It’s fiery, red hair glowed like the tail of a meteor careening through outer space. It was wild and frizzy. The ringlet curls had lost their definition and were now thick coils with no pattern. Its makeup was dull. The blue had faded to a hue that resembled the color found in old photographs from the 60s. Its round crystal-blue eyes were wide as if it had drunk too much of the thick, pungent coffee Willow’s mom guzzled every morning. They peered into Willow’s hazel ones as if silently squealing over a terribly funny joke. The porcelain cheeks had tiny black scuff marks that someone had attempted to clean. His raw, red nose, like a bubble, begged to float on the breeze—yet, there was nothing amusing about the doll. Willow turned it over and over in her hands—examining every inch of its snagged, sad yellow and red polka dot costume. She couldn’t see the appeal.
“Swing and a miss, Grandma,” Willow said and ran for the pink, castle-shaped bounce house.
“Willow!” her mother, Diane, yelled after her. She brushed her bangs to the side in exasperation and picked up the discarded doll. “It is kind of weird, Mom.”
“It’s an antique,” Ruby said snatching it away. “I thought it would be a unique gift.”
“It’s creepy. Besides, she’s ten, not ten-months. She isn’t all that into dolls anymore.”
Ruby fiddled with the clown’s matted curls, “I know, I know. They want electronics and gift cards. That’s exactly why I picked this. She’ll appreciate it someday.”
“It’s,” Diane sneered, “so unsettling. Where did you even get it?”
“On the way here I stopped at an old antique store. Oh, what was it called.” Ruby looked to the pinking sky as evening neared. “It was ‘Wildest Dreams’ or something like that. The lady said it belonged to a circus performer back at the turn of the century. I just loved it.”
“And I hate clowns.”
“Well,” Ruby said holding the doll out to Diane, “he isn’t for you.”
At ten years old Willow had a developed mind that craved knowledge. She sought out books that were well beyond her years. She enjoyed Kerouac and Vonnegut. She especially enjoyed reading the works of Poe—the macabre being highly fascinating as well as entertaining to young Willow.
Her grandmother, Ruby, had been active during the Women’s Rights movement of the 60s and 70s. She frequently reminded Willow that the history books tended to misrepresent the truth of the movement. That there had been no enormous rally during the ’68 Miss America pageant—just a small “Freedom Trash Can” with various items to make a miniscule bonfire. Never the spectacle it was made out to be.
Diane had become a Wiccan. She believed in incense and oils. Daily meditations, communing with nature, and that woman was an overwhelming dominant force. She taught her daughter empathy and love, but also strength.
Willow was a hodgepodge of both of these women with a dash of darkness tossed in for good measure. She could see beyond the light that Diane practiced to where the others dwelled. Willow liked the darkness.
“Momma,” Willow asked tucked in beneath her black butterfly comforter, “where is Hooplah?”
“I don’t know.” Diane ran her finger along a shelf packed with old stuffed animals seeking out the purple, ratty bear. “I don’t think I’ve seen her all day.”
“I can’t sleep without her,” Willow huffed.
Diane kneeled down beside the bed and wedged herself into the gloomy crevice beneath. Empty. Not a single shadow belonging to a misplaced bear or long-forgotten toy. Willow was truly immaculate about housekeeping. “Nothing sweetie.”
“What about your new one?” Ruby said from the doorway.
“Oh, hi Grandma. I just really need Hooplah.”
Ruby walked into the room grinning. She removed the shabby clown from its shelf and carried it to Willow’s bed where she sat. “Have you named him?”
“How about we do? What would be a good name for this guy?”
Willow thought. She hated the toy but didn’t want to tell her grandma. Willow hated the way the thing looked at her—its big blue eyes—the odd color of them. Nothing about the thing was natural. Nothing about it resembled reality. It was all off, like the artist that created it was looking at a model through a funhouse mirror. The soul of the clown definitely hovered behind the veil of night. She grimaced, “Maybe, Jinx?”
“That’s a peculiar name, but I like it.” Ruby kissed Willow’s forehead. “Here, why don’t you show Jinx a good first night. You must be tired after your birthday party, Miss Ten-Years-Old. Goodnight.”
