.

“Mom!”

Vivian peered over her shoulder. 

Why would Diane be awake at this hour?

Her daughter was nowhere in sight. Diane the doll sat in her daughter’s usual place. Her beady eyes seemed to regard Vivian ever so slightly. Vivian swore she saw a reddish gleam in them, though it could be merely a reflection from the orange lamplight.

“Diane?” Her voice was shaky, barely a whisper. “Diane!” Panic had slipped into her voice. 

Her daughter appeared in the kitchen. The frown on her face immediately vanished when she spied the doll at the table.

“You found Diane! Thanks, Mom.” Excitedly she rushed to claim her doll. 

“Didn’t you put her on your chair earlier?” Vivian asked. Caution raised her hackles.

“No, I was looking for her when you called me.” Diane’s big, innocent eyes did not lie. Vivian’s hackles became fully erect when she noticed her daughter’s apparel. A puffy-sleeve lace dress that had a black corset bodice. Her hair, tied in two low pigtails, framed a pale porcelain face. Lips, stained an impossible shade of red, marred her pretty face. This was a drastic change from the girl’s preferred clothing choice of pants and a sweater. 

“That’s a different look, dear.”

“Diane said I look pretty in this dress,” Diane responded, referring to her doll, who wore a similar outfit. 

“Don’t I look pretty, Mommy?” two distinct voices chimed. Blood drained from Vivian’s extremities. This was the final proof that the gear in her shoulder was poisoning her. In protest to Vivian’s mental blame, the gear in her shoulder hissed. Burning pain scorched the flesh in her left shoulder, forcing Vivian to the floor in a gasp.

“Mommy!”  Diane yelped and rushed to her mother’s side. Vivian was barely aware of her daughter’s mumbled question. Her attention was fully focused on the doll. It had shifted in the chair, now facing Vivian completely, as if to ensure an unobstructed view. 

“I’m fine, Diane. Just the shoulder is acting up again. It needs maintenance.” Vivian soothed. 

“I’ll call the doctor-mechanic!” Diane was out the door before Vivian could stop her. Blood ran in tiny rivulets down her arm. A glance revealed that the gear had torn through the skin. 

“She’s mine now,” a whisper reached Vivian’s ears.

“Who said that?” 

“Mine, mine, mine! All mine!” the voice chimed incessantly. Vivian glanced around the kitchen, eyeballs stiff with fear, but saw no one else present. 

“Who is there?!” panic contorted Vivian’s voice so that it emerged from her throat in a raspy squeal. 

“You know who it is,” the voice taunted. 

Vivian locked eyes with the doll. The cotton grin on her face broadened. Beady eyes shone clear crimson. Little cotton arms reached out to Vivian, one utterance echoing through her mind…

“MINE!”

Sacha Hope

@Sacha-Hope

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