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Dark and Empty

written by: Catherine Anne MacKenzie

@grannymackenzie

 

The carousel slowly twirled while the little horses jumped through the air in time to the music heard only in their heads. The rag doll, wistful, watched them prance, wanting to ride, but knowing she was too large. She sat beside the furry teddy bear, also too large, on the dusty wooden floor. Teddy stared at the miniature critters, their useless ride to nowhere reflected in his glassy eyes.
"It's okay, Annie," Teddy said. "We can have our own fun."
"Like what? What can we do?" Annie's chubby stuffed hand reached up to swat a bright strip of hair fallen across her pale face.
"Well, I'm sure we can come up with something. It's Halloween, you know. Ghosts and goblins and all sorts of creatures come out to play tonight."
"But that's a scary time. I don't like to be frightened," Annie said.
"Well then, let's you and me do the frightening. Before someone does it to us."
With that remark, Teddy and Annie nestled together, while the carousel continued its magical, fairy-tale ride.

***

Liam was a small, slim lad, with wavy blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and long dark lashes. Everyone said he should have been born a girl; in fact, his mother, Jill, desperately had wanted a girl. She had a rough labor, even though she had been well-prepared for a natural delivery. That Halloween night, six years previously, Liam had made his way into the start of the eighth dilation of her cervix, until the monitor screamed emergency and the doctors had to perform an emergency C-section.
Jill had been devastated, not just because of the surgery but because she hadn't delivered a girl. While trying to get pregnant, she had religiously consulted a book that promised, if the rules were followed, to produce the desired sex of one's baby. There had been no question in Jill's mind she would deliver a girl. When the nurse held before her a bouncing baby boy, Jill fell into a three-day depression during which time she would have nothing to do with the baby.
Jack, Jill's husband placated her, promising her their second baby would be a girl. He tried to convince her, as well, that the first-born should be a boy, that an older brother would protect his younger sister until the day he died. Jill finally agreed and, on the fourth day, she held her beautiful baby boy.
Liam, a sickly child for the first several years, remained small. Not a dwarf by any means, but he charted in the lower percentile of other boys. When he started school, the children bullied him relentlessly. The worst offenders were Mike and Evan, two big-boned boys in the third grade. Called such names as fag, fruit, and fairy. Liam didn't understand why they singled him out and he didn't understand the names spewed at him.
Shortly after Liam's birth, his parents bought a set of rag dolls, Andy and Annie. "They're brother and sister," Jill said and set them on the white shelf in the nursery. "Just like our two children will be brother and sister someday."
Andy wore a set of red knickers and a blue and white plaid shirt with white socks. Annie, attired in a red dress, sported a blue and white plaid pinafore and white leggings. Both wore black leather shoes. Their thick hair consisted of torn strips of yellow material, frayed along the edges, giving a frazzled look to their floppy heads. Black shiny buttons doubling as eyes stared from stuffed faces adorned with bright pink cheeks.
While Liam was young, Andy and Annie remained, for the most part, on the shelf, more like ornaments than toys. After Liam turned six and began grade one, he grew attached to Andy, but would not acknowledge Annie, although deep down he longed to hold her. He had learned in school that boys did not play with dolls, but he assumed a boy doll didn't count as a real doll.

***

"Mom, can I be Andy for Halloween?" Liam asked.
"Andy? Andy who?"
"Andy. My stuffed do... toy." Liam hesitated but caught himself just in time. Only girls played with dolls.
"Oh, well... I guess so." Her son's words stunned her.
What child wanted to be a rag doll? She had never seen any Andys or Anns out and about on Halloween before. Thinking of Ann made her long for her unborn baby girl, the baby who had never materialized. She regretted, again, missing Liam's first three days.
"I'll have to make the outfit, I guess."
"Thanks, Mommy. Can you make the pants red like Andy's and the shirt, too?"

