Category Archives: horror writing

The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 14

Canto 14 – En el Mercado de Dallas

Rogelio was definitely in la Tierra de los Muertos, the Land of the Dead.  The general scene around him was black.  The ground, the sky, the distance… all darkest black.  The buildings, trees, and other physical features were painted in with lots of shades of gray, the sparse highlights being white.  Rogelio himself was still naked, riding the skeletal horse with white bones and flesh of nearly transparent gray.  He could feel the leather saddle under him as if he was naked, but he did have a semi-transparent appearance of grungy, homemade clothing, and a nearly transparent gray cowboy hat that looked beat up and droopy all around.

“So, this is what Texas looked like in your day, before cameras were invented?” he asked Steven. Mainly to test if Steven was still there in his head.

“Of course not!  We had cameras then.  Just not around here.  And what you’re seeing is the long-dead world of the past through inadequate living-human eyes from the present world.  Nothing that lived then is still alive in the here and now.  So, all you can see is the bones of the dead world.”

“But this is Dallas?”

“The outskirts…  It was a big city for the time, but much smaller than the Dallas you live in.  We’re headed for the place I first met her… the Mercado.”

“The marketplace?”

“One of them, yes.”

“And you mean you met Yesenia there?”

“No, I mean Imelda, the girl I fell in love with.”

I continued to wonder at the people I saw as we entered the mercado.  They were all skeletons of varied colors with only the merest gray outlines of the clothing and hats they wore.  There were many cowboy hats like mine and many more Mexican sombreros.  There were also three civil war kepis that were probably confederate, but you couldn’t tell by the gray color because all clothing was made of lines of gray.

I dismounted from the horse outside of what was obviously a general store.  I mean, of course, Steven made me dismount.  I felt kinda funny walking around naked wearing only ghost clothes, but when anybody looked at me, they weren’t looking with human eyes, but only the dark eye sockets of their colored skulls.

And then I saw her.  It was Yesenia naked, dressed only in what was obviously supposed to be a fancy hooped skirt.  She was with a bright pink skeleton lady similarly dressed in what was likely an expensive hooped skirt.

Steven made us saunter over to the display box of mangos where Yesenia was looking at the ghost-gray produce.

“I bet those mangos aren’t near as sweet as you, hon,” Steven said.

“Don’t let mama hear you talking to me, gringo.  I am not allowed to speak with the Americanos from England.”

“Ah, but you do seem to speak English.”

“I do.  Father taught me.  It helps our business that I can speak it good.”

“What’s your family business?”

“Vacas y caballos… ah, I mean, cows and horses.  We have a ranch out west of town.”

“My name is Steven.  I herd for Bill Davies’ Bar W Ranch, to the East.”

“How old are you, Steven of Bar W?”

“Fifteen.  How old are you?”

“Fourteen, but soon to be having my quinceañera.”

“Oh, wow!  That’s going to be a big day for you, huh?”

“Oh, yes.  I wish I could invite you.  But mama won’t allow it.”

“What’s your name, pretty lady?”

“Imelda Dolores Gonzalez.”

“Where are you staying tonight, Imelda Dolores?”

“At Zuniga’s Inn down the street.”

“If you are awakened at midnight, it will be me.”

She looked at us and blushed in the most heart-stabbingly beautiful way.  I knew in an instant that Steven was completely in love with her, and he was capable of doing really crazy things about that love.

The pink skeleton that was obviously Imelda’s mama was coming back out of the store.

“Run away quickly so we are not discovered!”

“Midnight, my lovely… remember!”

“Perhaps.” That beautiful blush returned to her face.  Steven made my legs run back to the horse.  We mounted and Steven waved our cowboy hat at Imelda/Yesenia from a distance.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 13

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.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 12

Canto 12 – The Interview with the Ghost Owl

“So, somebody’s going to pay you for all of this?” Maria asked in the car before they reached the toy store.

