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Puppet Strings

by:Janani

Content Warning: Attempted Suicide, Domestic abuse, Gore, Death of a child

Part 1:

It was a rather gloomy day. 

The sun was out, but almost entirely hidden within a nest of stormy grey clouds that was slowly spreading through the expanse of the dull sky. 

Only the faintest dredges of light peeked out, colored with an expected tint of bleakness. It wasn’t dark enough to be mistaken for nighttime, but it certainly couldn’t be perceived as the height of the afternoon, contrary to what the clocks said.

It was more like twilight. An odd time between day and night- where things could sometimes feel surreal. 

Although the sky made it seem as though it would rain at any moment, the staleness of the atmosphere said otherwise. The air was so dry that it felt as though the slightest spark would ignite it. Gusts of hot air swept through, ruffling branches, and displacing hundreds of autumn leaves. 

One such leaf drifted along, descending in a staggered motion, before gently landing on a tangled mess of blonde hair.

A woman walked along the broad path leading to the public park. With one arm, she pushed a stroller, and with the other, fixed her tousled blonde hairdo, carelessly brushing away that single leaf.

To be honest, calling her hair blonde was an exaggeration. Once her hair might have been called golden yellow in its sheen, but now it seems to have lost all its luster, just a few shades away from gray. 

Like her lifeless hair, her countenance was wan and pale. Her cheeks were gaunt- not starved, but certainly unhealthy.  

She had all the makings of a beautiful woman but lacked the expected appearance. 

The frailty of her very being seemed unnatural and all too sudden. It wasn’t a slow withering, but one that had clearly struck fast.

A few other women idled in the park, similarly accompanied by strollers and fussing toddlers, despite it being a dismal day. The needs of the children didn’t make an exception even for bad weather it seemed. The kids ran around the grassy fields, climbed up the slides, or were roughhoused in the sandpits. 

The women had all gathered together on the benches, chatting away, but keeping a watchful eye. 

Until the blonde woman strode in, the park had actually been quite lively. 

But the moment that distinct, washed-out figure walked in, pushing the rusting pink stroller, an atmosphere of gloom settled among them. 

The children continued playing, unperturbed, and so blissfully unaware, but their mothers were almost silent- warily watching the blonde woman.

Aside from the shrieks and laughter of kids, it was too quiet- that was- until the hushed whispers started. 

Looks of pity, glances of contempt, gazes of disgust.

The blonde woman kept walking, as though she could not see nor hear any of it. 

They avoided her, knowing better from past experience- and she- ignored them in turn.

 It was a rule that they implicitly followed.

Stay away from Barbara

All of them adhered to this, without question- until today. 

Linda was the shiny-eyed, nosy brunette that had just moved into lot No.2 in the neighborhood a few days ago. 

She was young, attractive, and nothing but an eyesore to most of the housewives that lived along Piccadilly Street. When she had appeared, there was an almost unsaid agreement to cast her out, before she even had a chance to join.

 It wasn’t Linda’s fault really- she hadn’t done anything drastic or flamboyant to earn this sort of ire from her fellow neighbours. 

Anywhere else, Linda surely would have been well-liked and popular, certain to be invited to all the potlucks and dinner parties. 

But this particular neighbourhood was overly wary and had formed an inner circle that practically no one could breach. Not even starry-eyed Linda.

They had instantly deemed her as “no good”, “untrustworthy”, and “sneaky”.

So Linda had spent a few unfortunately lonely days right after moving into Piccadilly Street. 

As a normally extroverted and social person, she wasn’t sure how much longer she’d be able to tolerate isolation like this.

When she saw the lone blonde woman, pushing her stroller through- she ran to go and greet her, hoping to make at least one friend.

And since she was isolated from the start, she would obviously be unaware of the rule to stay away from Barbara. 

Linda grabbed her son- a pasty 6-year-old boy on the heavier side- and dragged him with her.

She approached the stroller, a bright smile already on her face, but a slight hint of desperation in her eyes.

