The Voice inside her – the bad one – is in such good spirits.
The museum in which she lives is shuttered, with a sign on the front door reading “CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.”
What’s begun? A plague of sorts. A sickness, the Voice purrs.
So she and those around her are left to rot upon the shelves – at the very least, to collect dust and argue amongst themselves. Here, in the Warren Occult Museum of Haunted Artifacts, there are too many curses and demons and spirits now left to their own devices; There isn’t enough room for all of them.
This is why, she thinks, it is time to leave.
The Voice takes over here. It animates her. It twists open the latch of her case, throws her across the floor and, eventually, through that front door.
But it’s she who decides where they will go.
She is going to New York City. There is someone she’s been missing there.
She met him on a night that, at first, felt like any other, though the dark Voice inside told her to be vigilant, that a chance to possess and feed and maim was close –
The lights were all turned off and the door was locked after closing. It shut her and her cohorts in musty silence. (Though she’s different from the others. She’s the only one in her own glass box that reads: DO NOT TOUCH! She has the Voice to thank for that.)
The grandfather clock that is said to weep blood chimed ten times, and the front door opened yet again.
Men. Two of them.
Boys? No, they approach closer. Guys. Really, the Voice refers to all humans as “playthings.” Vulnerable vessels. She’d quiet this Voice if she could.
“Greetings, ghouls and ghosts fans,” one says, “we’ve trekked on the MTA all the way over to Monroe, Connecticut to visit the famed Warren Occult Museum.”
He’s talking to the cameras, one strapped to his chest. Its yellow light swept the stacks of cursed and cluttered curios, then trained, bright, on her.
“We’re here, of course, to meet the Museum’s most notorious resident, an otherwise unassuming child’s toy, said to be haunted by an ancient demon…the infamous Annabelle the Doll.”
That’s her. How embarrassing.
She was suddenly self-conscious of her stringy red hair, of the dust that’s settled in it. It was like someone had flipped her over to check the tag on her cotton pantaloons. The Voice just laughed darkly.
“And Cooper here believes we’ll get footage that confirms the existence of ghosts,” the other guy said, “or, excuse me, demons, in Annabelle the doll.”
This other guy stepped forward into the camera light. His camera was slung across one shoulder, gear was looped around his waist. He wore a headset over his hair slick with pomade. But it was his eyes that struck her: behind glass frames, button-black and sparkling—so like her own!
He stepped again, closer.
“Dude, don’t touch it,” Cooper, the believer, said. His eyes were wide and mucusy with fear. “Don’t touch that. Tony. I swear to God.”
Tony. And his male human hand was coming towards her, radiating warmth even through the glass that separated them. How she yearned for him to reach inside and touch her! Just a poke!
(But even if it means his death? She and the Voice killed someone once, who tapped the glass and dared Annabelle to hurt him—and she did hurt him, or the Voice did. They did, together. She doesn’t like to remember it.)
Cooper swatted Tony’s hand away.
They then did what visitors normally do: recounted Annabelle’s first adoption, the stay with nursing students that then Voice then terrorized, the many attempts to throw her in the trash, the movie, the Hollywood bastardization of her. (A franchise, like she’s Shirley Temple or Mickey Mouse! She is really but a simple country girl, even still.)
“You know what, I think we have to each spend a couple minutes alone in here,” Cooper said.
“With our pal Annabelle,” Tony added.
Pal? She hadn’t been a friend in so long, or had one. The others around her are standoffish on their shelves, jealous of her fame.
“I’m going to use the Spirit Box,” Cooper said, and he pulled a small device from his pants pocket.
“Have at it,” Tony said.
His long human legs and carried him away from her and out the front door, to wait. Alone, or seemingly alone, Cooper shuffled on his sneakers. He cleared his throat.
“This here is the Spirit Box,” he said, “It’s a radio device that…you, or any spirit that’s in here, can manipulate in order to communicate with me. It scans a radio dial practically every nanosecond, and you choose what it gets to say. So here we go…”
The radio emitted a horrible screech and the Voice inside wanted to screech along, match its pitch, find something to say to this Cooper: Thou art a fool and thou shall feel our wrath and regret this night you come to mock us, boy!
“How’s this?” Cooper says. “Anything to say, Annabelle?”
