This week, the conclusion of our creepy puppet story from last week.
Audio production by Davis Walden. Narration by Carl Stewart.
Hi. I’m Tonia Ransom, creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT, a horror podcast featuring creepy tales written and performed by Black creatives from all over the world.
This week we have the second part of our story from last week. If you haven’t listened to last week’s episode, go listen now before you start this one. A quick spoilery recap: Last week, we learned that Corey’s mean older brother Michael is dead, but not at rest. Corey has a therapy puppet, but that puppet is no ordinary puppet–Michael lives on inside of it. Michael’s presence has become more menacing, which brings us to our final half of this story of an angry ghost who uses a puppet to exert his will.
But before we get to the puppet revenge, just a reminder that all episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Thanks to our newest members Zuri and Leanne. You both have my eternal gratitude. Again, NIGHTLIGHT is 100% listener supported, so we need your help to keep bringing you new episodes. Just go to patreon.com/nightlightpod to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion and get a shoutout on the podcast.
Now sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy Part 2 of One Hand in the Coffin, by Justin C. Key, narrated by Carl Stewart.
Cold. Bone cold.
Keys jingled. Fine carpet needles itched. Drool stained both arm and nostril. Wet stung at thighs and crotch. Ammonia. A door opened, a sigh, a door closed.
Corey awoke slowly, remembered, and sat up. Someone had let in the dark.
“Alisha?” he said.
He was alone.
Corey jumped up and sprang out of the room. His foot burst through the pile of magazines he’d moved, and sent them sprawling. He swung open the closet door.
“Corey! You scared me!” Mom’s voice.
He ignored her. Mr. Wiggles was gone.
“Why are you up so late?” Mom said. “And, Corey, you wet your pants? You’re nine now. Jesus, boy!” She shook her head as she drifted from the front door over and onto the couch. She pulled her hands down her face and looked over her fingers at him. She smiled the type of smile Corey knew meant something opposite of happiness. It matched the smell of hospital meat and subway sweat.
“I fell asleep,” Corey said, pleading with Mom. Only she didn’t know it. He could see it in the way her eyes narrowed, the tilt of her head, the constant reminder that they were of two different worlds. He tried to use his words, but sometimes his words weren’t the same as everyone else’s words; when that happened words didn’t help anybody. “I fell asleep! I fell asleep, I fell asleep, Ifellasleep!”
Mom held up a hand. “What’s that noise?” she said. He heard it, too. He’d felt it before he woke up, because, somewhere, Alisha felt it. It was the sound of running water. “Where’s your sister?”
“I fell asleep!” Corey said.
“Oh, Lord,” Mom said. She rose quick enough to send Corey stumbling, but he caught himself and hurried after her, into the hall’s shadows, around the corner to the bathroom.
Mr. Wiggles sat outside the door, a dark shadow covering his small chest. Just before Mom swept him aside, Corey thought he saw the golden brown chin fall. The shadow disconnected and bounced noisily down the hall.
“Alisha! Alisha!” Mom jiggled the handle. Locked. “Open the door. The key. Where’s the key?”
Muffled sobs. The door blurred; Corey blinked down his tears, which pushed heavy on his cheeks.
Mom yanked Corey’s arm. “Tell her to open the door!”
Corey couldn’t tell Alisha to open the door, not like this. He opened his mouth to explain but all that came out was, “I fell asleep!”
Mom rushed away. Corey moved towards the bathroom. The sound of water faded. He touched the wood. It was warm.
Mom came back with the key. She kept missing the slit in the doorknob. Corey gently took it away from her. The metal was cold and hard and felt different in his fingers. He slid it into the lock.
“Hurry up!” Mom said. He did.
Alisha sat in the middle of the tiled bathroom floor, her head jackhammered between her hands, rocking back and forth. Tears sparkled her cheeks under the light, like porcelain. She wailed, long and high, until she had to gasp for breath, then wailed more. Dad’s pocketknife lay along thin lines of blood beside her. Water began to slick over and down the sides of the tub.
