Little Annie: The Complete Story

This is all nineteen parts of my recent fiction serial, in one complete story.
It is a long read, in 28,870 words.

***Note for new readers. The first sixteen parts of this serial are written in ‘backward progression’. The second part precedes the first part, and so on. This may tempt some readers to skip to part seventeen, and read it in the conventional order. I ask you not to do that, as most of the plot is revealed near ‘the end’, so that will spoil the serial for you. ***

February 2019. Anne gets a birthday present.

Anne received the doll as a present for her tenth birthday. Most girls of that age are too old for dolls, but she wasn’t. Mum said it was over one hundred years old, so she had to be careful with it. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. When her Mum asked her what she was going to call it, she replied without hesitation. “Little Annie”.

Not that it looked anything like her, the opposite in fact. She had dark brown hair, lank and greasy. Her lips were fleshy and wet, and her narrow eyes a strange caramel colour, like those you might see on a feral cat.

Little Annie was blonde, with lovely huge round eyes, and a mouth like a cupid’s bow. Just divine.

When Mum told her she couldn’t take her to school the next day, Anne kicked up an almighty fuss. That fuss turned into a tantrum, which became a screaming fit. By the time it was over, Anne had had to stay off school, and her Mum had also had to take the day off work. After just one day, that doll was proving to be more trouble than she had expected. Jane Boyd had to spend most of the morning calming her daughter down, explaining her reasons for banning Little Annie from accompanying her daughter to school.

She was relieved that Roger had already left for work, and had been spared the screams.

“It’s a Victorian doll, luvvy. Do you know what that means?” Anne gave a truculent shake of her head, eyes still red from crying. “Well that means it was made before the year nineteen-o-one. It’s an antique, and very valuable. Your Dad and me could never afford to replace it, if it got broken or stolen. Besides, I don’t think your teachers are going to allow you to sit in class holding a doll, do you?” Anne shrugged, sensible enough to know she wasn’t going to win this one. She also knew that if Mum took time off work, she didn’t get paid. Dad would be unhappy about that. She reached up one arm and draped it over her Mum’s shoulder.

“Sorry Mum”.

For the rest of the afternoon, Anne spent a long time talking to Little Annie. She filled her in on the home setup, and told her the history of the family that she was now part of.

“You see, my Mum and Dad had another little girl before me. She would have been my older sister, but she died of something horrible. When they got over that, they decided to have me, to make up for it, I suppose. So they are much older than the parents of the others at school, and all my grandparents are dead too. I don’t remember them, but Mum told me I went to Granny Boyd’s funeral. I don’t remember that either. It’s going to be nice to have someone to talk to, I’m so happy that you have come to live with us”.

Standing in the doorway of the kitchen, Jane blew the smoke from her cigarette into the garden, away from the house. She was supposed to have given up, but had never managed to quit completely. Roger hated her smoking, and had forbidden it inside, or around Anne. She knew her daughter was different, even if Roger refused to discuss it. Not that she was slow or anything, as her school work was good, and the teachers always had nothing but praise for her. But there was something about her. Something Jane couldn’t find the right word for.

The word in her mind was ‘strange’. But she didn’t want to admit to herself out loud that her daughter was strange, so never voiced it.

It was probably all her fault. Having a child at the age of thirty-nine was not a great idea. Extra tests, worries about syndromes or complications, and by the time she was born by cesarean section, Jane was already forty. Anne would be eleven next birthday, so she would soon be fifty-one. It didn’t seem right to be the same age as the other kid’s grandparents. Roger was only two years off sixty, and looked older. It was so embarrassing when people asked him about his ‘granddaughter’. She knew he secretly hated that, deep inside. And it didn’t help that Anne looked nothing like either of them. She didn’t have any resemblance to any of her family, and she had not been born with Roger’s red hair, unlike poor Phoebe. Sometimes, Jane caught him looking at her, with an unusually cold expression. She wondered if he thought he wasn’t the father.

And she hoped he didn’t know that was true.

Throwing the cigarette butt into the kitchen drain, she lit another one. Roger wouldn’t be home for a couple of hours yet.

That evening at dinner, Anne insisted that Little Annie sit next to her at the table. She pretended to be able to hear the doll talking, and voiced her supposed remarks, much to the silent annoyance of her father. “Little Annie says she remembers eating steak pie. She liked it, but not the cabbage that it was served with”. “Little Annie doesn’t know what strawberry yoghurt is. She says she has never seen anything like that, and it looks too sloppy to eat”. Roger Boyd was glad when dinner was over. He had wanted to tell his daughter to shut up and grow up, but his wife pandered to her, and allowed her to still act like a baby. No wonder the girl had no friends.

As she settled in bed that night, Anne looked up at her Mum, who was tidying away her clothes. “Little Annie doesn’t have a nightdress or pyjamas, Mum. It doesn’t seem right that she has to sleep in her day dress”. Jane looked down at her daughter, the doll next to her in bed, with the covers up to its chin. “I don’t think I can get a nightdress in her size, luvvy. I might ask Margaret at work to make me one. What about that?” She kissed her daughter goodnight, and walked slowly back downstairs.

She knew full well that Roger would start moaning at her about the dinner-table conversation, so she went straight out into the garden to have a cigarette first.

With her eyes feeling heavy, Anne settled down in bed, cuddling the doll. “Goodnight Little Annie, sleep tight”.

As she turned over, she heard her reply. A wheezy-sounding voice, but speaking clearly.

“But my name is Phoebe”.

November 2018. Maurice Silverman gets a bargain.

It paid to specialise, and Maurice was a specialist. Ever since he had sold his old train set at a profit, toys were his game. Not just any toys though, collectible dolls, and stuffed toys. He occasionally dabbled in automata too, but he wasn’t technically inclined, so resented paying someone else to fix them. Trouble was, all the antique programmes on television were making people wise. Every armchair expert knew about Steiff bears now, and Internet auction sites were so full of fakes, hardly any buyers trusted the real thing.
So he mainly dealt with the trade. Genuine auctions where those in the know went to get what they knew they could sell on.

Nonetheless, junk shops and charity shops were always worth a look, even though they were packed with people trying to get their hands on some genuine Clarice Cliff pottery for under a quid. It had become his habit to go further afield, scouting the second-hand shops in the depressed towns, those where factories had closed, and unemployment was high. And it was in one such small town that he found it, sitting at the back of an animal sanctuary charity shop, run by volunteers.

The dark red hood, the scarlet ribbon, and the hand-crafted lace. It couldn’t be, but it was. He tried to hide his excitement as he casually examined it, pretending to be browsing. It was definitely by Bru et Cie. French, from around 1895. He had seen a photo of it once in a catalogue. ‘Claudine’, a copy of a doll made for unnamed royalty, and very rare. The condition was remarkable, even though the fine stitching and lacework told him it was undoubtedly original. It had a price tag tied to it. Five pounds.

Maurice carried it to the till, smiling at the very large woman in a stained polo shirt that was covered in dog hair. “Would you take three pounds for this? I think my niece might like it”. He didn’t have a niece of course, but decades in the antique game had made lying come easy. The woman was thinking about all the cats and dogs that needed neutering, and feeding too. She stood her ground. “It’s a lovely doll, mister. I think five is fair”. He smiled back, unable to make it look even remotely sincere as he fingered the loose change in his pocket. He produced four one pound coins, and placed them on the counter. “Four for cash then?”

In the four hours since they had been open, the takings had amounted to less than two pounds, and a donation of some out of date packets of dog food. She slid the doll into a plastic carrier bag, and scooped the four coins off of the counter. “You got a bargain there mister”.

At home that evening, Maurice did some research in his numerous books, and online too. Before retiring for bed, he was sure the doll was a Claudine, and that only three others had ever been sold. Someone somewhere would pay a pretty penny for that. He would wait though. The market was always fluctuating, and the recent auction figures were not as high as he would have liked. As a middleman, he always had to take a hit. But wait for the right moment, and that hit would be less. For now, the doll could wait. He placed it on a corner shelf next to two tatty Steiff bears, and switched off the light.

Two days later, he was sitting in the room surrounded by dolls and stuffed animals wondering if the forthcoming Christmas rush was going to help him shift some stock. Since his mother had died six years earlier, he had the run of the large house, and was now using her former bedroom as a workshop-cum-stockroom. She had always nagged him about his business. ‘Playing with dolls’ she had called it. She liked to humiliate him in company too. “Maurice could have got a proper job, become an accountant, maybe even started a nice jewellery business. But instead he prefers to play with dolls”.
He had never risen to it. Some Jewish mothers thrived on that, and she was one of them.

Trying to decide on which few unsold naked baby dolls to put together as a job lot, he discarded one with a crack on its porcelain face, and was wondering whether or not to include a black doll instead. It sounded like a whisper at first, and Maurice thought he was hearing things. It might be people outside, talking on the street. Then it was slightly louder, coming from behind him, and above. “Still playing with dolls I see. When are you going to get a real job?” He almost tipped his chair over as he stood up to look, spinning around, unable to believe his ears.

It was his mother’s voice. The long-dead Rosa Silverman.

There was nothing there except for the two shabby bears, and the Claudine doll. He felt cold right down to his feet, and stared at the corner for a long time without moving a muscle. Then the voice spoke again, and he sensed a quivering as the hair around his ears stood on end. “So this is what you have done to my bedroom, Maurice. Shame on you, boy”. He literally ran out the room, slamming the door behind him. On the landing outside, it felt as if his belly was full of ice, and he had to rush into the bathroom to use the toilet before he soiled himself.

It was four full days before he could bring himself to enter the room again. He was carrying a large cardboard box, and quickly placed the baby dolls into it, before grabbing the two bears from the shelf. He avoided the face of the Claudine doll, turning quickly to leave the room. Placing the box on the landing and reaching inside his waistcoat pocket, he took the old key he had found in a drawer, and inserted it into the lock. As he turned it, he could hear his mother’s voice from inside the room. It was laughing softly.

“Heh,heh,heh”.

His contact at the Doll’s Hospital gave him a good price to tidy up the two bears, and he shifted them easily enough at the next auction, along with the three baby dolls. Prices were down by at least twenty percent, but he didn’t want to have any reason to go back into his mother’s old room anytime soon. As he didn’t celebrate Christmas, he spent the holiday doing some research on the Claudine dolls. It was fairly fruitless though, other than turning up some original sales advertisements from the nineteenth century, and more press clippings about a supposed association with Russian royalty at the time of the Czars.

On the first of January, Maurice decided to start the new year by being brave enough to get rid of the doll. He had considered that he might be going insane, hearing his mother’s voice coming from the closed lips of the Claudine. But in the absence of any other symptoms, he came to the conclusion that this was something beyond his control, a manifestation of something he would never understand. Getting his digital camera from the cupboard, he walked slowly upstairs, determined to face his fears. Inside the room, he took the doll down from the shelf and placed it on the cleared surface of the workbench. Six photos were enough. Front, back, full head, and close ups of the lace, the hood, and the dress. He picked up a new box from under the table, and laid some bubble-wrap in the bottom of it. Then he hurriedly wrapped the doll in tissue paper, before placing it inside, with more bubble wrap on top of it. As he stuck the box down with parcel tape, he heard a muffled voice from inside it.

“I hope you got my best side, Maurice”.

He uploaded the photos to Ebay, and offered it for sale by auction with a starting price of five hundred pounds. There was also a ‘buy-it-now’ option, of fifteen hundred. It might have fetched more at a specialist sale, but he wanted it out of the house. In that week, there were no bids. So Maurice relisted the doll at half the previous price. Still nothing. When it got to the end of the month, he saw that one person was watching the item, so he changed the listing to a straight auction with no starting price. That created some interest, and two bidders began to battle for the doll. But on the sixth day, it was still only up to one seventy-two, and he finally had to let it go at that, plus his postal costs.

Using a marker pen, he wrote the buyer’s name on the address label.

Mrs Jane Boyd.

September 2018. Orla Reilly is in intensive care.

Shawn met Orla when they were both just fifteen. They knew from the start that there would be nobody else for either of them, and they married at eighteen. Shawn found work in England, and told her they should leave the quiet town in Ireland to make a life for themselves. She naturally agreed, and they set off to the grimy industrial town that they would now have to call home. The money was good, and Orla managed to find work too. Things were looking up, and then she got pregnant with Noel. But Shawn was happy to be a father, and he put in for overtime at the car factory where he fitted the front bumpers onto delivery vans, day in, day out. Six days a week, every week. On Sundays, he was exhausted, and refused to help out with the baby. They started to argue for the first time, and that drove Shawn out of the house, defusing his temper on long walks.

Then he started drinking.

A few beers at first. Then he started to play pool with the regulars, and a few beers turned into ten. Very soon he began to meet the lads after work, missing his dinner, and rolling in drunk around eleven. He hardly noticed little Noel, and never played with his son. Orla started to sleep on the sofa, and by the time they were twenty-five, they were like strangers in the same house. Then Orla got another job. School hours, working as a cleaner for the bus company. The extra money meant that Shawn could drop some of the overtime, and Orla’s improved mood started to help thaw things out between them. Shawn took Noel to junior football on Saturday afternoons, and before too long they were back in the same bed.

That got her pregnant with Roisin, and they took a trip back to Ireland to show off the new baby to their families, and to let them see how big Noel was getting.

By the time Roisin was approaching her sixth birthday, the bad times were forgotten. Shawn came home every night, played with the kids before their bedtime, and contented himself with a couple of beers after dinner. They had moved into a three-bed, and started talking about maybe buying a place the following year, if they could scrape together a big enough deposit. A week later, it was on the TV news. The company was cutting back. Car sales were falling, and nobody was buying the vans either. There was talk of cutbacks and lay-offs, perhaps even compulsory redundancies. Shawn raged at the fact that he had to find out his possible fate from the TV, as nothing at all had been mentioned at his work.

The next few weeks were hard. Less hours at the car plant, and the fear that the company would sell out to some outfit from Korea, who would move all the jobs south, to the existing factory there. Shawn became withdrawn, and started drinking more. There was no money for luxuries, and when the car broke down, no money to repair it. Shawn got the bus to work, and Orla walked to her job after seeing Roisin into school. Noel was grumpy and argumentative, as there was no money for his promised football trip, or the new football boots he coveted.

Little Roisin had seen a lovely doll in an old-fashioned toy shop, and Orla knew how much she wanted it for her birthday. But it was one hundred pounds all but a penny, and there was no way they could afford that.

One day at work in the bus company, Orla was telling her manager how tight things were financially, about the shop where her daughter had seen the cherished doll, and how much she would love to be able to buy Roisin that doll for her birthday. She was wondering if there were any extra hours she could do at weekends, when Shawn could mind the kids. Mr Bennett was a kind man. He had a large build, and a bald head. He was probably over fifty, with grown-up kids of his own, and a wife who was big and fat, and always smiling whenever she popped in to see him. He shook his head. “Sorry, Orla love. No extra hours at all. In fact, the company is thinking of bringing in an outside company to do the cleaning on contract. It works out cheaper than using our own staff. Tell you what, why don’t I lend you the money for the doll? You can pay me back bit by bit, no pressure”. Orla shook her head. “That’s lovely of you, Mr Bennett, but I couldn’t do that. I would never be able to repay you”.

Her boss looked her up and down. Not yet thirty-three years old, Orla was still a very attractive woman. She had thick auburn hair, cut short, and just enough freckles to look cute. Two pregnancies had left her with some nice curves, if you liked that sort of thing. And Mr Bennett liked that sort of thing. He smiled, sucking in his belly as he spoke, like that would make any difference. “Listen, Orla. You’re a good-looking woman, and I am a man with needs. I’m sure we could come to some arrangement that could easily pay for that doll”. Orla was shocked, too shocked to reply. She just turned and left his office, her face turning bright red.