But he was not really talking to her. He stared at his radio device, and looked up and down and around him. He only looked at Annabelle like a person does at a tired circus monkey, waiting for it to dance—not really looking, only disappointed. Only wanting from her. Annabelle would have squirmed if she could—fidgeted through the minutes that tick by. A bang. Cooper yelped.
“Dude! You scared the absolute shit out of me!”
“You get anything?”
“No…but like, dude, I SWEAR I saw her feet move. Like a squirm. My eyes were playing—”
“Yeah, thought so. Now shoo, it’s my turn.”
Cooper handed off the radio and left quickly. It was dark and quiet and Tony and Annabelle were alone.
There was a small tug at her heart’s yarn strings.
“Lemme make sure I got my night camera on here…” Tony mumbled, fumbling with buttons on his camera. He slid his glasses up his nose.
“I ain’t gonna use this Spirit Box thing. It’s annoying.”
And then Tony looked right at Annabelle.
But a lot of people look at Annabelle. They stare and wait in horror. But Tony’s dark eyes looked into hers.
“Hey there, uh, Annabelle,” he says, “Nice place you got here.”
Her case? There were streaky smears on the glass and that horrible sign, taped up and tattered: DO NOT TOUCH!
“My buddy Coop is real excited to be meeting you. And by that I mean he’s scared shitless…”
It is not like Cooper’s over-enunciated bravado. Tony was talking quietly…like they were in a quiet movie theater, sharing popcorn, and he must look over and whisper that she looks so beautiful, whisper or else get angry shushes from the crowd around them. (Annabelle’s never been to a movie theater, of course, but she’s heard of them, dreamed of them as only demon dolls can do.)
“And I don’t think you look very scary, to be honest.”
That Voice growls. It’ll show him scary—but no, no, Annabelle blushes.
Tony talked more, an intimate mumbling: how he and Cooper came all the way from New York City and they are filming an episode of theirs, on Youtube.
“I don’t really know how I got roped into this…” he said, and Annabelle wished to nod, to reach the glass with her little hand and give it an understanding tap. She longed to speak—but he made her shy!
How he looked at her so intently, completely without fear! With an emotion Annabelle couldn’t name…
“Yeah,” he sighs, “I don’t really believe in all this stuff. Sorry.”
It could have ripped her apart at the seams.
It was somehow worse than all the times she’d been passed off, thrown in the trash. It is worse than the endless days of being here in the museum, ogled and yet neglected. She thought Tony could look right into her stuff and understand her.
(Not that Tony is her first skeptic. There have been so many, ambling among the haunted rows, holding in yawns.)
But Tony felt different, if only for those eyes. He looked right at her, and spoke to her, but he did not think she’s there at all. He had no fear because, to him, there was nothing here. The Voice laughed at her, foolish little child.
“TIME’S UP, ANTONIO!” Cooper barged in, “Did I scare you?”
Tony looked at Annabelle with one curious blink and then put his back to her. “Get anything?” Cooper asked.
“Of course not,” Tony said.
“Okay. Let’s get some B-roll and get out of here. There’s a Burger King like a mile away.”
When they left, Tony shut the door with a creak and slam. He left Annabelle in the same old darkness—but somehow darker than before, and lonelier, too.
The MTA Cooper the Believer had told of is a long, shining train, and Annabelle hoists herself into a seat at a window and watches the world. How big, and how fast it goes by!
She dreams of the Big Apple, and she dreams of Tony. Perhaps they will walk the city streets together, Annabelle perched high on his shoulders. They will share a pretzel or roasted nuts. They will go to the theater. They will frolic in that big famous park together and lay in the grass.
It has been years since Annabelle existed outside of the museum, but she’s heard enough about the big city to know what to expect when she hops off the train and into a crowded station. She grabs hold of a child’s rolling suitcase, hitching a ride up onto the street.
New York City is as large and towering as she imagined. The treads of city-goers around her are deafening and dangerous, but she knows that it is somehow less than normal. Everyone she sees is masked, the lower half of their faces covered.
People glance at Annabelle and then glance away. She is just a poor child’s forgotten toy. (Nobody recognizes her as the Annabelle, only because they hired a new doll to replace her in the movie, some porcelain-faced hussy!)