In seconds Alisha had her arms wrapped around Mom’s neck, hands pressed back against her own ears. Mom turned off the water, and they were gone.
Corey walked up to the knife. He hadn’t seen it since the day Michael died. He tried to pick it up, but it burned his fingers. His hand ached as he went out into the hall and found Michael’s basketball. He hadn’t been able to make it out sitting in Mr. Wiggles’s lap in the dark, but under the wan light of the hallway he could see the faded Spalding brand and a nickel-sized splash of white from when it had bounced into the street and his older brother made him crawl under an old, leaking pickup truck to retrieve it. Part of Michael’s things, it belonged in his room with all the rest, hidden and forgotten.
The puppet lay sprawled a few feet away, one arm forward, the other twisted back, cheek to the floor. He was in just the right position to have one eye on the bathroom. Wisps of his hair flattened against the cracked, black-scarred wood, some long enough to curl onto themselves more than once. Something caught the light. Corey dared a step forward, kneeled down, and picked it up. A button. T-shirts didn’t have buttons. He looked at Mr. Wiggles, but the puppet was mostly on his stomach, and the shirt looked white. Unchanged.
Corey ran to Michael’s room, and paused. The door was open. Dull light flashed inside. The smell of cigarette smoke floated along the beat of high-pitched, muffled voices. He recognized one of them from South Park, Michael’s favorite show. A laugh cut the air—Michael’s laugh. Corey looked back at the puppet. How long had that awful grin been there?
Corey threw the basketball as hard as he could through the gap that wasn’t supposed to be a gap because Michael was dead and his door stayed closed and dead people don’t smoke and dead people surely don’t watch television. Something shattered, but Corey was already running away. From the room, from that wooden smile angled against the floor. He didn’t stop until he was at the hallway light switch. He flipped it down, waited, and felt some relief.
The dark, and whatever it might bring, was safer than having that smile on him.
Mom fumed into the living room after Alisha finally fell asleep. Her cries had been long, broken, and stopped without signal. Blood stained Mom’s uniform. She sat at the table with a glass of amber liquid, ice clinking inside. Each clink needled Corey’s side.
“Come here,” Mom said.
Corey sat in the chair next to her. His feet dangled beneath him. He rubbed his fingers together.
“What happened?” she said.
“I fell asleep,” he said.
“How did your sister get locked in the bathroom?”
Corey thought about it. With math, he found solutions for combinations of two new numbers by looking at the dance of other familiar numbers. Michael had locked Alisha in the bathroom before. He was supposed to blow-dry her hair while Mom was at work, but he wanted to play basketball. They had yelled about it and many other things, including Michael dropping out of school, why Dad left, and the new mountain-like scars erupting along his arms. In the end Mom had won because she was Mom. Corey dedicated a close eye to his sister but he lost a Michael-game and by the time he made it back into the apartment, it was too late. He grabbed Dad’s knife and assaulted the bathroom door with his fist. Bang! Alisha! Bang! Mike! Bang! He couldn’t find a key, and banging wasn’t helping, so he shoved the blade into the side of the door like he’d seen in a movie, and when he finally got in Michael was standing over the tub, one hand on the curtain, the other wielding the blow dryer. Alisha thrashed face-up, fully submerged in the filling water. Every time she came up, Michael gave her hot air straight to the face. Back under. Corey didn’t think; he lunged. Michael turned around just in time to move out of the way. But Corey wanted him to pay. Even as Alisha scrambled out of the now overflowing tub, he needed his brother to pay. Corey, chill, I’m just goof—Shit! Dad’s knife sliced Michael’s thigh. His brother grabbed at it, missed, and Corey stuck the blade again. It folded backward; a line of fire fell over his own fingers. But only Michael yelled. Then Corey’s world went all red and blue and black, spreading from hot pain in his nose. When he could see again, Michael held the blade in one hand and wore Corey’s blood on the other. Corey remembered yelling something, something so bad that when the colors cleared on the other side of it, Michael had the blade against