NaNoWriMo has started with a bang! I’ve just gotten home from the Kick-off party for Canberra. It was followed by a write-in and I’ve managed to set the first 500 words or so to paper (or digital memory, anyway). The NaNo site is struggling under the load right now, but I’ll be updating my word count as soon as I can persuade it to play nice. Hopefully my widget over on the left will play nice too. Here ’tis … enjoy!
People say, “Oh how sad, to live in a world of darkness” but my world is full of colour. Red is smooth, cold, and hard. Blue is rough, warm and solid. These are the colours as I see them.
People say, “Oh how sad, to live in a world without beauty” but my world is full of beauty. The touch of a friend, the kiss of a lover, a breath of wind across my face. All these things have beauty. I get as much enjoyment out of a day at the beach, out of a picnic by the lake, out of laughing with friends as anyone else does.
Why must my life be thought incomplete, simply because I am without sight? My life is rich, perhaps richer, because I am blind. Not despite it.
The day had begun. What a cruel world – it seems that it is ony when one is at their lowest that the day dawns with sunshine. A cloud free sky could be glimpsed in the chink between the drawn curtains. Birds could be heard twittering as they came into the yard to gather seed from the feeder hanging from the tree. This morning, Mandy hated those birds. She detested the sunshine. She rolled over, burying her head in the pillow, and cursed the fluffy white clouds hanging in the sky. They, even more than the sunshine, represented how low her life had ebbed. If the weather was to represent her mood accurately, a storm would be threatening. The clouds would be hanging low in the sky, dark and heavy with unspent rain and there would be lightning strikes around the horizon, making the air crack and sizzle with electricity. The sunshine was just further proof of the world being a cruel taskmaster. Offering everything, and delivering nought.
The sound of morning television from the loungeroom eventually persuaded Mandy to get out of bed. She crawled out into her sister’s spare room, looking around at the mostly unfamiliar surroundings. The bookshelf was full of worn and tired paperbacks. Some children’s stuffed toys that Mandy remembered from her own childhood sat in a haphazard pile in the corner. The chest of drawers was topped with clutter of dust-catchers, trinkets and curios that her sister had collected or been given over the years.
Mandy’s mouth was dry, and she stepped into the ensuite for a drink. Her eyes fell on the guest towels on the rack, the novelty soap in the dish. She knew that the mirror would show only the reminders of the evening before, but still she had to look. The left side of her face was swollen, her eye a mere slit looking through the yellow bruise rising under the skin. Her lip was split, the cut ragged and bloody still. She felt hot tears rise in her throat but swallowed them down defiantly. She would not let herself fall apart. The time for falling apart was last night, and god knew she had done it well and truly. But not today. Today, she had to pick up the children, and tell them that their father was the evil person they had all refused to believe he was. Today, she had to start putting her life back together again.
Belle heard the car first. She always did. “Mum’s back!” she called to her sister. As the words left her mouth she was already on her way out the front door. By the time Mandy had turned the ignition off, both Belle and Alyssa were standing in the open doorway. She stepped out of the car, sunglasses covering the worst of the damage to her face, but by no means all, and went to the girls with a grin. She hugged them both and it was only when they pulled away that Alyssa noticed, and frowned. Then Belle frowned as well, “What’s wrong?” she asked. Often Alyssa tried to get things past her sister by not making any noise, but Belle had an uncanny sense of what was going on. Like many with a vision-impairment, she was able to pick up on subtle changes in tone or unusual sileces. It was as though the smelled tension in the air, could hear a smile or a rolling tear.
“Liss? Mum? What’s wrong? Something is wrong.” she said when no one responded immediately, and the silence continued.
Mandy shook herself slightly, smiled a tight, nervous smile at Alyssa, and then said to both of them, “How about we go and get ice cream?”
Neither of the girls had ever seen their father hit their mother, but both had seen what he did to her. Normally, the bruises were in places easy for Mandy to hide – high on her arms or legs, or on her belly and breasts. It was only when he totally lost control that he ever hit her on her face.
Although it was difficult to leave their father – and Mandy to leave her husband of twelve years – it was an unspoken relief not to have to live with the fear of his wrath anymore. Eventually, with a great amount of help from Mandy’s sister and brother, they found a three bedroom flat in an older suburb, filled it with second hand furniture and clothes, and moved in.
They never heard from Peter again. Although some financial help would have been welcome, and both Allysa and Belle often wondered if he thought about them any more, the three were perfectly happy not to have to worry about him anymore.
Eventually, their lives began to settle into new routines. Alyssa started high school, made friends, got good grades, and agonised over who was going with who to the end of year twelve formal dinner. Belle learned to read braille, and entered the school system, helped along by a tutor and afternoon sessions at the school for the blind. Mandy took on a string of part-time jobs, eventually securing a full-time position as a receptionist at the local medical centre. She rediscovered her self-confidence, and when she asked out to dinner and a movie by one of the doctors, she gladly accepted.
Their lives hadn’t changed dramatically when Jamie entered their lives, but it had very gradually gotten easier. Jamie started coming around for dinner once a week or so, then more often. Eventually he was staying for breakfast too, and about a year after that first movie, Jamie and Mandy decided to move in together. Alyssa and Belle were consulted, and both seemed pleased with the arrangement. Alyssa was due to finish school soon, and was wrapped up in final exams, university applications and the all-important dress and makeup planning for the formal. Belle, now in year ten and trying to work out what her future held, was just happy to have Jamie around on a more regular basis so that she could beat him at Monopoly. Jamie had helped her convert a regular Monopoly game with braille labels on the properties, and she had become a skilled and ruthless player in short order.
Mandy was desperate to leave behind the poky apartment, and the memories of struggle and poverty that it held. When Alyssa announced that she had been accepted into the university course she wanted, but at a university that was four hours away in a beachside suburb, they decided to start looking farther afield. General practise doctors were always in demand, and on Jamie’s income there was no rush for Mandy to find work. Eventually, they found a house two blocks away from the beach, with a self-contained granny flat for Alyssa and enough room for an office and a backyard. When moving day arrived, most of the second hand furniture was donated back to the charity shops they had come from, although Mandy held on to a few of the more serviceable pieces. They left the flat and the dingy old suburb shrouded in drizzle, with dark foreboding clouds overhead, and eventually arrived into sunshine, the smell of salt in the air and the sound of waves on the breeze. The weather perhaps a better indicator of Mandy’s mood than it had ever been before.
I never wanted to be anything special. Although others thought I should have been. Consciously, I always just wanted to show others that I could do … stuff. It didn’t matter what the stuff was, I just wanted to prove that I could do it. Of course, I’ll never be able to see, but there’s plenty of things that I can do without that. I can ride a bike, I can swim, I can read, I can turn cartwheels, and I can think. Yes, most of all, I can use my mind. Why do so many amongst the sighted imagine that because I am blind I am also without thought, imagination, dreams, without intelligence? Perhaps it is because, in the case of so many, sight allows them to suspend rational thought. Because they can see something, they don’t have to think about it. They see something, and then immediately cease to think any further about it. They don’t ever say “why did that happen like that?”, “how did that situation arise?”, “what will happen now?”. These things, to me, are more important than what was seen. They are what gives humanity and society its depth of colour, it’s richness.
Sometimes, if I am walking through a park or a train station, I hear a little piece of conversation, like a torn bit of ribbon – no beginning, no end, just a little piece from the middle. I wonder what brings two people together at that moment, to that place, that conversation, that instant in time. Like candid photographs, capturing a fleeting moment and holding it still in time forever more, I collect these fragments and put them in a photo album I keep in my mind. Little insights into a another world, another dimension.
Christmas was spent in the new house, with the four of them going down to the beach in the afternoon. Mandy sat on the sand, reading, while Jamie and Belle swam in the surf and Alyssa dozed on a towel in the sun. Mandy looked up over her paperback every so often, and smiled as she watched the two halves of her life – the old one, that her daughters been part of for so long, and the new one, that she was going to share with Jamie – come together as one.
As the tide rose and the heat started to seep from the air, they gathered their towels and walked back to the house. They picked at the leftovers of Christmas lunch, still too full to want much more than that, and Belle challenged everyone to a game of Monopoly. Alyssa declined, and retired to her room to call her friends and catch up on gossip, but Mandy joined in. Belle went easy on them, but won anyway. Belle, especially, went to bed happy, and slept late.
Alyssa was dancing, watching her reflection in the big mirrors that lined the dance studio. It was the same dance school that she had gone to as a young girl -still in preschool – but Alyssa wasn’t that preschooler anymore. She was wearing a pink leotard and soft shoes with ribbons. She had loved those ribbons as a little girl, loved watching her feet in the mirrors as she spun. Now, in this dream, she spun, watching her feet, but as she did so she noticed a reflection in the mirror behind the spinning ribbons. A hand, sliding along the floor, the fingers skeletal, the nails pointed and long, reaching for her ankles. Alyssa knew it was only a reflection, but a reflection of what? She spun faster, pirouetting out of reach of the hand, but still it came, and with no body to follow, just a long endless snaking arm. Alyssa shrieked, wanting to run. Run and run away from these clutching fingers and their snake-like arm. But she found that the harder she tried to stop turning, the faster she spun. Before long, she was spinning so fast the world became a blur, and she could no longer see the arm. Suddenly, her vision exploded into a sea of red, and she saw the hand grasping for her eyes instead of her ankles. She screamed, in real life as well as in her dream, and woke up with a start. She sat up in bed, her eyes wide with fright, her brow sweaty and her hands trembling, and a funny, creepy little rhyme the only solid thing in her mind:
I had a pretty little dolly
I told it my little worry
But then it went red
And now they’re all dead
I am so terribly sorry
Alyssa trembled, the rhyme running through her mind over and over again. Eventually, sleep far away, she got out of bed and went for a walk in the dawn light, trying to clear not the nightmare so much as the rhyme from her head.
In the morning, when Belle eventually stumbled out of bed, the house was silent. She went into the kitchen, still feeling her way around the strange house, getting used to where the corners and walls were. She found the fridge, opened it, and found the ham in its damp bag by smell more than touch. She pulled it out, and carefully cut a few slices with a knife from the block on the bench. She was making toast when she heard laughing from outside, then the slamming of the door. Her mother and Jamie were outside on the verandah, and Alyssa had just arrived from somewhere, Belle surmised. When her toast was ready, she put the ham on top, and holding breakfast with one hand and feeling her way with the other, made her way out to the front of the house.
Alyssa had been down to the beach, and was washing her feet under the tap. Belle could smell the salt as she did it.
“Morning Sleepy head,” Mandy said as Belle sat down at the table, “did you find everything in the kitchen OK?”
“Yeah, I’m getting used to it already.” Belle responded. Alyssa climbed up on to the verandah and made to snatch a piece of Belle’s toast. Belle moved the plate and smacked at her hand before she had a chance, and Alyssa laughed, “I have no idea how you do that, Belle.”
“I can smell your evil intentions,” she retorted.
Alyssa gave a playful pout as she dropped into the only empty chair. She quickly jumped up again to grab something out of her jeans pocket. She sat again and handed it to Belle, using her other hand to guide Belle’s to the tiny item.
“What is it?” Belle asked. Before Alyssa could respond, Belle yelped and jumped out of her seat. She barely noticed as the chair fell back on the ground with a bang. When the little trinket had hit her palm, she had felt as though someone had poured hot fluid over her head. She could smell, even taste, the copper of blood and now she scrubbed at her face to get rid of the sensation. Almost as soon as it had came, it was gone, although she could still feel the rush of adrenaline through her veins.
Alyssa, Mandy and Jamie had all jumped up when Belle did, and Mandy had grabbed Belle, as though to protect her from whatever it was that Alyssa had given her. Now, the fear turned to anger, and she rounded on Alyssa, yelling for her to tell her what had just happened. Alyssa, shocked, just shook her head and stammered. She picked the trinket up off the table, gingerly, as though she thought it might bite – after all, it seemed to have bitten Belle – and held it out to her mother with a trembling hand. Mandy peered at it, not willing to touch it. It was very small, a tiny little piece of twig lying in Alyssa’s hand, with a scrap of cloth wrapped around one end. Mandy frowned, “it’s a little doll,” she said, questioning. She looked from the doll to Alyssa’s shocked face, then to Belle, who was still standing, but who seemed to have mostly recovered, then to Jaime, who just looked confused and a bit bewildered.
“It’s a worry doll, I think. I found it on the beach this morning, someone must have dropped it. I … I thought Belle would like it.”
Belle felt strange. Her heart rate had returned to normal now, but the experience still lingered. Alyssa and her mother were saying it was a little doll. She’d heard about worry dolls – a friend of hers had had a set back when they were in primary school. Little dolls made out of twigs or cardboard, with colourful outfits made from scraps of fabric. They came from Guatemala, and the legend was that if you told your worries to the doll. and left it under your pillow, the doll would worry for you, so you didn’t have to do it yourself. She had played with those dolls all those years ago, and never experienced anything like this before. Alyssa seemed to have no trouble holding it, she had picked it up and carried it in her pocket, held it in her hand when she gave it to Belle. What was different about this doll, that it had given her such a scare?
The doll sat in the middle of the table now, no one quite willing to pick it up, although all – with the exception of Belle – leaned in towards to get a better look. Alyssa picked up Belle’s chair, and Belle thanked her quietly, and plopped herself back down. An awkward silence had descended.
Eventually, Jaime picked up the newspaper, folded it, and stood, “I’m going to go and get started on the mowing”. He leant down close to Alyssa as he walked behind her and said softly, “it might be a good idea to take the doll back where you found it, huh?”. Alyssa nodded mutely.
Alyssa had intended to take it back to the beach. She thought she’d build a little sandcastle and poke the doll down into the top. Eventually the wind or the sea would claim it, take it back to wherever it had come from. For now though, she took it and propped it on the top of the bookshelf in her little unit, leaning against a textbook. Why had the doll had that strange effect on Belle? It didn’t matter which way she turned the events, she couldn’t get them to make sense. It was like one of those logic puzzles, with an answer filled out wrong. Every time she thought she’d figured something out, it invalidated an answer she already had. And that rhyme – but then it went red, and now they’re all dead – was still spinning, spinning in her mind. Alyssa turned the television on, hoping to drown it out but still – and now they’re all dead, now they’re all dead – she couldn’t shake the rhyme, or the cold chill that had persisted since she woke up in the early hours.
Belle had still felt very strange, even hours after the weird event with the worry doll. She had taken a shower immeditaely afterwards, trying to rid herself of the sticky feel of blood on her face, in her hair, on her skin. She had turned the water as hot as she could stand it, scrubbed at her skin until it burned, but still the sensation lingered. It would have been a relief to be able to see her skin in the mirror, see that it looked normal – whatever normal looked like, she thought wryly – because her normally reliable senses were still fooling her into thinking that she was daubed with blood. She wondered where the little doll was now, if Alyssa had taken it back to the beach, or if it was still in the house somewhere. She could almost sense that the doll wasn’t far away, although that was of course nonsense. How could a little scrap of twig with a tiny cloth skirt be signalling its presence to her. But then, how could a little scrap of twig have made her react in the way she had? It was all nonsense, she told herself, but somehow the thought didn’t ring true.
I was still quite young when I realised that people reacted one of two ways to me. Sometimes they would either fuss over me, be extra attentive, and generally over compensate for the fact that they found my disability daunting and didn’t know how to deal with it. These people were generally well intentioned, and over time they would normally start to relax and eventually the difference would fade, the awkwardness would disappear. The other type never seemed to change – they were the ones who spoke louder, because apparently your ears don’t work properly when you’re blind. They were the ones who felt they had to explain things to you, because apparently you have the mental capacity of one much younger when your eyes don’t work. I always appreciate it when people describe things for me – like the location of the pedestrian crossing, the difference between two possible jackets, even something as banal as where the foods are on my plate, or if I have a stain on my shirt – those things make my life a lot easier. But why do some insist on also making a choice for me, apparently because I am incapable of doing so for myself?
Over the next week, the worry doll was gradually forgotten. Although all had seen the effect it had on Belle, after a while their memories faded, and the incident became a mere curiosity, rather than the mystery it seemed at first. Memories – misremembered, subconsioucly altered, blithely cross-patched – changed the event until it was just a strange reaction to a perfectly ordinary occurence. The worry doll was not mentioned again, and even Belle didn’t spare it an extra thought after some time. Alyssa, busy with school and friends, never quite got around to taking the doll back to the beach, instead it languished on the bookshelf for a while, until it got knocked by a book, and fell down behind the shelf. It wasn’t missed.
School was back in. Belle had started year ten in a new place, Alyssa had launched into first year chemistry. Jaime had begun in a small practise not far from their home, and Mandy found herself home alone most days. Unaccustomed to the amount of spare time she suddenly found herself with, she scoured newspapers for community groups to join, jobs to apply for and charities that required volunteers. Belle was finally given a guide dog, after more than five years on the waiting list. After the two of them spent some time together in the dog’s foster home, Belle brought home a golden labrador retriever named Rudolph, so named for reasons no one really knew. With her new friend and the ability Rudoplh gave her to get around unaided, Belle began to explore the area around the house more. Life settled in to a new routine that revolved around Jaime’s shifts, Alyssa’s lectures and Belle’s visits to friends and the shopping centre.
Belle was sitting on the beach chatting with her friend Kayla, Rudolph sitting obediantly between them, cadging pats from both girls. Belle knew what he really wanted was to go for a swim, and she decided to take his harness off and let him very soon, but right now she just wanted to sit. Her feet were buried in the warm sand, her hand was buried in Rudolph’s warm fur and they were chatting about nothing in particular. She could smell sand and salt, hot dog and the very faint smell of Kayla’s perfume. She felt relaxed, happy, and she didn’t want to get up in case it broke the spell. Eventually though Rudolph turned towards her, whined a little, and stood slightly, “let’s go,” he was saying. Belle smiled, she had very quickly fallen in love with the labrador, and asked Kayla to come with her down to the water’s edge. As they walked over the hot sand, Rudolph pulled harder on the harness, and when she felt the hard-packed, wet sand underneath her feet, Belle knelt and unstrapped him, told him to go and have a swim. Rudolph ran off without hesitation and Belle smiled as she heard him yapping in the waves. Kayla laughed, a sweet high laugh, “Oh I wish you could see him, Belle!” she said, “he looks as though he is enjoying himself so much.”
Belle laughed too, “I can hear him, I know he is. I’m glad he found me. I don’t think he would have been as happy in the city.”
“That’s true. You two are great friends already, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, we sure are.” Belle agreed.
Together, they stood on the beach for a while, waves lapping over their ankles and their feet gradually sinking into the wet sand. When he was thoroughly wet and compeltely worn out, Rudolph came back and Belle let him run free for a while to dry his fur before replacing the leather harness. He would dart out along the beach, yapping at the waves, then race back to Belle. He had already learned that the beach was the only place he wasn’t expected to lead, but he was still a guide dog at heart – he wouldn’t go too far away without Belle. They were getting ready to leave and head back home, and Belle called to Rudolph to get his harness back on. She knelt and patted him to make sure he was properly dry, but as she went to put the harness over his head, he kept on nuzzling her hand instead. Kayla looked down, “Oh he’s got something, Belle. He’s giving it you.”
“What is it, Rudolph?” Belle asked, holding her hand out. The dog dropped something into her palm and immediately Belle felt a pain in her chest. She dropped the thing Rudolph had given, brought her hands to her chest and started to cough and splutter. At the same instant, Kayla asked what the problem was, and Rudolph began to howl. Almost as soon as it had arrived, the pain passed, Belle caught her breath again, and she lay curled in a ball on the grass.
“What the … what happened, Belle? Are you OK? Should I call a … I don’t know … an ambulance or something?”
Belle could only nod, she was fine, she just needed time to recover from the shock, but suddenly a fragment of a rhyme occured to her:
I had a pretty little dolly
I told it my little worry
It wrapped around in her mind, repeating and replaying, but not making any sense, but a connection had been made in Belle’s mind, and she scrabbled around in the sand. “Can you find it, Kayla?” she asked
“Find what?” Kayla replied, mystified.
“What it was that Rudolph tried to give me.” Both girls, with the dog’s negligable assistance, scrabbled in the sand for some time, but the item could not be found. All the same, Belle knew what it was. It was a worry doll. Maybe not the same one as Alyssa had found months ago, but a worry doll all the same.
I had a pretty little dolly …
Mandy had been at a job interview. She had decided that she needed a job in order to keep her sanity. She had worked all her life, with only minimal time off when the children were born. That and the last ten years of constant struggle just to keep food on the table had ingrained in her mind that to stay at home all day was something akin to death by slowly sinking in to insanity. She had never aspired to be a ‘kept woman’, a ‘society lady’ or a ‘woman of means’. The idea repelled her, in fact. Of course, it would also be nice to have her own money again, and to be able to use it buy things she wanted, rather than the bare neccesities, without having to ask Jaime for ‘pin money’. Add to that the somewhat depressing thought that, if her relationship did happen to fall apart again, that she would have a nest egg to help her, and the deal was sealed. She had enjoyed her receptionist job at the medical centre in the old place, and so it was natural to continue searching for the same type of work again.
She walked in, still in her best outfit, and put her handbag down on the table with a bump. All she could think about was how desperately she wanted to get out of these pantyhose. It was a hot day, and the pantyhouse weren’t helping. She went into the bedroom, shedding her jacket and shirt as she went. She sat on the edge of the bed to remove her heels, then peeled her pantyhose down off her legs. She dumped the dirty clothes into the basket, and sat down at her vanity to wipe her makeup off. The vanity was one of the few pieces of furniture that she had kept when they moved into the new house. It was in an art deco style, with a full mirror that wrapped onto two wings. The mirror was spotted with age, but still very serviceable.
Rummaging through drawers for makeup remover and a cotton pad, Mandy let her mind drift over the interview. It had been rather terrible, the heat had made it hard to concentrate, and the little room was stifling. She kept finding herself wanting to jump up and open the window, and having to hold herself back. But she had answered the interviewer’s questions, possibly not as well as she could have. She reasoned that she didn’t really want to work in a place without air conditioning, at any rate. Not in this climate.
With the bottle of makeup remover in hand, Mandy straightened and began unscrewing the lid. She poured the liquid onto the cotton wool and lifted her eyes to the mirror. She had already taken the first swipe at her eye makeup when she noticed the figure standing behind her own reflection, and she turned quickly, her heart pounding, but there was no one there. Mandy frowned, thought it must have been a trick of the light. She turned back to the mirror, only to see the same figure standing there, but this time the girl’s hands were to her head, blood gushing through her fingers. Mandy screamed, wheeled around again and, without looking to check again if the girl was in the room or not, fled from the bedroom. When Jaime arrived home over an hour later, she was still sitting at the bottom of the stairs, the door locked behind her, half dressed and with her makeup smeared across her face. She still held the now dry cotton pad in her hand.
Jaime sat with her on the bottom stair, the light fading around them, and tried to work out what had happened. Mandy would not speak at first, would only allow him to hold her, to stroke her hair. He didn’t want to ask directly what had happened, afraid it would just upset her further, so instead he tried to coax her to come inside, let him make her a cup of tea. She was shivering -how much from the chill in the early evening air, and how much from whatever shock she had experienced he could not guess. Eventually, though, she nodded against his chest, and half supported, half carried her into the kitchen. He got her seated at the table, and watched her as he moved around making a cup of tea for her. She was curled in on herself, still shivering, and casting wary glances towards the bedroom. As he waited for the water in the kettle to slowly rise to a boil, Jaime walked behind Mandy, rubbed her bare arms, and told her that he was just going to go and get her a jacket. She nodded mutely but he noticed that her eyes were glued on him as he moved towards the door.
He found the room just as it should be. Jaime wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but given that Mandy’s strange reactions seemed to be centreing on the room, he had expected to see something out of the ordinary. A pair of Mandy’s heels lay on the floor near the bed, the chair from the vanity was pulled out slightly, the doona cover slightly rumpled in one spot. Nothing out of the ordinary. He opened the wardrobe door cautiously, half expecting something to leap out at him, simultaeneously chiding himself for such B-grade horror movie ideas, but still not quite convincing himself. When the wardrobe, too, appeared perfectly normal, he found a zippered jumper of Mandy’s, closed the wardrobe door, and headed back out to the kitchen.
Mandy must have been staring at the door the whole time he had been in the bedroom. Her eyes locked with his the instant he walked back into the room, relief flooding them almost instantly. He wrapped the jacket around her shoulders and she wriggled into them. Jaime folded her into his arms and kissed her, a lingering kiss that said more about his deep affection for her than words ever could. She let herself be taken away by it. He had just proven, without saying a thing, that there was nothing to fear in the bedroom. Whatever she had seen in the mirror had been her imagination running away with her. Maybe the sun had gotten to her. Suddenly, she felt a little ashamed, letting her imagination get the better of her, and giving Jaime a terrible fright, finding her like that. When the kiss eventually ended, Mandy almost felt like her normal self again. She gave Jaime a little smile that was self-deprecating and apologetic, and he returned the smile with one of his own – slightly perplexed, but pleased to see her smile, all the same. Still unwilling to talk about the incident, Mandy moved towards him again, seeking his lips. Jaime responded, and they kissed again, harder this time.
In the kitchen, the kettle boiled, clicked off, and the water started to cool again.
The next morning it all seemed like a shared bad dream. Mandy had not quite forgotten the shock of seeing the girl with the head wound in the mirror, but she could no longer work out why she had run from the room in terror, and sat on the step half naked and shaking for the better part of an hour. It seemed like an amazingly out of character thing for her to do, really. The two of them had not really spoken about it too much. Partly because Mandy didn’t really want to discuss it, and partly because Jaime didn’t want to push her into talking about it until she was ready. Mandy would much rather put it down to heatstroke and an over active imagination, than to anything more real – and more sinister – than that.
Alyssa stood in the middle of her room, looking around, and wondering how she could improve it. The room was one of three in the granny flat that was attached to the new house. The bedroom cum living room was the largest, and held a futon, a small computer desk, a bookcase and an entertainment centre. The living room gave on to the little kitchen by way of a breakfast bar. The kitchen was not much more than a microwave and a sink. Mandy had put a portable burner in one corner, but Alyssa had not yet bothered to work out how to operate it. She was quite content to join the rest of the family for meals, and so her kitchen held no more than a jar of instant coffee and a bottle of milk that was fast turning sour. An ensuite led off the kitchen.
There was not much room for movement, but the morning sun was slanting in through the curtains and falling in broad strokes across her face early in the morning, so she had resolved to move the futon against a different wall. Unfortunately, in order to do so, she would need to re arrange the whole room. She had sat down at her desk and drawn up a plan, and now she just needed to put it into place. For that, though, she was going to need some help.
Belle got home from school and wandered with Rudolph into her bedroom. She dropped her bag on the bed and then went into the kitchen to find something to eat. She was getting bread out to make a sandwich when she noticed voices coming from the other side of the kitchen wall. The ensuite in Alyssa’s flat backed onto the kitchen in the house probably because the water supply was shared between the two. Now Belle paused, listening. She couldn’t catch the words, but she recognised Alyssa’s voice. The other voice was male, but didn’t sound like Jaime. Besides, he wasn’t home, his car wasn’t in the driveway. Mandy wasn’t here, she was off on another job interview, Belle guessed. She thought this over while she buttered the bread and layered sliced ham on it. The voices were laughing – Alyssa’s voice unnaturally high pitched and the man’s voice a low amused chuckle. Belle shoved the sandwich in her mouth, took a bite, and then went out to check on Rudolph’s water bowl. She unharnessed him and left him there to drink while she investigated what was going on in the granny flat.
Still munching, Belle knocked on the door of Alyssa’s flat, “Liss!” she called. From inside came the sound of a thud, scuffling, giggling, and finally footsteps. “What is it Belle?” Alyssa responded. Belle waited for the door to open before she replied.
“Just wondering what all the noise is about. Who’s here?”