***

With Halloween fast approaching, excitement built up around Liam. He accompanied his mother to the fabric store, where he carefully scrutinized and compared each shade of red to Andy's knickers before deciding on the bolt of fabric he liked. They couldn't find the perfect plaid to match Andy's shirt but found a similar pattern that satisfied him. Naked Andy had been left at home.
Jill spent two weeks sewing his costume. Occasionally, he had to try on the outfit so she could make necessary adjustments. She knew he would not wear the costume again, so she wanted it to fit perfectly.
Liam's face glowed when he looked at himself in the mirror wearing the outfit. He pirouetted, arms in the air as if he were Mikhail Baryshnikov. He looked at himself front ways and sideways, and if he had eyes in the back of his head, he would have looked at himself from behind. Even at six years of age, he was in love—in love with a costume and a fantasy of a doll that didn't admonish or belittle him.
And then Wednesday arrived. Halloween. As soon as the two-thirty bell rang, Liam charged from his seat and sped home. He hated school and always rushed home, but that day a special energy buzzed in the air. Even those early morning taunts from the bullies Evan and Mike couldn't put him in a bad mood. He ignored their flapping mouths as best he could. A small smirk even lit up his face most of the day, although Liam wasn't aware of it.
He ate his supper quickly. The town’s powers-that-be had proclaimed trick or treating could not begin until six o'clock and must end three hours later.
Jill helped Liam into his costume. She buttoned up the red buttons that lined the front of his blue and red plaid shirt and zipped up the back zipper of his knickers. She pulled up the straps that fell down to his buttocks, brought them over his shoulders and fastened them to the bib of the knickers.
"Here are your shoes," she said.
Liam inserted his white-socked feet into his black running shoes. He glanced over at Andy, perched on the kitchen chair. Andy had joined him for dinner but, of course, did not eat. Jill thought it cute Liam treasured Andy as he did and a small smile illuminated her face.
He's so excited, she thought. I don't remember ever being this excited at Halloween.
"Here's your treat bag." Jill handed him the large sack she made out of left-over red material. She had embroidered the name "Andy" across the top. Inside, she had sewn in a tab on which she had written Liam's name in permanent black ink, uncertain as to her motive. It wasn't like he would get lost and need identification or anything, not like it was the first day of kindergarten and his name needed to be on his garments.
"Oh, Mommy, it's beautiful," Liam said, his eyes large and shiny. "Thank you." Liam always remembered to say thank you.
"Stay on this block, okay? I don't want you wandering too far. Are you sure you don't want me to go with you?"
Jill knew they lived in a safe neighbourhood, so she didn't worry about him being alone, but decided to ask, just in case he wanted company. She wished he had plans to go with a friend or two, but he told her earlier he wanted to go alone.
No, Mommy, I'm not a baby. Please don't come with me. "No, I'm fine."
"Hey, kisses?" Jill leaned over, hugged Liam and gave him a peck on the cheek. Liam kissed her back.
"Your mask," Jill said suddenly.
She took the small black glittery mask from the counter, the type that covered only the eye area. Everyone needed a mask on Halloween, even Andy. She wished she could have bought a red one, but black was all she could find. Liam looked up at her while she pulled the mask over his head and adjusted the elastic.
"Love you," she said when she walked him to the door.
Liam, elated, didn't look back.
"Have fun!"
Liam, feeling like a big boy, ran outside like he had permission to enter a toy store with a hundred dollars.
I'm alone, he thought. All by myself. Mommy trusts me to go trick or treating alone.
He hesitated for a second, watching various masked invaders skipping up and down the street. Not sure where he should start, he turned right and walked down the sidewalk toward the Jones' house. He would go around the block; maybe canvass a few houses on the next block over, maybe one or two down the other street.

When Liam hadn’t returned by eight o'clock, Liam's father searched for him. He traipsed around the block and rang a few bells.
"A bit old for trick or treatin', aren't you?" one of the homeowners giggled.
"Looking for my son. He was Andy. Raggedy Andy."
"Yes, I remember him. Small little guy. Cute costume. He was here, but I can't remember when."
Jack received similar responses from various homes, as well as more lame jokes.
Finally, when Liam hadn't returned home by nine fifteen, Jack called the police. "It's Halloween," they told him. "He's probably sitting on the sidewalk demolishing his loot."
"No, he wouldn't be gone this long," Jack insisted. "He's only six."
"Wait another hour and call us back."
Jack slammed down the phone. Jill clasped her hands, her eyes wide. "I shouldn't have let him go out on his own, but he insisted. He was just going around the block."
Three teenagers found his body at midnight, in the vacant lot two blocks over. No one knew he carried Andy in his large red sack. Andy's strips of yellow fabric had been torn from his head, Liam's head sheared of his blonde locks. The mixture of hair and fabric lay strewn around the body.
Liam had been pierced several times in the abdomen with a long blunt object and strangled with one of the red straps that had been ripped from his Andy trousers. Andy, as well, had been strangled with one of his red straps, but, of course, Andy was only a doll. The coroner said Liam had died from the wounds, the bow around his neck was for effect.
Happy Halloween!
Andy bore splatters of blood, except for an unmistakable imprint of Liam's little hand where he had clutched the doll. No one was apprehended for the crime and the case remained open.