his own wrist. You want me gone so bad? I’ll do it, you know I will. And Michael did. He dragged the knife across his wrist. Corey was supposed to call a number and the police would come and Michael would go away and get better, like last time. But something in the red dripping from his brother’s wrist into the water inspired an alien rage in Corey. He didn’t want it to be like last time. Didn’t want there to be another time. The rage propelled him forward and Michael fell back into the bathtub. You little shit! You little shit! Corey ran out into the hall, closed the bathroom door, and waited. He waited for angry splashing to give way to the sound of wet footsteps, a string of curses, something to forewarn him of approaching repercussions. What came instead was distant, muffled crying. Somehow that was worse than the promise of more black and blue pain, worse than the thought of his brother dying, because Michael needed help and Corey didn’t know how to help him. Didn’t know if he wanted to help him. Why wasn’t he getting the phone? Why wasn’t he doing something? He didn’t know. The sobbing stopped, eventually. Cool touched his toes, soaked his socks; dark water crept into the hall. Corey creaked the door open. Time slowed. Michael lay back in overflowing pink water. Not asleep, no. His eyes were open. Glass. Corey sloshed over and turned off the water because it was the only thing he could think to do. Then he closed the door and went to find his sister. He held onto Alisha until Mom’s screams filled his ears, and then he held her tighter.
Sometimes he wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t gotten into the bathroom. Maybe Alisha would be dead instead of Michael. Maybe they’d both be alive. Maybes were hard for Corey. They weren’t like numbers.
“What happened?” Mom asked again.
“I don’t know,” he said. Mr. Wiggles.
“Corey, I’m going to ask you again and I want an answer. How did Alisha get locked in the bathroom? She couldn’t have done it herself.”
“Maybe Mr. Wiggles—”
She slapped him. “Don’t lie to me.”
Corey tightened his face. If he cried, Alisha would cry, and that was the last thing he wanted. His breaths were quick, hard pats that whistled out his nose.
“Don’t ever do that again.” Mom pulled him in for a hug. “Ever. Ever. Ever.” She burst into tears.
Corey dreamed as Alisha spoke. His nightmares had gone down since Michael died, but they still came. He woke in a sweat. Dreams were only memories that weren’t true. Corey would have gone back to sleep if not for Alisha being awake. He knew this the same way he knew the sun was out without having to look up at it.
“It’s Michael,” she said.
“Where?” Corey asked. He waited, staring at the underside of her bed. He repeated the word, over and over, its whistling sound swirling into the wood above him, making pictures. He was almost back to sleep when he heard a thumping sound. His body remembered it before he fully could. His buttcheeks squeezed together. It was the sound of a flat basketball hitting the wood.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
He turned to the door.
The line of light—his line of comfort, of safety—was split in two.
“Mom?” Corey said. The answer that came wasn’t Mom. Cartman, Stan, and Kyle, paper voices rising in static. Laughter rose between them. The splash of shadow under the door quivered.
Corey closed his eyes. A dream. Had to be.
“Alisha?” he said.
“It’s Michael,” Alisha said.
“Stop!” Corey yelled. Quiet now. No television. No laughter. No basketball. Just the sound of his own breath. The line of light was whole.
“It’s Michael,” Corey agreed. That was clear. Now, what was he going to do about it?
While Mom got ready for work, Corey hauled the ever-thickening Mr. Wiggles into the closet. The cracks on the puppet’s arms had blossomed into moist chasms. The day’s heat conquered their apartment’s one window air conditioner; by the time he’d leaned a chair under the handle, his face itched with sweat and his back throbbed like a heartbeat. He waited, put his ear up to the door, and when there was nothing, walked away. He stopped by Michael’s room. The door was open just enough for Corey to put his hand through if he wanted. A warm breeze touched his cheek. It smelled of cigarette smoke. The black inside was complete, but he could still see his brother’s room in his mind all the same. Videogame cords, basketball shoes, the old television, the intricate puzzles Michael had assembled with Corey back before Dad left, back before things got complicated.
