When Koree Fillybraun was a little girl she found she had a knack for fixing things. As a kid, there were bike chains and toys to work on. She’d spend hours tinkering with them. Most of the neighborhood kids knew she could fix just about anything. She happily fixed what she could. It’d be this talent that guided her career and her future.
Koree’s father was not supportive of her childhood hobby. He insisted that she do what girls were supposed to do and act like one. She didn’t care. She found time to do what she loved regardless. She spent many hours on her fix-it hobby, and graduated from high school a capable young woman. She attracted a lot of attention in her school days from the boys with her true sapphire eyes that sparkled with intelligence; and often with mischief. Her nearly glowing copper hair was long and bountiful, often dropping in front of her face as she worked on whatever she was doing. She was a tall girl with a physique that made her appear almost too thin.
Koree was ecstatic when she saved up enough to open up her own store, ‘Koree’s Trinkets,’ right on the main street. She didn’t have much room for things, because it was on a crowded main street, but it was a palace as far as she was concerned. There was a beauty shop to the right of her store and a parking lot for a convenience store on the left. Any overflow parking could park in that large lot next to her place, so it was ideal.
Koree started building capital by going to a multitude of tag sales and garage sales, picking up various items and restoring them. She built up a good chunk of funding. With that seed, she started frequenting estate sales, which proved to be a gold mine for her. After just over a year of hitting them, she was preparing to open the shop.
The first few days of business where a whirlwind. A lot of people came in to check out the new place. Most were impressed. She sold a lot of nice pieces and it was going better than she’d ever expected. Soon, the traffic settled down, but the work remained steady and she could spend more one-on-one time with customers. This was more like what she’d pictured from the beginning.
“How’s it going today, Judy?” Koree asked Judith Myers, the owner of the beauty shop next door. Judy popped in once in a while to look around and see what was new. Most often, though, she came over for coffee and conversation. She begged Koree to tell her everything about what she did here and there on her travels to buy treasures for her shop.
“Not bad really, wish it was a bit cooler though,” Judy spoke with a smile. In fact, Judy was usually smiling whenever Koree saw her. Koree really liked her and could probably call her a best friend. She was a great business neighbor and was someone Koree had known for a while now, even before she opened her trinket shop. In fact, it was Judy who led her to this location.
“I think I’m getting a big job today. A lady came in and told me she has a cast iron claw foot tub she wants restored. I’m going to look up some pictures of tubs to see if I can find a similar one, but I think I have some good ideas for artwork anyway,” Koree told her enthusiastically.
“Good, good. I hope it works out for you. You finish that lamp you picked up last month? You know I want first crack at it. I absolutely loved the gothic metal work,” Judy said.
“Friday for sure. I have a part I need to pick up after work for it. I’ve been busy with my father lately, he’s on me about stuff around the house,” Koree said with a sigh, then started picking up tools. “Back to the grind stone then”.
Koree got back home from work late and was forced to hurry making supper. She never made much. Her father didn’t eat anything she cooked anyway. She tried to ignore his constant complaining as much as she could. In his eyes, she should’ve been married and had children long ago. She put up with it because he was obviously getting old and was at the point where she wasn’t going to change his mind.
“You’re late getting back from your shop today, Koree,” her father’s voice rang from his room in the back, “you shouldn’t leave me alone as much as you do you know.” Koree heard her father coming out of his room as he headed for the chair that sat nearly directly in front of the television. Koree wanted to hide in the kitchen but had no choice but to interact with him when she served dinner.
Koree’s father needed her to turn the television on for him. She’d been doing that for him ever since her mother died a few years prior. She quickly went to the television and clicked it on and immediately turned it to the news he watched at this time every day. Then she handed him the remote control, cursing herself for not replacing that remote control with one capable of turning on the TV.
“You see that, the news is almost over now. I might as well not watch the news at all today for all I’m going to see of it. I’ll just have to wait now and change the channel to watch the six o’clock news instead,” her father scolded.
“Supper will be done very shortly,” Koree said, heading back to the kitchen.
After supper, Koree eating alone at a small table in the kitchen and her father in front of the television, her father returned to his room. This gave Koree a chance to work on a chair she was repairing to keep herself busy. It wasn’t long past ten when she finally turned in. She knew it would be an early morning and she’d be busy the next day.
At six the next morning Koree was out the door, coffee in hand and the newspaper tucked under her arm. It was Saturday and, although her shop was closed, there were several tag sales she wanted to check out.
On her way to the first tag sale on her list, she spotted a little table on a lawn just off the road. Koree swung her car into the parking area to have a look. This sale had a lot of the same stuff that these small tag sales generally offered, but there were a couple of nice things out too. The sale had one thing in particular she wanted to take a good look at. From the street she’d spotted a doll. Dolls where some of the first things she’d worked on as a kid and they were familiar. Up close, during inspection, she found this doll was in excellent shape. The face was porcelain to boot, a lucky find. The doll’s dress was beautiful, a bright velvet blue with silk pleats. The blue was still rather vivid, not faded a bit from light exposure. The hair shimmered as the light twinkled off it in the early morning sun. That’s what caught her attention. The red hair was long and ended in a magnificent silk bow that was adorned with a clear crystal butterfly. The hair was nearly an absolute match to her own hair. The only fault the doll had was that the right hand was gone, broken off at the wrist. Koree saw the left hand of the doll was made of porcelain, like the face, and might be hard to match. But, this doll was still a magnificent find. Koree didn’t bother to haggle, the price for the doll was more than fair, so she immediately purchased it.