“The Merriweathers want their boy Mark back.  They are going to pay me the standard investigation fee for every day it takes to find him.  Of course, I have to find him to earn the money,” Stan answered while turning the corner in his run-down little Ford Fiesta.

“What about Rogelio’s parents?”

“The cops told them that he’s a probable runaway.  They didn’t seem interested in paying to get him back.  The dad says that if Rogelio ran away to be with Yesenia, then he’s following his heart.  And if he’s been murdered, they are not anxious to find that out.  Of course, no body has turned up for either of the missing kids.”

“And the little black girl?”

“To be honest, I got a real bad vibe from that stepfather.  They call him Poppa Dark, but his real name’s DeAndre Rork.  He doesn’t like answering questions.  And he’s probably the killer, if my instincts are right.”

Maria shivered as they turned into the parking lot near the toy store.

“Two dollars for the rest of the day,” said the attendant.

Stan grumbled something about wishing for an empty parking meter as he fumbled in his pocket for change.  Then he handed it to the attendant.

“Park in F13.”

Stan and Maria parked and went into the toy store.

The man behind the counter looked to be old… the indeterminate age sort of old.  He had white hair, a wrinkled white face, and glasses that made his eyes look huge, a magnifying effect.

“Eule Gheist?” Stan asked.

“Yes.  I’m still me.”

“We need to ask you a few questions.”

“The young lady still owes me a few hours of cleaning.”

“I finished picking up the mess I made that day, trying to open that door, I mean,” Maria said defensively.

“How about dusting the shelves where the wood goods sit?  That could count as another of your hours.”

Maria gave Geist a pouty-lip look, took the feather duster from him, and headed for the wood goods.

“So, Eule, how many toys did you sell today?”


“And how many have you sold this week?”


“This month?”

“Again, none.”

“Not a very profitable business, it seems.”

“Mr. Mephisto is a collector of rare antique toys.  We are not in business to sell toys.  He is a billionaire, and he uses this business as a tax-write-off.”

“Hmm.  How much do you make working here, if I may ask.”

“I make nothing.”

“Then how do you live?”

“Quite well for a barn owl that was made human by magic.”

”That’s just a tale you tell kids, right?”

“If that’s what you choose to believe.”

“A barn owl?”

“What the Latinos call a Lechuza.

“Sure they do.  Did the police ask you about a boy named Mark Merriweather?  Or a girl named Shandra -Johnson-Rork?”

“Yes.  They were in here, apparently right before they decided to disappear.”

“Did you see where they went?”

“Not where, exactly, but I know they left with a dark gentleman.”

“Did you tell the police that?

“Yes.  It seemed to be exactly what they wanted to hear.”

“Wait a minute… did you say a black man?”

“Of course not.  He was dark of personality, not skin color.”

“Did the police verify that too?”

“Of course not.  They heard dark and accepted that as what they wanted to hear.”

“So, what do you mean by dark?”

“Like the devil is dark.”

“Are you saying the devil took them?”

“Something like that.”

As Stan was pondering that, Maria came back to the front of the store with a decorated paper skull like the one she had told him about before..

“This is the one Rogelio was talking to,” she said, showing him the decorative thing.

“Eule?  What do you know about that?”

“It’s cursed.  It’s also a family heirloom.”

“Can we borrow it to study it?”

“Help yourself.  But don’t damage it in any way.”

“Because it’s valuable?”

“No.  Because it’s cursed.  And it can take revenge.”

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 11


Canto 11 – The Safe House

“Where do you expect me to go in this world that isn’t even in my… time?”

Molly looked at her with those creepily lifelike glass eyes.  “There was a place I could safely go when I was alive.  Let’s go there.”

Brittany was in a fog as the doll guided her down one street and then onto another.  They kept going past all those clunky-looking old-time cars with lumpy and rounded body parts, like out of a black-and-white gangster movie.  The ladies all wore dresses with big shoulders and puffy sleeves.  The men were mostly older and mostly all wearing those old-time hats like Indiana Jones or something… “fedora” was the word stuck in Brittany’s mind.

