December was their busiest month. Parents were always coming in looking at their dolls or making special requests for the Christmas holiday. Usually, Nester would send Ellie to North Charity to buy materials, but with people talking and everyone being uncomfortable around him, Ellie suggested that Nester make the trip to North Charity and even convinced him that it might be too much of a strain to take the doll with him.
With Nester gone, Ellie placed the Rosabel doll on the showroom floor with the others. She vowed that she would sell the damned thing to the first buyer.
But as the day progressed, Ellie was starting to think that selling that doll was a lost cause. Everyone who came in the shop steered clear of it, recognizing it as crazy Nester Turville’s doll. Ellie thought that maybe she should change its dress or make the hair blonde. Anything to erase the memory of crazy Nester Turville’s doll.
At mid-noon, the front door to the shop opened and the one person who could always make Ellie smile on even her darkest day came in with his wife and little girl.
“John!” Ellie gushed, striding across the room to greet her eldest son. While Junior looked exactly like Nester did when he was younger, John had Ellie’s features – her bright eyes and fair hair. “John, my John! Such a wonderful surprise to see you here!”
He hugged her tightly. “Momma.”
“And Lottie and Soubrella, too! How are you, honey?”
“We’re doing fine, Momma Ellie,” Lottie said, rubbing her outstretched belly. Lottie was about seven months along. “We were just shopping and thought we’d come in and say hi to you and Papa Nester.”
“Papa’s coach is gone,” John said, setting down Soubrella who had set to squirming in his arms. The second her feet touched the floor, the little girl took to the showroom floor admiring the different dolls. “Has he already left for North Charity?” John seemed worried.
“Well, yes. We need more materials to fill the orders.” His worry made her worry. “Why, John?”
“There’s supposed to be a storm coming through that way. Anybody with him besides George?”
“No. We didn’t hear anything about a storm…” panic seized Ellie’s heart. Not Nester, too. Not Nester.
“I’m sure everything’s fine, Momma Ellie.” Lottie switched subjects. “Wanna see the new gown John bought me? Though I don’t know how I’m ever going to fit it with this belly,” she said at the same time Junior came from the workshop.
“Finally stepping up to take the reins, little brother?” John said, ruffling Junior’s hair.
Junior slapped his brother’s hand away only half annoyed. “Someone had to since Lottie’s made an honest man out of you.”
“I hear talk of Agatha making an honest man out of you soon,” countered John.
Junior’s wars reddened, but his voice remained steady as he said, “Possibly.”
“Oh, Poppa, can I have her?” the group of four turned to see which doll Soubrella chose and a hushed silence fell over the showroom because the doll Soubrella hugged lovingly to her chest was Nester’s obsession. The Rosabel doll. The adults exchanged apprehensive glances imagining how badly Nester would react to the doll selling.
Lottie had never given Nester’s doll much thought when he brought her over for late teas. She chalked it up to his grief, but now that she could see the uncanny resemblance to little Willa, she was unnerved by the thing. The knowing eyes and the too real detail of her face – Lottie decided immediately that she hated that doll. “Brella, honey,” she said. “Wouldn’t you rather pick another doll?”
Soubrella shook her head stubbornly, her pigtails swaying with the movement. “No, Momma, I want this one.” She hugged the doll tighter.
Lottie looked to her husband desperately. “But, ducky, wouldn’t you rather have Cecilia with her long curly hair like yours?” John said, pointing to the doll across the room with the dark eyes and curly blonde hair. “Or even Lisa or Sofia? They both have their own teddy bears.”
Soubrella set the Rosabel doll down where she found her and went over to look at each of the three dolls her Poppa suggested. The Cecilia doll had the same color hair as her, but Soubrella decided she didn’t like the pouting glare of her face or the queer ribbon less bonnet she wore. She thought Sofia was a pretty doll with eyes like her Poppa’s. Her dress was cream with pink fabric trailing down from her hat. Soubrella touched the teddy bear in her arms. It was pink and white and very soft. The Lisa doll was just as pretty. Swollen cheeks and wide eyes. Silk cream ribbons adorned her hair and she wore pants like the boys. Lisa doll’s teddy bear was brown and not as soft as Sofia doll’s.
