Robyn Lake glanced over her shoulder to her six year old daughter Brena. She sat quietly with her eyes looking out the window at the passing neighborhoods in the town of Applewood. Brena looked happy but tired after a day of play with her grandmother, who still had the energy of a thirty year old. She wondered what her daughter was thinking, or imagining, or wondered if she just admiring the small town scenery before they got up on the highway headed for home.
“Have I told you lately that you’re a cutie?” Robyn asked, mostly to see if Brena was even in the car.
Brena turned to her mother and grinned. “Thanks mom!”
“You never say that to me anymore.” Cage grumped, eying the neighborhood roads for small handwritten signs—garage sale signs. The season for them was coming to an end but there were always a few, even in late October.
Robyn rolled her eyes. “We’re married. I don’t have to say that to you anymore.”
“Oh really?” Cage chuckled. “If you really want to go that way, I don’t have to fix your apple anymore.”
Fix your apple was their phrase for “moving the furniture”. She forgot how that particular term came about, but that was a small and insignificant detail. To her it was cute. That caught Brena’s attention for all of about three seconds before she went back to the scenery.
“Yes you do.” She said. “Marital obligations.”
Cage snorted. “So you think.”
At an intersection Cage caught sight of a small sign staked into the ground: GARAGE SALE, it said in all black lettering with an arrow pointing down Applewood Lane. Robyn spied it a second later and knew exactly what was going to come out of her husband’s mouth. He wanted to go and see if they had any furniture for sale. His hobby was the restoration and resale of old furniture.
He glanced over again. “You know exactly what I’m about ask.”
“I do,” She smiled and nodded when in reality all she wanted to do was get home, grandma had even warn her out. But winter was on its way and the portion of the garage allotted to Cage’s furniture business was almost empty. If he didn’t find anything soon, there was a chance he wouldn’t find much of anything until spring. Then, in the middle of winter, he would become listless, clingy, and downright annoying. “Why not?”
Even Brena knew what was happening when she saw the handwritten sign.
Robyn twisted around to Brena. “Your father is a closet-shopper.”
Brena had no idea what that meant but it sounded funny, like fixing an apple. She giggled.
Cage turned onto Applewood Lane and instantly spied the house in question. Even from the end of the street they could see most of the items for sale was pieces of furniture. As they approached, his eye caught a set of dresser drawers sitting on the lawn just off the driveway. Those usually sold the best, them and coffee tables.
Robyn noted the proprietor right away: an ancient looking man wearing a white golf shirt, a pair of freshly ironed khakis and sandals. His face looked like a mash of wrinkles which somehow managed to come together to form a face. She couldn’t see them, but she could imagine hundreds of liver spots dotting his skin.
Cage slowed down and pulled the car close enough for the tires to give the curb a little kiss. Robyn saw the old man glance over and smile; even from there she could see his teeth were yellowed from decades of smoking and coffee. He raised his hand in greeting and set it back down on a plastic lawn chair that looked about as comfortable as a bed of nails. She tried to stifle a not-so-nice inner thought and failed. At that age anything must be comfortable.
After killing the engine, Cage pretty much threw himself out of the driver’s seat onto the sidewalk. He was the proverbial kid in a candy store. He darted here and there, drooling after seeing that all of the furniture was old and in dire need of a sanding and varnishing. But there were other items as well. He went to the dresser, looked it over and wanted it. Experience told him it was also from the early part of the 1900s, which meant it was handmade. All in all, it could easily be returned to its original pristine condition. That one piece, Cage thought, would definitely sell for somewhere around a thousand dollars, if not a lot more.
Robyn and Brena took a little more time getting out. Brena was interested in the other things the man was selling, wondering if he had any toys from his children or grandchildren. Robyn was not interested at all. She was content to browse and see what kind of things the old man had accumulated over the centuries. One tell a lot about a man by what he threw out.
The old man pulled himself up out of his lawn chair with ease, eyed Cage as he went from one piece of furniture to the next with a little child-like grin. He barely glanced to Brena before turning to her mother.
“Good afternoon for a garage sale, don’t you think?” He said with a sneer of a smile. “One of the last, I would say.”
“Indeed.” Robyn replied. “It seems you have quite a lot of stuff you want to get rid of.”
The elderly man nodded solemnly, looking around his yard. “There is, yes. I’m not so young anymore and I don’t need all of this. Plus, I’m moving out of the town and want to get rid of as much as I can.”
“I’m sure my husband would buy all of your furniture if I’d let him.” She grinned and shot the back of Cage’s head a side-long glance. “He likes to restore old furniture.”
The elderly man nodded, obviously disinterested in the topic. He stuck out his wrinkled skin-over-bone hand out. “Leland Jhara.”
She saw the hand and almost forgot what to do with it, partly because she did not want to touch it. A crazy image flashed behind her eyes: she took the hand, pumped it once and broke every bone. But when she took it, Leland pumped thrice with a very strong grip.
He grinned, looking into her pale blue eyes. “Such a lovely name, and of course a lovely bird. How old is your daughter, Robyn?”
“Six.” She said finding herself not wanting to answer any of Leland’s questions, especially any regarding her daughter.
“Don’t let her out of your sight, Robyn. Not in Applewood and not for a second.” Leland stated. His voice sounded cold. “Been some nasty kidnappings as of late. Think they got the guy but the police‘re being tight lipped.”