Alyssa hesitated slightly, and Belle imagined her looking over her shoulder at her guest. “Just a friend.” she replied eventually.
Belle raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to introduce me then?” she asked, archly.
“Ahh. Yeah. Belle, this is Luke. Luke, my sister Belle. Luke’s just been helping me move some furniture around.”
Belle stuck her hand out in what she imagined was Luke’s direction. He hadn’t spoken yet, so it was difficult to judge. Eventually, he took it, pumped it perfuncturally twice, and said with a forced casualness, “Errr. Nice to meet you, Belle.”
Belle smiled, “It’s OK. I’m blind. You don’t have to pretend you didn’t notice.” She couldn’t be certain if this statement had made any difference to Luke. Or if it, what kind of difference. For someone who seemed quite talkative a few moments ago, he was being rather silent now. Belle had a feeling it wasn’t just the fact that she was blind that was causing it. There was something else up, and it made Belle wonder what they were really up to. She didn’t think it was just moving furniture somehow. She decided to make a graceful exit, and quiz Alyssa later on. She smiled again, in what she hoped was disarming and playful “Well, nice to meet you, Luke. See you at dinner, Liss.”
She turned to go, and was negotiating the single step down into the yard, when a hand fell on her shoulder. Belle wheeled around, a slight smile still playing on her lips.
“Umm … about dinner,” Alyssa said. Belle looked expectant. “I won’t be at dinner tonight. Can you tell Mum?”
“Yeah, sure.” Belle allowed a pregnant pause to creep in. “What should I tell her?”
“Just … tell her I’m out at the movies with some friends.”
“Friends, huh?” Belle raised the eyebrow again.
Alyssa’s voice took on a defensive tone as she said, “Yeah. Friends.”
Belle smiled again, with false innocence, “OK, Liss. No problem. I’ll tell her.”
“Thanks” her sister replied wryly, “that’d be great.”
Belle listened to her footsteps retreat into the flat, the door closing behind them. It wasn’t long before she caught the murmer of Luke’s voice again, and her sister’s giggle. Yup, she thought to herself, not much furniture removal going on there. She thought “friends” might just be “friend”, too. She gave herself a little chuckle as she walked back into the house, and whispered under breath, “Lyssa and Lu-uke, sittin’ in a tree …” somehow, the next line became “I told it a little worry”, and suddenly it wasn’t so funny any more.
Mandy hadn’t quite dared to look into the dressing table mirror since she saw the girl with the head wound. This morning, she had gotten dressed in front of the mirrored doors of the built-in wardrobe instead. She had done her hair in the fogged bathroom mirror – wiping patches of it clear with her bath towel and leaving smears of white thread all over it. Still, like the child who knows the monster is under the bed, and just because they can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t, she had expected to see an ethereal figure behind her, had spent more time watching the background rather than her own reflection. She had chided herself over again for being over-cautious, superstitious, childish. She was an adult, she shouldn’t be jumping at shadows, she reminded herself. There was no such thing as the boogey man and there was certainly no invisible, mortally wounded children in her bedroom who could be seen only as reflections. The very idea was absurd, the other mirrors in the house proved the fact – they were steadfastly free of ghostly images, except for those of her own house, and herself.
Belle got back into the house and found her mother cleaning up in the kitchen. The smell of onion and garlic was in the air, and although she could hear the hum of the oven fan she could not yet feel heat from it.
“What’s for dinner?” she asked.
“I’m making a lasagne,” Mandy replied, “I’ve done the mince and the bechamal sauce, I just need to put it all together now.” She turned to Belle, throwing the damp tea towel over her shoulder. Belle felt the air move as it displaced around the towel, and shrunk back a little involuntarily. “How does that sound to you?”
Belle gave a smile, although she struggled a little. A deep feeling of unease had come over her. It was related to the discussion she had just had with her sister, but somehow that wasn’t the root cause. “Sounds great! When will it be ready?”
“About half past seven, I guess. It’s six now.” she added.
Belle thought her mother sounded strained, even through the happy, everything is normal kind of tone she was using. “Oh, I was just out speaking to Allyssa,” she mentioned casually.
Mandy didn’t answer, she had her head in the pantry, hunting out lasagne sheets. Belle could hear tins, jars and boxes all shifting and something falling over. Mandy’s under the breath curse, followed by her exclamation when she found what she was looking for. When Belle sensed she had Mandy’s attention again, she continued, “Yeah, she said she was going out to a movie.” Belle paused, “With a friend.”
“What, tonight? Oh, what a pain. Still, never mind, more for us, huh?”
Belle could hear the smile in Mandy’s voice, but somehow, she didn’t believe it. It was there, but not quite real.
Jaime was not worried. Not at all. He was at his desk in the little consulting room, fiddling with an oversized paddlepop stick tongue depresser. He realised that Mandy had seen something in the vanity mirror that had frightened her. A movement in the trees outside, reflected from the window, or a piece of clothing, caught in the breeze. It had given her a fright, and she had reacted badly. It certainly wasn’t a cause for alarm. He grabbed one of the wrapped lollies he bribed the children with, unwrapped it and put it in his mouth. She had been in a state of shock, but had come around quickly enough by the time she came inside. Probably the temperature had exacerbated the effects of the shock. She had run outside half naked, sat on the step in the baking heat and then a cool breeze as the sun dipped below the horizon. What might have passed in a few moments under normal circumstances had been made worse under those conditions. Jaime had been trained to think rationally, that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, that every disease had symptoms, and every medication had side-effects. In this case, his rational mind told him there were perfectly explainable reasons why Mandy had reacted the way she had. He ran the tongue depressor through his fingers, twirling, twirling, the lolly dissolving in his mouth. His sub-conscious, however, tried to convince him otherwise. There was no way the vanity mirror could pick up a reflection of the trees blowing in the breeze, it said. Besides, the day had been still – hot and still. The temperature hadn’t dropped that far, it said, not far enough to make the effects of Mandy’s shock worse. Jaime attempted to stop this voice of un-reason. This harbinger of truths he didn’t want to hear, didn’t want to believe. Wouldn’t believe. He looked to his computer to check the name of his next patient. Stood, and went to the waiting room to call them. When he returned, patient dutifully trailing behind him, he noticed the strips of balsa wood – what remained of the tongue depressor – on his desk, and quickly swiped away the mess into the bin.
Alyssa surveyed her room again, this time feeling more pleased. Luke had helped her move quite a lot of the bigger things, the whole time chatting away about things he and his mates had gotten up to, making her laugh so hard she grew too weak to help. Afterwards, Luke had gone down to the shops, brought back fish and chips, five DVDs and a plastic shopping bag of chocolate bars and bags of lollies. When he got in, he held it up sheepishly and said “I couldn’t choose,”. They had settled onto the futon – folded up now into a lounge – and watched a DVD together. They had never quite made it to a movie, despite what Allyssa had told Belle. Some time around midnight, after they had put the futon out and fallen asleep side by side, the second movie running unwatched as they slept in front of it, Luke had gotten up, stared silently at Alyssa as she slept on, and pulled the doona up around her shoulders. He stared for a little longer, then stepped out, closing the door silently behind him. Awake again now, basking in the warm glow that the encounter had left her with, Alyssa stood in the sunlit room and decided that she needed a reading nook. A couple of swathes of sheer fabric and some thumb-tacks would do it, she thought.
Jaime had commented on Alyssa’s absence from the dining table, and Mandy had responded with a raised eyebrow and the fact that she was out at the movies. Jaime pointed out that the lights were on in the granny flat and a strange car parked in the driveway. Mandy gave a strange look and Belle responded with a knowing, “Yes, she told me she’s going to the movies … with friends.” Jaime looked confused at first, and then realised what was going on, “Oh,” he replied, “with friends, huh? Seems as though the friends have decided to stay in, rather than go out.”
Mandy gave a quiet chuckle. She knew exactly what was going on, had seen the lanky teenager go out for half an hour and come back with shopping bags and DVDs. A movie night was definitely what was happening, but not in the way that Alyssa had told Belle it was going to happen. At least, they didn’t seem to be going out for it, anyway. Mandy laughed again, it reminded her of when she was a teenager – telling her parents one story and acting out another, thinking they never had a clue. It was only when she became a parent herself that she realised they had known all along, had just gone along with the story she told them in full knowledge of what was going on. And now her eldest was doing it to her too – wheels turn.
Memories are malleable. This has been proven through history – false memories implanted; misremembered facts; self-delusion; re-interpretation of history – and seen over and over throughout the human race. People do things, see things, take part in events, and afterwards, the memory of those events become what the person wants them to be. Good memories get coated in a layer of gloss; bad memories surrounded in shadow. Sometimes, memories are changed to suit – if a person is rewarded for a traumatic experience by being pitied and lavished with love, then that traumatic experience will be relived to the point that it no longer resembles fact. The person who remembers it still thinks it is was happened, even though the memory may have changed to be almost unrecognisable. If a good memory is tarnished – by a spurned lover, a death, or an embarresment – then that memory gets redrawn with shadows, and loses some of its sparkle. The remembered event is not what is important. What is important is the way the person doing the remembering does so.
On Sunday night, as the sun was sinking low in the sky, Jaime convinced Mandy to go for a walk with him along the beach. Alyssa had surfaced from her flat earlier in the day and sheepishly introduced Luke to them all before taking off in his car for dinner somewhere. Belle had looked on enviously, and then retreated to her room with her laptop. Mandy could hear the sound of her text-to-speech reader as she browsed Facebook behind the closed door.
The beach was deserted at this hour, except for one other couple like themselves, strolling the hard packed sand near the waterline in the gathering dusk. They walked hand-in-hand, not talking, just enjoying the feeling of being together, and being where they were. Mandy watched bare feet as she walked – watched the sand kicked up by her toes fling forward with every step, only to be flattened by the next. She kept an eye out for shells, seaweed, jellyfish and other flotsam as she went, stepping around them when neccesary, stopping and picking up an interesting shell and showing it to Jaime before throwing it back to be found by someone else. After some time of walking silently in this way, Mandy could sense an unease in Jaime and she turned to him to ask what was bothering him. He frowned, breathed in as though to speak, then let it out silently, uncertain how to start. She waited and eventually Jaime found an order for the words he had tumbling around in his head.
“What did you see that day?”
No further explanation was neccesary – Mandy knew exactly what he meant. She was quiet for a while – she, too, had trouble sorting out the words that would describe not just what she saw, but how she felt about it. How to describe the horror of the little girl, the blood pouring from between her fingers, the realism – the solidness – of the vision, the way she had not just seen the blood but smelled it, the fear she now had of mirrors, of reflections. Eventually, she opened her mouth, and let the words tumble out in their own way. She laid her heart and her mind bare, and afterwards felt somewhat cleansed and whole again. Jaime on the other hand, felt worse now that he knew the whole story. It hadn’t been the wind, after all.
Mandy was at home on Monday, as every other Monday. This afternoon she was preparing a slow-cooked curry and meandering through a crossword puzzle. It sounded terribly idyllic, but Mandy felt like tearing the book apart in frustration. It wasn’t that she she found the crosswords challenging, but that they weren’t challenging enough, and she couldn’t think of anything better to do. She had once heard someone say that they had “read the internet, and it’s all boring”. At the time she hadn’t understood, but now she understood all too well. She had spent time on the computer, time doing crosswords, time cooking, time cleaning and time gardening. She had too much time, and not enough things to do in it. The more time she spent meandering around the house the more she felt alone and worried. Since the conversation with Jaime on the beach she had felt better about what she had seen in the mirror, but she still didn’t feel entirely confortable with spending time alone in the house, either. She yearned for one of the girls to walk in and demand food, for Jamie to come home with a kiss and a suggestion for dinner.
She was trying to come up with a ten-letter word for “portend” when the phone rang. She was still sifting through possibilities as she stood and picked up the phone.
“Mandy Tibbots?” the woman on the other end asked.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Oh, hi, Mandy. This is Elaine from the Riverview General Practice Centre.”
Mandy’s mind raced through names and interviews, trying to match the name to a medical centre. She had not quite managed this when the woman continued, “You came in and saw us last week, and we would like to offer you the position.”
“Oh!” Mandy replied, surprised, “That’s great!”
“Yes, we would love to have you on board, Mandy. When can you come in and get the details sorted out?”
Mandy floated through the rest of call, arranging to go to the surgery the next morning and pick up paperwork and a uniform. For the first time in days, ethereal figures in mirrors seemed a world away from reality. Which is exactly where they belonged, Mandy thought.
Alyssa had spent most of Monday morning sprawled on throw cushions in her new reading corner, sun filtering through pink and blue sheer fabric to lay in coloured streaks across the page. She had spent a good deal of the time with text books, a lecture pad and coloured highlighters in front her, while she daydreamed about laying in Luke’s arms. Every so often she would force her eyes back to the page, only to find herself drifting off again only sentences later. She checked her watch. She was due to leave for a lecture in half an hour, and she was still no where near getting the reading done. Alyssa sighed and shifted on the cushions, trying to get into a position that would make her concentrate on her reading, rather than everything but, if such a position existed. As she shuffled things around, getting into a more upright pose, something on the floor caught her eye, just peeping out from under the corner of a throw rug. She stared, and leant down to pick it up in her fingers. It was the little worry doll … the little one that she had found on the beach and forgotten to take back. It must have surfaced again with all the furniture removals. She looked down at her other hand, and realised she had been writing in her notepad, an agry scrawl slashed across the page that in no way resembled her own curved writing. The words “I had a little dolly, I told it my little worry” were scratched on the paper, the pen strokes had broken through to the next page in spots, as though the words were trying to escape out of the note pad. She dropped the pen as though it were red hot, and turned to stare at the doll, then she dropped that too, as if it had burned her.
Belle, with Rudolph in tow, arrived home to find her mother singing in the kitchen. An event which, ordinarily, would not have been remarkable, was now. The past week or so Belle had been aware that her mother was not acting her normal self, most of it was probably loneliness – it was clear that she wasn’t happy being at home all day long on her own. Even though Belle thoroughly enjoyed having her around when she got home from school – an event that she couldn’t remember ever happening before – she didn’t enjoy having her mother feeling so unhappy. Mandy tried to hide it, but Belle could tell, nevertheless. She wondered if any of it had to do with the worry doll that Alyssa had brought home and then stopped herself – where on earth had that random thought come from, how could it have made a diference? Belle had not told her mother – or anyone else for that matter – about the worry doll that she thought Rudolph had found on the beach. There was no evidence that that was what it was, anyway, she told herself.
Belle dropped her bag in her room, and took Rudolph’s harness off so he could go and have a drink. She wandered into the kitchen and stood just outside the entrance, smiling as she listened to her mother singing a bad rendition of “Murder on the Dancefloor”. After a little while, she staged an entrance, plugging her ears theatrically and saying “Just what is that awful noise? Mum! I think someone is trying to strange a cat in our kitchen!”
Mandy stopped mid-wail and cuffed Belle as she walked in. Belle ducked at the last minute and asked if there was anything to eat.
“There’s bread and vegemite, biscuits in the jar, just the normal fare, I’m afraid. But,” she gave a dramatic pause for effect before blurting out, “I’ve just been offered a job!”
Belle was already raiding the bisuit jar, feeling through them for the ones she liked, and she shoved one in her mouth whole before replying, “Mm Mmm Mmmmm?”
“You’re spraying crumbs everywhere, Belle!” Mandy exclaimed, “Didn’t your mother teach you anything?” but her voice was smiling, even as she chided her.
Belle swallowed hurriedly and repeated, “A job where?”
“Riverview Medical Centre. I’m going in tomorrow to sort out the paperwork and everything. I’ll start next week.”
“Hey, that’s excellent news, Mum!” Belle gave her Mum a hug. As much as she loved having her Mum around the house a bit more, it was worth her going out and getting a job, if only so that she acted herself again. Hopefully, this meant that things would start to get normal again. A little voice added in her head, quite unexpectedly, “and no more worry dolls …”
Alyssa stared at the little doll, lying on the floor not a metre away from her nose, and fought the urge to recoil further. It was a doll, for goodness’ sake, why was she so terrified of it? It hadn’t actually harmed her, like it seemed to have hurt Belle that time, but it had certainly given her a shock. And what was with the writing? It was nothing like her own, but she had definitely written it. She still had little marks in her fingers, where her nails had dug in as she gripped the pen tight. She had nearly broken her own skin in one spot on her middle finger, she realised now. And the words, they were from that poem that had been rolling around in her head the day she found the doll on the beach. Thinking of that morning made her think about the nightmare she had had – in the dance studio, spinning, spinning, and then the hand reaching for her with the razor sharp nails. Alyssa shivered, and tried to banish the idea from her mind, but the image was with her now. Like a stubborn piece of meat caught in between her teeth, the image was stuck in her mind, and it wasn’t going to shift without some effort, she realised.
The sun filtering through the sheer fabric and onto the page no longer seemed conforting and romantic, but claustrophobic and stifling. She wondered what was lingering out there that she couldn’t quite see. And the doll, staring up at her from the floor, as though it was telling her that she was a bad girl. A bad, bad girl. But then it went red. And now they’re all dead. You’re a wicked little girl. Alyssa jumped up, startled, and whipped aside the curtains. Her room was as it should be. Except for the taunting little doll on the floor of the reading nook and the torn pages with their eerie message, everything was fine. She took a deep breath. Everything was fine.
She reached down to the notebook and tore out the page she (had she? who else could it have been?) had scrawled on, and the two pages beneath it, where the impression of the letters still stood, then threw them down the garbage disposal in the kitchen sink. As she watched the hungry machine chew them up, she had another idea, and went back to the reading nook to grab the doll. But it was gone. She lifted the throw pillows, tossed them aside in a frenzy, but the doll was nowhere to be found. It had, however, left that image in her mind, and she couldn’t almost hear it scratching in the corner of her brain – you bad, wicked girl. Now they’re all dead.
Mandy picked up her new uniform blouse – plain white and tailored, with the kitsch logo of the practise on the left breast – and peered inside it for tags. They were there, with a little bag containing a spare button. She tore them off with a single tug, and put them aside on the dressing table. She would add the button to her collection in the sewing kit later on. The pants, seams sharp enough to spread butter, also sported all sorts of tags and labels. She was going to need scissors for this lot, she thought. She meandered out to the kitchen in her bra and underpants, to find the nail scissors and snip them off. Back in the bedroom, she detached the tags, and stepped into the pants. They were a good fit, she thought, looking in the mirrored doors of the wardrobe. She sat down at the vanity to do her makeup – just a little natural colour, she thought, don’t overdo it. She finished, stood, and shrugged on the blouse, watching her refelction in the vanity mirror as she did up the buttons, and shrugged her shoulders, getting it to hang nicely. Eventually, nodding appreciably, she left the room. She didn’t notice the woman behind her reflected image in the vanity mirror, and walked out humming under her breath, ready to start on her first day.
Jamie was at the end of his shift. It had been a long one, and he was tired. The patients had been nothing but a long, non-stop line of whinging, sniffling and complaining. Some days, he found himself wondering what had possessed him to go into general practise in the first place. Why hadn’t he done like all his peers had – found a speciality and gone on to be a surgeon, make the big money. He was sure that he had had compelling reasons to go into general practise at the time, but he could be buggered if he could remember what they were now.
He packed the last of the equipment – sterilised and ready for a new day – away in the drawers, grabbed his briefcase, and headed out, pulling the consulting room door shut behind him. In the reception area, the medical receptionist was busy packing away his own desk – finalising the day’s takings, putting the money in a bank deposit bag, and shutting down the twin computers on the front desk. Jaime popped his head in behind the counter to say a quick goodbye. Robert looked up, smiled briefly, and wished him a good night. Jamie thanked him, and then stopped short as he spotted something on Rob’s desk. He pointed and, unable to find his voice at first, eventually stammered out, “Wh … what’s that?”
Rob looked up, startled, then followed Jamie’s pointing finger with his eyes. He picked up the little doll on the desk, and held it out so Jamie could see, “What this? Well, I believe it’s a Guatemalan Worry Doll.”
Jamie recoiled from the proffered doll, mentally chiding himself, but unable to stop himself, “Where … where did you get it?” he said in a voice that was nothing even close to normal.
“Why, it was left here in reception. I guess a patient dropped it.” Rob paused, searching Jamie’s face, “Doctor? Are you alright? Can I get you a glass of water or something?”
Jamie shook his head, trying to clear it, and recover from the shock of seeing the little doll here in the practise. “I … yes, I’m fine. Thanks Rob. Why don’t you … take it home with you, huh?”
“Ah, well, I was thinking I’d leave it here for now. Someone might come back for it.”
“Oh. Hmm. Good point.” Jamie moved around into the public area again, “Well. I’ll … I’ll see you tomorrow then.” Jamie paused, checking to see if he could see the worry doll from this position. Pleased when he realised that he couldn’t, he added, “Actually, it will be Wednesday. I’m off tomorrow.”
“Yes, no problem.” Rob gave him another searching look, “Are you sure you’re alright, Doctor? You’ve gone white as sheet.”
Jamie nodded. He was getting a grip on himself again now that he couldn’t see the doll from behind the high-topped desk. He even managed a halfway normal smile. “I’m fine Rob, just felt a bit strange for a while there. Must be these long hours. It’s nothing a good night’s sleep won’t fix.” He gave another smile to punctuate the lie, and tossed a wave over his shoulder as he walked out the door, leaving Rob alone in the practise. With the doll.
When Jamie finally got home, it was after eight o’clock. The girls were nowhere to be seen – Belle holed up in her room and Alyssa studying in her flat, he guessed. Rudolph greeted him lazily from under the kitchen table, but didn’t get up. He could see a plastic-wrapped plate sitting on the kitchen bench and he put it into the microwave and set it going. While he waited, he wandered into the bedroom, looking for Mandy, and found her sitting up in bed, reading. Or at least, she had been. The book – a paperback copy of a John Grisham novel – had slipped closed from one limp hand, and she was fast asleep in a sitting position. He stopped, smiled down at her, the only thought in his mind how beautiful she was, then leant down to kiss her forehead. Her eyes fluttered gently, and she opened them with a yawn, “Oh, hello you.” she murmered.
“How are you, Darling? How was your first day?”
Mandy stretched, and recovered her book. She reached over to the bedside table to put it away as she answered, “Oh, pretty good. It’s all pretty much the same as I’m used to. I have to get used to the computing system, but the office manager and the doctors all seem quite nice.”
Jamie smiled, sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled off his shoes so he could lie down beside her. He had an itch the arch of his foot, inside his sock, and he scratched at it absently, then pulled the sock off. A little piece of twig, wrapped in a scrap of cloth, fell out of the sock and on to the carpet. Jamie caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, then jumped up suddenly when he realised what it was. He uttered a little unvoluntary cry, and Mandy sat up in bed, her eyes questioning. They both stared at the little doll on the floor – Mandy from the bed, and Jamie standing nearby. From the kitchen, the microwave began to beep. Jamie ignored it.
Belle had heard Jamie come in, she was lying on her bed with her laptop open, an online book being read to her through the text-to-speech system. She had also heard the microwave beep to indicate it had finished its programme. In two minutes it beeped again. And then again. Belle wondered what they were up to. When it started beeping for the fourth time, Belle paused the book reading, and got up with a sigh. She wasn’t going to put up with that beeping all night. And it would go all night, the microwave wouldn’t let up once it on to a good thing, she knew. Also, she decided she needed a cup of coffee.
In the kitchen, Belle hit the Cancel button without looking inside the microwave. She knew it would be Jamie’s dinner in there. She filled the kettle from the tap, set it back on the base, and switched it on. She couldn’t hear any noise from the rest of the house – everything was eerily still, until Rudolph gave a strange little whine from his place under the table. Suddenly, a little trickle of fear began to slide into the pit of her belly. Something was wrong.
“Mum!” she called. Listened. Nothing. “Mum?” Belle held her breath, straining to hear anything over her own heartbeat. Rudolph whined again, louder this time.
“Mum?!” She was just about screaming now, and she heard the edge of panic on her own voice. The trickle of fear had began a hot stone sitting in her stomach, weighing her down. Rudolph was suddenly at her side, leaning his warm body against her leg. It was comforting in its own way, but not what she needed right now. She patted him, murmered “what’s going on, Roo?” then pushed him away gently as she began to hurry towards the entrance to her mother’s bedroom. Moving too quickly, she rapped her thigh against the corner of the kitchen table, and swore under her breath. When she reached the door, she found it open, and called out again, yelling “Mum?! Are you in here?”
As though waking from a trance, Mandy looked up at her daughter, “I’m here Belle. Don’t shout.” she said dreamily.
“Mum? What’s happening?”
“Happening?” Mandy said, as though she didn’t understand the word.
“Yeah. The microwave …” Belle trailed off, not really certain what had caused her flutter of fear, now. “And Rudolph. He was … well, he was whining.” Belle felt suddenly foolish at her own panic.
Mandy gave Jamie a look, and although Belle didn’t see it, she sensed the ripple in the air. “What’s going on, Mum?”
Belle listened to the bed springs shift as Mandy got up off the bed, heard the shuffle of her footsteps on the carpet, masking Jamie’s. Then Mandy’s arm was around her shoulders. “Nothing’s going on, Belle. What’s got into you?”
Belle frowned. She could tell something was going on, but she couldn’t begin to guess what it was. Mandy went on, in a false voice, “How about I put the kettle on, huh?”
Alyssa was in a lecture, towards the back of the theatre. It was a bad place to sit with this lecturer, she was quickly learning. She made a mental note to make sure to sit closer to the front in the future. He was an older man, white hair poking out in tufts above his ears, and he had a tendency to wander around the lecturn as he spoke. Much of his address appeared to be directed at his projected notes, rather than his audience, and subsquently his voice got lost in the cavernous roof of the lecture theatre. Alyssa yawned. This was the last lecture of her busiest day of the week. To be cursed with a lecturer who was this hard to concentrate on was going to be bad news for her results, she could just tell.
She was doodling in her notebook as she she tried to concentrate, little pictures of flowers and love hearts intermingled with Luke’s name and words that she picked up here and there from the lecture. She sighed. These lecture notes weren’t going to help her study later on. She continued doodling and her mind started to drift sleepily. Luke was coming to pick her up in his car after this class. It was the only thing stopping her getting up and leaving – she knew he wouldn’t be there until 6pm, so she might as well stay and try to absorb something in the meantime. Her mother knew not to expect her for dinner on Thursdays now. Alyssa’s Thursdays started with a Biology lecture at 10 o’clock, and went through virtually non-stop until this 2 hour Ethics in Medicine class at 4 o’clock. Punishing, but it was made up for by an easy two lecture day on Fridays. She hoped she could even things out a little next year. Maybe when she got used to how things work, she would be able to plan it a bit better. Luke was a second year engineering student, he seemed to have a much better schedule than her own. But then she suspected that he was a bit selective about which lectures he went to sometimes. She checked her watch yet again – still an hour to go. She wondered where Luke would take her for dinner. She decided she would ask if they could find a curry – Indian maybe. Or Malaysian. They had been going out more or less officially for nearly a month now. They hadn’t slept together yet, although Alyssa though it probably wouldn’t be long. She was still a virgin, and while she wasn’t aching to give it away, she certainly wasn’t keen to hold on to the status for too much longer. Luke had been quite the gentleman so far, always leaving before dawn, and never pushing her past where she was comfortable going. It was relaxing, reassuring, and the lack of pressure made it easier for her to lay back and let it happen. She wondered why more men didn’t realise this. When they icnreased the pressure, women were just more likely to increase resistence, surely. She scribbled a little graph, showing the positive correlation between sexual pressure and sexual resistence, and smiled to herself. Always the scientific brain, that’s what her mother told her. Alyssa guessed she was right. She had always been analytical – thinking in terms of numbers, statistics, graphs and correlations. She made sense of the world like that. It worked for her.
Belle was chatting on the phone to Kayla, trying to convince her to come out late-night shopping with her and a few other friends. Kayla claimed she had homework to do, and Belle scoffed. “It’s only March! How much homework could you possibly have at this time of year?”
