Nancy crept around the side of the Sutton house, avoiding the upper story windows as she peered into the basement. The glass was frosted and she could see shapes, but that was all. She listened for any sound of disturbance. It didn’t sound like Hoffman had rung the doorbell yet. Slipping past the last window, she hurried around to the back entrance of the house. There was a back door underneath the rear porch, and she ducked into the shadow it cast. She crept up to the door and tried the knob, her touch as light as a feather. It was not locked.
How long she stood there waiting she did not know. Time ceased to function. The minutes turned from hours to seconds and back like elastic taffy. She thought about the brief but firm tap to the jaw Hoffman had administered to the pizza delivery man, knocking him out with cold precision. She thought about the hours they had spent sitting outside the Sutton house, waiting, watching, hoping for anything, any opportunity. She thought about roaring away from the hated mental hospital in a stolen car, with the easy part of their task behind them. She thought about the way Hoffman had dispatched the startled orderly they had come upon, seeming to take his keys and his life in one quick movement. She thought about her daughter, Sandra, taken by the dolls on her birthday. She ground her teeth. The fear she was feeling went down some, quelled by rage and hatred. Those fucking things were going to pay for taking her daughter.
Hoffman looked at the receipt he held, his other arm occupied by a hot bag of pizzas. “Looks like thirty even,” he said, loud enough for his voice to carry. He handed her the receipt, shooting her a look which she missed altogether. He noted that her hands were wrapped in bandages and it looked as though large chunks her hair had been torn out. The dark circles under her eyes screamed for help as she looked at the paper.
“No, this says thirty-nine…” she trailed off, her eyes focusing more on the paper and what was written above the total.
HERE TO KILL DOLLS.
She gasped, then looked behind her into the house to see if anyone had noticed. “Who are you?” she whispered. “How did you get here?”
“I’m a cop, but I’m a father first,” said Hoffman in an undertone. “You get me?”
She nodded, glancing behind her again. “What are you going to do?”
“I have someone with me, she’s going to the back door now. Is it locked?”
“If we can-”
“Hey, girl!” Sofia’s voice came from the base of the stairs. “What is taking you so long?”
Olivia’s eyes widened and she shoved the receipt back at him. “Take it!” she hissed. “And give me the pizzas! If she finds me with this-”
Hoffman could not take it. His hands, so steady before when holding both pizza and paper, now noticeably trembled. “Oh my God…”
“What?!” Olivia whispered, trying to stuff the incriminating paper into Hoffman’s hand. “Quick, give me-”
“Hey girl!” Sofia’s shout grew louder. She was coming up the stairs. Olivia looked terrified. Hoffman looked sick.
“Quick!” Olivia moaned, tearing at the flap of the pizza carrier. “Hurry, she’s-”
“My daughter,” said Hoffman, and a tear fell from his eye. “My Sofia.”
Sofia stood at the top of the stairs, hands on her hips and an evil look on her face. Olivia gave an involuntary shriek and nearly dropped the pizzas with which she had been grappling. “I’ve got them!” she wailed. “I’ve got them right here! Please don’t hurt me anymore, see, I’ve got them!”
Sofia ignored her, ignored the pizzas, ignored the cheers from the basement as they heard Olivia’s cries, ignored all but the man standing outside, looking at her with an expression of heartfelt sorrow and longing. As she stared at him, the look of malice and viciousness began to fade from her face. In its place, a little girl began to emerge. This little girl had wandered too far from the physical bodies of the dolls for their power to wholly dominate her, and, for the first time, the foothold of Junie and Janie in the soul of Sofia Hoffman, slipped.
She took a step forward, the dolls fighting to keep their hold, and she tottered.
“Daddy, help me!”
“Sofia!” Hoffman said, tears running free from his eyes now. “Honey, are you all right?”
The girl nearly fell over, then staggered backward. She took a step down the staircase.
“No!” Hoffman cried. “No! Honey, fight them!”
“Too late, fool,” Sofia snapped. She tossed her hair back over her shoulder. “We let her get a little too far, but don’t start thinking she’s yours now.” Her gaze shifted back to Olivia who stood stock-still, watching in horror, clutching the pizzas. “What are you waiting for, girl? Get downstairs with those.”
Before Olivia could move, Sofia let out an earsplitting scream of agony. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! STOP! STOP IT NOW!” she screeched. Her skin began to blister as though she had spent too much time in the hot sun. “I COMMAND IT!”
Turning, she stumbled, crashing down the stairs, still screaming.