After such an excellent, unexpected find, Koree’s tag sale luck continued throughout the morning. She stopped, happily, to get another cup of coffee at a small diner she frequented and thought about what she’d need to do to fix up her new doll. She may have to replace both hands to make them ever look right again. She hoped she could get close enough to the porcelain on the face though. Each hand wore a lace glove, so maybe it’d help hide the difference in the replacement porcelain. The problem was deciding whether to sell the doll. She knew she’d be able to get a good price, but felt she’d want to keep the precious thing when it was restored.
That night she did nothing but argue with her father. He was being particularly rabid this evening, probably because she came back in such a great mood. She hated it when he was drunk like he was. He held a lot of pain inside and took much of it out on her. He’d return to his room after berating her, finish whatever he was drinking and pass out early. This meant arguments never went on too long at least, but this fight tired Koree.
When the dream started, Koree saw the doll she’d just bought. It looked brand new here though, hand and all. It was a beautiful sight, almost glowing. She reached out to pick up the doll and brush its silky, gleaming red hair. The doll’s color started to fade before her eyes and the cloths began to grow tattered and stained. Its right hand was violently ripped off by an invisible force and flew off the dresser it was standing on. The hand stopped suddenly and dropped in slow motion, falling into a simple wooden box with a red velvet lining that was there on the floor, seemingly waiting for it. The box quickly slammed shut loudly the second the hand came to a rest in the box. Koree looked back at the doll and the doll looked just like she’d found it at the tag sale. Behind her, she heard her father’s voice boom as loud as thunder. It rang so loudly Koree covered her ears for fear of going deaf. Her father’s voice was angry as he screamed:
“What’s in the box, Koree?”
Koree’s eyes sprung open and she had her hands raised, ears covered. She could still hear the sound of her father’s angry voice ringing in her head. She sat on the edge of her bed for a while settling herself after the horrible dream. Even though it was early, she decided to start some coffee and begin the day.
July stopped in again at Koree’s workplace on Monday. She was relieved it was a slow day. Koree was happy for the company for as long as she could have it.
“Judy, you just have to see the beautiful doll I got at a tag sale Saturday. It’s absolutely precious. She’s wearing a beautiful, intact blue velvet dress, and the hair is nearly perfect, I might not have to do anything to the hair at all, actually. It’s porcelain, too. I think the doll should be easy to fix, a great find,” Koree said excitedly as Judy smiled, happy for her good news.
“Really? Let’s have a look,” Judy replied excitedly.
“I’ll bring it in tomorrow. I forgot it when I came in today. I promise I’ll let you see it tomorrow. It’s in amazing shape with expensive looking eyes and hair about the same color as mine,” Koree told her. “It is missing one hand, so I’ll need to fix that, but otherwise it’s nearly flawless.”
As promised, Koree brought the amazing doll in the next morning. As Koree expected, Judy loved it as much as she did. They both took a good look at the doll to see if there were any real defects she hadn’t noticed before, other than the hand. The doll seemed nearly perfect.
“I think someone put a lot of work into this doll, Koree. It’s a shame it just ended up in a tag sale,” Judy said inspecting the lace on the dress.
“Yeah, I wondered about that too. They should’ve charged me a small fortune, but they gave it to me for twenty bucks.” Koree said this and then started to really think about it. The doll could have easily fetched ten times what she’d paid.
“Maybe it has painful thoughts attached to it. What if they had a daughter or someone who died? I could see that,” Judy said, shaking her head in a sympathetic way.
“I guess so,” Koree said then paused a minute, “anyway, I will fix her up and make sure she goes to a good home”. This gave Koree a warm feeling inside. She smiled broadly.
Back at home, Koree popped open the trunk to bring in the groceries. She was walking back past her car with some bags when she saw the doll sitting in the back seat. It startled Koree a little because, at first, it looked just like there was a little girl sitting there.
“Oh, my word, you do look very real, like a little girl,” Koree said to the doll through the closed window of her car. Koree returned to her car to collect the doll. She really meant to leave the doll at her shop. There was no real reason to bring it home, but she took it inside anyway.
Koree sat at the table eating her supper alone again that night. Her father was, as always, parked in front of the television. She propped the doll up on the table in a sitting position as a dinner companion. Koree was happy to have the doll there. It felt like she wasn’t eating alone for once.
“It’s kind of nice to have some company at suppertime, Jayla,” Koree said and paused, “yeah, I’m going to call you Jayla. You look like a Jayla.” Koree smiled at the name. She could remember when she was a young girl, there was a doll named Jayla she’d play with all the time. This doll reminded her a lot of her friend Jayla.
The next night a new dream forced its way into Koree’s sleeping mind. She was walking through a park on a lovely fall day. Children were playing all around her and the sound of laughter was everywhere. When she reached the end of the park, she saw a set of swings. On one of these swings, the only one on the swings, was the porcelain doll. The doll was being pushed from behind by her father. She feared for the doll because her father was swinging her far too hard.