Corey crossed the hallway to the bathroom, found the hair dryer stowed away under the sink, and came back to Michael’s door. Mom never knew the role it had played. She had never asked. Corey threw it into the dark, grabbed the knob, and pulled. A sharp, dreadful whir rose from the black as angry cigarette air pushed against the other side of the door. Lights flashed against the static-chopped voices of excited cartoon characters. Corey grunted, dug his feet into the floorboards, and yanked.
“No more, Michael,” Corey said when the latch clicked closed. “No more.”
The doorbell rang. Even still, Corey waited. He waited until the last of the Michael-room sounds faded away. It wasn’t hard to wait. He had the numbers in his head, always adding together to something else.
“You sure you don’t want them downstairs?” Patrick’s mother stood a head taller than Corey’s. She was wider than Patrick, but not as wide as the kids at school said.
“Alisha … doesn’t take to new places,” Mom said.
“Patrick, you come right downstairs if you need me. Otherwise, have fun and respect Ms. Green’s house.”
“The boys will be fine.” Mom smiled big and bent her knees. She pulled down the sleeves of her sweater as she spoke to Patrick. “We have two rules. First, watch Alisha—”
“I watch Alisha,” Corey said. They all turned at the same time. Patrick’s mother’s face twisted. Patrick waved so hard his Spider-Man backpack looked like it was shaking its Spidey head. Corey almost waved back.
“You both,” Mom said, carefully. “You both do. It’ll be nice to have a friend over while I’m gone tonight, right, Corey?”
“A babysitter,” Corey said.
“A friend. Patrick’s your friend.”
Mom came over and kissed his forehead. He didn’t resist wiping. It chased Mom’s smile away, like he knew it would, but he couldn’t care because he watched Alisha and Mom knew that. A piece of her smile came back when she turned back to Patrick’s mother, but it wasn’t the same.
“Be good, boys,” she said and opened the door.
“What’s the second rule?” Patrick said.
“Don’t open the door for anyone,” Corey said.
“Except me,” Patrick’s mother said. And then, as she and Mom left together, “You going to be okay with that sweater? It’s hot as all get-out.”
“Freezing in the hospital, though. And it’s cute, ain’t it?”
“I watch Alisha,” Corey said again when the door was closed. He turned to his friend with a look he hoped was serious. Even when Michael was alive and Mom left him in charge, Corey watched over Alisha. He’d messed up, he knew, but still wasn’t quite sure how.
Patrick lifted his hands. “I know. I thought I was just here to sleep over.”
“Mom thinks I’m like Michael.”
“No. You bring the knife?”
“Oh.” Patrick dug a white-handled knife from his backpack. It was twice as big as the other.
“I said a small knife.”
“Only one I could find. What’s it for?”
“We’re getting rid of Mr. Wiggles. We’ll call it Operation Trashcan.”
“I like it.” Fear touched Patrick’s eyes. “Are … both of us doing Operation Trashcan?”
“Yes. Come on.”
They went over and removed the protective chair from in front of the closet. Corey grabbed the doorknob, ignored its warmth, and was about to pull when Patrick’s fingers dug into his arm.
“Are we going to get into trouble?”
“I don’t know.”
Patrick let go. Corey opened the door.
“You changed its clothes?” Patrick said. Instead of a T-shirt and jeans, Mr. Wiggles wore a collared button-down and black dress pants. This made sense to Corey but puzzled his friend. Why? He searched his memory, found it. Patrick hadn’t been to Michael’s funeral.
“No,” Corey said. He slipped the knife into his pocket, careful not to stick himself with the blade. “You get the legs. I’ll get the arms.”
Patrick looked at him sideways, bent over, grabbed one of Mr. Wiggles’s legs, pulled, and nearly fell forward. When his friend looked back up, his eyes were wide.
“Yeah,” Corey said. “We have to deal with it.”
The heartbeat ache returned to Corey’s back as they dragged Mr. Wiggles out legs first. Patrick’s eyes burned the side of his face. Corey didn’t have to look to know his friend’s fear; he felt it, too. Heat pulsed through Mr. Wiggles’s cotton pants. The wood beneath had gone soft and thick. The puppet’s head thumped out of the closet and onto the floor, sending a vibration up Corey’s legs.