Nancy had waited with mounting tension outside the door for Hoffman to ring the doorbell. She had tried the door several more times and assured herself it was unlocked. When she finally heard the chime of the doorbell, the door opened before her easily. She slipped inside, shutting the door with care behind her. She was in a convenient little alcove, sharing space with a few coats and boots left by those who used the basement entrance. Mostly small shoes. She crept forward.
The children were standing in the same position, eyes glassy and bodies rigid as they stood at attention, facing the stairway. Sofia stood before them, also facing the stairs. Nancy hardly noticed them, though her attention was fixed upon the two dolls which sat atop the TV, watching over all.
“Hey girl!” Sofia shouted, and started up the stairs. “What is taking you so long?”
The moment she had vanished up the stairwell, Nancy braced herself for an assault and broke from cover. The children did not impede her, nor move from their rigid parade ground rest, facing after Sofia with expressionless faces. Nancy made her way between the children to the TV, and picked up the dolls.
Revulsion filled her. The smell of death clung heavy about them, and their grins were wider, more sinister than Nancy had seen when she picked them up at the thrift store. Some little girl had given them eye shadow, and one sported a beauty mark on her cheek. The crack both dolls had above their eyes, which had given them a slanted eyebrow, had spread across their faces, bisecting them neatly. They leered at Nancy, who was seized by a sudden premonition and whirled, raising the dolls to strike at–
No one was there. The children kept up their eerie vigil, and the voices from the top of the stairs continued unabated. Looking back at the dolls, Nancy saw their heads had rotated to look at each other. One of them touched Nancy’s hand with its plastic hand and looked at her.
“You’re too late,” it said, though its lips did not move.
With a cry of disgust, Nancy threw both dolls to the floor and dug a lighter from her pocket. Striking it, she held the flame to the hem of the dress of the first one, then the other. The dresses were old and very dry and burned well. The flames licked up the dolls and engulfed their heads as upstairs, Sofia began to scream.
Olivia dropped the pizzas as Hoffman charged past her, bellowing like a wounded bull with no sense in his eyes. Lunging into the house and down the stairs, he reached for Sofia just as she tripped. If either of them had been watching the doll known as Junie at that moment, they would have seen her head amidst the fire turning in Sofia’s direction the tiniest amount. Just enough to lose her balance.
Nancy watched in horror as the darkness and misery left Sofia’s eyes as her feet left the ground. A cry escaped her mouth as she flew through the air and down the stairs, hitting the wall headfirst with a sickening crack that echoed in the basement playroom. She slid to the floor and did not move.
With a howl of rage, Nancy snatched up a nearby can of bug spray and squeezed it at the dolls. A jet of flame enveloped the already well-burning playthings, engulfing them in an inferno. Nancy kept the trigger depressed, spraying without end into the fireball on the ground as the children lurched sluggishly toward her, the fire in their eyes flickering. Black smoke began to rise from the fireball. Nancy’s finger cramped and she switched hands, never letting up on the trigger. Now there was a shrieking sound inside of her head, getting louder, as though something was trying to tear her head apart. Gritting her eyes shut, she concentrated all her will on maintaining the spray.
Olivia stood at the bottom of the stairs, her face pale as she surveyed the pizza delivery man’s sobbing form cradling his daughter’s limp body. The children moved jerkily toward the woman blazing a fireball at the two prone, helpless little figures on the floor. Olivia’s heart went out to them.
Poor little things, she thought, they were just two against a big unfair world. This man was to blame, she thought, and the woman.
If I just crept up behind the man and smashed his head into the floor, the bitch woman would stop burning the poor dolls, Olivia thought. She looked around with doll’s eyes for a weapon.
Hoffman could feel no pulse on Sofia’s neck. Her eyes were half open, looking at him with a blank expression. There was nothing behind them. Shoulders heaving, he held her to him.
Something hit him in the back of the head, hard, and he went down, crushing his daughter beneath him as he fell to the floor on top of her. He saw stars, and when his head cleared he saw the woman Sofia had called Girl drawing back a stone doorstop for another swing at him.
“What the hell are you doing?!” he roared, ducking the swing and scrabbling away from her, still holding Sofia to him.
“We are sending you to hell!” Olivia hissed and brought the stone down hard.
Across the room, Nancy’s fingers had developed cramps and the children were now doing nothing more than bumping into her and pawing at her in a half-hearted way. When Hoffman yelled, she looked up, startled. As if in horror, her left index finger finally let up its pressure on the spray can as the rock connected with Hoffman’s skull. He hit the ground and lay still, as still as his daughter. Blood oozed from the wound on his skull. Grinning, Olivia drew back the rock for another blow and dropped it. Nancy could see Hoffman’s blood staining the rock had made it slippery.