The scene in the park started to change, like a fade in a movie where the lighting dims. The sound of children playing quieted until it became silent. The sunlight was washed away by dark menacing clouds overhead, the blue in the sky gone. Koree, however, was focused on the swinging doll. Her father was pushing the doll harder and harder, making it swing higher and higher. Koree was afraid the porcelain doll would fall. She charged toward the swing set. As she reached the swing the doll was on, tragedy struck. The doll’s right hand, clamped to the swing, was ripped away as the body was flung from the swing. Koree watched the doll fall to the ground in horror. She returned her attention back to the swing set where the tiny porcelain hand still clung to the chain. The little hand let go and dropped straight down toward the ground. The delicate hand fell in slow motion once again, and again, instead of hitting the ground, it fell into the same wooden box with the blood red lining. The lid snapped shut like it did before. She looked harshly at her father for hurting the innocent doll. He looked right at her with venom in his eyes and mouthed something, but there was no sound. Koree started to mouth the word, ‘what’ when a voice like thunder rang out all around her:
“What’s in the box Koree?” her father’s voice bellowed again, startling her.
Koree woke with a massive headache the next morning. Looking at the clock, she decided that, again, going back to bed would be futile. She went to the coffee maker to start her day. The doll sat still on a chair next to the table, a reminder of her brief but powerful dream. Koree thought to herself, maybe the missing arm on the doll was bothering her a little too much. Maybe if she fixed the doll’s hand, it would stop these disturbing dreams.
“I have a couple of packages coming in the mail today,” Koree said to Judy as they sat on the stoop of the store, sipping coffee. Judy would sometimes pick up packages for Koree if they came and Koree didn’t notice or wasn’t there.
“I ordered some premade porcelain hands for the doll I bought,” Koree said, “I hope one set will fit the doll and look authentic enough. I might have to do some searching for the right type of lace though, but I’m usually good with fine details like that.” Judy nodded her head in agreement.
“I am going to love that doll when it’s restored. Maybe you could even display it in the window for a while. You know, to get people in the store, show them your work. I bet it would help with customer traffic. Hell, maybe it could bring some people into my salon, too,” Judy said and they both laughed.
Koree was near the top of the nearly mile long trail. She’d climbed it many times and knew a great view lay just ahead. The end of this last bit of the trek was the absolute top. She was getting tired from all the gear that was on her back. She could make camp at the top and relax with some supper. She’d brought plenty of meat and vegetables to prepare a good meal after the hike. She reached the top of the last incline. The magnificent view was appearing. Off to the left of the trail she was on, there is an extremely deep cliff, probably a one-hundred-foot drop. A very large sign warned hikers to stay clear of the edge. The site she’d make camp on was a flat spot on the other side of a large boulder. It wasn’t that far now. All she needed to do was walk the short trail around the giant stone to the small plateau on the other side.
Koree glanced off to the cliff side of the trail as she turned to walk away, around the rock, to the camp area. She noticed the sign was not the only thing there. Sitting under the large warning sign was the porcelain doll. Koree was shaken by the sight of the doll just sitting there on the edge of the cliff. She looked all around, hoping to get a glimpse of the person who put the doll there, but there was no one around. Koree walked slowly and cautiously to the doll on the utmost edge of the cliff. The doll started to teeter back and forth as if moved by a small wind. Koree began to run to the toy, desperate to stop what seemed inevitable.
The doll slowly started to fall back and roll off the edge of the cliff. Koree could do nothing to stop the horrifying series of events happening right before her eyes. She dove at the doll, ignoring the danger to herself if she went over the brink. The doll fell, but Koree caught it’s right hand at the last moment. The hand of the doll simply peeled away, and the doll toppled off the edge unceremoniously. It was as if the right hand of the doll was never attached in the first place and just came away.
Koree stood up and was in awe at what she’d just witnessed. She looked down at what she had left of the doll. In Koree’s palm was the small porcelain hand. She turned around to head back down the mountain to see if she could find a path to where the rest of the doll fell. Sitting a few yards away was a small wooden box on the ground. Koree, still numb from the incident, walked to the box. Without a second thought she automatically dropped the tiny doll hand into the box with the delicate velvet lining, a box she knew too well. The box snapped shut immediately, seeming to close just as the hand hit the bottom this time.
Koree was disturbed at what she’d just done. She looked at her palm where the little hand sat moments ago and couldn’t understand why she let go of it. She knew she’d need that hand to fix the broken doll. She wanted to pry the box open and get the hand back immediately. She’d fix the doll when she got the hand back. When she looked back at the place where the box was, the box was gone.
Koree’s legs felt heavy, like they’d lost all muscle tone. The weight of the hike was finally taking its toll on her stamina. She decided she should make camp and start searching in the morning. She started walking toward the path and the large stone she needed to pass to get to the flat camp area.
To Koree’s horror the great stone had large letters crudely carved into it. The rock also bore long streaks of blood running down from the edges of the chiseled letters, as if the stone was cut. Large gobs of blood were gathered on the edges of the letters, and small pools gathered on the ground. Around the edges of the longer streaks, the blood had dried and coagulated, like it’d been bleeding for a while. The letters spelled out in horrible, jagged, bloody letters, “What’s in the box Koree???”
Koree started to fall, tumbling from the cliff as the doll had, but the ground never caught her. She simply kept falling. Fearing she might have inadvertently fallen off the edge of the sheer cliff, she started to cry. Dread raced through her body at the knowledge of her certain death, her senses heightened by the flush of adrenaline.