Corey squatted down and reached his arms under Mr. Wiggles’s armpits. Patrick took his feet. When they lifted him, the middle of his body curved down in a U.
“He smells like gym class,” Patrick said.
Mr. Wiggles’s cheek brushed against Corey’s as he tried to get a better grip. He flinched away but the stinging stubble had already hooked a memory. Michael had been trying to teach him how to shoot a basketball so the boys at the normal school would see him as more than a punching bag. Frustrated, Michael passed the ball so hard Corey’s fingers hurt for a week. Corey didn’t cry, not then, but rather turned to the basket and forgot what his brother taught about lining up the ball or pushing off with his right hand. He instead watched the ball and the rim and his hand like only he knew how and let the quiet part of himself take. The ball went in. Michael hugged him. A real hug, like back before Dad left. Not a fake hug, or a dangerous hug, but the type of hug that made finger pain go away. Michael had just started growing a beard. Its prickle was warm and scary and tipped with love.
Halfway out the door, Patrick dropped Mr. Wiggles.
“He looked at me,” Patrick said. “I swear, he looked at me.”
“Pick him up,” Corey whispered. He looked over his shoulder. Had Alisha heard? “Come on. Please.”
They carried Mr. Wiggles out into the apartment building hallway. His back rested against Corey’s leg as they waited for the elevator. They laid him inside.
“Where’s the knife?” Patrick said. His eyes were as wide and as deep as his breathing.
Corey checked under his arm. Not there. “I’ll be right back.” He turned before Patrick could respond, ran across the short hallway to his front door. There it was, resting on the welcome mat. His heart slowed a little as soon as his fingers touched the handle.
Corey whirled around. His friend had fallen against the elevator wall. A dark line fell down the side of his head, like a tear. A black ashtray rolled across the floor. Mr. Wiggles sat upright, firmly holding one end of Michael’s silver chain, the other wrapped tight around Patrick’s wrist. He turned his head. Teeth that hadn’t been there before shone through the puppet’s wide, wild smile. As the old metal doors slid closed, Mr. Wiggles turned back to Patrick.
Corey crawled, ran, stumbled to the elevator. He banged the flat of the knife against the metal. “Patrick! Patrick!” The water, was it running? No. That was another time. Another failure. He didn’t have to fail again. He forced himself to step back, take deep breaths. Think.
He ran down the stairs. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneight, Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneight, twofoursixeight, three flights. When he got to the bottom the elevator gears were still grinding inside the walls.
Patrick’s own yells grew louder and louder as the elevator came to a stop. What would he see? Mr. Wiggles—Michael—hitting Patrick with the ashtray, over and over again, until his face was all red? Or Patrick sitting on the puppet’s lap, a wooden hand extending into his back, making his lifeless jaw work as his eyes rolled back …
The doors opened to Patrick’s black moon eyes. Michael’s chain tied his wrist to the elevator banister. His yells solidified into words: “He got back off!”
Corey’s hand ached.
He ran up the stairs, two, three at a time, so fast that the counting part of his mind couldn’t keep up. Falling, shin against metal, the cold railing burning the palm of his hand, pulling up and up and up …
Their front door yawned open. Corey flew to Michael’s room.
Alisha sat in the middle, playing with her dinosaurs. Mr. Wiggles stood behind her, combing her hair with Michael’s yellow pick. He stood as tall as Corey now, if not taller. He turned his head, continuing to lace the pick through Alisha’s thick curls. The puppet’s own hair was half braided, half wild. He wore a black suit jacket—Corey recognized the yellow flower in the pocket from the funeral—but no tie.
“Core-eee.” Mr. Wiggles’s mouth flapped like a cow chewing grass. Somewhere in the black, Corey thought he saw a tongue trying to figure out how to work.