Shawn arrived home from work drunk that night. Roisin was crying, Noel sulking in his room, and Orla was at her wit’s end. Her husband mumbled something about the company closing down, then staggered up to bed, collapsing on top of the covers fully dressed.

As she was finishing up the next afternoon, Mr Bennett called her into the office. Sitting on his desk was the doll. The same one, with its dark red hood, and scarlet ribbon. The lace on its outfit looked so delicate. He leered at her, and tapped the doll’s head. “Lovely, isn’t she? It’s up to you, Orla. I’m sure my wife would like to display her in our cabinet otherwise. Taking a deep breath, Orla turned and locked the door. As she unbuttoned her overall, she spoke with a determined voice. “Just this once mind, and from behind. And no kissing” Then she leaned over the desk as the man she had once thought was so kind stood up and unzipped his trousers.

There was no money for a party, as the car plant was closing for sure, and any redundancy payments still had to be sorted out. But Roisin loved that doll, and hugged it close all day. Orla had lied to Shawn, told him it was reduced to twenty-five pounds because it had no box. He might well have been angry with her, but the face on his delighted daughter melted his heart. Noel was in a foul mood, complaining that he couldn’t have any football boots but his sister got a doll. Shawn calmed him down. “Wait until Christmas, son. See what you get then. He was banking on a decent payout, but nobody had a clue how much it might be yet.

Orla settled both the kids, then came down to do the washing up. Shawn waited a while, then went up to kiss them goodnight. Little Roisin was a picture, tucked up fast asleep, cuddling her new doll. As he leaned over to plant a kiss on her head, a strange voice spoke in a hoarse whisper.
“Ask her how she got the money for the doll. Ask her how much it really cost. Oh, and ask her how she liked it, bent over Mr Bennett’s desk, with him grunting away at her like a hog at a trough”.
He jumped away from the bed, looking around the room illuminated by the glow of the night-light. He thought for a moment that it was the doll speaking, but that couldn’t be. He shook his head, and leaned forward once again.

“She said ‘no kissing’”.

Shawn reeled back so fast, he stumbled into the half-open door. The voice had come from the doll, and that wasn’t possible. He closed the door and stood motionless on the landing, slowly taking in what the doll had said. He had never met that Bennett, but Orla had talked about him, said he was kind, and an easy guy to work for. He stood and thought some more, then slowly walked down the stairs. Orla was drying a mug on a tea-towel as he walked into the kitchen. His voice was surprisingly calm. “So what’s the story about you and Bennett then? Is that how you got the money for the doll? You shagged him for it, right?”

She put down the mug as the colour drained from her face. It would be best to lie. Say he was crazy, ask him what he was talking about. Get angry, tell him he must be imagining things. But eighteen years of Catholic priests talking about confession and truth was hard to overcome. Best get it over with.

“It was just the once, and it didn’t mean anything. I don’t even like him that…”.

He hadn’t meant to hit her that hard, he really hadn’t. The punch stopped her in mid-sentence, and he felt her nose break under his fist. Her head flew back as her legs gave way, and she hit her head with such force on the mixer tap spout that it bent into the sink.

He left her in a heap on the floor, and walked back into the living room. Reaching into the back of the unit, he took out the bottle of Jameson he had been saving for Christmas. Then he flopped down on the sofa in front of the television and drunk it all, straight from the neck of the bottle.

When Shawn woke up early the next morning, he went into the kitchen, to see if Orla was dead. Head clouded by the booze, he knelt on the floor in the blood, and put his ear to her mouth. She was still breathing, but only just. He walked upstairs and woke the kids, carrying his daughter and pulling his complaining son by the hand. Still in their nightclothes, he walked them around to Mrs Oliver, next door. The old lady peeped around the door when she answered, wearing a quilted dressing gown. “Could you mind the kids for me please missus? Me wife’s taken poorly so she has, and I have to get her to the doctor”. As the door opened wider, he put Roisin down on the mat, and pushed Noel inside. “Be good now, kids”.

Back in the house, he went up to Roisin’s bedroom and grabbed the doll from her bed. Stuffing it onto the bag he normally used for work, he took his mobile out and phoned the ambulance. As he walked out of the house, he left the front door open, so they wouldn’t have to break it down. He needed a walk, and time to think.

The shops in town weren’t open at that time of the morning, and there were few people on the streets. Shawn knew he would have to hand himself into the police. No point trying to run. He had no money anyway. He walked in the direction of the main police station, and paused on the corner opposite, next to a charity shop. He was building up the courage to walk in there, and confess what he had done to his wife.

He left the bag in the shop doorway as he crossed the road.

December 1991. Fiona buys herself a Christmas gift.

She had walked past the department store window many times before. This time, Fiona went in through the doors, and took the escalator to the third floor, where the toy department was situated. Ten days before Christmas the place was heaving with customers, and she had to wait at the serving counter for some time before a black-uniformed salesgirl approached her.

“Are you being attended to, madam?” Fiona looked at her fake smile, and recoiled from her obsequious manner. “In the window, there’s a doll. Red hood, blonde hair. Not a child’s doll really, more of a collector’s item. Could I see it please?” The shop-girl smiled her false smile again. “Of course madam, please excuse me while I go to look in the stockroom”. Fiona replied quickly, before she could leave the counter. “No, not one from stock. It has to be the one in the window. That very one”.

The smile was replaced with a weary look. “But madam, I will have to get the manager’s permission to remove items from the window display. I am sure we must have another in the stockroom. It won’t be any different, I promise you”. Fiona set her jaw. “Get the manager then. I don’t want any other one, I want the one that is currently in the window”. Remembering that the customer is always right, the girl turned and walked off in the direction of the manager’s office on the floor above.

Fiona looked with distaste at the back view of her. One shoe trodden down at the heel, and the black uniform skirt shiny and greasy-looking, worn for too many days without being washed or cleaned. There had been a smell about the girl too, one of cheap body spray covering up poor personal hygiene and unwashed feet.

The manager returned with the girl, who seemed relieved to hand over the problem to him, and rushed off to deal with another waiting customer. Fiona eyed the approaching man. Smart-looking, in a three-piece suit and very white shirt. The striped tie looked military, but the overall effect was ruined by him wearing a large metal badge on his lapel, bearing the name and logo of the company. He had a speech prepared, and launched into it. “Madam, about the doll in the window. It is not actually for sale. It is part of the window display, and very special. Unique in fact. It is old and very valuable, the price would be excessive I’m sure. If it was for sale that is. Can I interest you in a similar doll? We have a lot to choose from”.

Raising her voice loud enough to attract the attention of the other shoppers, Fiona replied in her haughtiest tone. “Did I ask the price? The price is of no concern to me. I want the doll from the window. It is in your window, so must be for sale”. Noticing that a small audience had gathered to listen, she waved her arm expansively. “Are you telling us, your customers, that the things displayed in your window are not for sale? I have never heard anything more ridiculous”. Faced with the tall determined woman, and a group of busybody customers mumbling in agreement with her, the manager lost his nerve. “Please wait while I make a phone call, madam. I will be as quick as I can”. As he walked away, Fiona nodded to her unknown helpers, giving the impression that a small revolution was about to take place in the toy department.

He returned soon after and asked if Fiona would accompany him to his office. She sniffily agreed, and followed him up to the fourth floor. Accepting a seat opposite his desk, she placed her handbag on her lap, and stared him out. “I have spoken to someone senior on your behalf. They tell me that the doll is a rare antique, obtained for window displays, and used every year. If it was for sale, it would retail at three thousand pounds. I hope that explains it, madam”. Fiona opened her bag, and removed her credit card from a slot inside. “No need to gift wrap it, a plain box will suffice”. She flipped the card onto the desk, and sat back, feeling very pleased with herself. After two more phone calls, and then waiting for a window display person to retrieve the doll, it was almost another hour before she left the shop, holding a large carrier bag containing the plain white box.

She could hardly have told him the truth. The doll had begged her to buy it. The first time she had walked past the window and heard a plaintive “Please buy me”, she had instinctively known it was the doll talking to her. She went back a few times to check, and sure enough it said the same thing every time. There was no question, she had to buy it. The fact that a doll couldn’t speak never even entered her head.

At home in her smart apartment, the doll was unpacked and given pride of place on the dressing table in the bedroom. Fiona was a woman of means, living on a substantial inheritance left by her parents. She had no need to work, and enjoyed a solitary life of leisure. But despite a good education, and possession of a well-balanced mind, she sat on the edge of her bed, and waited for the doll to say something.

She had to wait a very long time.

For the first year, she found herself speaking to the doll now and then. She started with things like “You could at least say thank you to me for buying you”. Later on, much later in fact, her frustration made her sneer at the doll, and her remarks to it became less polite. “I could easily get rid of you, you know. The money you cost is of no consequence to me. How would you like it if I threw you out in the rubbish? You wouldn’t look so pretty then, would you?” The doll stayed mute, her expression never changing.

Fiona didn’t really have friends. Her only company was an occasional visit from a niece. The girl only came from a sense of duty, she was sure of that. And avarice of course. Hoping to keep in with her auntie, to get an inheritance. When she spotted the doll, the first thing she had asked was how much it cost. Fiona didn’t tell her the figure, waving a hand airily. “Oh, it was quite expensive”.

It was rare for her to get drunk. But on the eve of the year 2000, she was alone in her apartment as revellers frolicked in the surrounding streets. Feeling sorry for herself, she opened a fine Cognac, and drank far too much of it. Feeling woozy, she went into the bedroom to lie down.

The voice wasn’t plaintive this time, and Fiona sat bolt upright as the doll spoke to her for the first time in more than eight years.

“Get rid of me, and I will make you sorry. You have to keep me forever”.

Fiona was made of stern stuff. She staggered over to the dressing table and grabbed the doll, taking it out into the hallway, and flinging it into a store-cupboard. She had intended to just dump it in the kitchen bin, but something at the back of her mind stopped her doing that.

The next few years passed quickly, as Fiona grew older. She still went about her life much as before, though she got out less, and her superior airs meant that she rarely connected with anyone socially. She had all but forgotten about the doll, as she rarely had occasion to look in the cupboard where she had flung it so carelessly. Then she received an unexpected invitation to a school reunion. Keen to attend, to show her old classmates just how comfortable her life was, she booked a room in a hotel overnight, and arranged for a car and driver to take her.

But that meant she needed her smart overnight case, which was stored in the same cupboard as the doll.

As she reached over to the back to grab the case by the handle, she could see the doll out of the corner of her eye. Slightly dusty by now of course, but still bright-eyed. She had long since convinced herself that the doll had never spoken, and she had just imagined it that drunken night. But as she pulled the case across into the hallway, she could not deny what she heard at that moment.

“You’re going to die. It’s inside you. It’s between your legs. There’s nothing you can do. Hahaha”.

Closing the door, she went into the bedroom to pack her case. It must be her imagination, she was sure of it. Everyone knows that dolls cannot talk. She kept herself busy that evening, and went to the reunion as arranged, the following day. But she was unable to shake the sound of the voice, and the implication of what it had said. She made an appointment with her expensive private doctor for the next Tuesday. He sent her downstairs in the clinic for scans and blood tests, and said he would come and talk to her when the results came back.

“I am sorry to say that it is cervical cancer, madam. It appears to be very advanced, and I am afraid that it is inoperable. We can of course give you palliative treatment and care, but I fear you have less than a few months”. Fiona thanked him, made arrangements for her next appointments, and left the clinic in a haze. The doll had been right. Could it be that it had somehow wished the cancer on her? That couldn’t be possible, could it?

The young woman arrived with her boyfriend to clear out the flat. She had been struggling for some weeks to prove that she should inherit, as the only living relative, and had finally managed to convince Auntie Fiona’s solicitors the week before. She would get the luxury flat, and a fair chunk of money too. So much in fact, she could hardly be bothered to sift through all the items her aunt had accumulated over the years. Looking in the store cupboard, she saw the doll, barely remembered from the last time she had seen it. But she did recall her aunt had claimed it had been expensive. She picked it up, and threw it into the box being held by her boyfriend.

“Take this, Scott. I reckon a toy shop will buy it at a decent price”.

May 1975. Baby Emily receives a doll.

It was a difficult birth. Labour went on for so long, they considered the risks to the mother. But Sandy was determined to deliver naturally, and after hanging over the side of the bed for another thirty minutes, baby Emily was born into the waiting grasp of a midwife. They took her away immediately, unhappy with her colour, and the fact that she wasn’t crying. Ian and Sandy spent anxious hours sitting next to an incubator, and their tears flowed as they feared the worst. But she pulled through, and they took her home after ten days.

Sandy’s Mum Phyllis arrived on the Sunday, delighted to be able to hold her first grandchild. And a girl too, one who looked exactly like her beloved daughter. She had brought a gift. A beautiful blonde-haired doll. Little baby Emily was too young to appreciate it, but it was placed on a shelf in the nursery, waiting for the time when she would be old enough to play with it. Phyllis didn’t mention that she had found the doll by chance, propped up inside a telephone box that she had been walking past.

Over the next few years, it talked to the baby all the time, even though Emily didn’t appear to understand, and was unable to respond of course. By the time Emily started school, she seemed to Sandy and Ian to be unusually bright. Her conversation flowed at a level well beyond her years, and the junior school teacher mentioned that she appeared to be incredibly intelligent. Emily showed an early talent for languages, and a remarkable knowledge of modern history. At Parent-Teacher night, her class teacher took Sandy and Ian to one side, a look of concern on her face.

“Are you teaching her at home as well? She often speaks in French, which is not taught yet in her year. And she seems to be aware of historical events like World War One, and the Russian Revolution, right up to the outbreak of World War two, and beyond. This is quite astounding, to be honest. I have never seen anything like it, during my teaching career”. They assured her that they were not home-schooling her, and Sandy was rather annoyed that the spark of genius apparent in their daughter should be a matter of concern for the teacher. At home that night, she spoke to Ian, and then phoned her mother. They decided to send her to a private school, a place which would nurture her unusual talents, instead of wanting her to be like everyone else. It would be a strain financially, but Phyllis agreed to help with the cost.

Emily had never spoken to anyone about being educated by the doll. It had told her not to, told her bad things would happen to her if she did.
“They will take you away if you tell them, Emily. Lock you up in a madhouse, and you would never see me or your family again. You wouldn’t like that now, would you?” Emily had agreed. No, she wouldn’t like that at all.

The new school was indeed a great help to Emily. But even there she felt held back, and attracted suspicious looks from her classmates for her strange grasp of so many things at such a young age. They arranged for her to take her examinations early, and her astounding success attracted the attentions of newspapers and TV news channels, alerted by the owners of the school, keen to obtain publicity. By the time it came for her to apply to universities, Emily was treading water, already at the level where she would easily obtain a degree. The best colleges in the country were after her, and she chose to accept an offer from Cambridge University, so as not to be too far away from home.

When she packed her things to leave for her new life at the college, she was sure to take the doll, now known as Abigail.

It was after she had been there a month that someone mentioned the doll. A boy who was interested in her, Mark. They were kissing and cuddling on the bed, when he turned over and felt something in his back. Holding the doll aloft with a a huge grin, he spoke in a mocking tone. “What’s this? Did Emmypoos have to bring her dolly to Cambridge? Do you cuddle it at night? Ah, diddums”. Embarrassed, Emily made something up. “Oh, that’s Abigail. My grandmother bought her for me when I was born, and insisted I bring her with me to Uni”. Mark was still scoffing. “Insisted you brought a doll? What are you, nine? Emily slid the doll under the bed, and went back to the kissing and cuddling.

When she came home for the holidays, Emily brought the doll with her. It hadn’t worked out with Mark, but she wasn’t going to chance another boyfriend thinking she was too childish for a relationship. Sandy and Ian were glowing, so pleased that their daughter was exceeding all expectations. There was even talk of her finishing her degree six months early, and staying on for more advanced studies. Up in the bedroom, Emily turned her back on Abigail as she got into bed. The doll was back on a shelf, and that’s where it would stay.