“This house!  This is Dora McMaster’s house.”  The doll pointed at an old Victorian-style house with a rounded, tower-like structure on the left side of the front of the house.  The whole thing was painted slate gray with black trim.

Brittany knocked at the door, rapping half-heartedly with her knuckles.

The door opened, and a woman with a bee-hive hairdo and reading glasses answered the door.

“Oh, hello.  How can I…?”  The woman swallowed audibly as she saw the doll.

“Is something wrong?” Brittany asked.

The woman held her right hand in front of her mouth.  “That’s Molly’s doll…  But it can’t be.  I haven’t even finished painting the face of it yet.”

“You… you made this doll?”

“No!  That isn’t possible.  Come in… I’ll show you why.”

Brittany followed the woman into her home.  Through the entryway and into a sitting room where there were hundreds of porcelain dolls, only half of them finished.  In the center of the room on a worktable stood the hairless head and upper torso of the very doll that Brittany held in her arms.

“This is the doll I was making for poor little Molly.  It is a portrait of her.  I made it myself, and shared the design with no one, although I do have the mold for the head in the basement next to my porcelain kiln.”

“You’re a doll-maker?”

“Yes, and if you have stolen one of my designs, I am not happy about it.”

“You have to tell her lies to make sense of it,” said the doll.  “She will never understand otherwise.”

“I can’t lie…” said Brittany aloud.

“I should hope not.”

“You obviously made this doll.  It looks like my own daughter Hannah, which is why I bought it.  She somehow must look exactly like your Molly.”

“Well, if that’s the truth, then that doll must have my mark on it.  Show me the back of her neck.”

Brittany handed her the doll.

Mrs. McMaster’s eyes bulged as she spotted her own signature in blue porcelain glaze at the base of the doll’s neck where the ball joint fit neatly into the neck socket.

“I apparently did make this doll.  Did you come here to buy new clothes for it?”

“I don’t want any new clothes,” said the doll to Brittany.  “I prefer to be nude since the fire.”

“I don’t really have any money right now.”  That, at least, was not a lie.  “But I would like to learn more about this Molly who looks like my Hannah.”

“Oh, of course.  But, may I ask…?  Where did you get this doll?  I don’t remember making it or selling it to you.”

“Um, Aunt Phillia’s?”

“Oh, that explains a lot.  That old devil’s toy store never sells anything that I didn’t give them for free.  I still don’t remember making one for anyone whose daughter looks so much like poor Molly Beeman.”

“Tell me more about Molly…”

“Ah, the poor little thing…  She would come around here looking so lost and forlorn after her daddy died in the North Africa campaign.  The Germans killed him with artillery.  He was in Tunisia with the 1st Armored Division.  Molly’s mother took it too hard and went off the deep end…”  Dora’s eyes filled with tears.  She suddenly seemed to have lost the ability to talk.

“Something terrible happened?  A fire perhaps?”

“I could have saved Molly if I had known…  Oh, she could’ve lived here with me…  Such a precious little thing.”

Dora was openly weeping now.  Brittany put a hand on her shoulder.

“Molly died in a fire?”

“Yes.  Her mother burned their house down with Molly in it… on purpose.”  Brittany hugged Dora as the doll maker wept.

“Did the mother die too?”

“Not in the fire.  They called it murder.  She was hanged before the month was out.” Brittany’s stomach felt cold as the truth sunk in.  The porcelain doll seemed to be cuddling against Mrs. McMaster’s shoulder as the poor woman wept.  Was this thing of porcelain also a thing of evil?  What did it want?  And what was it doing to them?  Brittany intended to learn.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 10

Canto 10 – Rogelio and Steven

Rogelio found himself standing naked in a dark, night-time alley.  A horse was tied up to a hitching post nearby and eating oats out of a wooden bucket.  But the horse, though moving and apparently alive, was nothing but the skeleton of a horse with a ghostly outline of mane, flesh, and saddle overlaid upon it.