She was still crying when she woke to the real world. Her body was tense and weary from the horror she’d just been through. She went to sit up, looking for the time, but her body didn’t respond. She lay there in near darkness, only her night light shining in the darkened room, with tears freely flowing down her face. Her apprehension grew in the gloom with her body so exhausted she could hardly breath. She focused hard and turned her head to the side her nightlight was on, hoping to gain bravery from the light. Then she looked to the foot of her bed to see the time, beginning to panic. Sitting bolt upright on her chest was the porcelain doll, Jayla. The doll’s hand was off, just as always, but there was blood leaking from a wound on her little arm. The doll’s other hand was resting on a wooden box. Koree didn’t need to open it to know it would have a red lining with a porcelain doll hand in it. The doll’s face was smashed, like it’d been beaten. A horrendous thought struck her. She knew what was bound to come next. The question that has been haunting her dreams at night and haunting her through the day. Koree started to scream the words, “it’s a little hand!” but only got out the word ‘it’s.’ She couldn’t speak any further for some reason. Like the rest of her body, her voice was now paralyzed. The doll started crying tears of blood on her normally happy baby doll face, and a loud knocking battered the door.
The pounding on the door increased its force gradually, getting louder and louder and louder. Just when it seemed the door would shatter from the assault, her father’s voice came furiously from outside the door, “what’s inside that box Koree?”
Koree sprang out of her bed right onto her feet, heaving a deep breath. She couldn’t adjust fast enough to this act, just waking up, and her legs buckled, giving out. She sat there on the floor, her heart racing, lungs pulling great gulps of air in and out at a desperate rate. “Wow, that was the worst one yet…by far,” Koree said to herself out loud through chittering teeth. She raised her hand to brush her hair out of her face and saw her hands were shaking uncontrollably. She tried to stop them so she could move off the ground, but couldn’t. It was still very early, but she wouldn’t be able to sleep now. She finally got her breathing settled and strength back, so she went to start the coffee.
Koree was still groggy but managed to put together a pot of coffee and toast a bagel. Her father never came out until after she left for work. She sighed to herself, “I could just not go in today I suppose,” she said to herself aloud. She knew she was going to go to work, but it didn’t mean she couldn’t day dream a little though.
With the coffee gone and her bagel finished, Koree went to her room to get ready for work. She dressed and was just about to start on her hair when a soft knock came at the door. Koree was surprised by the knock, but it didn’t really startle her. Sometimes she’d get a package early, even before she left for work. Stuff was always coming in for her shop. She went to the door as fast as she could manage and opened it in hopes of catching the delivery person. She told herself it was to help the delivery person, but deep inside she knew she wanted to see someone, anyone. She’d been pushing the panic button in her head and needed to see someone, just to know the world is still there and still operating as usual.
“Hello,” Koree said as she opened the door. Standing there was an old woman wrapped in many layers of clothing. It wasn’t particularly cold out, but Koree knew that older people sometimes catch a chill.
“Hello. My name is Persence Hoening. I think you recently purchased a porcelain doll from a family over near the church,” the old women said taking something out of her pocket. The accent she spoke with was definitely a northern Europe one, maybe even an eastern bloc country. She was a bit hunched over from arthritis, Koree assumed, but she moved herself well. The skin on her hands looked paper thin, but was probably very soft, Koree thought. The woman’s skin constricted to a point where her knuckles were extremely pronounced. Her face was also gaunt. The thin skin made it hard not to notice the arteries and veins weaved underneath the dermis trying to cover them. Koree knew there was a tiny church on the corner near the sale she’d purchased Jayla from, so she nodded. This was the other shoe dropping. She knew the doll purchase was almost too good to be true.
“Here, I believe you need this,” Persence handed her a piece of tissue gently wrapped in a section of newspaper. Koree took the bundle and gently opened the wrappings. There, protected by the tissue and paper, sat a little porcelain hand.
“Oh my, this is the other hand to the poor doll. It’s such a beautiful little doll, this is great news,” a pang of fear struck Koree just after she complimented the doll. She started to worry that maybe the small amount she paid for the doll was going to be disputed now. What if they want more now? She wrapped the hand back up and stood there, not knowing which way to take the conversation.
“Oh, my yes,” said Persence. “It was cast to look like my sister. She was a beautiful little thing, dying so young. So tragic. My mother started to fashion that doll only days after her death.”
“Why don’t you come in miss, was it Hoener?” Koree asked the kindly lady. “I don’t have any coffee left, but I can make some tea.
“My last name is Hoening, don’t worry about it, it’s not that common of a name that you need to remember it. You can just call me Hattie, that’s what everybody calls me,”
Persence said as she climbed up the last step into the house. Koree knew this would make her late for work, but maybe a visit could settle the mental ache she felt.
Persence settled into a chair, and Koree set herself to making tea. She took out some packaged danishes she kept in the cupboard and arranged them on a plate, in case Hattie wanted one. Koree wanted one. When the tea was made and served, they settled at the table. Koree was stalling to come up with a game plan, in case her fear was justified and Hattie wanted the doll back or she wanted money. The money wouldn’t be too bad, as long as it wasn’t unreasonable. She knew she wouldn’t be able to say no to this nice old lady no matter how the conversation went. She really feared for how this may go.
“So, what do you do Koree?” Hattie said cradling the hot tea in her hands as if to take warmth from it.
“I like to fix things up. You know, furniture, lamps, desks and stuff like that. When I was just a little girl, I fixed a broken glass doggie I had. I used to patch up my own dolls and stuffed animals too. Later, I started fixing my own clothes and other people’s toys. I opened a shop to restore things and sell them. It’s like doing my favorite hobby and getting money for it,” Koree said, and they laughed.
“Oh good. You should be able to fix that hand in no time then. I lost it ages ago. My mum was going to sew it back, but she never got around to it. It’ll be good to have her restored back to her prime. It is such a lovely thing,” Hattie said then sipped her tea. The fear in Koree’s heart increased because of that last sentence. “Is the doll here? Could I see it again?”