Soubrella still liked the other doll best. But then she saw another doll on the floor. She was a princess doll named Julia, with long blonde braided hair. “Oh, Poppa, she looks just like the Princess Rapunzel from the story!” Julia doll’s gown was pink and frilly covering her feet and bloomed around her legs. What Soubrella loved the most about Julia doll was her tall pink hat that had a veil attached to the tip.
“Would you like Julia instead then?”
Ellie was torn. She knew Nester would have a fit when he returned to find the doll gone, but she desperately wanted that thing out of the house and out of her sight. It might wear her sweet Willa’s face, but that doll was not their daughter.Soubrella looked at her grandmomma and looked at the two dolls. She couldn’t decide which she wanted the most. Julia doll was a princess like Rapunzel and Soubrella could rescue her from that wicked Mother Gothel. But the other doll looked just like her Aunt Willa who she missed terribly.
“I miss Aunt Willa,” Soubrella answered as honestly as a child could. “This one looks like her.”
The four adults all looked at the Rosabel doll standing by the counter. Her mien seemed to grow more coy by the minute.
Lottie sighed, knowing she could never deny her child the doll after having said that. She looked to John and he seemed to think the same.
“Are you sure?” Junior asked his mother. “Pa might not like this.”
“He adores Soubrella.” Ellie straightened her back and lifted her shoulders. She kneeled beside her granddaughter and swallowed her disdain for the Rosabel doll. “I think your aunt would be happy you have this doll. She loved all the dolls here, but this one was her favorite.”
“What’s her name?” Soubrella whispered, petting her hair.
“Since she’s yours now, why don’t you name her?” Ellie only hoped her granddaughter wouldn’t name it Willa Anne.
“Annabelle,” Soubrella immediately decided.
John insisted he pay for the doll and with a heavy heart, Ellie urged her son to get his family home before Nester returned. She watched Soubrella leave holding the doll against her chest. Ellie’s eyes lingered for a moment on the newly Christened Annabelle doll’s face and got the strange impression that the doll’s eyes burned with contempt.
As the minutes ticked away to hours, Ellie gave in to her own cowardice and abandoned her son to manage the customers coming in to The Playhouse. She went to the kitchen and began to prepare dinner, nearly cutting her fingers several times because of unsteady hands. Liver and onions, red radishes, pecan pie, and ale. Four things Nester loved the most.
Ellie was just setting the dinner on the table when she heard the thundering trample of George leading the horses and coach around the back. Ellie’s heart was fit to pound right out of her chest as she watched the kitchen door, waiting for Nester to come striding in and demanding to see his Rosabel.
Junior poked his head through the door. “Need me to stay, Momma?”
Yes. “No, you get on home.”
No sooner had Junior closed up The Playhouse did Nester come through the back door shaking off the cold with George behind him carrying in the materials from North Charity.
“It sure is cold out there!” Nester said, taking off his hat. “Everything go okay?”
Ellie plastered on her most pleasant smile. “Everything went fine.”
“And Rosabel? She didn’t give you trouble, did she?” he laughed.
“I made your favorite,” Ellie said, sidestepping the question. “George, would you like to stay for dinner?” she asked as she always did, not expecting him to say yes.
George gave the same answer. “Naw thank you, ma’am. Gots to get home tuh ma Bessie.”
“Alright then, George.”
“How was the trip?” she asked, helping Nester take off his jacket.
“It was fine. Almost got caught up in the storm on the way back.”
Ellie poured cups of ale and sat down across from Nester. “John mentioned something about that earlier.”
Nester took a bite of liver. “John came by, did he?”
“Yes,” her voice quivered imperceptibly. “Brought Lottie and Soubrella, too. You should see Lottie, Nester. She’ll be ready to drop any day.”
“You know, now that you mention it, you think it’s time I made one of Soubrella?”
“Oh, yes I do!” Ellie was more than pleased with where Nester’s thoughts seemed to be. “You could present it to her on her birthday.”
