Doll

Despite the waves of rain thrashing the window panes, the brilliant flashes of lighting and the resounding cracks of thunder, Chalmers Elk slept in his overstuffed easy chair. The winds of October howled, making sure that summer knew its time was done, that fall was here and that winter would soon follow.

At the end of his long days, the now 67 year-old Chalmers found very little that could keep him awake once he hit the chair. He still worked full-time at Hatter’s Mill, thanks to a few bad investments and an on again, off again drinking problem.  These days he was finding it hard to keep up. Even as much as a year ago he could run circles around the younger workers. It wasn’t so much his greater strength as it was their lack of motivation and odd sense of entitlement.

And of course, there was the accident. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but unless he stood or moved just right, his knee let him know it was bad enough.

He stirred a bit when a louder than normal set of commercials assaulted him from the television. He laid a lazy eye on the screen as the beautiful people reminded him there are tasty ways to increase his fiber intake and many possible solutions for erectile dysfunction. He smirked and faded back into sleep.

As the storm raged outside, an hour passed.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump … a heavy pounding came at his front door pulling him abruptly from the arms of his rest. He sat up and listed again. What was that? It could have been the storm. Probably was. Nobody came out to see him on a good day, say nothing about one of the nastiest nights of the year. He started to ease back to reclaim his peace.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

The clock in the hallway chimed. It was midnight.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

Chalmers pulled himself up to the edge of his chair. Someone was at the door. It was probably kids. He guessed he was at the age now where kids found it funny to hassle the old guy who lived alone. He stood, nearly giving in to the protest from his knee, and headed to the hallway. He thought about stopping in the kitchen first for some kind of protection, but thought again. Probably just kids.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

He worked his way down the hall to the door clicking on lights as he went. He turned the porch light on last and as he did, the latest bolt of lightning hit threatening to take all the lights with it. They flickered, but held. The rain spattered window made it difficult to see if anything or anyone was outside.

He unlocked the door and pulled it fast and wide hoping to catch any one who might still be running. He winced again at the pinch in his knee.

As he suspected, no one stood at the door. They ran away. He squinted out into the rain looking for suspects and listening for laughter or footsteps or any clue as to who might pester him on such a night.

It was then he looked down, half expecting to see a smoldering paper bag filled with feces. Pathetic, he thought. But while something was left for him, it was not on fire. It was a damp package, brown packing paper sloppily, or hastily wrapped with a thick piece of frayed jute twine. He nudged it with his toe once and again. Then he looked out into the rain. Nothing. He took the package inside.

Locking the door behind him, another bolt of lightning made the lights flicker. Not one for suspense, he untied the loose knot of the twine and peeled back the paper. Inside was a dirty bundle of blue and white gingham cloth, most from the rain. The cloth was wrapped around something. Dropping the paper and twin to the floor, he slowly unwrapped the cloth.

His hands froze the moment the cloth revealed its hidden secret. They clenched tight as his breath caught and his chest began to tighten. His eyes grew wide. A wave of memory and fear churned through him.

Looking back at him from the dirty cloth was a child’s doll. Small, fragile and dirty, one eye sat half-open as the other seemed to pierce his soul. They stared at each other as he stumbled back against the door. His chest expanded, growing tighter.

“Paisley,” he whispered.

The doll stared. His breath grew shallow, but their eyes never wavered.

He slid down against to door to the floor. Sweat poured from his head. His heart pounded in his chest as if it were looking to escape.

It was Paisley’s doll. He hadn’t seen it in thirty years, and why would he? She was buried with it.

A bright burst of light filled the house. This time, the lights were no match, the house went dark. Still holding the doll tight in his grip, Chalmers Elk passed out.

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