Dolls. What could be more creepy? Seriously, just look at that thing.
To start off the second week of my personal “April Challenge”, I present you with a little horror tale I love to hate. It has misbehaving children, a witch, and reluctantly (you guessed it) dolls. Let me know what you think.
What Lies Behind Those Eyes
by Curtis A. Deeter
I was not meant to know what the Witch had done to poor Matthew Mayhew with his freckled, rosy cheeks and disheveled hair. Knowing was beyond the realm of possibility, but I learned quickly; “possible” is only a figment of the under-active imagination.
Matthew was not the best child, but he certainly did not deserve his fate. In some ways, what happened to Matthew was worse than death. In others, it was a mercy.
It started at the dinner table, as many of these things do. By the time Matthew stormed off, leaving behind a plate of mashed potatoes and peas on the floor and a black dog scorch mark where the candle’s flame had jumped free to tap a beat of destruction before Momma Mayhew dumped her ice water on it, the argument escalated from drizzle to raging maelstrom. Both parties were red in the face, one from brandy and frustration, the other from addled adolescent angst.
“Matthew Earl Mayhew, you get back here and clean up this mess.” Momma yelled, tears streaked across her face.
“No!” Matthew spat back, snatching me off the counter. “You can’t make me.”
He pulled a kitchen drawer out, adding a clatter of knives and corn holders to the fray, before stomping upstairs to the shelter of his room.
Momma stalked after him, brandy in one hand, white knuckles on the other.
“Stop this instant, young man, or there will be dire consequences.”
“Piss off, ya’ old hag.”
“Excuse me? Where did you learn such foul language?”
“From you. Now, leave me alone.”
He rounded the corner towards his bedroom, toppling a vase from its perch at the top of the banister. It shattered into pieces, dirt and daisies spilling onto the stairs.
Momma scoffed and followed after him, sloshing brandy on the sufficiently stained carpet. Once, long before birthing her son—her nightmare—the carpet’s fibers had been clean and white. Now, they were spotted brown and soiled through to the pad.
They were alone in the house, Matthew and Momma—always had been—but anyone listening from outside the house’s thin walls would think the circus was in town. Either a circus or a civil war.
He slammed his door, rocking three picture frames off the wall. The glass of one shattered outward, cutting Momma’s feet.
She screamed, both out of anger and pain, pounding her fists on the door until her skin split, leaving Rorschach splotches of blood all down its face. Then, she gave up, sliding down it on her back, resigning herself to brandy and helplessness.
The funny thing about doors is they are not mirrors. From where I sat inside Matthew’s room, hunched and folded at the waist, the scene looked much different.
Matthew continued to dance his waltz of destruction. He found his baseball bat under piles of folded laundry; it became an extension of the hammers he called fists. First, the light fixture came tinkling down bulb by bulb. Then, he beat holes into the wall in no pattern at all. Last, a flourishing pirouette, shattering his lamp, decimating his laptop, and sending the bat soaring across the room to implant at a forty-five degree angle in the drywall.
Momma cried and cried and cried.
Matthew cried too, except his were tears of sadistic fulfillment. He laughed, clapped his hands, and pat himself on the back before flopping onto the foot of his bed and grabbing me by the waist. He looked into my eyes, his own puffy and red, and I could see the red streaks clouding his whites for what they really were: embarrassment.
“Why do I keep doing this?” he asked me, but I could not answer. “I don’t mean to be bad. Honest, I don’t. It must be something on my insides. Something evil. Do you think Momma will ever forgive me?”
I did not know. I could not. Even if I did, there was no way to express my sympathies. There was no way to tell Matthew, for what it was worth, that I believed in him.
He tossed me aside. I bounded off the springy mattress and landed neck first on the floor, upside down in the shape of the crescent moon, but still I watched.
The winds of fury subsided, Matthew Mayhew laid back on his pillow, wiped the last of the moisture off his cheeks, and closed his eyes to sleep.
Outside his room, mouth wide open and snoring in baritone, Momma slept, too.
An indeterminate amount of time passed. For me, it stretched longer than three lifetimes, but it might have only been a day.
All was quiet at the Mayhew household. Sometimes, cool heads prevailed. If the person snooping outside their house happened to return, the same one who heard their circus of strife, they would have heard a rare occasion of laughter at the dinner table. They would have seen a hug between mother and son. The illusion of love in a household of hate.
But not all great things are destined last.
Orange light descending in the sky seeped through the cracks of the blinds. The smell of leaves burning, the sound of a neighbor’s dog barking. Pitter-patter up the stairs. Small feet. Fast feet. Trouble feet.
Matthew and a friend burst into the room, their laughter exploding with them. They were dirty and sweaty, as if they had been running laps around the day. Mischief twinkled in their eyes. I wondered if they too hid secrets.
“That was soooo cool,” his friend said.
“Do you think Mr. Henderson will find out it was us?”
“No,” Matthew said, kicking his dirty shoes under his bed. He wiped something crimson and sticky on the underside of the mattress while he was down there. “I’ve done it a bunch of times. He’ll never even notice, the crazy old bastard.”