“Aw, hell, I could probably have her doll done by Christmas or early January at least.” Nester took a hearty gulp of his ale and Ellie poured him another. To her credit, her hand didn’t tremble. “There was something I’ve been working on I wanted to show you.”
“What is it?”
“Come and see.”
“Right this minute?” Ellie’s heart began to beat at a frantic pace. She hoped he wouldn’t want to go in the showroom.
Nester led Ellie to the workshop, to her great relief. His excitement was apparent. Nester went under the table and pulled out a tented sheet covered board. He set the board on the table and whipped off the sheet.
“Oh, Nester,” was all she could say.
He had created a detailed bust of Ellie. The bust was white and wore a gray coiffed cap with strings of elegant white pearls attached. The cheeks were pink rouged and the eyes were the exact shade of hazel gray as Ellie’s were. Why it looks exactly like me when the servants still called me ‘young miss’! Her beauty was forever immortalized in smooth ivory.
“Do you like it?” he asked, his voice sounding unbelievably vulnerable to her ears.
“I love it, Nester!” she hugged him tightly and showered him with her kisses.
“Yeah, I think she’ll fit perfect in the showroom window.” Nester rocked back on his heels glowing with pride for having made his wife so happy. “Let me go clear some room for her now.”
Ellie’s attentions solely on the intricate details of the bust’s face and elegant neck allowed Nester to enter the showroom undeterred before she could fully register his words. Nester came back in and as their eyes met, Ellie thought she had never seen a more frightening sight than her husband in that moment.
“Ellie, where’s Rosabel?”
Try as she might, Ellie could not withhold her look of fear from Nester. Not even when she was left with no choice but to confess her infidelity did she harbor such fear.
“I left her in the workshop. But sometimes she gets restless. Where is she?”
Ellie lifted her chin and spoke evenly. “The Rosabel doll has been sold.”
“Yes. She was out on the showroom floor and –”
But Nester strode across the floor with a speed that startled her into silence. He seized Ellie’s upper arms in a harsh grip, lifting her clear off the floor so that her feet dangled.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” he yelled, his spittle spraying her face. The sweet scent of pecan pie lingered on his breath. “You had no right to sell her!”
“I had every right!” Ellie yelled back, months of building frustration finally unleashed. “That wretched thing was driving you up the wall, Nester! Everyone could see it except you! How long do you think it would’ve been before they locked you in a madhouse?”
Nester tore away from his wife, turning his back to her. “You’ll never understand what you’ve done tonight, Ellie. Rosabel was more than a doll! She was…”
Ellie didn’t like his desperate vehemence. “She was what?”
“She was mine, Elle,” he whispered dolefully. “She was mine.”
“It’s better this way, Nester. Just you wait, you’ll see.”
But things got worse. Ellie thought the doll’s absence would help Nester forget. That just maybe, he could finally let go. Nester was worse than before. He no longer designed. He would sit in the workshop sketching pictures of the Rosabel doll trying to recreate her face. But each drawing was worse than the last. Her eyes were angry and cruel looking, and her mouth was twisted in a sneer. Each drawing started to resemble Willa less and less.
The ill fortune extended beyond the elder Turvilles. Lottie had given birth to a silent son, only for Doc Judd to announce that the boy was born dead. Since the baby’s death, Lottie had taken to laying in bed not doing a thing for herself. John couldn’t very well take care of his sick wife, watch Soubrella, and tend to the fields. So in between trying to break through Nester’s depression, Ellie stayed with Lottie and Soubrella during the days, leaning heavily on Junior to keep the business going as well as a close watch on his father.