Koree’s heart sank. A foreboding took over her mind, but she stood up acting like she was happy to show the old woman the doll. She grabbed the doll out of its place and brought it to the kitchen.
“There she is, just as beautiful as ever. Oh my, you look almost brand new already,” Hattie said happily gazing at the doll. Koree handed the doll to Hattie and she immediately started to cradle it as a mother would hold a child.
“Yeah, I did some cleaning and polishing on her. I cleaned up her porcelain and washed the dress. Also, if you look here, I mended some of the lace and added a bit more to fill in the missing pieces,” Koree pointed out the repairs as she spoke.
“Such a wonderful job you did. What a wonderfully talented girl you are. I am so glad you could do this. I think it is great that she came to you,” said Hattie. Koree’s heart immediately jumped to her throat. The old woman wasn’t there to try and take the doll back or bump up the price.
“Oh, thank you very much, you are too kind. I knew the doll was special the second I saw her. She just needed a bit of care. That’s all,” Koree said with a smile.
“When I got older, I saw a sad little girl who lived next door to me. I knew she’d lost her mother recently, so I gave her this precious doll. I figured my mother would approve of the kind gesture, and it made me happy. She eventually decided to pass the doll to another person and brighten that person’s life when they felt low,” Hattie absolutely beamed as she told the story of how the doll spread joy. It made Koree happy inside, happier than she’d felt in a while.
“So how did you come across the doll’s arm,” Koree asked her.
“Well, I’m getting older so I am moving into a much smaller home now. I was cleaning the junk in my attic and way at the back of the piles and piles of boxes, there was a hope chest I kept as a kid. I put all my important stuff in that box. Important stuff when you’re about ten, at least. About the only thing in the chest was a small wooden box. I opened it up and sitting in it was the little doll’s hand,” Hattie was still beaming as she relayed her tale. Koree froze. An immeasurable terror filled Koree’s imagination. She started to shake again and set her tea down trying not to show her sudden fear.
“Did the box have a red velvety lining in it?” Koree said in a near whisper, her fear almost tangible now.
“Oh, how did you know that? It has a very nice red cloth lining,” Hattie said laughing, dumbfounded by Koree’s guess. Koree was now doing her best to hold it together. She didn’t want to learn anymore, but, like with a wound that hurts to distraction, she couldn’t help but to continue.
“How did the doll’s arm come off in the first place?” Koree asked. She wanted to learn the answer to this question, no matter how unsettling it may be. Hattie’s face suddenly changed to a serious looking visage. All joy and kindness left Hattie’s face, and her expression became much darker, not at all bright and cheerful as before. It was the face of a mortician on the day of a trying funeral; the solemn face of misfortune. Hattie quickly turned her face to the floor and said, “I don’t have the faintest idea. It wasn’t anything I did”. Hattie stood up and set her cup down. She was still looking at the ground. Koree thought it was a good thing she was, Koree was too frightened to do much right now. Hattie eventually looked back up and her face was restored to that of the same jovial old woman who’d come in.
“I am afraid I have to go Koree. I have a couple of errands I need to run before lunch. Thank you for the tea.” Hattie said this and walked straight to the door. When she got to the door, she opened it and walked out, softly closing it behind her. Koree hadn’t said a single word since Hattie mentioned the red lined box. Many questions were running through her head initially, but they were all silenced. It had to be the box haunting her dreams. She was lost in contemplation of what heinous situation she may have stumbled into, when she finally noticed Hattie was gone.
“I don’t know, Judy. I just don’t want to sleep anymore. This whole thing with the box and that old lady,” Koree told her best friend, “I don’t have any sort of relationship with my father and don’t have any real family in the area I can call on. I need a vacation or something,” Koree ended her sentence with a sad cynical laugh.
“You know, we could have a night out. That might make you feel a little better,” Judy said smiling and then standing. “That’s settled Koree. I’ll meet you tonight at the Oriole. You know, that lounge over near the jewelry shop that has that tall, waving balloon guy that’s so tacky”.
“Maybe, Judy. I haven’t been out in a while. I’d probably have to…” Koree started but was cut off by Judy’s glare. “Come on though, we’d have a great time,” Judy pleaded with her. After a couple of minutes of back and forth. Koree agreed. In truth, she hadn’t been out often in her life. She was a very quiet, reserved person. There wasn’t a single reason in the world that she couldn’t go out for a while with her friend.
Koree stood under the custom-made wooden sign with neon wrapping it with a gentle glow. The Orchard Oriole lounge had quiet music ringing from it.
“Sounds like live band music tonight,” Koree said out loud to herself. “That ought to be nice”.
Soon Judy arrived, and they went into the place. After getting their fill of drinks, Judy suggested they take a walk and get some air down by the river walk. During the walk, Koree felt an air of calmness finally take hold. She was beginning to unwind. She wanted to forget the events of the past week or so, and a night out was helping her do just that. After their walk, Koree and Judy stopped at a trendy coffee hang out to get a cup of coffee to cap the night off.
Koree knew it was late and she should start thinking of heading home. She didn’t want to face the night in her own house now, not after the relief she was feeling. She wasn’t sure if she should suggest having another cup of coffee, going to another bar or just sucking it up and going home. Judy could see the war waging in Koree’s mind.
