Alyssa stared at the little doll, lying on the floor not a metre away from her nose, and fought the urge to recoil further. It was a doll, for goodness' sake, why was she so terrified of it? It hadn't actually harmed her, like it seemed to have hurt Belle that time, but it had certainly given her a shock. And what was with the writing? It was nothing like her own, but she had definitely written it. She still had little marks in her fingers, where her nails had dug in as she gripped the pen tight. She had nearly broken her own skin in one spot on her middle finger, she realised now. And the words, they were from that poem that had been rolling around in her head the day she found the doll on the beach. Thinking of that morning made her think about the nightmare she had had - in the dance studio, spinning, spinning, and then the hand reaching for her with the razor sharp nails. Alyssa shivered, and tried to banish the idea from her mind, but the image was with her now. Like a stubborn piece of meat caught in between her teeth, the image was stuck in her mind, and it wasn't going to shift without some effort, she realised.
The sun filtering through the sheer fabric and onto the page no longer seemed conforting and romantic, but claustrophobic and stifling. She wondered what was lingering out there that she couldn't quite see. And the doll, staring up at her from the floor, as though it was telling her that she was a bad girl. A bad, bad girl. But then it went red. And now they're all dead. You're a wicked little girl. Alyssa jumped up, startled, and whipped aside the curtains. Her room was as it should be. Except for the taunting little doll on the floor of the reading nook and the torn pages with their eerie message, everything was fine. She took a deep breath. Everything was fine.
She reached down to the notebook and tore out the page she (had she? who else could it have been?) had scrawled on, and the two pages beneath it, where the impression of the letters still stood, then threw them down the garbage disposal in the kitchen sink. As she watched the hungry machine chew them up, she had another idea, and went back to the reading nook to grab the doll. But it was gone. She lifted the throw pillows, tossed them aside in a frenzy, but the doll was nowhere to be found. It had, however, left that image in her mind, and she couldn't almost hear it scratching in the corner of her brain - you bad, wicked girl. Now they're all dead.
Mandy picked up her new uniform blouse - plain white and tailored, with the kitsch logo of the practise on the left breast - and peered inside it for tags. They were there, with a little bag containing a spare button. She tore them off with a single tug, and put them aside on the dressing table. She would add the button to her collection in the sewing kit later on. The pants, seams sharp enough to spread butter, also sported all sorts of tags and labels. She was going to need scissors for this lot, she thought. She meandered out to the kitchen in her bra and underpants, to find the nail scissors and snip them off. Back in the bedroom, she detached the tags, and stepped into the pants. They were a good fit, she thought, looking in the mirrored doors of the wardrobe. She sat down at the vanity to do her makeup - just a little natural colour, she thought, don't overdo it. She finished, stood, and shrugged on the blouse, watching her refelction in the vanity mirror as she did up the buttons, and shrugged her shoulders, getting it to hang nicely. Eventually, nodding appreciably, she left the room. She didn't notice the woman behind her reflected image in the vanity mirror, and walked out humming under her breath, ready to start on her first day.
Jamie was at the end of his shift. It had been a long one, and he was tired. The patients had been nothing but a long, non-stop line of whinging, sniffling and complaining. Some days, he found himself wondering what had possessed him to go into general practise in the first place. Why hadn't he done like all his peers had - found a speciality and gone on to be a surgeon, make the big money. He was sure that he had had compelling reasons to go into general practise at the time, but he could be buggered if he could remember what they were now.
He packed the last of the equipment - sterilised and ready for a new day - away in the drawers, grabbed his briefcase, and headed out, pulling the consulting room door shut behind him. In the reception area, the medical receptionist was busy packing away his own desk - finalising the day's takings, putting the money in a bank deposit bag, and shutting down the twin computers on the front desk. Jaime popped his head in behind the counter to say a quick goodbye. Robert looked up, smiled briefly, and wished him a good night. Jamie thanked him, and then stopped short as he spotted something on Rob's desk. He pointed and, unable to find his voice at first, eventually stammered out, "Wh ... what's that?"
Rob looked up, startled, then followed Jamie's pointing finger with his eyes. He picked up the little doll on the desk, and held it out so Jamie could see, "What this? Well, I believe it's a Guatemalan Worry Doll."
Jamie recoiled from the proffered doll, mentally chiding himself, but unable to stop himself, "Where ... where did you get it?" he said in a voice that was nothing even close to normal.
"Why, it was left here in reception. I guess a patient dropped it." Rob paused, searching Jamie's face, "Doctor? Are you alright? Can I get you a glass of water or something?"
Jamie shook his head, trying to clear it, and recover from the shock of seeing the little doll here in the practise. "I ... yes, I'm fine. Thanks Rob. Why don't you ... take it home with you, huh?"
"Ah, well, I was thinking I'd leave it here for now. Someone might come back for it."