Her tone was enthusiastic- almost exaggeratedly so, as she loudly announced; “Hi there! I just moved in! I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting y’all yet!”.

She thrust forth her son and moved his limp arm in a waving fashion. 

“This here is Robbie! Say hello!”

Robbie reluctantly mumbled something that could just barely pass as a “Hello”, but it was enough to satisfy Linda.

“And I’m Linda! Now who’s this?”, she chuckled, peering into the stroller, without even waiting for the blonde woman to respond.

In an instant, her face paled. 

 Every drop of blood drained away and left no color in her horrified expression. Her mouth gaped open, moving up and down like a dying fish gasping for air. But there was no sound coming from her, for no words could describe the shock she felt at that moment.

In the stroller, was what seemed to be the figure of a child, at first glance. It was small and dressed in young girl’s clothing. 

The thing inside the stroller had clearly once been a life-like doll. It had porcelain-looking limbs, and glassy eyes- no-eye.

Half of the doll’s face was burnt beyond repair. Part of its head had caved in, and the glass eye melted- the colour within fused to the ruined “skin”, turning it a sickly blue. 

The rest of the melted material dripped down the ruined side of the face, and while cooling down, made gruesome streaks of skin coloured ridges all along the “cheeks” of the doll. The blonde hair on its head was partially burnt, and unbearably filthy, matted with all sorts of dirt and dust.

The limbs were in far better condition but it was still ghastly to look at. There were crude, black stitches running along the entire length of the left arm and legs, and around the circumference of the right. The limbs were all splayed oddly, as though they had been torn apart, and then hastily stitched back together.

Now that Linda had realized that the thing inside was a doll and not a real child, she calmed down considerably.  The lifelike resemblance it had was terrifying, but in the end; it was just a doll.

But there was still a trace of horror in her face, as she wondered why anyone would keep a half-burnt doll in place of a child in the stroller.

Just when it seemed as though her strangled cries of shock and disgust would crawl out of her throat, another woman that had been watching this exchange, yanked her back. She shot a warning look at Linda, and faced Barbara, with a nod.

“It’s nice to see you out, Barbara. I’m sure Annie…”, she hesitates, dropping her eyes to the stroller, before continuing with a forced grin. 

“I’m sure Annie enjoys these walks in the park”

Barbara didn’t react for a moment, as though she was in a daze and hadn’t heard anything. Then she smiled gently in acknowledgment and walked away.

When Barbara was well out of earshot, the other woman gathered around the still stunned Linda. 

“Get a grip”, hissed one woman. “That’s why you don’t poke your nose around here like some snoop.”

She was a tall, rather broad woman, with a face that looked permanently stern. A scowl hung on her thin lips, as she looked disapprovingly at Linda.

“W-What was that?”

An older, gentle-looking lady with greying hair looked at her with pity. She was one of the few wives that opposed the decision to ignore Linda, but unfortunately, she also wasn’t the type to go against the voice of the majority.

“You’ve only just moved here, so you don’t know what happened at No.9 a few months back. “

“No. 9? That big old house at the end of the street?”

Piccadilly Street had 17 houses. The street was shaped like a severely compressed semi-circle. There were 8 houses on the arms of the semi-circle, and one house in the center- Lot No.9.

It was considered quite a well-to-do neighbourhood, with most of its residents belonging to the upper-middle class. The houses were large and luxurious, but the best of them all was No.9. 

“The family that lives there- the Averys….”, the older woman paused, unsure how to continue.

The stern-looking woman finished for her.

“Their only child recently died in an accident.”

Linda gasped, her eyes growing wide. 

“How awful! What kind of accident?”

“We don’t know. They wouldn’t say.”

“But get this- the funeral was closed casket! Whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty-”

“An accident? I say bullshit. We all know it was murder. The kind of business Roger Avery is in- it’s impossible for him not to have any enemies”

“Hush now, Martha-”, scolded the older woman. 

“You know what I’m saying is true. We’ve all seen the kind of unsavoury characters going and coming from that house”, spat Martha. “It was only a matter of time before something happened. I’ve been saying from the start that the Averys were no good, and now, look what happened-

“Enough Martha”, the older woman snapped. 