“You know Koree, I think you are maybe a bit under the weather still. Maybe you had a bit too much to drink or too much excitement for the night. I don’t think you should drive home now either way. I’ve got a great idea. My parents’ house has lots of rooms. You could spend the night if you like. It wouldn’t be a problem at all. In fact, they’ll be thrilled to have you there.”
As soon as Koree heard the offer, she decided to take it. She didn’t want to seem too eager, so she made it sound like she was reluctantly agreeing to go.
At Judy’s parents’ large home, there was indeed a roomy bedroom she could stay in that night. She met Judy’s parents briefly as Judy explained the situation, and they were warm, gracious and kind to her. Once the introductions were over, Koree slid into the comfortable bed and was soon sound asleep.
It was around four in the morning when Koree was shaken violently from her rest. She opened her eyes, and Judy was standing over her calling her name. Judy’s hands were on her shoulders shaking her. Judy was pale, her eyes were wide and bright like someone who’d seen a ghost.
“What is it?” Koree asked, looking past Judy and seeing her parents standing there in the doorway.
“You were screaming in your sleep, Koree,” Judy said, taking her hands away from Koree and sitting on the edge of the bed. “I don’t know what was happening, but it had to be a bad dream.”
“I don’t remember…I can’t remember having any dream,” Koree said. She was embarrassed and it forced her to break eye contact with everyone in shame. She began begging everyone for forgiveness. She felt horrible.
“It’s really no problem, dear. You certainly have a pair of windpipes on you girl,” Judy’s mother Jean said in a calm, motherly voice. Koree didn’t really ever remember being talked to in such a calming, healing voice. Her mother had been dead a long time now, since before she could remember, so it was nice to have that kind of attention.
“I think I am going to make a run to the ‘Donut Exchange’ for coffee and donuts. I never get a chance to buy any donuts because I’m never up in time and don’t normally have a good excuse. I guess a cup of coffee would hit the spot for everyone too,” said Stew, Judy’s jovial father. Koree was jealous a little now of Judy’s family life. It stung a bit that she’d embarrassed herself and that Judy’s parents were going out of their way to ease the situation. She swore she’d make it up to them.
Koree sat with Judy’s family around the morning table sipping coffee and eating the donuts Stew picked out. He called them the ‘cream of the crop.” It didn’t seem to Koree that the family was too upset at the early morning wake up call. Again, she was starting to feel her tension ease.
“That must have been a remarkable dream Koree, do you remember anything about it at all?” Stew asked, picking out a second donut.
“No, I just woke up and felt Judy shaking me. I rested very well though, until then, thanks,” Koree tried to sound sincere, but she secretly had a stomach full of butterflies.
She hadn’t had a good dream for as long as she could remember.
“I heard you from my room in back, and I had the door closed. You were in there, yelling at someone it sounded like. I think it has to do with the box you were dreaming about. You were telling somebody, if you only had the box, you could fix something, but you needed the box,” Judy said, took a short sip and continued. “I think that doll and that old lady set something off in your dreams. Maybe you should see someone about it.”
“You have a point. If I get some help, maybe we could all get our sleep,” Koree said, eliciting a chuckle from everyone in the room.
Koree felt better about the whole thing later that morning. A new energy set in Koree as she and Judy sat in the living room sipping the last of the coffee. Koree noticed a rather run-down old sewing hassock in the corner of Judy’s parents’ living room. It’d been beautiful at one time, but age and wear left it looking old and worn out. Koree offered to restore the old hassock to as good as new in gratitude. She offered to do the whole job for free, considering the kindness she’d been offered.
“You think you can get that hassock some shine back on it? It was old back when my mother gave it to me,” Jean told her. Koree stood up and walked over to the piece of furniture, studying it. Finally, she nodded her head emphatically.
“I can pretty much fix anything, and this would be a pleasure. This piece would be a joy to work on,” Koree said this and looked around the room as if looking for something. A cold feeling came over her. The rest of the people in the room noticed her sudden apprehension.
“What’s the matter Koree?” Judy asked her.
“I don’t know, just had a kind of déjà vu moment,” Koree replied, “you know, déjà vu, like I’ve done this whole thing before”. She shook it off. It wasn’t uncommon for people to have a mental blip like that.
In the end, Judy’s parents let Koree fix up the hassock, but refused to have it done without any compensation at all. Koree settled on a fifty-dollar check upon delivery. That would cover the materials and probably even more. She knew she’d do her best work on it. She’d make sure they’d be getting well more than fifty dollars’ worth of work out of her. After all, she can fix anything.
A couple of days later, Koree was toiling away on a small teapot she figured would make a nice knickknack. A little touching up here, some polishing there, and it’d be ready for the sale shelf. The door chime rang and she looked up from her work, Judy walked past the front desk to the work bench Koree used in the back.
“Just in time,” Koree said, “I ordered the material for your mom’s hassock, should be in maybe Friday.”
“Good. I came over to see if you wanted to grab a quick sandwich,” Judy said, checking out some of the gadgets Koree stashed away on her shop’s shelves for tinkering with.
Koree shrugged and said, “Sure, I can finish this anytime”.
“How are your dreams about the doll lately?” Judy asked.
Koree looked around vigorously. She even looked under her work bench.
“I meant to bring it in. I must’ve forgotten it at home again,” Koree said this and tossed her work gloves on the bench, “I’m always leaving it at home and forgetting it. At this rate I’ll never get it finished.” Judy flinched and changed the subject. They walked out the door talking about different projects they planned for that weekend.