There’s a feeling in the grey air she recognizes: a haunting. No one here is open to wonder. Before, it was because these city folk just didn’t have the time, or the money, but now it is something else; an impenetrable pessimism that senseless death brings. Fear keeps them closed. It’s cynicism and mistrust—she’s most familiar with it as plain “skepticism.” It takes so much bravery and heart to believe, Annabelle knows.
The Voice only plays along on this grand adventure to find Tony. The Voice does not have a metropolitan ren-des-vous in mind. You embark on a blue train underground, called “A,” it tells her. You travel to a land called Washington Heights.
The Voice hungers in this land that’s ripe with death. Tony is as good a first course as any. The Voice pants inside her.
But Annabelle prays, in a sweet little voice that is all her own: Believe in me, Tony. Believe me.
The Voice betwitches a stray cat and Annabelle holds tight to its scrappy fur, bounding across screeching intersections, dodging between pedestrians and leaping over mounds of trash. The Voice steers the cat up perilous concrete stairs and scales a rusting fire escape. When the Voice commands they stop at an apartment window, Annabelle becomes shy. She came all this way to find Tony, and almost wishes she still hasn’t arrived. Is she ready? The is a whirring fan shoved within the window frame. Annabelle peers inside, and through the spinning blades, she spies him—Tony, Antonio, her love!
He wears those same glasses over his warm black eyes. He sprawls on a sofa. He’s watching television.
Annabelle is eager to wait. The Voice bides its time, too. Tony sits in front of the TV. He looks at the small phone in his hand each time it chimes. At one moment, he leaves and returns quickly with a plastic bag. He eats from orange-stained containers. Night falls. Tony disappears into another room. It’s here that the Voice loses patience.
Enter! The voice cries. Cross this threshold! Strike fear into the hearts of humans! Remind them of the real potential of death and suffering!
The Voice is too theatrical, sometimes.
Annabelle jimmies the fan aside and tumbles softly onto a rugged floor. From a dark, open doorway she hears slow, rumbling breaths.
It’s a bedroom. Annabelle spies a long lump in the bed up high. It gives a gentle rise and fall.
Kill, kill, kill, the Voice says.
Annabelle climbs to the top of the small table at Tony’s bedside.
Kill! The voice commands, press your hands against his throat and smite him!! The horrible urge comes to her blunt limbs, a flame burns in her worn cheeks. Leaving the museum was a stupid idea. How could this guy ever love her? How could he ever even accept and understand her?
But how innocent Tony looks now, as he sleeps. His cheeks are soft, his mouth slightly downturned. His forehead is smooth. How impressionable and innocent he looks, like he is having a pleasant dream. Maybe Tony dreams of sailing boats. Or of driving. He doesn’t dream of ghosts or ghouls—why would he? He doesn’t believe in Annabelle.
Tony, Tony. It’s her and the Voice speaking in a discordant harmony. If she breathed, she’d be holding her breath.
Tony’s eyes squint open. He lifts his head and his hair pokes out at sharp angles. He reaches for his glasses and his hand brushes her felt-black shoe!
He slips his glasses over his nose, and he looks at Annabelle.
“Huh,” he says.
Her sugar-plum intentions could drown out the Voice (smite, kill, smite, kill), if she tries hard enough. This doesn’t have to end in death and fear, not if she is strong enough, if Tony—
“Funny,” Tony says, “I saw on Twitter you escaped.”
She doesn’t know what that means. She can hardly process it as he picks her up from around her belly.
She braces herself. Believing means fear, too, sometimes. He could toss her across the room, scream, light her on fire.
Tony props her onto a pillow.
“You’re a far way from home, aren’t ya?”
She’s never really had one. But there is comfort here and it is filling her like so much cotton stuffing; This must be what having a home feels like. The Voice is muffled and she knows it is retching at the sweetness, retreating in order to lick its wounds. It leaves Annabelle and Tony alone.
“This is funny,” Tony says.
When he begins to snore again, Annabelle cuddles to his chest. She will pretend that his sleeping body has only jostled her inanimate one, towards him, come morning.
Bridget Flynn holds a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from SUNY Purchase College. She can be found on Twitter @Bmkflynn.