Sammy slept fitfully in her small bed in the attic room. Downstairs, a clock chimed twice. Outside the grimy window, the October air had turned cold, and an early frost descended on the small town. A wood fire sputtered in the Franklin stove by the far wall and amber firelight danced around the edges of its doors. A small stack of applewood rested in a wicker basket next to the stove, in case Sammy awoke during the night to a cold room. Dr. Brooks, Sammy’s cat, lay by Sammy’s pillow and poked his gray and white head in the air, firelight reflecting in his powder-blue eyes.
Sammy had restless dreams for a child. Her Mom told everyone that her daughter was a 40-year-old in an 8-year-old body. She was always posing questions to adults, questions that no one her age was supposed to even think about. Maybe that explained why she slept so lightly, and why she awoke in the middle of this long autumn night, even though the voice that spoke was muffled and soft.
“I’m Best Friend Becky, and I love you.”
The voice came from a doll perched atop an antique, oaken bookcase next to the window. Sammy had gotten the doll from her Aunt Cynthia on her birthday in August. It was one of those dolls where you pulled a string on its back and a mechanical voice recited one of several phrases. But this time, no one had pulled the string.
Dr. Brooks meowed and arched his back. Sammy’s eyes fluttered open and she lay there on her side, facing the bookcase, head still on the pillow.
“Best Friend Becky wants to be your best friend. Will you be my best friend?”
Sammy tried to sort the last of the dream voices in her head from the real, waking sounds of the room. Moonlight silhouetted the doll and Sammy saw it move slightly, cocking its head to the side
“Best Friend Becky wants to play. Do you want to play?”
Sammy slowly raised her head. The doll’s voice hadn’t sounded like the tinny, machine voice she had always heard before. This voice sounded more like a real voice. It sounded like a grownup woman’s voice, like maybe someone was hiding behind the bookcase, making the voice for the doll. But the bookcase was all the way against the wall so that couldn’t be.
“Best Friend Becky wants you to wake up. Best friends don’t sleep the night away.”
The doll only had seven phrases and Sammy had never heard that one before.
The fire inside the Franklin stove flared briefly and illuminated the doll’s face. The doll turned its head side to side in a jerky, robot-like way. At the same time, it moved its hands up and down in a chopping motion.
Dr. Brooks hissed. Sammy sat upright and stroked the cat’s back. Fully awake now, she stared towards the bookcase. Huge shadows played on the walls in the flickering light. From that angle, the doll could have been one of those dinosaurs that glared down at you from the halls of the Natural History Museum.
“Best Friend Becky doesn’t like to sit alone all night. Best friends shouldn’t make their best friends angry.”
Outside, a gust of wind blew a few brown maple leaves against the windowpane. A nighthawk shrieked in the distance. Sammy swung her legs down to the floor. Dr. Brooks rubbed against her hip.
“Best Friend Becky is very bored.”
The doll sounded impatient like Sammy’s Mom got when Sammy didn’t clean her room.
Sammy touched her bare feet to the cold, linoleum floor. She reached for the pink, fuzzy slippers she kept by the nightstand. She put them on and carefully stood up.
“Best Friend Becky is very upset. Best Friend Becky is gonna do something bad.”
The doll moved its hands faster. It was less jerky now and there was a peculiar, fluid motion in the way it turned its head.
Sammy took a short, reluctant step towards the bookcase.
“Best Friend Becky wants to play now!”
Sammy took two more steps. She was nearly at the bookcase.
“Best Friend Becky is going to be naughty!” The doll’s eyes gleamed red. It pointed its flesh-coloured, plastic finger at Sammy and bared its teeth. Dr. Brooks spat at it from under the bed.
Sammy gritted her teeth and reached out. She grabbed the doll by the neck and shook it. It shrieked and tried to bite Sammy’s hand but her grip was too tight. She quickly moved across the room to the Franklin stove and opened the door. She threw the doll into the flames and slammed the black, iron door shut behind it. She heard a few more shrieks and then the soft sound of fabric and plastic burning. Then it was quiet.
Dr. Brooks crawled out from under the bed.
“Why can’t I ever just get a doll like the other kids?” asked Sammy to Dr. Brooks. “Why do they have to come to life all the time? Did Aunt Cynthia think I’d be scared? I’m like a hundred times bigger than a doll. Duh! Why do we have to have witches in the family?”
Sammy climbed back into bed and fell quickly asleep; wishing her family could be just a bit more like everybody else’s.
Wayne Faust has been a full-time music and comedy performer for over 45 years. From writing songs all that time, where you have to say everything you need to in three verses or less, his prose tends to be tightly written and fast-moving.