by Tabitha Grimshaw
photo by nicksweetman
Jeepers Creepers Contest Runner-Up!
Ally looked down at the red spatter on the white lace. Blood all over my favorite dress. This just won’t do. She puckered her lips and snorted. “Now I’ll have to change.”
From the top of the stairs, she squinted into the darkness. She hated the basement, but she had no choice. The stairs creaked under her shiny black Mary Janes as she took each step one at a time. Damp and bitter odors crept up her nose and slid across her tongue. Running her fingertips over the sticky stone wall, she found the toggle switch and pushed it up. The dangling bulb spewed a cone of yellow light.
Squatting, Ally tilted her head to the side. “Mommy, I need you to unzip my dress.”
Her eyes wide and unblinking, Mother stared up at her.
“You got me all dirty when you fell.”
Mother’s lips quivered and then parted. A crimson trickle oozed from her mouth and nose. For a moment, her lashes fluttered as her irises disappeared into her skull. When they rolled back around, they shoved out a few tears. Her mother had brown eyes. Ally didn’t like brown.
“None of this would have happened if you hadn’t gotten the wrong doll.” Ally poked one of the droplets clinging to Mother’s nose. “I told you I wanted the doll with red hair and green eyes. It’s my birthday. I should get what I want.”
A wet gurgle rattled Mother’s throat.
“Can you at least try to unzip my dress?” Ally huffed. “Everybody will be here soon.”
Mother’s nails scraped against the concrete. It reminded Ally of the baby bird she stuffed in a shoebox and shoved under her bed. The scratching sound lulled her to sleep for two nights, but then it abruptly stopped. A day later, the stench forced Ally to toss the squishy body into the garden. She jabbed it with a stick until the neighbor’s cat bit into its neck and ran off with it, leaving a trail of down.
Glaring at Mother’s motionless body, Ally clenched her fists and frowned. “Hmph. You’re no help at all.” With a stomp of her foot, she spun around, turned off the light, and tromped up the stairs.
The wooden stool screeched across the floor. Ally climbed atop and turned the faucet handle. She splashed water against her face until the swirl of red changed pink then clear. Grabbing the yellow sponge, she scrubbed at the scarlet speckles on her ruffles, grumbling, “If Mommy hadn’t gotten the wrong doll….”
The doll she wanted looked like Katie Adler—red hair hanging in spiral locks, green eyes glittering behind long lashes, golden freckles smattering her button nose. All the children at school liked Katie. Everyone wanted to sit beside her at lunch. Brian Dunfee gave her his cupcake almost every day. Even the teacher favored Katie, decorating her papers with gold stars and smiley faces. Katie had everything. She really didn’t need two butterfly barrettes.
When Katie tumbled down the stairs, she grunted once. But after the crackle and crunch, she bounced and flopped quietly all the way down. She landed at the bottom with her head wrenched completely backward and her eyes wide open. Screams pierced the hallway. The frenzied shuffling of feet scraped across the floor. Children wailed. Teachers moaned. Ally smiled, a silver butterfly with colored wings snugly in her grip.
Katie’s stare brought a warm feeling to Ally’s stomach, like eating oatmeal on a snowy day. Then mean Mr. Belcher scooped Ally up and covered her eyes, which made the good feeling go away. When she saw the doll gazing at her from the store window, the sensation rushed back into her tummy, and her heart fluttered. She had to have it.
Her fingers sore from scrubbing, Ally dropped the sponge into the sink and scowled. The red spots had faded to dirty orange. Blood all over my favorite dress. This just won’t do. Plopping down onto the stool, Ally pinched her face and huffed, “Why did Mommy have to get the wrong doll?”
For two weeks, Ally reminded Mother that the red-headed doll was what she wanted for her birthday. And Ally had been good those two weeks—cleaning her room, doing her homework, and saying her prayers. When a tantrum buzzed in her ears and pecked at her brain, begging for release, she held it in and imagined the Katie doll at the end of her bed, its head twisted backward, the butterfly barrette glittering in its curls.
Without crying or gagging, she even ate her vegetables, and Ally didn’t like vegetables. She smiled and obeyed, choking down the bland mush at Mother’s incessant nagging. But for what? A doll with stupid yellow braids and ugly brown eyes. Tears wet her cheeks as she flung open the basement door. “That was the wrong doll, and now I have blood all over my favorite dress!”
After a few heaving sobs, Ally sniffled, wiped her nose on her arm, and gently closed the door. Reaching behind her head, her fingers found the zipper. She worked it down a few inches and then pulled at the lace collar. Ally sighed. It wasn’t enough.
Outside, a car rumbled into the driveway blaring Bye Bye Love from the radio. Clutching her fists to her chest, Ally spun on one foot and giggled. Father was home with her cupcakes. She had asked for the same cupcakes that Brian Dunfee gave Katie Adler—vanilla with colored sprinkles inside and swirls of chocolate frosting on top.
Balancing a large, white box on one hand, Father pushed open the kitchen door with the other. The newspaper tucked under his arm, he hooked his fedora onto the coatrack and tossed the box onto the table.
Smiling so widely it hurt, Ally opened the box to a sea of white frosting and pink sugar. Her shoulders slumped. Her smile fell. Her eye twitched. A muffled ringing pierced her ears. Father had gotten the wrong cupcakes. A brewing tantrum squeezed her throat, making it hard to swallow. “These aren’t the ones I asked for, Daddy.”
Father loosened his tie and mussed her hair. His hands reeked of cigarettes. Ally didn’t like cigarettes. “Well, that’s what you got.” He slipped out of his overcoat, slinging it onto the back of a chair. The sweet scent of lady’s perfume mingled with the pungent smell of Lifebuoy soap escaped into the air. “Where the hell’s your mother? And where’s my goddamn lunch?” Slamming drawers and cabinets, he growled and grumbled as he made himself a sandwich.
Unable to blink, Ally glared at the snowy icing. The radiator hissed and spit, muffling the children on the radio singing about Armour hotdogs. Everything seemed far away, out of focus, until Father snatched one of her cupcakes and crammed the whole thing in his mouth.
He sucked bits of devil’s food cake off his thumb. “I sure hope the cow doesn’t think I’m gonna finish decorating. She said all I had to do was get the cupcakes. And I did that. How about a thank you, you ungrateful brat?”
Warmth flooded Ally’s stomach. “Thank you, Daddy.” She batted her lashes and smiled. “Mommy’s in the basement.”
“What the hell is she doing in the basement? Oh, right. The wine’s down there.” Father twisted the knob and threw the door open. “Helen, get up here and finish blowing up these balloons. Helen?” Father made his angry face and shook his head. “Probably passed out again.” He flipped the light switch up and down. “Dammit. I told her to get someone out here to fix this. Great. Now I’ve gotta go all the way to the bottom to reach the other damn switch.” Narrowing his eyes, he peered into the darkness. “Helen? Helen, I’m coming to get you. And so help me, woman, if you’re drunk again….” Father eased his foot onto the first step.
Ally tugged on his shirttail. “Wait, Daddy. Before you go down the stairs… I need you to unzip my dress.”
Tabitha Grimshaw developed a passion for writing while still in elementary school. A Financial Systems Analyst by day, she delves into the dark and creepy at night, in search of twisted and enchanted tales worth telling. She published her first novel, The Reckoning, in December, 2013, and is currently working on her next book, The Dragonslayer.