Diane walked over to Willow and kissed her goodnight and flicked off her light. She checked to see that her mother was gone, “You don’t have to sleep with him.”
“It’s fine. He isn’t so bad, I guess.”
“Ok. If you’re sure. Goodnight, honey.”
“See,” Ruby said as she sipped coffee from a worn mug at the kitchen table, “she’s warming up to him.”
“She didn’t have much choice in there. Hooplah is missing.” Diane stood over the sink washing dishes. “I wonder where that bear is. It is never far from her bed.”
“I know,” Ruby chuckled. She pulled it from her lap and sat the soft purple bear on the table.
“Mom, that’s low. For all the women’s rights stuff, you took Willow’s bear so she’d cuddle your gift?”
“I just wanted her to give it a chance. It was expensive.”
“You give her Hooplah back tomorrow,” Diane scolded as she dried her hands.
Ruby padded down the long hallway to the guest bedroom carrying Hooplah in her armpit and a glass of water in her hand. The floorboards creaked in the ancient house as Ruby snuck to Willow’s bedroom door. She gazed in, Willow, illuminated in moonlight, was lit up like a woodland fairy. Her pale skin and golden hair glittered in silver beams. Where was the clown? Ruby’s eyes darted around the room searching for the unkempt doll. Ruby looked for the moon’s reflection to bounce off its eyes and alert her of its location. She found it sitting among rumbled covers at the end of Willow’s bed. Ruby sighed in defeat, Willow had abandoned her gift.
The guest bedroom was frigid. The heater did a piss poor job of warming the room and Ruby rushed to change into her night clothes. The frosty air bit at her skin like an invisible school of piranhas. She washed her face with cleansing wipes and stuffed herself into the bed as quickly as she could. Hooplah stared at her from the nightstand behind her glass of water. Ruby wondered if the bear could feel the chill, absent from Willow’s arms. Ruby rolled her eyes and went to sleep.
The moon slid sleepily across the speckled sky. Ruby snored quietly when the sound of a glass shattering stirred her awake. As Ruby’s eyelids opened like the steel doors on a bank vault she was greeted by a pink snout, glittery plastic nose, disheveled purple fur. Ruby creased her brow and reached for Hooplah precariously seated upon her chest. Her arm was stiff at its position under the patchwork quilt at the side of the bed. Ruby’s elbow was severely hyperextended—painful. She yanked and pulled at her arms, neither would come loose from their hostage-like positions. “What’s—What’s happening?” Ruby muttered.
The smiling bear’s head tilted mechanically to the side as if it were cracking the vertebrae in its neck one-by-one. The blank expression on Hooplah’s face contorted into an unsettling grin. Its lip lifted exposing what appeared to be razor-sharp fangs, glinting in the pale light.
Ruby shook her head violently. She must be dreaming—a terrible, awful dream. The bear stood, its paws behind its back, and took a step toward her face. Ruby called out in the dark, her voice uncertain, shallow, in the night. The bear shook its head, “No”. Ruby pulled brutally at her arms and legs, realizing all of her limbs had been tied to the four-post bed with sheets. She had been rendered totally helpless. Ruby called out again in the staticky darkness—no response. No approaching footsteps.
Hooplah pulled a shard of glass from behind her back. It came to a wicked point that captured iridescent, white rays that bounced like laser beams into Ruby’s corneas. She held it aloft, grinning barbarically. Ruby begged her, “No, please. Don’t. I’m sorry.”
The improvised blade sunk into Ruby’s neck like a child’s fingers into Play-doh. Hooplah slid it along the flesh and muscle and arteries—carving Ruby as if she might make her a meal. Ruby choked and sputtered. Hot liquid flowed from the wound, her mouth, like pancake syrup. She was unable to stop it, to dam the river as it gushed forth. Hooplah hovered, licking the moisture from the glass like a lollipop. Ruby’s eyes still searched for help before the blood left her body dry, and she saw him, standing almost invisible in the doorway. Jinx, with his glass eyes—watching.
“Has your mother ever suggested suicide?”