She heard about it from her mother. “I heard about that. Such a tragedy.”
“Mom!” Brena exclaimed. “Mommy!”
Both Robyn and Leland turned to Brena as she rushed over holding some kind of doll. It was as big as the Raggedy Anne the doll she had as a child, made of cloth and had two shiny black half-marbles for eyes, a button nose and a smile made from black stitching. She wore a red dress and what seemed like black gloves hiding her fingerless hands. Her feet were dressed in black cloth shoes. All in all, Robyn found the doll rather creepy. It looked fine, especially to a six year old, but not to her.
“Can I have it? Can I?” She asked, beaming a questioning smile up at Robyn.
“Well, hun, let us see how much Leland wants for it.” She said and glanced at Leland.
Leland’s smile went wide, now looking like an atrocious scream. “Well, let us make a deal shall we? If your husband decides to buy a piece of furniture I’ll give it to you for free. If not? Five bucks.”
Robyn didn’t think it was worth five, in fact she didn’t think the doll was worth anything but a trip to the garbage. She didn’t like the eyes. Something about them put her ill at ease, as if looking in them reflected back something a little distorted and unholy.
“If dad buys something—” She was sure he would by the way he was ogling every piece of furniture. She wanted to say ‘no,’ but then she would look like the bad parent because she wouldn’t want to explain why, and that would make her look crazy. “—you can have it.”
Brena beamed brightly, hoping Dad picked something out for himself. “Does she have a name?”
“I’m glad you asked, little Brena!” Leland grinned. “Her name is Maheen. Maheen the Old.”
As soon as Leland addressed Brena by name Robyn’s thoughts went to whether she had given her name. She didn’t think so, not to him at least. Robyn figured she must have said it after they left the car. She felt silly being this cautious around Leland, but her instincts told her something about him was not quite right.
Brena tilted her head. “Why is she Maheen the Old?”
“Because she’s old!” Leland chuckled. “She’s even older than me!”
Could anyone be older than you? Robyn wondered.
“How old is she?” Brena asked wide-eyed and genuinely curious.
Leland shrugged. “I don’t really know, young missus Brena. She was made long before I came to this lovely little planet.”
Cage stepped up looking ready to burst, glancing from Leland to Robyn and back.
Leland winked at Brena and gave his attention to Cage. “Found something you like?”
“I did! I really would like to purchase that set of drawers over there—” He pointed. “—but I can’t take it tonight. I was wondering if you could hold it overnight for me. I can bring a truck tomorrow and take it off your hands.”
Leland thought about it for a moment and nodded. “I’ll do you one better: if you bring seven hundred tomorrow I’ll give you all the furniture. I doubt I’d sell half of it before I have to go and since Robyn, here, says you’re a fixer-upper of old things I’d rather see it go to you.”
Cage tried to conceal his excitement and failed. He nodded and turned to Robyn looking at her for permission. The seven hundred dollars going out would be nothing compared to the money this mother-load could bring in. Robyn saw the look on his face and conceded to his unspoken thought. Even as excited as he was, Robyn knew him well enough to know that the deal was better for them than it was for Leland. A lot better. She couldn’t remember a time when he lost money on a deal.
She feigned thinking about it, realizing she could use this as blackmail against him for extra chores. “We’ll discuss the fine print later, but yes.”
“Excellent!” Leland grinned. “I’ll be home all day tomorrow. You can pop by at any time. I’ll have my grandkids put everything in the garage jus’ in case it rains.”
It was done. The mother-load of old furniture had been sold, and after a few more minutes of talking with Leland, mostly about the lore of the furniture, the Lake’s piled back into their Lexus and started for home. None more excited to be away from there than Robyn.
As promised, Leland gave Brena the old doll named Maheen the Old.
Oh how Cage had suffered: forced to make dinner and do the dishes; let Robyn have a couple hours of alone time to play World of Warcraft while he took care of Brena; and fixed her apple until her legs were boneless and satisfied enough to collapse onto the bed as a sweating, exhausted, heap. She slept until nearly two A.M when she woke up thirsty enough to warrant a trip downstairs for a glass of something refreshing and cold.
The lights in the kitchen went on after a moment of fumbling around feeling for the switch. She winced and blinked the blindness out of her eyes, trotted over to the fridge, opened the door and took stock: Apple juice, milk, clean and agonizingly cold water from a Brita jug, and beer in the back of the fridge. She decided on a cold glass of milk, grabbed the plastic four liter jug and set it on the counter.
Something out of place grabbed her attention from the corner of her eye. Looking over to the counter at the edge of the kitchen she noticed Maheen sitting with her back pressed against the half-wall looking at her.
OooooOOOOOoooo you dirty girl! I know what you did! Her black glassy eyes seemed to say, as if the doll knew what happened upstairs after Brena was asleep.
“You just wish you could be dirty like me.” Robyn grinned sipping her milk.
Brena brought Maheen everywhere except school because she didn’t want her friends to be jealous. Brena loved Maheen and wanted to keep her all to herself. No sharing. No lending. No ogling from the other girls. Brena would not have any of that. She would share most anything else, but not Maheen. But Robyn found Maheen in the most unusual places, like the laundry room on the Monday while catching up on some duties she had neglected that Saturday. She found Maheen sitting on the dryer turned towards the door leading out into the basement rumpus room.