Corey lunged at him, knife raised. The thing smiled its cow smile even as Corey flew through the air. Contact. Pain entered his shoulder and spread, fire-like. It felt like trying to tackle a tree. He fell back, dizzy and empty-handed. Mr. Wiggles, unshaken, stood over him.
“Tuffen up, Core-ee,” Mr. Wiggles said. He grabbed Corey’s neck. Mr. Wiggles’s blood might have already begun to run hot, but his fingers remained cold. They clamped down.
The world went red. Then gray. Corey scratched at Mr. Wiggles—at Michael—scratched until his nails splintered against both wood and flesh alike, thrashed against the hate he’d collected for his brother, a hate planted in the disdainful way Michael looked at his sister, germinated in his games, and ripened by the knowledge he’d won even in death. Because of him, their lives would forever be miserable.
Color came back. The pressure left his neck. His buttocks hurt. He was on the floor. Mr. Wiggles hovered there, eyes wide, unbelieving.
Behind him, Alisha stood, one hand floating a dinosaur across the air, another lodged into the puppet’s back.
“Alisha,” Corey said. He shook his head, tried to regain thought. “Your hand, Alisha, your hand. Get it out.”
“She’s good, bro,” Alisha said. Only it wasn’t Alisha. The words came from her mouth, but they were somehow lower. Older. Mr. Wiggles’s jaw mimicked them. “She’s with her brother now.”
“That was my wish. Not hers. She hates you.”
“She wished me here because you’re shit without me. You both blew out the candles. You both need me.”
“No, we don’t.” He knew now why he’d wished Michael back. It wasn’t to beat up a kid for calling him a name. It was because talking to painted wood and a fake smile only made his skin warm. He wanted that puppet to be Michael, so that he could say what he hadn’t found the courage to tell him in life. “I wanted you gone. Everything was harder with you.”
Corey scooted backwards. If he was going to get up, he’d need more room. He looked around. Michael’s basketball sat idly in the corner. One of Michael’s trophies—the last before Dad left—stood tall on his dresser. The hair dryer lay plugged up near his video game system. Patrick’s knife was lost.
“You never liked us,” Corey said. “You wished we weren’t born. Dad left because of us, remember?” Michael had said this so often it had become one of those truths Corey didn’t think to question.
“He did, and I hated him for that. Who took care of you after, huh? Me.”
“You tortured us. You tortured Alisha.”
“I helped Alisha! Every time I tried to be her big brother, you acted like her savior. I made her stronger and you killed me for it.”
“I didn’t kill you.”
“You did, you little shit! You let me bleed out. Your own brother.”
“Shut up,” Alisha said, this time in her own voice. Mr. Wiggles’s head turned towards her. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”
“Alisha,” Corey began. He had to get her to take her hand out of Mr. Wiggles.
“Listen,” she said to Corey, drawing out the last syllable. She turned to Mr. Wiggles and repeated the word. “Listeeeen.”
“Okay,” Corey said. “Okay. I’m listening.”
“I loved you, Michael. Corey loved you. You loved us.” But. The lingering but made the room smaller. “You left us. Like Dad.”
“I didn’t—” Michael’s voice was different. “I was teaching Corey a lesson, but he left me there. He should have called 9-1-1. He did it.”
“No,” Alisha said. “You left. You did. You’re better dead.”
Mr. Wiggles’s head turned towards their sister, his jaw hanging open. Alisha’s dinosaur floated through the air in diagonals.
“You helped us, but you hurt us, too. Don’t hurt us any more.”
“I won’t, Alisha. Corey. I promise I won’t. What can I do?”
With this said, Alisha pulled her hand from the puppet’s back and moved away to fly her wingless dinosaur around the room. By the time Mr. Wiggles turned back forward, Corey was in a wide stance like in the movies, pointing the hair dryer at his dead brother. His imagination had no answer for what might happen when he turned on the power, but the apparent fear in those glistening, wooden eyes was enough encouragement.
And then Mr. Wiggles did something Corey didn’t expect. His bronze face distorted. Lines split in the wood where the transition to flesh was incomplete. His knees buckled. A low hiccupy whir rose from his mouth.