Kayla laughed, then pointed out that her History teacher this year was particularly fond of lengthy research assignments, “I swear, this is the second one already, and she’s already planning the third. I’m sure she only does it so she get us all to do library research during her classes, instead of having to actually teach us anything. Mind you, Mrs Greene is particularly sadistic. Perhaps she gets some kind of cruel pleasure out of seeing us all turning ourselves inside out to get five thousand words written on the rise and fall of the Roman empire in less than three weeks. I mean, seriously, there’s only so much you can write about a bunch of guys running around in togas.”
Belle giggled at the image that conjured up in her mind, “Well, OK, how about instead of coming out, you bring all your stuff around here and I’ll help you with it?”
If Kayla and Belle ever wanted to study together, it was better to do it at Belle’s place, so that they had access to the Braille editions of the textbooks, and the text-to-speech software on her laptop. Besides, as Kayla pointed out, Belle’s Mum bought nicer biscuits. And they had better coffee, too. Belle agreed on the coffee, at least.
Kayla gave a little sigh on the phone, but Belle sensed that she was cracking. Both of them knew that once she got there, very little study was going to happen, but Kayla was considering it anyway. “Oh, okay.” she said eventually, “But I’m only staying until 10. No later.” she stated.
Belle laughed, “Yeah, right. I’ll meet you at McDonald’s for dinner first. Say in an hour?”
“Yeah, OK, sounds good, Belle.”
“See you soon.” Belle responded, and hung up with Kayla’s laughter still tinkling in her ears.
Mandy and Jamie were dining alone – Alyssa was on her fast becoming normal Thursday night date with Luke, and Belle was out somewhere with Kayla. The weather was still warm, and Jamie had finished work early and cooked dinner for Mandy. A simple salad, light ingredients thrown together in a sweet mango-tanged sauce, a bought barbecue chicken and fresh Turkish bread from the bakery Jamie passed on the way home. They were eating outside, enjoying the last hour of sunshine offered by the remaining few weeks of daylight savings. Mandy was commenting that it wouldn’t be long before she unpacked the slow cooker and got back into the habit of casseroles and curries. Jamie agreed, lamenting the dying days of Summer. He suggested they should make sure they got to the beach again this weekend, before it got too cold to enjoy it for a few months. Mandy nodded, her mouth full of salad.
“You know, now I’m working again, I haven’t gotten to the beach in weeks.” she said, once she had swallowed.
“Yes. You know, you don’t have to work full-time, Mandy.”
“I know, Darling, but I prefer it this way. Besides, the practise needs me at the moment. They’re so terribly understaffed. It’s no wonder they jumped at the chance when I applied. To get someone who had half a clue, let alone a clue, was quite a shock for them, I think.”
Jamie nodded, thinking that as long as Mandy was happy with it, he would go along with the idea.
Mandy launched into a story that had happened to her the other day. The senior office manager had gotten flustered over a scheduling problem, and Mandy had jumped in with a suggestion. She had come across the problem in her previous position, it seemed, and her experience gave her the requisite knowledge to handle the issue. She was laughing, recounting the look of shock on the manager’s face, as she went back to the salad for seconds. She spotted something hiding amongst the shredded lettuce and, thinking it was a little grub, started to chide Jamie abotu it, “you really must make sure you wash the lettuce, Jamie. Although, you know what they say, it’s better to find a whole worm in your salad than half a …” her sentence was cut off by a blood-curdling scream, she leapt off her chair and stood staring at her plate in horror.
“What? What is it?” Jamie asked, worried.
“It’s a. Oh. My God,” Mandy stammered, a hand over her mouth as she tried to regain her composure. “A doll. A worry doll. In the salad.” Her hands still covering her mouth, as though she was afraid she was going to throw up, she looked at Jamie, and he noticed how haunted they looked.
“What’s going on, Jamie? What’s happening to us?”
Jamie shook his head, not knowing how to answer.
“What does this mean, Jamie? Just what does this mean? And what are we supposed to do about it?”
Belle and Kayla had eaten a leisurely dinner at McDonald’s, chatting and laughing with some other friends they had run into there unexpectedly. The other group were going bowling, and invited them both along. Even though Belle didn’t bowl, she had gone along before, and sat and gossiped as the others played. Belle had deferred to Kayla this time though, and Kayla had said she had to study. The bowlers had left not long after, leaving Belle and Kayla alone to finish their meals.
Belle was naturally a tidy person, although blindness had made it nearly obsessive. If she knew where she put things, she could easily find them again. She ate methodically, tidying away the wrappers as she went, and when she was finished everything was packed into a neat bundle to be thrown in the bin. Not a single sesame seed remained on the table. Kayla, on the other hand, aided by sight, picked at the various options. When she finished, she bundled the hamburger wrapper up into a ball, and shoved it all into the paper bag it had came in. She added Belle’s neatly folded wrappers to the bag as well, and was standing to take the whole lot to the bin when she noticed something still on the table.
“What’s that, Belle?” she asked.
“What’s what?” Belle responded.
“On the table. It’s a …” Kayla bent down to get a closer look, and recognised it, “Oh! It’s a little worry doll!” she exclaimed. “I use to have a bunch of these when I was little.”
Kayla trotted off to the bin, holding the worry doll lightly in one hand.
Belle had jumped slightly when Kayla had said the words worry doll, but was immediately glad she hadn’t reacted more seriously, like the last two dolls she had come across. Of course, she hadn’t actually touched it. Yet. But where had it come from? It couldn’t be either of the other two dolls, surely. The first one Alyssa had taken back to the beach, the second one – the one that Rudolph had found in the sand – had never even been really found, merely glimpsed, never to be seen again.
Kayla didn’t notice how pale Belle looked until she got back.
“What’s up Belle?” she asked, “you look strange.”
Belle shook herself slightly, trying to break free of her rather disturbing reverie, and gave a little smile, “Oh, nothing.” she said, “just thinking.”
Mandy put the new worry doll – the one she thought of as the salad doll – in a little plastic bag with the one they had found earlier, the one that had dropped out of Jamie’s sock. That one had been a girl doll, with a green dress. The salad doll was a boy doll, with little legs encased in blue trousers. She wondered what had become of the one that Alyssa had found on the beach, the one that had given Belle such a shock out on the deck that morning just after Christmas. Jamie had told her to put it back where she found it. As Mandy hadn’t heard anything more about it, she figured that’s exactly what had happened. By putting them in the plastic bag and sealing the zip seal, she took a strange kind of comfort and thinking that she was suffocating them. Although they most certainly were not alive – she had never seen one move, or breathe, or walk around – they still had a presence, as though they could move, or breathe, if only they chose to do so. Allowing a shudder of repulsion shiver through her, she put the bag containing the two dolls back into the vanity drawer, pushed them all the way to the back, and shut the door firmly. Out of sight, out of mind, she thought. But what they be doing there in the dark?
Alyssa and Luke were out having dinner as well, this time at the local Malaysian restaurant. Over shared curries and plenty of boiled rice, they had chatted – the subjects ranging from the mundane to the metaphysical, traipsing through politics and popular culture on the way. Alyssa decided not to share her story about the worry doll she had found. Both the worry dolls she had found. That event was still hers. Once she had worked out what it was all about, she would talk to Luke about it. If she ever made sense of it, that is.
Mandy was lying in bed, in that place that only exists in a narrow beam of light between being awake and being asleep. It had been a long day, a long week really, and she was exhausted. She could feel the pull of sleep dragging her downwards, but at the same time she marvelled at the ease with which she was caught in this in between state. She felt happy, content, but could sense a little undercurrent of trouble. She tried to keep her thoughts in the warm spot of sun that existed here, knowing – even in this half awake state – that those thoughts would keep her awake later on. Like a cold draught seeping under the doorway, though, it curled around her chest, demanded her attention.
Mandy attempted to struggle awake, to allow her rational mind to take over, remind her that everything was OK, but the sleepiness had pervaded her being, dragging her down into what she imagined was going to be a troubled sleep. The unease grew, and she imagined she heard a sound. A little squeak, maybe, like a door inching open. She was awake now, sleep had been told to release its clutches, at least for the time being, but her rational mind – the thing that was supposed to remind her that there was no such thing as the boogey man – appeared to have gone on strike. Her heart was hammering in her chest.
She sat up in bed, trying to locate the source of the sound, and suddenly it came again. Where was it coming from? Mandy held her breath, listening, and was giving in to her screaming lungs and snatching another breath when the sound came again. Her eyes latched on the vanity cupboard. There! The right hand door was, ever so slowly, creaking open of its own accord. She watched it warily, her heart still dancing to it’s own erratic beat, her burning curiosity the only thing keeping her from screaming.
The time spun out like gossamer thread. And then, suddenly – pop! The door was open, swinging slightly on its hinges. Mandy jumped slightly, but remained where she was, silent. She waited. Just as she was about to give up, go back to sleep, she heard another noise.
This time it was the top drawer within the cupboard. Slowly, ever so slowly, it creeped out on its runner, until there was a slim gap exposed along the top of the drawer. The adrenaline started to pump its poison into her veins, Mandy’s heart stopped dancing, and started running, all her neurons were screaming at her to Move! Run! Scream!
She did none of these things. She sat up a little straighter, allowed her breath to come faster, but kept her eyes locked on the little gap created by the slowly-widening drawer.
When she saw the two little heads of the two worry dolls poking out of the top, she finally allowed her better mind to do those things it had been wanting to do. She screamed …
Mandy sat up in bed. Blinking. She was awake. Her eyes flew back to the vanity. The door was closed. Not a worry doll in sight. A dream. That’s all it had been. Just a dream. She lay back in bed. It had been a dream.
Belle was asleep. She had been out with friends, shopping, and gotten home late. Her mother had been panicked and jittery when she got there, wondering where she had been, who she had been with, why hadn’t she called. Belle had used her mother’s concern to further push her case for a mobile phone, and the stress had turned into an argument. Eventually, they had stormed off to their respective rooms, the argument that had been simmering for months still unresolved. It was after midnight, and Belle, exhausted, had fallen into bed and gone nearly straight to sleep. It was some hours later when she had been woken by Rudolph, who slept on his own bed in the corner of her room, whining softly. She whispered to him, and he came up to the bed and nuzzled her dangling hand. “What’s wrong, Roo?” she murmered, and he whined again in response. Belle tried to gather her thoughts, wake up enough to be able to make sense of the situation. She sat up on the edge of the bed, and reached down for Rudolph again. “What is it, boy? What’s bothering you? Are you sick?”
Rudolph trotted a few steps away, came back, whined. Belle got the idea and got up to follow him. He wasn’t wearing his harness, but he was easy enough to sense in the still of the night. He didn’t go far though, only over to the desk, where Belle’s laptop sat, closed for the night. He nuzzled her hand, encouraging her to touch the laptop, and Belle frowned when she realised what he was trying to do. “You want me to use the computer? Roo, it’s the middle of the night!” She reached over to the bedside clock, hit the button on top, “Three. Forty. Two. Ay. Em.” it said in its mismatched electronic voice.
“Not even four o’clock!” she exclaimed to Rudolph, “What is this?” Frowning now, feeling grumpy and tired, she went back to bed. She pushed her legs down under the doona and shuffled her pillow around to the right spot as she scolded him, “Go back to bed, Rudolph”.
The laptop was plugged in to the wall, but in hibernation mode. Or so Belle thought, until she heard the CPU whirr into sudden life. Expecting it to die off again, she jumped when it beeped instead. Listening closely, she jumped when the text-to-speech synthesiser suddenly spoke “I had a little dolly. I told it my little worry. But then it went red. And now they’re all dead … ” Before it had finished, Belle was screaming. Rudolph barked in unison with her.
Jamie walked into the bedroom, exhausted. It had been a long day, and he was feeling exhausted. Mandy had been having nightmares, keeping him awake, and the surgery was demanding longer hours, as a a senior doctor had retired and they had not yet found a suitable replacement. But he also knew thay it wasn’t just work that was making him feel like this. The worry dolls were bothering Mandy, and if the truth was known they were bothering him too. He tried not to let it show, but the cracks in his facade were starting to become noticeable. Badly. Since the office manager Rob had found that one in the waiting room, even the surgery didn’t seem safe from the little dolls. He kept on expecting them to show up on his desk, on the floor, in the filing cabinet, in the racks of sterilised surgical equipment. Yesterday, he had moved close to a patient to check her ears, and had a sudden vision of finding one lying there – malevolently – in the ear canal. Even though they were just little dolls – a child’s entertainment, tiny, malformed little figurines with cheaply made outfits, they seemed imbued with evil. He had no idea how his brain could have made this leap. Surely, it was a case of a little girl having lost a group of them that they kept showing up. It couldn’t possibly be anything more sinister than that. Could it?
The sun still held a fierce heat, despite the fact that it was already Autumn, and Winter was fast approaching. Alyssa used her hand to shield her face, the edge of it up against the brim of the baseball cap she was wearing. She peered into the light, trying to pick Luke out from the field of footballers. They all looked the same from here. She found herself wishing she’d brought a book with her, but then realised the glare would have made it unreadable anyway. She allowed herself to doze slightly, leaning back against the grandstand seats, the intense light creating red and purple swirling shapes on the backs of her eyelids. She was watching the shapes, daydreaming and trying not to think about her face burning in the sun, when she felt a kick between her shoulder blades. She opened her eyes, turned around, struggling to focus, and she heard a “sorry!” from the kicker as he sidled up the row behind her to sit with friends. She frowned, grumpy now, and wondered how long until the game ended.
She was properly asleep, head drooping, when Luke finally approached her and tapped her on the shoulder. She sat up, startled, and looked up at him with the eyes of a sleepy owl, as thought she couldn’t quite work out where she was, or what he was doing there. Luke’s face showed half a smile, like he had caught her doing something she shouldn’t have been, which, in a way, he had. She smiled, sheepishly, “Did you win?”
Luke brightened, nodded happily, “Sure did. I scored, too. Did you see?”
“I would have, but the sun …” she waved to indicate the way the light had been shining in her eyes, “I couldn’t see a thing.”
“Ah well, never mind. Next week, huh?”
Alyssa nodded, all the while thinking, yeah if you manage to drag me along again. She didn’t say it, though. They stood together, walked down off the grandstand and onto the sidelines of the field. Alyssa waited patiently while Luke packed his gear up, all the while chattering about the game. He was interrupted constantly by mates coming up to him, slapping him good naturedly on the back and calling their congratulations. Alyssa couldn’t help but consider the whole situation as a very large masculine show of macho bon homie. It felt somehow distateful, but she let it ride. It was only a football game for goodness’ sake.
Luke had sat down on the bench to pull off his football shoes and socks. Alyssa wrinkled her nose as he peeled the long football socks – wet from sweat – from his legs, the damp hair sticking to his legs. He balled them up, threw them into the bag, and missed. Laughing, he bent down to pick them up and shoved them in the end pocket. Suddenly, socks still in hand, he paused, frowned, and extracted something. He looked up and Alyssa, and opened his hand. It was a little worry doll. Alyssa nearly screamed, but managed to keep it in. Just barely. She didn’t attempt to take it from him. Luke frowned back down at it, and put it in his pocket instead.
He finished shoving things into his bag and zipped it. Hoisting it in one hand, he took Alyssa’s hand with the other, and called goodbye over his shoulder to the rest of the team. Walking out, they came across a group of young girls playing on the fence to the car park – performing twirls and handstands. Luke stopped one them, reached into his pocket and handed her the little doll. He smiled as the group of girls gathered around her to see what he had given them. Still smiling, they went to Luke’s car, got in, and drove back to Alyssa’s flat.
Jamie was on a day off. Mandy was at work, but being a Saturday she would be home around lunchtime. He had slept in, gloriously languishing in bed until nearly 10 o’clock and trying not to feel guilty about the day slipping away. Eventually the sun pouring in the window – unseasonably hot for the time of year – chased him out of bed, and he wandered into the ensuite for a shower. He sang gruffly as he showered, thinking wryly that it was probably a good thing that he became a doctor and not a pop star, and when he stepped out to wrap a towel around himself, the steam in the little badly ventilated room curled around his legs and obscured the fittings. He was in a little cloud, he mused, and thought that perhaps a day off was all he really needed to clear his head, get life back on track and start feeling like a normal human being again. He thought that perhaps he would share this idea with Mandy. They could take off for a day or two, maybe, find a little bed and breakfast in the country and get away from it all. Forget about work, about long hours, and most of all, about silly little worry dolls.
Feeling better having just made the decision, he wandered into the bedroom, towel wrapped around his middle, to find something to wear. He stood in front of the open wardrobe, finding shorts and a tshirt, still humming tunelessly under his breath and considering places they could take off to. Clothes picked, he put them on the bed, finished drying himself and stepped into the pants. He pulled the shirt over his head, already starting to move towards the door, thinking about breakfast and coffee. As his head emerged from the neck hole, he caught a glimpse of himself in the vanity mirror and ducked to look closer. He used his hands to smooth his hair down a little – the closest thing it ever got to a comb. As he did, he glimpsed a movement out of the corner of his eye, and instinctively turned. There was nothing there, nothing seemed amiss in the room. He frowned, turned back to the mirror, and saw the reflection in clear detail. There, sitting on the edge of the bed – on the edge of his bed – was an old man. Bald except for white tufts above his ears, the man was stripped to the waist, the skin of his once muscled chest now drooping and thin, like rice paper. A smattering of grey hairs covered his body, thick in between his nipples, thinning as they dove to his belly, which sagged slightly over the belt of his pants. Jamie was holding his breath, not willing to believe that the man was there, but still not quite willing to turn around and dispel the image. The man was breathing heavily, his mouth hanging open. Jamie watched his chest move in and out, the movement gradually becoming more rapid and sweat shone across forehead. The old man grimaced, and his arms rose to his chest, he clenched his fists together, the knuckles going white with pressure, and pressed them into his chest. Jamie watched the pain spread across his face as though it were water splashing across dry concrete. Watching the man, still not quite daring to turn around, he knew what was happening. The man drew in a sudden ragged breath and, eyes closed and fist still drawn tightly to his breast, he fell back on the bed with a soft thwump. It was the first sound Jamie had heard from the man, and instinct kicking in and taking over, he whirled around to the bed to help him.
There was no one there.
He turned back to mirror, watched as the old man, clearly unconscious now, writhed on the bed like a fish out of water. Although the man’s mouth was open, Jamie could hear no noise from him, although the bed springs protested softly. His need to help the man overcoming him, he turned again, wanting to go to him, perform first aid, stop the heart attack in its tracks. When he turned around, there was still no man there. He existed only in the world over his shoulder, the world reflected in the mirror.
The man shuddered again, and was finally still. Jamie couldn’t help but stare at the bed – in the mirror, it contained an old man, dead now of a heart attack. In real life, it contained the depression left by him, but no corpse.
When Belle walked passed the bedroom door, Rudolph on her heels but not harnessed, Rudolph gave a little bark. It was the one that Belle had learnt to interpret as “hey, look over here!”. She stopped, listening, and Rudolph led her over to her mother’s bedroom door. He gave another bark and Belle, knowing her mother wasn’t home yet, said warily, “Jamie?”
She heard Jamie give a little surprised grunt, and at first she thought she had woken him up, until she realised that the noise was too close to be coming from the bed.
“Jamie?” she said again, “Everything okay?”
“Hmmm? Ahh. Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay. I guess. What’s up Belle?”
“Nothing’s up, Rudolph seemed concerned about you.” While this statement might seem absurd about any other dog, they all knew that Rudolph was special, simply by virtue of his training. He had been taught to be aware of human moods, pick up the subtle changes in demeanour, whoever they were. Jamie walked to the dog, gave him a bit of a pat, “You were worried were you, boy? Well, what were you worried about, hmmm?”
Rudolph gave a little whimper of happiness as Jamie rubbed his neck.
“Well, he seems OK now.” Jamie pointed out.
Belle gave a little suspicious frown, and said “Yeah. He seems fine.” She gave a dramatic pause before adding, “Now.”
Why was it that when families most need to talk to each other, they seem to clam up. All of a sudden it becomes a case of survival of the fittest. I won’t tell you what I know about a situation, because you might use that knowledge against me. Perhaps it is a defence mechanism. Although, surely the family unit would become stronger if they shared knowledge? Maybe it is more human and less instinctual than that. Perhaps it is simply a desire to not be thought a fool. If I express my concerns about this issue, you might think I am crazy, or stupid, or unable to cope. Coping. A lot of family life is about coping. Mothers, proving that they can cope with employment, children, the house work. Fathers, proving they can be good providers while still showing their children – especially their sons – how to be adults, how to cope. Coping again. Children have to learn how to cope with school, friends, relationships, society, life. The world demands coping of its citizens.
The heat wave had finally faded and, mere days before the beginning of June, and Winter, the temperature plummeted. The sudden change brought with it storms – hail, lightning and sleet heralded night fall. When the storm had calmed to drizzle, Belle could be found on the front verandah, or in the back yard, face up to the rain, a smile large on her face. She couldn’t enjoy the light show, but she sure as hell could enjoy the fresh feeling as the rain washed away the heat, returned the world to one of trees, water, and the smell of damp soil. The grass gave a final spurt of life before winter, and the last of the tourists finally gave up on the beaches and drove home. Alyssa started to go for more beach walks, sometimes with Luke but more often alone, enjoying the isolation of the deserted beaches, feeling as though the tourists had finally given it back to nature for caretaking. Gradually, the detritus on the sand changed. Discarded ice-cream wrappers, lost pieces of random clothing and crushed soft drink cans gradually became seaweed, pieces of cuttle fish, shells of all sorts of shapes and sizes, washed up bits jelly fish.
It was on one of Alyssa’s beach rambles that Belle and Rudolph decided to join her. The three of them wandered through the sand. Rudolph, unharnessed, ran between and around them, and the sisters discussed various subjects. Belle wanted to know about Luke, Alyssa told her most of what she wanted to know, although she was cagey when asked if they had “done it” yet. Belle decided that they had. Alyssa did not try and deny it, but she gave herself a secret smile. Alyssa quizzed Belle on school, cute boys and friends. Belle gave her the lowdown on the latest gossip going around the rumour mill, who was currently considered ‘hot’ in class, and what teachers were dragons and which weren’t. To Alyssa it felt like the days when they had both been at school together, back before Jamie had come into their lives. Jamie had made their mother happy, and he had definitely made their lives better in a lot of ways. Things were more settled now, there was a sense of normalcy around daily life that they hadn’t had in the years following their parents’ seperation. Both of them liked him, but both girls also realised that since their move here, they had drifted further apart as a family. Alyssa didn’t think it was Jamie’s fault, although Belle pinned a lot of the changes on him. Alyssa said that she thought it had a lot more to do with her going to uni, living in the granny flat rather than in the house. She pointed out that it would have been worse if she had moved away. She ask Belle, in all seriousness, if she should consider moving into the house, rather than being in the flat. Belle laughed, “No! I don’t want to hear you shagging all night long!”. Alyssa had laughed then too, realising that her little sister was growing up. She wondered if her surprise at thinking this was because Belle’s disability had made her seem somehow incapable of becoming an adult, or if it was just a normal part of being an older sibling. It was while she was lost in these thoughts that she spotted a big pink conch shell, and bent to pick it up. She held it to her ear, to hear the ‘sea’, but was disappointed. She shook it a little, peered inside, and dropped the shell in a hurry when a worry doll fell out, “Shit!” she exclaimed. Belle whirled around at the profanity, “What is it?”
“Another bloody worry doll!” Alyssa exclaimed. She had found so many now, they were starting to get tiresome, rather than scary, although the thought of the automatic writing she had done months ago still sent shivers up her spine.
“A worry doll?” Belle responded. They had stopped walking now, and Rudolph ran around them, wondering why they were not going anywhere anymore, trying to move them along. “Like the one you found that other time?”
“Yeah, I’ve been finding them everywhere, this one was in a shell! This is just crazy!”
Belle was silent, trying to decide whether or not to tell her sister about the event with her computer and the text-to-speech system that had happened a few months ago. Her memory of it was somehow dream like now, as though it not really happened, but she had read about it in a book, or had heard someone else tell the story.
Alyssa was lost in her own thoughts, and eventually she said in a soft voice, “I’ve been finding the wretched things all over the place. What about you, Belle? This can’t be a coincidence any more, surely.”
“I haven’t been finding them. Well. Not really. Rudolph found one, I think, ages ago. Here on the beach. But when he gave it to me I … I felt strange. Sick. Like my chest was all tight and I couldn’t breathe. I dropped it – if that’s what it was – and then I couldn’t find it again. So I don’t know if it was a doll or not, but it. Well, it scared the crap out of me, to be honest.”
Alyssa didn’t really know why – the story was pretty far fetched – but she believed it. She probably wouldn’t have, but she had seen how Belle had reacted with that very first doll, and this seemed very similar. A germ of an idea began to grow in her mind, but before she could say anything, Belle began to talk again.
“You know, there was something stranged happened a few months ago, too. At night …” Belle started slowly, but she warmed up to the narrative. They started walking again, much to Rudolph’s relief, as Belle told Alyssa what had happened with the laptop. Strangely, she remembered the poem too, and when she told Alyssa, she stopped dead in her tracks. “You too, huh? This is getting really weird.”
Belle stopped again too, and patted Rudolph idly when he came back to her, wondering why they were stopping again, but she said nothing.
“Belle? I’ve got an idea. You can say no if you want to, but I am interested. What happens if you hold this doll?” She still held the new worry doll in her hand, and now she propped it gingerly between thumb and forefinger, between them.
Belle frowned, shrugged, “I guess I can just drop it. I’m feeling shaky already though, just anticipation I guess.”
Alyssa reminded her that she didn’t have to do it if she didn’t want to, and Belle shook her head, “I think I should. How are we going to find out what this is all about if I don’t?” She paused. “Do you feel anything when you hold? Anything at all?”
Alyssa concentrated on the little doll in her fingers, and shrugged, “No, nothing. I mean, it gives me a strange feeling of … I don’t know the right word … badness, maybe. Like it has the potential to do damage, but just doesn’t want to.” She laughed, “That sounds crazy.”
“So does the idea of a doll making me feel like I’m having a heart attack.” Belle dead panned.
Alyssa’s laugh faded into a wry smile, “Yeah. I guess it does.” She looked into Belle’s unseeing eyes, “You sure you want to do this?”
Belle said nothing, but held her hands out, cupped in front of her. An invitation.
Alyssa hesitated slightly, then held her breath and dropped the doll into Belle’s waiting hands.
There were times during that whole crazy ordeal with the worry doll when I thought that I would not survive. It was not that I was ever in real mortal danger, more that it felt as though I could be. That was because we were dealing with unknown. Could it kill us? We didn’t know. We knew it could hurt us – and in many different ways; not all of them, or even most of them, physical. It’s a natural progression that if something you don’t completely understand can hurt, then there’s a good a chance that it can kill. I often wonder if perhaps we were just lucky – we just happened to deal with it in a way that, while it might not have been the best, it was at least going to keep us alive. I guess that it is entirely possible that we could have taken a wrong turn, made a bad decision or failed to interpret something the right way. Well, of course we interpreted a lot of things the wrong way, but what if we had interpreted the wrong thing the wrong way? These questions will never be answered, of course. But they continue to bother me, all the same. Even now.
When they returned from the beach – both girls feeling uneasy, but both glad of the other’s presence – it was already after dark. They had gone into the house, had a quiet dinner with Many and Jamie, and then Alyssa had invited Belle out to the flat to watch a movie.
“Luke not around tonight, Liss?” Mandy asked, trying not to sound as though she was as curious as she actually was.