On Tuesday, after walking Brena to the bus stop and taking some time for herself: a cup of coffee and a quick glance over the newspaper, she went into her office to check her work email and to catch up on a little paperwork before heading out to make her rounds. Last week, headquarters sent all the area managers a note stating the budgets were going to be a little less restrictive, which made her sigh in relief. The news would make the managers a happier, which in turn would make her job easier.
She sat down at her desk, turned on her aging laptop and waited for her not-so state-of-the-art computer to boot up. After a few minutes she loaded up Outlook and started filtering through the different reports and messages from store managers. Those emails not specifically for her (like office supply requests), she forwarded to the right person. The one email she didn’t want to receive was there, a message from Dan Glover, the security chief for southern Alberta. He was requesting a few daily cash-outs, and mentioned he was investigating an employee in her district for possible cigarette theft.
The process of connecting to the market’s servers was another time consuming task. She wondered, while sipping her coffee, how a multi-national, multi-billion dollar, convenience store chain couldn’t afford a decent communications platform. She swivelled in her chair, bored, and looked around the office wondering when the last time she gave it a once over with a feather duster.
She saw Maheen the Old sitting on the third shelf between Cage’s books on restoration and proper painting procedures, and her books on business management. Maheen had been angled to watch the desk, looking as if she was lording over Robyn. She shivered as she looked into the discomforting half-marble eyes, frowned and sighed, got up, grabbed the doll and stared into her distorting orbs.
Surprise! I’ve been watching you! The black orbs seemed to say with a sort of dark cute glee Robyn didn’t much care for. She could almost hear Maheen giggling.
Robyn’s face contorted, she could taste her distain for the doll in the back of her mouth—a cloying coppery taste—and threw the doll out of the office and stared at the spot on the wall where it bounced off and hit the carpet out of sight. She shivered, chilled, and rubbed her bare arms. She wanted to throw that damned thing out, hoping Brena would set her attention to some other toy and forget about Maheen.
“Should’ve said ‘no’.”
After Robyn finished searching and sending the files to Dan, she packed the laptop into her bag, slung it over her shoulder and walked out into the hallway. Maheen was there, sitting upright against the far wall, staring forward. That must have been some lucky throw, she snorted. But there was a moment, insignificantly short, where she thought the doll might have righted herself all on her own.
She scooped it up on her way down the hall, set it down on the kitchen counter where it had been the night they had their dirty girl moment, and stopped. Robyn thought Maheen’s eyes had changed, become a little more dark and baleful. OoooOOOOooo you mean dirty girl! You threw me against the wall! MEANIE!
At nine-thirty that night Robyn received a call at home from one of her stores by a frantic Assistant Manager in panic. His store had been robbed. She had to go to the store, meet with the manager, close it up once the police were done, and take a precise inventory of product and money the thief had taken.
She did not make it home until quarter after three that morning, had a quick nap until six-thirty and started her day: breakfast with Cage and saw him off to work, got Brena up and ready at seven-thirty, fed her, and got her out the door at eight-thirty. A few cups of coffee and a quick read of the newspaper followed by ensuing paperwork until she thought she might just pass out.
Whether she liked it or not, a decision had been made for her: she needed a nap. She set her company cellphone to go directly to voicemail, and her alarm for two o’clock—three hours would do her just fine—and fell asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Robyn sat in the living room watching television, but couldn’t quite figure out what was happening. Both the audio and video seemed to be playing gibberish. Looking around the living room netted her a queer feeling. She realized the furniture was different and so was the pictures, except for one: a nice family photo taken at Sears last winter. Brena wore a cute light pink dress. Still, she felt relaxed and at home. Slowly it dawned on her why the furniture was recognizable: it was the same furniture Cage bought from Leland. Here, now, all the furniture had been restored to their original state, if not better than new. Cage’s doing no doubt.
She heard a sound from her left, glanced over and peered through an archway into a vastly elongated kitchen, no less than twenty feet from one end to the other. Tilting her head, she listened closely and finally recognized what the sound was: the exaggerated sound of chewing.
Om nom nom.
The comical sound made her think of Warcraft. She thought of the Horde’s home city of Ogrimmar, and in the middle of the city’s entrance was the Cookie Monster in all his blue googly-eyed glory. She imagined him stuffing bunches of cookies into his black maw, ten or twelve at a time, chomping down and sending cookie fragments everywhere like shrapnel. Orcs, gnomes, blood elves—the whole gambit of fictitious races—surrounded Sesame Street’s blue monster begging for crumbs.
“Please sir, may I have s’more?” She giggled quietly.
The image of the cookie monster and Ogrimmar vanished, but the om nom nom didn’t. She eyed the impossible kitchen behind an archway, and settled her gaze onto the closest counter. It held a great deal of odds and ends, most of them fuzzy as if seen through an out of focus camera. On the far side of the kitchen sat a small island with a black glassy square surface. The top reminded her of Maheen’s eyes; on the counter she noted a white square of paper with colorful lines—a drawing. She was too far to make out what the picture was.