“You put me under your bed. That wasn’t nice. You had better take me back with you, or you will be sorry”.

Emily ignored the doll, and managed to get to sleep without difficulty.

By the end of the first year, Emily wasn’t coping so well. Although her studies were going very well, her social life was at an all-time low. She found it hard to make friends, and the men who had once shown an interest in her now seemed to be put off by her academic prowess. She had discovered that her nickname was The Clever Girl, and it wasn’t spoken in a friendly way. That Christmas, she found it hard to get into the spirit of the festivities. Visiting relatives felt like a chore, and even the comparative excitement of the gift of a new bicycle to use around Cambridge didn’t lift her mood.

And Abigail was on her case too. Big time.

“Oh, poor Emily. Can’t get a boyfriend? Perhaps it’s because you are too ugly? Or too much like your mother, too old-fashioned? Maybe it’s because everyone there hates you? You know they do, Miss Clever Clogs. If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t know anything, don’t forget that. You are nothing. Everything you have achieved is because of me, don’t ever forget that. If you don’t take me back with you next time, it will get a lot worse”.

Abigail continued like that every time Emily went into her room. But she couldn’t very well put her somewhere else, as it was impossible to explain why she no longer wanted her. It would offend her grandmother for sure, and she resolved to just put up with it until she got back to Uni.

Not long after the start of the second year, Emily started to lose concentration. She forgot important dates, fluffed a few essay projects, and even forgot to attend a few lectures. She felt lonely, listless, and had no appetite. A chat with her tutor that was supposed to buck her up ended with her dissolving in tears, and running out of the room. As the summer break was looming, she was back to the level of everyone else at the college, and enduring the vocal disappointment of her lecturers. Back at home, she declined the chance of a summer job at her Dad’s company, and sat around all day with a long face. Sandy spoke to Ian, and they wrongly concluded that she was upset about being jilted by some boy. They decided to leave her alone, and not add to any pressures.

Abigail was less kind.

“Why don’t you just kill yourself? If I was in your shoes, I would do just that. You are never going to be happy you know, never find that handsome boyfriend you seek. Your parents are going to be bitterly disappointed when you don’t do as well as they expected. That will break their hearts. All that money spent too. Oh dear, what a failure you are”.

Emily sought some sanctuary in the garden on sunny days. Sometimes she stayed downstairs at night, dozing on the sofa. But that set her Mum off, nagging and worrying. When it could no longer be avoided, she reluctantly went up to bed in her room. Where Abigail was waiting.

“Tell them you are having trouble sleeping. Go to see your doctor and get some sleeping pills, you know she will give them to you. Then you can take them all while your parents are out at work. There will be no pain, it will just be like drifting off to sleep. Except you won’t ever wake up, and then you will never have to face all your worries again”.

As Emily tried to drop off to sleep that night, the doll began chanting, its voice low and insistent.

“Do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it…”

It was still saying that as she finally cried herself to sleep at dawn.

One evening when Ian arrived home from work, he asked his wife where Emily was. “Oh, she’s still sleeping I think. It must be those new pills. I didn’t have the heart to wake her, but I am going to have to soon, so she can come down for dinner”. She put down her book, and walked up the stairs to the bedrooms. Ian poured himself a nice large whisky, drinking half of it while he was still standing by the kitchen worktop.

When he heard the terrible scream from upstairs, he dropped the glass.

After the funeral, Sandy packed up everything of her daughter’s and donated it to a mental health charity. They put the doll into a group of items to be auctioned, and it was spotted by Polly Johnstone. Her bids were unenthusiastic, it didn’t pay to appear to be too keen. She soon outbid some tweed-clad matron, and snapped it up for sixty-five pounds.

She knew someone who would pay a lot more than that for it, to use in their shop window displays.

June 1969. Robert buys Edna a doll.

The second hand shop in the village was always worth a look. Robert liked to collect things, all sorts of things, and he never passed the shop called Aladdin’s Cave without stopping to browse.

His wife Edna complained bitterly about what she referred to as his ‘junk’ cluttering up her house. But deep down, she didn’t really mind. He was a good husband, and had never blamed her for not being able to have children. They made the best of it, took lots of camping holidays, and spent weekends making their garden look nice too. After twenty-seven years of marriage, she had become used to his ways, and he had learned to tolerate her good-natured complaints.

He had moved the collection of model soldiers into the shed, out of her way. Then he promised to sort out all the toy cars, and store them outside too. But when he started to collect antique garden tools, she had firmly stated that he was taking his obsession a little too far for comfort. He picked up the old garden fork propped outside the shop. The metal parts were rusty, and the wooden handle wrapped in old bandages. Still, he reckoned it had some age, and walked inside with it to ask Ted how much he wanted for it.

The owner put down his newspaper as Robert walked in. He was Ted’s best customer, as well as his most regular. “What about this old fork, Ted. What are you asking for it?” He rubbed his chin as he looked at Robert, casting his eyes down to the battered fork. It had cost him nothing, as he had found it by the side of the road last week. But he was a salesman by nature.

“That fork is around a hundred years old, you know. It came from Lord Elmsley’s estate, from that grand house. They sold off all the contents last month”. Ted found lying easy. He had been doing it for the best part of his sixty-two years. “I couldn’t let it go for less than twelve, Robert”. As he waited for Ted to finish his usual sales pitch, Robert looked around. At the back of the shop, he saw a doll on a shelf. He hadn’t spotted it previously, and it’s blonde hair and wide eyes attracted him immediately. Edna would love that doll.

Ignoring Ted’s suggested price for the fork, he walked further inside, and picked up the doll. The outfit was lovely, with delicate lace, and it was in fabulous condition too. The owner spotted his interest and pounced, continuing the lie as if reading from a script. “That doll was from Lord Elmsley’s too. A rare find, Robert. It’s a real antique that one, I reckon it’s before nineteen double-o. In fact, I’m sure of it”. He wasn’t about to tell his customer that he had bought it for next to nothing from some crazy woman who had stopped outside in a car, and said she would take anything for it, as long as it was cash.

Fascinated by the doll, Robert didn’t hear a word of the continuing sales patter. When he finally turned around, Ted went for the close. “Tell you what, call if forty-five quid, and I will throw in the fork too. Can’t say fairer than that, can I?” Robert tucked the doll under his arm as he took the notes from his wallet. That was a lot of money, but he handed it over without a murmur. He smiled at Ted’s farewells as he walked out of the shop, and didn’t even remember to pick up the garden fork.

Edna adored the doll. Well at least she adored the sentiment behind Robert buying if for her. She wasn’t that keen on its fixed stare, but placed it on a chest of drawers in the bedroom, next to the door leading through to the ensuite bathroom. Her husband seemed pleased with himself, and went outside to the shed to catalogue some more of his model soldiers. When they went to bed that night, she couldn’t shake the feeling that the doll was staring at her, even when the lights were off. She turned over to face Robert’s back. Out of sight, hopefully out of mind.

That Sunday, Robert was leaving early to go to an antique fair almost fifty miles away. He believed that some soldiers he was after would be offered for sale, and he wanted to get there when the traders were still setting up. Although he tried to be quiet as he got ready, Edna was disturbed, and wide awake by the time he left at five-thirty. She was restless in the bed, trying to get back to sleep, stretching and turning. When she heard the voice, she thought at first that Robert had returned for some reason.

“Why don’t you do what you normally do? You know, what you do when Robert is out of the house, or when you are in the bath every night as he watches the news on television? Why don’t you do that? I want to watch you do it. Do it for me. Now.”

But it wasn’t Robert’s voice. It was a male voice, but not his. Syrupy, soothing, and undeniably mellifluous. Edna was a little afraid. Could someone be in the house? Despite her fears, she had to check. But her nervous sweep of the few rooms showed nothing amiss. The front and back doors were both locked, Robert had left her safe and secure. As she walked back into the bedroom to get her dressing gown, her face suddenly flushed as she realised what the voice was talking about. Her only secret.

Despite being a loyal and caring man, Robert had never satisfied Edna in the bedroom. He was inexperienced when they met, and didn’t seem that keen to learn more than he already knew. For a good number of years, he had stopped paying her any romantic attention at all, and rather than cause friction in the marriage, she had let it go, and satisfied herself instead. Always in private, usually in the bath, and sometimes when Robert was off on one of his buying trips. It kept things stable, and stopped her becoming frustrated. But how could that voice have known, and where was it coming from? Edna thought she must be imagining it, and resolved to laugh it off as a waking dream. But as she picked up her dressing gown, she heard it again, more insistent this time.

“If you don’t do what I ask, I will tell Robert. I can make him hear me, if I want to. I can tell him all sorts of things. Some of them will be lies, but not all. You know he will believe me. Just lie down on the bed and do it while I watch. You know you want to”. Edna felt the chills run up her back as she identified the location of the sound. It was coming from the doll. That didn’t seem possible, but it was happening. Despite all her senses telling her to just open the window and throw the doll outside, she felt entranced by the voice. It was still soothing, and strangely enticing. And it was right, she did want to do what it asked. Staring at the doll on the chest of drawers, she lay back onto the bed, and lifted her nightdress.

But her red-faced display didn’t satisfy her tormentor. “Again” it had insisted. And after that second time, “Again”.

By the time Robert returned that evening, excited to show her his purchases, Edna was exhausted. It had taken ages to escape the demands of the doll, and part of her was ridden with guilt for not only acceding to its demands but enjoying it too. She hadn’t even got washed and dressed, let alone started on any preparations for dinner. Robert just wanted to be reassured that she wasn’t ill, and once he was happy with her explanation of being woken up early and not being able to get off again, he guiltily agreed to prepare some sausages, eggs, and bacon. As he put the plates down, he cheerily announced, “Breakfast for dinner, and why not?”

During the weeks that followed, the demands of the doll carried on increasing. It spoke about things in the deepest, darkest recesses of Edna’s mind, revealing knowledge of her most intimate fantasies. Filled with revulsion, she nonetheless became addicted to complying with its filthy and degrading demands, as it released something inside her that she had suppressed since her teens.

The weeks became years, and they started to take their toll. At first, Robert hadn’t noticed any change in his wife. She seemed happier about his collecting trips, urging him to go on more of them, even an overnight stay to one exhibition in Scotland. There were no more complaints about his accumulation of models, or anything else he bought.

But she was looking thinner, and had dark circles around her eyes. He started to worry about her health.

Her job suffered too. Many days skipped, with flimsy excuses about headaches, or emergency trips to the dentist. She began to resent being away from the doll, eager to listen to its next demand, and ready to willingly comply. Eventually, she lost her job. When she told Robert, he was so understanding, she burst into tears. He patted her shoulder, and spoke softly. “Never mind, Edna love. We will manage. I have a bit put by, and I will stop buying things for my collections. That’s a promise”.

At home all day, things began to descend to a new level. The doll instructed her to do things that she had never heard of, let alone imagine herself being happy to carry out. But she was, as she soon discovered. Then one balmy afternoon, she found herself drawn into the bedroom, as Robert was out at work. She had never actually spoken to the doll in all this time, but today she did. “So what have you got for me today? Robert will not be home until at least six”. Her eyes were wide with anticipation, her skin tingling.

The voice washed over her like the warm waters of a tropical sea. But as it laid out its demands, Edna’s eyes widened at the sheer enormity of what it was suggesting. Despite the years of willing debauchery that she had happily carried out at the behest of the doll, this was too much, Just unspeakable. She couldn’t even reply, just shaking her head in a ‘No’. As she walked out of the room still shuddering at the thought, the voice called after her. “Very well then. I will tell Robert. I will tell him as soon as he gets home, and comes in here to change his clothes”.

As he pulled his car into the driveway, Robert was surprised to see Edna standing in front of the garage. As he got out, she walked up to him and grabbed his arm. “I need to talk to you about something, Robert, come with me into the garden for a moment”. He smiled weakly, hoping it wasn’t anything serious. They sat on two metal chairs around the patio table as a white-faced Edna blurted out the whole story, her voice a hoarse whisper. At first, Robert was smiling, sure his wife was playing a trick on him. Twenty minutes later, and he was fearing for her sanity, as he had not believed a single word of the bizarre story she had just related. He decided to be reasonable, at least until he could have a word with their doctor. “Well then, let’s just get rid of the doll. I could burn it in the garden incinerator, or just throw it away somewhere.

Edna panicked. “No, you mustn’t let it speak to you. I will do it. You stay here while I get rid of it”.

Fifteen minutes later, she stood the doll in the village phone box, just at the side of The Green.

Turning for home, she was relieved it hadn’t said a single word.

October 1958. Daddy’s little princess.

Helen watched as Keith bounced little Susan on his knee. He was such a great Dad, and adored his daughter. Lifting her up to look into her face, he smiled at her lovingly. “Who’s my little princess then? Who’s Daddy’s little princess? You, that’s who”. He tickled her ribs, and she chuckled happily. Helen picked up her knitting again, smiling contentedly. They were the perfect family. Nothing was too much trouble for Keith. He washed the nappies, fed their little girl, gave her a bath, and tucked her up in her cot too. Even though he was exhausted when he got in from a long day at work, he played with her until her bedtime, never complaining.

As they watched the constantly flickering television later, not really concentrating on the stuffy quiz programme, Keith waited for the right time to tell his wife something. “One of the blokes at work has got his hands on a beautiful doll, just right for our Susan. You know him, Don, the crane operator. You want to see it, love. Blonde hair, big eyes, and lovely clothes. Really classy it is, not like that tat they sell in Woolworth’s”. Helen raised her eyebrows. She had been thinking about buying Susan a monkey from Woolworth’s in the High Street, for her first birthday. It was big, with hands that grabbed and held on, and it was dressed in a striped shirt and blue trousers. “How much does he want for this classy doll then, love?” She had heard talk about Don, but had never met him.

Keith took a deep breath before replying. “Well, it’s an antique, see, so valuable. Perfect condition though. He’s asking for twelve quid, but he will let me pay it at a pound a week, for three months. No interest”. Helen sat up, and put down the knitting. Twelve pounds was what Keith earned on a good week, with extra hours on Saturday, at time and a half. It sounded like a fortune to her, but she knew her husband well enough not to argue. Once he had something in his head, it was all but impossible to talk him out of it. He was a lovely bloke, but a bit of a dreamer. Besides, she didn’t work now. Not until Susan started school, anyway.

“It’s up to you then love, if you’re sure it’s a fair price”.

Keith was happy, and lit a cigarette, as if to celebrate. “Wait until you see it, Hel. It’s just fabulous”.

Two weeks later, they held a little birthday party. Just them and both sets of grandparents, with a one-candle sponge cake made by Helen. Susan received gifts from both grannies. A wooden Xylophone from Helen’s Mum and Dad, and a new set of winter clothes from Keith’s parents. Then he revealed the doll, wrapped in some really expensive gold paper. Everyone gasped at the luxury of it, and little Susan grabbed it, clutching it to her body, and planting kisses on it. Nobody asked how much it had cost. They all knew it was too much. But the child’s face lit up, and was a delight to see. Keith picked up his daughter, and put her on his lap. She was still clutching the doll, not about to part with it. He beamed at Susan, and raised his voice. “A Princess for my own little princess. Perfect!”

The doll was paid off, with never a question about why Don was so keen to sell it. As Susan grew, it remained a firm favourite. When asked to give it a name, Susan replied “Sarah”. They smiled, as they knew that was the name of the class teacher at her new school. But Sarah it was. Keith seemed a little put out that his suggestion of Princess wan’t acceptable, but he soon forgot it. Helen looked around for a job with the appropriate hours, and was very pleased to find one in a nearby factory canteen. She didn’t mind dishing up breakfasts and lunches for the employees. She revelled in the banter, and the outside contact, and she was always finished in time to collect her daughter from school.