“What have I gotten into?”

“I paid the toy man the usual fee, and he gave me you to play with as the toy I need for this,” said Steven, apparently from inside his own head.

“What are you?  Are you a ghost possessing me, or something?”

“We don’t use the word ghost, actually.”

“Spook, then?”

“If you must know, we call ourselves the Lonelies.  Or, as you will soon see, the Bones of the Lonelies.”

“What are you if you are not ghosts?”

“We are the ones left alone when we died.  Those who died a terrible, lonely death.  Or were cursed.  Or simply did not have the love during life that life owed us.”

“How sad for you.  But what do you need me for?  And why am I standing here naked in an alley with a horse made of bones?”

“I need your body to do what I must do.  Just as Imelda needs the body she is playing with.  But we don’t need your clothes.  In 1875 nobody wears impractical crap like that.  And everybody is dead in my time compared to your time, so all you can see of them is their bones and the memory of their flesh.”

“Like the horse over there?”

“That’s Blue, my horse.  We’re gonna ride him to the quinceañera.”

“What quinceañera?”

“The birthday celebration of the girl I have to kill.”

“Kill?  What do you mean kill?”

“Don’t worry.  I will explain it before we go. That’s just a simple time-ride on old Blue.    I will show you everything that happened.”

“That’s why Yesenia and I are both here in the flesh?  You’re going to kill her?”

“I must kill Imelda.  But Imelda is using the living girl to relive the quinceañera celebration.”

“You have to let me go.  I won’t help you do that!”

“You can’t go anywhere until I am done with you.  And I will not be done with you until I stab Imelda to death once again.”

“You’ve done this before?”

“Hundreds of times.” Rogelio was suddenly sick to his stomach. But he couldn’t throw up.  Steven was in complete control of his body.  He was, apparently, merely along for the ride.

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Talking to Nobody

I entered the classroom silently. Death doesn’t have to make any sound when it enters a room, but I remember many times when I entered a classroom in a fully enraged-lion roar. Probably too many times.

This time it was a small lesson to a small class. Little Mickey, ten years old, was sitting there in a front-row desk. He was wearing that stupid purple derby hat that he always wore in his imagination. And he was wearing nothing else besides.

I gave him that old death-eye stare of disapproval. He grinned and shrugged. “Hey, I like to write about nudists, okay? They tell the truth more than most people.”

I simply nodded.

Sitting the next row over, in the front seat also, middle-aged Mickey was slumped in his seat like the cynical, world-weary teacher-thing he actually was. I nodded disapprovingly at him too. “I know, I know,” he said. “My time is running out. I have to get started on my writing plan for real this time. My stories will never get written if I don’t.”

The third seat in the third row contained Old Coot Mickey with his wrinkled clothes, his long Gandalf-hair, and his frizzy author’s beard. He grinned his goofy grin at me and nodded at me cheekily. “I’ve got fourteen novels written and published now. Taint my fault that nobody ever reads ’em. They are mostly good stories, too.”

I rolled my eyes at the dark ceiling.

On the chalkboard I wrote out. Today’s Lesson Is

“I know! I know!” shouted little Mickey, naked except for his purple hat. “The next novel is A Field Guide to Fauns. It is all about nudists in a nudist camp. I am definitely down with that!”

“Is that really a good idea, though?” asked middle-aged Mickey. “I think I was meant to be a writer of Young Adult novels, like the ones I taught so often in class. I know how those books are structured. I know their themes and development inside and out. I know how to write that stuff.”

“But the little naked guy has it right. You have ta be truthful in novels, even as you tell your danged lies.” Old Coot Mickey made his point by punctuating it with a wrinkled hand thumping on the top of his desk. “You have written novels with characters forcing other characters to make porn films in The Baby Werewolf, and sexual assault of a child in Fools and Their Toys, and lots of naked folks, and betrayal and death… All of that is the kinda stuff kids really want ta read. And them stories don’t glorify that stuff neither. Stories can help fight agin that stuff.”