Ellie could see how much the changes had affected her granddaughter, in both behavior and health. Gone was the happy outgoing child with rosy cheeks and bright eyes. Soubrella became pale and sickly looking. She stayed in her bedroom whispering to the doll. She barely ate, choosing to pick and nibble at her food before abandoning the meal in favor of the doll’s company. The relationship between Lottie and Soubrella fractured as well. Lottie confided to Ellie that Soubrella had taken to waking them late in the night with her terror filled screams. She grew just as obsessed with the doll as her grandpoppa before her. Lottie feared the doll and wanted her gone, but Soubrella refused to part with it and begged John not to take it away. John felt helpless. He knew the doll’s presence disturbed his wife, but on the other hand, he hated the idea of upsetting Soubrella. John sought his mother’s guidance. Ellie would have been happy to thrust the accursed thing in the fire. Instead, she came up with a plan. She told John that they should tell Soubrella that Annabelle doll was sick and needed to be tended. Ellie gave John Lisa doll and the Julia doll to distract her, in hopes that it would help her forget her beloved Annabelle doll. Soubrella was naturally sad, but happily accepted the other two dolls in compensation.
“What of Annabelle? Surely, you won’t bring it back to father?”
Ellie looked into her eldest son’s tired eyes. In the past few months, he had suffered nearly a lifetime of grief. “No. I’m getting rid of that thing. This time tomorrow that wretched doll will be long gone and our family will be better for it.
“I hope so, Momma.” His released a jagged breath between his teeth. “I don’t think Lottie could take seeing it again.”
So that night, Ellie had George take her as deep in the swamp as the horses would go. With a shovel in hand and wearing a pair of Nester’s old trousers and boots, Ellie trudged through the trees mindful of snakes and gators, and buried the doll as deep in the ground as she possibly could. Again, Ellie thought she could see the burning contempt within the doll’s eyes before throwing the first shovel of mud in its blushing face.
“You’ll never haunt my family again.”
Ellie packed the dirt tight on top of the doll. It will work, she told herself getting into bed beside a restless Nester that night. Soubrella will forget the doll. Lottie will heal and recover from her own trauma and Nester will finally let go.
Ellie was wrong.
The very next morning, just before sunrise, Ellie was awakened by a harsh banging on the front door. Ellie sat up with a gasp, her mind going back to waking with the Rosabel doll standing at the foot of their bed. But the doll wasn’t there. The banging grew more insistent. Ellie stumbled got out of bed putting on her robe. Nester slept soundly, thankfully. Ellie hurried out of the bedroom and opened the kitchen door.
“Junior!” she said, surprised to see him so early. “What in God’s name –?”
“She’s dead, Momma,” he said, his red rimmed eyes filled with grief. “She’s dead.”
Ellie couldn’t breathe. All she could think of was her little granddaughter meeting an early grave like Willa. “Who…who’s dead, Junior?”
“Oh, God. No, not Lottie.” Ellie gripped her hair wanting to tear it out. “How – what – when – what happened?” she stuttered.
“They don’t know yet. John said she slept fine last night, but when he woke up this morning…her eyes were open and she was as cold as the grave.”
“I – I have to go over there. I have to be with John and Soubrella. Junior, stay with your Pa, hear?”
“We ain’t opening today. If he wants to work in the shop, fine, but don’t open.”
Ellie went back to the bedroom to change her clothes. Her poor boy. He had loved Lottie since they were both kids. How would he ever get on without her? How would Soubrella?
“Look, Ellie!” Nester said, tears of joy running down his cheeks. “She’s come back to me. Rosabel’s come back to me!”
Ellie felt her world careen into madness as Nester held the doll up for her to see. Its hair had clumps of mud in it, and mud caked between its fingers, as if the doll had clawed its way out of Ellie’s makeshift grave. And still, the malevolent glimmer of its eyes and coy curve of its lips was as prevalent as the night before. Ellie could’ve screamed if she had the breath for it.
“Nester, honey, Junior’s going to stay with you for a while, okay?”
Ellie was sure Nester didn’t hear a word she said as he busied himself with wiping mud off the doll.
“Just like the last time,” he muttered sounding rueful. “Always coming back covered in mud, Willa.”
Ellie dropped the wood carved hairbrush onto the floor with a resounding bang. Willa?
“Nester, why did you call that doll Willa?”
Nester’s muttering quieted down to a whisper. “Mustn’t know, mustn’t tell. Mustn’t know, mustn’t tell.”
Ellie approached her husband slowly as he rocked the doll on his lap. “Nester?”