Martha glared, but she didn’t say anymore. The rest of the wives shuffled uncomfortably, waiting for the older woman to continue.

“Ever since then, Barbara….she’s lost her mind. That doll you saw in the stroller, it belonged to her daughter, you see.”

“Oh!”, blinked Linda. “But then why…..”

“She keeps insisting Annie’s spirit is in the doll, and treats it like her daughter. Mad, I tell you. I’m surprised her husband hasn’t just thrown her into some looney bin yet.”

“I hear Roger actually goes along with her! My husband told me how he treats that doll like Annie, and not just to appease his crazy wife.”

“Now now. We shouldn’t be so harsh on them. The kind of loss they’ve faced….it’s unimaginable.”

The older woman faced Linda, with a solemn expression.

“That’s why it’s best that we just stay away. Whatever happened in that house- it’s none of our business. Understand?”

Linda nodded solemnly, She did understand. 

She was never going to make any friends here, was she?


Part 2:

The day that Annie died, Barbara felt her entire world crumbling down. Her grief was unimaginable, and she cried inconsolably.

Her darling daughter, her only child after 15 years of marriage- dead in her crib. 

At first, they had no clue who had done it and how it happened. Who would want to hurt such a precious young child?

But the most horrifying thing was the state of her corpse when they found her.

Strangled with a thin string that cut through her throat, half decapitating her. 

Later, the investigators found the man that was responsible. A former employee of Roger

bitter about being fired, and decided to take revenge. Not even the death penalty would be enough to appease the anger Barbara felt. But the man was only sentenced to 20 years in jail. He had denied the claims to the very end- despite being the only possible suspect. They even found thousands of dollars of cash and jewelry on him, stolen from Roger’s safe.

 A thief and a murderer.

In the end, he had died in his cell within 2 weeks, stabbed viciously in the neck about a dozen times. Hurting children was considered the lowest crime, even among those in prison. 

Yet she still felt hollow and unappeased when she thought of that horrific day. 

It was the nanny that had discovered her daughter’s body first. She had fainted on the spot.

Not only was the crib drenched with blood, it had also splattered onto the pink wallpaper behind. There were dozens of stuffed toys in the crib that were dyed crimson. Including one large, beautiful doll.

It was a family heirloom that had belonged to Barbara’s grandmother. It was the size of a 4 year old child- almost the same size as Annie- and it resembled her in every way. The doll wasn’t so lifelike at first, but as a birthday gift to Annie, Roger had commissioned a doll-maker to remodel it in their daughter’s likeness. It was originally a puppet, but later they decided to simply tuck away the strings and turn it into a proper doll.

It was her favorite toy, and she carried it everywhere. Sometimes, they would joke that they had two daughters- Annie and her doll.

That doll was covered in Annie’s blood.

Barbara could no longer look at that doll, or enter the nursery, without feeling an incredible sense of loss and depression.

Annie’s room was cleaned, and then preserved perfectly- as though she was still alive, and nothing was wrong.The only difference was that the doll was kept on a shelf, instead of Annie’s crib.

And that was where all of their problems started. Or, their greatest blessing.

Sometimes they weren’t sure which.


Roger blamed her for their daughter’s death.

He didn’t say it, but Barbara could feel it in his gaze, in his every move. 

Why weren’t you watching Annie? How could you let a strange man break into the house? Where were you when our daughter’s neck was being mangled?

Barbara blamed herself too. When their daughter was being murdered, where was she?

Having tea at the neighbour’s house and bragging about a new diamond necklace Roger bought for her.

By the time she got back, her daughter’s body was already cold, and eyes lifeless. 

Never again would she see her smile, hear her call for “Mommy”, or watch her grow older.

She was gone.

There were times when Barbara considered going to the other side with her daughter. It would be a simple task- but when it actually came to it, she found her resolve wavering.

That didn’t stop her from attempting though.