“Remember, that stuff is hard to write about because I actually went through some of that stuff in my own life. It’s possible for even a fiction book to be just too real for a YA novel.” Middle-aged Mickey had entered fighting mode with his fists on his hips.

“But the underlying truth is why you had to write those stories to begin with. You have truth to tell… But in fiction form,” argued little Mickey.

“And horrible experiences turn into beautiful survival stories and heroes’ journeys with time and thoughtfulness and art,” said Old Coot Mickey.

I agreed with all three of me. I nodded and smiled.

“But you are Death, aren’t you?” asked middle-aged Mickey.

“And you’ve come to take away at least Old Coot Mickey!” declared little Mickey.

“You’ve got me all wrong,” I answered all three of me. “I am not Death. I am Nobody.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 9

Canto 9 – Mr. Mephisto

Mark and Shandra were both hanging up against the theater wall by their strings.  Both were naked.  But they were no longer real children.  They were now both jointed wooden marionettes.

“Mark?  Can you still talk?”

“How did you say that without moving your mouth?”

“You must have some idea, dummy.  Your mouth didn’t move either.”

“Yeezus, Shandra, what happened to us?”

“That damned toy man changed us into Pinocchios.”

“Oh, no!  Does that mean we have to get swallowed by a whale in order to turn back into human beings?”

“Gawd dang, Mark.  You are such a child.  We have been cursed by some kinda monster devil-man.  We are screwed.”

The curtain opposite the two puppets parted and a man came through.  It was the man who had pulled them out of the toy man’s magic box.

“Well, well… awake again, are we?”

“What are you doing to us, devil-man?” shouted Shandra.

“You are a feisty one, I’ll give you that.  It’s no wonder the archangel asked me to hide you two.”

“That’s what you be doing to us?” asked Shandra.

“You need to not have Poppa Dark find you for a while, am I right?”

“Well… yeah.  But you changed us without our permission.”

“And you made us naked too,” whined Mark.

“Oh, shut up, Mark.  You ain’t suffering by being naked.  You don’t even got no little wooden dick on you as a puppet.”

“She has a point.  While in this guise, you can more-or-less be anything or anyone by simply dressing you up in new puppet costumes.  Want to be a girl for a while Mark?  New wig and a gingham dress, and voila!  Mark becomes Mary.”

“Do I gotta be a girl?  Or can I be like a pirate?”

“Or maybe a soldier?” said the man.

“Oh, yeah.  That would be neat!”

“Now, wait just a minute, devil-man.  Who the hell are you?  You gonna help us?  Or cook us and eat us?”

“Now, Shandra, my dear, if I were going to eat the two of you, would I have turned you into wooden puppets?  Kind of harder to chew that way, don’t you think?”

“Well, how do we know you don’t like to eat wood like a dang beaver?”

“I have no plans on changing myself into a beaver.”

“Who and what are you?” Shandra sharply demanded.

“My name is Nicholas L. Mephisto.  I am the owner of Aunt Phillia’s Toy Emporium.  And you two have been changed into marionettes to put on a few shows before we try to solve your collective problems.”

“Well, whatever you gonna do to us… you better at least put some clothes on us.  And don’t you dare touch my private parts while you are doing it!”

“Shandra, you don’t any longer have any private parts,” reminded Mark.

“Oh, yeah.”

Mr. Mephisto smiled at the girl marionette as he picked out for her a nice red dress with white polka dots and a frizzy blond wig to complement her ebony black-painted skin and super-sassy attitude.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 8

Canto 8 – The Slink

On the car ride home, Maria worked up the nerve to ask her stepfather a few things.

“Why did you lie to those people, Stan?”

“I didn’t lie.”

“You were pretending to be that woman’s friend.  You never met her before.  How is that not a lie?”

“I only said I knew Brittany from her charity work.  When I researched her, I found that information about the charities.  So, that was exactly how I knew about her.  I can’t help it if he interpreted my words differently than that.”

