Add a little spooky magick to your midnight reading!
by Silver RavenWolf 2012
Dawn. Birds chirping in the budding maple trees. A light, morning mist clinging to my jacket. The aroma of everything new and green tickling my nose. I marched across the old wooden porch, skipping through the first rays of sun with my sensible shoes, dreaming of all the great stuff Marlene and I were going to haggle for at the local flea market. I stepped on something that jingled and rolled; but I was in such a hurry to get to the door, I didn’t pay attention to what it was. Three knocks and a bang on the door bell left me standing there.
I waited impatiently, shifting from foot to foot.
I knocked again. No answer. I assumed Marlene was in the shower, so I dug through my big quilted purse for her house key and let myself in.
After fifty years of life, I should know better.
My first warning? Too quiet. Marlene always moved about her day with music, television or even singing to herself. She hated silence. Second indicator? Darkness. Everything shut up, buttoned up tight. All the shades pulled. All the curtains drawn. Only one valiant beam of light managed to peek through the kitchen shutters as I wandered in there, calling her name. “Marlene?”
She sat stone silent at the kitchen table, her head bent, her fingers moving restlessly over a faded notebook with tattered pages. She didn’t even look up when I said, “Hey ho! Let’s go!” and slung my big quilted purse over my shoulder, my rattling keys breaking the eerie silence. At least she was breathing, that was a plus.
I looked at the pristine countertop. Every culinary machine known to God and man stood clean and silent. Geeze, not even any coffee? How was I going to march through all those flea market stalls at this unholy hour without caffeine? “Marlene! Are you out of coffee?”
I frowned. “Are you sick?”
She shook her head.
“Someone die? Are you okay? What the hell is the matter with you?”
She glanced up and I almost tripped over one of the kitchen chairs trying to get to her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look as bad as she did. Hollow-eyed, sunken, greasy. Except maybe that homeless guy I saw as a kid on my field trip to Philadelphia back in the seventies who smiled, waved, and whizzed against a building as our bus coasted by. You tend to remember odd moments.
Like now. This was a really strange hiccup in my personal timeline. “Marlene,” I said firmly, shaking her shoulders, “what on earth is going on here?”
She winced and pulled away from me, clutching that strange notebook to her chest. “He came back,” she said without inflection of any kind. This, from a woman who talks too loud and gestures often with her hands.
“Who came back?”
My brain burped and I couldn’t think of a single person that might illicit this response from my best friend. I looked at her stupidly, slightly shaking my head. “I have no clue.”
I could see that old, familiar anger darting in and out of her blue eyes. If you didn’t know her like I did, you wouldn’t see it. And even though my gut desire to slap her up side the head to get her mind back on track was an option, I thought better of it. Instead I said, “I give up. I have no idea who you’re talking about. Who came back?”
“You’re kidding! What idiot would parole that creep? Is he here now?” I asked, my eyes widening as I looked furtively from the kitchen into the dining room. I hadn’t seen him when I came in…maybe he was waiting to spring out of the shadows. Maybe…
She swallowed hard. “He’s…gone.”
“Did he hurt you?”
She opened her mouth to say something, and then tightened her lips instead.
I sat down in the chair opposite her, dumping my handbag on the floor, trying to sort out what she was telling me, my keys clanking against the floor. Frank, a good ten years older than Marlene, was bad news from the day he was born. I always told Marlene he was a serial-something when we were growing up and I was right. By the time Marlene and I turned fifteen, he was behind bars. For good, we thought.
Several questions whirled in my mind. I tried to pick the most important ones first. “What did he want?”
She signed. “Money.”
That would figure, I thought. “Did you give him any?”
She smiled strangely. “No.” She played with the pages of that notebook, ruffling them through her fingers. I could see faded, spidery writing as the paper fluttered.
I leaned forward. “Is…is he coming back? Maybe I should go lock all the doors?”
She cocked her head and really stared at me, as if she saw me for the first time today. “He’s not coming back.”