“He doesn’t come around every night, Mum.” she replied indignantly, but Mandy just smiled. She knew how often he was around – the car parked out the front was a dead giveaway – and Alyssa was right, it wasn’t every night. This was the first night in nearly two weeks that he hadn’t been around though, and she hoped it didn’t mean there was a ripple on the surface of young love. Alyssa refused to be drawn further, turning to Belle and explaining that she had some new DVDs and microwave popcorn. Belle agreed, and they headed outside. Alyssa took Belle’s hand out of habit and, even though Rudolph was tagging along too and she didn’t really need the assistance, she was glad of the contact. Perhaps, she thought, Alyssa was too.
Alyssa made popcorn and coffee, but they didn’t put a DVD on. The bowl sat between them on the couch, and they talked. Alyssa told the story of finding the original worry doll on the floor in the reading nook, the strange automatic writing that she had put down the garbage disposal, the way the doll had disappeared. She also told Belle about Luke finding the worry doll in his football bag, and how he had given it away to the group of little girls. She spoke, pausing for popcorn every so often, and after she had told everything, she stopped. Belle didn’t speak.
“Do you think they are alive?” Alyssa asked after a while.
Belle shook her head fervently. “They’re not alive. They don’t move. They don’t think.” she paused, “I think. Therefore I am not a worry doll.” The both laughed, but there was no mirth in it. They lapsed into silence again.
“So what happens? What is it like when they … do what … whatever it is that they do to you?” Alyssa stammered over the question, not sure how to describe it.
“I don’t … I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s different every time. Well, it has been different every time so far. This time, just now on the beach, it was burning pain in the side of the face. Like I was standing to close to a fire or … or maybe like I’d been slapped, or punched, maybe.” Belle lapsed into silence again, and her hand crept unconsiously to the right side of her face as she relived the expereince. “The first time, I felt like I had blood all over my face. And pain too – there’s always pain. The first time it was here,” she pointed to a spot high in the middle of her forehead, where her hairline came to a slight peak. “That time I could smell it too. The blood, I could smell blood. The second time I didn’t notice a smell, just panic because I couldn’t get my breath. Actually, now I think about it, there was a smell tonight too. This doesn’t really fit though – it smelled like frying bacon.” Belle lifted her eyes to her sisters, “that doesn’t seem right does it?”
“None of it seems right, Belle. But I get your point, bacon is a strange thing to be smelling while you’re being slapped. But then, you said it felt like being too close to a fire too – maybe the bacon caught alight.” Alyssa wanted to laugh, it was an amusing concept, but somehow it seemed like it could actually mean something. She stuffed some popcorn in her face instead, and swallowed the giggle back down. She was afraid it would just come out sounding manic.
Belle wasn’t smiling. She had just had a thought. “Worry dolls come from Guatemala.” she said suddenly, Alyssa nodded, “Ah huh.” she agreed, wondering where this was going.
“Do you know how they work?” Belle asked.
“Do you mean the legend?”
It was Belle’s turn to “Ah huh.”
“Well, you have the dolls, and you tell them your worries.” She had almost said “a little worry”, but had caught herself just in time and rephrased it. The idea of that little poem creeping into her speech scared the pants off her.
Belle took up the story, “Right. So you tell these dolls your worries. Then you put them under your pillow. What do they do with them?”
“Do with what?” Alyssa asked, confused.
“What do the dolls do with the worries you tell them?”
“They worry about them. Don’t they? Isn’t that the idea? They worry about things for you, so you don’t have to.”
“Right. So you give your worries to the doll to worry about them. What happens when you don’t need to worry about it anymore? Do the dolls still have that worry? Can you get them to throw it away or something? What about when they …”
“This is insane, Belle!” Alyssa interupted, “That’s the craziest idea I’ve ever heard! Are you saying that these dolls have been told all these worries, and now they don’t know what to do with them? That’s just … no, that’s just … unbelievable. Absolute fantasy.”
Belle lifted an eyebrow. “Okay.” she said after a while, “you give me a better story.”
Alyssa thought, then sighed. “I don’t know, I don’t have anything better. But that’s not even plausible. Why are they coming to us, then? How does that help?”
“I’m the only one who can … tap into them. I’m the only one they can tell the worry to, maybe. No one else seems to be able to the way I can.”
There was another unsettling pause.
“Maybe,” Alyssa said, slowly, testing Belle’s reaction as she spoke, “Maybe it’s because you tune in to people. The same way that you know when people exchange a look, even though they make no sound.” She paused again, trying to read Belle’s expression, “Maybe it’s because you’re blind.”
Jamie was busy in the office, looking things up on the internet. Mandy was asleep in bed, and the house was still except for the clicking of the mouse button as he browsed. He had been trying to make sense of what he had seen in the mirror on the weekend, and when thinking it through on his own had nearly driven him insane, he had decided to give Google a try. The only sites he could find though had been written, as far as he could tell, by members of the lunatic fringe. No solid information was forthcoming from this source, even though he had never really thought that there would be. It had given him an opportunity to think about the situation though, without irrationality and hysteria creeping in – well, aside from some of the web sites he had found anyway. The more he thought about, the more he realised that it must have been an optical illusion, or a kind of personal flight of imagination. Nothing else stood to reason. He had been working long hours, he had overslept, had an extremely hot shower. Of course he hadn’t been thinking properly – who would have been in that situation? He had been feeling a little odd becaise of the strange little wory dolls that had been showing up recently, and that was in itself caused by stress, he realised. That, added to the big sleep in he had had, and it made sense that he had seen something a bit strange. He started shutting down the machine, thinking to himself that this was the only really plausible explanation for the whole event. Nothing to see here, move along, he thought to himself, and gave a little lopsided grin. As the computer tinkled its little goodbye tune, he pushed the keyboard back in under the desk on its rollers and got up. When he walked into the bedroom to get undressed, his eyes didn’t fall on the vanity mirror.
When they had been talking about it over popcorn the other night, Belle’s theory had seemed kind of crazy, but still a good explanation of what was going on. Now, wrapped in Luke’s arms and considering sharing the story, Alyssa wasn’t so sure. Now, the whole thing just seemed ridiculously far fetched and super crazy. She cuddled up closer to him on the futon, and raised her face for a kiss. He bent and obliged her, his lips lingering on hers. She closed her eyes in pleasure, and asked him wordlessly for more. When no kiss was coming, she opened her eyes again, planning on working her arms around his neck and bringing his face down to hers again. What she saw made her frown, though. His eyes were fixed on a middle distance over her shoulder, his face showing not fear or surprise, but a kind of confusion. She looked into his eyes, waiting for him to say something – an explanation. When the silence strated to string out, she turned to work out what he had seen. At first, she didn’t see anything, and she turned back to him. He was still just staring, confusion playing across his face.
“Luke?” she asked, “Babe? What is it?” she frowned up at him, starting to get worried.
His eyes didn’t move from their place, but he spoke, his voice papery and kind of thin, like a man of fifty, not one of 19, “The dolls …”
Alyssa turned again then, and she finally saw them. Her heart leapt into her throat, just as Luke cleared his throat roughly and said, “Do you see them, Liss? They’re little dolls. There’s … wow! There must be dozens of them! Hundreds, even. I just … oh wow.”
Belle was concentrating on her homework when she heard Alyssa’s voice at the front door, “Belle! Come here! Quick!” she sounded excited, hyped, but there was a strange note to her voice too, that Belle thought was almost fear. Kind of the same tone of voice she heard froms her friends after they came out of a scary movie, or maybe off a rollercoaster. Kind of scared, but mostly excited.
“Coming!” she yelled back, and marked her place in her book. She stood, and made her way to the bedroom door, wondering where Rudolph was, since he didn’t seem to be hanging around her bedroom. When she came around the corner and into the hallway leading to the front door, Alyssa told her to stop, and to put her hands on the carpet. Belle gave her what she hoped was an incredulous face.
“Come on, Belle! Just do it! Rudolph is here with me. Luke’s here too.” she added, almost as an afterhtought. Belle, grudgingly, did as she was told, and recoiled almost immediately. As soon as her fingers touched the carpet she felt as though she was going to black out, and she stumbled a few steps back towards her bedroom wall, bumping into the corner of the wall as she did, and banging her shoulder.
“What the hell?!” she cried. Suddenly, Rudolph was at her side, his wet nose pressed into her hand.
“Sorry Belle, but you wouldn’t have believed it if I just told you. They’re worry dolls … hundreds of them, all over the floor. They’re in the flat too. And in a path, all the way over to the house.” Belle could hear Alyssa moving closer, jerkingly.
“Are you picking them up?” she asked her sister, her own voice trying to jump registers with nerves.
“Uh huh.” Alyssa replied, “What else am I supposed to do with them?”
“Ugh, I guess so. I don’t want to touch them.” She paused, thinking, “Well, not unless I have to, I guess.”
Alyssa stopped, her hand full of dolls that she hasd picked off the floor. Luke held a large plastic salad bowl that she was putting them into. “Why would you have to, Belle?” she said, her voice curious.
Belle shook her head, not willing to share this idea quite yet, “I’ll tell you later.”
Alyssa, not easily put off, put on her on best big sister voice and pointed out that Belle shouldn’t be keeping secrets about somehting like this, it might end up being important.
“I’m not keeping secrets and you know it Liss. I’ve been thinking, that’s all.” Belle changed the subject, “So are these things just scattered everywhere or are they in a … I don’t know … a trail or something?”
“It’s definitely a trail, we’ve been following it from the flat.”
Feeling a little bit like Hansel and Gretel, Alyssa and Belle followed the trail, assisted by Luke and Rudolph. Alyssa led the little group, gathering the dolls up in handfuls as she went, and putting them into the bowl held by Luke. Rudolph clung by Belle’s leg, and gave a low growl if Alyssa missed one. He was as wary of the little figurines as Belle was, maybe because she was, and he was careful to make sure that Belle didn’t accidentally get too close to one. The dolls wound through the house in an almost random fashion, and the bowl was clsoe to overflowing when it finally ended in Mandy’s bedroom. Mandy and Jamie were out, conveniently, for dinner and a movie and – unbeknowst to the two girls – planning a weekend away on paper serviettes. Now, they crept into their mother’s room, picking up the last few dolls that remained on the floor. Luke set the bowl down on the dressing table as Belle set foot into the room. Rudolph, beside her, paused at the entrance, raised his hackles, and growled. Belle, at the warning, took a step back into the adjoining dining room.
“I’m not going in there until Rudolph stops doing that.” she pointed out.
Alyssa stood in the centre of the room, glanced at Luke as though to say “Sisters!”, and then slowly turned around, looking into every corner of the room as she did so. Her reflection turned in the vanity mirror with her. Finally, she shrugged, “There’s nothing here, Belle. I don’t get it. It’s just a room, nothing ….” She stopped suddenly, when she saw Luke’s face. He had gone compeltely pale, even underneath his footballer’s tan, and was pointing mutely at Alyssa’s reflection. Alyssa’s eyes followed his finger, looked puzzled, and then returned to his face, “What? Luke, what is it?” She suddenly felt cold all over. Belle took another step backwards out of the room, and Rudolph began to bark.
Luke was transfixed, Alyssa, Belle, even the barking Rudolph, had faded into another existence, he was aware of the noise they were making, he udnerstood on some level that Alyssa was calling his name, but it all seemed to be happening in some other place, some other time. Right now, he was watching a woman in the mirror. She was crying, crouching beside the end of Mandy’s bed, her arms over her face and her head bowed down almost into her lap. She was screaming, but Luke heard nothing. He could see her body heaving with her wracking sobs, see her brace her body as she yelled out, but the only sounds he heard were the distant voices of his girlfriend, her sister, and the guide dog. Then, strangely and very suddenly, the woman in the mirror reared up as though terror had finally moved her to feet. She looked like she was about to take flight, to run from the room – straight past Alyssa (surely she would notice the scared woman then? he thought wildly) – but instead her eyes widened even further, her mouth opened in what should have been a blood curdling scream, if only he could hear it, and she flicked her body as though trying to avoid some unseen projectile. Luke watched as her hands suddnely flew up to her face as though to ward off an attacker and then, suddenly, horribly, the side of her face flattened grossly and immediately began to redden. He had time to see blisters raising on the strangely flat surface of her cheek, and turned around to flee the bedroom in utter horror as the woman finally dropped to the carpet, her mouth open in that silent scream, and blisters rising on her broken cheek. He threw up on the tiled floor of the dining room.
By the time Luke turned around and bolted out of the room, Belle and Alyssa had descended into an argument. Rudolph howled over them. Alyssa wanted Belle to come into the room, to see if she could ‘sense’ anything. Belle refused to be Alyssa’s experimental lab rat and said that until Rudolph calmed down she wasn’t taking another step. Alyssa acused Belle of being a scaredy cat, and Belle accused Alyssa of treating her like a canary in a cage down a coal mine. Rudolph continued to howl and Luke continued to be spaced out, staring into the mirror at something no one else could see, with his hands up to his mouth as though he was going to throw up. Which, of course, was exactly what he ended up doing. He was apologising profusely and asking for a cloth when finally Alyssa and Belle dropped the argument unresolved. Rudolph started to calm down, and Belle realised that she didn’t know whether he had been barking because whatever he – and Luke – had sensed in the room, or because of the raised voices. Maybe both, she thought. When finally they had cleaned up the mess – with much protest and exclamations of “Ew!” and “Gross!” the three of them, and Rudolph, decided to head back to the flat. Alyssa ducked back into the room to grab the bowl of worry dolls, and took a good long hard look into the mirror. She saw nothing but her own reflection.
Back in the flat, they chatted. Luke was implored to tell all and, with a couple of interuptions while he hung his head over the toilet in the little bathroom, coughing up bile, he recounted the story of the woman he had seen in the mirror. The way she had been cowering and crying, then defensive and finally … broken. He couldn’t explain it. He tried, valiantly, and in the end he could just not find the words to explain what he had seen. He looked apoligetically first at Alyssa, and then at Belle. Belle had a strange look on her face, as though she was holding back a secret, and when Luke’s words finally dried up at a loss, she took a deep breath and spoke quietly.
“It was a frying pan. She had been cooking bacon.”
This was all Alyssa needed to suddenly see the connection. When Belle had described what she had intuited when she held the worry doll on the beach that night, she had said her face had felt like it was burning, but that she had been able to smell bacon. Alyssa had made a bad attempt at a joke that night, saying maybe the bacon had caught on fire. Maybe, Alyssa thought now, she had been closer than she realised with that joke. The bacon hadn’t caught fire, but that woman’s face had been hit with a bacon grease filled frying pan. A hot bacon grease filled frying pan. Alyssa winced just thinking of the pain that would cause. The question of course now became who was the woman? And what on earth were they going to about her?
Belle felt entirely drained after the incident. She wandered slowly back to the house, leaving Alyssa and Luke sitting up, still talking it all over. Unusually, she stumbled on the step, and bumped her shoulder as she rounded the corner into her room. Both times, Rudolph was there beside her. Even unharnessed, as he usually was at home, he tended to keep an eye out for her. After what seemed like miles, her shins brushed up against the bed, and she tumbled into it, too tired to even be bothered undressing. She slept dreamlessly, and woke some time after midnight – cold, uncomfortable in her jeans, and with her face rumpled.
Alyssa and Luke were still awake, still talking, when Belle finally got out of bed to get undressed and then got back in and under the doona. They hadn’t gotten any closer to explaining what had happened. Alyssa felt like they had been talking in circles all night, but she was unwilling to let the topic go now that it had – finally – been brought up. As far as they could tell, the worry dolls contained worries that had previously belonged to other people. Belle, somehow, seemed to be able to tap in to these worries, and Alyssa was convinced it was because of the sixth sense that she had developed because of being born blind.
“You see, she’s always been able to do this thing,” she explained to Luke, “where it’s almost like she knows what look is on your face. You can be talking to someone, and give them a funny look and she’ll be on to it, saying “what’s wrong?” and stuff. She can walk into a room where no one is talking at all, and know what the feel of the conversation was before she arrived. She senses it. We’ve always laughed about it, sometimes it’s like she’s not blind at all, you know.” she giggled a little, remembering times when her sister had surprised her with this technique, and then continued, “Anyway, I think she picks up on some kind of … wave length, or something, that ordinary people don’t get. I think the worry dolls are transmitting on this wavelength, if that makes any sense, and she’s picking up on it. When she holds on one of the dolls, she feels whatever it is the worry is. Last night, she said that the side of her face had gotten hot, like she was too close to a fire, or she had been slapped. She also said she could smell bacon frying. That …”
Luke interupted the monologue, “That’s what that woman would have been feeling, but worse, I guess.” his eyes drifted over to the big salald bowl, brimming with little tiny worry dolls, “Do you think that … every one of them …” He left the thought unfinished.
Eventually, they had fallen asleep, entwined on the futon. Luke didn’t stir until the sun was well in the sky. Alyssa was already up making coffee, her hair – wet from the shower – tied up in a towel. Luke sat up blinking, and Alyssa brought a steaming mug over to him, “Good morning, Sleepyhead.” she said coyly.
Luke gave a little smile and took the proffered mug, “I guess I didn’t wake up.” he said sheepishly.
Alyssa folded herself onto the futon beside him, clutchng her own mug in both hands, and blowing on it to cool the coffee down. She took a tentative sip before replying, “No. I guess you didn’t.”
“Are you,” he cleared his throat before continuing, “Do you have to go to uni today?”
Alyssa stared into her coffee as she blew on it, “Not until 2.” There was a pause, and she added, “It’s only 8, now.”
Luke put his coffee down on the floor carefully, his actions deliberate. He straightened, ands gently took Alyssa’s cup from her and placed it on the ground next to his own. When he sat up again, Alyssa had a little smile playing on her lips – she knew what he was up to. He leant in close to her, the smell of soap, shampoo and coffee mingled and made him feel heady. He kissed her gently, and she responded. The kisses got deeper, more sensual, and after a little while he brought his hand up to her chest, lightly cupping her breast. He felt her moan beneath his lips, and her body arched towards his, asking him for more, offering him what he wanted. Slowly, he began to undress her.
Belle had woken late, and been in a rush to get to school. Rudolph had virtually pulled her down the street to the bus stop, and they had arrived just as the bus pulled up for them. She had been pre-occupied all day, though, thinking through the events of last night now that she had gotten some sleep. Last night, she had been too tired to make sense of what had gone on. This morning, she still couldn’t make sense of it, but at least she could turn the concepts around to see how they fit. By the time school was over, she was in a hurry to get home and try out a theory. She was going to need Alyssa, though. She hoped she was at home.
When Alyssa and Luke finally emerged from bed, satiated and hungry, it was nearly noon. They had made love and slept, then woken and done it again, but slower, enjoying it more now that the original neediness had been taken care of. Feeling like she was walking on clothes, Alyssa went and showered again and, when she came out pink and steaming under a towel, Luke was up and making more coffee. He had picked up the full mugs that they had forgotten earlier, washed them, and was busy filling them up again. Alyssa drank standing up in the tiny kitchen, covered only by the towel, and Luke joined her, appreciating the generous view of her legs, and half hoping the towel would fall off so he could take her back to bed. Instead, Alyssa demanded food. Specifically, she wanted a BLT. Luke agreed to take her out to a cafe on the beach.
At 2 o’clock, Alyssa was sitting back in her chair on a deck overlooking the sea. It was a cold day, but the sun was shining, and the breeze was blowing gently. She had a rollneck woollen jumper on, and she wrapped herself in it, enjoying the view over the water – frothy white tipped waves rolling in and beyond them great shipping boats just barely visible on the horizon, looking like kids bath toys. From the corner of her eye, she could see Luke, rocked back on the rear two legs of his chair, also enjoying the view, and pretending not to be staring at her. She smiled to herself. There was no way she was going to uni this afternoon. If she could be bothered to move off this deck, she thought to herself, it would be to go home and back to bed.
When they finally did get back to Alyssa’s flat, Belle came tearing out of the house to accost them. Luke gave Alyssa a quick kiss, not at all the kind of kiss she had been hoping for, and said he had better get home, before jumping back into the drivers seat and turning the car around. As he crunched over the gravel driveway, Belle frowned in the direction of the road, “He was in a hurry.” she stated.
Alyssa didn’t reply, but went to unlock the flat and go inside, “Do you want a drink?” she asked.
“Coffee is good, thanks Liss.” she flopped on the unmade futon and wrinkled her nose a little, “Ew, what have you two been up to? This lounge stinks.”
Alyssa reddened, glad that Belle couldn’t see her, and shooed her sister off the futon so she could get rid of the sheets. Sometimes, she thought, having a sister with an acute sense of smell was a serious pain in the arse.
The sheets taken care of, Alyssa went back to making coffee. As she waited for the kettle to boil, she asked Belle what was bothering her. Belle had found a spot in the reading nook, sprawled over cushions, and it was from here that she recounted her idea. Alyssa brought coffee halfway through, and together they sat, shrouded by bright gauze hangings, and discussed it. They debated whether or not to bring Mandy and Jamie in on the theory, and speculated over how much they knew. They both decided that they probably knew nothing, and eventually came to the conclusion that they would decide to tell Mandy depending on what the results of the experiment ended up being.
Mandy was at work when Jamie walked in. She didn’t notice him at first, and one of the other girls spoke to him. As soon as he opened his mouth though, she looked up, and smiled. “To what do I owe the honour of your presence, Sir?” she asked playfully, and he held out his hand for hers, and replied in the same tone, “Young lady, I am so enamoured by your beautiful demeanour that I have come to ask you out for lunch. Do you think your lovely boss,” at this he flittered his eyelashes presumptuously at the other woman behind the counter, “would allow me to whisk you away for some gastronomic delights?” At this, all three of them began laughing, and Mandy got shooed out of the building by her manager saying, “After that kind of introduction, how could I say no? Now go!”
Over lunch at a nearby restaurant, Mandy fussing over the time, Jamie produced a cardboard envelope. It was the tickets for their weekend away, just as they had planned it only a few days ago. Mandy looked over them, pleased, it looked perfect. Nothing but sleeping, massages and lying around a pool for two whole days. She had already asked for the Saturday morning off work, and Jamie had scheduled his patients around the expected holiday. In less than three days, they would be gone.
The family sat down together over dinner that night – even Alyssa joined them for the first time in weeks. Mandy excitedly shared the details of their impending trip away, finer details being provided by Jamie. Belle nudged Alyssa under the table with her footwhen he mentioned that they were leaving on Friday night, straight after work. Mandy knew what she meant – she wanted to do the experiment then.
Afterwards, Jamie was washing dishes while Belle dried and Alyssa stacked them in the cupboard. It was a neat process that they had begun to perfect in the months since they moved to this house. Belle was discussing the possibility of a Monopoly challenge after the dishes, and Alyssa had agreed, eager to get out of studying. Jamie agreed on one condition – that he be the banker. He was beginning to suspect that Belle was purposefully skimping on his change. Belle handed the tea towel to Alyssa to finish the last few things, and took off to set the game up. She had only just opened up the box when Jamie joined her in the dining room. She was just about to lever out the board to reveal all the pieces, when something made her stop. She paused and ran her hand lightly over the surface of the folded game board, horribly certain already what she was going to find. When her fingers touched the worry doll, she heard a rushing sound in her ears, obliterating all other noise. She pulled her hand away and realised she had been holding her breath. She took a deep breath, tried to recover her senses, and then picked up one end of rhe board. She gave it a flick to dislodge the doll, and the movement caused Jamie to look up from where he was clearing clutter off the table, “What is it, Belle?” he asked, concerned, “You’ve gone pale.”
“It’s uh …” she was about to say nothing and give some lame excuse, when she had a better idea, “it’s another worry doll, would you believe?” she said craftily.
“Another one?” Jamie exclaimed without thinking. It was only later that he realised that both he and Mandy had assumed the girls didn’t know anything about the dolls. And how wrong they had been.
By the time Alyssa entered the dining room and went to the box to select a Monopoly piece, Jamie and Belle were deep in conversation. Instead of picking a playing piece, she noticed the doll sitting in amongst the little houses and hotels, and picked it up instead. Holding it out she waited for a pause and then said softly, “Belle. Did you touch it?”
Belle was counting cash, using the braille pin holes they had punched in the corners to identify the different notes, and with this she looked up, startled. She hadn’t yet told Jamie about this part of the puzzle.
Alyssa saw him look with confusion between her sister and herself, and she shot him a look with a raised eyebrow that said, Wait for this, this is good.
Belle stammered slightly, trying to work out what she was going to say, and then just decided to answer the question. Jamie would work it out soon enough, she guessed. “I, uh, yeah, just quickly.”
“And what happened?” Alyssa asked, like a teacher quizzing a recalcitrant six year old.
“It was, ah, a rushing sound, I guess.” Belle tried to relive the brief moment, in order to be able to explain it accurately, “It was like when you put your head under in the swimming pool, but louder. Like being dunked at the beach, but by a really big wave. I was holding my breath.”
“I didn’t notice any, this time.”
At the reference to this time, Jamie looked up again, and noticed that Mandy had drifted in to listen. She was standing at the arched entrance to the room, her hand up to her mouth, as though she couldn’t quite believe what was being said, “This time?” Jamie echoed.
Belle turned toward his voice, and added, “Yeah, this is the … the fourth time. I didn’t touch it for very long this time, though. And I didn’t hold it in my hand, just brushed it with my fingers. It wasn’t as strong.”
Mandy spoke up then, demanding that the two girls tell the whole story, from beginning to end. After shooting Belle a look to find out if she was going to start, Alyssa took a deep breath, and began at the beginning.
The two girls finished their version of events, including their account of what Luke had seen in the dressing table mirror and Alyssa’s theory that Belle’s disability made her somehow more receptive to the dolls’ worries. Alyssa looked at Belle, wondering if she had anything further to add and, when her sister didn’t speak further, she looked at first her mother, and then Jamie, to guage their reactions. They both looked stunned, but not as stunned as perhaps they should have been. Mandy had moved to the kitchen table and sat down during the recount, and now she was idly shaking the pair of dice from the game in her hand, as though if she rolled them, they would give her an answer. Of course they would, but not an answer that would help her unravel this mystery. Jamie took a breath, as though to speak, and then let it out again without saying anything. Mandy seemed as though she hadn’t even registered the silence, her head down, her hands with the dice inside them shaking, shaking.
Eventually, Jamie found the words he wanted to say, and began saying them. Slowly at first, but gradually warming to the narrative, he told of the endless worry dolls the two of them had found – in the salad, in the surgery. In his shoe. Eventually, he came around to the old man he – just like Luke – had seen in the dressing table mirror. Belle looked up as he recounted the story of the man apparently having a heart attack and passing away on the bed, but said nothing. He spoke of the indentation the reflection had left on the bed, and of his feelings of impotence.
Mandy looked up as Jamie stumbled to a halt, and added her own story. Jamie had not yet heard it in full, and he listened as raptly as the two girls as she spoke of the girl she had seen – no more than twelve, and the amazing head wound she had spouted while Mandy’s head was turned, looking for the girl in the real room behind her.
All four of them had made the connection now, between the experiences Belle had had with each of the worry dolls, and the visions they had seen in the mirror. But what it meant, none of them could begin to guess.
