Happy Almost-Halloween, everyone!
It’s been a while since I’ve had a story to post. It feels good to have one appropriate to the season, and I hope you enjoy it.
TW: serial killer, death of a father, on-page murder, grief
The dull sound of the knife going shk shk against the wood soothed the carver. His masterpiece would soon be finished. He held the doll up and studied the man sitting opposite him, his eyes darting from the doll to his guest.
During his struggles to get free, the man’s dark hair had fallen in his eyes, and he sat with his head bowed. The carver looked back at his doll. He hadn’t quite captured the air of quiet mystique that enshrouded his guest. With a frustrated groan, he tossed the doll behind him and picked up a new block of wood. This time, it would be perfect.
The other man squirmed in his chair again, struggling against the ropes binding him, his cries muffled by the cloth gag in his mouth.
“Now, now,” said the carver, “There’s no need for that.”
The man stopped moving. His hair had moved out of his eyes, revealing bruises and small cuts. The mystique was gone, and with it, the carver’s desire to start over. He retrieved the doll he’d thrown on the ground and dusted it off. It wasn’t perfect, but then again, neither was the man in front of him.
The man said something through the gag. Though the carver didn’t hear the words, he knew what the man was saying. They all said the same thing.
Please let me go.
I have a family.
I promise I won’t tell anyone.
I’ll do anything. Please don’t kill me.
The carver learned early on to stuff their mouths full of cotton. It made things more pleasant for him as he shaped wood into perfection. If only they could see that they were part of something greater than themselves. The carver was sure they’d appreciate his artwork once they fully understood what was happening.
When he was satisfied with the form he’d sculpted, the carver brought out his paints. With a flourish, he dipped his tiny paintbrush into the paints and began. He ignored the mottled bruises on the man’s face, capturing the pale skintone and sparkling blue eyes instead.
The carver felt his guest’s attention as every brushstroke brought his masterpiece closer to life. He added hair, painstakingly attaching pieces cut from the man’s own head. He sewed a suit for the doll, the cloth for it taken from a ripped section of the man’s own clothing.
“What do you think?” the carver asked. He held the doll up for his guest to see.
The man shook his head and cast his eyes to the floor. The carver caressed the doll, an almost perfect reflection of the man opposite him.
One thing was still missing.
The carver picked up his blade and approached the man. The man’s eyes widened, and he renewed his struggle against his bonds. His skin tore against the heavy rope, but he didn’t stop.
“No point in that,” the carver said. “I was a Boy Scout a long time ago. Those knots will hold.”
The man slid his chair back until he ran into a wall. Blood dripped from his arms where the ropes had cut into him. A whimper escaped his throat, muted by the gag.
“There’s honor in this,” the carver said. “You don’t understand, but I’m helping you. You’re going to live forever.”
The carver plunged his knife into the man’s chest, and twisted it. The man’s soul coiled around the tip of the blade, a faint and fragile thing. The carver drew it out of the man, slowly, gently, until it was free from its mortal form.
With a flourish, the carver etched a symbol onto the doll’s back beneath its dapper suit. The symbol glowed blue for several seconds before the light faded into the doll.
For the first time in months, the carver smiled.
On a bright summer day, sunshine beamed down and illuminated Harry’s golden head as he played in the sandbox in his front yard. His mother sat on the front steps, half watching, half lost in thought. Harry wanted to hug her and tell her that daddy would be home soon, but when he did that last night, her eyes watered and she just shushed him as she tucked him in.
The phone rang inside, and Harry’s mother stood.
“Don’t leave the yard,” his mother called out to him. “I’ll be back in two seconds.”
“Okay, Mommy.” Harry returned to the sand.
Footsteps crunched on the gravel, and a man with tufty white hair approached. He had an orange vest and a hardhat on, and Harry was immediately in love. He wanted a hardhat, too!
The man glanced to the front of the house, but Harry’s mother hadn’t returned yet. He thrust a brown paper bag into Harry’s arms.
“Your daddy wanted me to give you this,” the man said. “He wanted me to make sure you promised not to tell anyone about it.”
Harry nodded, and gripped the bag with his tiny fingers. The front door slammed open, and Harry’s mother approached the man. She pushed Harry behind her protectively, and as she asked the man what he wanted, Harry scampered into the house.
Once he was safely in his room, he tore into the bag. He pulled a doll out. His eyes grew wide, his mouth broke into a giant grin.
Harry had always wanted his own doll, but his parents never seemed to want to buy one for him. Boys weren’t supposed to have dolls. He looked around for someplace safe to hide the doll.
Under the bed? Too scary.
In his dresser? Too slow to get to.
Under his pillow? Yes. Perfect.
The front door creaked open and shut, and Harry heard his mother’s voice along with a few deeper men’s voices. The voices went on for a few minutes until his mother screamed. Harry jumped.
He wondered what it was all about, but he didn’t want to leave the doll. He was afraid it would be lonely, so he kept one hand shoved under his pillow, stroking the doll’s short hair.
One of his daddy’s policeman friends came into his room and knelt in front of Harry.
“Do you remember me?” the man asked.
Harry nodded his head, his grip on the doll tightening.
“Mr. Granger. Daddy’s friend. You’re the policeman.”
Officer Granger nodded.
“Your mom asked me to come talk to you, and I’m sorry to tell you this,” Mr. Granger said, “but your daddy won’t be coming home.”
Harry’s stomach sank. He suddenly wanted his daddy very, very badly.
“Why not?” Harry whispered.
“Well, your daddy was taken by a very bad man. The bad man hurt your daddy, and he died. Do you understand?”
“It means I won’t see him again,” Harry whispered. His eyes filled with tears, and he sobbed. Mr. Granger gathered Harry in his arms and held him while he cried. The long, comforting strokes on his back weren’t enough to calm him.
“I promise I’ll do everything I can to catch the bad man and make it so he can’t hurt anyone ever again,” Mr. Granger said. Harry cried harder.
After a while, his mother came in and Mr. Granger transferred Harry to her. Harry clung to her, afraid that if he let go, the bad man would get to her, too.
“We’ll be in touch soon,” Mr. Granger said to her. “Let us know if you can think of anything else.”
Harry’s mom nodded, never breaking her shh-shhing, and back rubbing, bouncing Harry around the room on her hip like how she used to when he was a baby. Normally, he would have balked at the treatment, but in that moment, he wanted nothing more than to be close to her.
Eventually, the tears dried up, and Harry’s mom put him to bed, but it wasn’t the same without his daddy to tuck him in. In the dimly lit room, he pulled the doll out from under his pillow and hugged it to him. He tried to cry quietly.
The doll looked just like his daddy, right down to the color of his suit.
A gentle pressure on his bed made Harry sit upright. A shadow perched near his legs, just where his daddy used to sit to tuck him in.
A low song, hummed by a soft voice, filled the room. Harry looked from the shadow to the doll. He lay back down, holding the doll to his chest, the song filling his head with good dreams.
Something, or someone, moved his covers up, tucking him in for the night.