“Absolutely, not,” Diane sat on the front steps with her head in her hands, a clove cigarette, which she only used when she was anxious, sending squiggles of smoke into the air. “Did you see her? That wasn’t suicide.”
“Ma’am,” the overstuffed cop said as he adjusted his belt, “I understand this can be difficult. You’ve told us no one else was in the house. There were no signs of forced entry. When we came in to investigate, she—the deceased—was holding a bloody piece of glass.”
Diane looked at the commotion around her. Lights flashed blue and red on the tops of police cars. Cops stood whispering back and forth over notepads. A black coroner van sat ominously—like Death himself planned to sit at the table for breakfast.
Two men in white, button-up shirts bounced a sheet-covered gurney down the front steps, “Excuse us, Ma’am.” Blood seeped through the paper-thin material.
“She was a damn activist for goddess’ sake.”
“You already said there was no one else in the house. Isn’t that true?”
“Just my daughter,” Diane wiped away a tear.
“She couldn’t have—”
“NO! What about an intruder?”
“We’re sweeping for fingerprints, but it’s unlikely.” He closed his notebook and put it in his navy-blue uniform pocket. “Listen, if she were my daughter,” he looked to the window where Willow poked her face out accompanied by Hooplah, “I’d set her up with a therapist. Maybe you too.”
“Yeah. Ok.” Diane said watching Willow.
Diane stood in Willow’s doorway as the young girl crawled into bed. It had been a long and anxiety fueled day. Calling family and friends, making arrangements, scrubbing and bleaching blood that had once pumped her mother’s heart had eaten away at Diane’s strength. No amount of oil or meditation could restore what she had lost. She needed to sleep for a week, a month, and forget the world was still turning. “Do you have Hooplah?”
“She’s on the rocking chair.”
“I’ll get her.” Diane shuffled to the chair and lifted the bear. Its fur was matted, crusty. She inspected it to find blood thick in the purple. Diane gagged and tossed the bear in the corner.
“How about we sleep with Jinx again tonight? Hooplah needs a bath.”
“No, Momma, I want Hooplah. I don’t like Jinx.”
“Grandma got you Jinx. Let’s do it for her, ok?”
Diane handed Willow the porcelain clown—worn and tired as if he had spent a life-time, or several, either forgotten or loved. Ruby knew the history, Diane hadn’t wanted it. Not feeling the way she did about clowns.
“Sleep with me?”
“It’ll be like a slumber party.”
Diane sighed, but gave in. They could both use a little supportive energy right now. The two of them together could charged the other. Willow was strong, Diane might need to borrow from her daughter.
As the night wore on a clatter woke Willow. She sat up in the darkness of her room, the overcast sky outside didn’t offer much light, and sought out the source of the noise. The bed jumped next to her. Willow’s head shot to her mother. Hooplah stood on Diane’s chest, a big shiny cleaver in her paw.
“No, no Hooplah!” Willow screamed and lunged for the bear. It slapped her away.
Diane attempted to scream, but the noise was muffled. The bear had forced a dolls head in Diane’s mouth as a ball-gag. The pretty face of the thing looked out at Willow’s, its eyelids bobbing up and down, and its long brunette hair streaming from her mother’s mouth. Just like Ruby, Hooplah had tied Diane’s arms and legs.
Willow rose to her feet and leapt for the cleaver wielding bear. She turned and slashed at Willow’s arm, striking her. Blood seeped from the gash. Hooplah raised the silver metallic blade, preparing to destroy Diane, when a flash of red and yellow removed her from the bed.
Jinx now straddled the bear—wrestling the overstuffed toy as he attempted to gain control of the weapon. Willow darted for her mother, jumped upon the bed, and untied her shackles. “Mom, what’s happening?”
“I don’t know,” Diane heaved as she clutched her daughter.
Jinx now stood on Hooplah’s face and chest, brandishing the kitchen utensil like an award. The bear squirmed and squeaked. Jinx dropped the cleaver on Hooplah’s belly revealing fluffy clouds of cotton—he tore it out like a bear devouring prey. Then, all was still. The clown went limp, a porcelain ragdoll meant for display and strange stories.
The house was silent.
#Toys #HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.