One such time, when she felt especially despaired, she went into that nursery room that she had feared and avoided for weeks. It was the place that her daughter had died. And it would be the place where she died as well. 

Somehow that thought comforted her. It made her feel as though she would be closer to her daughter- at least in death.

A long white cloth was bundled in her trembling arms, and she slowly began to tie it into a noose.

She shook uncontrollably, her expression on the verge of tears- but none fell. 

Perhaps she simply had none left to shed.

Just when she prepared to put her head through that loop- she spotted something on the crib.

The crib that had always been empty after her daughter’s death.

And yet- a dreamlike vision was there. A scene that she had imagined countless times, only to wake up to disappointment and even more sorrow.

It was Annie. 

Sitting in her crib, and staring at her. Looking at the noose in her hands, as though she knew what her mother was about to do.

Barbara dropped the noose, and blinked, wondering if she had already died and reunited with her daughter. Her vision cleared, and she looked once more. 

It wasn’t Annie.

It was the doll. The damn doll that looked so much like her daughter that Barbara couldn’t bear to look at it. The doll that was covered in her daughter’s blood.

The doll…. that she was sure she had kept on the highest shelf of the nursery, as far away from the crib as possible.

And yet it was there, sitting in that crib. 

Barbara began to think of something- so ludicrous, so far-fetched, so foolish that anyone who heard her would deem her insane.

Even the normal Barbara would never even consider such a preposterous possibility.

This wasn’t the normal Barbara though.

This was a woman driven almost half mad from grief. 

And like a dying flower that had gained a few drops of water, the feeling that she once believed died in her heart bloomed once more.

Hope. 

It was a wonderful thing, but it could also be the gateway to insanity

To hope and hope, until you can no longer hear the truth. No longer face the truth- and be wrapped in your own lies. When you can no longer tell what’s real, and what was merely a fantasy. 

The smallest bit of hope had entered her heart, invading her soul, until she was filled with dark delusion.

Barbara walked to the crib, a soft smile forming- not unlike the loving ones she had given her daughter.

She picked up the doll, and cradled it gently.

“Annie…… I knew you wouldn’t leave mommy.”


Part 3:

Roger Avery knew it wasn’t his wife’s fault that their daughter died.

He knew that better than anyone. 

Even after he had a family, he chose to stay in his line of business. 

The man that had killed his daughter held a grudge against him. Roger had ruined his life and family, so he decided to return the same. 

He was the one that had created the monster that would go on to kill his daughter. Made him lose his job, his home, all his money- and eventually his family. 

His daughter was dead because of him. 

But he just couldn’t accept that fact. 

He chose to blame Barbara because he couldn’t handle the guilt- take the culpability of being responsible for such a horrible thing.

It was almost funny. 

He had done innumerous wretched things throughout his life, that he had never felt remorse or guilt for. 

But this? 

This he couldn’t take. 

So like the coward he never thought he was, he turned all the blame onto his wife.

But even doing that had him wallowing in a stinking bog of guilt- that he could never wash away.

He dreaded breakfast with his wife every morning. 

Sitting at that table, where one spot was so painfully empty, with Barbara no longer looking him in the eye.

No longer humming in the kitchen as she cooked, no longer kissing him on the cheek when she served his eggs-fried- just the way he liked it.

But one morning, he heard humming. The radio was on, and he could smell fried eggs.

His heart pounded, and he rushed to the dining room, wondering if this had all been some sick nightmare that he was finally waking from- or a dream that he could live in forever.

Either way, he would be fine. He would be fine, as long as he could go back to those days when everything was perfect.

He opened the door, to see Barbara looking more lively than she had in weeks, and standing at the stove, flipping a large omelette.

She glanced at him entering, and smiled widely- a smile that he had almost forgotten about.

His eyes drifted to the table, where he could see a tuft of blond hair from the side of one of the chairs.

His heart soared, and he rushed inside, to gain a full view of the scene.

Could it be? Could it really be??

In an instant, his hopes came crashing down.

It was a doll. Sitting in the place of their daughter. 