“Mustn’t know, mustn’t tell.”
“Nester, look at me.” Ellie kneeled before him, leery of getting close to the doll. “Why did you call the doll Willa, Nester?” she cupped his cheeks between her hands. “What did you do?”
Nester’s forlorn eyes glistened as his tears spilled onto her hands. In that moment, she could see the vestiges of the Nester she had loved, before his mind succumbed to madness and grief.
“Brought her back,” Nester murmured. “Wanted to make you happy. Make you love me like you loved him.”
Nester’s broken sentences did nothing to detract from the painful meaning behind them. “Oh, Nester. Nester, Nester, Nester,” she cried, brushing away his tears. “What have I done to you?” Ellie looked at the doll in his arms that wore their Willa’s face as easily as a changeling. “If she’s really…Willa, maybe, maybe I should spend some time with her.”
Fear reigned in Nester’s eyes. “Stay with me, stay with me,” he chanted, hugging the doll tighter.
“But you did it for me, right, Nester? So let me hold my daughter,” she choked out, the loathed words leaving an acidic aftertaste on her tongue.
Nester ceased his rocking, staring down at the doll in his arms with a crazed look in his eyes. He kissed its forehead lovingly and reluctantly gave it over to Ellie. As soon as Ellie touched the doll, she felt the cold hatred directed at her from the Rosabel doll. It seeped into her bones, poisoned her blood and attacked her heart with talon claws. It felt, to Ellie, as if she could never know warmth or joy or love again.
Junior came in and helped his father back into bed. While Nester was distracted, Ellie wrapped the hateful doll in a blanket and stuffed it into a bag. John and Soubrella needed her, but she couldn’t go to them just yet. She had only one last chance to get rid of the doll permanently.
Ellie had George saddle the faster of the two horses, draped herself in a black cloak to conceal her face, and rode to Aunt Jessie’s swamp with the doll in the bag.
Was this what Nester felt that night? Did he feel this unshakeable fear, this desperate hopelessness?
Ellie crossed the rickety bridge. She went through the woods of a thousand unseen watching eyes. She moved up the walk to the cabin, pass the hissing growls and splashing to her left.
“Come,” the feminine accented voice spoke before she could knock.
Ellie opened the door with both determination and trepidation. There was just something about Aunt Jessie that made other normal folk unsettled. She didn’t look a thing like George and Bessie; didn’t sound like them either. She looked nothing like Ellie and her family. If anything, Aunt Jessie was an unnatural cross between them all. Just looking at her prickled Ellie’s skin and set the fine hairs on the back of her neck to rise.
Aunt Jessie stood with her back turned, gazing at Nester’s Mahalia doll in rapt admiration.
As a precaution, Ellie took the last doll Nester finished. The Donna doll. She was a little black doll, about a foot and a half shorter than the Mahalia doll. The little ruddy faced doll had a fluff of black curls on her head. The doll wore a red and white checkered shirt with cream overalls. In its right hand were two miniature pails and broomstick.
“I brought you something, Aunt Jessie.” Ellie couldn’t help but cringe, hearing the supplication in her own voice. If anything, that girl should be on her knees begging her not to reveal what she had done.
Aunt Jessie turned her gaze on Ellie. She looked more amused than anything, as if she had heard Ellie’s thoughts. Dread and unease settled in Ellie’s stomach like the heaviest stones as she placed the little black doll on top of her table.
At last, she released Ellie from her piercing gaze to focus on the doll. Only then did Ellie feel as though she could breathe again.
“Dolls are magnificent creatures, are they not?” Aunt Jessie murmured quietly. “Created in the likeness of man regardless of man’s origins. We give them names. We dress them. We bestow unto them the love and affection we are unable to give to fellow flesh and blood humans. We give them our pain because they cannot feel. We give them us because they will not leave. So why, I ask you, Elladora Turville, is it so unfathomable that the doll can live in its own world and ours?”
Ellie bristled. She didn’t appreciate being addressed in such a way, especially by someone like Aunt Jessie. “I didn’t come here for pretty speeches, girl,” Ellie returned dismissively. “I came here to find out just what kind of devil magicks you coerced my husband into performing with you.”