“Of course he’ll be back!” I exploded, my hands pounding against the kitchen table. “You know what he’s like! I’m surprised you’re not dead! It was your testimony that locked him up for life. He swore he’d kill you! First he’ll milk you for all your inheritance money you got from your husband and then he’ll do you in! You’ve got to do something!”
“He won’t be back,” she said firmly. “Not ever.”
I turned my head sideways, sat back in my chair, crossed my arms over my chest and glared at her. Something wasn’t right here. I quietly looked around. All the kitchen knives were in their wooden block on the kitchen counter. The porcelain sink sparkled. The linoleum floor (yes, some houses still have those) gleamed softly in the dim light. Not a speck of blood anywhere. No furniture overturned. Still…, “Not ever?” I finally asked, swallowing hard.
“Never,” she whispered.
“You’re absolutely sure he’s gone? Maybe I’d better look around. That okay with you?” I rose slightly with the intention of walking through the house, top to bottom.
Marlene glared at me and grabbed my hand, her touch ice cold. “I told you, he’s absolutely, positively, never ever coming back! You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how I know! In fact, I think you should leave. Go home. Go wherever!” She flapped a shaking hand in the air.
I will always be the junkyard dog with the proverbial bone and besides, Marlene and I have known each other since we were tots. There was no way I would ever walk out on her. “I’m not going anywhere,” I said, plopping my butt back in the kitchen chair, “until you tell me what happened here. You said Frank is never coming back. Do I have to worry about DNA evidence?” My husband is a retired police officer. I think about these things.
Her eyelashes fluttered. “I don’t think so. We’d have to cut her open, I guess, to find out.”
My stomach flopped and I think my mouth dropped open a bit. I snapped my lips shut and took a deep breath. Cut who open? I thought to myself. I cleared my throat. Get a grip. Get a grip. My motto is, for every problem there is a desired solution. No matter what happened here, I would make sure Marlene got through this. I would find the best attorney, I would stand by her even when the reporters tore her to shreds. I would do anything to protect her.
I took a deep breath. “Marlene,” I said softly, “did you kill Frank?” For a moment, I thought I heard the sound of a jingle bell rolling across the floor. I looked down at my feet, but couldn’t see anything.
She laughed, a weird, twittering sound, not the normal Marlene-guffaw at all. “I didn’t kill Frank, ” she answered slowly, “but, I know he’s dead.” She had a quirky smirk on her face that gave me the willies. I shivered.
Oh, Lordy! I thought. This was it. A psychotic break. Frank barging in here and whatever transpired after created a major stressor. I tried desperately to remember the name of Marlene’s family physician. Maybe I could commit her before I found the body and called my husband…
“You won’t find him,” said Marlene as if reading my mind.
“Find who? Frank?”
“Right. You won’t find him here.”
“You killed him somewhere else?” I wailed. Oh no, that meant the crime scene was in a different place. Someone was bound to have found Frank by now. Oh, what a mess!
“He’s totally gone,” she said. “They won’t find him anywhere.”
As Marlene did not own an industrial chipper-shredder and we didn’t live by a lake or ocean, I sat there, confused. Granted, Marlene was still athletic enough at the age of fifty-two; but, I didn’t think she could lug a big man like Frank, even if he was in his sixties, for any significant distance by herself. Perhaps the foundation of a freshly constructed building? Did she dig a hole in basement and fill it with acid? Where would she get the acid over night? She didn’t own any pigs… maybe Frank was really alive and she was just making all this up trying to cope with the fact that she’d seen him out in the open when he belonged behind bars for the rest of eternity.
I propped my elbow on the table and rubbed my forehead. Okay, okay, I thought. Let’s get back to what actually happened and maybe I could fix it.
“I feel so much better now that I told you,” said Marlene as she rose from the table, jamming that notebook in the big pocket of her bathrobe. Horrible thing, that bathrobe. Hot pink with mustard yellow polka dots the size of your fist.
“Told me what, Marlene? You haven’t really explained anything. What are you doing?” I asked.
“Making coffee,” she said, cinching the cloth belt tight on her robe, making the polka dot pattern balloon even larger.
