A short and dark horror tale by Colin Devonshire
A Puppies, And A Teddy
‘I thought you were joking,’ said Maryl.
‘Why? I promised to take you both on holiday, and here we are,’ answered Cliff.
‘I imagined a hotel by the sea. Not a clapped-out caravan in the woods’.
‘It is a camper, not a caravan. Keep your voice down, or you’ll wake Lucie.’
‘And what do you care about my daughter?’
‘Okay, I’m sorry, I thought we could afford a plane trip or a driving holiday through Europe. But you know they cut my overtime,’ said Cliff.
‘Yes, and I also know about the money you lost on the horses?’
‘Forget all that; let’s have some fun. How about we have an Indian meal and a few beers?’
‘Yeah, Lucie will love that,’ Maryl’s sarcasm slapped his cheek.
‘She can sleep in here; it will be an adventure for her.’
‘Wow, a holiday to remember, priceless. I’ll tell her she can sleep alone in a poxy little room, shall I? I’ll check on her and see if she wants to come with us.’ Maryl clambered from the passenger seat, squeezed between the plastic coatings, and took a few strides to the back.
‘Where is she?’ she looked around. ‘Lucie, where are you, love?’
Maryl climbed onto the bed and checked in the cupboard. Then, she jumped down, shaking her head.
Cliff peered over Maryl’s shoulder and inside the small room. The room was untidy; Lucie’s child-size suitcase was open, its contents scattered around it. The mattress was tipped, and the sheets and the pillow were on the floor.
‘Filthy child, don’t you teach her anything?’
‘And what do you mean by that?’ asked Maryl.
‘Look at the bloody mess she’s made.’
‘Never mind that. Where is she?’
‘Gone to the cleaners,’ smirked Cliff.
Maryl shoved him out of her way as she jumped outside.
‘Lucie, darling, where are you?’
Maryl stepped into a puddle, shaking the water from her trainers. ‘Brilliant, now it is raining. What the hell were you thinking about bringing us here? Now, what are you doing?’
‘I thought I grab us a couple of cans of beer for the walk.’
‘We are not on a stroll. We are looking for my daughter. And no, I don’t want a lukewarm lager.’
‘The camper has a mini-fridge, quite cool.’
Maryl stomped along the pathway.
‘How do you know which way she went?’ asked Cliff.
‘I don’t, that’s why I’m going to ask at reception, you know the office at the front?’
‘The only kid they have seen is a small boy, playing with the stray puppies outside the building,’ Maryl took the unkempt footpath back to their camper.
Cliff popped inside and stashed two more cans. ‘Do ya want one yet?’
Maryl’s stare could have frozen the alcohol.
Cliff was whistling between slurps of his beer. Maryl looked up at the branches; colourless smoke steamed from her ears. She didn’t expect to see Lucie above her head, but she spotted black birds watching her. Her brisk walk speeded up to almost a jog.
‘There is no sign of her. Maybe it would be better to wait at our vehicle?’ asked Cliff.
‘You mean you’ve run out of beer? Where are the cans? You can’t chuck them in the forest, idiot.’
‘No one will see. The rubbish is under weeds.’ He chuckled.
The snap of a branch caught Maryl’s attention.
‘Lucie, is that you?’ She rushed to the sound. Cliff followed her deeper into the forest.
Leaves rustled as they swayed in the wind.
‘Lucie, darling, where are you?’
A loud clumping crashed as it broke vegetation; the noise raced behind them. A dozen ponies chased each other between the trees, clipping Cliff as the chunky beasts ran past.
‘Christ, they’ve broken my shoulder,’ he shouted.
‘Let me see,’ Maryl checked the injury. ‘It’s nothing; they just brushed you, they barely touched you, not even a bruise, I expect.’
‘Well, it could have been nasty.’
‘Why were they in such a rush?’
‘Perhaps they always chase around like that; they are only young.’
‘They’re not young horses. They are full-grown ponies. Don’t you know anything?’
‘I know I’m getting thirsty.’
‘The quicker we find Lucie, the quicker you can have a beer.’
Maryl stopped and scratched her head, ‘I think we should go that way,’ pointing the opposite way from the ponies.
‘Because whatever scared the animals might be scaring my girl. So, follow me.’
She marched towards a light sea breeze. The tree covering lightened, but not for long, as the early evening dusk settled.
‘Have you got your phone? We’ll need the torch soon.’ Suddenly she stopped, then a quick hop and tiny jump as she cleared a bloody lump on the ground. Both peered down.
‘It’s a puppy,’ she said.
‘Oh, dear, poor thing, do you think the ponies ran over it?’