Nancy looked down and saw the dolls twitching, struggling to move their deformed appendages. The jet of fire had melted their faces into unrecognizable blobs and they resembled nothing so much as vaguely humanoid plastic. But they were moving. They were moving Olivia.
Snatching the dolls up, Nancy looked around the basement. Shoving one of the children out of the way, she stabbed her finger at a button and threw both dolls into the microwave which adorned the mini fridge beside the TV stand. Slamming the door, she punched +30 SEC, again, and again, over and over. The microwave whirred to life.
The scream inside her head now was so piercing, it brought her to her knees. She cried out and could not hear herself over the thrashing of the dolls inside her head. Olivia dropped the rock again and shrieked, clapping her hands to her ears along with the children whose eyes were now their own. Inside the microwave, the melted shapes bubbled and began to turn black. A noxious smell filled the basement as the screaming went on and on and the microwave counted down.
When the microwave dinged, it did so into a kind of daze. The occupants of the basement were not awake, but not asleep. They sat where they had fallen, staring at the wall, with the sounds of agony and suffering ringing in their heads. Nancy was the first to realize the screaming had stopped, along with the microwave, some time ago. She took her hands from over her ears (she hadn’t even realized they were there anymore) and looked around.
Olivia lay beside what remained of the Hoffman family in the fetal position, one ear pressed to the carpet, a hand pressed tightly to the other. Her eyes were open wide and staring, but they were beginning to move and twitched to meet Nancy’s. The terror which had filled them since Sofia had come was fading.
The children were all crying, and Nancy’s maternal instincts roused her the rest of the way from her stupor. Shaking her head to clear it did no good, it just seemed to start an echo of the screaming again in the back of her mind. Pushing herself up, she began to move around the children, speaking soothing words in a low voice. Working her way across the room, spreading comfort as she went, she got to Olivia.
“Go outside and get help,” she told Olivia. “Hurry, these kids need it.” She looked at Olivia with empathy. “So do you.”
Olivia’s face was blank with expression fighting to resurface. “They told me… they’ll…”
“They are dead,” Nancy said, taking Olivia’s hand, avoiding the one with three fingers. “Dead and gone in a nuclear holocaust thanks to America’s favorite appliance. They can’t hurt us anymore.”
Olivia looked at her with a mixture of petulance and dawning hope. “But… they said…”
Going back to the microwave, Nancy punched the button and retrieved the still warm and smoking remains of the dolls. They did not now resemble humans in the slightest and shared more characteristics with a pancake of Silly Putty. She showed these to Olivia, whose eyes lost their petulance as she poked at them and grinned.
“Go get help,” Nancy said and gave her a push toward the stairs. This time, Olivia went.
The last ambulance roared down the street and turned left, away from the Sutton house and toward the nearest hospital with the remaining children. Once there, they would be fed and pampered by the pediatric staff, one of the best in the county. It would heal their hurts, but nothing could be done about the dreams from which they would awaken screaming for the rest of their lives.
Hoffman and Sofia were placed with great care on a hearse and whisked away to the finest funeral home in town, where Hoffman’s eventuality instructions had been on file for years, awaiting just such a calamity. Within seven days, the entire Hoffman family was beneath the ground.
Nancy and Olivia watched the last ambulance drive away, having declined the offer to be chauffeured in like manner. There was a lengthy interview with one of the police officers who had responded, which culminated in taking his card and promising to come to the station as soon as they were done at the hospital to make their formal statement.
Escaping finally to the safety of the car Hoffman had stolen for him and Nancy so long ago, they both sighed in relief as the doors slammed behind them.
“Let’s go,” said Olivia. She reclined the seat, and closed her eyes, sighing. “I want to get this over with.”
Nancy nodded, starting the engine. She could not have agreed more. The name she had given to the officer had been enough to prevent him associating her with a mental patient who had escaped from the asylum, and that was all that mattered.
As she pulled onto the street, the streetlights flickered on as dusk settled over the neighborhood. The dolls, safely hidden inside Nancy ever since they had first touched her, looked out over the unrolling street beneath them. The glow of the florescent bulbs lit far back in the depths of Nancy’s eyes, and if Olivia had been watching, she would have screamed at what she saw there.
Smiling, Nancy turned left and followed the ambulance into the city, where the nearest brick wall put an end to her and Olivia’s torment forever.