This is my entry for Morning Rain Publishing‘s Annual Freaky Flash Fiction contest. Contestants write up to 1,000 words and for an extra challenge, they use four bonus words. This year’s were: axel, metal, dragon, and brimstone.
Last year I won, so it was with high hopes that I went into this year’s competition — a few hours before the deadline.
Edit: On October 26, 2015, Morning Rain Publishing announced the winners. I already knew I wasn’t in the top five — but it turns out I placed in the top eight! Go me!
Here’s the story in its entirety, bonus words in bold. After you read it, please let me know what you think in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
by Becky Muth
Nine-year-old Annie ripped the gift wrap from the box and exclaimed, “Yay! A talking Gloria Gossip Doll!”
“What do you say?” Her mother prodded.
Without taking her eyes from her gift the child sighed happily. “Thank you! I love her so much. Mommy can I take her to my room?”
“Yes, but just until time for supper and then I want you to leave her upstairs.”
Piper Evans waited until she heard her daughter go up the stairs, slowly counting them one at a time, and then race down the hall and slam her bedroom door. She turned to her sister and admonished, “You spoil her, Samantha. Is that the same kind of doll we had at her age?”
“It is, and I can spoil my goddaughter all I want.” Her sister replied, her tone teasing. “It’s cute the way she counts out the stairs.”
“Blake taught her to do that when we first moved in. I’m terrified she’s going to tumble down them.” Turning back to the topic of her daughter’s gift, she asked, “Where did you find it? I looked on eBay last Christmas and the prices were ridiculous.”
Samantha sipped her coffee. “A thrift store in New Orleans, run by this old Creole woman named Axel. Most of what she sold was old clothes and household items alongside fire and brimstone paraphernalia and voodoo tchotchkes. But then I saw Gloria and couldn’t believe my luck.”
“Hopefully you didn’t pay a fortune for her.” Piper grimaced.
“Surprisingly, I didn’t,” Samantha replied with a smile.
Piper finished listening to her husband complain about his job as a supervisor at a nearby metal works factory and then turned to their daughter. “Annie, did you tell Daddy what Aunt Samantha brought you from her trip?”
Annie grinned. “A talking Gloria Gossip doll just like Mommy and Aunt Samantha had when they were little girls.”
“Oh yeah? Just what we need around this house, another gossipy woman.” Blake Evans playfully winked at his wife. Turning to their daughter, he asked, “So what’s Gloria gossiping about? Anything good?”
“Daddy!” Annie giggled. “I can’t tell you because you’re not in the girls’ club like me and Mommy.”
Blake pretended to look hurt. “You can’t tell me one little thing?”
Annie looked from her mom to her dad then leaned forward to whisper, “Okay, just one thing. Her name isn’t really Gloria. It’s Josephine.”
Annie’s parents chuckled, amused at their daughter’s vivid imagination.
Annie lay in her princess canopy bed, her head on one pillow while Gloria rested on the other. She was supposed to be sleeping, but she was having too much fun gossiping. “I’m glad you’re my friend, Josephine.”
“I’m glad you’re my friend too,” the doll’s mechanical voice whispered. “Since we’re friends, can you help me with something?”
“Okay, sure.” Annie whispered back.
“I want to go home to my mom. Can you help me do that?” The doll continued.
Annie frowned. “I don’t know how. I don’t know how to help you. You’re just a doll. You live with me now.”
“It’s okay.” The doll reassured the little girl. “I’ll tell you what to do. First pick me up and take me to the top of the stairs.”
Piper finished boxing up her daughter’s belongings. At the last minute, she added the Gloria Gossip doll.
“Are you sure?” Samantha asked.
“Yeah.” Piper nodded. “Let it go to the thrift store. If I was going to do anything with it, I’d have put it in her casket. Now it’s just a reminder of the night she died. I still don’t understand how she could have fallen down the stairs. She was always so careful.”
“I know. I heard her counting them the day I was here.” Samantha choked back a sob, the grief from her niece’s accident draping like a heavy cloak around her body.
Piper wiped away fresh tears and sighed. “It’s weird, but sometimes when Blake is at work and the house is quiet, it’s like I can still hear her counting.”
Cecily McDowell watched Helena, her ten-year-old daughter, pull the Gloria Gossip doll from the reusable shopping bag she used to carry home her thrift store finds.
“Cool!” Her daughter exclaimed.
“I had one when I was ten. Hopefully you aren’t too old for dolls.” Cecily smiled. “She was at the secondhand store where I found you a good ski jacket for winter. I thought you might like the doll since you’ve opted out of trick-or-treating this year.”
Helena beamed. “She’s so cool mom, and no, I’m not too old for her. What does she do?”
“When you squeeze her hand, she gossips with you.” She went on to demonstrate how the doll worked, but frowned when the toy failed to produce the mechanical voice she recalled from her childhood. “Well that stinks. I should have checked that before I bought her.”
“It’s okay, mom. Can I take her outside?”
Cecily nodded. “Sure, but stay in the yard so you can hear me call you in for dinner.”
Helena sat cross-legged in the tree fort with the Gloria Gossip doll cradled in her arms. She ignored her younger brothers, who romped about the backyard, dressed in their knight and dragon Halloween costumes, a good ten feet below her. Giving the doll’s hand a firm squeeze, she was surprised when the toy’s eyes blinked open.
The doll’s mechanical voice squeaked out, “Hi, I’m Gloria Gossip. You can share all your secrets with me.”
Helena giggled. “Well, okay. My friend Tonya likes Jason from Mrs. Noland’s class.”
“That’s a great secret!” The doll squealed. “Do you want to hear one of mine now?”
“Um, sure, okay.” Helena nodded.
“First, I have to make sure we’re friends. Are we friends?”
“Yeah, we’re friends.”
The doll continued, “My secret is, my name’s not Gloria. It’s Annie, and I need your help with something. Can you help me get home to my mom?”