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.”
“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.”
“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?”
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.