Dimply Dolly Doofy
Donald R. Burleson
Donald R. Burleson is the author of twenty-two books, including the short story collections Lemon Drops and Other Horrors, Four Shadowings, Beyond the Lamplight, and Wait for the Thunder, as well as four novels. His fiction has appeared in Twilight Zone, the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Lore, Cemetery Dance, Inhuman, Deathrealm, Terminal Fright, and many other magazines, as well as in dozens of anthologies, most recently Black Wings, Dead But Dreaming 2, and Horror for the Holidays. He lives in Roswell, New Mexico, with his writer wife Mollie and five cats.
Cindy’s head was enshrouded in a thick gray mantle of fog. Only she could see it, though. It was her private nebula, a swirling mental miasma of her very own, a chemical stratocumulus layer born of methamphetamines and nurtured by habit. Truth to tell, her condition bordered on outright stupor, a cerebral smog-bank that promised any day now to ripen into coma.
For now, however, she thought only of the present moment, a purposeless kaleidoscope of sense impressions with a dash of delirium. Sitting at a ramshackle wooden table in a malodorous apartment in which cleanliness was not even a comic memory, she stirred a half-warmed bowl of soup, lifting her spoon languidly from time to time to take a sip, dimly aware at some point that among the chunks of mushroom, two rotten yellow-gray teeth were floating in the liquid. She fished them out and flung them across the room. When had they fallen out, anyhow? Well, that was meth-mouth for you. A laugh a minute.
The pot in which she had heated the soup lay overturned across from her on the table, and she picked it up and looked at her reflection in the greasy metal surface. Aside from the spaces left by missing teeth, her visage was marred only by bleary jaundiced eyes, a puffy nose clogged with mucus, and a lunar landscape of facial pustules the color and consistency of rancid mayonnaise. Her hair, such of it as she still possessed, hung in miserable muddy strands like a soiled mop, and her cheeks and neck were wrinkled into saurian folds like those of an especially ill-preserved hundred-year-old woman. Cindy was seventeen.
Well, what if her face had lost a bit of its charm, its blossom of youth, and what if her clothes smelled of urine, and what if her breath did have the aroma of raw sewage? Was that any reason why she should be crying? But no, wait, it wasn’t she who was crying. It must be the baby, off in the other room. Cindy had forgotten about her.
Actually the baby didn’t so much cry as moan, her usual low, lethargic moan that somehow seemed to fit her emotionless little round face with its muddled and incurious eyes. Looking at this wan face, one might almost have thought the child was brain damaged, and if she had been, it would have been a matter of small wonder.
Cindy faltered her way into the other room, retrieved the baby, and brought her back to the kitchen table, where she began spooning what was left of the mushroom soup into the tiny mouth. For possibly the second or third time, she wondered who the baby’s father was—not that it much mattered, she supposed. It could have been Carl or Lester or Jimmy or Earl or any of a couple of dozen other guys, all meth-heads of course, since she didn’t know anybody else. At times she hoped it wasn’t Jimmy, since the chemical mix he liked to pump into his veins was an especially scary kind of brew. At least Cindy generally stuck to the plain-vanilla sort of meth lab, not putting anything into her body much more bizarre than kitchen cleansers and creosote and lithium battery innards. Jimmy, on the other hand, had always gone for the labs that used ingredients like lighter fluid, paint thinner, and silver polish, and he had forever been babbling that mystical-sounding drivel of his as well.
It had something to do with an ancient book his grandfather supposedly used to read to him from, about the Old Gods or some such nonsense. Jimmy always seemed to take it pretty seriously, even reciting some of what his grandfather had told him. “Make strong the power in the blood,” he had intoned, “taking into yourself the mighty salts and fluids, and know the woman who has made her blood not unlike your own in strength, for then shall you bring forth a child who shall be an instrument in opening the gates for the return of the Old Gods. Many sacrifices needs must be made, and the child shall do much to bring them to pass.” Thinking about it now, Cindy emitted a wheezing and cheerless little laugh. What a load of crap. Anyway, if Jimmy was so damned smart, why had his friends found him stone-dead a couple of days ago, his entrails half putrefied and his face fallen in like a rotted pumpkin?
Cindy was too nearly rotted away herself these days to consider more than momentarily the probability that Jimmy’s and her respective explorations into the chemical enhancements of life must have produced some pretty ponderable genetic changes, and that any baby of theirs was likely to have an uncommon genome. Cindy thought rather less about such matters than about her next snort of meth. One had to keep one’s priorities straight.
She wasn’t altogether unmindful of her baby, though. She could scarcely understand why she hadn’t had an abortion, but now that she had the little brat in tow, she needed to think of a good way to get rid of her without going to the slammer.
At some unconscious level her chemically bemused state of mind proved to be more resourceful than a lucid state might have been, even had she still been capable of having one. Somehow she found herself driving to the local mega-store with the baby beside her on the seat. She barely knew what she was about, but a sort of formless compulsion seemed to be drawing her toward a course of action.