"Oh. Hmm. Good point." Jamie moved around into the public area again, "Well. I'll ... I'll see you tomorrow then." Jamie paused, checking to see if he could see the worry doll from this position. Pleased when he realised that he couldn't, he added, "Actually, it will be Wednesday. I'm off tomorrow."
"Yes, no problem." Rob gave him another searching look, "Are you sure you're alright, Doctor? You've gone white as sheet."
Jamie nodded. He was getting a grip on himself again now that he couldn't see the doll from behind the high-topped desk. He even managed a halfway normal smile. "I'm fine Rob, just felt a bit strange for a while there. Must be these long hours. It's nothing a good night's sleep won't fix." He gave another smile to punctuate the lie, and tossed a wave over his shoulder as he walked out the door, leaving Rob alone in the practise. With the doll.
When Jamie finally got home, it was after eight o'clock. The girls were nowhere to be seen - Belle holed up in her room and Alyssa studying in her flat, he guessed. Rudolph greeted him lazily from under the kitchen table, but didn't get up. He could see a plastic-wrapped plate sitting on the kitchen bench and he put it into the microwave and set it going. While he waited, he wandered into the bedroom, looking for Mandy, and found her sitting up in bed, reading. Or at least, she had been. The book - a paperback copy of a John Grisham novel - had slipped closed from one limp hand, and she was fast asleep in a sitting position. He stopped, smiled down at her, the only thought in his mind how beautiful she was, then leant down to kiss her forehead. Her eyes fluttered gently, and she opened them with a yawn, "Oh, hello you." she murmered.
"How are you, Darling? How was your first day?"
Mandy stretched, and recovered her book. She reached over to the bedside table to put it away as she answered, "Oh, pretty good. It's all pretty much the same as I'm used to. I have to get used to the computing system, but the office manager and the doctors all seem quite nice."
Jamie smiled, sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled off his shoes so he could lie down beside her. He had an itch the arch of his foot, inside his sock, and he scratched at it absently, then pulled the sock off. A little piece of twig, wrapped in a scrap of cloth, fell out of the sock and on to the carpet. Jamie caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, then jumped up suddenly when he realised what it was. He uttered a little unvoluntary cry, and Mandy sat up in bed, her eyes questioning. They both stared at the little doll on the floor - Mandy from the bed, and Jamie standing nearby. From the kitchen, the microwave began to beep. Jamie ignored it.
Belle had heard Jamie come in, she was lying on her bed with her laptop open, an online book being read to her through the text-to-speech system. She had also heard the microwave beep to indicate it had finished its programme. In two minutes it beeped again. And then again. Belle wondered what they were up to. When it started beeping for the fourth time, Belle paused the book reading, and got up with a sigh. She wasn't going to put up with that beeping all night. And it would go all night, the microwave wouldn't let up once it on to a good thing, she knew. Also, she decided she needed a cup of coffee.
In the kitchen, Belle hit the Cancel button without looking inside the microwave. She knew it would be Jamie's dinner in there. She filled the kettle from the tap, set it back on the base, and switched it on. She couldn't hear any noise from the rest of the house - everything was eerily still, until Rudolph gave a strange little whine from his place under the table. Suddenly, a little trickle of fear began to slide into the pit of her belly. Something was wrong.
"Mum!" she called. Listened. Nothing. "Mum?" Belle held her breath, straining to hear anything over her own heartbeat. Rudolph whined again, louder this time.
"Mum?!" She was just about screaming now, and she heard the edge of panic on her own voice. The trickle of fear had began a hot stone sitting in her stomach, weighing her down. Rudolph was suddenly at her side, leaning his warm body against her leg. It was comforting in its own way, but not what she needed right now. She patted him, murmered "what's going on, Roo?" then pushed him away gently as she began to hurry towards the entrance to her mother's bedroom. Moving too quickly, she rapped her thigh against the corner of the kitchen table, and swore under her breath. When she reached the door, she found it open, and called out again, yelling "Mum?! Are you in here?"
As though waking from a trance, Mandy looked up at her daughter, "I'm here Belle. Don't shout." she said dreamily.
"Mum? What's happening?"
"Happening?" Mandy said, as though she didn't understand the word.
"Yeah. The microwave ..." Belle trailed off, not really certain what had caused her flutter of fear, now. "And Rudolph. He was ... well, he was whining." Belle felt suddenly foolish at her own panic.
Mandy gave Jamie a look, and although Belle didn't see it, she sensed the ripple in the air. "What's going on, Mum?"
Belle listened to the bed springs shift as Mandy got up off the bed, heard the shuffle of her footsteps on the carpet, masking Jamie's. Then Mandy's arm was around her shoulders. "Nothing's going on, Belle. What's got into you?"
Belle frowned. She could tell something was going on, but she couldn't begin to guess what it was. Mandy went on, in a false voice, "How about I put the kettle on, huh?"