“So, you really want the man and his little girl to think of us as friends and call us?”

“We need to listen to anything they have to say.  If we are going to learn anything about why this woman was struck down in this way, it will come from what they want to talk about when they want to talk about the incident.”

“But why bother at all?  It doesn’t really have anything to do with the case we really want to solve.  We need to find out about Rogelio and Yesenia.”

“Strange things have been happening in and around that toy store for a long, long time.  I have a suspicion we will need to find out how more than one of those things happened in order to figure out what your boyfriend is caught up in.”

“So, what do you really think happened to Mrs. Nguyen?”

“I don’t know anything for sure yet.  You have to be open to anything as a possible clue.  Once you find some things out, you follow those leads and try to eliminate them as paths to the answer.  You eliminate all the false paths, and the one you are left with is the one that will lead you to the answer.”

“It makes you sound like Sherlock Holmes.”

“It should sound like logic.  In fact, it is the methodical application of logic that Sherlock might’ve called “ratiocination.”

“What ratio-whatsit do you already have about Rogelio?”

“Well, you said he seemed to be hearing voices in his head before he disappeared.”

“Yeah.  He seemed to be talking to a papier-mâché skull.  You know.  One of those Day-of-the-Dead Mexican holiday things.”

“Did you hear it say anything?”

“No.  It was just a toy on a shelf.”

“But was it really?  Do you know for sure he wasn’t talking to someone, somehow?”

“Like how?”

“A miniature radio?”



“Be serious!”

“I am.  At the start, you don’t throw out any possibility.  It is the weirdest ones that make it hardest to find the real answer.  You can’t discount anything without evidence.”

“Okay.  I see your point.  I hope it’s ghosts, actually.  That would be more fun than a miniature radio to contact Yesenia in the alley.”

“Yes.  We might want to see if we can eliminate the radio thing first.”

“You going to that toy store to check on it?”

“We are going.  I need your eyes and ears and brain there too.”

So, it was settled.  The investigation had a new lead to track down.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 7

Canto 7 – Room 1313, Parkland

Stan brought the flowers he bought in the gift shop with him as he entered the room.  The husband, David Nguyen, sat in the cushioned chair by the bed with his head in his hands.  He was obviously distraught in spite of the time that passed since the mystery illness struck down his wife.  The daughter, Hannah according to the notes, sat in a folding chair watching cartoons on the hospital-room TV. 

Stan turned to Maria and whispered, “You make friends with the little girl.  Give her your cellphone number and tell her she can call you if she wants to talk about anything.”

Maria nodded silently and walked over to the little girl.

“Um, Mr. Nguyen?  I know now is not a good time, but I brought Brittany some flowers.  I wanted to know if there was anything I could do to help your family out in this time of trouble?”

The man looked up.  He was obviously an Asian-American, probably Vietnamese.  He had been crying.  His eyes were red.

“Who?  Who are you?  Brittany knows you?”

“I know her through her work at the charity, the one helping troubled teens.  She’s a very determined activist trying to make kids’ lives better.”  It wasn’t totally a lie.  The information he dug up about her charitable activities was indeed impressive.

“Yeah, well, I wish she had spent more time with her own daughter and less time fundraising for future criminals and terrorists.  Now poor Hannah will never know her mother as well as she deserves.”

“Oh?  Did the doctor give you bad news?”

“He can’t tell me anything at all.  He has no idea what caused this coma.  She’s not brain-dead, but nobody can say when or even if she will ever wake up.  For all they know, she will be like this until she dies.”  The man was obviously filled with bitterness and anger.

“She got this way at that old antique toy store on Mockingbird Lane, didn’t she?”


“Do you know anything about what happened while she was in there?”

“Not really.  She took Hannah in there just to look at the toys.  Why?”

“There’s a lot of very old things in there.  Some of those really old toys come from a time before anybody knew that mercury or asbestos was bad for you… even deadly.”

“You think she might’ve gotten some of that stuff from the toys in there?”

