Happy Halloween (Friday). I decided that I needed to put out a story for Halloween. This one would be PG13, I imagine, if it was a short film or something. A couple of years ago, a younger blogger (me, but younger) wrote a four-part story and put it on 4 separate posts of his blog. It received some praise, enough that I felt reposting it would not be a bad thing. I took the story parts, combined them, and posted the entire tale below. It would be about 9-11 pages in print, so not too bad.
Here’s the challenge: I would like to have some praise/helpgul criticism about the story. I plan to include it in my next horror anthology. Please let me know what you think.
Valley of a Doll
By Scott L Vannatter
November 29, 2012
Joey Destrum knew this traveling flea market was not really worth his time to be here; and it, certainly, was not worth his efforts and skills. Even at seventeen, Joey was a talented thief. There were many a lady and gentleman missing a bit of cash all thanks to Joey. He maintained a job about fifteen hours a week so his income would not appear too much. He spent a little more than he earned there, stashing the rest in a hidden place in the woods behind his house. He had put away nearly eight thousand dollars in the six years he had been stealing money from people. He was smart; he only took a little and, most of the time, the people got their purse or wallet back, minus some of the cash. People missed money if it was all gone, but when only part of it disappeared, they felt lucky and forgetful. Things were good.
He walked through the tent looking for a mark or two. He was trying for about fifty tonight, no more. He had a date tomorrow and wanted that covered. The problem was people here were full of cash, just not a lot. He could tell simply by watching them. Most of the people had small bills in not very large bundles. The few he could not tell about were a bit paranoid about their money. He knew better than to mess with them; they spelled trouble with C-O-P-S. That was the other problem; he did not know the local officer, but he knew the uniform very well. This officer would be running under Sergeant Molland, a man who lived on principles and the idea that no crime was too small. So, Joey was bored and without prospects.
The table with all the knives and old watches caught his eye, but the officer was standing next to that table. Besides, Joey did not deal in merchandise. While there was a decent fence in the area, Joey knew including anyone else in his particular trade could be bad news.
He continued his journey, pretending to look hard at the items, while scanning the people for a possible profit. He was about to give up hope when he spied a woman purchasing a doll from a nearby table who dropped a couple of bills when taking her change. She stooped to pick up a twenty missing the other twenty that floated under the tablecloth. Joey walked at a reasonable pace to the table and accidentally (of course) dropped his own wallet. His aim was good and the wallet bounced halfway under the table near the bill. He picked up both and stuck the twenty in his wallet. He decided that one was too easy.
He turned at the voice.
“Are you interested in something specific?” The deep baritone was soft but clear.
Joey looked at the tall black man behind the table. The fellow had deep set features, pronounced but handsome in their own way. He looked to be in his fifties but alert and fit.
“No, thank you, Sir. I was just looking around.” He put his wallet back into his pocket and smiled. Clear and clean, no problems. That’s the way he liked it.
The owner did not give up easily.
“Too bad. I have a wonderful collection behind the table in my private room.” He smiled, his overly white teeth glistening in the overhead lights. Joey thought a moment, just a moment, and then spoke.
“Well, I do have an Aunt who loves dolls. Perhaps, if they are not too expensive…”
The smile broadened. “No, my young master, some of them are priced well below their possible value. Times have been hard and I need to send some of them out into the world in other hands.” In gesture, he spread his hands, one to each side, showing the world he intended to put his dolls into.
Joey had decided this might be his opportunity. He nodded. The man motioned to him to follow into the room at the back, which was veiled by a different colored tent flap.
Valley of a Doll – Story – Part 2
Joey walked from a world of reality into one of fantasy. The back room was full of old chests and trunks, obviously the containers for all the things on the tables outside. There were old items sitting on top of the chests; there were so many dolls, he could not see them all without looking more than once at the same spot. Some of the dolls were in formal attire; they appeared ready to attend a ball. Others had more of a trailer trash look about them, almost ugly and, definitely, poor. He saw dolls obviously made up to be hookers and another that was … oh my! His gaze stopped at the pile of money, both coins and bills, laying out on the table by itself in the back corner of the room. The money was, apparently, not counted yet; it was sort of free for the taking. He looked around; the owner of the dolls (and the money) was not back here. He heard the sounds of a conversation. The man was with a customer.
Joey stepped near the table, still looking at the door and listening. He examined the pile of coins and bills quickly, determined that the owner would not miss fifty if taken in tens and twenties. Joey put the four bills in his back pocket, deciding that three tens and one twenty would be less noticeable. Walking back to the front half of the tent, he casually picked up a doll and looked at it with feigned interest. He turned slowly as the tent flap moved aside; a dark hand parted the way.
“You like that one, Sir?”
“Well, I do, but, to tell you the truth, my Aunt has this flair for red-headed dolls.” He laid the dark-haired beauty back on the table.
The owner smiled and nodded with understanding.