Judy stopped in to Koree’s shop pretty much every day now to check on her. It was clear that Koree was feeling haggard a little more every day, and it was worrisome. Judy knew Koree wasn’t sleeping well and probably having those dreams often. Judy would ask her about the dreams, and Koree would be dismissive and try to change the subject. She tried to get her more and more to come out of the shell she was building, but wasn’t making any progress.
Koree walked in her house exhausted and realized again that she’d forgotten to work on the doll that day. She’d never sell it if it went on like this.
“I might get a nice payday for that doll if my head was attached to my shoulders,” Koree said to herself and chuckled a bit.
“Did you get dinner yet?” her father’s voice screamed from the living room. For some reason he had been in a worse mood lately on top of everything else. There is a chance it could be her and she was just tired, too.
After supper, Koree was sitting at the edge of her couch. Sitting across from her, on the other side of the couch, sat the porcelain doll. Next to the doll sat a wooden box. A large colorful snake was sliding down from the back of the couch toward the doll. Koree knew that the doll was in danger, with markings like that, the snake had to be poisonous. She knew the doll would lose her hand again soon and she, like so many other times, was going to be helpless to stop it.
Koree heard a crash and sat up hastily. She’d accidentally knocked over her glass of soda, which was now flowing across the floor of the living room. She’d fallen asleep watching the news. She was relieved the dream was cut short this time by this happy accident. She didn’t think she could take another nightmare about the doll.
Koree was late to work again. Lately she’d been numb, and the days blended together. She did everything slowly lately because of the exhaustion. Judy was about as concerned as she’d ever been about her friend but felt helpless. She saw that, for some reason, Koree was completely overwhelmed by the porcelain doll. Koree was tired of it now and wished it was gone altogether. Better yet, she wished she’d never bought the damn thing. She started to think maybe it was so cheap because it had some sort of curse attached to it. That was the only possible explanation.
“How are you today, Koree?” Judy asked. Koree jumped a little, startled. She hadn’t seen her or heard the chime when Judy come in the door of her shop.
“Okay Koree. I know that you are having some problems now at home and I just want to help you. Maybe I can help…you think?” Judy started and then stopped. She reached in her pocket and pulled out a fifty-dollar bill. “Here Koree. I will buy the doll from you. That way you don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
Koree looked around and saw that the doll was still at home, not there. The suggestion sunk into Koree’s tired mind. Maybe that was a good idea. But then the reality hit Koree.
“No, I have to fix Jayla, I mean the doll. It shouldn’t be long. I can fix her first. She needs to be repaired,” Koree said slowly and deliberately.
“Jayla? Is that what you call the doll now?” Judy questioned. She was now confused about the name. It was the first time Koree called the doll that name.
“Yes, that’s her name. That’s been her name, I think. She looks like a Jayla. Don’t you think so?” Koree spoke like she was trying to convince Judy. Judy stood in silence, not sure what to say.
“I just want you to know I’m here to help If you need me,” Judy finally said. She didn’t know what to do next. Koree started to sob openly. Judy wasn’t sure how this conversation led to this.
“I can’t…” Koree said through a good deal of tears. “I can’t fix Jayla. And if I could, it wouldn’t work. I can’t fix anything if I can’t fix Jayla.”
Judy decided to take control of the situation. Koree was clearly exhausted. After a short convincing from Judy, Koree closed the shop, and Judy drove her home to her parents’ house, hoping the change of scenery would help her as it seemed to before.
The night passed without incident. After breakfast at a greasy spoon, Koree returned home to get ready for work. Koree’s head was much clearer with the sleep. She slept well the night before in that spare room. She didn’t know if she was getting better or if she was just so tired that her body shut down.
Koree was sitting on her father’s chair, a place she never dared to sit in most circumstances. There, on top of the television, sat the porcelain doll. Koree gasped, she knew the doll should’ve been in her bedroom, buried in a box. Koree banished the doll to the box to help quell her dreams. The doll sat there with those living eyes, eyes that never moved but followed you around the room. Koree looked for a wooden box, it must be there somewhere.
The doll started to rock. It was being pushed by some unseen force from behind. The doll’s hand started to move in an awkward motion, like it was starting to separate from the rest of the doll. Blood started to flow down the white porcelain hand and down the screen of the television. The hand flopped nearly off when an urgent pounding came at the front door. Koree spun around to look at the door, but was startled by a booming snap near the television. When she looked back to the doll, the hand had fallen away. The wooden box was on the floor where the little doll arm would have landed. The box sat there below the doll, and it was closed. Koree knew the hand was again trapped in the box. The knocking at the door came again. Koree was no longer frozen in place. She vaulted to her feet and rushed to the front door to stop (in vain) what she knew was coming.
Her father’s voice came roaring from outside the door again, shaking the house down to its foundation. As the angry voice finished Koree’s name, she made it to the door. She leapt through the door just as the question was finished. She barreled with fury at the voice that preyed upon her mind.
“It’s Jayla’s hand you bastard!!!” Koree screamed as she tackled the figure there and tumbled down the cement steps outside her door.
The scene outside started to come into view for Koree as the cloud of sleep slipped away. It was sunny outside and she was looking up at the fresh blue sky. She slowly sat up, still stiff from the fall. She looked to her left at the figure she’d just tackled and rolled away from. There, Judy laid on the pavement, quiet and still.