Robyn walked under the arch out of the living room into the long kitchen. A strange realization struck her: the kitchen was shaped like a thermometer. The sound became clear and crisp, between each NOM she heard crunching. She was curious as to what the sound was and where it came from, and walked towards the island.
She saw the picture and stopped. It was a depiction of Maheen, crudely drawn by a young child’s hand, wearing her red dress with her black gloves covering hands and her black booties, even her hair, matching her jet black eyes, had been depicted crudely but perfectly. Except in the picture she had a real mouth, a big mouth, and a grin that went from ear-to-ear showing massive teeth drawn as crude triangles. Above the picture, scribbled in a child’s unsteady handwriting, was the word TEEF.
The picture startled her something terrible. It was the teeth.
Her feet started pulling her towards the island.
The crunching sound became less comical and more real. Her heart started thumping against the inside of its cage. Her hands felt clammy. She tried to stop her ascent towards the island, but her feet had their own agenda. She tried grabbing onto one of the faded and useless items on the long counter only to watch them puff away in a tiny mystical puff of smoke.
Her feet moved her into the spherical part of the kitchen. The sound came from behind the the island, now only a few short steps away. Robyn tried one last time to stopping her continuous move forward by trying to throw herself backwards. Her feet defied her and stayed clamped to the ground.
She closed her eyes.
Her feet stopped and turned her around. Her neck suddenly tilted down and her eyes opened up, all on their own accord. Maheen lay on Brena’s stomach with her face buried in the bloody and broken chest of her daughter. Brena’s ribcage was ripped open, the ribs cracked upwards until the bones looked like shattered teeth laced with blood and spiked with dark gore. Her stomach was ripped open, her blood-streaked white intestines spread out on her groin like a snake of uncut sausages. Her eyes were wide open and staring straight sightlessly up at the kitchen ceiling, dead, and her mouth was contorted and forever in a grimace of sheer agony.
Brena lay in a pool of her own blood, dark red and fresh, uncoagulated. Bits of clothing, skin, muscle, and gore splattered the tiled floor and the wooden cabinet doors. Maheen had ripped into her stomach with brutal ferocity, splattering little bits of her around like the Cookie Monster and his shrapnel.
Maheen pulled her face up from the ruined corpse of her daughter. Her black eyes grinning malevolently with her whole face covered in blood with bits of bone and other stuff stuck to her cheeks. Blood dripped off her round chin. Her mouth was open wide, grinning from ear to ear showing huge triangle teeth, real teeth carved like triangles, covered in blood.
The mouth was real. The mouth gaped open to reveal eternal darkness beyond. And in that darkness, almost beyond what Robyn could see, there was something else. Something so very small and so very horrible, so very real. Maheen’s essence, her soul.
“I HAZ TEEF!” Maheen giggled using Brena’s voice.
She sounded so proud of herself.
Robyn bolted upright in her bed screaming. Her voice echoed back at her through the empty house. She covered her mouth with a quaking hand against a wave of nausea. She could, in her mind’s eye, see exactly how Brena looked on the floor of that impossible kitchen: staring up with her terrified eyes, her mouth ravaged into a frozen expression of pure agony, her broken ribs jutting out like ogre’s teeth, and her inside sticky-bits being spread out all over the bloody floor.
She couldn’t hold her stomach down. Throwing herself off her bed, she rushed into the bathroom and managed to collapse in front of the toilet basin, barely lifted the seat before letting out an urp and sending a wave of brownish liquid splashing into the basin. She managed to lift her weak, unsteady hand and flushed. Her stomach acid, water and coffee all vanished within seconds in a swirling vortex heading out of sight, but the image of her daughter, Maheen, and all the blood remained.
Little by little her stomach resolved the knots and settled down. When her legs felt solid enough for her to move, at least to the counter, she got up and sipped fresh, cold water straight from the tap to sooth her burning throat.
Never before had a dream affected her like that, or seemed so real. Her dreams, even her nightmares, always held a certain unreal quality to them.
“Fucking doll!” She cried hoarsely, regretting it almost immediately and took another sip of cooling water from the fount.
After a few minutes she managed to stagger back to her bed, sat down and looked at the clock when another horror had taken her: she laid down not long after eleven, the alarm clock only read twelve. She laid down again wanting to wait for her legs to stop shaking before getting up.
She slept well Wednesday night and woke up refreshed and ready to go Thursday morning.
Robyn took a long, hot shower and made an extra pot of coffee. While the coffee percolated she went up to her office, eyes instantly going to the shelves filled with their books half expecting to see Maheen, thankfully she wasn’t there. She turned on the computer and went back downstairs. After getting herself a cup of coffee she went back up to the office and started work.
The assistant manager and the other clerk that had been on duty for the robbery were on paid leave for three days leaving the store severely short on employees. She made a few calls to other stores and managed to find people to cover a couple of the lost shifts. Otherwise the day was hers, unless one of the stores called with a problem. At noon she made herself a PB&J sandwich, sat down on the couch and started watching The View. Sometime during the show, Cage’s mother called and asked if she could take Brena and head over to Cyan for the weekend. Robyn agreed almost before her mother-in-law finished the question. She did not need to consult with Cage to know what he would say. As much as she loved Brena with all her heart, she could use a couple days of “adult time”.