With the extra income from that job, Keith bought them their first family car. It was ten years old, but it gave them a freedom they could never have imagined. Days out at the seaside, picnics in the woods, and a one week holiday at the coast, the following summer. Keith even taught her to drive, and she was thrilled at passing her Driving Test first time. Helen had never been happier. But she agreed with Keith to wait until having more children, and he continued to use protection. As Susan got older, her bond with Keith grew more solid. He did as much as he could with her, even taking her out some weekends, to give Helen a break. As her daughter was approaching her tenth birthday, Helen was remarkably content. Perhaps they would have another child, next year.

Then one day, she was dusting in Susan’s bedroom. It was a Saturday afternoon, and Keith had taken Susan to the park.

She heard a voice coming from behind her and turned in panic, thinking someone was in the house. The voice was clear and steady, and sounded a lot like one of the newsreaders on television. Authoritative, and calm.
“Have you ever asked yourself why your husband does so much with your daughter? Do you never wonder why he spends such a long time getting her off to sleep at night? And what about her baths? Why does he always insist on being the one to help her get undressed, and to wash her in the bath? You are not a stupid woman. You know Susan is getting too old for such attention now. Ask him just how much he adores his little princess. Ask him what he has been doing to her ever since she was old enough to walk. Ask him how far that has progressed since her body has started to develop. Go on, ask him”.

Helen walked back, and rested against the wall. She was scared and confused, but the words she had heard made her think of some things that she had asked herself, and then dismissed from her mind. The voice had been loud, and the origin unclear. But the only thing of note in the room was the doll, Sarah, and she couldn’t deny that the sound had seemed to come from that.

Helen walked downstairs, away from the doll. She needed time to think.

When they got back, she told Susan to go upstairs to her room. “Read a book, or play. I need to talk to your Dad”. Keith was smiling, unaware what it was Helen wanted to say. She asked him the questions. Every fibre of her being was hoping that he would laugh. He would wonder what she was going on about. He would tell her she had a screw loose. Susan was his daughter, his little princess. He would never contemplate dong anything like that with his own daughter. But none of that happened. His face flushed, but amazingly, he tried to justify himself.

“It’s her, Helen. She loves me. Too much maybe, but I love her too. She’s always been my princess. It just happened, then it carried on. I have never hurt her. She always wanted it too. If you want, we can stop, but Susan won’t want to, I can tell you that now”.

Helen was very calm. She turned to face the sofa, and slid the knitting needles out of the ball of wall. As she turned back, she let out a cry that sounded like an animal in pain, before plunging both the thick needles into Keith’s neck. he staggered backwards, and fell onto the floor making a gurgling noise. Without waiting to see what she had done, she strode upstairs, and grabbed her daughter. “We are going out, Susan. A nice ride somewhere”. Taking the keys from the hall stand, she went out to the car with her daughter, and started to drive.

The had gone over ninety miles before Helen noticed that Susan was clutching the doll.

As they passed through a village, she saw a junk shop called Aladdin’s Cave. Grabbing the doll from Susan, she walked into the shop, leaving the car engine running. As the man approached her she held out her arm stiffly. “How much for this? But it has to be cash. I just need money for petrol. It’s an antique, so don’t take the piss”. Ted looked at her warily. She looked insane, and he was sure that was blood on her sleeve. He took a five-pound note from his wallet, and passed it over in silence. She grabbed the money and ran back to her waiting car.

Helen just had to keep driving.

February 1957. Maureen Hall adds to her collection.

Don Hall had an easy war, compared to many. Including his older brother, who had been killed at El Alamein. He had been conscripted late on, and ended up being trained to operate a crane at Plymouth docks. The flap was on for a big invasion, and boats needed to be loaded. His poor military aptitude had not really improved during basic training and he ended up in the Pioneers; loading trucks, and digging ditches or trenches. But they had taught him to operate digger machinery and cranes, and that stood him in good stead when it was all over.

His brother Frank had got engaged to Maureen in late nineteen-forty, not long after he joined up, and before he left for service overseas. After Frank got killed, she was always around the house. She would pop in for a cup of tea, or come over for lunch on a Sunday. Don got used to her, and though she was four years older, she had a rather childish way about her. Once he was established at the works, he talked to her about their future, and she readily agreed to marry him. It was a small affair, as it usually was for working people back then. They moved into a small house, and Maureen carried on working as a typist at the Town Hall. Nobody thought it was strange that he had married his brother’s girlfriend. Most considered it to be a good deed.

When little Reggie came along, Maureen turned out to be a natural mother. Don liked to see her so happy with the baby, and reassured himself that he had made a good choice. Then one night, Maureen looked worried. She came downstairs to tell him that the baby was very hot. “He’s too hot, Don. I think he should see a doctor, love”. Don walked up to Mr Wilkins’ house. He had a phone, and was happy to let Don use it to ring the doctor. They had an anxious wait, with little Reggie screaming the place down, and a tearful Maureen sponging her son’s body with cold water. Old Doctor Baxter was a dour Scot, but he knew his business. As he drove off to arrange an ambulance, and emergency admission to the city’s Children’s Hospital, his face was grim. “Scarlet Fever, I’m afraid, Mr Hall. He’s critically ill, that’s the truth of it”.

Reggie didn’t even make it through the weekend.

Maureen cried for almost a month, and it was five weeks before she could face returning to work. Don had given up trying to console her, and kept up a manly resolve with his workmates. Someone had to keep earning, and he would let his wife recover in her own time.

She had been back at work for three weeks when she brought home the first doll. Maureen asked Don to make a shelf, and to fit it across one end of the living room, just high enough for her to be able to reach. After that, she generally bought one a month, often sending off advertisement coupons that she saw in women’s magazines. When Sandra up the street started to run a mail-order catalogue, Maureen ordered some much more expensive dolls, as she was able to pay it off in small weekly amounts over the whole year. After a couple of years had passed, the shelf was full, and she was on at him to build another one just underneath it. He had tried to talk to her about maybe having another baby, but she refused to discuss it. Doctor Baxter had put her on pills for her nerves, and she didn’t cope well with any confrontation.

It wasn’t the money that annoyed him. He earned well, and Maureen had enough from her Town Hall job to buy what she liked. He just thought it was childish for a grown woman to have a collection of dressed-up dolls, and to give them all names. He often wondered if she talked to them, when he wasn’t around. Still, he knew what she was like when he married her. As his Dad would have said, ‘you made your bed, now you have to lie in it’.

He started to save up for a car instead. He had his eye on a used Ford Anglia, in a local dealership. It was a bit pricey at close to three hundred, but once he had the deposit, he would be sure to qualify for a loan for the rest. He was fed up cycling to work, and having to get a train for any short holiday they managed to take. He put away some of his wages every week, hiding the ten-shilling notes in an old cigar box where he kept an assortment of nails.

He talked to Maureen about the car, and she agreed to cut back on her spending on dolls. Christmas was quiet, and Don was content enough, anticipating that car in the new year. By the middle of February, he counted up the contents of the box. He needed twenty-five for the deposit, and luckily the car was still for sale. All the ten-shilling notes were spilled out onto the candlewick bedspread, and he counted them excitedly. Twenty-three pounds and ten shillings. By the beginning of March he would have enough. The next day, he went and had another chat with the car salesman, asking him to let him know if anyone else showed interest. “I will be back with the deposit, first week of March. That’s guaranteed”.

It took a few days before Don noticed the new doll on the top shelf. It was in pride of place in the centre, resplendent in a red hood with blonde hair cascading out of it. It was certainly better-looking than most of the other dolls that his wife had collected, but he didn’t much like the way it seemed to stare at him. When Maureen got back from the shops, he didn’t mention it to her, reluctant to start an argument. He did think it was unusual that she hadn’t spoken to him about the doll though. She usually made a big deal out of what she called, ‘introducing her husband’.

On payday, he hurried home to add the two ten-shilling notes to his box. Retrieving it from the hiding place on top of a kitchen cupboard, he pulled the notes from the brown pay envelope, keen to get them tucked away before Maureen got in from work. Opening the box, he gasped at what he saw. A few assorted tacks and nails, but no money. He reached up and ran his hand around the dust on top of the cupboard, a sinking feeling already telling him that the money could not have just fallen out of a closed box. He picked it up, and walked through to the living room. Sitting stone-faced in his armchair, he stared at the hallway, waiting to hear her key in the door.

The voice made him jump, and he looked around the room. It was his brother Frank’s voice, no mistaking that.

“Don old mate, she really took you for a mug. She knew about your box all along, and was just waiting until you had enough. Enough for her to buy me”. Don turned in the direction of the voice, and stood up, walking over to the shelf. “I always new she was a bit simple, but I never thought she would splash out over twenty-three quid of your cash on a stupid doll. I reckon that Jerry did me a favour, when he shot me in Egypt”. The voice was definitely coming from the doll. And it was undeniably Frank’s voice. Don put his face close to the cupid lips, and Frank’s voice grew quieter. “I hope you’re not going to let the silly cow get away with it, I really do”.

The sound of the door closing snapped him out of it, and as his wife walked into the room, he turned, the box falling from his hands onto the carpet. Maureen’s face turned bright red. “Er, hello, love. I meant to talk to you about that. It was an absolute bargain, it’s an antique you see”. His hands were around her throat before she could say any more. Behind him, he could hear Frank chuckling. “That’s it, Don old mate. Give her what for”. Maureen’s hands opened, and she dropped her string shopping bag and handbag as she reached up to try to pull Don’s hands from around her neck. But he was too strong for her, and he soon felt her body slump in his grasp.

It was already dark, but Don could see well enough to dig the trench in his back garden. He was good at digging trenches, and had dug many in pitch darkness in the past. When it was deep enough, he went back inside and lifted Maureen’s body in his strong arms. By the time she was covered up, he was getting hungry, and went back in to wash his hands, and make himself a fried egg sandwich. As he ate that, he looked up at the now silent doll, and allowed himself a satisfied grin.

He knew a bloke at work who would buy that.

August 1947. Captain De Vere receives an inheritance.

Henry De Vere came from a military family. He could trace back the long line of soldiers in his ancestors to an officer who had served in the army of Queen Elizabeth the first. As a teenager at boarding school, he had joined the Officer Training Corps, and it was accepted that he would enter a good regiment with a commission. Young Henry was not considered aristocratic enough for the elite troops, such as the various regiments of Foot Guards. He found himself posted to the Warwickshire Regiment, a nervous subaltern having to get used to the routine of life on the camp.

Applying himself well to administrative duties, and managing to get in with the senior officers at the Officer’s Mess, it wasn’t long before he found himself promoted to Captain, in command of a company. At the Regimental Ball of 1938, he was introduced to Penelope Henderson, the daughter of the town’s Lord Mayor. They got on well, and there was talk of an engagement. Penelope met his few elderly surviving relatives, and was deemed suitable. The wedding was planned for the following spring, and Henry wore his dress uniform for the occasion. Life for the young couple started off very well indeed.

Then Germany invaded Poland.

By the time his regiment left for France as part of The British Expeditionary Force, a tearful Penelope was already pregnant. He kissed her goodbye at the railway station, little knowing he would not see her again for many years.

The retreat to Dunkirk was a shambles. Henry’s company had seen little of the fighting, and he paled at the news that they were to be left behind, as part of the rearguard. The soldiers crowded around him as he gave them their orders. Grim-faced, they went up to their hastily-fortified positions, and awaited the arrival of the enemy. There was little they could do except delay the inevitable, buying time for the evacuation at the coast. The Germans facing them were well-organised, and well-equipped. After a desperate but all too short defence, the Colonel told Henry that they would surrender as planned, to reduce casualties.

Henry and the survivors of his company were marched off, to face the long journey to a prisoner of war camp deep inside Germany.

When the camp was liberated in 1945, a thinner, slightly nervous Captain Henry De Vere had his hand shaken by some noisy American soldiers. They pressed cigarettes and chocolate bars into his hands, and one produced a looted bottle of Moselle, which was joyfully passed around. It was weeks before they got back to England.

Henry arranged to meet his wife, and the son he had never seen, at the home of his in-laws. The boy was shy, but managed a formal handshake with his father. Penelope burst into tears, and wouldn’t let go of Henry’s arm. Over the next few weeks, they got used to each other again, and Henry returned to his duties as a regular soldier. He rented a smart apartment off the camp, and went home as often as he could. His son, named Henry after him, went back to boarding school, which had been arranged in his absence by Penelope’s father. A second pregnancy was confirmed, and they were delighted to be expecting a second child. And they managed quite well, given the post-war shortages. Not long after Lily was born, Henry received an official-looking letter.

He read it twice, before going through to the nursery to show it to Penelope. “My Great Aunt Agatha has died. I hardly knew her, barley remember her at all. But she has left me everything”. With Penelope busy with the baby, Henry travelled down to London alone for the meeting with the solicitor. It was more than he had dreamed. Enough to live a life of luxury indeed, as well as the twelve-bedroom manor house, extensive grounds and land, with tenant farmers providing even more income. It came with a housekeeper and daily staff, a gardener, even a limousine and chauffeur. As soon as he got home, Henry made the arrangements to put in his papers, and resigned his commission in the army.

They were collected at the station, with the rest of their things and more luggage following later. The car was rather ancient, but also very grand, and well-maintained. Henry didn’t remember the house at all, and he joined in with his wife’s gasp as they saw it at the end of a long driveway. A lovely old house in the Palladian style, it continued to impress once they got inside.
Mrs Fry met them in the hallway. She was the housekeeper, and lived in a small cottage in the old mews at the rear of the house. She wasn’t married, but housekeepers were traditionally known as Mrs. She explained that the other staff lived out, mostly in the nearby village. Including the Estate Manager, who looked after all the business and financial affairs. Rooms had been prepared for them and baby Lily, and lunch would be served in one hour.

After the first few days getting to know their house and surroundings, and Henry meeting with the Estate Manager to get an overview of his land and responsibilities, this new life began to become exceedingly dull. Penelope didn’t seem to notice, fussing over Lily, and eagerly anticipating their son returning from school for the holidays. But for Henry, it seemed pointless. Once he had walked the length of his estates, had stilted conversations with his tenant farmers, gardener, and gamekeeper, he soon lost interest. Everyone still called him ‘Captain De Vere’, a tradition that former rank stayed with you, once you had left the army. He spent more time alone in his study, deep in both thought, and the expensive Cognac he had been pleased to discover in the wine cellars.

Wandering around the house in a daze one afternoon, he spotted a large domed glass case on a console table in the drawing room. Inside it was a dressed doll. It had blonde hair, and very large, staring eyes. When Mrs Fry appeared, carrying some cushions that needed darning, he asked her about the doll. “Oh that was your great aunt’s favourite, Captain Sir. French it is, so she said. Valuable too, an antique likely as not. I wasn’t ever allowed to touch it, so just dusted the case. Still do. She called it Marguerite. Without telling tales, I can tell you she used to talk to it too. Had regular little chats, them two”. She smiled, and carried on about her business.

Life went on much the same for the next few years. Henry bought a new car, much to the dismay of the chauffeur, who dearly loved the old one. He shook his head as he complained to Mrs Fry. “It’s not as if they even go anywhere”. All the time spent in his study caused a rift with Penelope, and they ended up sleeping in separate rooms. And when young Henry was home from school, his father’s complete failure to interact with him made her quietly furious. She spent her time playing with Lily, and when it was time for her to start school, she engaged a private tutor, so her daughter didn’t have to leave the house.

Late one night, Henry’s nocturnal wandering took him back into the drawing room, and he stared at the doll under its dome. Swilling the large measure of Cognac around in the glass, he wondered what his old aunt used to say to the stupid-looking thing.

The voice was that of Sergeant Tanner, Even after all these years, he would have recognised it anywhere. His company sergeant major had been shot and killed, trying to escape from the prisoner of war camp, in 1943.