Some of the color returned to her face. Now she looked more like an animated zombie in fashion puke nightwear. She busied herself, opening cupboards, getting cups, filling the carafe with water from the sink, dumping the coffee in the filter. Actions that seemed so ordinary during this extraordinary conversation. I thought of telling her to put a shot of whiskey in her coffee, but thought better of it. It wouldn’t do to have the police smelling booze on her breath.
“Tell me exactly what happened,” I said, “I really don’t understand.”
She stopped, turned around, and leaned against the kitchen counter. The coffee maker burbled. “Frank came around midnight,” she said slowly, looking past me into the events playing in her own mind. “Woke me up out of a dead sleep, pounding on the door. I wasn’t going to let him in and tried to find my cell to call the police. I couldn’t find it. I think maybe I put it in the laundry basket last night when I took off my jeans. Anyway, the next thing I knew, he’d somehow managed to get in the house. Maybe I left the back door open, I don’t know. He grabbed me by the shoulders.” She moved the bathrobe collar and I saw an awful bruise, no wonder she’d winced when I touched her.
She turned away and poured the coffee in the cups. “He wanted money and said he’d kill me if I didn’t get it for him. That I owed him.” She shuddered, almost spilling the coffee as she brought it to the kitchen table. She shuffled back to the kitchen counter to retrieve the sugar and spoons, then over to the refrigerator for the cream without saying more.
“Then what?” There was that annoying jingle-bell sound again. I looked to my right. Nothing.
She sat down, placing the items on the table. “He was dragging me up the stairs to get what cash I had from my bedroom. I knew once he got the money, I wasn’t going to make it out of the house alive so I wasn’t making it easy for him. He was yelling at me the entire time, telling me how horrible jail was and how I was going to pay for helping to put him away. Then, we heard a terrible bang in the kitchen. Like someone threw open the back door and it slammed against the wall and all the lights went out. He let go of me and I slipped on the stairs and fell. He kicked me aside and ran back down the stairs toward the sound.”
She plopped three spoonfuls of sugar into her coffee and stared at the swirling liquid.
“Oh! Well… I don’t know.”
I threw my hands up in the air. “What do you mean you don’t know?”
She signed. “I heard screaming. Thumping. A sloppy tearing like liquidy ripping. I realized it was Frank doing all the hollering. I debated on whether I should make a break for the front door, or go find out what was going on in the kitchen.”
She took a sip of coffee, then another.
I hadn’t touched my mine, girding myself for the upcoming confession I was sure to hear. “What did you do?” I asked to urge her on.
She cocked her head and looked over my shoulder, refusing to meet my eyes. “Right when I was thinking I would make a break for the front door, it grew dead quiet. So, there I was, sitting in the dark, sweating like a marathon runner, wondering if he was going to come back to the stairs to finish me off. I sat very still, thinking that even if he did, he wouldn’t see me right away and then I could figure whether to spring right or left. Except, he never came back. I waited and waited. Nothing.” She put down her coffee cup and ran her fingers through her short, grey hair, then rested her forehead on her balled fists.
“After a while,” she said, talking into the tabletop with a muffled voice, “I got up and tip-toed to the kitchen.” She raised her head slowly. “Yeah, I know, I should have gone out the front door and gone to the neighbor’s to call the police; but, something inside me told me not to. As I stepped into the kitchen, all the lights came back on. The whole house! Every light! The kitchen table was pushed to one side. No blood, no signs of struggle. It was as if he was never here. Except…”
Impatient, I interrupted, “What makes you think he’s dead?”
“Because,” she said, her pale blue eyes now honing directly in on mine, “the BeBoodle got him!”
“The BeBoodle,” she said firmly.
I closed my eyes and held them tight for a few seconds. BeBoodle. BeBoodle. Where had I heard that name before? I shook my head a bit as if to get the right memory to play on the right mental track. BeBoodle…my eyes few open and I frowned. “You mean your Grandmother’s BeBoodle?”
She nodded vehemently.