She decided to get as much of the house cleaning done as possible today and tomorrow. The end result would be a wonderful weekend of absolute laziness, for her at least. It would be nice to have a whole afternoon to play online with her guild-mates. She hadn’t even had time to go through all of the new content since the last patch. She even felt herself excited by the prospect of grinding—gathering materials to craft helpful and needed items. She knew Cage would be in the garage fixing up and repainting Leland’s old furniture.
She pondered picking up a bottle of wine and decided to wait on that for tomorrow.
That meant lots and lots of laundry and decided to start with Brena’s. She went downstairs into the laundry room to check if there was anything in the washer or drier and stopped. Sitting on the drier was Maheen in her little red dress, her black mittens and booties, and her (toothless) stitched smile. OoOOOooo did I scare you? She asked with her spiteful, ever-smiling eyes. Robyn almost turned around and went right back upstairs, remembering the dream, growled to herself and shook her head.
Why are you letting a fucking doll scare you? She knew that, even understood that, but she couldn’t quite get passed Maheen’s eyes: those dark, cruel, shiny orbs. The orbs that seemed to whisper: I haz teef, Robyn, and if you’re a meanie I’ll show ‘em to you!
“Maybe I should toss you into the washer and dryer. Would you like that?” She asked trying to stare down the doll.
Maheen said nothing.
“Or maybe I should throw you out.” She growled. “Accidents happen to children’s toys all the time. I can just replace you—say that I put you in the wash and you unravelled because you’re old. Maheen the Old, remember?”
Maheen reserved any comment she might have had.
Robyn chuckled, laced with an edge of nervousness. “I could burry you right in the fucking back yard and no one would know. Then I could go out and buy Brena Reba the New, and you’d be forgotten.”
Maheen took her hurtful words like a trooper, silently.
The staring contest resumed in silence until Robyn sighed and broke her gaze. She shook her head, chuckling at herself for trying to threaten a doll, checked the machines (empty), scooped Maheen off the dryer and tossed her into the laundry basket unceremoniously, picked it up and walked upstairs to Brena’s room. She tossed Maheen on the bed, collected the pile of dirty clothing in the far corner of the room and left to start her chores.
The stitched smile on Maheen’s face drooped down into an angry frown. Her stuffed arm moved up over her crotch and made a very naughty up and down stroking motion.
Friday morning was fast and furious. She received a call on Thursday night from one of the managers saying his wife had been put in the hospital. That manager found someone from another store to take his place, but she could not be there until eleven in the morning. He asked if Robyn could possibly come in for the coffee rush and maybe prepare the deposit, if there was time.
Unlike the other district managers, she had no qualms about going to a store and helping out, if the situation warranted it; plus she liked that particular manager. She agreed and left the house at five thirty in the morning expecting Cage to get Brena up, dressed, fed, and out the door on time. Cage might have his head up in the clouds some times, but when it came down to being responsible, he somehow managed to pull himself back to earth.
Brena seemed exhausted when Cage woke her up. Cage also noted that Maheen had been tossed off into her ‘laundry’ corner instead of being on the bed with her like a sleeping lover.
“I noticed Maheen was on the floor. Why’d you toss her over into the corner of your room?” Cage asked as they ate their breakfast of cereal and orange juice. He could hear Robyn saying good riddance and imagined dancing her happy-dance, especially after the crazy-scary dream she had napping earlier in the week. But Robyn wasn’t Brena, and Brena loved that doll.
“She was being bad.” Brena said staring down into her cereal spending more time stabbing at it with the tip of her spoon than actually eating it.
“Oh?” He asked, curious. “How so?”
“She was saying bad things about mom and made me have a bad dream.” Brena said and burst into tears.
“Oh hun,” Cage said dropping his spoon, pushing out of his chair and went around to Brena and gave her a hug from behind. He kissed the back of her head. “It’s okay, it was just a dream.”
“But Maheen hurt mommy. Hurt her bad!” She wailed. “She made mommy die!”
Cage hugged her tighter, remembering the vivid description of the scene in Robyn’s dream. He didn’t want to ask about the dream, he didn’t want to arouse the bad images, but at the same time he did because of her mom’s dream.
“Will you tell me what the dream was about?” He asked with a hint of caution.
“Maheen was eating mommy in the kitchen!” Brena cried. “Gobbling her all up with her teeth. She called them teef!”
It took a lot of strength not to dig his fingers into Brena’s stomach. That was exactly how Robyn had described the dream to him, only the roles were reversed. It was creepy, bordering on supernatural. He liked the supernatural but this was…this was too real. Mother and daughter having primarily the same dream was not natural. He didn’t think it was possible, except maybe in twins. Gobbled her all up with her teef, he thought. Splattered on the kitchen floor like a dropped cake, was how Robyn described seeing Brena lying dead and half-eaten.
“Do you want me to get rid of her?” He asked.
Brena nodded and looked at her father with an expression of guilt. “She’s old and mean. She shouldn’t be here anymore.”
He hugged her tight in his strong fatherly arms. Never before had she said something so…final. He nodded and kissed the back of her head again. He was definitely going to throw the damned thing away, but not right at that moment. Time was short and the school bus would be at the stop in twenty minutes. “I’ll get rid of her. She won’t be giving you any more nightmares.”