‘Whatever, they made a mess of it.’
‘Should we bury it?’
‘Oh, right, I’ll go and buy a shovel, shall I?’
‘Let’s cover it in the bushes.’ Maryl picked up the corpse and placed it out of sight. She brushed the blood from her hands on the grass.
‘What’s this?’ Maryl followed a thin trail of blood; the course thickened into goo, then the remains, a head and entrails. Then, finally, she jumped, ‘Oh, God, it’s another one.’
‘Let’s go back,’ said Cliff.
‘And leave Lucie out here? We are not going back until we find her. I have a terrible feeling we should follow the trail of dead dogs.’
The flap of wings nearby made them jump. Dozens of black birds swooped down under heavy branches, ducking and diving until they settled above Cliff’s head. It appeared their beady eyes followed him along the overgrown path. Then a deafening squark made him stop and stare. In front was a teddy bear.
‘Look, look, it’s Lucie’s. We must be near,’ Cliff said.
‘Yes, give it here.’
Maryl studied it, turning it front and back. ‘That’s not hers,’ she said.
‘Yes, it is; I remember you won it in a raffle.’
‘You complained about the cost of the tickets.’
‘Yes, that’s it.’
‘Except Lucie’s had an eye missing. This one has both eyes.’
Maryl shoved vegetation aside and waded on through weeds and brambles. Her sports shoes were wet and muddy, and the polish on Cliff’s Doc Martin shoes could no longer be seen under the grime.
‘For Christ’s sake, how much longer?’
‘Until we find her.’
The ravens followed them, shrieking their protest as they ducked low-hanging shrubbery until settling once more up ahead. Feathery heads turned, beady eyes fixed on the humans.
‘Do you think we should get the police?’ asked Cliff. ‘It has been ages.’
Maryl was not listening, and she stomped through the greenery. A glimpse of the night sky could be seen ahead.
‘She wanted to see the sea. So that’s where she’ll be,’ Maryl said.
Cliff had had enough. He turned as quietly as the fallen twigs would allow.
‘And where the hell do you think you are going?’ screamed Maryl.
‘If you’ve found her, I’ll return and warm the camper.’
‘I haven’t found her yet. You stay with me.’ She stormed on.
Cliff started walking backwards as quietly as possible, then judging his time, he turned and picked up his pace.
The birds circled his head, one after another, they dive-bombed him, each pecking at his face. Then, finally, he screamed as the bravest beak stabbed his eye.
Maryl turned as ooze and blood dribbled down his face. ‘Cliff!’ she screamed as his feet left the ground, arms outspread. He rose above the weeds and snapped wood. Slowly he moved higher and higher, edging past stout branches, higher still between twigs and leaves until Maryl could not see him. She ran until she was under his feet, peering up at his panic-stricken body.
‘Get down here…’ she started. Then, realising how stupid that sounded, looking around, she shouted, ‘Help!’
Nobody came to assist. Instead, the bloody bodies of baby dogs lifted and spun around his head, flicking blood and jelly-like blobs at him—an unholy fairground ride. The bird’s racket sounded like laughter, especially as Maryl tried jumping to reach him. She collapsed in tears. Then the pup’s bodies dropped to the ground, and the birds clattered away, leaves floated gently to the floor. It was quiet except for Maryl’s wailing. Then Cliff fell and crashed into the bush beneath. Moonlight broke the blackness. Maryl jumped and hugged him. He remained silent, open mouth gasping for air. Suddenly he cried, the shock snapped, he curled into a ball, and shrieked like a wounded soldier with blood leaking from wooden puncture holes.
‘Hello, mum.’ The words were almost a whisper.
Maryl spun around.’ Oh, darling, where have you been? I, we, were so worried.’
Lucie smiled. Her usually blue eyes glinted purple. ‘I didn’t go far.’ She handed her mother a one-eyed teddy. ‘Are we taking him home?’ She pointed at Cliff.
‘Yes, dear, of course. But first, we must get Cliff to a hospital.’
The doctors refused to believe his account of the “accident”, plus his blood showed a high alcohol count. When asked, Maryl smiled but declined to back up Cliff’s report. Nevertheless, an unbelieving medical team cleaned him up. ‘Yes, sir, don’t worry about it. You’ll feel more like yourself soon,’ the nurse shook her head.
He had refused to take out holiday insurance and could no longer work. Finances were tight.
Lucie’s school holiday ended, and she rejoined her friends in class. Maryl worked between visiting her poorly husband.