***

The Halloween following Liam's murder, Annie and Teddy sought revenge. Usually meek, mild and mannerly, the two animated toys transformed into live beings out to avenge the death of poor little Liam.
At six o'clock they circled the block where Liam used to live. They moved over to the adjacent block and then to the one on the opposite side. By eight o'clock they had spotted Evan and Mike. Evan masqueraded as a vampire, Mike as a Renaissance warrior king. Annie and Teddy watched from behind the tree on Spruce Street, while the two boys frolicked in the night, darting from house to house, collecting as much candy as they could stuff into their white pillowcases.
Annie saw her chance when the boys turned the corner on Willow Lane. She donned her big charming face and bounded into the street.
"Come with me," she beckoned. "I know where there's lots of candy."
Evan saw a pretty girl wearing a red dress. Her yellow pigtails swayed in the breeze, and her big blue eyes glistened from the glare of the streetlight. Although only nine years old, Evan liked girls. Enticed, he walked toward her.
"Come on, Mike," he yelled back.
Evan and Mike followed the bubbly girl with the golden braids down the street and over to the next block, where they stopped in front of a house.
"Hey, this is Liam's old house," Evan said.
Teddy, who had followed the threesome but remained out of sight in the shadows, jumped out from behind the garage. He lassoed the two boys and Annie and Teddy, with their newly-discovered strengths, dragged them into the house and up to the attic where they threw them to the floor.
Annie grabbed their pillowcases of loot and dumped the candy on the floor. Evan and Mike's eyes bugged in horror and they scratched at the rope looping them together.
"Don't bother. You can't escape," Teddy said. He kicked each of them with his soft-soled paw.
Annie walked over to the shining silver carousel and turned the key. The sightless horses bobbed around the pedestal, accompanied by musical chimes that echoed throughout the stuffy room. Sweat poured from Evan and Michael's faces.
"Let us go," Michael said. "You have no right to do this."
"Hey, it's Halloween, kid," Teddy said, in his deep bear voice.
He made his words sound as threatening as he could, but Teddy was only a teddy bear after all. How menacing could he be?
Teddy disappeared, then came back with two pieces of rope and bound each boy's arms, then untied the other rope so they were separated. Both of them lay on the floor with their hands tied underneath them. Annie stood over them while Teddy searched for more rope and bound them together at the feet.
Annie found a pair of scissors and approached the boys, brandishing the instrument. When the boys screamed, Teddy stuffed the corners of their pillowcases into their mouths. Annie took fistfuls of Evan's hair and hacked at it, leaving scraggly clumps sprouting from his scalp. She then did the same to Michael. Their wide glassy eyes glared first at Annie, then at Teddy.
Annie grabbed bunches of their sheared hair and threw them into their faces. "That's for poor little Liam," she said.
Michael's eyes yelled I didn't do anything but they were silent pleas, ignored by Annie and Teddy.
Annie snatched Mike's sturdy plastic sword and brandished it before stabbing the boys' bellies, first one, then the other, over and over, until their bodies lay still and blood pooled over the floor. She then pulled the black shiny capes from beneath the mutilated forms and tore one long strip of fabric from each. After dipping the strips into the blood congealing on the floor, she carefully tied a large bow around each neck.
Teddy took delight in scooping out their eyeballs with an antique spoon he found in an old chest. He placed the round slimy balls on top of the windowsill, the pupils facing the glass. If the eyes could see, which they couldn't, of course, they would have seen several witches soaring on their broomsticks through the night sky. The full moon, perfectly round and white, resembled the backs of the eyeballs if one ignored the limp strands of pink nerves and membranes dangling down the wall.

***

While the carousel rotated, the melody reverberated throughout the deserted house. Andy, threadbare and tattered, minus his hair, with patches of dried blood and puffs of stuffing exploding from his body, leaned against the wall and watched the horses' magical ride.
Teddy lay upside down on the antique chest, the stuffing in his paws slightly off-kilter.
Annie, prim and proper in her bright red dress, sat at the far side of the room. Her burnished braids framed the sides of her pink face and lay neatly down her chest.
Liam had never played with Annie; boys didn't play with dolls.

They’re only empty characters
With imaginations that thrive,
Beware when they come alive
To protect those they love.

Catherine Anne MacKenzie

Catherine Anne MacKenzie

Cathy’s writings have been published in many print and online publications. She has published several short story collections, books of poetry, and children’s picture books. Her first novel, Wolves Don’t Knock, was released in 2018. The sequel, Mister Wolfe, is in the works. Cathy lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Catherine Anne MacKenzie

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