She was done with breakfast and excused herself. Cage allowed her, finished his breakfast up quickly and poured her mostly uneaten bowl down the sink. The flakes had time to soak turning them from tiny dry things to larger, almost grotesque, shapes. He rinsed out the bowls and left them in the sink instead of cleaning them by hand and putting them back in the cupboard. He thought Brena might get hungry around recess and packed her a snack bag with a couple of peanut butter bars and an apple, along with her lunch. When she came back downstairs to head out, Cage made sure she took the extra snack. She took it without complaint, doubting she was going to need it, and together they headed out to the bus stop.
After the bus came and picked her up, Cage went to Brena’s bedroom and found Maheen lying on the bed against Brena’s pillow looking straight up at the ceiling, not in the corner where he saw her last. He picked Maheen up and studied her face trying to see what Robyn saw in its marble eyes, but there was nothing. The eyes were just emotionless half-marbles. They didn’t have the slightest look of malevolence or life for that matter. It was just a doll. But Brena wanted it out of the house and so it would be. He left the room, grabbed his bag from the office and headed out the front door.
He lifted the garbage can lid and dropped Maheen into the stinky hole without a word.
He was looking at his computer screen when it hit him, something Brena said at breakfast.
She was saying bad things about mom and it made me have a bad dream.
He turned away from the screen to the view of the Rockies far in the distance. There was something important about that. It itched at the forefront of his mind; whatever it was, it didn’t want to come out.
Then it did.
“She had said stuff and…” He whispered. His voice trailed off.
She had said stuff and…
Maheen had spoken...
“Maheen spoke to Brena.”
He swallowed hard, drew in a deep breath and shook his head. “I threw her out. It’s done. Problem solved.”
After finishing up at the store Robyn came home and started her normal routine: checked her email and responded, and went to visit a couple managers she had regular scheduled meetings with. All the while she pondered what her and Cage could do for a romantic first night. She thought about making a reservation at a restaurant and then scrapped the idea, something about getting all dressed up made the idea seem too much like work. Movie night? That sounded just fine, but what to do about dinner? The answer came as she drove passed a Chinese restaurant.
Cage walked through the door at five-twenty and caught the smell of Chinese immediately. He set his bag down at the entrance, slipped out of his shoes and peeked into the empty living room. There he spied his Xbox controller sitting out on the coffee table along with something about the size of a business card beside it. Had someone been here that played video games? Robyn played World of Warcraft but that was all, none of the console games managed to keep her attention for long. Curiously he approached the table and noted NetFlix printed across the top and understood: she must have subscribed to the service and set up the console.
“You’re just a bit early.” Robyn called from the dining room.
He looked over and smiled. The table had been set up with candles, two wine glasses and a bottle of red, two plates and half dozen Chinese take-out containers. Robyn was scooping the food items from the various containers onto the plates. He remembered this exact scene from when they started dating, back when a romantic and cost effective date was take-out, candles and a bottle of wine followed up by watching a couple movies cuddled on the couch.
“I’m sorry. I can leave if you want.” He said playfully.
“Or you can go upstairs and change into something a little more comfortable.” She replied.
“I could do that.”
That is exactly what he did. When he came back down the lights were dimmed, the table was set and the wine poured. The whole house had a beautiful romantic silence to it, a perfect end to a tiring week. He joined Robyn at the table, drew in a deep content breath and let it out slowly.
“You’re such a sweetheart.” He whispered looking across the table to Robyn, who had changed from her work cloths to a simple pink shirt that hugged all the appropriate areas, and a pair of jeans.
“Tired sweetheart.” She smiled. “I was hoping you might forgo the garage for tonight and maybe curl up with me on the couch and watch some movies.”
Cage stabbed at his thin noodles. “It would be my pleasure.”
They ate their food and drank the wine and talked about their day. Without going into much detail, Robyn explained how much of a joke the store she helped out at had become. Cage did not have much to say about his day other than it had been full of reports that had to be read and signed-off on.
She had gone out to Safeway for the ingredients for desert: strawberries drenched under an unhealthy layer of whipped cream. When dinner was over, she got up and fetched the sensual desert from the fridge, barely giving Maheen a second glance as she passed the queer doll sitting like a fuzzy statue on the counter. While she did that, Cage tried to think what he could do for her tomorrow.
“Oh, now, a dessert almost as sexy as you.” Cage winked as she set the glass of white and red down in front of him. Robyn snickered and sat down with a blush barely visible under the candle light.
“Flattery will get you everywhere.” She said sticking her spoon into the velvety mess, scooping out a strawberry with a healthy dose of whipped cream. Real whipped cream, nothing but the best tonight. “Oh, I forgot to ask, did Brena give you any trouble getting up this morning?”
Cage paused, completely forgetting about the morning and the subsequent realization in the afternoon. He scooped a strawberry out from the glass bowl. “She had a nightmare last night about Maheen and asked if I would get rid of her, so I threw her out.”
He was purposely vague, there was no sense troubling Robyn with the details, especially after such a wonderful dinner. Robyn stopped in mid scoop, pulled her spoon out of the white and red messy goop and licked it clean.
“Well, you forgot one simple thing.” Robyn said.
“Oh?” He asked.
“You didn’t throw Maheen out.”
“Yes I did.”
Robyn shook her head, stabbed her spoon back into the desert and brought out her prize. “No, you didn’t. Our dear friend Maheen is currently sitting on the counter in the kitchen. Has been since I got home.”