“It’s possible.  Did you talk to the store owner… or whoever was there running the place?  Maybe he could’ve shed some light on what she did that may have caused her condition.”

“I didn’t really talk to him.  He did talk to the ambulance guy and the police while I was there.  But I went here to Parkland in the ambulance with Brittany.”

Maria gave Hannah a hug and then came over to stand next to her stepdad.  Stan winked at her with the eye farthest from the man in the chair.

“My daughter and I are hoping for the best.  You and your family will be in our prayers.  I will leave you my phone number.  Anything you want to talk about or anything we can do to help, just give us a call.”  Stan handed the man a piece of paper with his cellphone number scrawled on it.

“Thank you.  What was your name again?”

“My name is Stanley… but you can call me Stan.  Stan Menschen.  My daughter here is Maria.  Your daughter is more than welcome to talk to her about anything.  I asked her to give Hannah her cell number.”

“Thank you.  I don’t know what else to say…” He dropped his head back into his hands.

Stan walked out with Maria feeling like they did not learn much, but the groundwork was laid.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 6

Canto 6 – The Porcelain Doll

Brittany’s head was swimming as she walked into the coffee shop with the doll still cradled in her arms.

“Lady, you look a little pale and peaked.  How about you sit down at the counter, and I give you a free first cup of java?” The broad-faced man behind the counter had a huge and welcoming smile.  It made her heart stop fluttering just a bit.

“World War Two is going on?” she tried not to gasp as she asked it.  But she was sure the three other people in the place, all older than dirt, knew she was rattled to the point that she was about to shake herself to pieces.

“Husband fighting in Italy is he?  We all think it’s almost over there.  Patton is wiping out the bad guys.  But it will be a while before Germany falls too.  Or is he in the Pacific?”

“No… ah, my husband is… well, he’s not in this world anymore.”

“Oh!  We’re so sorry for your loss.”  The shop owner had tears in his eyes as he poured her coffee.

“That why you bought the doll over at Aunt Phillia’s place?” asked the old man three seats down from her at the counter.  “It’s nice… um… an antique… but it’s naked…”

“Weren’t a good idea, Miss.   The toys from that store are all cursed,” said the old woman sitting next to him.

“Hush, Mabel.  She just told us her husband died a war hero.  You gotta have more respect than that.”

“No, my husband didn’t die in the war… He just hasn’t been born yet.”


“You can’t tell them that,” said the doll.  “They won’t believe you.  And they will never understand the truth from your point of view.”

“Did you hear the doll talk just now?” she asked the shop owner.

“He can’t hear me,” said the doll.

“Listen, Ma’am, I know the world doesn’t make any sense for a while after you lose someone.  Especially if you lose them overseas and far from home.  You need something to eat?  It’s on the house in view of your loss.”

“He’s being kind.  You need to accept and be grateful,” said the doll.

“Maybe… the sausage smells good.”  She tried to smile, but the tears were real.

“Certainly.  Not real easy to come by with the war on, but certainly what you need about now.”  The shop owner took the sausage out of the frying pan and put it on a plate for her.

“Where did he die, Sweetie,” said the old woman, trying to be more considerate.

“I can’t… I mean… I don’t…”

“You don’t have to say anything.  Just eat.  Mabel is being nosy.  You need to recover from your loss.”

“It’s me you need to talk to,” said the doll.  “But not here.  They already think you’ve gone nuts from grief.  Finish eating and then take me somewhere private.”

Brittany wolfed down the sausage, which really was savory and delicious, and then tried to get out of the shop and leave the doll behind.

“Miss, don’t forget your doll.  She’s probably valuable.  And you really shouldn’t be completely alone now.”

The old woman snatched up the porcelain doll and put it directly into her arms.  She smiled at Brittany with a toothless smile.

“Please don’t leave me, Mommy,” said the doll.  “I can’t lose you now.  You are my last hope.”

Brittany burst into tears, hugged the doll to her, and started to run.

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