There were a lot of pauses, a lot of “ummms” and a lot of nervous glances, but eventually, they decided to go into the master bedroom and peer in the mirror to see what evils lurked there. Belle had experienced the worries of four of the dolls, but between them – and including the now absent Luke – they had seen only three in the mirror. As preparation, Belle had been convinced to hold the doll she had found in the Monopoly box to determine the nature of the scenario. It was the first time she had voluntarily picked up a doll for a second experience, and the knowledge of what was coming made her nervous. Alyssa picked up the doll and Belle held out her hands to take it, just as they had on the beach the last time. Belle’s heart was racing even before the little doll dropped into her cupped palms, and this time the experience was stronger, more powerful than ever before. The rushing noise filled her head, blotting out all other sound, and she immediately began to struggle to breathe. As she tried to suck in air – a blockage like a wet rag low in her throat, and restricting any attempt at respiration, a vague idea came to her that she should drop the doll. The sentence made little sense to her, what she wanted was air (drop the doll) and she sucked harder, in vain. Then even the lack of oxygen (drop the doll) started to seem unimportant, and the rushing sound (i had a little dolly) faded and seemed almost comforting. She began to drift, her mind (now they’re all dead) empty and her panic a lifetime away. She floated on the rushing sound, like a radio that had slipped off the station and was picking up nothing but static (i’m so sorry), and just let go …
Alyssa was watching Belle, wondering when she was going to drop the doll, and it was only when Mandy began screaming that she was suffocating that she realised it has been too long. Jamie was jumping to his feet and trying to revive her and Mandy was still screaming when Alyssa reached out almost casually, and slapped the little doll out of her sister’s hands. Almost immediately, Belle took a deep, shuddering breath, and her eyes flickered open. She frowned, and blinked a few times, apaprently totally bemused at the panicked faces around her. “What happened?” she croaked, her throat still dry, “What just …” she put her hands down on the table, and Alyssa swept the doll out of her reach. Mandy was still hysterical, yelling at Alyssa that she could have killed her, yelling at Jamie for not having reacted sooner, yelling at Belle for having tried such a crazy stunt in the first place. It was a state common to parents – anger borne through fear, and subsequent relief.
“It was the doll,” Alyssa said quietly, “The worry doll.”
Belle frowned for a moment before the memory came flooding back at her. The doll, she remembered now. She hadn’t really been drowning, but the doll apparently had been worrying about it.
When Mandy finally stopped yelling at everyone, she looked around as though she had just woken from a stupor, and went into the kitchen. She found a wine glass in the cupboard, and fished a cheap bottle of cooking wine out of the fridge. She didn’t drink much usually, and it was in there to be used for deglazing the pan when she was cooking, but now she sloshed a good dose into the glass. She drank it down like a kid will glug a medicine cup full of cough mixture, and grimaced at the burning sensation as it wound its way towards her stomach. Fighting the urge to throw the alcohol back up and into the sink, she poured another glass, and hurled the finished bottle into the bin. She picked up the glass and made her way somewhat unsteadily back into the dining room. Jamie raised an eyebrow as she moved past him, but she said nothing. She didn’t trust herself to speak.
When they were all sitting at the table again, Alyssa looked around at all of them. She had been taking charge of the evening all along so far, and saw no reason not to continue. Jamie and Belle both looked forlorn, Jamie staring at his hands as the lay on the table, only his restless fingers tying themselves into knots giving away his nervousness. Belle looked lost in thought, her mind a million miles away as she turned the problem over in her mind. Mandy looked spaced out, and Alyssa realised that this wasn’t her first glass of wine. Her mother didn’t drink much, but even she couldn’t get drunk on only three tentative sips of cooking wine. Alyysa cleared her throat. Jamie looked up at her, the other two seemed stuck in their own worlds regardless.
“Well, are we going to go and look in the mirror?”
“Liss, I’m not so sure that that’s a great …” Jamie started.
“Yes.” Belle interupted. “Yes. I wanted to do it beforen just to find out what happens, but now I think we don’t have a choice. We have to look.”
This was greeted with silence.
“I need you to be the eyes, Liss. You need to look, and tell me what you can see. Can you do that?”
Alyssa, realising that the control she had had – if she had ever had it – had been wrested from her now. The control, the power, lay with Belle and she realised that it really had all along. Belle was the one who could receive the dolls’ messages, and so she was the one who would call the shots. She needed Alyssa to ‘be her eyes’ as she put it, but she was clearly in control. Alyssa nodded, cleared her throat again, and said, “of course I can.”
Belle nodded, although she had known all along that Alyssa wouldn’t refuse her, and said softly, “Let’s go, then.”
Belle stood, Alyssa stood with her. Jamie sat watching the two of them, and eventually stood too. Mandy drained her drink, and put her head down on her arms. Belle wondered idly where Rudolph was, it wasn’t like him not to be sitting under the kitchen table. Perhaps he had wandered off when all the excitement began. Suddenly, she didn’t seem nervous about entering her mother’s room, although it been only mere days ago that the idea had scared the life out of her. She wished Rudolph was around, to give her an indication about how she should be feeling about going into the room, wondering if her own sixth sense was fooling her into a false sense of security. Redgardless, she walked slowly to the room, taking each step carefully, and measuring the distances with care, to avoid running into the walls. She didn’t want to go rushing in, just in case she missed something important. She didn’t know what that might be, but she was sure she would recognise it when it happened.
Alyssa followed Belle into the room, at the snail’s pace she set. She had a sudden image from a book she had owned as a child, of a family going on a bear hunt, and creeping through various obstacles – long wavy grass, thick oozy mud, and a whirling swirling snowstorm – and the thought nearly made her giggle, in spite of the seriousness that had descended over them. Jamie was following closely behind her, she could hear him breathing hot and fast. Alyssa suspected that her mother, still in the kitchen, had dropped into an alcoholic stupor. Well, she couldn’t really blame her. The idea seemed rather appealing even to Alyssa, if her urge to just retreat from the whole messy experience hadn’t been completely overcome by her curiosity. When Belle reached the bedroom door she paused. If Alyssa didn’t know better, she would have thought that she was looking for something in the room, but as it was she guessed she was waiting for a feeling, an emotion, a signal of some sort. Alyssa and Jamie waited impatiently, eager to just get into the room and discover what lay in the mirror. The theatrics seemed uneccesary and over dramatic.
Belle wasn’t aware of the impatience of the two behind her, in fact she wasn’t really aware of them at all. Their presence was not what was important to her right now, although she knew that Alyssa’s eyes would become important to her soon enough. For now, her own internal eye could see more than Alyssa’s ordinary ones ever would. She stepped gingerly into the room, and was unsurprised when Rudolph padded out from underneath the bed. He came up to her, lifting his head for a pat. She crouched beside him, fondled his soft ears, and whispered to him, “What is it, Rude?” she murmered, “What can you see, hmm?”. Rudolph responded by nuzzling her cheek, and she interpreted it to mean that the room was clear. She wasn’t just unthreatened by anything, but was being invited in to partake of the super-normal events that the worry dolls wanted her to see, she imagined.
“Okay, let’s go.” she murmered softly, more to herself than to Alyssa and Jamie, and took the few steps over to stand in front of the dressing table. Rudolph stood close by her side, she could feel his heart beating against her leg even through the fabric of her jeans.
Alyssa and Jamie shuffled into the room behind Belle and Rudolph, and the four of them stood staring into the mirror, waiting for it to share its secret. Alyssa started to feel a little silly. Jamie was about to pipe up and declare that clearly they were making a big fuss over absolutely nothing, when Belle began to murmer under her breath. At first they couldn’t work out what she was saying, and then Alyssa picked up the rythym …
… I’m so very sorry
I had a little dolly
I told it my little worry
And then it all turned red
And now they’re all dead
I’m so very sorry
I had a little dollly …
Belle continued the mantra, and reluctantly Alyssa picked it up as well, murmering the words under her breath. Jamie stood looking at first Belle, then Alyssa. Even he was beginning to notice the electricity in the air, the choking feeling that was rising up and threatening to consume them all. He wanted to yell out, to get them to stop chanting, but the rhyme went through him, piercing him and making unable (or unwilling?) to call this crazy idea off.
The girls kept chanting, Alyssa and Jamie both staring into the mirror. Rudolph continued to pant, his eyes locked on Belle. Belle, for her part, had her eyes closed – all the better to see you with, my dear, she thought crazily, incoherently – and was swaying slightly on her feet. Jamie watched her image wavering in the mirror, and wondered if the only thing he would see reflected there would be Belle fainting. He positioned himself so that he could catch her if she fell, and tried to watch the reflection of the room in the mirror, rather than Belle herself.
As the chanting continued, the tension in the room continued to rise and, just as Belle began to think that she was going to spontaneously combust from the pressure building up inside her head, she heard Alyssa cry out behind her. A moment later Jamie’s voice joined her, the words indistinct, barely distinguishable, “Oh my dear sweet Lord! What the hell is that?”
Belle tried not to allow the voices behind her to break her concetration, although she needed to hear what it was that Alyssa could see. Come on, Liss, she begged silently – to open her mouth now would be to break the spell – come on and tell me what’s happening, Liss.
Finally, Alyssa realised that she needed to explain what she was seeing. This was what Belle had meant, she suddenly thought, when had asked Alyssa to ‘be her eyes’. Alyssa had been Belle’s eyes nearly all her life, but this was a completely different demand, she thought, and it became clear why Belle had asked specifically this time. Because, whether Belle had understood it or not, being her eyes here – now – was a lot more complciated than telling her where on the plate the sausages were. She opened her mouth, tried to form what her eyes were seeing into some kind of words, and began to stammer, “It’s a … well, mostly it’s smoke. In the mirror, the reflection. It’s white, like smoke off a … well like smoke from a smoke machine, not like smoke from a fire.” she paused again, trying to explain the image further, and Jamie jumped in, his voice excited and nervous, “But there’s faces in it, Belle. All different faces. They’re mostly sad, but some are angry, and some are … ” at this point, Belle realised that she was no longer hearing the two of them with her ears. Their voices no longer contained words, but images, ideas, emotions. She was tapping directly into their thoughts, she realised so suddenly that she nearly severed the connection with her surprise. Instead, she tried to tune into them, but she couldn’t distinguish Alyssa from Jamie and the two of them from the rest of the images swirling in her mind. She attempted to unravel the ideas, find the end of a string so she could follow it through the tangled pile, but every time she grasped one concept, one idea, another one crashed in on top of it and she lost her grip. Eventually, it became too much for her, and she let go. Everything went black.
Alyssa saw Belle drop to the ground, and realised that she had stopped actually speaking. Even as she rushed to help her sister, she wondered when that had happened. She had still been thinking that she was speaking out aloud, but now she tried to recall the words she had used, she couldn’t. She knelt beside Belle, and Jamie appeared at her elbow. The strange feeling in the room had dissapated now – the sense of crowding had cleared, and the claustrophic atmosphere had washed away, like summer heat after an evening storm. She looked down into Belle’s face, and was surprised to find that she was breathing normally, her face clear. Jamie knelt beside her, and said gruffly, “Let’s get her into bed.” Then clarified, “her bed. Get her out of this room.” He picked her up as though she was a baby, her prostrate form flopping over both his arms as he raised himself, with her, into a standing position. Alyssa followed along behind them, noticing as she did that the dressing table mirror – free now from smoke and ethereal faces – had a crack running right the way across its middle, even through the wings, although they were seperate pieces of glass. She shivered suddenly, as a finger of ice crept up her spine, and then followed Jamie and her sister out of the room.
Minutes after Jamie laid Belle on her own bed, she opened her eyes. There was no confusion, no moment of wondering where she was. One moment, everything had been black and voices and thoughts and pictures had been intertwined around her, the next, she was lying face up on the bed in her room. She sat up, and Rudolph was at her side, licking her hand. She smiled, gave him a pat and hugged him awkwardly around his head. “Good boy, you’re a good boy.”
When Alyssa poked her head into Belle’s bedroom later on, she was in her pyjamas and tucked up under the doona. Alyssa smiled and, although she badly wanted to know what Belle had just experienced, she let her sister sleep.
Back in her own flat, Alyssa made herself a cup of coffee. The experience hadn’t made her tired, as it had Belle, it had gotten her keyed up, excited, nervous. She wanted – needed – an answer to this mystery. The scientist in her demanded it.
When Belle woke up it was early and the house was silent. She didn’t want to hit the button on the clock to find out what time it was, even its soft voice was too loud in the quiet hours before dawn. Rudolph was asleep on his bed in the corner of the room, she could hear him snuffling quietly in his sleep. She lay in bed, thinking over the events of the night before. She wondered what it was she was tapping into. Some kind of collective conscious of the dolls – if dolls could be said to have a conscious mind. These ones certainly seemed to. She wondered what it was that the dolls wanted. Because surely they wanted something. She guessed it was up to her to find out. If she work out what they wanted, maybe she could find a way to give it to them. Maybe that would silence them. Like the old Halloween rhetoric about the dead haunting the living until they had made amends – perhaps the dolls needed to do something, or express something, or make contact for some reason. She imagined it had something to do with the worries they held – after all, that’s how they had manifested themselves, in terms of the worries they each possessed. Each doll only seemed to have one, at least only one that they were sharing with Belle, but that one worry had – in the four cases so far – been a big one. A gushing head wound, being hit with a hot frying pan, these weren’t minor worries. Belle wondered if maybe she was expected to track down the perpertrators of these vicious acts, but that reasoning didn’t stand for the man with the heart attack – surely no one in that situation could rightly be called a perpertrator. Maybe they were premonitions, and she was supposed to be somehow avoiding them, stopping them occurring. But she had no way of identifying the victims. When she experienced the worries, when she held the dolls in her hand, she always took the part of the victim. She felt what the victim felt, smelled what the victim smelled. She didn’t see the victim though, she didn’t know whether they were young or old, tall or short, male or female. She didn’t know who they were, where they were, or what had gotten them into the situation they were in. As much as Belle felt in control at the time, now she just felt lost and very confused. What did the dolls want from her? And how was she going to deliver it?
Before Mandy had even opened her eyes the light pierced her lids like blades. Her head felt about twice the size it should be, and some kind of dead animal seemed to have crawled into her mouth and taken up residence where her tongue should have been. She seemed to be on the lounge, clearly she hadn’t gotten to bed last night. She couldn’t hear noise. She tried opening one eye, but decided against it and squeezed it shut again. SHe contemplated getting up, but decided against it too. It just seemed too difficult right now. She tried to work out what day it was, and decided that it could be Friday. That would be OK, she had the day off for … something. Something was happening. She would work it out, she guessed. The house seemed still. She guessed everyone was out already, or still in bed. She couldn’t tell how early (or late) it was. Just that it was daylight.
Surprisingly enough, Belle was feeling fantastic, despite the events of the night before, and despite lying awake thinking about it in the early hours. It was though the worry dolls had sapped the strength from her last night, but when she had slept it off, she had gotten it back with interest. She felt fantastic, alive, energised. Even Rudolph could hardly keep up with her as she danced around getting ready for school.
When she made her way out of the bedroom to get breakfast, the house was quiet. Jamie had already left for the surgery, and her mother, oddly, was passed out on the couch. She could smell the cheap wine from last night surrounding ehr in a noxious cloud and, although it surprised her a little, she decided to leave her be. Perhaps she was taking this whole situation a little hard, Belle thought. It was a bit strange, though. After all, it wasn’t Mandy who couldn’t pick up a worry doll without finding out what worries they held, and in a rather too personal way sometimes.
It was some time later when Mandy became conscious again. The thumping in her head was still there, and the light still hurt her eyes. She needed a drink quite badly. She realised she was going to have to get up to get it, or die of thirst. With effort, and her eyes cracked open to mere slits, she swung her legs down on to the floor and braced herself against the arm of the couch. She stood, slowly, her head complaining, and tottered into the kitchen to find a glass of water.
Leaning over the sink, her head drooping, water still dripping from her lips and hands where she had scooped water into her parched mouth, she began to think. What had happened? Gradually, the details started to come back to her – the Monopoly game that had never gotten started, listening to Belle, then Jamie talk about the worry dolls, holding the dice and shaking, shaking (always the dolls), listening to the stories of what they had seen in the dressing table mirror, sharing her own (oh god had she … ?) story from the mirror. She looked down at her hand, and realised she had poured herself a glass of sherry from the pantry. She shrugged, drank it down. The headache started to fade, and she began to smile instead.
Alyssa half opened one eye, and decided to close it again. She wasn’t getting up yet.
Jamie was at work, but his mind was focussed on a mirror. He had seen things in the dressing table mirror last night that not only did he think he would never see but, more to the point, things he didn’t think he would ever believe that he had seen. The strange thing was not even that though. The strangest part was that he wasn’t even quite sure what it was that he had seen. He knew that it had started off like smoke – as though someone had blown a great lungful of cigarette smoke at the glass, but from the wrong side. Then, the smoke had started to boil and shimmer, and images started to apepar in it. What, exactly, those images were, he couldn’t see. Faces certainly, but what else. Hands? Maybe. Animals? There could have been. It was as though he hadn’t seen them with his eyes, but with his mind. He guessed maybe that was what had actually happened. Perhaps these things hadn’t happened in the mirror, but in his own head. But what had Alyssa seen? She had started to describe it, she was acting as Belle’s eyes, just as Belle had asked too, and her description had been close to what Jamie had seen, although her words hadn’t been able to convey the sense of muted horror that the images had seeemed to contain. But what had she seen after that? Was it the same as what he had seen? But what had he seen? Did Alyssa know what she had seen. And then came the thought he had been trying not to think – what had Belle seen?
Alyssa had located her phone, gone to the toilet, and crawled back to bed. Hiding under the doona, she quickly tapped in a text message and sent it to Luke. She droped the phone on the floor and was just dozing off again when the soft double beep of an incoming message woke her. She snaked a hand out and retrieved the phone, “Im on my way xx” it read. She smiled and dropped the phone again. Then pulled the doona up over her head and dropped back into a snooze.
When Luke arrived less than half an hour later, Alyssa was dead to the world. He snuck into the room, stepped out of his jeans, and lifted a corner of the doona to sneak in next to her. He wrapped his arms around her and she moaned slightly in her sleep, and snuggled her sleep warm body into the curve of his.
Friday afternoon, and Belle and Kayla arrived, laughing over a story that Belle was telling about one of the boys in school. Belle stopped outside to unleash Rudolph, and then went to unlock the front door and let them both in. She frowned when the key turned easily in the lock, and pushed open. Surely neither Jamie nor her mother would be home yet. She walked in, cautious, and called out for her mum. Kayla trailed along behind her. Belle heard noise coming from the direction of the dining table, and called out “Who is it?” before they could get too close. She jumped when a voice responded, “Belle. It’s me, Jamie.” and then realised who it was and smiled instead.
“Jamie! I thought you were at work! You gave me a fright.”
Belle paused, and then asked, “What’s wrong?”
There was silence while Jamie gathered his thoughts, “It’s weird how you do that Belle.”
Belle shrugged, she had been told it many times, and although Jamie had become a member of the family now, he still sometimes remarked on somehting that the rest of the family just took in their stride. She waited for him to go on.
Eventually, realising Belle wasn’t going to let him off the hook, he gave a bit of a sigh, “How about you sit down and I’ll make you a cup of coffee?”
Kayla realised what was going on, and went to make a gracious exit. Belle, who hadn’t told Kayla anything about worry dolls or visions apearing in dressing table mirrors, let her go. She wanted to hear what Jamie had to say, she had a feeling it was important, but she didn’t want to drag Kayla into the situation. She told her to call her in the morning, and they would go shopping, or to the beach or something. Kayla said she would, but Belle caught the scent of a lie. She was thinking that Belle was having some serious kind of family trouble, she guessed, and Belle decided that she would make sure to go out tomorrow to make it up to her, and explain that everything was okay, although she doubted she would tell her the whole story.
By the time Kayla had left to walk the few blocks to her own house, Jamie had set a cup of steaming coffee in front of Belle, and sat down at the table across from her. Belle realised that they were sitting in the same positions as they had been the night before. The Monopoly board lay on the table, the pieces packed away but the box remaining as a reminder. Belle pulled it towards her and wordlessly started setting up a game, as Jamie began to talk.
“We were supposed to be leaving on our holiday today.” he started, bluntly and Belle realised that she had forgotten all about it. There had been too much happen in between the time she had been told, and the time it was to happen. She waited for him to go on. “Anyway, Mandy was going to take todsay off, to pack ands tuff I guess. I was goign to work this morning, and then come home at lunch time. We were going to leave around,” he checked his watch, “around an hour ago. But we. Well, we haven’t. Obviously.” he took a deep breath, and rubbed his face vigorously with his hands. By the time he looked up, Belle had finished setting up the board. Without discussion, he picked up a dice, threw it, and Belle did the same time. She touched the raised faces of the dices and smiled, then picked up both of them, and rolled them together, moved her piece. “Bought” she said softly, and they exchanged cash and a title deed card. The game continued almost ritualistically as Jamie continued, “Anyway, I got home around one or so, and Mandy was … she was … Bought.” A quick exchange of cash again, and Jamie picked up the narrative, “Mandy was passed out on the couch. She’s been drinking. There’s an empty gin bottle in the bin.”
“I didn’t want to look, it feels like I’m spying on her, but … I had to, Belle. I had to know. You owe me fifty dollars for opera tickets.”
Belle handed the cash over, “Where is she now? She’s not on the couch.”
“Thanks. No, she’s not.” Jamie added the cash to the pile in front of him, and Belle picked up the dice, rolled, “I moved her into the bedroom.”
“I didn’t know what else to do, but I didn’t want to leave her on the couch. She didn’t even wake up. Bought. She’s not catatonic or anything, she doesn’t need to go to the hospital, but she’s had a …”
“That’ll cost you fourteen dollars.”
Jamie picked out a ten and four one dollar notes, and handed them over, “She’s had an awful lot to drink. I guess she’ll sleep it off and it’ll all be okay.” He paused, watching Belle count out a roll of eight. She picked up a card, and returned it to the pile, moved her piece around the board, and collected two hundred dollars salary. She didn’t speak.
“I just, well, I’ve cancelled the weekend away. I can’t very well just bundle her into the car like …” he waved his hand in the direction of the bedroom, “well, like that.” Jamie picked up the dice and paused, holding them cupped in front of him, “Do you think it’s because of the shock?”
Belle didn’t say anything, but she was thinking hard, and not about the game.
“Bought.” Jamie said, then “I mean the shock of the, of seeing the … stuff … in the mirror. Maybe seeing you last night when you were holding the … that was, well that was pretty scary for her, I think.
“Scary for her, you think?” Belle muttered sarcastically, and Jamie had the good grace to blush, even though Belle couldn’t see it. She picked up the dice, rolled, and landed on one of Jamie’s properties.
“Twenty three dollars.” he stated, and she handed it over. “I don’t know what else could have … could have, brought it on, I guess.”
There was silence, and the game progressed with as little conversation as required. Belle achieved a full set, and started building on them. It was when Jamie landed on the set and didn’t have the cash that she decided to speak, “I want to look in the mirror again.”
Jamie looked up from mortgaging properties, “You … want to do that again?” he was shocked, he certainly had no desire to repeat last night’s experience. But then, the more he thought about it, the more the idea was strangely attractive. Maybe it would provide an answer, maybe he could work out what he had seen the first time, if only he could look again.
“Yes.” Belle said, finally, “But without Alyssa. I want you to be my eyes this time.”
Belle had been thinking durign class, and realised that part of the problem she had experienced was that she couldn’t unravel the voices of the dolls – if that is where those voices were coming from – and the voices of Alyssa and Jamie. It was like trying to listen to three conversations at once, but, somehow it was different to that too. More like trying to listen to three streams of consciousness at once. There was too much detail – and too much sensory input. She was getting thoughts and ideas, smell and touch, all in one big package. When she tried to sort through it, to find the narrative that she needed to be able to make sense of it all, she couldn’t find the end of the piece of string. It was like a big ball of sticky spaghetti. No matter how much she dag through it to find the main string, the ball got more and more complex, more tightly wrapped up, and more impenetrable. She had wondered if, by reducing the number of people feeding information to her, she could help to cut through it. She didn’t want to go alone though, because there was something in her that realised that the images in the mirror were important.
Jamie got up and made another cup of coffee, and by the time the two cups had been finished, Jamie had claimed defeat. They packed up the game and as he put the lid on the box, Jamie looked up, “When?” he asked.
Belle thought for a minute and then said, “Now.”
Jamie frowned, “What about your mother?”
“How out of it is she?”
“Hmmm.” Jamie sighed, “Yeah, she’s pretty out of it.”
“So. Now, then?”
Jamie hesitated, then nodded in agreement, “Yeah, okay. No time like the present, huh?”
Belle raised a corner of her mouth in a cheeky smile, “Gee, thanks, Jamie, you didn’t have to get me a present. It’s not even my birthday.”
“Ha, ha.” Jamie deadpanned.
Belle led, just like last time, but she didn’t move as cautiously as she had that time. She crept into the room, listenign for her mother, and hearing only the very barest of breathing – steady and slow – Jamie was right, she thought, her mother was really out of it. She hoped she was alright, and then turned her attention to the mirror, the worries, and the dolls. She concenrated hard to block out Jamie behind her, her mother prone in the bed, and tried to just clear her mind. She was in front of the dressing table now, she could reach out her hand and brush the cold glass with her fingertips. Slowly, she began to mutter under her breath, trying not to think too much about what she was saying, letting the dolls – or whoever – speak through her, use her mouth to communicate whatever they needed to tell her.
“I had a little dolly,” she began, “I told it my worry. And then it went red, and now they’re all dead. I am so terribly sorry. I had a little dolly, I told it my worry …” she continued on, but felt nothing. In fact, she started to just feel a little bit silly. She became conscious of Jamie standing behine her, watching her, watching the mirror. She stopped, abruptly, and turned to him, “Can you see anything?”
“No, nothing.” Jamie replied.
“There’s nothing there. They are not there.”
Jamie paused, thinking, and eventualy nodded and said, “Yeah, I think you’re right.” He turned to look at Mandy and then asked Belle softly, “Do you think it’s … it’s because of Mandy?”
Belle frowned and shook her head, “No, I dont’ think so.” She paused again and then realised something, “I think it’s because of Alyssa.”
“Yeah, I think they want her. I don’t think they want me.”
“They? Want who? Why?” Jamie stammered.
Belle shrugged her shoulders, and headed outside, calling for Rudolph.
Belle found Rudolph sitting outside near his bowl, but he jumped up when Belle arrived, and offered his head for a pat. Belle obliged, and decided to head out to the flat to see if Alyssa was around. She knocked at the dor, but there was no answer.
Alyssa and Luke were out having dinner. They had emerged from bed sometime in the middle of the afternoon and then decided they were both hungry. Luke had driven them to a Chinese restaurant in the main shopping strip that ran parrallel to the beach. They were laughing over the chopsticks as Alyssa tried to teach him how to use them, and Luke sent various pieces of Dim Sim and stir fry all over the table cloth. Eventually, after complaining that he was starving, he resorted to a spoon, watching Alyssa enviously. She laughed and showed off, and ended up flicking rice all over the place. Laughing, she started picking up individual grains of rice and feeding them to him.
Worry dolls were the furthest thing from their minds.
Jamie decided to leave the bed to Mandy, and sleep on the couch. He slept in fits and starts, his dreams plagued by reflections and mysterious little worry dolls. He relived the old man’s death a million times over (more), never being able to do anything to help him. He relived the moment that the mirror went cloudy the other night, and saw the faces, but the prominent one was of the old man, struggling on the bed that his wife now slept – catatonic – in. When, at last, the first streaks of light were showing in the sky, Jamie was sitting out on the back verandah, shivering in the cold. He couldn’t rid his mind of the images that had plagued him through the night. When, finally, he heard movement inside, he went in himself, expecting to see Belle. Somehow, he didn’t really think that Mandy was ever going to get up again, and when he went into the kitchen to brew himself and Belle a coffee, he gave a start when he saw Mandy, pale and haggard, with her head hanging in the sink.
“Honey?” he said softly, and moved towards her.
“I need a drink.” she slurred, almost inaudibly.
“Honey, I don’t think you do. How about you have a shower instead?” he paused, as Mandy attempted to frown at him, and only succeeded in crumpling her face up like a child throwing a tantrum. “Come on, Darling,” he said, trying to sound encouraging. He put his arm around her, tried to lead her away from the sink. She resisted at first, but then came willingly enough. She was very unsteady on her feet, and Jamie allowed her to rest her weight on him. The two of them maneouvred into the ensuite, and Mandy stood swaying slightly as Jamie undressed her. He had undressed her many times before, but there was nothing remotely erotic about this. Her body was slick with sweat, despite the cool weather. He reached out and turned the shower on, adjusted the temperature, and then wondered what to do. After a little while, he simply stepped out of his own clothes, and jumped in with her.