“We know it was you, Captain. All of us do. You filthy coward and collaborator. You told the krauts about the escape attempt. No idea why, but we know it was you. You never had any guts, we all knew that as soon as we got to France. You got good men killed to keep yourself safe. We all know that, and pretty soon everyone else will know that too”. Henry managed to hold on to the glass, but his hand was shaking. Tanner’s voice was coming from the doll, he knew there was no doubt about that. He must have had too much to drink, and allowed his conscience to create an illusion. He turned and headed up to his room, leaving the unfinished brandy on a side table.

Perhaps he could arrange for the doll to be removed, and stored in the loft? But how would he explain that? Lily always loved to look at it, and it was a feature of the drawing room. Besides, it had almost certainly been his imagination, even though it was undeniably his former sergeant who had spoken to him. He would just keep away from the drawing room, and it would never happen again. One sunny afternoon as he sat shuffling papers aimlessly in his study, Mrs Fry knocked on the door and walked in. “It’s Mr Lee, the Estate Manager, Captain Sir. He wants to see you about something. I have shown him into the drawing room”.

Henry sat with his back to the glass dome as Lee droned on about minor roof repairs that would be necessary, and how Tom the gardener needed a new motor mower to manage the lawns effectively. As he reached into his briefcase for some mower catalogues, Henry heard Tanner’s voice from behind him. “Shall I tell him, Captain? Shall I make him hear me, and tell him how you squealed to the krauts about out secret radio? How you got Corporal Tomlinson put in solitary for stealing potatoes, and how he died of pneumonia because of that? Or shall I let him know how you told them about the escape, and got good men shot, including me? Where shall I start, you filthy coward?”.

Mr Lee showed no sign of hearing anything. He just opened one of the glossy catalogues, and tapped his finger on it. “I recommend one of these, Captain. They are expensive to buy new, but should be more reliable in the long term”. Henry opened his mouth to reply, and the voice spoke up again. “Maybe I will tell the local newspaper instead. What do you think about that? Imagine the shame, the man from the famous military family turning out a coward and collaborator. So much for the war hero, the poor prisoner who came home to his wife, and a good inheritance. Yeah, maybe I’ll do that”. Henry stood up. “Whatever you think best, Mr Lee. I will leave all that in your capable hands”. Lee picked up his case and catalogues, shook the Captain’s hand, and walked out. As Henry followed him, Tanner’s voice became more threatening.

“Or you could do the right thing. You know, the decent thing. It’s either that, or face the shame, I’m warning you”.

Three days later, and Henry hadn’t slept at all. Tanner’s voice repeated over and over in his head, and he could see the faces of all those he had betrayed, appearing in his mind. After drinking almost a full bottle of Cognac, he opened the drawer of his desk, and took out the service revolver he had kept when he left the army. Nobody had ever got around to asking for its return. Checking it was loaded, he walked slowly upstairs.

Penelope woke up in hysterics as the first shot through the bedclothes hit her in the thigh. Henry walked closer for the second shot, which went straight through her exposed throat. Lily hadn’t even been awakened by the loud noises by the time he went into her room, and he shot her in the back of the head as she slept. Once was enough. It hardly seemed worth going anywhere else, so Henry put the warm barrel of the pistol into his open mouth, and pulled the trigger.

Young Master Henry had no intention of returning to the house. It would all be sold, including its contents, the farms and adjoining lands. He had decided to try his luck in Australia. A new life, far from the painful memories. The small things were packed up by a tearful Mrs Fry, to be sent to auction. A canny auctioneer decided to sell the glass dome separately to fetch more money, and the doll attracted some reasonable interest on its own.

The excitable woman who bought it gave her name as Mrs Maureen Hall.

April 1912. Agatha De Vere Finds a doll in the water.

A holiday would be nice, she decided. Agatha wrote to the shipping agent, enclosing a cheque for two first class tickets. Bea would love it, she had always wanted to see America. She allowed herself a warm smile. Wait until the tickets arrive, how delighted she will be.

Agatha De Vere had never married. She didn’t actually care for men that much, and had been relieved when her father hadn’t returned from military service in India. Fever, they said, but the diagnosis wasn’t specific. Buried quickly, given the heat. Then her brother Alfred went into the army, and she was left alone in the house with mother and the servants. Mother rarely left her bedroom, living her life in a laudanum haze. It seemed that she had never recovered from the shock of her wedding night, and the terrible realisation of just what her wifely duties would involve.

It wasn’t long before she expired, drifting off to sleep one night, and never waking up. Alfred had married in India, where he was serving with the cavalry. A plain girl, by all accounts. Dumpy, and unprepossessing. The daughter of some clerk with the Civil Service. Just like Alfred to take the easy option. Agatha relished being the Mistress of the house in his absence, and brightened the interior considerably. The family had plenty of money, and she thought it was high time that some of it was spent. Her next plan was to find herself a companion, and she wrote to a recruitment agency in London, that specialised in such things.

The first to arrive was Anna. A tall girl from Germany, she spoke passable English, played the piano, and her needlework was exemplary. A natural blonde with a slim figure, Agatha took to her immediately. But her attempts to become closer than just employer and companion were not reciprocated. Anna made it quite clear that she was not welcome in her room. She valued her privacy, apparently. And the occasional straying of a hand onto her shoulder or long neck always resulted in a flinch. It wasn’t going to work. Anna had to go.

Felicity arrived next. An attractive young woman from a formerly influential family that had fallen upon hard times after bad investments. Agatha thought she might be promising indeed, but once she was settled in, she talked constantly of her love of men. She drooled over their moustaches, and their fine figures in dress suits. One day she went so far as to comment that the new coachman was ‘built like a young stallion’. Not suitable at all.
Felicity had to go.

She decided to try again, six months later. Beatrice was far from what she expected in a companion. Barely middle class, from humble origins in a forgettable mill town, she was short and buxom, and spoke no languages.
She had read very little of note, and could not sew above darning her father’s socks. But her eyes were large and enticing, and she could sing. Oh, how she could sing. She loved the modern songs of the day, and Agatha ordered the sheet music for them, so she could accompany her singing on the piano in the music room. More importantly, she doted on her new employer, and expressed a desire that they should become great friends. After dinner, they would sit quietly in front of the fire, and Agatha would feel the excitement of knowing Bea’s eyes were upon her.

When she had waited long enough with trembling anticipation, she went to Bea’s room late one night, dressed only in her nightgown. The two women exchanged a knowing look, and Bea moved across the bed, turning back the covers in invitation.

Beatrice would stay.

The following years were the best in Agatha’s life, and in Beatrice’s too. They kept up a veneer of respectability around the house, and had to accept that they could never openly declare their love. Instead, foreign travel provided an escape, and a chance to avoid gossiping servants, or busybody villagers.
The delights of Rome and Florence, and exotic bazaars in Cairo and Marrakesh. Beatrice expanded her knowledge along with her horizons, and Agatha joyously welcomed her devoted attentions, as well as her loving embraces.

Now they would see America. Well, New York to start with, then perhaps travel to the emerging west. And they would do it in style, on board the most luxurious ship afloat. RMS Titanic certainly lived up to its name. As they boarded the ship in Southampton, Bea was wide-eyed at the sheer scale and grandeur of it. They were to share a beautiful stateroom too, one of the best and most expensive on the vessel. When they closed the door to the huge cabin, Bea turned and kissed Agatha passionately. “Thank you, my dearest love. Oh, thank you so”, she whispered breathlessly.

The first days on board were simply marvellous. Their status as first class passengers had them hobnobbing with famous people of the day, and the conversation at the dinner table was refined and most interesting. Wonderful food and unlimited drinks added to the feel of decadence, leading the pair to retire early most evenings, to make the most of their time alone.

As they slept soundly together one night, satiated, and blissfully happy in their dreams, they were awoken by a sound of general disturbance, and a steward rapping hard against their door. Bea quickly wrapped a shawl around her nightgown, and opened the door just a little. The man didn’t seem too desperate, but his tone was urgent. “Begging your pardon Miss, but the First Officer says that everyone is to get dressed, and come up on deck. We are going to have to abandon ship, I’m afraid. Something has gone wrong. Bring no luggage mind, and wrap up warm”. Bea turned and looked at the bed. Agatha was sitting up, and had heard him. As she swung her legs out of bed, she smiled at her lover. “I hope this is not some sort of stupid drill, Bea. It’s cold out there”.

They were handed life-jackets, and sailors showed them how to tie them on. The ship wasn’t moving at all, but seemed stable in the water. Perhaps it was a drill after all, Agatha thought. A polite officer helped Agatha into a seat next to a rather brash American woman, who was encouraging everyone not to panic. Nobody was panicking, so why was she going on about it? The officer stepped back onto the deck to offer a hand to Beatrice. As she walked forward, the bows of the ship dipped slightly, and the lifeboat swung away from the side of the ship.

Bea stepped into thin air, and plummeted silently down the side of the ship, straight into the freezing cold sea. Two sailors heaved a lifebelt over the side, a huge circular thing, with the name of the ship printed on it. The crew of the lifeboat began to lower it down hurriedly, hoping to be able to get to the woman who had gone over the side.

Agatha’s eyes searched the black ocean until they grew raw from the salt spray. She was never to see her beloved Beatrice again. As they pulled away from the sinking ship, she saw something floating on the surface, attracted to it by a flash of yellow shown up in the rocket flares being fired from the deck. It was hair. Blonde hair.

Reaching over the side, she plucked the waterlogged doll from the waves, and clutched it to her breast.

January 1906. Lisette’s new doll.

Claude Fenelon adored his little girl. When he saw the doll in the shop window, he knew he just had to get it for her. Little Lisette was the apple of his eye, and as her mother had died in childbirth, he spent as much time with her as he could. When he had to work, she was cared for by his spinster sister, Violette. But she was an unhappy woman, and he regretted having to rely on her.

His printing business was doing well, so the high price asked for the doll was of no concern to Claude. He took it home, and hid it behind his back as he walked into the house. As the three year-old ran to him excitedly, he produced the doll, and she stopped in her tracks, mouth wide open. “Papa, Papa”. He scooped her into his arms, delighted at the expression on her face. Violette brought the plates in from the kitchen, a sour look on her pinched features. “You spoil that girl, brother. Mark my words, it will make her bad”. Claude continued smiling. “Bad? My Lisette? Look at her. How could such a little angel ever be bad?”

Work was busier than ever. New orders for pamphlets were coming in thick and fast, so Claude and his employees had to work long hours. Arriving home tired at night, he had no time to play with his beloved daughter, as she was already asleep. One night as he was eating his reheated soup, Violette came and sat next to him at the table. That was unusual, as she generally retired to her own room, once Lisette was in bed. “I have to talk to you brother, something important”. He put down his spoon.

“I am worried about Lisette. Ever since she got that doll, she has been acting strangely. She sits and whispers to it, and laughs as if it is replying. Her speaking is coming on beyond her years, and she has started to talk back to me too, becoming defiant at times. On Monday, she called me an old witch. How does she even know about witches? And she told me its name is Mirabelle. She claims that the doll told her that. I sent her to her room, and took the doll from her. She cried all afternoon”. Claude had to pacify his sister, he needed her. But he hated any criticism of his wonderful child. “It might be a phase, Violette. I will talk to her at the weekend, when I have time on Sunday. And if her talking and words is coming on well, then so much the better I say”. He returned to his soup, indicating that he wanted to hear no more of it.

The winter was a bad one. Paris was shrouded in mist and fog, and the air tasted bad in the mouths of the people. Violette developed a nasty cough, and the best efforts of Doctor Boudet failed to cure her. He came to speak to Claude one evening, after examining her in her room. “Her lungs are shot, my friend. She has to go into hospital. I fear the worst, I am sorry to say.” Claude was forced to employ a woman from an agency to look after Lisette whilst he worked. She was professional and efficient, but lacking in warmth. At least he knew that his daughter was safe while he was at work. His sister continued to deteriorate, and he paid for her to go to a sanitarium in the Alps. Just six weeks later, she was dead. Claude made an arrangement with the woman, a widow named Madame Doucet. She would move into Violette’s old room, and act as both housekeeper and carer for the child.

Surprisingly, the arrangement worked. Lisette adapted well to the new situation. And it wasn’t long before familiarity, and her shapely figure, made Claude become interested too. Six months later, they married. Marianne, his new wife, had relatives in Canada. They lived in the province of Quebec, and wrote to her about the marvellous opportunities in that country. Waving the latest letter at him over breakfast, Marianne was full of enthusiasm. “Montreal is the place to be, Claude. The world would be our oyster over there, I tell you”. He found himself thinking a lot about what she had said. Quebec was a French-speaking part of Canada, and he could continue his business in his own language, without too much difficulty. Marianne’s family there would help, and getting out of Paris might be good for them all, including his daughter.

In bed that night, Lisette spoke to the doll, telling Mirabelle what she had overheard. “Papa and Mama Marianne are thinking of going to live in Canada. What do you think about that? Should we go?” She raised the doll’s head to her ear, and nodded, breaking into a wide smile. “Of course you will come with us, Mirabelle. I would never leave you behind”.

It took some time to make all the arrangements. The printing machinery was sold, with different companies bidding for it guaranteeing a good price. Claude even arranged for some of his workers to find jobs at other printers, and the house and contents would be auctioned later. They would stay with Marianne’s uncle and aunt at first, then once the rest of the money arrived from France, he would set up a business with accommodation above. Start small at first. His new wife was beside herself with excitement, even flinging her arms around Lisette, and kissing her head. “You will love your new life in Canada my dear, I promise you”.

By the time the financial situation was in hand, it was proving difficult to get tickets on any ship sailing for Canada. Claude contacted an agent at Cherbourg, and the man made alternative arrangements for the following week. They would travel by ship to England, then get a train to Southampton. Then a ship to New York, and from there another train across the border to Montreal. It would be a long and complicated journey, but the excitement of that new life made them forget any concerns. Lisette seemed very grown up to Claude now, taking care of her own packing, and making sure to include her cherished doll. To save money, Claude had purchased third class tickets, one-way of course. They would have their own small cabin with four bunks, and eat in the canteen with all the others. Marianne didn’t mind at all. Her head was full of Canada.

As they boarded the huge liner, Lisette stared at the name painted on it. She spelled out the letters in her head, then tried to pronounce them.

“Tee-Ton-Ique”.

People were screaming, and Claude woke with a start. The only natural light in their cramped quarters came from the small porthole window. But there was no light, because it was the middle of the night. As he opened the door, water was already coming in, lapping around his feet. The corridor outside was jammed solid with people. Women were screaming, men shouting, everyone pushing against the crush of bodies in the small space. Lisette lay on the top bunk, eyes drooping, still half-asleep. She was clutching Mirabelle tightly to her neck, when the doll suddenly spoke to her, an unusual urgency in its voice.

“Save me, Lisette. You must save me. Open the window and throw me out. Someone will find me”.

Tears streaming down her face, the girl wrestled with the stiff catch on the window. As it opened freezing air rushed in, making her gasp. With one last kiss on its cupid lips, she dropped Mirabelle through the opening.

The Fenelon family would never see Canada after all.

June 1901. Marcel buys a doll.

He wasn’t certain if it was the blonde hair or the cupid lips that first caught his attention, but Marcel knew immediately that he had to have her. He fixed a smile as he entered the small shop, his story prepared. As usual, he had never shopped there before. It had to be a different shop every time, or they might get to know him too well. The female assistant returned his smile as he spoke. “The doll in the window, with the blonde hair and red hood. Can I see it please?” Her eyebrows raised, and she tilted her head. “Oh I see that Monsieur has excellent taste. That is by one of the finest doll makers in the country”.

