“Honey, where’d you get that doll?”
They were on their way to preschool when Miranda glanced in the rear-view mirror of the minivan to see her daughter playing with an odd, old doll, a doll that looked like it had been rejected by a child long ago.
“Mrs. Devo gave it to me. She said it was her special friend. She wanted me to have it.” The little girl turned to her doll and said, “Isn’t that right, Marie?”
“Who is Mrs. Devo?” Miranda asked.
“You know, Mrs. Devo,” replied the girl. “The one in the house next to us.”
Miranda racked her brain. A young man had recently moved in to the old, ivy-covered house next door. She had met him briefly, a young professional, aloof but friendly enough. He had just moved from Louisiana. What was his name? Jean… something French… Devereaux?
“Mr. Devereaux?” she asked her daughter as they pulled up to the school.
“No, not Mister Devo. Missus Devo,” Abigail responded.
Mr. Devereaux had not mentioned a wife.
“Honey, let’s leave her in the car, okay?”
The girl pouted and held the doll out of Miranda’s reach.
Miranda tried again. “I don’t think they allow toys at school,” she said.
“It’s my sharing day. I’m gonna share her.”
Miranda frowned, but relented. She watched Abigail skip into the cheery children’s center, hugging her new possession.
Miranda was cleaning her daughter’s room when her cell phone started buzzing. The voice on the other line was panicked.
“Mrs. Leewald? You need to come pick up your daughter. There’s been an accident. Don’t worry. Your child is fine. Her teacher tripped and fell. She is being transported to the hospital as we speak.”
“I’ll be right there,” she said, ending the conversation as she hurried out the door.
The principal was waiting outside the school with the small group of children. Abigail looked somber.
“What happened to Miss Marshall?” Miranda asked her.
“She took Marie away,” Abigail said. “Marie didn’t like it. She said she would get her, and she did,” She hugged her doll tightly.
“Honey, dolls can’t make things happen. They’re just plastic. They’re not real,” Miranda said.
“Marie says she’s real,” Abigail said, twirling her fingers through the dolls mangy curls. “She says the other dolls aren’t, but she is,”
Miranda gave her daughter a worried glance. The girl gazed lovingly at the doll. That doll belongs in the trash heap, thought Miranda, though the burn pile might be better.
Miranda made lunch while Abigail swung outside with the doll. Miranda stopped to watch from the window. The doll’s eyes seemed to be looking at her. I must be going crazy, she thought. Just then, the knife she was holding slipped out of her hand and plunged into the floorboards millimeters from her foot. She looked down, shock registering through her body. Coincidence? She thought of Miss Marshall.
Abigail had left the swing and was squatting by the fence. A strange humming came from that direction. It stopped when Miranda approached.
“Honey, it’s lunchtime,” Miranda said.
Abigail looked up with a dreamy, otherworldly look. She smiled wryly, sending shivers up Miranda’s spine.
“Honey, what were you doing out here?” she asked.
Abigail just averted her eyes, the smile glued to her face.
The doll was still clutched in the girl’s arms. This had to end.
She led Abigail into the house and sat her in front of her sandwich.
“I’ll be right back,” she said, as she gathered newspapers and headed outside. Soon she had a roaring fire going in the fire pit. As she made her way back to the house, she saw Abigail standing in the doorway. Miranda reached for the doll, but Abigail flinched and bolted. Miranda lunged for one of the doll’s legs, grabbed it and yanked the doll free.
A shriek filled the air. It came from all around her, reverberating off the house next door. She quickly threw the doll on the fire. Abigail’s mouth was wide open, the sound coming out unlike anything Miranda had ever heard before. As the fire engulfed the doll, the screaming subsided into sobs.
Miranda went to her daughter.
“Come now,” she said, stroking Abigail’s hair. “I’ll buy you a new doll.”
Sobs eventually gave way to sniffles. Finally, Abigail nodded.
As they walked out the front door, Abigail suddenly brightened.
“Look, Mommy!” she said, pointing.
Miranda’s heart lurched. There, leaning against a potted plant, sat Marie.