Flash Fiction: A Mother’s Love

Another week, another writing challenge from Herr Wendig. [Yeah, I know, I just posted one of these. But that was from the week before, plus it wasn’t fiction.] I’ve been avoiding the challenges over there that provoked something creepy or scary. I don’t enjoy scary stories. They give me nightmares that are far worse than whatever was written. I think that’s what the good ones do: leave something to the imagination. But I’ve sort of been wondering whether I could pull it off. Then Wendig offered up this picture as the prompt. He didn’t say it had to be a creepy story. But how could it be anything else? So I decided to give it a try. Let me know whether you think it works.

Flash Fiction: A Mother’s Love

The cop wasn’t interrogating me, exactly. I wasn’t under arrest. Hell, I’d called them. He just wanted me to tell him everything I remembered about those doll heads.

“I own a small shop down by the river, in the heart of old town. I inherited it from my great grandmother. I sell… oddities. Mostly old hand-crafted items, from another era.”

The cop nodded. “Bessie’s Trunk.”

“I get locals in search of things unique or spooky, even the occult. But mostly tourists looking for a souvenir, something unusual they can’t get at the airport gift shop.”

I paused, gathering my thoughts.

“A man came into the shop last week. He was old, maybe mid-70s. He looked sad. No, more than sad. Beaten down. Haunted.”

I took a sip from the bottle of water they’d given me.

“David Sommers,” the cop said.

“Didn’t give his name. He was carrying an old drawstring cloth sack, the kind children used to keep wooden blocks in. He said his wife had died and he was seeing to her last wishes. She made him promise he’d bring the bag to Old Bess — that’s what people called Gran — that she’d know what to do with it.

“I told him Bessie had been gone for two years and I owned the place now. He stared at me for a long moment. Then he said, ‘So it falls to you. You’ll do.'”

“Those were his words?”

“It was an odd thing to say. He opened the bag and tilted it toward me and inside– ” I drew a shaky breath. “Inside were doll heads. Old white china doll heads. Each with delicately formed mouth and nose and ears. And empty dark spaces for eyes.”

I shuddered as a chill raced up my spine and into my scalp. My throat was dry and I desperately wanted another sip of water but my hands fumbled with the cap. I wrapped them around the bottle to still the trembling.

“He said, ‘These belonged to our daughter. She was a good girl, our Lucy. Didn’t take much to people. But she was one to collect things. After she lost the baby.’ He glanced around as if seeing the shop for the first time and said, ‘She’d’ve liked this place.’ When he looked back at me, he eyes seemed to hold the pain of a thousand losses.”

I hesitated, remembering that unguarded moment of grief.

The cop was relentless. “And then?”

“He told me Lucy called them her babies. And how she made her mother promise to never throw them away. To always keep them together, like a family. I wanted to ask what happened to Lucy, but decided I didn’t want to know.”

I finally got the damn top screwed off the bottle but then twisted it right back on again. Tight.

“Then he pulled the drawstring closed and tied it with a fancy knot that made me think he’d been in the Navy, gave me a hard look and said, ‘I know you won’t break that promise either.’ Then he turned and walked out, leaving the bag on my counter.”

“The Navy?”

“My dad used to make knots like that.”

The cop grunted. “You kept them.”

“Some of my regulars are crafters, always looking for raw materials. As creepy as they were with their sealed lips and dead eyes — I figured they’d sell. I cleared a space on an old roll-top desk and arranged them in a pile on top of the cloth bag. I priced them as a group.”

“How many?”

“What?”

“The heads. How many were there?”

Too many. “Thirteen.”

The cop scribbled a note before he said, “Someone bought them.”

This was the hard part. The part I didn’t want to think about.

“A woman came in two days ago. I watched her because she was carrying several bags. She didn’t respond to my casual greeting, just started wandering through the shop, her eyes not really focused on any one thing. Until she got near the old roll-top.”

This time I did manage a gulp of water before I resumed twisting the cap.

“She gave a startled cry, like she was in pain, and dropped all her bags. She rushed over and stretched trembling hands out toward the doll heads and said, ‘My babies! Oh, my babies.’ And she began to weep.”

I wasn’t sure I could finish this. The cop shifted uncomfortably. “Please. It’s important.”