Michael was crying.
“Why …” Michael said, through his wooden sobs. “Why no one want me, man?”
Corey had heard this cry before, when Dad left. He hadn’t known what to say or do. His brother’s tears weren’t from falling down or not getting his way. The hurt was there to stay; how could words fix that? So he’d stood there as his older brother wet his palms with tears.
He wouldn’t stand by silent again.
Corey lowered the blow dryer, took two long strides, and hugged his brother. Michael’s skin was still hard in places and the puppet was skinnier than Michael had ever been. But the scratch of stubble against Corey’s cheek erased any doubt.
“I love you,” Corey said, and he meant it.
Michael hugged him back. “I love you, too, bro. I’m sorry I left. I just …”
Corey stepped away and raised the blow dryer again. He forced himself to look in Michael’s eyes. Hazel. Sad. Understanding.
Corey flipped the switch. Michael let out a single grunt that could have been outside branches scratching against the apartment. Mr. Wiggles shrank. Shine spread across its hardening skin. Teeth slid back into their holes. The buttons disappeared; the black suit melted and faded into the white T-shirt of before.
The last thing to go was the eyes. Corey never got to see them change.
A guttural, high-pitched wail cut the room. Corey turned to see Patrick run at a full sprint through Michael’s door, across his carpet, and throw his shoulder smack in the middle of the puppet’s chest.
Mr. Wiggles sprawled through the air as if made of paper. Wood clicked and cracked against the far wall and crumpled to the ground in a misshapen heap. Corey tossed the hair dryer aside and rushed over. Any sign of Michael was gone. Just Mr. Wiggles. Just a pile of wood and paint.
“Did I get him?” Patrick said.
Things happened quickly after Michael left again. Mom came into the kitchen as they tried to find mattress bags to clean up all the mess in Mr. Wiggles’s wake. Her talking turned loud and fast when she saw the blood on Patrick’s face. Corey couldn’t remember all he’d said, how much he’d told, but it had been enough to land him in Day Glow Psychiatric Hospital.
The young doctors there asked him the same things every day. If he was hearing voices, seeing things, or had any thoughts of wanting to hurt himself or anybody else. One asked him about Dad leaving, then Michael leaving, and if he had any thoughts of leaving himself. Not any more, he’d said. Corey wasn’t the best at reading expressions, and he couldn’t tell if they liked his answers or not. They sent him home after a week, and life went on.
Mom got rid of the puppet and the therapist. He heard her tell people on the phone that it made things better. He didn’t tell her otherwise.
Corey still saw Michael, sometimes. In dolls, passing faces, photographs, even in his sister. Sometimes in the rare moments of silence in his house, he could hear faint laughter, the buzz of an old television, and the smell of smoke. It never lasted; just long enough to cause Corey’s hand to ache.
“Is Michael here?” he asked Alisha one day before he could stop himself. A faint, familiar laugh had come and gone like a breeze. The babysitter—someone old enough that Mom needed to pay her—slept in the living room.
Alisha didn’t look up from her line of toy monster trucks. Corey couldn’t remember when she had stopped playing with dinosaurs. As long as she was happy, that was okay with him.
“Yes,” she said.
Corey nodded. She was right. And that was okay, too.
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To get a free copy of Mona Livelong II: Paranormal Detective by NIGHTLIGHT author Valjeanne Jeffers, all you have to do is post a review on your favorite podcast listening platform before October 23. Be sure to share a screenshot on social media and tag us so we get your entry.
And to thank you for listening until the very end, we have another creepy doll fact for you.
There is an island of dolls just south of Mexico City. The Isla de Muñecas was never intended to be a tourist attraction, but that’s exactly what it’s become. Julian Santana Barrerra started it as a memorial to a girl who drowned under mysterious circumstances on the island. Visitors claim to hear the dolls whispering and seeing them blink. Julian believed the dolls house the spirits of the dead, and added more dolls to the collection until his own death by drowning, in the same spot as the original girl who perished.
We’ll be back next week with a new episode.