Memories flooded through me. The smiling face of Peg, Marlene’s grandmother on a warm, summer day. Homemade mint iced tea. Yards and yards of colorful material. The old sewing machine motor whirring. Me laughing as Marlene and I smacked each other with bags full of cotton, pillow stuffing…a mixture of cinnamon, coffee and vanilla steaming on the stove filling the air with sweet security… Grandmother Peg setting her favorite BeBoodle on the kitchen chair before we went to market, telling it to “mind the house” in a stern voice until we got back…
I jerked myself out of my reverie. “Don’t be ridiculous! BeBoodles aren’t real. They can’t protect you from anything. They’re just a line dolls created by your Grandmother as a marketing tool for all the other things she made!”
Marlene’s expression was one of defiance. “I tell you, the BeBoddle got him!”
“That’s absurd!” I said, remembering the hundreds of dolls her Grandmother Peg used to make. Smiling, frowning, some beautiful, others totally creepy. Hanging from the walls, sitting on the sofa, perched on counters, dangling from shelves…so many dolls…some half completed, others done and ready to go. There were the favorites, too. The ones that always stayed. The ones that Grandma Peg claimed would protect the house, and those within, at all cost. Of all the dolls Peg made, the BeBoodles sold the most and brought in the highest amount of cash, enough for her to survive, particularly after the tragic loss of her husband.
A doll got him.
Not a chance.
And what the hell was that damned jingle-bell sound? “Marlene! Did you get a cat?”
Marlene did not reply at first. A sullen, “No,” finally exited her lips. Then she said, “I always wondered why people came from all over the country to buy Grandma’s primitive dolls. They paid good money, too. Remember? And do you remember how they would act when they received the dolls? Some excited? Some relieved? Some so thankful they left crying? Didn’t you think that it was at all strange that Grandma would take the clients into the doll room and close the door before she made them their doll? How we often heard whispering? How each BeBoodle was uniquely different? How she wouldn’t let us help her stuff the dolls? How some nights we weren’t allowed to sleep over because she was too busy? Or the newspaper clippings! Remember those?”
I nodded vaguely. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. Finally, I said, “You mean her genealogy stuff?”
“Or the letters,” Marlene went on. “Do you remember the letters we were never allowed to read?”
“I guess so,” I said slowly. “I mean, your grandmother was a little strange; but, I always thought that was because she was the artsy kind, or maybe because she was from West Virginia and had that funny accent. She was a depression era baby, and when those people got old they kept some pretty strange habits. I mean, you folks were the only family in town that had a Victory Garden in the seventies when everyone else had better things to do.”
Marlene frowned at me. To her, Grandma Peg belonged in the saint category. To say anything less than glorious about the woman could lead to a fist fight. I know. But today, instead of throwing a punch, Marlene just glared and rattled on. “And don’t you remember when Grandma passed away? How horrid my mother was about the whole thing? How she burned every doll in a big bonfire out back along with all the extra material and Grandma Peg’s books? It was because she knew the BeBoodles were real!”
I sat back and shook my head. “Your mother, hated those dolls because she felt Grandma Peg spent too much time in her fantasy doll-making world and didn’t pay attention to the family like she should.”
“No. No, that’s not it. I never told you this, but mom always blamed Grandma Peg for her father’s death. In fact, the day she burned all those dolls? Mom stood out back and watched until each and every one of them disintegrated to ashes. And when not a shred of anything remained? And the fire pit was bone cold? Mom shoveled dirt over the whole pile, and stood back with a smile on her face when she was done. She didn’t know I was watching from behind that old willow tree. And she sure didn’t know I heard what she said.”
My curiosity peaked, I asked, “So…what did she say?”
Marlene leaned forward and lowered her voice. “She said, ‘May you and your BeBoodles go to the hell you deserve, you murdering bitch!”
I could feel my eyebrows rocketing to my thinning hair line. “What? Wait,” I said, waving my hands in the air as if to stop the strange flow of information. “I thought your grandfather died in a railroad accident.”
“I don’t get it.”
“I heard my mother tell my father one night that my grandfather was a nasty alcoholic; but that he never hurt my mother. Just hit Peg.”