“To each his own. How about this one?” He handed Joey a beautiful porcelain doll with bright red hair. Joey did not think he had ever seen one before.
“Well, she would love it. How much?” This was the part of Joey’s plan he thought deserved a medal.
“Twenty-five even. Quite a bargain. I had to fight for that one.”
Joey smiled and nodded. He took out his wallet and counted out twenty-five dollars. He handed it to the dealer and appeared excited to get the doll. His actual thoughts were that he was getting a doll to give to his Aunt, his real Aunt, and still came out forty-five dollars ahead. That gave him forty-five for the night, which was almost what he needed. He decided he would just fall five short, make his Aunt happy, and still have a good date. All in all, it was a nice evening, indeed.
He turned to leave, but the man caught him by the wrist, spinning him around.
“Now, if I could just have my money back,” he said, holding his other hand out.
“What are you talking about?” Joey had practiced this look for a long time and through several close calls.
“The stack on the table over there. Earlier it had two hundred forty-seven dollars in bills and three something in change. There are three tens and a twenty missing, my young sir.” He sniveled the “sir” part when he said it.
Joey thought fast. The old fart could, evidently, see a pile of something and know how much it held. Joey forgot what they called it, “Eide…” something memory. But, he still had a card to play. He did not jerk his hand away; he simply stood tall and smiled.
“Sir, I don’t know what you are doing, but, let’s call the officer back here so you can tell him I took, what, fifty dollars from a stack of money you had laying back on a table. I am certain you have ‘proof’ I took cash from you.” Joey stared at him. There was no way he could be tied to the fifty dollars since it was cash and no one was around. This is why he never took much and always cash.
The older man looked at him, and then released his wrist. His shoulders slumped. Joey knew he was in control now. He started to smile again when the man brought his hand up to his mouth, stared at Joey, and puffed. Joey felt a sting and stared at the small dart sticking from his shirt. He started to scream but found he could not even speak. His legs became weak and he fell to the floor in a pile. The last thing he heard was the old man laughing softly.
Valley of a Doll – Story – Part 3
“He blew me off!” Janet sizzled as she threw her teddy bear across the room. She immediately regretted it, but could not leave the bed to retrieve the animal until her tears stopped boiling down her cheeks. After a bit she sniffed and sighed, going after her beloved bear. She hugged it, apologizing to the stuffed keepsake. She felt she should have known it would happen. The date was made with one of the “bad” boys, Joey. He had never been arrested or anything like that. Lord, her father would have flipped then! No, not arrested, but he had been thought to have stolen several times from various places. Not proved, mind you, just thought. She sniffed again, the memory of being asked out still fresh in her mind. When Joey had asked her to go to eat and then a movie, she was beyond stunned. She had not even thought he knew who she was. Now, she realized it was more of a joke at her expense. She had hoped this time would be different. But, no, she was left once again.
She looked in the mirror at the dimples, the long dark hair, and the sad blue eyes.
“Shoulda known,” was all she could think.
She began to cry again, then stopped herself.
“I’m going shopping! That’ll help.” In her mind, she knew it would not hurt.
Her father did not even look up from his paper when she told her Mom her date had fallen through and she wanted to go shopping. Her mother took Janet’s face in her hands, kissed her nose, and told her to be careful and be home early. Janet walked out with more confidence than she truly had. She still wanted to cry, but hoped she would not do it if she were out in public.
Janet wandered into the small town and went into the local diner for a burger and drink. After, she stopped in at a couple of the dress stores, talked to the owners, and left. She had not forgotten about the date, but she did feel much better out in the air and around people.
As she walked the sidewalks in the late afternoon sun, she saw the lights coming from the park where the flea market was set up. She had forgotten about it with all the thinking about her date. She picked up her pace and arrived within minutes.
There were, actually, several tents and she entered the first one. It was mostly tools and furniture, not what she wanted to browse. The next one contained clothes and books, but they were out of date for her to wear to school and the books were older, not what she liked to read.
“Nothing here about glittering vampires and sexy werewolves,” she thought smiling. She did see a copy of “Pride and Prejudice” that was both low-priced and in good shape. She picked it up and leafed through the pages. “Those were the days,” her heart spoke instead of her head. “Men treated women like women and showed up when they said they would.” She knew, deep down, she was treated much better today, but it made her feel better to think ill of the present, especially the males.
The third tent drew her up short. It was filled with all types of things. She saw watches and knives, tricycles and box games. In the far corner she saw the dolls and knew she was where she needed to be to forget it all for a while. She picked up a longhaired doll dressed like Snow White and stroked its hair. She noticed the older man in the corner who seemed to be watching her a little closer than she thought necessary.
“He probably thinks I’m a thief,” she mused silently. She had never stolen anything in her life and probably never would. She knew she would never be able to keep silent about it. “I would get caught because I would return it,” she said to herself. The man seemed to hear her thoughts and turned to focus on a mother and her two young boys who had just walked up. Janet continued looking at the dolls.