The boys giggled at this, still at the age where such words seemed silly. One of them would grow up to learn the true power words can have. The other would not.
After their fight, Momma bought him a new computer and a television with a PlayStation. It was her way of pretending like she had forgiven him.
“You’re a good boy, Matthew.” Pretending became easy after so many fights. “You’re a good boy, and you deserve it.”
“What games do you have?” his friend asked.
“Lots,” Matthew said, pulling his computer chair in front of the screen. “Wanna’ watch me play Grand Theft Auto?”
“Sure, but only if I can get a turn.”
I could not see what they could on the screen, but I heard the awful noises coming from the game. Gunfire and screaming. Tires screeching and women moaning. Someone begging for their life. All the while, the boys snorted with laughter and imbibed an entire pack of soda.
Matthew’s friend grew impatient, though. When he realized he would never get a turn, he started to pace around the bedroom. His shadow danced on the wall, back and forth, back and forth. He huffed and sighed, moaned and whined.
Then, he picked me up, turning me over and tossing me up into the air like a rag doll. I felt disrespected, dizzy.
“You play with dolls?” the boy said, pulling on my ears.
Matthew whipped his control onto the floor, jumped up, and snatched me out of the boy’s hand. He had that look about his face. The look.
“Hands off. My nanna bought me this when I was a kid. It’s all I have left to remember her.”
The boy’s lips were pursed, his neck vein bulged, eyes glistened, and his cheeks were turning three shades red. He shook, holding back laughter, and then let it all out.
“You play with dolls. You play with dolls. Nananana doll player,” he sang, springing up and down in circles around Matthew, who had his head down and hands shoved into his pocket. “Loser, loser, boo-boo. Wait until I tell the others! They’ll get a kick outta this one.”
Matthew snapped; I had front row tickets to the theatre of his wrath.
Calmly, he set me down on his computer desk, straightening my posture ever so slightly, before turning to his friend. Without saying a world, Matthew clenched his fist, drew one arm back, and clocked the boy in the forehead. He leapt on him, throttled him against the corner of the bed, and kneed him repeatedly in the groin.
“I… do not… play… with dolls,” Matthew yelled, before biting the boy’s face. With flesh in his teeth, he tossed the boy aside like the boy had just tossed me.
I wish I could have looked away. I wish I had human legs so I could get up and leave. Instead, I was forced to sit there and watch. What happened next was the worst part of the whole ordeal.
The boy writhed on the floor, holding both hands to the wound on his face. He cried hysterically, begging for his “mommy” and kicking his feet at the air. His sobs came in irregular bursts, each more labored than the last.
Matthew sat back down in front of the television, un-paused his game, and started playing.
With a handful of popcorn in his mouth, he asked, “After I’m done with this mission it can be your turn, if you still wanted to play.”
The boy kept crying.
Later that night, his mother picked him up. She hardly looked at her son before asking the boys if they had had a fun time.
“Yes ma’am,” Matthew said, hurrying them out the door and holding me by the neck with his free hand. “We’d love to do it again.”
The boy had his head tilted to where she could not see the bite mark. Shadow concealed the bruises across his cheek. He shuffled his feet, heading for the exit, but nodded in agreement.
“Well, wonderful. We’ll schedule another playdate soon.”
The boy smiled.
Matthew Mayhew sneered.
By the time they got home and the mother noticed the bite mark and the bruises on the boy’s neck and face, Matthew was well asleep, cozy in his own bed. He’d placed me on the nightstand, facing him, and I watched him sleep for the last time.
— — — — —
She watched, too.
She had seen it all. Every last argument between Momma and Matthew, every broken dish, every hole in the wall. With each transgression, she watched closer, riveted to a single shard on the face of her broken mirror.
It was more than a mirror, though. It was the Witch’s portal to a thousand other worlds. It was her means to keep track of the children, to judge who was naughty or nice. But she was not bringing presents.
Fingers steepled, the Witch licked her lips and ground her teeth. Behind her, a fire roared in the hearth, dinner boiling in a cauldron above the flames. But it was not stew she hungered for, though she appreciated the soothing aroma of parsley and rosemary.
She had seen enough.
There was preparation to be done and incantations to invoke, but the Witch could no longer bare to wait. Matthew Mayhew had shown her everything she needed to see.
Long ago, the Witch memorized the ingredients, the steps, and the spiritual waves she must put out to the universe in order to summon the demon. The ritual was as familiar as the wrinkles on the back of her hands.
With the point of her slipper, she dug a star-shaped trench on the sandy floor, making sure each line and each corner were perfectly symmetric and evenly dug. Satisfied, she drew a lazy circle around the star and spit into the middle. Her saliva sizzled on the dirt.
From the top shelf of her cottage, she pushed aside a cluster of dolls with x’s where their eyes should be, searching for a vial of bat’s blood. When she found it, she uncorked the bottle and poured its contents into the topmost point of the pentagram. It flowed red throughout the shape, imbuing its geometry with otherworldly splendor. Finally, she opened an urn by the fire, scooped out two heaping piles of salt from the Dead Sea, and mixed it with the blood.