“By the time I got to her, the woman was holding the cloth bag and gently placing the heads into it, softly murmuring to them. I asked whether she was all right. She turned with a look of such rage on her face that I took a step back. She screamed, ‘These are MY BABIES!’ Then she picked up one of the other bags and threw it at me and said, ‘Take these. They’re all WRONG.’ Then grabbed her other bags and ran out of the shop.”

“What was in the bag?”

“Doll heads. Modern plastic ones. With– ” My hands clenched, crumpled the bottle. “With black marker scribbled on the faces.”

“You never saw her again?”

“Not until this morning. The picture in the paper.”

Under the headline: SUSPECT IN COLD CASE MURDERS RELEASED FROM OAKHILL

“She killed babies? And they released her?”

He answered reluctantly. “The father was told Lucy died years ago. When the mother died, the support payments stopped. She used assumed names. Oakhill had no other contacts. Their police inquiry was… delayed. They released her.” He paused. “You sure there were 13?”

“Why?”

His phone rang. He answered, listened intently. “Good work.”

He hung up and said, “We believe Lucy killed 15 infants before the mother institutionalized her. She came back, looking for the other two heads.”

“Came back? To my shop?”

“Our guys just picked her up.”

“Oh, thank– ”

He interrupted. “Odd thing, though.”

I waited, tense with dread.

“Those other heads? They’re still missing.”

And inside my head, something screamed.

10 Comments

Filed under just for fun

10 responses to “Flash Fiction: A Mother’s Love

  1. Very creepy!!! Good job!

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  2. Thanks, Lindsay! I just read yours and it was waaay creepier. [shudder]

    If anyone hasn’t read hers yet, please do so. I don’t want to be the only one losing sleep…

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  3. jenb

    Great job, as usual. I felt like I was standing near you(in the shop) just listening to you telling the cop the story. Interesting the twist of the father not knowing the truth of his daughters life. I’m looking forward to the next one!!!

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  4. Wow, very creepy idea. I especially like how the two heads at the end are still missing… An observation: the story felt a little distant. The reader knows nothing happens to the shop owner because he is telling the story after the fact. It removes suspense and makes the story “safe.” I suggest taking out the policeman and writing the story as it unfolds, just to see the difference 🙂

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  5. Thanks, Jen! These are fun to write and I learn something from each of them — mostly that it’s extremely difficult to do something like this when you’ve got a word limit.

    Angela, I absolutely agree that the story lacks suspense and feels safe. LOL. Probably because I don’t like scary stories and I didn’t want to go there. It certainly lacks conflict. We see the shop owner is nervous, possibly scared, but we don’t know why. The reader needs to know why they should care, what they should be afraid of and, rather than provide that, I relied on the fact that those doll heads are just plain spooky. And that’s not specific enough. I also didn’t do a good job with the evasive answers — the cop’s point of view would have picked up on those as probable lies and wondered why. In fact, I’m considering re-writing it from his POV. Except there’s that ms I’m supposed to be finishing up . . .

    Thanks for the feedback!

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  6. Nice job. You fit a lot into 1000 words. Even though you didn’t write it, I can imagine a young woman losing her baby and going crazy, then handling these dolls. Good creepy vibe.

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  7. McB

    Excellent. Maybe not spooky, exactly, but definitely suspenseful. I could see the woman in my head, nerves tightly wound, and the cop, watchful but not unsympathetic.

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  8. McB, I’m glad you thought it was suspenseful and saw the woman as nervous and not just weird. That was hard to convey.

    Leo, I think part of the problem is I was trying to fit in too much! But yes, that impression of a young woman losing her baby (and her sanity) is exactly what I was trying to depict, without actually saying it. And in my mind, her killing the babies was an attempt to find her own. Collecting a doll head for each one was a twisted way of counting coup — not as a victory, but as a failure.

    I really needed another 500-750 words to make this thing work the way I had it in my head.

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  9. Hmm . . a baby killer . . yes, that’s creepy! And I’d read it again if you added another 550 – 750 words. (I love “creepy.”)

    These flash fiction challenges are fun, I do most of Wendig’s. My blog has turned into a flash fiction showcase. 🙂

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  10. Thanks for stopping by, CM! I don’t think I’m going to re-write this one — not sure I want to know how much creepier I could make it. [nightmares] I’m totally chickening out of reading most the other entries on this one. Yes, I’m a wimp.

    And I’m trying very hard NOT to turn my blog into a flash fiction site. But they are fun. After writing blog posts for almost five years [gasp!], it’s nice to have someone else tell you what to write instead of having to come up with topics on your own.

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