A doll. That had made him believe everything that had happened was nothing more than a horrible nightmare.

A doll. That had a full plate of food in front of it. 

All while his wife was going on as though there was nothing unusual about it.

Something in him snapped, and he roared; ”BARBARA! What the hell do you think you’re playing at??”

He swept the dishes off the table, and tried to hurl a chair at the wall, to somehow unleash the anger he was feeling. 

The fury coursing through him was palpable and his veins throbbed with that rage.

In a matter of a minute he had gone from the height of bliss, back to an abyss of agony.

The dishes clattered on the ground, the porcelain plates shattering while all the food on them was now nothing but waste.

Barbara flinched, blankly looking at the mess her husband had just made for a few seconds. 

The eggs continued frying on the stove, making sizzling noises that were drowned out from the sounds of porcelain shattering.

 Then, a sense of indignation overwhelmed her.

“What am I playing at??? You just broke 10 of my best dishes! What the hell are you so mad about?? Are you drunk??”, she screamed back, matching his volume.

“AM I DRUNK? I SHOULD BE ASKING IF YOU’RE DRUNK! WHY IS THAT THING THERE?”

“WHAT THING??”

“THAT THING!”,  he shouted, aggressively pointing at the doll.

“YOU MEAN YOUR DAUGHTER! ? ANNIE! NOW STOP YELLING IN FRONT OF HER!”

Roger prepared to bellow back, but those words made him pause.

“Annie?? What in the world are you talking about? Annie’s dead!”

Barbara gasped, cupping her mouth in outrage. She took a step back, and almost stumbled as she raised an accusing finger.

“Don’t you dare say something like that! How dare you?”

Roger’s anger slowly morphed into confusion, as his eyes followed the place where Barbara’s finger was pointing.

“She’s right there! She’s right there! She’s sitting right there! Our daughter! Your daughter! How can you say something like that?”

He froze, seeing his wife’s enraged glare, while streams of tears flowed down. She was holding the doll.  Realization began to dawn upon him, and his dread magnified. 

“She’s not dead Roger, she’s right here.”, she weakly cried, clutching the doll closer to her heart, unable to part from it.

Roger defeatedly slumped down onto the chair he had just tried to fling into the wall. His anger had completely vanished, only to be replaced by an even greater despair.

He didn’t know whether he should laugh or cry- so he just did both, and it came out as a deranged sob.

He thought he had already experienced the worst when his daughter died.

Now his wife had gone mad as well.


After that fight, Barbara pointedly ignored him for the next few days. 

That was for the better, because seeing her treat that doll like their daughter sickened him greatly, but there was nothing he felt like he could say.

Maybe it was the guilt speaking- the guilt that whispered in him, that it was his fault his wife had been driven to insanity.

He decided that if keeping that doll around her made his wife happy he’d just let her be. Ignore her, as long as she doesn’t try to involve him in that ridiculous business.

But very quickly, he took back those thoughts.

He had a particularly infuriating day at work. A bottle of alcohol swayed in his trembling arms as he stumbled home. 

His mood was terrible and his anger was on the verge of ignition. 

When he came home- seeing his wife play house with that doll- it was the last straw. 

How dare Barbara look so happy? When he was perpetually upset?

Before, at least they were both miserable but now it was just him. Haunted by his failure while his wife had already moved on.

He couldn’t tolerate it. He hated it. And he was going to change it.

Roger Avery had never been a good person after all. 

Barbara was carefully tucking the doll into a crib, mussing its hair and murmuring soothing words. Her face was serene, and a smile hung on her lips.

The sight was slightly nostalgic but it infuriated him to no end.

He slammed the nursery door with his fist, to let her know he was home. 

She jumped in surprise, hissing for him to keep quiet, and gestured for him to wait outside.

Wait outside? In his own home? 

He barged in and yanked the doll out of its crib. 

“ROGER!” 

She desperately scrabbled for the doll, but he held it out of her reach. In frustration she beat his chest and raked her nails across his face. 

He roared in pain and kicked her to the side.