When Belle did get out of bed, Mandy was slumped at the kitchen table. Belle could smell old alcohol, barely masked by soap, shampoo and perfume. Jamie was cooking breakfast in the kicthen, and as she moved into the room the smell of frying bacon hit her like a wall. Almost immediately, Belle had a flash back to the afternoon on the beach, and she raised a hand to her cheek. She fought the urge to cower.
“Morning Sleepy Head!” Jamie piped happily from his place at the stove.
Belle tried to put the idea of the woman behind her, cranked a smiled on to her face, and said as brightly as she manage, “Morning Jamie. What are you cooking?”
“Bacon, eggs, toast. And mushrooms if you want them.”
“Fried or poached?”
“Fried, all fried. I thought Mandy could use fried.” he said in a slightly softer voice.
Belle laughed, “Yeah, I guess she could. Don’t suppose you could poach one or two though? Just for me?”
Jamie laughed along with her, “Yeah, alright. Just for you. Do you want bacon?”
Belle’s stomach did a slow roll, and the taste of bile reached up into the back of her throat. She swallowed, “No, no bacon. Just eggs and mushrooms. Thanks Jamie.” She smiled sweetly, not knowing whether he was facing her or not, and went back out into the dining room.
Belle moved into the dining room, and ran her hand along the rise of her mother’s shoulders. She did this frequently, as a way of working out where people were sitting when they weren’t talking. She found a seat directly opposite Mandy, and sat in.
“Morning Mum.” she said fairly softly.
“Mmmf” her mother responded. The sound was muffled, and Belle surmised that her mother had her head on her folded arms.
“How are you feeling this morning?” she asked cagily.
There was a pause, where Mandy lifted her head and tried to focus on her daughter’s face. “I’m alive. I guess.”
“Well, that’s a good start.” Belle said brightly. “Jamie’s cooking breakfast. You’ll feel better if you eat, he said.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Mandy’s voice drifted into mumbles as her head drooped back down again.
Belle sighed, clearly her mother was not going to be conversational. She got back up, went back into the kitchen, and offered to help Jamie make toast. He accepted, gratefully.
Alyssa woke up, and decided to go in to the house to find Belle. When she smelled bacon frying, she immediately agreed to stay for breakfast. The four of them sat at the table together, Alyssa piling bacon on toast, and Mandy pushing her food desultoraly around the plate. Belle ate quietly, and then went into her room. Alyssa, still wiping bacon grease from her lips, followed her shortly afterwards. They sat together on the bed, talking about everything except the goings on with the worry dolls, until eventually Belle decided to tell her exactly what happened the day before. She recounted the story with little emotion, before droppign the bombshell, “I think they need you Liss. They didn’t want to talk to Jamie.”
“But what could they possibly want from me? I don’t feel anything when I touch them, I can’t see anything in the mirror. Even that night when we were all there, all I could see was smoke.” she paused, thinking, before adding, “Well, that’s all I remember seeing.”
“You saw more.” Belle said matter of factly. “You saw a lot more.”
That evening, Mandy was starting to feel her normal self again. Well, not quite her normal self, she thought, that person was still off wandering in the wilderness somewhere, wondering where everything had gone awry, and how she had come to take entirely the wrong turn. But she was feeling better. She wasn’t sure how she was going to cope if someone decided to have a little chat to her about the (don’t say it, don’t you dare say it) recent events, but as long as she tried not to think about it, as long as she could believe that it had all been a strange collective dream, then she felt well, alright. Not great, and certainly fragile, but she was okay. It was all going to be (red) okay. When Jamie reminded her about their failed weekend away, and gently suggested that they should go and make the most of what was left of it, she agreed. Perhaps that was what she needed – time away to come back to normal, and forget the strange events of the past few days.
Belle found Jamie’s excitement amusing. He was running around the house like a five year old on Christmas morning, packing and unpacking, madly trying to find some needed item and then repacking. Mandy was attempting to share his enthusiasm, but Belle could tell it was forced. Her mother seemed strained, somehow, as though someone had forced her brain to go through an aperture the wrong size, and now she was all bent out of shape and confused. Belle realised that the worry dolls had affected her on a deeper level than it had the rest of them, but she couldn’t work out how, or why. Or what to do about it. She was still puzzling over this when, finally around lunchtime, Jamie bundled Mandy into the car, and the two of drove off down the driveway. Alyssa and Belle stood at the front door to wave them off, and were not at all surprised when the car got to the road and, instead of turning left to go out to the highway, started reversing back down the short driveway. The driver’s side window rolled down as Jamie pulled up in front of them, and his head stuck out, “Would you mind grabbing a box of tissues?” he called. Alyssa dashed into the house, found the box from the lounge room and brought it back out to them. This time, the car dove up the drive way, and Jamie completed the left turn on to the road. The car drove away and finally disappeared around the next bend.
They were still standing on the front verandah when Belle sighed and said “Man, I’m kind of glad they’re gone”.
There was a pause, then Alyssa gave a little giggle, “Yeah. Me too.”
They were sitting in Alyssa’s flat, discussing a plan to go in and look in the dressing table mirror again, when Luke showed up. They had agreed that they needed to get in there while Mandy and Jamie were away, and Belle explained her theory about having too many people in the room causing too much mind traffic for her to be able to decipher anything. She reiterated the salient points to Luke, and was surprised when he eagerly agreed to wait outside the room when they went in. It was only later that she realised the whole idea terrified him. There was a moment of silence in the tiny room and eventually Belle stood. Rudolph, who had been sitting in the corner, roused himself and came to her side, and she reached down absently to pat him. “Well, Liss.” she said, “You ready?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” her sister replied, “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
Belle smiled, “Let’s go then.”
For the third time, Belle crept into her mother’s room, and stood before the dressing table mirror. She was flanked by Rudolph on her right and Alyssa on her left. The three of them stood, solemn, as Belle attempted to clear her mind. It was faster this time, she didn’t have to think about what she was going to say, she just the words start to flow, and she had barely said the first few words of the ominous little poem when the force of Alyssa’a thoughts slammed into her with physical force. Belle’s world, usually black, went suddenly white, and all of a sudden she was seeing. She saw the mirror, its surface cloudy, the mist roiling behind the glass. Tentatively, she turned to her right and looked at Rudolph, saw him for the very first time. He had a dark tip on the end of his tail, she noticed, and smiled. When she turned towards her sister, she realised that she looked exactly how she thought she looked, and this surprised her. The novelty of sight almost made her forget why she was there, and she had to fight back the urge to just run out of the room and look at everything. She realised, though, even in the excitement of the moment, that she was only seeing what Alyssa could see. She was, quite literally, using her sister’s eyes. Alyssa looked almost as though she were asleep. Her eyes were open, fixed on the mirror in front of her, but the expression on her face was slack, immobile. Belle had the idea that she was somehow stealing from her, and tried not to get too carried away by the idea that she had sight. Stop (looking) thinking about it, she chided herself, just go (run) with it, where are the (I had a little) dolls, she needed to contact the (I told my little worry) dolls. She put all her attention into the mirror, and watched the roiling (souls) smoke in the glass, trying to make sense of what she could (but this can’t be) see. She saw nothing at first, nothing but vague (faces) images that meant nothing to her, but gradually the mist coalesced into (victims) all sorts of images. So many that she had trouble telling one from the other. There was a face, it’s mouth open in horror, then laughter; a hand, clenching in a fist, then softly holding a child’s; eyes, wide with fear, then creasing into a smile. The images came fast, faster than she could put words to what she was seeing. She started to feel overwhelmed, and struggled to pull her (mind) eyes back from the individual happenings in the mirror. She tried to take in the mirror itself, and to stop concentrating on the (worries) fine details, the images of love and hate, affection and anger. Eventually her (thoughts) eyes started to see another image, a larger one that was made of the tiny individual pieces – a face, it’s features created by the smaller images, constantly moving as the tiny scenes played themselves out within it. As she watched, the face began to smile, the edges of its mouth moving, always moving, but forming into a smile all the same. She watched the face, waiting for it to speak and at that exact moment, Alyssa cried out in surprise, Rudolph barked, and Belle’s world reverted to the darkness she had always known.
When Belle woke up, she was expecting to be back in her own bedroom, but instead it seemed as though she was still in her mother’s. It seemed as though she was still lying on the floor in front of the dressing table, Rudolph snuggled up beside her, his breath whistling in and out as he slept. She wondered how much time had passed. She had a blanket over her, and a pillow under her head, but her hip was aching from the hard floor, despite the carpet. She realised that they hadn’t had Jamie to pick her up, so they had just left her where she was, and covered her with a blanket.
She sat up, feeling that same surge of energy she had felt last time. She was awake, energetic, and ready for anything. She didn’t know what time it was, but she decided to take advantage of the situation. She raced outside to the flat and banged on the door, Rudolph hot on her heels.
Inside the flat, Alyssa and Luke were both fast asleep in pre-dawn darkness. When Belle banged on the door, Alyssa rolled over and mumbled in her sleep, but neither of them woke up.
Not to be discouraged, Belle raced back into the house. She decided she was going to take advantage of this energy. She wanted to duck into her room to find out what time it was, but then decided against it, she didn’t want to waste a moment. Instead, she went back into her mother’s room, kicked the blanket and pillow out of the way, and stood in front of the mirror, RUdolph panting at her side.
This time it happened quickly – almost too quickly. Belle felt sucked into the world fo the dolls this time, not as though she had gone voluntarily. Before she knew it, there were voices in her head. She opened her eyes, tried to focus, and found that she almost could. She didn’t seem to be able to see colour, and the edges of things seemed shimmery. Her sense of smell, ordinarily pretty good, being absolutely amazing, and she got the idea that she was smelling where things were, more so than seeing them. Before long, she realised what was happening. Because Alyssa wasn’t there, see was seeing with Rudolph’s eyes – and nose – instead. She laughed out loud, thinking, well, thry do call them seeing eye dogs, after all. This time, she couldn’t make out the individual figures in the mirror, Rudolph’s eyesight just wasn’t that good, it seemed. Somehow, it made it easier to focus on that larger image – the face. This time it didn’t seem to be smiling though. In fact, it seemed … angry, almost. When it begam speaking, Belle listened.
When Alyssa woke up, the sun was just starting to streak through the window of the flat, the beam of light a blade slicing from in between the curtains and cutting the room in two. Last night when she had woken up after seeing the face in the mirror, she had had a terrible headache, the same as she got when she had been studying for too long at a time, but about ten times worse. This morning, the pain behind her eyes lingered, although the sharp edge had gone. She closed her eyes, wanting to go back to sleep. But sleep didn’t seem to want to take her. She slipped out of bed, trying not to wake Luke. She got dressed, found a couple of Nurofen and swallowed them. She decided to go and check on Belle.
When she got inside, the house was very quiet. Although the air was still, it felt kind of … full. As though the house was filled with invisible fairy floss, and she had to wade through it. What was going on here? She walked into the master bedroom, looking for Belle, and found her – somehwat unsurprisingly – standing in front of the dressing table, Rudolph at her side. Belle was staring raptly into the mirror, her head nodding as though she was agreeing with someone. Rudolph stood eyes open, breathing rapidly, but otherwise for all intents and purposes asleep. His features drooped, his bottom jaw hung open, tongue lolling with a long column of drool waving with his breath. Alyssa couldn’t see anything in the mirror except for the reflection of the bedroom. She decided to sit on the bed and watch what unfolded.
Belle continued to nod, as though listening to some interesting conversation, and Alyssa kept wondering why the dog didn’t fall over. Alyssa could see her own reflection behind Belle’s, and she wondered who Belle was listening to. She was acting almost as though she was talking to someone only she could see in the mirror, but of course the idea was absurd. As much as some weird stuff was going on with this mirror, and with the dolls, she didn’t think it was enough to give sight ot the blind. The very idea was a cliche. Alyssa repositioned herself on the bed, laying on her belly, with her feet on the pillows and her head resting on her hands so she could watch her sister and her dog. She wondered how long they had been like this, how long they still would be, and gradually drifted off to sleep. When she woke up, Belle and Rudolph were gone, and there was a clutch of worry dolls on the carpet where they had been. Alyssa jumped off the bed, gathered up the dolls, shoved them in the pocket of her jeans, and went in search of her sister.
She found both Belle and Rudolph back out in the flat. Belle looked tired, sipping coffee with Luke. Rudolph had found a throw cushion and fallen aslepe on it in the reading nook. When Alyssa opened the door they all looked up at her, and she smiled at them. “I fell asleep”, she said sheepishly.
Luke returned the grin, “Feel better Sleeping Beauty?” he teased. Alyssa stuck her tongue out at him, and asked for a cup of coffee as she flopped onto the futon, and crawled under the doona to go back to sleep, “My head still hurts.” she moaned.
“Your head hurts.” Belle muttered, “You should feel mine.”
Alyssa suddenly remembered the worry dolls in her pocket, and sat up in bed. “Hey Sis,” she called.
Belle looked up, “What?” she grunted.
“I think you dropped something in Mum’s room.”
Belle frowned, and came out into the living area of the flat. “Huh?”
“More dolls,” Alyssa stated, and Belle stopped dead. Alyssa frowned at the look on her sister’s face, “What’s wrong? You don’t have to touch them if you don’t want to …”
Belle sighed, and resumed walking towards Alyssa and the wory dolls, “Yeah, but i do.” she said, “That’s the thing. I do have to touch them. And then you have to see it in the mirror.”
“But … but I’ve never seen anything in the mirror!” Alyssa argued.
Belle shook her head, “But you have, Liss. You’ve seen more in the mirror than you realise.”
“I’ve seen smoke. Smoke and mirrors, ha ha. That’s hardly anything like what the others have seen. Jamie with his heart attack victims and Mum with the girl with the head wound.”
Luke stepped out of the kitchenette and into the loungeroom, “Alyssa …” he cautioned, and Alyssa rounded on him, “You just keep out of this, Luke. I know you think you’re involved, because you saw the frying pan woman, but you’re not. Okay? You’re not involved.”
Belle waited for Alyssa’s tirade to end and then said softly, “But he is, Alyssa. He’s just as involved as I am. As you are. As Rudolph is. We’re all involved in this. Jamie, too. And Mum. Did you wonder why Mum reacted the way she did, Liss? Did it ever occur to you that she over reacted just a little?”
Alyssa looked shocked, but said nothing, she hadn’t thought about her mother much at all, to be honest. She had been so busy either trying not to think about the whole situation at all, or trying to work out the intricacies of the whole thing – why the dolls, why the worries, why Belle, why herself – that she hadn’t actually wondered why her mother had gone off the rails. All of a sudden, it seemed odd that she hadn’t thought about it, and she felt a bit ashamed.
“They’re coming because of Mum. They’re here because they want Mum to help them. They can talk to me, but they need Mum. And I need you, and Luke, to help me get the message across. Mum’s fragile enough as it is right now, any more pressure is going to break her in two and we’ll be carting her off to the asylum in a white jacket. Or finding her passed out on the bathroom floor with a vodka bottle.” Belle paused to let the message sink in.
Alyssa was shocked, and she spoke quietly, as though Belle had clearly already gone mad, and should be treated with care, “Belle, first you said they wanted you, then you said they wanted me, now you’re saying they want Mum. What next? Rudoplh? And who are ‘they’ anyway, Belle? Explain that much to me. And what kind of help? What’s Mum got that no one else has?”
Belle shrugged, she didn’t have answers to any of these questions. “I don’t know, Liss. I just don’t know. Come with me back to the mirror. Let them talk to you.”
Alyssa sighed, “Let me have an hour’s sleep, then I’ll come with you.”
While Alyssa slept, Belle convinced Luke to play a round of Monopoly with her. She was busy claiming over five hundred dollars in rent off him when he finally asked her what had happened last night, and this morning.
Belle wondered how much to tell him, and then decided to go for the whole thing, “I could see. Last night, I used Alyssa’s eyes, and I could see.”
Play stopped. Luke held cash in one hand, and a mortgaged property in the other, You … you what?” he stammered eventually.
Belle said it again, as though it were the most ordinary thing in the world. “I could see. Rudolph has a dark tip on the end of his tail. I saw that. I saw it with Alyssa’s eyes.”
Luke allowed his own eyes to wander over to Rudolph, still sleeping in the reading nook, although he already knew that he had a dark tip on his tail. It was out of the ordinary for a golden labrador, they were normally a solid colour, and it had caught his eye when he had first met him. “I don’t … I don’t really understand. How could you … how did that work? Can you see now?”
“No it only worked while I was in the mirror. You know the strange thing, I did it again, this morning, when Alyssa wasn’t there. And I saw through Rudolph’s eyes. But he doesn’t just see with his eyes, he sees with his nose, I could smell things, Luke. You have no idea what that sensation is like.”
Luke gave a dry laugh. “Yeah, you’ve got that right. I don’t know what it would be like to be blind, but I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to see things with your nose.”
Play resumed, and Belle grew serious again. After a few rolls she spoke softly again, “You know, I was told a lot of stuff this morning by … well, by someone. I don’t know who they were, but they had … authority. Of some sort. Anyway, they told me a lot, but I don’t remember the words they used. It’s like they spoke to me in pictures, or ideas. Or maybe it was that they didn’t speak at all, they just fed ideas into my head. It wasn’t organised, like it is when someone describes something to you, it was like a big dump of information, but I need to unravel it a little bit at a time, bit by bit. It’s like I can’t access the end of the story, until I fully understand where it started, and all the other things that happen on the way.”
Luke didn’t meet her eyes, just continued to play the game. Eventually, he spoke nearly under his breath, “I think you’re something more than just a little bit special, Belle.”
“What do you mean by that, Luke?” she asked suspiciously.
“I mean that you’re … you’re somehow more than human. More than … well, more than normal, I guess.” he laughed a little, “That sounds really strange, but I don’t know how else to put it.”
She laughed at that, but somehow the statement had made her uneasy. She was glad when Alyssa woke up, slightly less grumpy now, and broke the filament of tension that had arisen between the two of them.
This time, Alyssa led the procession into the bedroom. She was determined to be more than just a pair of eyes this time around. Luke, convinced to come into the house at least, hung around in the dining room, ready to be on hand in case he was needed. He would at least be needed to drag someone into a bed after it all, he thought ruefully.
Alyssa wasn’t going to be nearly as cautious as her younger sister was. She marched in and stood in front of the mirror as though she was challenging it to speak to her. Rudolph eyed Belle, and then reluctantly went and stood beside Alyssa, his flank pressed to her leg. Belle stood on the other side of Alyssa, not really knowing why she was there. It was not as if Alyssa needed someone to be her eyes. The two girls closed their eyes, and together they began to chant,
“I had a little dolly,
I told it my little worry
Then it went …
Ooooohhhhhhh” Alyssa suddenly moaned. She could feel a force in her head, behind her eyes, like a hand had roughly pushed its way in, and was feeling about for something it had lost. Alyssa struggled, wanting the feeling to (get out! get out!) go away, and she entered a mental struggle with the (spirit) force in her mind. She opened her eyes, and started to scream. Belle’s head snapped, as though she had been hit, and she cried out as well. Rudolph began to howl. In an instant, Luke was in the room. He went first to Belle, Alyssa still screaming, her hands clawing at her (get out!) skull, pulling at her (brains) hair, and clawing at her (soul) eyes. Luke started to drag Belle out of the room, and she started to yell, “No! Get Liss! Get her out of here!” Luke stopped, confused, and then, as though suddenly energised by Alyssa’s contined screams, he grabbed her under the armpits and dragged her, still screaming at top volume, out of the room.
As soon as Alyssa was out of the room, Rudolph calmed down. He went straight to Belle as nuzzled at her as though to check that she was okay. Belle was about to lean down and scratch him behind the ears when she felt a force in her own mind. It was blinding, just a flash, but the message that was imprinted in her mind was very clear. Alyssa was not welcome. Not now. Not ever.
When Luke pulled her out of the room, the connection between Alyssa and … whatever it was snapped like a wire pulled too tight. One moment the sensation of (the one) something inside her head was there, the next it was (broken) gone, as though it had (but it had been) never been there. She struggled out of Luke’s grip, shook herself, and said haughtily, “I can walk, leave me alone.”
Luke looked sheepish, “Sorry. I … just wanted to get you out of … whatever that was.”
Alyssa’s gaze softened and, although she didn’t apologise, she went to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, buried his head into the cleft provided by his collar bone. He allowed her to hug him, but her rebuke still stung him. After a while, he disentangled himself, and they both took a seat at the dining room table. Neither of them wanted to go back into the bedroom, but they didn’t want to stray too far either. This whole situation was getting more and more unpredictable all the time.
Belle sat down on the end of the bed. Any energy she still had from this morning had been thoroughly zapped by the reaction of the (one) worry dolls in the mirror to Alyssa, and the subsequent blinding adminition that had been delivered direct into her (soul) mind. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to lie down and sleep, go and get somehting to eat – maybe coffe, the caffeine might be good, or bad, she couldn’t decide – or just lie down here where she was and sleep. The mirror seemed dead now, and even though it was still strangely compelling, she didn’t think that it was going to let her in again for a little while. Almost as though it had given her a (blank) time out, like a naughty child. Belle sighed and, still not entirely sure what she was going to do, stood up, and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on.
Luke and Alyssa both looked up expectantly when Belle loped into the room, Rudolph trotting at her side. She ignored their gazes, even though she sensed their eyes upon her, and continued into the kitchen. Sometimes, being blind meant you could casually ignore things, and people let you get away with it. Not her sister, though, it seemed, as Alyssa’s voice followed her into the kitchen, “Don’t ignore me, Belle!”
Belle ignored her anyway, filled the jug at the tap, settled it on its base, and switched it on. She stood, listening to the water heat, the base of the kettle cracking is it warmed. Belle raised her hands to her face and scrubbed at it to try and wake herself up. She thought that, if the coffee didn’t do the trick, she was just going to have to have a sleep. She wondered how late in the day it was, her sense of time was all over the place, although she was conscious of them running out of time before Mandy and Jamie got back. She needed to work out what she was supposed to do before they got here, so that she could go ahead and do – whatever it was – when they arrived.
Belle made coffees for everyone, unbidden, and brought them one by one into the dining room. She had the habit of always leaving one arm free, either to hold on to Rudolph’s harness, or to feel for obstacles. When she had brought all three mugs in and found herself a seat, the expectant silence descended over her like a blanket, and she could feel Alyssa and Luke’s eyes on her, waiting. Under the table, Rudolph settled himself on top her feet, which made her smile.
Eventually, Alyssa, unable to contain herself any longer, blurted out, “What was that all about, Belle?”
Belle remained silent, and she could sense Alyssa getting angrier and angrier as the silence dragged on. Eventually, she foudn the words she wanted, “They don’t want to speak directly to you, Liss. I’m sorry. I got a … a flash, of … something. I don’t know what to call it, but it was very clear. They don’t want to speak directly to you. I think it’s best if you just, well, just bring your eyes.”
Alyssa was, strangely, silent. Eventually, she gave a grunt, stood up, and stalked off back to her flat. Luke, somewhat reluctantly, stood as well. As he passed Belle, his hand settled on her shoulder, squeezed lightly, and was gone.
Belle decided to have a little sleep, despite the caffeine. When she got to her room, she hit the button on the clock, “Eleven. Forty. Two. Ay-Em” it said in its electronic voice. She was surprised it was still morning, so much had happened already, although it made her realise she had started a lot earlier than she had known at the time. No wonder Alyssa and Luke had still been asleep. She set the alarm for one o’clock in the afternoon, deciding that at that point she would wake up, have something to eat if she felt like lunch, and then go and have a chat to the (one) voices behind the mirror. With or without Alyssa.
Luke followed ALyssa out to the flat, and as soon as they were outside she rounded on him, “What does she mean, they don’t want to speak directly to me? Who? Who is ‘they’? And why does she have some kind of a monopoly on them? And what about all this crap about Mum? What’s she got to do with any of it all? It’s not my fault she decided to have a nervous breakdown over a couple of worry dolls, is it? And what’s the go with that, anyway? We haven’t found one in ages … well, except for the ones I found this morning, of course, but I’m not sure they count. I just dont’ understand why Belle thinks she’s just so fucking import …”
During the tirade, Alyssa and Luke had arrived at the front door of the flat. Alyssa pulled the door open and, when she saw what was inside, the flow of angry words just dried up into nothing. The salad bowl full of worry dolls that had sat on her desk for days, virtually forgotten along with her school work, had apparently been upended. The dolls covered every available surface – the floor, the bed, the desk, the bookcase, the breakfast bar, even inside the reading nook she had created. There were hundreds of them, and every single one was tipped out of the bowl and into the small room. Alyssa screamed, more out of frustration and anger than fear. Luke, feeling completely nonplussed, worn out and exasperated, turned around, fished his car keys from his pocket, and drove away, without saying a word. Alyssa let loose with a tirade at his fleeing vehicle, and eventually just sat on the flat’s front door step and cried.
Belle stirred and rolled over with the commotion outside, decided to ignore it, and went back to sleep.
When the alarm went off with the stilted, “Alarm! One. Oh. Clock. Pee-Em. Alarm!” Belle still felt tired. It was incredibly tempting to just switch the alarm off, roll over and go back to sleep. Rudolph padded over to her and rested his muzzle on her bed, “Rudolph,” she said patiently, “Much as you are a wonderful dog, I wish you woulnd’t leave drool on my bed sheets.” With this, she sat up, and swung her feet on to the floor. She gave Rudolph a pat to shw him that she still loved him, and he rumbled happily at her, and followed her into the kitchen. She picked through the well organised fridge for sandwich ham, found bread in the bread box, and fixed herself a sandwich. Knowing her mother would have a fit if she knew, she fixed Rudolph one as well, and let him eat it on the kicthen floor, while she stood and ate hers. She poured herself a glass of water from the tap and drank it down. Satiated, she decided she couldn’t put it off any longer, she was going to have to go back in there, and confront the (one) whatever it was.
Alyssa decided that, instead of facing the destruction that the worry dolls had wrought on her (life) flat, she was going to go for a walk. It was an overcast day, and the weather was cold, but the wind wasn’t blowing too hard, and she decided the beach would be deserted – just what she wanted. She certainly wasn’t in the mood to speakto anyone. She walked the couple of blocks to the beach, trying to work out how she had gotten to this point. She wondered what Belle was doing, was she in front of the dressing table mirror now, calling out for her ‘eyes’? Was she fast asleep, sleeping off the efforts of the morning? Was she in some dreamland, communing with a bunch of worry dolls, and getting grand ideas about herself, Alyssa, and their mother, amongst who knew what else? Increasingly, she thought about Luke. Would he come back? She understood that she had been more than a little hysterical, but come on, wouldn’t anyone be? Surely he could understand that? She arrived at the beach, and stepped onto the sand, the hard crust crunching under her joggers and breaking to reveal to soft, dry layer of sand beneath. It was a good analogy, she thought, the top layer looked tough and unbreakable, but it cracked under just a little pressure, and revealed the soft interior just below the surface. She felt the same, her hard exterior now full of cracks, and exposing her own soft interior. She wasn’t coping well with this. When she got down to the hard packed sand near the water, she wasn’t all that surprised to find that, instead of the usual shells and bits of seaweed, the beach was strewn with worry dolls.
Belle stood in front of the mirror yet again, Rudolph in his usual spot, resting against her right leg. This position was becoming horridly familiar, she thought ruefully. It was with a feeling not quite of impending disaster, but of possibly disastrous inevitability, that she fell into the world beyond the mirror. The world where the dolls where ruled by the one, and the worries were the local currency.
Alyssa returned from the beach feeling, if not quite relaxed, at least calmer than she had been, despite the worry dolls at her feet, She had at least realised she wasn’t going to be able to escape whatever the dols had in store for her – for them. Still she was not quite willing to face the worry dolls strewn around her flat, and went into the house to find Belle instead. She intended to apologise, but also she wanted to make sure she was okay. The thought had occurred to her that her sister might be attempting to contact the dolls again while she was wandering on the beach trying to gather her thoughts, and could possibly need her help.