Cage’s smile vanished. He set the spoon down on the table, pushed his chair away from the table, got up and went for the kitchen. She furrowed her brow and turned around.
“You can always just throw him out after dinner, hun.” She said.
He stopped in the kitchen and looked around. He saw a whole bunch of appliances, cutlery and cooking tools, but no doll.
He turned and frowned at her. “That’s not funny.”
“What’s not funny?” She asked, actually the way he was acting was kind of amusing. “You were in a hurry and you thought you threw her out so what? Come and sit back down, we’ll dispose of her after.”
Cage stared at her for a moment, blinked and looked around the kitchen again. He knew, without doubt, he had thrown the Maheen into the trash, but Robyn also believed that Maheen had been sitting on the counter. Was she messing with him, or was his memory messing with him?
“Robyn, she’s not here.”
Robyn let out a frustrated sigh not wanting to play his games. After a long week of work, after going to all this trouble to set up a good night for the both of them, he was trying to ruin it. She licked her spoon, dropped it onto the table, got up out of her chair and looked straight into the dimness of the kitchen. Even from there she could see that Maheen was not there. Her shape should have blotted out the container holding the pasta cooking utensils.
“Okay this is not funny. I don’t like her and you know that.” Robyn said. “I don’t want to play this game, Cage.”
“You’re the one who said she was in the kitchen when I know I threw her out this morning.” Cage stated with an edge of annoyance.
“Go check the bloody garbage can then!” Her voice raised and threatened a growl. “I bet you’ll find she’s not there!”
Cage nodded and walked to the front door. If anyone was playing games it’s you Robyn, he thought slipping into his shoes. The day had grown weary, autumn darkening the sky earlier and earlier each day. The bin was where it had been this morning, and when he opened the lid he found the same two garbage bags he dropped Maheen onto.
The doll was gone.
Inside, Robyn eyed the front door wondering why Cage would play such stupid and cruel game. She wouldn’t be mad if he just admitted he forgot to throw the doll out. She drew in a heavy, unstable, breath. She hated that doll ever since the dream she felt a trifle of nervousness, even a little bit of fear. But she didn’t want this argument to get the best of a quiet and romantic evening.
“You won’t say anything inflammatory when he comes in.” She whispered turning back to the table to continue devouring her wonderful desert. “You’ll just drop the—”
Maheen was sitting on the table under the tri-pronged candle holder in the middle of the table, her against it with her black hateful eyes reflecting the candlelight and an angry stitched sneer. OooooOOOOoooo you BITCH! You MEAN DIRTY bitch! You made him throw me out didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU?
Robyn screamed and pushed herself out of the seat, almost knocking the chair down with her in it. She staggered back and Cage crashed through the front door. He saw Robyn facing the dinner table with her hands over her mouth. He looked at the table. Maheen was sitting against the candle stick. Anger washed into his stomach—what the hell kind of game was she playing—until he saw that Maheen’s gleeful smile was no longer there. It had been replaced by an angry sneer.
(Maheen had spoken...)
“Jesus.” He whispered.
Robyn turned to Cage wide eyed and terrified. “I didn’t put her there! I swear I didn’t put her there!”
Cage nodded. “I know.”
“Look at her mouth.” She whispered. “Look at her mouth…she’s not smiling!”
“I did throw her out. She talked to Brena.” He whispered, that was for him and him alone. It was a simple truth. Simply, Cage nodded. “I threw her out and she was on the kitchen counter. I think—”
“But she’s been on the counter until now!” Robyn yelled, terrified and confused. “Why don’t you believe me?”
Cage nodded again, still staring at the doll. What else could he do? “I do believe you. I threw her out and…she got out.”
“How?” Robyn shrieked.
“I don’t know. Come to me.”
Robyn kept her eyes locked on Maheen as she moved to the side, maneuvering herself to the living room entrance and darted over. Cage grabbed her and gave her a fierce hug, taking his eyes off the doll for only a second. He heard the sound of silverware being knocked around and looked back.
Maheen was flying through the air directly for the back of Robyn’s neck. His arms reacted on their own and threw her to the side. She uttered surprised cry and hit the back of the couch. Maheen came straight at his chest, mouth was open showing exaggerated triangles, her teeth. Teeth made of fabric with pure black behind them. She bounced off and fell to the hardwood floor, limp. Her marble eyes made two tinks as they hit. She bounced once, flipped onto her back and stared up at the ceiling.
He stared down at Maheen, her terrible black eyes looking up at him. Her mouth taking up over half her face with two huge triangular fangs facing up, two more facing down with smaller triangular teeth between them. She finally talked to him through her eyes: OOOOO! THAT WAS CLOSE! BUT I HAZ TEEF AND I’M GOING TO EEET YOU! GOBBLE YOU ALL UP!
Robyn pushed herself from the sofa, swiped Maheen off the floor and ran for the wall between the living room and the kitchen. She slammed the doll up against the wall three times before crushing it at eye level, stared at it. Hissing for breath with her bared and clenched teeth. “Leave us alone!”
Maheen had nothing to say, her eyes told all: GOBBLE YOU UP WIFF MAH TEEF! I’MA FIND BRENA AND GOOBLE HER UP TOO!