When she handed it over, the feel of the material and the sight of the delicate lace almost took his breath away. After a few seconds, he handed it back. “Thank you, I will take it”. The assistant hesitated, as she hadn’t mentioned the price. The customer looked respectable enough, but his shoes were worn, and the cuffs of his shirt had been turned. “Did you see the small label with the price, Monsieur? Dolls of this quality don’t come cheap, I’m afraid”. What she said was true enough. It would eat up almost half of his savings, but would be worth it. Opening his wallet, he spoke in a cheery tone. “Please gift wrap the doll. It is a present for my niece for her birthday next week”. As he counted out the notes, his fingers were trembling.

Marcel Vannier had no living relatives.

After leaving with the doll, he stopped at a shabby-looking haberdashery shop on the next corner. Haggling with the almost-toothless owner got him some red velvet and a scarlet ribbon for a reasonable price. But he would have to make do without the lace, which was too expensive. Clutching both parcels, he hurried home to his three-room apartment in a run down area of Paris. Saturday afternoons and Sundays were his only free time, and he knew how to make the best of them. He had left his home in a village near Dijon to find work in Paris as a legal clerk, and these Parisians knew how to work you. Ten hours a day, and a half-day on Saturdays too. But at least it gave him the freedom and anonymity he sought.

In the spare room, he started work on the outfit without even taking off his jacket. With the new doll perched on the edge of his work table, he studied it carefully as he cut the material into shape. If he worked fast into the night, it might be ready tomorrow. In the early hours, eyes red and sore from the close work, he took one last look at the completed outfit, wrapped around the dressmaker’s mannequin. The shelves behind were lined with dressed dolls of all shapes and sizes, and the walls covered in sewing patterns, or pages cut from magazines. Bending to pick up the large oil lamp, he walked through into his living room,, and the small bed in the corner. He was in need of sleep.

Awake early on Sunday, Marcel walked through to the workroom excitedly. He was soon looking through his cupboards and drawers, selecting the best hosiery and underwear. Once he had applied the rouge and make up, he tried on the latest outfit. When topped off with a blonde wig from his extensive collection, he looked exactly like the new doll. At least he told himself that. Prancing around the small room in a pair of specially-made side-button half-boots, he spoke to the rows of assembled, silent dolls. “What do you think, girls? Do I look divine? Better than any woman, I am sure you will agree?” He sat on the stool by his work bench, ruffling his skirts and petticoats, smiling coquettishly into his reflection in the small mirror. Today was going to be a wonderful day, he was sure of it. Later on, he might even wear his favourite black dress with the veil, over the front-lacing corset he had commissioned. He looked wonderful as a widow.

As he set off on a tour around his three rooms, the sharp heels clicking on the bare boards, he thought he heard something. Standing still, he listened again.

“You should try a white dress, a bridal gown. You would indeed be a beautiful bride”.

The voice was that of a young woman; soft, and rather seductive. Could someone be in the apartment? But there were just three rooms, and the door was locked. As he hesitated, he heard it again. “More fetching than any woman I have ever seen. Dress for me, and I will adore you”. His head turned with a snap. The voice was coming from the row of dolls near the work-table. He edged closer, despite feeling a little afraid. “I will tell you what suits you best. What goes with your colouring, how to do your make-up, and how to entrance anyone”. There was no doubt it was the new doll, the one with the scarlet ribbon that matched the one he was also wearing. Marcel was no longer afraid. In fact, he was flattered.

“A bride you say? Yes, I would make a delightful blushing bride indeed”. That evening, he wore the black dress. He had never felt better in his life.

As soon as he could get out of work the next Saturday, he went to the garment district. A long walk, but worth it. The white silk material was terribly expensive, as were the white silk stockings, and white underwear. Unable to get any soft white shoes in his size, he settled for a pair that would be too small. He would just have to force his feet into them. At least the material for the veil was cheap, and he could wear his late grandmother’s jewellery to set off the ensemble. It took all night to make, and he had no time to sleep before trying it on late the next morning. Tottering painfully into the workroom in the ill-fitting shoes, he curtsied before the doll. The voice he heard was still soft.

“Oh, how wonderful. You truly are the most lovely bride I have ever seen. From now on, I shall call you Marcella”.

The next few years were some of the best Marcel had ever known. With the help of the doll, he transformed himself into a beautiful woman, every weekend. Her tips on style were perfect, and she had ideas he would never have thought of. But the satisfaction came at a price. Buying new material every weekend had wiped out his savings. The doll insisted he get new underwear and shoes for each new outfit too. He had to use the same shops more than once, and his constant search for female shoes in the largest possible sizes was beginning to attract unwelcome remarks. He had also missed some Mondays at work due to being so tired. His employer was irritated by his feeble excuses, and gave him a warning that the next time he didn’t turn up, he would lose his job.

Struggling to get by on his wages alone, his savings gone, he started to sell off many of the dolls in his extensive collection. Eventually, only two remained. The small Widow Doll dressed in black, and the one that spoke to him. She would not tell him if she had a name, so he called her ‘Red Ribbon’. As he reached for the Widow Doll late one evening, Red Ribbon suddenly spoke. This time, the voice was not soft. It was sharp, and strident. “So you are going to sell her, are you?” I thought it would come to this. Well I warn you now, if you ever think of selling me, I will tell everyone about Marcella, and what you do every weekend. Don’t think I can’t do that. Your employer will know, your landlord will now. You will have no job, and be cast out onto the streets, laughed at everywhere you go”. Marcel snatched the Widow Doll, and ran out of the room.

On the following Saturday, he used the last of his cash to buy the claret coloured material to make the dress Red Ribbon had demanded to see him in. It was a complex design, and not finished until Sunday afternoon. Exhausted, he dressed as he had been told to, and presented himself to the doll for inspection. The comment was less than flattering this time. “I suppose it will have to do”. Marcel didn’t wake up until almost ten that Monday, and he was still wearing the dress, and full make-up. By the time he got cleaned up and changed, he didn’t get to work until after eleven. His employer looked at him with dead eyes. “Don’t even bother to sit down, Vannier. You are finished here, and will get no reference”. As Marcel tried a flimsy excuse, the man held up his hand, and turned his back.

There was no money for food, or for coal. As he sat shivering in his living room, Marcel pondered his bleak future. Eviction, wandering around looking for work, the possible indignity of labouring for a living. Existing on handouts as a beggar perhaps, in a city full of beggars. He could sell the dresses, but who would they fit? Then what would he wear, for his only diversion and obsession? And now that he no longer had anything to lose, he could sell Red Ribbon. But what he could get for her would only last a few days at the most. He gave a deep sigh, and made a decision.

Two stockings would be enough. They will stretch nicely, he thought to himself as he tied them together to fashion a noose. The only thing strong enough to hold his weight was the large bracket supporting the highest shelf on the wall of his workroom. He walked through with a sense of purpose, and dragged the stool over from the table. Kneeling on the seat, he tied the stocking around the cold metal, then pulled on it with all his might. It was good. It would hold. Before he could slip the loop around his neck and climb up to stand on the stool, Red Ribbon shouted from across the room.

“Wait!” He stopped and turned, looking directly at the doll. “You should wear your black dress, the widow ensemble. It is definitely your best look, and you will want to be looking your best when they find you, won’t you?” Marcel smiled. The doll was absolutely right.

When no rent had been forthcoming for two weeks, the landlord let himself in. The smell was overpowering, and the sight that greeted him almost too much to take in. He closed the door, and went out into the street to summon a policeman.

Constable Leclerc had been a policeman for almost twenty years, and nothing surprised him any longer. As he waited in the room for the men to come and remove the body, he glanced around. The doll on a shelf looked expensive. He sauntered over, and picked it up. Opening some buttons on his tunic, he stuffed it deep inside.

There was a shop he knew. They would buy it, he was sure.

March 1898. Patricia Froment is unwell.

Patrice Froment loved his daughter dearly. He had even named her after himself. She was such a lovely girl, and a great help to his wife, Adele. Almost fourteen, she would soon be leaving school, and he had plans to get her a job where he worked as a toy maker. Her sewing skills were excellent, and he was sure she would do well as an apprentice to their chief seamstress, Madame Paquet. When he got home from work that night, he was concerned to discover that Patricia had taken to her bed. Adele was looking worried. “She said she met a strange woman on the way home from school, close to the street market. The woman looked at her with a mad smile, and touched her face. After that, her head began to hurt, and her vision changed. She feels dizzy, and doesn’t want anything to eat”.

He went straight to his daughter’s room, and was distressed to see her threshing around in the bed, holding her head. She was talking in a language he didn’t understand, but he recognised some words as German. Although her eyes were open, she didn’t appear to see him, or if she did, she certainly didn’t recognise her father. He rushed out of the house, to run and fetch a doctor, leaving his wife crying in the kitchen.

Doctor Monteil was the son of their old doctor, and had recently taken over the practice. He followed Patrice home, urging him to calm down as they walked quickly along the crowded street. Watched over by the Froments, he examined Patricia, a look of concern spreading across his face. “I can find nothing physically wrong with her. In every respect she is a healthy young woman, with strong lungs, and a good pulse. Her bones are good, and her heart seems to be sound. Has anything like this happened before?” The glum couple shook their heads. Adele spoke up. “Never. Not once. She is a calm girl. A good girl, Doctor”. The young man bit his lip. “I imagine it is her nerves. Perhaps an effect of puberty, now she has become a woman”. Patrice blushed. He didn’t like to imagine his daughter in that way. Standing up, the doctor opened his case. “I will give you this powder. Mix it in some water or milk, and make her drink it. It will calm her nerves this evening, and hopefully you will be able to get through to her. I will call tomorrow, at the same time, and see how she is”.

Patrice showed him out, nodding his thanks, and shaking his hand. Adele was already in the kitchen, mixing the powder into a glass.

They could not get her to drink it. She spat it over them, retched uncontrollably, and fought like a Tiger when Patrice tried to hold her head still. Adele tried to force open her mouth with her fingers, and Patricia bit two of them so badly, she drew blood. After numerous attempts, there was almost nothing left of the potion, except some undissolved white powder at the bottom of the glass. Adele was crying, and sucking her torn fingers. Patrice put his arm around his wife. “Come, let’s leave her to rest. She might be her old self after a good sleep”. They both hoped he was right, but both somehow knew he was wrong.

During the night, they were awakened by the sound of screams. Rushing into the bedroom, they saw Patricia sitting bolt upright. An awful smell pervaded the room, indicating that she had messed herself. But there was something else that caught their noses. Sulphur. Their daughter spoke in her normal voice. “Mama, Papa, please help me”. As Patrice lunged forward to comfort her, she spoke again. A man’s voice in a foreign language. He knew immediately that it was German. “Geh weg, Dummkopf. Beginnen Sie von hier”. When they stepped back but failed to leave the room, the same voice spoke in French, adding a chuckle. “Oh, I forgot. Get away you fool, begone from here”. Adele screamed to hear this voice coming from her daughter’s mouth, then fainted.

He had dragged her from the fetid bedroom, and splashed water on her face. As she came round, Adele looked up at him, wide-eyed. “My God, Patrice, what is to be done? Our lovely girl is possessed”. He stroked her face, fighting back his own tears. “Please don’t say that, my love. She is unwell, that’s all. I will make sure she gets the best treatment”. Even to his own ears, his assurances sounded hollow.

When the young doctor returned the following evening, he was shocked to see the state of the couple. Patrice had been forced to go to his work, or he would not have been paid. Adele was wearing the same clothes as yesterday, her breath sour with stomach acid, where she had not eaten a thing. Dark circles surrounded the eyes of the attractive woman, and her husband was visibly trembling. They had told him that they had been unable to give her the nerve medicine, and recounted some of the events of last night. But not the voices. Nor the speaking in German. He went into the bedroom to examine Patricia, her parents standing nervously by the door. Their daughter was still. Eyes open, breathing steadily. She gave no response to the doctor’s questions, and didn’t seem to notice that he was holding his handkerchief over his face, to ward off the unpleasant stench in the room.

Less than two minutes later, he turned and walked out. “This is a definite case of mental disorder, Monsieur Froment. My recommendation is that your daughter be admitted to the asylum of Sainte Anne”. Adele screamed. “Never! Not there. I will care for her. Thank you doctor, my husband will pay your account”.

After three exhausting months, Adele was looking drained and gaunt. Patrice told her to get out of the house. “Go to the park, my love. Perhaps walk by the Seine. You need a break from this, and some fresh air. I will watch dear Patricia”. She was gone for almost four hours. Upon her return, she ushered Patrice into their bedroom, speaking in a whisper. “I have been talking to my old friend, Madame Rosa. You know her, the Spanish lady. She has told me about some women she knows who could help Patricia. But it must be done in secret, and it will cost a lot of money”. She handed her husband a scrap of paper with an address written on it. As he read it, a terrible cry came from Patricia’s bedroom. A man’s voice, swearing in German.

He folded the paper and put it into his jacket pocket, then leaned over and kissed Adele softly on her cheek.

“Leave it to me, I will go there tomorrow”.

June 1898. Madame Enecsu becomes involved.

The June sun was hot that Sunday morning, and Patrice was flustered by the time he found the address in that unfamiliar district. The house was respectable, not at all what he had expected. The door was opened by a young woman wearing a white shirt, and a pair of man’s trousers. Her nose was sharp, and her eyes cold. Patrice took off his hat. “Madame Enescu? You are not expecting me, but I was given your name by Madame Rosa, the Spanish lady”. Pulling the door wider, the young woman spoke in heavily-accented French. “Come in and wait. I will see if she is free to see you”. She showed him into a small parlour, and he stood respectfully, rolling the hat in his hands.

When she arrived she was also nothing like he had expected. He had imagined a crone, someone toothless and wrinkled. But the woman was strikingly beautiful, with olive skin, and shining black hair drawn tightly back over her head. She gave the appearance of a Flamenco dancer, with her voluminous skirts, and carefully-applied cosmetics. “Please sit, Monsieur. I take it you have need of my talents?” Patrice leaned forward on the small wooden chair. “Madame, I do not know who else to turn to. My daughter has a sickness of the mind, and is uncontrollable. The doctor suggested an asylum, but my wife and I will not hear of it”. The woman snapped open a black and red fan, and began to flap it rapidly around her neck. “Tell me all, Monsieur”.

Patrice related the whole series of events, then sat back on the chair, his eyes moistening. “So do you think you can help us?” She looked at him over the fan, and spoke through it too, her words precise. “I am originally from Romania, Monsieur. But I have lived in Paris a long time. Such a wicked place has need of the skills taught to me as a young woman in my country. I will have to come and look at your daughter, with my assistant. If you wait for us to prepare, then we can go today. Time is of the essence. But I warn you now, my services do not come cheap. Are you a man of means?” He swallowed, unsure just how much she was talking about, but not wanting to ask her price. “I am but a humble toy-maker, Madame. But my wife and I have savings, and she has some of her mother’s jewellery that can be sold”.

He stood up as she did, and she turned as she left the parlour. “Then go and secure a cab, Monsieur. Tell the driver to wait, and I will be out soon”.

It took less than five minutes to flag down a cab, but they did not emerge for a further fifteen. He had already had to promise the driver a generous tip, to get him to wait. Despite the heat, Madame Enescu was wearing a heavy black cloak and bonnet, and the young woman who followed carrying a leather bag was dressed in a belted man’s raincoat, and wearing a large cap. The journey back to his home was awkward. The women remained silent, and any attempt he made at conversation was stopped by the younger one, with a wave of her hand.

Inside his house, they virtually ignored Adele, simply nodding at her greeting, and effusive thanks. Taking off her cloak, Madame Enescu sniffed the air, and turned to her assistant with a knowing look. “You must leave us to our examination of the girl. You understand that? No interfering, whatever you hear from her room”. They both nodded, and watched as she walked off to Patricia’s room, without asking where it was.