When she got to the bedroom, she discovered Belle in the now familiar position in front of the dressing table mirror, Rudolph leaning against her leg, looking as though he was sleeping with his eyes open. Belle wasn’t nodding this time, but gazing with rapt attention into the mirror as though it afforded all sorts of delights. Alyssa, predicatably, couldn’t see anything except Belle’s reflection, and beyond that the bedroom, herself included. She perched on the end of the bed, sitting cross legged, with her elbow on her knee, and her chin in her hand. And waited.
This time, the communication lasted longer, and didn’t end abruptly as had all the previous ones. Belle thought as she rose once more to the surface of reality, that perhaps she was getting good at this. A strange talent to possess, perhaps, but useful in the circumstances, nevertheless. She felt tired, but not overwhelmingly so. She blinked as she came back into the darkness of her reality, the lights winking out in a fashion, and plunging her back into her usual blind state. At the same time, she became aware of someone sitting behind her, and she turned, “Alyssa?” she asked.
“Yeah, it’s me.” her sister replied. “That was … calm.”
Belle smiled, “Yeah it was. Nice change, huh?”
Alyssa reddened, “Yeah. I deserved that. Sorry for … before.” she added.
Belle shrugged, “No big deal. This whole … thing … is weird. We all deal with things diferently. Where’s Luke?”
“Gone.” Alyssa stated simply, “My flat is … well. My flat is over run by worry dolls. When I saw it I … I lost it, and he … well, he left. I went for a walk … on the beach.” she stammered, “But I wanted to say sorry. I was a bit of an arse.”
“Like I said, no big deal. Will he come back?”
“Do you care?”
Alyssa paused, asking herself the same question and trying to come up with answer that was honest. Eventually she said, “I’m not sure.”
Belle shrugged again, taking the admission in her stride, as she did most things. “I’m going to make another coffee, and then I’m going to have a lie down.” she stated.
“I might join you for the coffee.”
“Okay. Did you have plans for dinner?”
“Not yet. Want to get a delivery? Chinese maybe? Or pizza?”
Belle wrinkled her nose, “Not pizza. Chinese would be good. I could murder a Mongolian Duck.”
“The poor duck.” Alyssa laughed as she stood. The two of them walked out of the room, Rudolph between them, wagging his tail happily.
Alyssa made the drinks, and Belle slumped at the table, her mind still whirling with all the things that she had learnt. Just like before, she had been given a great lump of information, but not the means to be able to understand it all. She knew that Alyssa was burning to know what had happened, but that she was too ashamed of her most recent behaviour to be able to demand that Belle tell her all about it. She wondered how she was going to work out what she had to do before her mother and Jamie got back. She was running out of time.
Over coffee, Belle agreed to help Alyssa out with the cleaning up of the flat. She wasn’t sure how she could help, but she guessed she could push a broom, or at least offer moral support. Or something. She guessed it was a good idea to do this before Mandy and Jamie arrived back home, anyway, and apparently it was already late in the day. She had been in front of the mirror for quite some time, it seemed. Belle could feel Alyssa’s eyes burning her, wanting to know more, and eventually Alyssa worked up the courage to ask, “So, what happened in there … before?”
Belle gave a sigh, “Look, I don’t know that there’s anything I can tell you. It’s strange, I get given these lumps of information. It’s like … imagine a big ball of chewing gum, that’s gotten stuck in your hair. You can’t just rip it out, you need to untangle it slowly, from the outside in to the middle. I don’t know how to disentangle that big knot. I don’t know how to find out what’s in the middle.
“You cut blobs of chewing gum out of your hair, you don’t disentangle them.”
Belle’s lips straightened into a frustrated line, and before she could speak, Alyssa interrupted, “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. That was mean.”
Belle sighed again, “It’s okay. I know it’s frustrating for you, but it is for me too. I need to think about this for a while, I think a sleep will help. I feel really whacked out. But I always seem to feel a lot better after a sleep.”
Alyssa nodded sadly, even though Belle couldn’t see it, and then said suddenly, “What’s it like, Belle? When you … go in to the mirror?”
“I don’t know if I woudl call it going in to the mirror, it’s more like …” she paused, thinking, “It’s more like they come out to me. Well, the one does. But the one is made up of the many.” she gave a laugh, “that sounds stupid.”
Alyssa was thoughtful, a memory had occurred to her all of a sudden, “No,” she said slowly, “It’s not stupid. I remember that. A face, in the mirror, that was made up of … smaller faces. Not just faces, either, hands and mouths and eyes and people, changing, changing into things. From good things to bad things and sad thing to happy things.”
By this time, Belle was nodding. That was exactly what it was.
“So who are they, Belle? Who are those people? And who is the one?”
Belle raised a hand in a stop sign, “Slow down. One question at a time. The people, the small faces in the mirror, are the worries that the worry dolls hold. Or, more to the point, they are the people who have had the worries. The changes in them are the worries themselves.” Belle shook her head, “That doesn’t make much sense. The idea is that the people who worry, they worry about changes in their normal lives. Like, they worry that someone who is happy is going to suddenly be unhappy, or that the smile they see is a lie, or that they are healthy now, but won’t be very long, or they are sick but instead of getting better, they might die. Does that make sense?”
“Strangely enough, yeah, it does make a kind of sense.”
“The one is … I’m not sure. The one is like a collective consious, maybe, of all the dolls, and all the worries. It’s like a … a guiding force for them, or something.”
When Belle stopped, Alyssa said nothing, she was taking it all in. Eventually, she raised her head, and looked at her sister again, “Why are they in the mirror?”
Belle shrugged, “No idea. Not even an inkling.” she paused, “How about ordering that chinese meal? And waking me up when it gets here?”
Alyssa chuckled, “Okay, but you have to promise to help me clean up after dinner.”
Belle smiled, “Sure. But I want sleep and duck first.”
When Belle woke up, she felt marginally better, although she realised that she what she really needed was a full night’s sleep. She guessed she would get it soon enough. For now, though, the smell of soy sauce and jasmine rice was drifting through the house, and it was making her stomach rumble. She padded out to the kitchen, for once without a trailing dog. He was still asleep on his bed in the corner of the room, snoring softly in his doggy dreams.
Alyssa was paying the woman who had made the delivery out of the money that Jamie had left for them under a magnet on the fridge. She thanked Alyssa and left, and Alyssa brought the bag into the dining room. Belle was already assembling plates with chopsticks for Alyssa, and a fork for herself. Behind blind did not make the use of chopsticks easy, so she chose to forgo them in preference of being able to actually eat something. They sat at the table and Alyssa pulled things open, explaining to Belle what they were as she did so. Belle munched on a dim sim as this was happening, and as soon as Alyssa had everything open she dove in. She was starving.
When the phone rang, she ignored it. Alyssa got up to answer and Belle continued eating.
“Hi Liss, it’s Mum.”
“Oh hey Mum, how’s the holiday?”
“Good! Really good. The weather is lovely, it’s been good to just relax.”
“That’s great, Mum, I’m glad you’re having a good time. So are you coming back tonight?”
“No, that’s partly why I’m calling. We thought we might come back tomorrow night instead. Will you girls be okay?”
“Yeah, we’re fine. We’re just having dinner now.”
“Ah great. What are you having?”
“Belle wanted Mongolian Duck, so I ordered Chinese for her.”
“Excellent. Excellent. So, um, how’s everything been … otherwise?”
“Good Mum. Great. We’ve just been sitting around watching DVDs today. We’ve been relaxing too. The weather’s pretty cold and miserable.”
“Oh I see. Well, that sounds alright. Can you make sure that Belle gets to school alright in the morning?”
“Mum, she’s fifteen. I think she can get herself ready for school, don’t you?”
“Heh, yeah, I guess so. I forget sometimes, how grown up you both are now. Okay, well, behave yourselves, and we’ll see you tomorrow night. Make sure you call me if you need anything.”
“Sure Mum, of course. Enjoy the rest of your holiday. And stop worrying about us.”
“Ha! I’ll never stop worrying about you two. See you tomorrow, Liss. Love you.
“Love you too, Mum. Bye”
“Say love you to Belle, as well, okay?”
“Of course Mum. Bye.”
“Mum says she loves you” Alyssa reported dutifully.
“Oh right.” Belle muttered through a mouthful of duck, she swallowed and asked, “When are they coming back?”.
“Tomorrow night, she said.”
“Excellent.” Belle said brightly, “I need an excuse to stay home from school tomorrow then, unless I suddenly work out what this thing is about in the next hour or so.”
“Why?” Alyssa asked, frowning.
“Well, I know that Mum’s involved somehow, but I don’t know how. And I want to try and work it out before they get back. I think I’m going to have to approach Mum pretty carefully, whatever I have to talk to her about. She seems just seems so … fragile right now.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Alyssa agreed, thoughtfully, “She sounded as though she wanted to know what had happened with the worry dolls, but like she wasn’t quite brave enough to ask. I didn’t tell her anything,” she hastened to add, “I told her we’d been watching DVDs all day. She did say to make sure you got to school alright in the morning though.”
Belle raised an eyebrow over a mouthful of rice.
“Yeah, I know. I told her you were old enough to get yourself to school these days.”
“Too right.” Belle mumbled indignantly.
After dinner, they packed the dirty plates into the kitchen sink, but didn’t wash up. Alyssa made Belle promise to do it tomorrow, in return for her not telling their mother about her missing school tomorrow. Belle, all too readily, agreed. Together, they traispsed out to Alyssa’s flat to clean up. Rudolph had woken up in time to join them, and now walked out between the two girls. The had barely stepped outside when Alyssa suddenly stopped. Belle frowned at her, “What is it?” she asked.
Alyssa swallowed, as though she was nervous, “Luke’s here.” she said shortly, nervously.
“Oh good,” Belle said guilelessly, and continued to walk towards the flat, “he can help us clean up the dolls.”
Belle waited at the door of the flat, Rudolph at her feet, for Alyssa to catch up. Partly, she didn’t want to walk in without someone to tell her where the dolls were on the floor, but mostly, she wanted to hear what happened between Luke and her sister.
Alyssa waited where she was for Luke to come up to her. She had no idea what she felt in this matter yet. She wasn’t ready for a confrontation, and she wasn’t sure if he was coming bearing an apology or an argument. She tried to steel herself for either. He unfolded his lanky body from the driver’s seat, but kept his eyes down. She tried to work out if the lack of eye contact was from anger or shame, but couldn’t decide. She watched him walk towards her, willing him to lift his eyes, and eventually he did. The hang dog look in them nearly broke her heart.
“Hi.” he said softly as he got closer.
“Hi yourself.” she replied, just as softly.
“How are you?” he asked, out of politemess, but also to put off the words he knew he had to say.
“Good thanks.” she responded, formally, although the flash in her eyes as she said it belied the words the spoke.
“That’s good.” He paused, “I came to say I’m … came to say that I’m sorry.”
Alyssa nodded, not quite trusting herself to speak, and dropped her own eyes from his gaze. Softly, with tears threatening to choke her, she said “I’m sorry, too. I shouldn’t have,” she swallowed, trying to remove the lump from her throat, “I shouldn’t have, yelled at you.”
“You didn’t yell at me. You were yelling at the situation. I’m sorry I took off. I was angry.”
Alyssa shrugged, and Luke caught her shoulders as she did so, and pulled her in to him.
“I love you, Liss.” he mumbled into her hair.
Alyssa let the tears flow, then.
Alyssa finally broke away from the embrace, scrubbed at her face, and sniffed.
“I have a very messy flat.” she said finally.
Luke laughed, “Yeah, I guess you do.”
“Belle was going to help,” Alyssa looked up at her sister, who was standing at the door to the flat and pretending she wasn’t listening, “But I’m not sure how useful she’ll be. She’s dead tired too, she’s been at the mirror most of the day.”
“I’ll help you,” Luke said, “Maybe she can lie on the futon and tell us about what she’s been seeing.”
“Yeah, maybe. She hasn’t told me much so far, but I’ve been such a bitch to everyone today, I haven’t wanted to press too hard. Mind you, she says she hasn’t worked it all out yet.”
“I say we go clean up, and just let her talk if she wants to talk. Come on.”
Luke took Alyssa’s hand, and led her to the door of the flat. It surprised both of them when the door was opened, and the flat was devoid of a single doll. Even the salad bowl stood empty.
They all tramped into the flat, incredulous, and Belle stretched out on the futon while Alyssa and Luke wandered around looking, unsuccesfully, for stray worry dolls, with dubious help from Rudolph. Eventually, when they had not found a single one, Luke perched near Belle’s feet on the futon, and Alyssa decided to make popcorn. With the smell of butter and salt drifting into the air, and the popping of the kernels in the bag noisy in the otherwise silent room, the three of them avoided each others’ eyes, uncertain how to bring the feeling in the room back to normal. It was only when Alyssa brought the popcorn bowl out of the kitchen, put it between Belle and Luke on the futon, and settled herself on the floor, that the silence was broken, “So, Belle,” Alyssa said, as she stuffed a handful of popcorn into her mouth, “Perhaps we should update Luke on happenings?” It was only then, as Alyssa looked to her sister for her opinion, that they realised she had fallen asleep, mimicking her dog that lay beside her on the floor, also dead to the world. Alyssa and Luke looked at each other and laughed, and eventually decided to pull the floor cushions out from the reading nook, and watch a movie while they waited for her to wake up.
When Belle did wake up, the movie was coming to an end, and Luke and Alyssa were entwined on the cushions, asleep, their breathing deep, even, and almost perfectly synchronised. Belle had that energised feeling again, and she swung her feet to the floor and stood up all in a rush. She padded over to the toilet and, when she came back in, Luke was sitting up on the floor, Alyssa still asleep beside him, “Hey Belle,” he said softly, to let her know he was awake.
Belle smiled, “Hey Luke,” she parodied.
“Excellent. Can I, ah, make you a coffee … or something?”
“Yeah, that would be great. Thanks.” she replied. She stepped cautiously past the prone form of her sister on the floor, grabbed the blanket off the futon, and headed out of the front door. When Luke joined her, steaming mugs in hand, she was sitting on the step, wrapped in the blanket, breathing deeply, her face turned up to the night air.
Luke settled beside her, wrapping his jacket around himself to ward off the chill in the air. There was no moon tonight, the only light that cast from the door behind them, affording him no more than a few metres of vision. He wondered idly, and not for the first time, what it was like in Belle’s world, to not have even this much vision, to be caught in a permanent and unrelenting blackout. He couldn’t imagine it.
“The other night, you said something, and I have been thinking about that.”
Belle said nothing, waiting for him to elaborate. The silence hung between them like a physical thing.
“I … um. You said that when you look in the mirror you can see, and I was wondering what you meant by that.”
Belle remained silent, and only when it appeared that he was being serious, and expecting a serious answer, did she say shortly, “I meant I could see.”
The silence grew. Eventually, Belle decided to elaborate, “I mean, normally I can’t. When I look in the mirror, and talk to the one, I can see. Like, stuff. Whatever. Like you do.”
“I don’t … I don’t understand.” Luke stammered, clearly uncomfortable with this admission.
Belle frowned, “I don’t know how else to explain it, Luke. Are you dense on purpose, or what? Normally, I can’t see anything – nothing at all, just blackness. When I go to the mirror, and I speak to the one, or the one speaks to me, I can see. I can see the room, the mirror, the images in the mirror. I can see the people who are in the room with me. I can see. How else can I explain this?”
“So when you say you can see, you mean you an actually, like, see stuff? I thought you might have meant it, I don’t know, like metaphorically or something. That’s … wow. That’s weird.”
“You’re telling me.” Belle said dryly.
“Who’s the one?” Luke asked abruptly.
“The one? The one in the mirror. The mirror is full of worry dolls, and of the worries they hold. The one is all of them, all at once. The one can explain it, all of it, and the one is the thing that’s going to help me understand it. I think.”
Luke nodded, and the two of them lapsed back into silence.
Belle and Luke were still sitting in a companiable silence, the coffees now consumed, when the door cracked open behind them and Alyssa peered out, her hair messy and her face rumpled. “Oh, here you both are,” she mumbled in a sleep-riddled voice, “I was wondering what had become of you both.”
Luke stood, and hugged her, kissed the top of her head, and bundled her back into the flat, mumbling something about keeping her warm. Alyssa allowed herself to be taken back inside. After a few minutes, Belle followed them in, saying “What happened to the popcorn?”
“We ate it.” Alyssa pointed out, “Hours ago.”
“Damn. Got any more?”
Alyssa thought briefly before saying, “Yeah, I think there’s another packet in there. I bought a box of them not that long ago.”
Belle went to the kitchenette, started opening cupboards and ratting through them, feeling a packet of microwave popcorn, until Alyssa came in behind her and said impatiently, “You’ll have everything on the floor doing that Belle, here let me look.”
Belle, mission accomplished, went back into the loungeroom and sat down on the futon, legs crossed. She leant over and gave Rudolph, who was still sleeping soundly on the floor, a pat, and he didn’t budge under her hand. She smiled to herself.
“Well,” she said as soon as she heard Alyssa put the popcorn into the microwave, “I think I’ve got the beginnings of an idea.”
Neither Alyssa nor Luke said anything, but she could tell that suddenly, and possibly like never before, she had their full rapt attention, and she gave another smile.
“Yeah, I think I’m starting to understand waht’s going on. But I need to look in the mirror again. This time, Alyssa, I need you to come with me.”
“Ahh, Okay. I guess. Are you going to tell us the plan first?”
“No.” Belle said simply, “I think you’ll understand better if you hear it from the one. Luke, will you join us?”
“Err. I guess so.” he stammered, taken by surprise.
“Great! What you will need to do is wait until Alyssa and I are in, with Rudolph, and then come and hold our hands, and will bring you in with us, but no earlier, okay?”
“Ah, okay. Yeah, I guess I can do that. How will I know when though?”
The microwave beeped, and Belle waited while she listened to Belle tip the hot popcorn into the bowl, her mouth watering at the smell, and then smiled in Luke’s direction, “It’s okay,” she said finally, “You’ll just know.”
Belle sat cross legged on the futon, the popcorn bowl balanced delicately on her ankles, and shoved handfuls into her mouth as she spoke, “Okay, the thing is this, the one only exists when the dolls – well the worries, the dolls aren’t really there, it’s more the worries – need it to. So it seems as though they’ve needed something for a while, I’m not quite sure what it is, but it’s something important, and they’re getting impatient. I know they’ve been trying to get to Mum, but I think the problem is that Mum can’t – or won’t maybe? – let them talk to her or, whatever it is that they need to do. So they discovered, somehow, I don’t know how, that they could talk to me instead. Or maybe it’s Rudolph. Could be both of us. Anyway, I tried to contact them without Rudolph, but it didn’t work. At first I thought it was because you weren’t there, Alyssa, but that can’t be right, because I’ve done it without you since then. It might have been because Jamie was there … anyway. It doesn’t matter, I guess. The point is that they can contact me and, even though it’s taking a while, gradually I’m starting to get more and more of the story.” she paused in this monologue to feed more popcorn into a mouth, and was still munching as she continued, “So anyway, the one – the worries – have been around for … well, forever, maybe, or a long time, anyway. People let their worries go, I don’t know if the worries are always told to a doll, or if that bit is only the legend, not the fact, but anyway, people let their worries go … into the mirror I guess, into wherever it is that the worries are, that the one is. I think when there’s too many worries, they kind of build up like … like the steam when you boil water in a saucepan with the lid on. So the worries have to go somewhere, and I think they sort of become more … powerful, somehow. I don’t know what’s supposed to happen then, but that’s the point that they’re at now, and, well, something is going to happen. I think we need to find out what. And what the hell we’re supposed to be doing about it. So, I want us all to go to the one, and ask it – her, them, whatever. I can’t have more than one person there when I go in though, other than Rudolph of course, and that has to be you, Alyssa, but I’ll be able to bring Luke in later on, I think. Well, I’ll try, anyway.” Belle pushed another handful of popcorn into her mouth, and realised that Rudolph had woken up at the sound of his name, and was sitting eagerly beside her. It seemed as though he had gotten an energy burst from the sleep as well. “So, anyway, you ready?”
“Ready?” Alyssa echoed stupidly, still trying to take in the wad of information that Belle had just landed on her, “What? Now? You want to go now?”
Belle nodded happily, her mouth full.
“It’s nearly three in the morning, though Belle!” Alyssa exclaimed.
Belle shrugged and smiled slightly, “It’s all the same to me. Why are sighted people so finicky about the time always?” the corner of her mouth curled up with the irony.
“Because light is important to some of us,” Alyssa grumbled, “And so is sleep. Let’s all get another few hours sleep, then we can go exploring behind the mirror. I made you popcorn, the least you could so is let me sleep.” With that, Alyssa shooed Belle over to one side of the bed, and climbed in under the doona herself, “Now stop talking, and leave me alone for a while.”
Belle moved over, affording her sister some room, and Luke curled up on the throw cushions again. Long after both Luke and Alyssa had fallen asleep, Belle and Rudolph lay awake, Rudolph waiting patiently for the humans to wake up, and Belle’s mind racing with thoughts. Eventually, she too dozed.
When eventually the three of them woke, much to Rudolph’s delight, Alyssa insisted on coffee and breakfast before she went anywhere. Belle and Luke both agreed with the coffee, but convinced Alyssa that they would go out for breakfast to her favourite cafe on the beach, immediately after they had glanced into the mirror. Belle was starting to grow impatient. Over the drinks, Alyssa asked Belle to reiterate exactly how she wanted to run things. There was no doubt that Belle was leading the show now. Belle carefully explained the process she wanted to follow, her enthusiasm tempered somewhat from the night before, and having returned to her normally slightly taciturn self. Rudolph sat at their feet, and paced around the flat by turns. Luke got up and opened the door for him, and the dog headed out and relieved himself, ran around a little in the yard, and then came back in on ly slightly calmer than he had been before. Rudolph knew that this was going to be something big, and he was acting as though he just wanted to get it started, so that they could get it over. Belle was feeling much the same way.
When finally they got Alyssa moving, Belle was impatient to get it done. She could sense that she was getting closer to the real information now, and she was hoping that it was all going to become clear with this final trip behind the mirror. Belle and Rudolph led the way into the house, and through to the dining room – the kicking off point into the bedroom, and the mirror. She stopped, reiterated the instructions to Luke, which consisted of little more than “you’ll just know when”, and grabbed Alyssa’s hand. Alyssa squeezed it, and together they walked into the room.
Still holding hands, the two sisters stood in front the mirror. Rudolph took up his customary position on Belle’s other side, leaning lightly against her leg. His breathing was rapid, Belle noticed, but then noticed that so was her own. Alyssa seemed calm, but her palm, entwined with Belle’s own, was damp and clammy. Quietly as first, but with growing confidence, they began to chant:
“I had a little dolly
I told it my little worry
But then it went red
And now they’re all dead
I’m so terribly sorry
I had a little …”
The vision came suddenly this time. One moment it was black, and then, like being struck by a bolt of lightning, she could see. Belle blinked, becoming accustomed to the sudden light. She glanced at Alyssa, and noticed that her face had gone slack. Theire hands were still held, and Belle noticed that Alyssa’s – warm and damp before – was suddenly dry and slightly cool. She was just beginning to wonder where Luke was when she saw (saw!) him hovering at the door. She beckoned very slightly with her free hand, and he smiled and walked in. He stood slightly behind them and then, with Belle’s gesture, stepped in between her and her sister. He took each of their wrists gently, and pulled their hands apart, not breaking their link, but stretching it by adding himself in between. Suddenly, Belle’s vision doubled slightly – she was picking up Alyssa’s as well as Luke’s, she realised. She blinked a few more times, and slowly her new found sight came back into focus. Occasionally it would double again, and sometimes even triple as she picked up on Rudolph’s smell-sight, but then it would coalesce into a single image. Before too long, she started to see the faces in the mirror, slowly becoming that by now familiar face – the one.
Hello Belle, Rudolph. And Alyssa. Who is this?
This is Luke.
Luke. Hello Luke.
Ah, hello. Hi.
Belle, you are to ask for some answers.
Yes, I am.
I know. I have offered you many answers so far, Belle.
Yes, you have. And for that, I thank you. I wish to know more.
You wish to know more. And how much do you know, now?
I know many things. I know who you are, and I know why you are here. I do not know where you are from, or why. I do not know where you go, or why you go, or how you go. I do not know how I can help you.
That is a lot of questions, Belle.
Yes, it is.
We are from – forever. We are here because – always. We go to – eternity. We go for – life. We go as we always go – with the mirror. You can help us – by moving the mirror to the next host.
Your answers make little sense to me. Where do you want the mirror moved to?
You can not move the mirror.
But I … I don’t understand.
No. You don’t. But you will.
Help me to understand.
Only you can help you to understand, Belle.
Yes, as you have told me before.
As I have told you before. Very good.
Together, all four of them – the three humans and the one canine – blinked, and foudn themselves back in the reality of the bedroom. Belle’s new ofund sight blinked back into darkness, and normality was restored yet again. They had all heard the one speak, the strange conversation that had taken place between it (they) and Belle. Alyssa and Luke felt just as confused as they had been before. Belle however was ecstatic, “The one has never spoken that clearly before, wow! I think we should write this down. I need my laptop. Hold on.” with that, Belle took off at a trot to retrieve her computer from the bedroom. When she returned, she handed the laptop to her sister and said, “You type, Liss. You’re faster.” and they settled at the kitchen table.
When they had the conversation – as best as they could remember – written down, Alyssa had the text to speech program read it back to them. The computerised voice made the words lose their magic, and they just became confusing, seemingly understandable.
“”You can help us by moving the mirror to the next host.”” Belle quoted aloud, “At first I thought the one meant moving the mirror to somewhere else in the house or something. But now I’m wondering about the word “host”. What does “host” mean?”
Alyysa, thinking out loud, said, “A host might be the person who holds a party, it could be something a parasite is on – a dog or a person or something like that. I guess it’s, well, it’s someone that provides something to someone else. A party, a meal, a habitat.”
“A parasite …” Belle echoed, lost in thought.
“Do you think the … the one … needs a host?” Luke said thoughtfully, “Maybe the one needs … something. Like a parasite, or a party guest, they need whatever it is the host can give to them.”
“Yeah,” Belle echoed, “If the one – the worries – are a parasite, they need something from us. We already know that, I guess. So we’re the host. They need a new host.”
“We need to give the mirror to someone else.” Alyssa said triumphantly.
“Yeah.” Luke agreed.
“But who?” Belle asked, “And if we can’t move it, who can?”
Alyssa connected Belle’s computer to the printer, and printed off the conversation. Belle harnessed Rudolph and, with the piece of paper in hand, they wandered down to the cafe for breakfast. It was still early in the morning, and being a Monday there were few patrons in the cafe. They were shown a seat near the big glass doors that overlooked the deck. They were glad to be inside in the warmth, as they watched the wind whip up frothy white tops on the breakers coming in to the beach. Winter had arrived. They ordered, and the food arrived quickly. Over eggs benedict, pancakes and strong, aromatic coffee they laid out the now crumpled piece of paper, and tried to derive more meaning out of it. The only conclusions they reached were pure speculation, though, and by the time Belle slopped maple syrup onto the paper, obliterating much of the type, they knew it off by heart, but still understood virtually nothing.
When they got home, all three decided to have a snooze. Rudolph crept into his bed in the corner of Belle’s room, and Alyssa and Luke retired to the flat. When Belle awoke, it was still only 10 o’clock in the morning, and she decided to go back in, with Rudolph only. She shook him awake.
Alyssa and Luke made love, and afterwards, fell asleep in each other’s arms. Some time later, they woke up together, and made love again. Alyssa felt relieved that they had gotten through their first argument, and made it to the other side.