“Fuck you!” Robyn screamed in fury and flung Maheen right.
Cage, scared out of his mind, tried to follow the doll and failed. It vanished from sight somewhere near the entertainment center. He rushed around the couch to the entertainment center looking for Maheen.
She was gone.
“Stay there!” Cage cried and leaped over the couch just in time. For a brief moment—not even a second—Robyn saw the doll’s leg move from under an end table, but saw it sliding face-first along the floor heading to where Cage’s ankle had been. She looked inert. The moment Maheen was out of sight the sound of her eyes sliding over the hardwood stopped, after that she heard the pitter-patter of tiny fabric feet.
“She can’t move when we are looking at her!” Robyn exclaimed.
“We have to find her.” Cage muttered.
And to that Robin agreed and pointed in the general direction of the front wall. “She went that way.”
Cage nodded. “Watch my back, I’ll take the front.”
Robyn took his back and searched her half of the room, the front door and the stairs heading to the second floor. The doll could be anywhere. It might already have escaped. Cage looked around the visible area of the floor in front of him, heart pounding and praying they would find it. When he couldn’t see Maheen, he dropped to his hands and knees; while looking under furniture as best as he could, he imagined Maheen rushing out at him with her triangular teeth, her massive teef that would undoubtedly rip him apart in the blink of an eye.
“I don’t see her.” He said. And then he spied her: black beady eyes looking straight at him with all the hate in the world. “Got her! Look under the couch!”
Cage did not make a move, didn’t dare even blink, until Robyn dropped onto her stomach and looked under the couch directly at the doll.
“Got her!” Robyn triumphantly cried.
He reached in and grabbed the bitch by her head, and pulled her out.
They both stared at her. It.
“Now what?” Robyn asked.
In any other situation Cage’s thought would be funny. It came using Robyn’s voice, because she was the one who showed him the YouTube video of two people talking about dealing with a massive—utterly massive—spider on a wall. “Kill it. Kill it with fire.”
She didn’t catch the reference. “Where?”
“The barbeque.” He growled. “I’ll tell you when I need to blink, then you watch it and tell me when you need to blink. She won’t be able to get us.”
“Let’s do it. Blink now.”
They only used that method once inside the house, from the living room to the back door leading out onto the back deck. He blinked right outside the door. The sudden drop in temperature almost made Robyn tear up and blink. They both turned slowly towards the stainless steel barbeque on their left, in unison. Robyn blinked and Cage blinked at their destination.
“Okay, turn it on for me—gotta open the propane valve first.”
Robyn bent over, opened the valve, turned both burners to high and then pressed the red IGNITION button. It clicked immediately followed by the fwump of the propane exploding into fire. She opened the lid.
Nuuuuuu! Maheen’s eyes screamed.
“Oh yes.” Cage whispered. “Oh fuck yes.”
“Blink.” She blinked.
“Time to burn.” Cage muttered and threw Maheen the Old into the barbeque.
Robyn slammed the lid down and Cage held it. What worried both of them was that maybe they had blinked at the same time and the doll managed to escape, but after a moment the barbeque started shaking as something crashed against the insides of the lid. Robyn gripped the handle and helped holding it down, almost to the point where the aluminum rail bent.
Maheen the Old, or whatever they threw into the barbeque, crashed against the lid violently, never uttering so much as a scream of pain or fear. Robyn wished it did.
The thrashing lasted a few minutes when it stopped suddenly.
“Think she’s dead?” She whispered unclenching her hands and letting go. Her hands slightly ached from clenching so tightly
“I think so.” Cage said, paused and turned to Robyn. He wanted to be safe. “There is a length of chain and a lock in the garage. Go grab them for me.”
She did. He had her wrap the chain around the top twice, tightly, and clicked the lock into place.
“We’ll check in the morning.”
Neither of them slept a wink that night. Eventually Cage pulled the barbeque directly in front of the back door for them to stare at. They watched until first light, when they decided to see what was there. When they opened the lid there was nothing but ash and two small half-marble eyes covered in carbon. Robyn took them, thumbed them cleaned and stared at them. The life she had seen in them from the moment Brena brought the doll over to her and Leland was gone. Now they were just half-marbles. Just eyes of a doll.
The air was turning a little cooler, but in California the leaves were always green and Garage Sale season never ended. A young couple, with their seven year old daughter and ten year old son, saw a carefully handwritten sign on a boulevard pointing to a garage sale down the block. They decided to go and see what wares the proprietor had.
The owner of the house was in good shape for looking older than Time itself. Leland Jhara was his name and he was trying to sell everything he could before moving out of state for more relaxed pastures. Except for a doll that caught the little girl’s attention, there was nothing that the family wanted. Not even the old furniture that needed a kind, restorative, hand.
The doll had black hair, two beady eyes made from a black marble cut in half, a smile stitched to her face, a red dress stitched to her shoulders, black mittens and black booties. They bought the doll for five dollars and when the little girl asked what her name was.
Leland gave the little girl a charming smile and said: “Her name is Maheen the Old. Why? Because she is old. Even older than I am, if you can believe that.”
While in the car, the young seven year old napped, but the ten year old boy was much too busy looking out at the world around him. He did look over to the doll once, and what he saw in Maheen’s eyes scared him. Her eyes seemed to say I’m hungry.