Aunt Jessie was unfazed by the accusation. “There was nothing devilish about your husband’s inquest. What he chose to do with those findings…is another matter altogether.”
Ellie’s eyes narrowed sharply. “I can have you hanged, girl. I should! You have no idea what you’ve done to my family.”
“You would never make it to the constable.”
The words were spoken softly and without the slightest threatening inflection. Yet Ellie couldn’t overlook the sudden subtle change in Aunt Jessie’s demeanor. The horrible smile twisting her lips. The sharp gleam of her dark talon like nails. The cabin itself seemed to come alive and take on a sinister air. Ellie quickly learned that threats were not the way to go with this woman.
“My family is in shambles. My husband is losing his mind, my daughter-in-law lost her son, and my granddaughter is clinging to that damned doll!”
Aunt Jessie’s eyes gleamed sharply. “Granddaughter? How old?”
Aunt Jessie swore softly. “Your husband did not heed my advice.”
“What does that mean?”
“He came seeking a cure for your daughter. There was no cure. He could only save her by giving her another body.” Ellie paled and Aunt Jessie’s malicious smile revealed bright, white teeth that strongly resembled canines under the flickering candlelights. “And we know how well that endeavor ended. Your husband was warmed that if your daughter’s heart should stop, he must under no circumstances proceed with the ritual.”
“Ritual! What ritual?” Ellie demanded.
“It is irrelevant. I felt it. The shift in the air, the spirits howling in dismay. And now he had wrought damnation to your family name.”
“I don’t understand,” Ellie cried. “What did he do?”
“When a person dies, their soul leaves the body and is called to limbo to await judgment. By using the powder I gave him, your husband called back your daughter’s soul from limbo. This is unnatural. Recalling a soul taints it. It rips it to pieces, destroying whatever lingering purity it possesses. Now nothing remains but a vengeful, ravenous entity. Tell me about the doll.”
Ellie struggled to accede to Aunt Jessie’s demand while thoughts of the condition of her daughter’s soul plagued her. “Willa was buried with the doll, but suddenly Nester has it in his arms, talking to it, refusing to let it out of his sight. He treated it like it was alive. And now, my granddaughter is doing the same.”
“Where is the doll now?”
Ellie didn’t understand how Aunt Jessie could be so calm about everything. It was almost as if she knew this all would happen. “In this bag.” Ellie opened the bag and retrieved the blanketed bundle. She unwrapped the blanket and made a strangled cry. “This – this- this isn’t it! This isn’t it!”
Instead of the Rosabel doll in the bag, Ellie somehow ended up with the Julia doll.
A ghost of a smirk touched Aunt Jessie’s lips. “The soul has gotten stronger. Your husband is responsible for the presence in the doll. Therefore, it would remain with him to punish him, haunting him until he either went mad or died. But now the soul has a new purpose. It seeks a new body. A human body.”
Ellie was horrified. “Soubrella?” how quickly her world descended into madness. “How do I stop it?”
Aunt Jessie tapped her nails methodically against the tabletop. “There is no way to stop a vengeful soul, Elladora Turville. You may destroy its body, but you can never banish its spirit. It won’t leave until it feels it has done what it was brought back to do.”
“There must be something I can do to make this all go way! Please, Aunt Jessie,” Ellie begged, pride deserting her at last. “Please, help me save my family.”
“You must choose.”
“Between what?” she dared to ask.
“Between your husband and your granddaughter.”
“NO! How dare you say that to me?”
“She will either exact her vengeance on your husband or she will possess your granddaughter’s body.”
“Can you guarantee that it will leave if Nester dies?” she choked, her body lurching at just the thought.
“There are no guarantees,” Aunt Jessie said coldly.
“What happens if I destroy the doll’s body before it hurts anyone else?”
“There are no guarantees.”
Ellie never wished more that she could take back every cruel and hurtful taunt about Ernie to Nester.