“Oh my god, Judy, are you alright?” Koree said. Moving to Judy’s side, she lost her breath and began shaking with newfound horror. She looked at Judy’s scraped face. Her nose was obviously broken, crushed in. Koree took her hand and it was hard, not soft as usual. It was as if Judy was wearing really hard gloves. Koree expected to see blood all over the sidewalk from the wound, but there wasn’t any. They’d hit the cement very hard, and Judy was hurt badly. Judy’s devastated nose should have been streaming blood, but, luckily, it wasn’t. All the wounds on Judy appeared to be just dents and scratches. Koree moved quickly to check whether Judy’s heart was beating, but there was nothing to hear. Koree looked around, expecting help to come any second. This sidewalk was usually busy with people about now, but no one was around. Desperation was sinking in.
Koree looked down and saw flaws in Judy’s skin. There were chips and cracking in her face, but no blood at all from the lacerations. Koree wasn’t sure if she should administer CPR or not. She opened Judy’s eyes and shivered as she was looking into cold, dead eyes staring back at her. She knew these eyes. They are eyes that never move but follow you wherever you go. They were the eyes of a doll, a porcelain doll. She stood up, dropping Judy’s head. Judy’s right hand shattered for no reason, leaving porcelain bits all over the sidewalk. Koree still saw nothing but a world with no people in it and a lifeless Judy. What was she supposed to do now? Maybe she could put Judy back together. She started picking up the pieces of her best friend. She’d need special glue. Porcelain could be tricky to reassemble. The clothes could be mended easy enough. She would fix Jayla. No! She would fix Judy back to a perfect state.
It was a fairly sunny day with a brilliant blue sky over the Orchard Oriole Rest home. People moved around the halls with a pep in their step on days like this, the first beautiful spring day of the year. Many of the clients sat outside in their wheelchairs or on benches watching the birds and taking in the fresh spring landscape.
On the fourth floor of the main building, a group of residents were being led around by the head of this particular unit. The doctors came through at least once a week, with students and nurses in tow.
“This is Koree Fillybraun. She’s been here for over fifteen years now. She’s relatively harmless to the public, but has been known to hurt herself. She spends a lot of time doing puzzles and she is a prodigy at origami. We’ve made little to no progress with her I’m sad to say. We try the best we can with this poor girl. Her trauma has taken away much of her life,” said the leader of the tour. They all peered in at a woman crouched down in a corner, facing the wall.
“Dr. Judith, is there any chance of stopping her delusions? They’ve come a long way in reintegrating people to reality,” asked a member of the group.
“I don’t know. We try. She was only eight when the trauma happened. Her father was a cruel man, according to what we have on her family. He killed Koree’s mother when Koree was at school one day. Koree had a younger sister, Jayla. After killing the mother, he slaughtered Jayla and fled. For some reason, the father kept Jayla’s right hand with him while he was on the run as a souvenir of sorts. Poor Koree was the first one to find her mother’s body. Then she found her sister’s body, half covered in a bloody white sheet, it must have been a terrible shock to the girl. She was found crying next to her sister’s torn up body. Koree had taken all the body parts and laid them out like she was going to put them back together. She insisted she could fix her sister and flew into rage when the medics began taking her sister away. She was heartbroken because she couldn’t find her sister’s right hand to finish putting her back together. The story was in all the papers in the region. All she would say for years was that she was never given the chance to fix it. She insisted on getting her sister’s hand and fixing her,” Dr. Judith stopped speaking a moment to let the group take in the information, “now, Koree has a fixation on a fictional doll named Jayla, like her sister.” Without warning, the relative silence of the hospital wing was broken.
“What’s in the box Koree??” came the voice of a man. This rattled the gathered doctors. There was no mistaking the voice of Koree’s angry father. Their eyes all quickly searched the room for the man that owned the voice. Koree’s head turned to face the door. They all looked into the extremely pail face of a troubled woman.
“I know what’s in the box, father,” came the soft worn voice of the young woman locked in the room. Her voice was so tired and worn it hurt to even hear it.
“You have such a talent for these things, the tub looks beautiful Koree,” came another voice. This voice being the voice of an older lady, maybe in her sixties, but being mouthed by the girl sitting in the corner of the room. The entire group was enthralled with what Koree was doing. The voices were so real and unique, you’d swear a group of people were in the room. Every one of them stood, eyes glued to the display as she spoke in completely different voices to herself.
“It’s alright Koree, you can stay any time,” came a man’s voice, this one kind and caring, completely different from the father’s voice. Some of the group began to shiver at the unnatural conversation.
“Thank you, Stew, you are very kind,” came Koree’s voice again. Dr. Judith started pulling the group from the woman’s doorway. It didn’t take much convincing, as each one of them were disturbed by the experience.
“She mostly talks with her father about the doll. She has a need to fix things. We keep her calm by having her working on puzzles and her paper folding. She goes into outbursts if she can’t work fixing something. It’s her father’s voice that haunts her, I think. Her father, now long dead in an upstate prison, still batters that poor girl.” Judith quieted her voice and talked in a voice filled with hush, “you don’t want to be here when she really argues with her father though, nobody does. She screams at the top of her voice. It creeps the hell out of everyone, because she answers herself in her father’s voice that way. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Sometimes she just lays there for hours saying over and over again ’what’s in the box Koree’ in her father’s voice. Those are the most horrible nights for her. She answers too, in such a sad, weepy tone. It makes me nearly cry sometimes.”
The group slowly shook their heads in sadness as they took notes and looked over the sad state the poor woman was in. They all agreed it was a very unique and very sad story, that of a woman trapped in her own nightmare, trying to fix a sister, Jayla, who’d become a phantom porcelain doll.
And they moved on to the next patient.
Credit : Daren Salls
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