Days passed, Cliff recovered, and his broken ankle in a cast healed. But he wouldn’t get his eye back. So, with a crutch and eye patch, Cliff returned home from the hospital. His sickness pay ran out, and his union had no power in such a case, as he was not injured at the factory. The only money earner was Maryl, and she enjoyed the power it gave her; she banned Cliff’s mates and beer from the house. Cliff dreamed about his “local” pub but couldn’t face the comments and questions. He considered the stories to give his mates, “I fought a gang of football hooligans, or I saved a woman from an armed robber”, but nothing would beat the “real” facts. He couldn’t bring himself to tell about losing to a little girl, or was it birds? He preferred to hide.
Every day on returning from school, she got her one-eyed teddy and waggled it in front of Cliff, prodding and poking teddy’s wound. He said nothing but rushed to the kitchen to prepare a hot chocolate and a snack for Lucie. Maryl thought Cliff had turned over a new leaf. Lucie knew better.
Days, weeks and months passed. Cliff wanted and needed to get even with the violet-eyed girl, the person he blamed for his woes.
Cliff lifted Maryl’s debit card from her purse one morning, transferring funds into his account. His wife was at work, and his stepdaughter was at school, so he was free to meet with the Jamaican he used to work with.
‘I remember you told me about black magic from your island.’
‘Yes, Obeah. What about it?’
‘I need some help. Can he or she cure my problems?’
A meeting was fixed, and the Obeah lady was due to arrive later that morning. The doorbell chimed, and a huge and colourful woman stood with a bag full of creams, scents, oils and other pleasant-smelling goodies. She studied the door frame, the walls, even the ceiling, then asked, ‘Can I see the girl’s room?’
Cliff limped up the stairs and opened Lucie’s door.
The Obeah lady stood stock still and gaped, ‘You are too late.’ She was trembling as she clutched her bag of goodies and ran.
‘But you said… and she’ll be home soon,’ he mumbled.
Cliff cursed the waste of money, tripped and tumbled to the bottom of the stairs.
Lucie opened the back door and smirked at the heap of Cliff whining and moaning.
‘Don’t think that’s an excuse.’ She pointed at the fast-appearing bruises, ‘I want my drink.’ She kicked him as she went up to her room. ‘Oh, why have you been in there? I said never enter my room.’
‘What the hell happened to you,’ Maryl said as she arrived from work.
‘Look, I can’t cope with her,’ he pointed up the stairs.
‘So, what do you propose?’
‘Um, oh, nothing, I guess.’
At dinner that evening, a little girl with odd-coloured eyes stared at him; her one-eyed teddy danced on the table.
‘Take that off the table,’ Cliff said.
Lucie did as she was asked. Instead, teddy danced on her lap, and his head popped up and down without touching the cloth.
‘You see how she torments me.’
‘A little girl with a dancing teddy-bear, are you joking?’ said Maryl.
The violet eyes flashed across the table.
‘You two play nicely, or at least find something you can both watch on the telly. I have to visit my sick friend. I won’t be long.’
Cliff poked around the kitchen cupboards and then checked the shed. He considered dropping a few drops of rat poison in Lucie’s bedtime drink. Then had a better idea.
He rechecked his watch at ten pm and crept up the stairs. He popped into his bedroom, snatched his pillow, shuffled along the corridor, and entered Lucie’s room. ‘No one will know or suspect,’ he whispered.
He edged to the bedside and lifted his arms, clutching the pillow in both hands. He leaned forward, placed the bedding over Lucie’s nose and mouth, and pushed it down. Harder and harder, he held it for two full minutes. ‘Is that long enough?’ he asked.
Lifting one corner, he peered at the ashen face, and thankfully no open eyes accusing him.
Then, she opened her glowing eyes and smiled.
Five dead puppies span around and around his head. A dancing two-eyed teddy danced in front of his face. His one eye tried to follow the creature’s movements, and his head bobbed from shoulder to shoulder. Finally, his neck snapped, and he fell to the floor in a heap.
Lucie’s smile widened. She then closed her eyes and started chanting. Soon there was a tap at the front door. A larger-than-life colourful woman entered and mounted the stairs. She slung the body over her shoulder and marched away.
‘Do whatever you will with his body parts,’ said Lucie. The woman waved with her free arm and went into the darkness.
‘Hi, mum, how is your friend?’
‘She is fantastic. They released her from the hospital tonight. So that is why I’m later than expected.’
‘Great, did she like her gift?’
‘Oh, yes, she said thank you for her teddy. And her children love the pups.’
‘All good then.’
‘Where’s your dad?’
‘He is not my dad. He seemed a tad upset and went out in a colourful huff.’
Lucie’s eyes faded to a watery blue.
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