Ellie left Aunt Jessie’s swamp, determined to destroy the Rosabel doll. She wouldn’t sacrifice her husband or her granddaughter. The sun had set and the moon and the stars lit her way as she rode back to the house. Aunt Jessie had to be wrong.
But when she stopped the horse in front of the house, a dread and foreboding consumed her. Never had their home looked so alive, so sinister.
The front door to The Playhouse was locked. Ellie hitched up her skirts and hurried around to the back. The door was open and Ellie felt her heart thudding furiously inside her chest. The kitchen was dark. She felt afraid to even call out.
Ellie felt blindly around the kitchen for the candle and matches. Her fingers found the countertop, but something had spilled on it. Something warm. Ellie felt her way towards the kitchen table, her shoes precariously slipping against the slick for. What had spilled? She found a candle and a match. She struck the match and lit the candle.
Ellie’s shrill scream echoed through the house.
Blood on the counter.
Blood on the floor.
Blood on her hands.
“Nester! Junior!” she called, first throwing open the door to the workshop. “Nester! Junior!” the bust of her head that Nester put in the window of the showroom lay on the floor drenched in blood. “Oh, God, what’s happened here? What happened?”
Ellie found Nester’s axe hanging on the wall. She prayed she wouldn’t have to use it. Ellie backed out of the room and went towards the bedroom. The door was half opened.
“Nester?” she whispered.
She pushed the door opened with the toe of her shoe.
“Nester?” He lay on the bed with not a drop of blood inside their bedroom. “Nester?” she lifted the candle and fell to her knees, whining low in her throat. Nester’s eyes were wide and his mouth hung open in a frozen scream. Black and blue fingerprints bruised his throat. Tiny black and blue fingerprints.
“Oh, Nester,” she sobbed, dropping the axe. She crawled on her hands and knees to him. Her bloody fingers stained his face. “I’m sorry, Nester. I’m so, so sorry.”
Ellie’s eyes narrowed on the tiny fingerprints on Nester’s throat once more and screamed. Her rage consumed her. Fire flashed before her eyes. Ellie knew that that damned thing wasn’t done yet. She took the axe and ran. It had taken her unborn grandson, her daughter-in-law, her husband, and her youngest son. She wouldn’t let it take her granddaughter, too.
Ellie ran the short distance to John’s house. The front door was open wide and the fireplace flickered in the howling wind. Ellie went straight for Soubrella’s bedroom. The Rosabel doll sat on top of Soubrella’s unconscious body. Ellie screamed and without hesitating, swung the axe severing the doll’s head.
A ghastly scream filled the air, the force shattering the windows. Ellie covered her granddaughter, wincing as the shards of glass sliced through her thin shirt, embedding deeply into the skin of her neck and back. Hot blood pulsed down her back, but Ellie would not move. The terrible scream continued and Ellie knew there was only one thing she could do to make it stop. She grasped the doll’s severed head and dragged the body out of the room by its leg, all the while her wounds continued to bleed, sapping her of her strength. Ellie fell to her knees before the fireplace. The rusty taste of her own blood rushing up her esophagus could not falter her stride. Death had taken a hold of her, ready to tear her away from the world of the living. With her last bout of strength, Ellie thrust the doll into the roaring fire. The scream crescendoed to a wail before silence fell.
Ellie fell on her stomach with a smile on her face. Watching the Rosabel doll burn would be the last thing she ever saw.
Little footsteps padded softly to her side. The fair-haired child with the brownest eyes hugged Sofia doll’s pink and white teddy bear against her. She looked into the fire as the doll’s beautiful face blackened and became ash. She kneeled beside Ellie’s lifeless body and stroked her hair with a barely there touch.
For a moment, Soubrella’s brown eyes flashed to Willa’s blue. The innocence of her expression turned coy as her lips curved in twisted triumph over Ellie’s failure.
“Night-night, Momma.” Her whisper to Ellie carried through the night.
– Roya S. Hill
Roya S. Hill lives in Alabama, is 24 years old and is an aspiring author. You can follow her on twitter at @Hill_Roya
This is the epic conclusion to her serial of Willa The Poppet