When Alyssa and Luke finally emerged from the flat, freshly showered and inseperable, they were surprised to find Belle still in bed, Rudolph curled up in his bed beside her. Alyssa wondered if they should try and wake her, they were running out of time before Mandy and Jamie arrived back. Luke suggested timidly that maybe they should attempt to contact the one on their own and Alyssa, whose memory was still fresh of what happened last time se had tried to take charge, glared at him, “No way. I’m not trying that again.”
They were discussing dinner options, assuming that Mandy adn Jamie would be back late, and Belle would be starving, when Belle suddenly bounced into the room, Rudolph at her heels. Alyssa jumped, then smiled, “Hey, Sis”
“Hello, hello!” Belle fairly bubbled, and trotted into the kitchen. Alyssa could hear her scrabbling in the fridge for drinks, and called out, “Do you need a hand?”
“Nope.” Belle replied, her voice muffled byt the fridge, “I’m all good.”
Shortly after, Belle emerged with a glass of coke and a ham and cheese sandwich. Rudolph was licking his lips, and Alyssa suspected he had been slipped bits of ham as well. He’s been working hsard too though, she thought, and guessed that he, at least on some level, deserved it.
“I’m starving,” Belle said, her mouth half full of bread.
“Yeah, thought you might be. We were thinking that we might order pizza for dinner.”
Belle made a face, “Nah, let’s cook. There’s stuff in the fridge isn’t there?”
Alyssa frowned, “No, if you’re cooking, you’ll need my help, and I couldn’t be bothered. Besides, don’t you want to go and look in the mirror again?”
“Nope.” Belle said brightly, “Well, maybe once more, but I need to take Mum.”
Alyssa looked incredulous, but before she could speak, Belle went on, “I’m pretty sure I’ve got it sussed. Come on, help me cook some spaghetti bolognaise, and while we’re doing it, I’ll tell all.”
Alyssa agreed, but Belle danced and darted about the issue as they cooked, instead managing to distract her with jokes and stupid stories. Luke hung around in the background, trying not to get in the way, and laughed along with them.
When dinner had been cooked and served, and they had all eaten plenty – Belle had three plates full, and even Rudolph got a small amount of mince on top of his regular dog food – they sat around the table, still avoiding the issue. Alyssa was expecting that the door would open at any minute. She wondered if Belle was delaying the issue, waiting for them to get home, or just though reluctance. Eventually, she asked the question out loud.
Belle shrugged in response, “It’s still unformed, I guess. But I guess I can tell you most of it.”
Alyssa waited for her to go on and, when she didn’t, she prompted her, “Well, go on then,”
Belle was silent for a few minutes longer, gathering her thoughts, that were stringing out like beads on a broken necklace, trying to gather the neckace up without losing all the beads, and find the ones that had slipped away. Eventually, she took a breath, and began, “Well, the worries have existed since, well, forever. Like the one said.”
Alyssa nodded, remembering “We are from forever. We go to eternity.” she said softly.
Belle smiled, “Yeah, “we are from forever”. They have existed forever, since before some villagers in Guatemala created worry dolls from scraps of cloth and little twigs. The worry dolls just gave them form. A form that people would understand, and could use. But the point is that worries have always existed, and they always will. Humans, no matter how advanced they are, will always have things to worry about. They might be worrying about the wheel falling off the buggy, or a horse going lame, or they could be worrying about their laptop being stolen, or someone getting promoted ahead of them at work. Maybe one day those worries will be running out of rocket fuel in the space ship, or some other astronaut forgotting to put the seat down up in the space station central. You get the idea, anyway.” Belle paused, “Does anyone else want ice-cream?”
“Belle!” Alyssa cried, indignant.
“It’s okay,” Belle said, rising, “just let me get ice cream, I’ll come back. You want some?” she asked, already in the kitchen.
Belle came back with a bowl piled high with vanilla ice cream, a generous crown of chocolate sauce, and a topping of coloured hundreds and thousands. A spoonful had already been dug out of the side of the dessert, and Belle held a smeared spoon in her other hand. She plonked herself down in the seat opposite Alyssa, and repeated, “You sure you don’t want some? It’s good.”
“I’m fine.” Alyssa said.
“Well, okay. As long as you say so. I don’t mind making more, if you want.”
“It’s fine,” Alyssa said again, “Now get back to the story. Please?”
“Hmm. Okay. Where was I?” Belle paused, “Oh right. Well, the worries – with or without the dolls – have been around forever,”
“I think we got that bit.” Alyssa pointed out.
“Yeah, I guess so. Well, the point is that the worries have been gathering for a long time. Just building up and building up. People have been releasing worries since time began, and they all end up in the same place – behind the mirror. I guess what happens then is like a … distilling process … of sorts.”
Alysa frowned, “This sounds pretty far out there to me,” she said dubiously.
“What? And the idea of a bunch of worries collecting behind a mirror and having a chat to you every so often doesn’t? Wait for it Alyssa, let me explain.”
“Okay, go on.”
“Right, well, the worries collect up into a big bunch, and then – somehow, I’m not sure how – they distill them down into something that’s not so much a worry as a … well, a mild annoyance, I guess. Then these are sent out again and – this is where it gets kind of interesting, Liss – they get sent back to the other side of the mirror, our side of the mirror.”
“And what then? We all just wander around, bumping into mild annoyances? This is crazy, Belle. I mean, the whole thing is crazy, but this is so far out there, it’s just … no, this doesn’t make sense. Sorry, Belle, but I just can’t believe that.”
At that moment, Rudolph’s head perked up under the table, and he gave a little bark. Belle heard it next, a car pulling into the driveway. Soon, ALyssa and Luke heard doors slamming, and voices drifting in from the dark. Mandy and Jamie were home.
Mandy fairly floated into the house, her face tanned and her hair free. She graced everyone, uncluding Rudolph a radiant smile, and then went into the bedroom to set down the overnight bag she was carrying. Jamie followed her, looking relaxed and happy, despite his pink sunburnt ears, and carrying the rest of the gear. He said a cheery hello to everyone, and shook Luke’s hand. When the bags were dropped, and Mandy and Jamie had made it back into the dining room, they both dropped into chairs with visible relief after the hours of driving. Belle offered ice cream, but no one took her up on the offer. Alyssa didn’t bother asking, she just went and put the kettle on. By the time she arrived back in the dining room, with mugs for everyone, Mandy had already launched into an excited account of everythignt hat had happened on the trip.
When the story ahd been told, and the coffee drunk, and Mandy had promised – again – that she would upload the photos to the computer tomorrow for them, Jamie asked what they ahd been up to while they were away. Alyysa glanced at Belle and watched in shock as Belle said, “Well, it’s funny you should ask, actually,”
Mandy raised an eyebrow, and then followed it with a hand, palm out in a stop sign, “If this is about worry dolls, I’m not interested right now.”
“Mum …” Belle said ominously.
“Well, I’m just not. I’ll talk to you about it tomorrow if it’s that important. But not right now.”
Belle knew better than to push Mandy once she got that tone of voice on, so she dropped the subject. Alyssa felt relieved, even though she knew it was ony postponing the inevitable.
“Well, I should get home, I guess. My goldfish haven’t been fed all weekend.” Luke pushed out his chair, and stood to go. He gave Alyssa a chaste kiss on the cheek, and rech over to shake Jamie’s hand again, “Welcome back, I’m glad you had a good time.” he said politely, and with that, he was gone. Moments later, the sound of his car starting drifted to them and then even that was gone. Alyssa frowned.
“Did he just say that he had to feed his goldfish?” Belle pointed out disengenously.
“Yeah, I believe he did.” Alyssa mumbled. “He doesn’t even own any goldfish.”
Mandy and Jamie made their excuses and ambled off to bed shortly after Luke’s suspicious exit, and Belle and Alyssa tackled the mountain of washing up that had been left all weekend. Alyssa washed, and Belle dried. Alyssa took the opportunity to pick up from where she had left off when Mandy and Jamie arrived home.
“HOw have you come with this idea, then, Belle?” she asked.
“The idea that these worries are … what was the word you used? Distilled. The worries are distilled into what was it?”
“Yeah, minor annoyances. Where’d this idea come from?”
Belle shrugged, “Same place they all come from. What I get from the one is more than just the conversation. When I work out a little bit of the puzzle, like the hosts, then I can understand a little bit more – like the distilling.”
Alyssa paused with her hands dangling in the sink, soap dripping from her fingertips, “Okay, so, presuming that I believe that these worries get distilled into …”
“Minor annoyances.” Belle interjected.
“… get distilled into minor annoyances, what happens to them then?”
“Well,” Belle started slowly, “that’s where the host comes in. They get pushed back out to the host.”
“But I thought that the host was where the worries were coming from.”
“Ah, no, you’re wrong there. The worries come from everywhere, all around, all the time, everyone, everwhere. They’re constant. That’s why I said distilled, because they don’t just reduce in emotion, they reduce in size, in quantity, as well.”
“Okay, so these distilled worries get pushed back out the host. Is that all the host is good for?”
“Pretty much. You see, the one can’t process the emotional energy that comes from the worries. The worries themselves stay, sort of like creatures of some sort, the idea of them never really leaves. But the emotional energy gets drawn out of them, and sent back out to the host. The host can process that energy, and send it back out into the world.” Belle paused and thought for a second before adding,”Kind of like trees and photo … what is it?”
“Photosynthesis.” Alyssa said vaguely, she was still trying to work through the idea of distilling.
“Photosynthesis, yeah. The way the trees go through that process, and release oxygen back into the air, that’s kind of like the worries. Because the worries – and the one – can’t handle all that emotional energy, they put it back out into the world, to be recycled.”
“Hmmmm. Well it makes a certain amount of sense,” Alussa grudgingly admitted, “I still think it’s pretty far fetched though. And what has it got to do with us anyway?”
“I don’t think it’s us,” Belle said, her voice low, “I think it’s Mum. I think she’s the host.”
“The host of what?” a voice send behind them. Alyssa dropped the plate she was washing back into the water, and a tidal wave of grotty washing up water slopped over the front of her t shirt, “Mum!” she said in surprise.
“Yeah, Mum,” Mandy said dryly. She walked the rest of the way into the kitchen and pressed the button on the kettle. The silence that had descended was suddenly filled by the sound of the water heating in the jug. Mandy reached up to get a mug, and then dropped a teabag into it. “So, are you going to tell me what I’m hosting, then, or not?”
“I, uh …” stammered Alyssa, “We were … ummm. Belle?”
“We were talking about the worry dolls.” Belle said in her usual blunt fashion.
“Oh my, not the worry dolls again.” Mandy sighed, “I went on holidays to try and get away from this, and I found it’s all you two have been thinking about all weekend. Don’t you have better things to do with your time?”
“Mum,” Belle interjected, “I think you need to listen to this though …”
“No.” Mandy interupted, “No, I don’t need to listen to you, you two need to listen to me for a …”
“Mum!” Belle yelled suddenly, “Mum. This is important. We can make the dolls go away. Do you hear me? We can make them go away. But we can’t do it without you, so you need to listen to us.” she dropped her voice again, “You need to trust us, and stop trying to run away from this situation.”
Mandy, taken by surprise, dropped her voice slightly too, but hers was menacing, not conforting, “Belle, Alyssa, I love you both, but we need to stop talking about this. It’s going to send me around the twist. It very nearly has already. Jamie and I were talking about it …”
“It won’t go away on it’s own, Mum, it’ll keep getting worse.” Belle said queitly.
“Belle’s right, Mum. It’s not going to get better. I’ve seen the dolls, I’ve seen what they do to Belle, and I’ve seen what tey do to you. But I’ve been beyond the mirror too, and I know that we can make it go away. But you need to listen to Belle. She has the answers, and she can make it happen.”
Mandy got the look of wildlife caught in headlights, and suddenly her defences dropped. Her shoulders sagged, and the lines around her eyes reappeared underneath her fresh tan, “Okay.” she said finally, “I’m going to make a cup of tea, and then we’re going to sit down at the table. You will both then have an hour to make me believe that what you’re saying is true. Am I understood?”
Both girls nodded mutely, and both wondered how they were ever going to convince their mother that what they said was true, they hardly believed it themselves.
Belle started at the beginning, telling how the worries out lived the dolls, and finished at the place where they had been when they were talking in the kitchen. “Basically,” she said, “Well, at least as far as I can tell, anyway, the worries sort of build up behind the mirror. They need to recycle the emotional energy, they can’t store it, so they distill it down. That way it’s not so … potent, I guess. Gradually, the emotional energy builds up and the host – that’s you, Mum, as far as I can tell – starts to feel a bit, well, I’m not sure. I would guess that stuff would start to happen to you that was a bit odd, and you would start to feel like you would want to move the mirror. Ideally, the mirror would be moved out of the house – given to someone else, or maybe even turned into some other kind of furniture, I don’t know. But whatever it is that keeps the worries in – for us it’s a mirror, but I guess it changes over the years – eventually ends up with someone else, and that person becomes the host instead. So to fix the problem, we need to give the dressing table away. I think.”
There was silence. The sudden quiet spun out like a thread of gossamer … stretching and stretching until Belle became convinced that if someone didn’t break it soon, she was going to have to break it herself, just to get rid of the tension out of the room.
Finally, words dropping like stones in the thick atmosphere of the room, Mandy stated “So you are both trying to tell me that I am a … some kind of a conduit for emotional energy?”
Her eyebrow was arched, and her voice doubting.
Belle nodded earnestly. Alyssa took a sudden interest in her fingernails, thinking that the next thing out of her mother’s mouth would be an hysterical laugh.
The gossamer thread of silence started to spin out again, until Belle took a deep breath and said softly, “How much time do we have left?”
Mandy checked the clock, “About fifteen minutes.” she said archly, implying that there was no way that the girls could achieve this. Alyssa was thinking the same thing.
“Okay.” Belle said suddenly, assertively, “Come with me.”
By unspoken agreement, this time Alyssa waited out in the dining room, and Belle took their mother by the hand, and led her in to the nedroom. She called for Rudolph as they went, and in less than a minute he trotted into the room, and went straight to Belle’s side. In the bedroom, Jamie who was reading in bed, looked up at the sudden intrusion. He shot an unspoken question at Mandy and she returned it with a loaded look.
“Sorry Jamie,” Belle said, “But I’m going to have to ask you to leave the room for a little while. There’s something I need to show Mum.” She paused, and when Jamie didn’t move in the bed, she added, “If you go out and wait in the dining room, Alyssa will let you know when you can come back in.”
Jamie gave Mandy another glance, this one resigned, and moved to get out of bed. He slipped his feet into the slippers on the floor and, his finger still marking his place in the paperback he held, he padded reluctantly out to the dining room.
Belle turned around so that she was facing the mirror, and held out her left hand for her mother’s. When she held it firmly in her own, she used her right hand to give a gentle low on her right leg, and Rudolph moved in closer. His breathing was calm, her mother’s was not.
She started slowly, softly. Gently murmering the words under her breath. She was surprised when her mother suddenly joined in,
“Then it went red
And now they’re all dead
I’m so terribly sorry
I had a little dolly
I told it my …”
And then they were in. Alyssa and Jamie slipped into the room behind them, and Alyssa demonstrated how to join the group. Once Alyssa was in, Jamie joined them like a filament, and shortly afterwards there was a bright flash of light. Belle’s sight doubled, tripled, quadrupled, before she could bring it under her own control, before she could focus on the one. Yet again she saw the faces of the worries int he mirror, grinning and crying, laughing and screaming. Yet again those faces gradually coalesced into one big face. The one. They were back behind the mirror.
Belle, Rudolph. Alyssa, Jamie. By what name does the host go by?
Uh. Um. I’m Mandy.
Mandy, then. Hello Host.
Ah … hello. Who … who is this?
Well, I should think you already know, Host – Mandy.
I … I am afraid I don’t. Why do you call me Host?
Because that is who you are. You are the host. We have been trying to reach you for a long time now. You are stubborn. And difficult. And blind.
I am not blind.
Oh, but you are.
No, it’s Belle who is …
Hush! Belle has more vision than the rest of you put together. She sees more, and she understands more. You, host, are the blind one.
I don’t understand, what do you mean?
Stop asking questions. It is not your place to ask questions. If you listened more, and watched more, then you wouldn’t need to ask questions. I no longer answer questions. I have answered enough. Now is the time for action, not words. Host – Mandy – I shall put this simply so that you understand it. You are to move the mirror to a new host. Immediately. Do you understand?
I … no, I don’t understand, what do you mean by move the mirror?
We need to move on. You must … who is this?
Ahh … it’s Luke. Remember me?
Who invited you here?
I, uh, I wanted to come back, to apologise. I ran off before, but I wanted to come back. To help.
The help of people who run away is not wanted. Now leave!
When Belle woke up, she felt as though she had ben punched in the face – her head throbbed and her eyes felt like they were too large for their sockets. When she tried to sit up, a bolt of pain shot from both her temples into a spot just behind the centre of her forhead. She dropped back onto the bed and pulled the blankets over her head. Before long she was asleep again.
Alyssa spent most of the week trying to call Luke. His car was in their driveway, with the keys in the ignition, and after a few days she and Jamie took it back around to Luke’s little flat. No one answered the door, and so they left it in the empty carport. They slipped the ignition key under the locked front door.
Mandy went to bed, and stayed there. Every so often, she got up long enough to go to the bottle shop and smuggle a litre bottle of vodka back into the house. She stashed it in the dressing table drawer, and tried not to notice the worry dolls, still pristine in their little snap lock bag, and looking like nothing more menacing than what they were – some little bits of twig with scraps of cloth wrapped around them. Depending on how much of the vodka she had sneaked direct from the bottle before she got it into the drawer, they sometimes spoke to her.
Jamie went back to work, and tried to bury himself in his job. He had always loved his profession, and he started to recapture some of the joys of general practise again. He found himself working longer and longer hours, to avoid having to face Mandy, and after a few months, he began to contemplate moving out of the house they shared. There was a block of duplexes across the street from the surgery, and one had just come up for rent. He told himself – and the two girls – that it was so he didn’t have to travel so far on the nights he worked late.
Belle woke for only minutes at a time, and in agony, for the best part of two weeks. Alyssa and Jamie brought her meals, and eventually she managed, with help, to get out of bed and start moving around again. She went back to school, but started spending more time with her sister in her flat. When she went for an annual checkup, the opthamologist found that she had gained about five percent sight, after living fifteen years with none at all. He called it a medical miracle, and he wrote a paper that was published in the Lancet medical journal. A reporter from the local newspaper came out and took Belle’s photograph, but few people outside of the medical establishment recognised the significance of the event. Five percent sight, after all, is still very much blind.
It was about a month later when Belle found herself in the house alone. Her mother had disappeared on some errand, of what variety Belle didn’t want to know, although she could guess. Her mother was more or less a non entity in her life now. Belle sneaked into her mother’s bedroom and, wrinkling her nose against the smell of the unwashed bed linen and stale alcohol, she stared into the mirror – seeing now a hazy outline instead of the blackness she saw last time she was here. She called Rudolph to her side, and started to mumble the little rhyme under her breath, but discovered that she couldn’t quite remember the words. There was no energy in here any more. The worries, the dolls, and the one – if they had ever existed – were gone now.
Alyssa eventually stopped trying to call Luke, and when months later she had a phone call from the police, she told them the truth. She had last heard from him on the night when Mandy and Jamie had returned from their weekend away. He had seemed nervous, and had made an excuse and left. She decided to leave out the part where he had shown up in a collective hallucination about worry dolls living in a mirror. She definitely didn’t mention the scorched bit of carpet that now existed in her mother’s bedroom, right in front of the dressing table.
When Belle found her mother lying unconsious in bed one afternoon after school, she didn’t immediately think much of it. It was only when she tried to wake her up a bit to have something to eat, as she did once a week or so, that she realised that she seemed even more unconscious than normal. She didn’t respond at all, even to vigorous shaking, and Belle started to panic. She grabbed the cordless phone from the bedside table, and had begun to dial emergency services before she realised it was flat. She ran out to the kitchen, to the wall phone, and called triple zero. She had to put the phone down every so often to check on her mother as the emergency services operator asked her to do different things. At one point she left the operator waiting while she dashed outside to find Alyssa. Rudolph spent the whole time beside Mandy’s bed, ocassionaly licking the hand that had drifted out from under the cupboards. Once Alyssa was inside, she took over in the bedroom, and the two commenced a shouted conversation, as the emergency services operator suggested different things to do. By the time the ambulance arrived, Mandy’s heartbeat had dropped to dangerously low levels. By the time they got her to the emergency room she was dead. Some time later that night, sitting at the dining table with Belle, both of them in shock but not really shocked, Alyssa realised that she should have called Jamie hours ago.
The funeral was a dismal affair. Belle and Alyssa both cried in the front row, although a distant aunt later mentioned that she didn’t think they had cried quite enough for her liking. The two girls distanced themselves from the relatives as much as possible. They knew that Mandy had never been close to her family, and they were beginning to understand why. The wake was held at the funeral, and they both agreed after five minutes to leave the others to their moaning. They escaped to a nearby McDonald’s, and spent the rest of the afternoon discussing the complicated relationship they had developed with their mother in the past year. They did not mention the mirror, or what had happened beyond it.
Alyssa became Belle’s legal guardian, to avoid Family Services having to track down their long absent father, and the two of them settled back into a semblance of normal life. They both missed a lot of school for a while, and Alyssa eventually took a year’s leave of absence so she could work to support them both. She started work as a chemist’s assistant, and shortly after she got her first paycheck, the two of them met up with Jamie to discuss a settlement. He was surprisingly generous, given that he had no financial obloigation to his girlfriend’s children, and offered to give them the house they lived in. Not long after that they heard that he was going out with someone he had met at the surgery.
Belle took on a part time job after school, but was determined to make it through to the end of year twelve. She did, and then found a job as a teacher’s assistant at a local preschool. She found the children incredibly stimulating, and enjoyed watching them learn and grow. In her spare time, she started writing picture books, and eventually was offered a publishing contract. The advance was enough to enable her to go to university, and she studied part time for her teacher’s certifcate. She continued to write, and continued to help out at the school when her timetable allowed it.
Alyssa and Belle, over the years, gradually changed the house to reflect their own personalities. Alyssa moved back into the house proper, and converted the granny flat into a dual purpose room. One half contained a basic lab for her, and she resumed her studies. The other half was a writer’s den for Belle, where she laid out the pages of her books, and met her illustrator. In the house, Alyssa claimed the spare bedroom for herself, and the main bedroom, despite having the ensuite, was made into a spare room. They gave the dressing table away to a second hand furniture store.
Richard and Deanne had just moved in together. They had been going out for just over a year and, after an anniversary dinner at a fancy restaurant, Deanne had nearly choked on an engagement ring hidden in her glass of champagne. They had held a backyard engagement party at Deanne’s parents place and asked for money in lieu of gifts. The money had then been used with their individual savings to out down a deposit on a two bedroom unit in a nice suburb. It wasn’t fancy, but it would suit them for now. Richard was a real estate agent, and he had decided that the area would only improve in value. After a couple of years, he told Deanne, we’ll sell the unit and be able to upgrade to something bigger and a bit nicer. Maybe something with a backyard, because maybe by then they would be considering a child or two.
The unit was partly furnished, which suited them well. They moved in and had a big house warming party with all of their friends a few weeks later. The party was a big success, although Deanne drank a little too much punch, and ended up passing out on the loungeroom floor shortly after the last of the guests had gone home. They had both laughed about it afterwards, and Richard teased her about it for a few weeks until the incident was forgotten.
Life continued on for some time, and Deanne found herself wrapped up in wedding plans. It consumed most of her spare time, and Richard was working as hard as could to earn the extra commission. The comission money got put into a wedding fund, and their parents both contributed to the fund to ensure they had a good honeymoon that they would never forget.
It was when they returned from a week in the Maldives, that things started to go a little strange. They dropped three wine glasses in two days, and not long after that the toaster died. Shortly after that, the toilet backed up. Then one day Richard went to the washing machine to hang the clean clothes out, and water had flooded the laundry.
Richard burned himself quite badly retrieving a lamb roast from the oven. It required a visit to the emergency room for a dressing, and it left a scar on his left arm, but the burn wasn’t as bad as they had at first feared, and they were told that the scarring would fade well, and be almost unnoticeable in less than five years.
Not long after that, they were both involved in a car accident when another can a red light in front of them, and barrelled into the passenger side. If they had been a mere metre further back, the car would have plowed into the place where Deanne had been sitting, and she would have been badly injured, or more likely killed. They considered themselves lucky, and Richard jokingly bought a lottery ticket to see if the adage held true. They didn’t win the jackpot, but did manage to win back the price of the ticket. They laughed about it with their friends at a dinner party the following week.
Around about the same time, Richard was vacuuming in the bedroom when the vacuum cleaner sudndenly clogged up. He switched it off, and pulled apart the wand and hose to find the blockage. After some shaking, and the production of a lot of dust that, he realised grimly, would need to be vacuumed up yet again, he discovered a clutch of little dolls in the vacuum head. He tipped them out, wondering where they had come from, and sat them on the nearest piece of furniture. He put the vacuum cleaner back together and continued vacuuming, managing to whack his shins on the dressing table as he did so. It bruised quite badly, and he called himself a klutz for having done it.
Deanne unexpectedly fell pregnant, and all of a sudden the dressing table seemed to be jumping out at her all the time. She was constantly running into it, just like Richard had earlier, and her shins were a colection of colourful marks from her encounters with it. She put it down to the awkwardness that came with her expanding belly – the pregnancy books never seem to mention these things – and Richard and a friend were eventually convinved to move the offending piece of furniture. They had very little space in the tiny flat, so instead of re arranging everything, the dressing table was moved out into the garage.
The impending arrival was enough to spur Richard to start keeping an eye out for new a place to live. They put the little flat on the market, and spent the next three months in a flurry of manic house cleaning, open homes and strangers tramping through their house. Because of the conflict of interest, a colleague of Richard’s represented them and it wasn’t too long before he had found a buyer. With the flat sold, they began the whirlwind process of house inspections and open homes. They scoured the real estate pages of the paper, and Richard’s colleagues kept their noses to the ground, trying to find something suitable for them. It was the week before the contract on the flat was going to settle, and they finally found a new, bigger house that was much closer to the beach. They made an offer, the offer was accepted, and it was only three weeks before they moved in.
Moving day was a disaster. The removalists showed up late, got lost on the way to the new house, and then dropped a box on the way in between the old kitchen and the removal truck. It was the box containing the crockery that Deanne’s mother had given her for their wedding. It had been her grandmother’s, and now about a third of the pieces was smashed. When Richard came into the kitchen in the new house to check on the progress of the unpacking, he found Deanne – now eight months pregnant – sitting on the floor surrounded by crumpled newspaper and broken pieces of vintage china, crying like a child. He sat on the floor and comforted her, and shortly afterwards went outside to argue with the removalists.
With all the problems they faced with the removalists, it was nearly a month before Deanne remembered the dressing table that had been languishing out in the garage at the flat. She wondered briefly what had become of that, and then thought that it was no great loss. Hopefully the new owners would find some use for it.
Well, it’s over for another year. It all got a bit hairy there after falling sick at the beginning of the month, but a big push last weekend and a lot of late nights saw me cross the finish line a couple of days early. Which is just as well, really, since this weekend is the Great Weekend of Much Dancing Madness (more on that later).
How do I feel about the novel? Right now, reasonably ambivalent. I don’t think it’s as good as last year’s effort (Stopping All Stations), but with a little bit of editing it might yet be an enjoyable read.
For those of you who have been reading along, thank you for your support. As much as I write this stuff for my own enjoyment, it’s gratifying to know that there are people out there who are (hopefully) enjoying it also. For those of you who haven’t read any of it yet – don’t. Wait until I’ve given it a bit of a scrub and a polish, and that way you won’t have to sidestep the typos and mind those plot holes.
Don’t forget to check back next November for more NaNo madness, but in the mean time it’s back to your regularly scheduled programming.