There were hundreds of them. She picked up one after another, thinking to herself how some were simply amazing in their appearance. Her voice caught in her throat as she spied a fairly new looking doll lying on a shelf against the tent wall. She picked up the porcelain figure and stared at it. The face looked so much like Joey she nearly fainted. The eyes were even the right color, colors in this case as Joey had one brown and one green eye. The shape of the chin, the length of the hair, it was all correct. She felt she should know. After all, she had gotten into trouble twice for not paying attention to the teacher while she had been staring at Joey.
“Are you alright, young lady?” The owner stared at her.
“Yes, Sir. I was just noticing how much this doll looks like someone I know.”
“Is that right?” He put his thumb and first finger to his chin, scratching and thinking. He smiled and looked at her hard. “I have several more in back if you like. You see, I make some of the dolls myself. Perhaps, I had seen your person last time I was here and his image came to mind.” He started walking back to the back.
Janet thought about what he said. It made sense. She could not really think of anything else that would. She turned and saw the policeman standing by the watches and knives table. Feeling much safer, she followed the man to the back of the area.
Ducking under the door flap, she tried to adjust quickly to the darkness of the room. There were other dolls lying around, as well as some cash on a table. She turned to face the owner. As she did, he brought his hand to his mouth and puffed. Janet felt a small touch and, instinctively, looked down. Her eye saw the small dart sticking in the doll’s side. She looked back up. The owner had recovered and was grabbing for her. She panicked and did not cry out. Instead, she threw the doll at his head. He knocked it aside and grabbed her, putting one hand over her mouth.
“Shouldn’t have left it out. Pride, I guess,” he said, more to himself than to her. “Well, it will be okay, once I have taken care of you, I will pack up and move on.” He noticed Janet’s eyes and the light change in them. Looking over his shoulder he saw the flames start on the tablecloth where the candle had been knocked over by the thrown doll.
Forgetting Janet completely, he turned and ran for something in the back of the tent. Janet saw it was a doll sitting up on a throne. She could not see well in the flickering light, but did think the color of the hair and skin looked remarkably like the owner’s. He grabbed the doll and turned toward her, his eyes blazing over the fire. Janet found her mind again and turned to run. As she did she saw the reflection in a mirror of the black man trying to get through the thick, building smoke. His form falling to the floor was the last image she had before she tore through the flap and ran out of the tent.
When Janet’s parents arrived at the hospital, Janet was talking to an officer. He walked off, leaving her alone.
“Janet! Oh my God!” Her mother wrapped her in her arms, covering the top of her head with kisses. Her father put his hand on her back and tried hard to smile.
“I’m okay, Mother.” She decided not to tell her mother of the doll owner who had tried to assault her and who had perished in the fire. Her mother still had questions.
“Were you there when it all caught fire?”
“Yes, Mom. Apparently, one of the flea market people was burning candles in the back area and it got out of control.” Not a lie she thought, just not quite everything.
Her mother fussed and fumed over the whole incident for several hours. When they got home, Janet was exhausted. When her head hit the pillow, she was out like a light. She did not ever realize until morning that she had dropped the Joey doll when she was leaving the tent.
The next day, Janet awoke, dressed, ate, and then signed onto her computer. The local paper website had pictures of the fire. Most of the tents and the contents were lost in the blaze. Five people had died. The owner of the doll table, a Mr. Rosen Barnem, had been labeled as the reason for the fire. He had no family and had died at age 94. 94! Janet’s mouth dropped open. She had not thought him to have looked a day over 55. She rethought her dinner plans, thinking whole wheat and bran might just be in order. Her mouth dropped again when she read that, of the other four bodies, only one had been local. It seemed that Joey Destrum had been found lying next to one of the tables in the doll area. He had died of smoke inhalation. She stopped reading and cried for a moment. Then, she was puzzled. She had not remembered seeing him at the flea market at all.
Janet kept perusing and found several other local interest stories. In the first, a local teenage girl had been found wandering out of the junkyard in the late evening hours. She had been reported missing almost three days earlier, but could not remember anything about where she had been. The second was a shorter story telling how another of the dead bodies in the tent fire had been that of a man from two states over who had been reported missing last month.
The third story was intriguing. It seemed a man had been found in a twelve-year-old girl’s room around nine o’clock on the same night as the fire. The family had been to the flea market and had returned home and gotten ready for bed. The father and mother had come running into their daughter’s room when she began screaming. When they had gotten to the room, they saw a grown man sitting in the corner looking around as if crazy. He had remained in the corner until the police had arrived to take him into custody. He was reported as saying he could not remember where he had been or how he had gotten into the little girl’s room. The man gave his name and the police found he had been reported missing nearly three months ago from a small town in Tennessee.
Janet stopped reading and stared at the ceiling in thought.
“It can’t be,” she said out loud.
Then, she began crying again, harder. She realized that, if she were right, it was her fault Joey had died. Her body shook with the sobs she made for hours.