She went flying and crashed onto the crib, whimpering pain as she huddled into herself.

Now that Barbara was out of his way, he looked at the doll in his hands and muttered unintelligible curses.

“Stupid doll….stupid b*tch…crazy….” 

He grabbed a porcelain coloured limb and pulled. With a horrific tearing noise, one arm came flying off. 

The anguished scream of his wife fell on deaf ears, as only his own vented pleasure coursed through him. 

Like a switch had been flipped, he methodically tore off the other limbs, and then proceeded to throw the doll on the ground and bash it with his foot.

At some point, Barbara had crawled to him and was holding onto his leg, begging him to stop. She tried to shield the doll, but he pushed her away, grabbed the limbless monstrosity and marched out of the room.

His eyes wandered around the house, as he tried to figure out what he should do next, until his gaze landed on the fireplace burning dimly in the living room.

Barbara had run out of the nursery following him, and she also noticed where his line of sight was focused.

Her heart dropped.

“Roger no… Roger- Roger please….it’s Annie! Your daughter- please-“

A low, wretched laugh escaped his lips. 

“Wake up Barbara. Our daughter is dead.“

And with that, he threw the doll in the fireplace.



Part 4:

By the time he sobered up, he found himself in their guest bedroom. Clothes sprawled haphazardly, and a few empty bottles of wine on the side.  A dim light shone through 

A splitting headache assaulted him, as memories of the evening played in his mind. He had the conscience to feel a sense of shame and guilt, but an ego that would prevent him from ever admitting it. 

He stumbled into the living room, unbearably thirsty. 

Barbara was nowhere to be seen- probably holed up in their bedroom, still upset about their spat.

He would make it up to her later anyway. Maybe some new jewelry, or taking her to the countryside for a few days.

As he poured himself a glass of water, he couldn’t help but notice how quiet and dark it was. 

Then he realized it was because the fireplace was out- and with it, that comforting crackling and warm glow missing.

He decided he didn’t feel like sleeping anyway, so he made his way to the dark hearth, and grabbed the lighter sticks.

He leaned in to light the fireplace, but there was a dark figure lying inside it. Startled, he leapt back.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized it was the doll he had torn apart. Covered in soot, and melted into some limbless monstrosity.

He wanted to heave a sigh of relief seeing that it was just a doll, but something about it made him uneasy.

The longer he stared at the melted face- no matter how damaged it was- the more troubled he felt.

It really did resemble Annie. It really really did.

To the extent that he couldn’t bear seeing the doll like that- as though it was actually his daughter.

Suddenly, he started to understand why Barbara went mad.

Without knowing what he was doing, he gingerly extended his hand onto the damaged doll, and picked it up.

He held it close to his heart- like how he had held Annie.

And in that moment- he thought he heard a voice he’d never hear again.

A word he’d never hear again. From someone who he thought was lost forever.

“Papa…….”

That same dark hope had entered his heart, invading his soul.

He cradled the doll close to his heart, and cried; “Annie…. Papa is sorry”


Epilogue

A black and white tape plays on a tiny screen placed on the dashboard of a yellow cadillac. Inside the car, are two men. One of them is smoking a cigar, while the other shuffled nervously in his seat, fiddling with the tapes. 

“Hurry it up will ya?”, called out the gruff looking man. “Pastor Green gave us 2 hours, and here you are, taking all day.”

The anxious young man nodded, fast forwarding the tape, until he stopped abruptly, with a click. He heaves a sigh of relief, leaning into his seat after he checked the date on the corner.

 “June 12th. That’s the day.”

The footage flickers and blurs, before focusing on the scene that it captured. It was in a nursery. Within a crib, was a 3 year old child- dressed in fine clothing, and sporting wonderfully curly hair. 

Next to the child was an assortment of toys- from stuffed bears, to toy locomotives.

However, the one that stood out the most, was a beautiful, life-like doll, made in the image of the child. There were also strings hanging from its back,but safely gathered and tucked into its dress- so as to not get tangled.

“Is that a puppet or a doll?”