“Facti sunt,” she whispered, repeating it louder and louder while watching the sleeping boy in the mirror. Wisps of gray and blue tendrils of magical energy reached out towards his form from the vertices of the star. “Nam aeternum. Omnia mea.”
It was not the Latin that sealed the spell; words have power, but not enough alone to churn a storm in a calm, sunny sky. Words need intent. They need meaning.
She plucked a stray hair from her pocket, a single twine from the yarn she crafted the doll from, rubbing it between her finger tips and delighted in the way different shades of gold flashed in and out. Licking it, she dropped it into the center of her star, watching it glide to the dirt.
The Witch grabbed her robe from the coat hook by the door, blew out the candle on her desk, and kissed her tabby Jack good-bye. She would be back soon, she knew, but a good witch followed her routines to the grave. Witching was all about ritual. On her way to the mirror, she unwrapped her kris knife from its goatskin cloth, admiring its curves and iron-stained tip.
— — — — —
Gripped in restless fever, Matthew Mayhew talked in his sleep. He tossed and turned, whimpering in the aftermath of a bad dream. Eyes closed, he reached towards the nightstand, fumbling through its contents until he found me. He brought me close and rolled over to his opposite side before leaping into another dream world.
Gray tendrils, soundless and faint, snaked out my orifices, swimming around the bedroom until they began to take a form of their own. They twisted and merged, stretching up and out into the aspect of an old woman. A witch. At first, no more than a shadow. Then, slowly, as the straggling remainder drew together, the Witch stepped towards Matthew’s bed, scentless smoke evaporating off her body.
He shifted, wheezed, but did not wake.
The Witch, holding her knife behind her back, sprinkled dust on his face, ensuring he sleep the Endless Sleep. Even if the house went up in flames or an earthquake brought down the neighborhood, Matthew would keep on snoring. Forever.
She knelt, peered under the bed, and ran a spindly finger across the dried blood on the bottom of the mattress. He had done a lot of terrible thing since she started watching him. Still, she was surprised, shocked even, when he and the other boy had stoned the neighbor’s cat. She cringed when he finished it off with his bare hands. If it had been her Jack, she would have wrung him dry and tossed him to the wind. All his little friends, too.
Drawing to her full height, the Witch circled the bed. He looked almost sweet, curled up under his grandmother’s quilt. Almost.
From all she witnessed over the years, Matthew Mayhew was far from sweet. Matthew Mayhew was pure evil. Some people grew into it; he had been born with it. Seeing the residue of his demons, the Witch cringed.
Matthew Mayhew’s sins could never be forgiven.
She bent over him, whispered into his ear, and brought the kris knife around from behind her. This was the worst part. As a witch, she could not afford to be squeamish, but the blood of a child chilled her to the bone. But it had to be done.
She froze, holding the knife high above her head, directly over his heart, because a floorboard outside his bedroom creaked. Waiting, she listened carefully. Minutes dripped off the clock. An hour. Nothing.
Her resolve had not faltered. She held the knife with steady hands, controlled her breathing, and practiced patience. Finally, when the time was ripe, she plunged the blade between his ribs. The thrum of his heartbeat filled the room. Matthew, unconscious, gasped for air. A line of blood trickled from his torso, dripping off the side of the bed.
The Witch wrenched me from his hands, held me out to catch the blood in the yarns of my hair, and sighed a breath of relief.
For brief moment, life flashed in my eyes. My porcelain cheeks turned a rosy red, freckled and supple, my hair a messy blonde, matching the color of Matthew’s, and I gasped a single time for air. The taste of oxygen was sweet, but short-lived. All the Witch’s memories, all of Matthew’s, swarmed my mind. I became part of her, but all of him.
Matthew lay still, undisturbed, his body fading to a dull gray. All warmth left him, as he seemed to deflate into his sheets. Then, layer by layer, he peeled away from the realm of the living, his soul entering me in a shower of smoke.
“What?” I said, looking around. The words seemed distant, as if they were being spoken by a stranger in another room. “Where am I? Who are you?”
“Don’t worry, my child. You’re safe with me.”
“Momma!” I yelled, recognizing the voice belonged to Matthew Mayhew, but the Witch was busy covering my mouth with a sticky, adhesive substance. What came out after was muffled noise. Finally, he gave up.
But I didn’t. And I still won’t.
“I’m your ‘Momma’, now,” she said.
The Witch tucked me into the folds of her robe, sheathed the knife, and straightened the sheets of his bed. A black, boy-shaped outline would give the deed away, but by the time Momma Mayhew stumbled upon the evidence, the Witch would be long gone through the mirror on his closet door. Back to where she came from with another soul added to her collection. Long gone, with another year added to her life.
She nestled me on the top shelf of her cottage, squeezed between dozens of others. Before returning to her chair, she turned me to face the wall. In time, she would be able to look me in my eyes. For now, she needed to pretend I was not there; she needed to find the next one.