Once she had parked the car, grabbed up the kid, and made her way into the huge store—passing the inevitable greeter, who in spite of himself wrinkled his face up in obvious disgust at seeing what looked like a girl-zombie carrying a baby—she gravitated toward the toys department, only now consciously realizing what it was she was going to do. She was groggily aware, on the way, of passing lighted trees and tinsel hangings and hearing the familiarly tedious strains of holiday music, so she gathered Christmas must be coming. Well, she thought, arriving among the tawdry shelves of plastic toys, she was about to give herself one fine Christmas present.
After wandering up and down the aisles for a while, peering at the contents of the shelves, she found what she needed. There, on one particular shelf a little below eye level, was a cardboard display box that bore the inscription DIMPLY DOLLY DOOFY and contained a rather lifelike baby doll with outstretched pudgy arms and legs and a piquant little face out of which blue plastic eyes stared giddily. This was just what Cindy had hoped to find. She looked up and down the aisle; nobody was watching.
Setting the real baby on the floor at her feet, she plucked the plastic doll out of the display box and tossed it, end over end, little rubbery arms and legs jiggling, into a rolling trash bin the cleanup staff had left unattended a few feet away. The doll settled with a quiet little puff of dust into the bottom of the bin, where dirty rags and paper towels collapsed around and over it. Cindy then retrieved the real baby off the floor and placed it in the display box, doing what she could to arrange the arms and legs to look like the pose of the original doll. As usual, the baby was so phlegmatic that it barely moved at all, showing no surprise in its impassive little face. It just sat there in the box, staring out as the doll had, almost as if it had done a quick study of the doll and followed its example.
“Well,” Cindy said, coughing and wiping her runny nose with the back of her hand, “at least now you have a name.” And she wandered off toward the store entrance, cheerfully leaving the baby to its own devices. Who knows, she thought, maybe when they find out it’s not a real Dimply Dolly Doofy, they’ll mark the price down. In any event, two weeks later Cindy would be dead of an overdose.
Shortly after Cindy’s leaving the store, two teenage boys stopped in front of the Dimply Dolly Doofy display. One of them poked the baby in the arm, and it emitted a sharp little cry. “Ow.”
“Hey,” the boy said to his friend, “that stuff feels like real skin. And it sounds like a real baby.”
The other boy laughed. “So I’ll buy it for you for Christmas. I know you’ve always wanted one, right?”
The first boy rolled his eyes and shook his head. “C’mon, let’s go grab something to eat.”
Before long, more serious customers, pushing shopping carts, paused in front of the doll display, where the baby sat motionless and quiet as before.
The woman read aloud from the advertising copy on the display box. “‘Take Dimply Dolly Doofy home to love and care for. Feed her, hold her, hear her cry, dry her tears.’” She turned to her husband. “Tom, we’ve got to buy it. I think Marcia will love it.”
The husband took the box with the baby off the shelf and placed it in the cart. “Right you are.”
After little Marcia had gone up to bed, Mommy and Daddy worked at getting the Christmas tree ready for tomorrow morning. Presents were arrayed in profusion under the tree, and in the midst of them Dimply Dolly Doofy sat in her store display box, looking out upon the magnificence of tinsel and wrapping paper with eyes that evinced no reaction. Her time on the toy shelf at the store had taught her to be very, very quiet.
“Amazing how real-looking they make those things now,” the father said, pointing at the baby. “You know, you’ll laugh at me, but I could almost swear I saw the thing move a minute ago.”
The mother patted him on the cheek. “That’s how things look sometimes, my dear, after three Scotch-and-sodas.”
He shrugged, grinning. “The answer to that is, have another one. Join me?”
“Okay,” she said, “but then I think we’d better turn in. I have an idea a certain little girl is going to be getting up pretty early.”
They had their drink and climbed the stairs, leaving the living room in darkness except for the pale glow of the Christmas tree lights.
Finally, then, after waiting and listening some little while to be sure they were all asleep in their beds up there, Dimply Dolly Doofy stretched her chubby little arms and legs and heaved a sigh. There was no hurry. At length she pushed herself out of the display box and began crawling, first over the mounds of wrapped presents under the tree, then slowly across the carpet. All was quiet. Feeling a remarkable strength in her little frame, she began her patient way up the stairs. When she had reached the top and crawled up onto the upstairs hallway floor, she craned her tiny neck to look up at the receding bedroom doorways, then inched toward the nearest one.
She had things to do.
It was the grandmother who found them all in the morning, coming over as she always did on these occasions to help with the holiday breakfast. What she found when she called, and had no answer and went upstairs, was unspeakable horror in the beds—three throats torn out, three bodies savagely chewed and nearly drained of blood. Whatever had dined on the blood and the flesh had vomited chunky gobbets of the stuff here and there, apparently to make room to eat more.
The sacrifices had begun.
They say now on the street that winos and bag ladies sometimes see an odd little form, foraging through garbage bins or scuttering out of sight around corners and down dark alleys. Once two street people sleeping in the rear doorway of a laundromat woke to see a grinning baby sitting in the space near them, and one of them managed to get up and stumble away while the tiny form reached out and parted the throat of the other man.
Now the scattered reports of grim and unaccountable deaths seem the most prominent around All Hallows Eve and Walpurgis Night, but one can never really tell when and where they may occur. Whether some cosmic cycle of sacrifice and prophecy has tumbled into motion, no one can say for sure.
But somewhere in the night, in the restless dark, two little eyes glow with a fever and a nameless nest of secrets all their own.