For two hours, Patrice held on to his sobbing wife as they listened to the sounds coming from behind the door of their daughter’s room. Madame Enescu’s voice could be heard speaking in German, another language that they presumed was her native Romanian, and French too. Other voices were heard. Patricia’s plaintive tone, the voice of a man, laughter, and swearing in German and French. Foul swearing, obscenities, and blasphemy as well. Adele flinched at every word. She had never heard such things voiced out loud. Then there was the sound of hammering, like nails being driven into wood and plaster. When the door opened, the masculine-looking assistant emerged, holding her cap and the leather bag. She nodded for them to go in.

Patricia lay on the bed. She was calm, and her eyes were open. The foul smell had gone, and Madame Enescu stood at the side of her, red-faced and looking overheated. All around the room, crosses had been fixed to the walls. They were Orthodox crosses, like those Patrice had seen on Russian Icons. She waved them back out of the room, and followed them to the kitchen table. Her assistant remained in the hallway, looking bored. “You have some water perhaps. Or wine, for preference?” Adele took down one of the best glasses, and Patrice opened a bottle of Bordeaux he had been saving for Sunday lunch.

As she sat at the table gulping the wine, she looked up at them with a matter-of-fact gaze. “The girl is undoubtedly possessed. I have managed to calm her for now, but I doubt things will stay quiet for long. You must on no account let her touch your face or head, do you hear me? Take great care as you wash her, and feed her. The evil is warned now, and will try to leave her”.

Patrice stared wide-eyed at this confirmation of his greatest fear. “There is a demon inside her, Madame?” The woman smiled, and shook her head. “Bless you Monsieur, but no. Demons do not inhabit the living. This will be a rogue spirit. A thrill-seeker. Someone trying to live on in the bodies of others. It seems your daughter was chosen by chance. She was likely in the right place at the wrong time”. Adele swallowed hard. “Is she lost then? Can you help her?” Finishing her wine with a slurping noise, she smiled again. “Not lost. Well not totally, I can help her, but I will have to come back another time.
Now, some jewellery was mentioned?”

The inheritance from Adele’s mother was inspected with an experienced eye. Much of it was discarded onto the table, and when she had finished, five items remained in the simple wooden box. A necklace, three brooches, and a gold ring set with precious stones. “I will take these five things for now. But when I come back on Monday evening, I will require one thousand francs in cash. You have that amount?” Patrice nodded gravely. It was almost all they had in the world.

“Of course, Madame. I will have the money waiting for you”.

June 1898. Madame Enescu returns.

On the Monday evening, Madame Enescu and her assistant returned as arranged. Patrice had not long got home from work, and his expression was glum as he handed over the notes. She passed them to her assistant, who leaned forward and counted them at the kitchen table. The young woman flicked through them with the professional skill of a bank-teller, and in no time seemed satisfied. She placed the bundle into the leather bag, and turned to the older woman. ” O mie. Tot acolo.” That seemed to please her employer and she nodded, turning to Patrice and his wife.

“So, one thousand, and all there. Thank you. Now we have to have a serious talk. This roaming spirit inside your daughter may have been around for centuries, or only since last month. From the way he speaks, and the things he says through her, I suggest he is experienced, and will now be wary too.
We will need a familiar, something to tempt him out of Patricia. And your daughter must be tied down. We cannot allow her to touch our heads or faces during the procedure. I have brought leather straps for that purpose”.

Adele looked at her. “A familiar, Madame? You mean like a black cat, or another such animal favoured by witches?” Madame Enescu appeared to be suppressing a smile as she replied. “No, nothing like that, Adele. May I call you Adele? I mean another girl, preferably a child. One with blonde hair like your daughter’s, and those perfect lips. We will bring her here, and this German will leave your daughter, and enter her instead. Then my assistant will wrap the girl in a sack, and leave her outside an asylum. I have been unable to find anyone suitable today, so wondered if you knew of any local children who would suffice? If not, there will be a delay until we find one, I’m sorry to say”.

Patrice jumped back as his wife stood up, her face bright red. “This is your solution? These are your skills? How dare you think that we would save our Patricia by enslaving another innocent! No, Madame, that will never happen. Perhaps you should leave now. In fact, get out! I want you out now!” She turned and ran into their bedroom, tears streaming down her face. The woman looked up at Patrice, her face heavy with powder, and her eyes wrinkled in annoyance. “And you, Monsieur? Do you agree with your wife?
Did you think it would be as easy as saying a few prayers, and it would all be over? Even if we get the girl back, it may only be the start of a long recovery for her. She will remember it all. That’s the pity”.

He had an idea. A fleeting thought that became something solid in his troubled mind. “Please stay, madame. I have a plan. I will have to go out, but I will be back in no more than thirty minutes. Meanwhile, you and your assistant can secure Patricia as you suggest”. She tapped her perfect fingernails on the table-top. “I will give you that time, but no more. I am not happy with your wife’s attitude, I confess. And there will be no refund if your plan fails, you understand that I hope?” Patrice turned to leave. “You can keep the money either way. Without our Patricia, it means nothing”.

There were no cabs outside, so he had to run to the corner to wave one down on the main boulevard. He gave the cabby the address, adding quickly, “As fast as your horse can trot, and I will double your fare”. When they arrived outside the workshops of his employer, Patrice handed him some coins.
“I need you to wait, I will be very quick. As I said, double the fare if you get me home as fast as you got here”. The driver looked at him from under the low brim of his waterproof beaver-fur bowler hat. “Very well, Monsieur. But don’t think to cheat me later”. Using the key provided to him as chief toy-maker, Patrice opened the heavy door and ran inside, leaving it open. He knew exactly where to go, and what he wanted. And at the back of his small office, it was there, waiting.

The company had recently completed a commission for the Russian royal family. A special doll, designed to order. Patrice had overseen the manufacture of the prototype, quietly suggesting some minor alterations, until it resembled his own daughter as a small child. Then they had made the doll to send to Russia, and he had kept the first one in his office, with an idea to pitch it to the sales manager as part of the Christmas range. He had even thought of a name for it. ‘Claudine’. The suggestion had been well-received, and they had decided to make it a limited edition, for the very wealthy clients only. Plans for that were still being arranged, when Patricia had been struck down.

Grabbing the doll, he emptied a calico sack full of wound ribbons, and stuffed it inside. He was back in the cab in less than three minutes.

The woman rubbed her chin in thought. “It might work, it just might. The doll looks enough like your daughter, and he will not realise it is not a person until he is inside. By then it will be too late”. The young assistant shook her head, a scornful look on her face. Madame Enescu rounded on her, her respectable veneer disappearing fast. “What do you know, foolish girl? You are just an apprentice. Look and learn, and keep your scorn to yourself. Many times in the dark past spirits were charmed into dolls and animals. I know it is easier to use a child, or some brainless woman, but this could work, I tell you”.

Patrice followed them to his daughter’s bedroom. Adele had not left their room, and he could hear her sobbing behind the door. Patricia was strapped to the bed, her arms above her head, buckled to the iron bedhead. Her legs were wide open, and her ankles secured to a chain running under the mattress. But as he saw she was naked, he looked away, distressed to observe Patricia in that way. The assistant spoke to him in her heavy accent, her tone soft, and suddenly kind. “Do not think of her as your daughter at this moment, Monsieur. We had to cut away her nightdress so we can get about our work. Wait over there, and be ready when I ask for the doll”. Madame Enescu took a pot from the leather bag, and a fine artist’s brush. She began to paint strange designs on Patricia’s naked body, singing a haunting melody that reminded him of a Gregorian Chant he had once heard at a concert.

Patricia’s eyes opened wide, and her head began to move from side to side. Then her body strained against the restraints, and seemed to be trying to lift itself up from the bed. The foul smell returned as the singing continued, louder this time, and more repetitive. His daughter’s mouth opened wide, and the hair stood up on his neck as the voice came from inside her. “Tu dein schlimmstes, Roma-hure”. Seconds later, he heard his Patricia’s own gentle voice. “Papa, oh dear Papa”. Madame Enescu nodded at her helper, who turned to Patrice. “Now, Monsieur, be quick!” He passed over the doll, and the young woman pressed it hard against the face of the girl on the bed.

The singing stopped, and the woman reeled back from the bed, sitting down heavily on the floor with a bump. The assistant thrust the doll into the bag, and tied the top tightly. Patricia slumped back against the pillows, her eyes closed, and her expression finally serene. As his head turned from his daughter to the woman on the floor and back again, Patrice raised his voice. “Is it over? In the name of God will someone tell me what has happened?”

Madame Enescu struggled to her feet. Rivulets of perspiration had left small channels in the powder covering her cheeks. “It has left her, Monsieur. At least as far as I can judge. You have her back, but perhaps not all of her. There is a long struggle ahead for your family, but I can do no more. Now go and tell your wife while we unfasten the straps. She can come in and kiss her daughter”.

As they sat in the cab on the way home, Madame sounded pleased. “You did well tonight, my dear. Tomorrow, I will give you the address of a toy shop I know. They will surely buy it from us, and a doll as pretty as that will not stay long in the window, I would guess. Some customer will buy it, and then who knows? Maybe we will get more lucrative business charming out the evil once again”.

Inside the bag, Rudolf looked through the large glass eyes into the darkness surrounding him. He had been charmed indeed, and now no longer had a voice.

No matter. Someone would suffer for that.

May 1631. Magdeburg is burning.

His horse was tired, and he stopped on the track to let it rest. Stretching his shoulders, Rudolf looked back at the ruined city, smoke and flames reaching up to the sky. After weeks of siege, Count Tilly’s army had finally broken through the defences. And in the hours that followed, the slaughter and pillage had been terrible to behold. Rudolf had his own reasons for getting into the city, and on this occasion, he had eschewed rape and plunder for something else. He was searching for the sign of The Seven Stars. To find it had taken him most of the day, but when he stepped over the pile of bodies blocking the entrance, he faced disappointment. There was no sign of the man known as the Grey Wizard.

Stamping around the floor in his heavy boots, he eventually detected a hollow sound below. The outline of the trapdoor was concealed under a filthy rug, and easily prised open with his dagger.

At the back of the tiny cellar, he could hear sobbing, and he leaned forward to grab the young man hidden under a pile of rags. “Good sir, I beg you, please don’t kill me. I will convert, I will convert”. Rudolf dragged the boy up the short ladder, to see him in the light. “I have no interest in your conversion, boy. Religion means nothing to me. I have my own quest. What do you know of the Grey Wizard? Tell me true, and I will spare you”. With relief flooding over him, the teenager was happy to talk. “The man you seek is my master, sir. He escaped the city last week, and left me to take charge of his shop.
But I know where he has gone, and can show you”.

Now he was tied to a long rope behind the horse. When Rudolf had recovered the animal from the man he had paid to look after it during the battle, he had grabbed some old rope from the stables, and wrapped it around the boy’s hands. If he thought he would ride behind the fierce-looking soldier, he was sadly wrong.

Rudolf Starck was the third son of a wealthy Hamburg merchant. By the age of twenty, he had already been expelled from university, got two girls with child, and killed a man during a brawl. His antics were costing his father money, and he called his son into his study, to have a serious talk with him.

“I can take no more of your behaviour. My decision is that I will equip you with the necessary means to serve as a soldier. That should suit you well, as you already act in a base and lowly manner. I will write a letter of introduction to a nobleman of my acquaintance in Bohemia. There are rumours of war brewing there, as the Emperor has had his fill of the Protestant League, and the French are also keen to get their hands on land in the Palatinate. I will grant you an allowance, which you can draw with letters of credit from merchants I know. Once you leave here, stay away”.

Father had been generous. A fine black charger, a new breastplate and lobster-tail helmet. A wheel-lock pistol of the finest Austrian manufacture, and a heavy sword that would do good service. With a padded leather suit to wear under the armour, and an oiled canvas cape for bad weather, Rudolf cut an impressive figure as he rode out of the city. It was a long way to Prague, but the excitement of the new life ahead would ease the journey.

Weeks later, he was shown into a room to meet a Captain of Horse. The man looked up at him, then sat back in his chair. “So, you are Starck? You want to join my regiment, young man? See some action? The fighting will start soon, I know it. Buy some provisions for yourself and your horse, and get your clothes washed. Report back here in two days”. With a wave of his hand, he dismissed Rudolf, who had not spoken a word. As he walked out into the crowded street, he had no idea that he was about to participate in one of the longest and bloodiest wars Europe had seen up to then. It would go down in history as The Thirty Years War, but his role in it would never be remembered.

In November of the year 1620, he fought in his first battle, at a place called White Mountain. He was on the losing side, even though he had managed to kill three men, one with a pistol shot, and two more with his sword. In such confusion, he couldn’t even be sure if those men had been on his own side or not. The Protestant Army was in full retreat, and men were dying all around. Survival had overwhelmed any idea of victory, and he kept going until he was on his own.

For the next few years, he wandered around countries stricken by war and disease. Corpses dangled from trees at the side of the road, and bodies of plague victims still smouldered in the pits where they had been burned. There was little chance of plunder, so Rudolf eked out his allowance, and demanded food from terrified villagers he encountered. If they had a comely wife, or fetching daughter, he would pleasure himself with them too, before killing the whole family. He killed them because he could. He would never face arrest, in a land where society had collapsed, and madness ruled. Besides, he had discovered that he enjoyed killing.

Sometimes, he would throw in his lot with one of the wandering bands of mercenaries. They didn’t care what religion he was, as they sold their skills to the side most likely to win, and offer plunder. When there was no fighting to be had, they would just install themselves in a village or small town, demanding food and women in return for not massacring everyone in sight. As the year turned to 1626, Rudolf was settled in the war. He had found his calling. Raping and killing with the best of them, and noticeably better than most. That April, he heard that the King of Denmark had brought his Protestant Army to fight the Catholic League, so he left the weary band, and travelled to try his luck with the Danes. They were attempting to get to Magdeburg, and had to cross the bridge at Dessau, where their opponents were ready to stop them.

The army that Rudolf had joined walked into a trap, and lost half their number. He was wounded by fragments from a cannonball, and was lucky to escape with his life. Tired of serving with defeated armies, he sought refuge in the countryside, and found an old woman to sew his wounds. As he recovered from a fever in her stinking hut, she regaled him with lurid tales of magic and evil, claiming to know many secrets. He gave her some silver coins to encourage her disclosures, and she spoke of someone in Magdeburg. “They say he has the secret of eternal life, young lord. A true wizard, it is said. The master of an ancient order, and leader of a cult. The Grey Wizard. His disguise is as a herbalist, at the shop of the sign of The Seven Stars. It’s surely true, young lord. Magic is as old as life on this Earth, so I swear”.

When he had recovered, Rudolf slit the throat of the old hag with his dagger, and searched the hut until he found the coins he had given her.
Since arriving in Bohemia, he had seen much, and was more than ready to believe her stories. He would go to Magdeburg and find this wizard, make him tell the secret of eternal life.

But there was a war in the way of his plans, and it took him almost five years to get there.

June 1631. The Wizard is found in Ackendorf.

Just outside the municipality of Ackendorf, the boy stopped by a stand of trees. A thicker forested area lay beyond them, and he pointed his tied arms together. “There, sir. In those trees. A hunting lodge. You cannot see it from the road”. His feet were torn and bleeding, and he was breathless from having to almost run behind the horse all afternoon. The sun was setting to their left, and he shielded his eyes from the sudden glare.

That meant he didn’t see the blade of the heavy sword as it swished down. It cut through his neck so easily, his head was almost severed. Rudolf swung the blade back through the rope to cut his saddle free of the corpse, and turned his horse in the direction of the woodland.

Seeing no need for subterfuge, he rode up to the low-roofed timber lodge, and slipped out of the saddle holding his cocked pistol ready. His horse wandered off to munch on some dry-looking grass, and he carried on up the few steps to the heavy door. As he raised a hand to knock, it opened. The girl in the doorway was striking indeed. Wearing a simple cotton shift that didn’t reach her knees, her pure white hair matched white eyebrows. With a mouth that looked like a lip-less gash, and a nose that was so small, it didn’t seem real. Her eyes were pink. Rudolf stared in fascination.
In all these years, he had never seen an albino.

