Canto 13 – The Doll’s Bargain
The owl-guy had demanded that Maria work for another half hour dusting toys that apparently hadn’t been moved even an inch in five decades. And when she was done, the toys seemed to have accumulated the exact same amount of dust as they had possessed before she started cleaning.
Stan had spent time talking and prodding the weird old man all the time Maria had been working, and then when it was over, the private dick wouldn’t even tell her what they had been gossiping about.
She went straight to her room, her laptop and her cell phone, as soon as she was home.
Mom was no help. She had gone to bed the moment that she had drug herself home from work.
And then… the phone rang.
“Ma-Maria? C-can I talk to you… please?”
“Who is this?”
A little girl was crying into the phone on the other end.
“Hannah? Is that you?”
“Yeah… you said I could… call you?”
“Of course, I did. But what’s the matter?”
“I have to tell you something. Something terrible.”
“What is it?”
“It’s something terrible… that I did.”
“What did you do?”
“If I tell you… You will never forgive me.”
“Yes, I will. I promise.”
“You can’t. Daddy won’t forgive me if I tell him.”
“Please, Hannah. You can tell me. And maybe I can help you tell your daddy in a way that will make him forgive you…”
“Really? You would do that? For me?”
“I promise. I like you, Hannah. You are a nice little girl.”
“No, I’m not. I made a deal with a Lonely One.”
“A Lonely One?”
“She was a ghost… err… something… inside a really cool doll. And she… she was…” Hannah dissolved in tears, unable to finish the sentence.
“You can talk to me, Hannah. You can tell me anything. I wish you were here right now. I could hold you… hug you. Make you feel better.”
“The doll was made of hard white stuff. And she was beautiful… She looked just like me… but her hair was all white.”
“And the doll did something?”
“She asked me for something.”
“What did she want?”
“She asked if she could play with my mom. She said if I just let her play with Mom for a while, she could make Mommy love me better… She said… But she lied to me.”
“What was the lie?”
“She was supposed to give Mommy back to me. But when… when she was done playing her tricks, Mommy was sleeping on the floor and couldn’t wake up. I let a monster play with my mom.”
“She tricked you, Hannah. You didn’t do anything bad. She did. It was not your fault.”
“But, can your daddy get my mom back from the ghosts? I mean… the Lonely Ones. She said they were not ghosts, but Lonely Ones.”
“Stan is a very good detective. He’s solved cases nobody ever thought he could. If anybody can get your mom back, he’s the one who can do it.”
“You promise me?”
“I can’t promise for sure. But if he can’t do it, then nobody can.”
“Thank you, Maria. I love you,” Hannah said in a tiny, strained voice.
“I love you too, Hannah. Hang in there. I’m gonna tell Stan. Then we’ll figure out these Lonely Ones you are talking about.”
Maria spent the next half hour listening to the little girl cry over the phone. She tried to comfort her whenever she was given the chance, but it was mostly just being there to listen that mattered. Maria was crying too by the time she went to the living room to tell Stan.
I do not believe in ghosts.
So, I am probably the last stupid goomer who should be writing this post. But I do have a lot to say on the subject that will more than fill a 500-word essay.
At my age and level of poor health, I think about ghosts a lot because I may soon be one. In fact, my 2014 novel, Snow Babies has ghosts in it. And some of the characters in it freeze to death and become snow ghosts. But it doesn’t work like that in real-world science. My ghosts are all basically metaphorical and really are more about people and people’s perception of life, love, and each other.
Ghosts really only live in the mind. They are merely memories, un-expectedly recalled people, pains, and moments of pandemonium.
I have recently been watching the new Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. It creeps me out because it latches on to the idea that ghosts haunt us through the revisitation in our minds of old trauma, old mistakes, old regrets… We are never truly safe from ghosts, no matter how far under the covers we go in our beds, deep in the dark and haunted night. Ghosts are always right there with us because they only live inside us.
I am haunted by ghosts of my own. Besides the ghost dog that mysteriously wanders about our house at night and is seen only out of the corners of our eyes, there is the ghost of the sexual assault I endured at the age of ten by a fifteen-year-old neighbor. That ghost haunts me still, though my attacker has died. I still can’t name him. Not because I fear he can rise up out of the grave to hurt me again, but because of what revealing what he did, and how it would injure his innocent family members who are still alive and still known to my family, will cause more hurt than healing. That is a ghost who will never go away. And he infects my fiction to the point that he is the secret villain of the novel I am now working on. In fact, the next four novels in a row are influenced by him.
But my ghost stories are not horror stories.
I write humorous stories that use ghosts as metaphors, to represent ideas, not to scare the reader. In a true horror story, there has to be that lurking feeling of foreboding, that sense that, no matter what you do, or what the main character you identify with does, things probably won’t turn out all right. Stephen King is a master of that. H.P. Lovecraft is even better.
But as for me, I firmly believe in the power of laughter, and that love can settle all old ghosts back in their graves. I have forgiven the man who sexually tortured me and nearly destroyed me as a child. And I have vowed never to reveal his name to protect those he loved as well as those I love. If he hurt anyone else, they have remained silent for a lifetime too. And I have never been afraid of the ghost dog in our house. He has made me jump in the night more than once, but I don’t fear him. If he were real, he would be the ghost of a beloved pet and a former protector of the house. And besides, he is probably all in my stupid old head thanks to nearly blind eyes when I do not have my glasses on.
I don’t believe in ghosts.
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