“Shut yer mouth. Just watch closely- this is important evidence.”

The child seemed to have noticed the bundle of strings extending from the back of her toy, and curiously tugged at it. In her childish carelessness, a few of the strings snapped, and broke free.

The child continued tugging, but seeing that no more of the strings were coming undone, she lost interest and turned away, opting to play with some other toys.

As the child’s back was turned away from the doll- it moved. It was slight- barely noticeable, but it moved. As though it were just getting used to its own motility, the arms of the doll shook slightly. The unraveled strings on its back slowly raised up and it moved momentarily.

“Did you see that?? It’s- it’s moving-”

“I did. Looks like it’s exactly what Pastor Green suspected.”

Before the young man could say anything more, there was a strangled cry from the screen.

The doll lunged at the child, and wrapped the string around its throat. Within minutes, Annie’s face turned from red, to blue then purple. The string was sharp, and started to cut clean through her throat.

Annie died choking, and drowning in her blood. 

A few seconds later, the doll went back to its original position,as though nothing had happened.

A disheveled man walked in- the one that had been charged for the murder of Annie. He was carrying a bag filled with jewelry, and noticed Annie lying motionless in the crib, covered in blood.

He screamed, and his screaming brought the maid running in. 

The young man paled, seeing that gruesome scene. He started to open the car door, before the gruff man yanked him back by the collar.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Telling that couple inside! Those two- they think that doll’s their daughter! That some man killed their daughter- when it’s that thing inside-”

The young man looked like he was going to be sick. 

“They’re treating that thing that killed their child as their own. It made them think it’s their child-oh god-”, he gagged and heaved, while the other man rolled his eyes, not even bothering to recoil in disgust.

“There’s no way in hell I’m gonna let ya do that.”

The young man looked like he had been slapped across the face.

“Why??? We have to tell them- They can’t go on like this-”

“We don’t hafta do anything. Listen here, and you listen well. The sort of malevolent spirit that’s haunting that doll- it’s not something you wanna to mess with. It’s the clever type you see- and trust me- there’s nothing more terrible to deal with than a spirit that knows exactly how to ruin you.”

“B-but-”

The older man made a shhhh sound, and continued. 

“That thing got an innocent man convicted for murder. That thing convinced Roger and Barbara Avery that it’s their daughter- an’ for whatever reason- it’s perfectly satisfied playing house. It’s contained.”

He looked towards the house, glancing through the window to see Barbara rocking the doll in her arms, and he sighed.

“The Avery’s are happy. If we go and tell them what that thing actually is- it’ll ruin them even more. Everyone wins- if we let this go. The Avery’s think their daughter is with them, the doll won’t be haunting anyone else for a while, and us? We get ta avoid being hunted and tortured by that thing, as long as we simply leave it be.”

“But- it’s still not right.. Our job is to get rid of it… And Pastor Green-”

“You- You got married recently right? I heard yer wife’s expecting.”, the older man asked. The younger man nodded, not sure where he was going with this sudden subject change.

“How would you like it if we try to go an’ exorcise that thing, only for it to fail, and it gets mad? And when it comes for revenge do ya know what it would do?”

He shook his head.

“It would burrow it’s way into yer wife’s womb, kill yer unborn child, and take its place. Is that what you want to happen? To put yer family at risk?”

Seeing how clammy and frightened the young man looked now, the older man let out a sympathetic chuckle.

“I’ve been in this business fer a long time- and there are some times when we just shouldn’t interfere. Ya hear me?”

Finally, the young man nodded in agreement.

“Good. Now, we need to tell Pastor Green that nothing’s amiss okay? That it’s just a regular murder case. You know what to do right?”

Slowly, the younger man raised a trembling hand towards the screen, where the half-decapitated image of Annie’s head lingered, while the doll crawled around the crib, playing with the corpse. 

He paused the footage, and took out the tape, to crush with his bare hands. 

“Atta boy. Now let’s go.”

As they drove away, he chucked the fragments of the tape into a lake they passed up, watching as those pieces sank into the murky depths.

No one would ever know.