“Your pistol will not be needed here, soldier. There is nothing of value inside”. Her voice was little more than a whisper, but it shook Rudolf from his reverie. Aged no more than twelve years he guessed, her confidence and complete lack of fear was impressive. He did not holster his pistol though. Experience had made him ever wary. “I seek the Grey Wizard, girl. Is he inside?” She opened the door fully, and he walked in, his spurs jingling loudly in the silence. The interior was unadorned, and sparsely furnished. It bore the hallmarks of having been ransacked before, by one army or the other.
Sitting at a table on the far side, the space illuminated by an expensive pillar-candle, he saw a thin man who was much younger than he had imagined.

His head and face were shaved, so there was no grey hair or beard to suggest his name. But as he walked closer, Rudolf immediately knew he had the right man. His skin was grey. Like the skin of a corpse. Before he could say anything, the man spoke, his voice sounding deep, almost like an echo from a well. “You come searching for immortality, soldier. But are you aware of the price?” Rudolf pushed the pistol into the blue sash tied around his waist.
“I have money, and some pearls too. Then there is my horse, and this armour.”. When the wizard smiled he showed small teeth, each separated by a distinct gap. They were unusually pointed and sharp, as if they had been filed deliberately. “Your valuables mean little to me. The price for what you desire is far greater. Not only the body you stand in, but the eternal soul it contains. Think on that for a moment”.

He had always been impulsive, and the long years of war had done little to change that.

“Done”.

As he spoke, the girl closed the door with a loud bang, and he jumped at the noise. The wizard turned to her. “You know what to do, Greta. Fetch this man some ale, and then summon two brothers of The Order”. The beer she brought tasted like water from a ditch, but he was thirsty enough to drink it. The grey man studied him from across the table. “You are still young. Tell me, why do you seek immortality? Are you aware that it means the end of your earthly life, probably within the hour?” Rudolf shrugged. I am but thirty-one, almost thirty-two years. But I have lived a life worth twice that, since I came to this war. I am tired of the dirt, the hypocrisy, the lies of the priests and ministers. I want out of this body, and to live on in spirit. I seek not Heaven, nor Hell, but something I do not know the name of”.

The wizard leaned over, a nasty grin on his lips. “Soldier, know now that there is no Heaven. There is only Hell for everybody. Nobody is innocent. But that Hell means something different for everyone. For a man like you who has killed for no reason, violated girls little older than children, even thrown new born babies into the flames, there is a special place. A life as a wandering evil spirit, with no soul. Destined to live vicariously through the living, drinking in their evil along with their banality. Your only nourishment will be to keep that cycle of wickedness going until the end of time itself”. Rudolf realised that this man knew about his own atrocities, though they had never met.
Perhaps he could see his thoughts too, and it suddenly dawned on him why that was.

“You speak from experience, I believe. You are such a spirit, and you speak to me through this grey man seated across the table. And the girl? She has chosen to appear using a freak of nature. Is she of your breed too? She may not even be female, I suspect”. The man clapped his hands silently, in mock applause. “You catch on quickly, soldier. You should do well in the world beyond this. Oh the things you will see. The price is small compared to the wonders of the future, don’t you think? I could tell you of the glory of Babylon, and the beauty of Cleopatra. But there is no time.”

A door opened behind him, and Rudolf turned to see the girl, accompanied by two men dressed as monks. They removed their robes, displaying fine clothes beneath. A design of seven silver stars was embroidered on their waistcoats. One carried two large buckets, the other a long knife, sharpened like a razor. The wizard stood, and threw the leather beer mug onto the floor. “Remove your clothes and weapons then lie on your back cross this table”. When he had done as requested, the girl came closer, and began to chant a beautiful melody, like the singing of monks in church. She took a quill pen and pot of ink from behind her back, and carefully drew strange patterns and numbers over his body. One of the men placed the buckets on either side, and the other walked forward, lifting the long knife. The wizard chuckled. “Last chance now. You can get dressed and leave if you have changed your mind. But once it begins, there is no going back”.

Rudolf nodded. “Go to it. Get it done”.

The blade hardly hurt as it cut deep and long from his wrist to inside his elbow. By the time the man was doing the same with the other wrist, blood was flowing freely into the bucket by his side. The four of them walked back a few paces, watching. When the girl began to chant again, Rudolf was already feeling cold and drowsy, and beginning to feel the sting of the long wounds. As he felt his vision began to fade into darkness, he called out to them.
“One question. What do you do with my body?”

The girl leaned over him, her whispering voice speaking close to his ear.

“Our bodies must be fed”.

June 1631. Rudolf wakes up dead.

It was nothing at all like he had imagined. There was no substance as such. Just a knowledge of being, and of others being there too.

Realisation flooded in. Awareness of so many things at long last, filling his mind as if it had previously been empty. Language was no barrier. There was but one language, just spoken differently. In this spiritual condition, he understood anything, whatever language it was being spoken in.

Nothing was actually being spoken. Nobody had a voice as he had previously understood that concept. The thoughts were simply there, the sounds just there too. No faces, no physical beings. Neither light nor dark. More like a shimmer just ahead of him, a light that he seemed to be constantly walking toward, but never arriving at.

Surrounded by the murmuring voices, male and female. All asking, as he was, where they had to go next. What were they supposed to do now? No separation of religion, nor colour, race, or creed.

Lost souls with no apparent purpose, but one common understanding.
It would be like this for eternity.

He sensed a thought, it was close to him. In life, he might well have looked around to see who it was. But here that would have served no purpose.
It was a quiet thought, with the voice of a mature woman.
“Find a host. We must find a host. Inside a living being we will live once more. Forever”.
She must have been like him, not just someone who had died, but one destined for greater evil.

Rudolf wondered how to do that. How would he move? And how would he re-enter the world of the conscious living? There were no instructions, no mentor or guide. Then he heard her again.
“Don’t try thinking about how, just imagine it is”.

He was looking through eyes that struggled to focus. Shapes moved around him, and he suddenly sensed warmth, as arms reached down to grasp him. He was held up to the face of a tired-looking woman, her hair plastered to her head with sweat. It appeared he was moving, as he had the sensation of wriggling. As she clasped him to her body, and stroked his face, he was immediately looking through other eyes, at a sticky, squirming, new-born baby. A man walked over, and leaned forward. His thick red beard felt soft as he kissed the cheek. The view changed again. From above, looking down on the now-smiling woman as she held the infant, wrapping it in a white shawl.

It didn’t take long for Rudolf to work it out. He had been transferred from the spirit world into a baby being born. Then into the baby’s mother by her touch, next the father by his kiss. And he knew everything about them. Their past, their thoughts, their hopes and dreams, as well as their misdeeds, and darkest secrets. He was joined by their dead relatives, and the spirits of those who had ever borne them a grudge.

But it was crowded in there, and he knew he must learn how to manage the situation. Filter out what was no longer needed, file away other thoughts for later use. They were speaking Dutch, and he understood that perfectly. So he was no longer in Germany, but that mattered not. It had begun, as the wizard had promised.

Immortality, through the life of anyone he chose to inhabit.

There were other lessons to learn. When they ate, he tasted nothing. When they had sex, he felt no sensation. It didn’t affect him if they were cold, thirsty, or tired. When they slept, he was still awake, and if they died he remained inside them waiting for them to be touched, so he could shift into the next one. If it was a child, he retained his adult senses, and when he was inside a woman, he still knew he was male.

Learning to use just enough of his new power was the hardest part. If he dominated their mind totally, others thought them insane. He worked out how to lurk in the background, let them go about their lives as he decided how long to stay around, looking for a more interesting opportunity. Rudolf no longer saw them as people, not even as humans. Just objects that were available for his enjoyment. Manipulating their thoughts, and their pathetic earthly lives, was not unlike playing with his toys when he was a child.

He could speak through them too. Not just in their voice, but in his own, or in any of those that he could find in their thoughts. That was most enjoyable.

Oh, he had found his destiny indeed.

He supposed it had never occurred to him that such an existence could have a major drawback, but he discovered it did.
He still existed in real time. Even after changing hosts more times than he cared to remember, only one hundred years had passed, though he was still thirty-one as far as he was aware. He realised that immortality could be rather dull. He had seen other wars, inhabited famous artists, and courtesans who were lovers of Kings. By moving into sea captains, he had travelled the globe, living moments as a slave in the West Indies, or staying a while with a wealthy spice merchant in Java.

Of course, he practiced nothing but evil. Suggesting marital infidelities, proposing murder and rape, fraud and deception. He ruined lives, countless lives.

Others, he made wealthy or successful. A young opera singer became the talk of Europe, a penniless artist had his work purchased by a nobleman, at Rudolf’s suggestion. Then he would bring them down. He was the fall that came after their pride. When this seemed tame, he would burn down a city, by changing some mild-mannered workman into a crazy arsonist. Bored one afternoon, he managed to get a respectable businessman to murder his entire family on a picnic, before hanging himself from the tree they had been sitting under. When they took away his body, Rudolf slipped into one of the mortuary attendants until someone more interesting turned up.

That was more like it.

His new existence continued along those lines as he learned to be patient. Time had no more meaning for him, after all. By the year 1898, he had been in Paris for more than fifty years. He had seen the revolution of the Paris Commune, and led many to untimely deaths during that. For a while, he was living the life of the most expensive prostitute in that city, learning the secrets of her wealthy clients, then casually ruining their lives. Sensing something inhabited her mind, she was slowly going insane. So one afternoon in a deserted market place, he chose a young girl as she walked toward him. He wanted to see what her ordinary life might be like.

That didn’t turn out so well.

Now he was trapped inside a doll, and had to try to work out how to free himself.

March 2019. Phoebe tells all.

For the first year, he had lived inside the doll at the front of the window. Many came in to ask how much the beautiful doll cost. Most were unable to afford it, though some seemed to sense there was something unpleasant about it. The shopkeeper moved it inside, above the counter. He was worried that the clothes would fade. Besides, more people might see it, as they browsed the interior.

Rudolf spent the time well. Without having to try too hard, he discovered that having a voice didn’t matter in the least. He could make anyone he chose hear the doll. And they heard whatever voice he decided to use, whether his own, or one from their past memories. And he didn’t need real eyes to see.
It was all still there, visible though his spirit consciousness, and focused through the wide glass eyes of the doll.

He enjoyed driving the first shop assistant insane. He would whisper to her with the voice of her husband. He said the vilest things, and delivered home truths she herself had suspected. The first time she turned and engaged the doll in conversation, Rudolf had a revelation. He didn’t need to move out of the doll. It was the perfect host, and would provide him with centuries of amusement.

When the new shop girl came to work there, she put the doll back in the window. One summery day, Rudolf spotted a man eyeing him through the square panes of glass. He knew immediately that he would come in and buy the doll, and he knew the dark secret as to why he would too.

Over the next one hundred and eighteen years, Rudolf developed his powers to perfection. The doll changed hands many times, and he was able to make many suffer for the ownership of Claudine. There were calm periods too, times when he wanted to stay with an owner, and bide his time. He liked Agatha, and spent many happy years talking to the interesting woman. He would tell her what he had seen over the centuries, and regale her with gossip about the lives of famous people, and ordinary ones too.
And all in the voice of her beloved Beatrice.

But when she had died, and the doll had been bought once again, the old Rudolf resurfaced. Time to have fun, after that long rest.

England was a good hunting ground. Less fear of the unknown, and lacking people who believed in the old ways and superstitions. But mainly because behind their respectable exteriors, dark things lurked in the memories of the families the doll went to live with.

And now he was owned by Anne. The girl was surely innocent thus far, but her parents both kept terrible secrets close. Jane Boyd was guarding the destructive secret that her husband was not the father of her daughter. As for Roger, his suppressed secret was much worse. Rudolf was delighted to be there, as he could wreak havoc through this child.

Although young Anne could never have met her late sister, Phoebe was easily found inside her mind. She had chosen to inhabit a space there, waiting for the right time. Now was that time, and she was happy to let Rudolf carry out her revenge. He used her voice to talk to Anne, and even though she had never heard it before, she was happy and ready to believe that it was the voice of the sister who had died years before she was born. He told her the shocking truths behind both secrets, and made her understand the implications of revealing them.

They took their time, waiting until they were sure that Anne could sound convincing, once she knew all the facts. Every night when her bedroom light went out, she would cuddle her doll, and listen to the voice of her sister telling her what had happened before Anne was born. For many girls of her age, it might have been a forbidding prospect, revealing such things and facing her future afterwards. But she was made of strong stuff, and agreed that Phoebe should have justice.

They chose a Sunday, the one day when the family always ate together. Anne was told to leave the doll in her bedroom, so as not to antagonise her father before she got a chance to speak her revelations. Just before two in the afternoon, Jane called out to her husband and daughter. “It’s on the table”.
It was roast beef, with all the trimmings. Anne always found it too chewy, but it was Roger’s favourite.

Except that today, he would get no chance to enjoy it.

As soon as they were all sat down, Anne started to ask her questions.
“Mum, how did Phoebe die?” Jane raised her eyebrows at the strange dinner-table conversation.
“We have told you, luvvy. She was born with lung problems, and spent a lot of her life in hospital. Her breathing never got any better, and one day when I was out with my friends from work and Dad was looking after her, she just stopped breathing. He called the ambulance, but it was too late”.

Anne nodded, then turned to her father.
“Dad, why do you think I am not your child?” Roger’s fork stopped in mid-air, a spot of yellow mustard dripping from the slice of beef speared on it.
“I don’t think that. That’s a stupid thing to say. Why are you talking such rubbish? Eat your dinner”.

Jane’s face was getting red, blushing from the neck up. Roger avoided her eyes, and stuffed the beef into his mouth, chewing silently.

Anne left a nice pause, like when they waited to announce the winner in the talent shows on TV.

“So Dad doesn’t know that you used to have sex with Alan from your work, even when Phoebe was alive? And he doesn’t know that’s who you were with when she died, lying on your back in his car?
And he doesn’t know that you kept on seeing him after that, then got pregnant with me? And he doesn’t know that you only had sex with him the day you found out, so you could try to fool him into thinking I was his?”

Roger dropped his fork onto the floor, and for the first time since she had given birth to her, Jane slapped her daughter across the face. Before either of them could move, Anne turned to her father.

“And Mum doesn’t know how much you hated the fact that Phoebe was ill? How you resented having to care for her, the nights when you got no sleep, the constant trips to the hospital? And she doesn’t know that you finally had enough that day, and put your hand over her mouth and nose, to put an end to all that?”

When her Mum started screaming, Anne left the table and ran upstairs, to where Phoebe was waiting for her inside Little Annie. She had never found out it was really Rudolf.

The big carving knife used to slice the beef had still been on the serving dish, in case Roger had wanted more meat. Jane plunged it into the belly of her startled husband before he had time to realise what had happened. As his wife raised the knife a second time, he punched her as hard as he could. She fell to her right, her head connecting with the sharp corner of their heavy washing machine. Roger tried to stand up straight, but his legs gave way, and he sank to his knees next to Jane. The knife had severed the artery supplying blood to his liver, and he faded fast. As for Jane, her skull was fractured, and blood was pouring from the jagged wound on her head.

The Children’s Home was actually quite a bright and welcoming place. Anne had of course been allowed to take her doll, and she clutched Little Annie tightly as they walked along the corridor to the room she would share with another girl. Rudolf was very happy with their new home too. He had been able to see into the staff as they talked to the girl, or walked past in the waiting area. Oh, the things they had done to these children. Such secrets to be revealed.

He was going to enjoy it here.

The End

12 thoughts on “Little Annie: The Complete Story

  1. Wow, it’s really good but it’s too long to read😃 Well, I have read several sections and I was refreshing the parts in my head! You wrote every tiny detail in this complete story🙏👍🏻👌 Amazing and fantastic🎉 Great job💙💚❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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