Inside Voice

Dead of Winter ~ First Place
Lana Thiel


Free Scared Child Alone in the Dark Creative Commons
Photo Credit: D. Sharon Pruitt

She wasn’t opposed to the bitter cold; at times she welcomed it. The icicles clinking outside of her window summoned noise to drown out the voices. The wind ricocheted against the glass begging her to allow it inside. Violet remained focused on her work, ignoring the temperamental outbursts. She was never satisfied with her accomplishments; a small mistake could cost her. Everything. She sewed quietly, weaving the needle in and out, as she rocked in the creaky wooden chair. It had been her grandma’s. Grandma Ninny, with the slanted eyebrows and crooked mouth, who said children were to be seen and not heard. Ninny, who wore pleated wool skirts that smelled like mothballs and worn shoes. Ninny, who scrubbed Violet’s hands with bleach and antiseptic when she wrote with her left.

Violet’s hand shook as she stitched the pieces together, back and forth, one red button, then another. Her right hand steadied the material. But something wasn’t right. Something was always missing. Violet held her project up to the light. She could feel it pulsing in her fingers as she lost her grip and it fell to the cold floor.

The rushing wind screeched against the house. Violet peered through the curtains hoping to see the wind as it raced by. But the street was quiet, blanketed with the dark shroud of night, and everything was still for the moment. A few burnt orange leaves clung to the very tops of the trees, arrested in fall, as winter advanced. She scrunched her face into a tight fist as she complained of the noise outside. She spoke in a low, unpleasant tone. “Should be seen, not heard… seen, not heard.”

Violet continued gluing gray yarn to her project, making sure it was short and even. If only she had musky perfume, she thought, to make it come alive. To make her come alive. There were times she could see through the yarn for what it was, a mess of split ends from constant hair rollers that left puzzling shadows on the wall, the beady red eyes that warned her, “Practice makes perfect.”

Violet repeated the phrase as she sewed the object together. She spanned the room to marvel at her creations. This one would make the collection complete. The blinds rattled, as if someone had opened a window inside.

“You ruin everything you touch,” a low voice sprouted from Violet’s stomach.

Violet began to cry softly as a hand reached up and slapped her cheek, sending her backward. She slid to the floor and crept around the room, crawling under the table. One by one the feet appeared beneath the chair.

“Come out, come out,” the low voice said, snickering.

Violet clutched her project in her hands as the feet glided right, then left, and the small round objects appeared on the tablecloth looking like twisted hair. Rollers. A scream resonated in the old house.

“Use your inside voice!” the deep voice scolded.

The shape disappeared from the tablecloth. The feet went missing. Violet climbed out from her hiding place. She kissed the half-finished doll, brushed her hands through its gray hair, which caused some of it to fall to the floor.

“Look what you did,” the voice snarled again.

The glue stuck to her left hand, drying to her fingers. Bits of hair decorated them.

Thump. Thump. Thump. The doll moved in her hands. It was almost time for it to join the others. Only a little while until she’d be here. Violet clutched the gold cross around her neck, pressed her fingers into the points. A door leading to the attic rattled and she knew what she had to do. It was like he said, “Upon this night you shall be healed.” Everything seemed clearer now.

She lifted the doll to her face and swung it between her fingers as the wind rushed outside, laughing with unwarranted cruelty. She lost her hold on the doll and it spun to the floor and slid toward the closet. She had spent a great deal of her childhood in there, playing hide-and-seek, hanging by scratchy rope which rubbed against her soft skin. She remembered the sound of the wire hangers clanking together, a sound that induced pain in her stomach.

“Idle hands are the devil’s playground,” the low voice growled.

“Too tight, too tight,” she whined.

Violet picked up the doll and brushed its hair. She wondered how the closet felt: too warm, too tight, too cramped. She picked up another doll from her collection, one she had spent hours on. It had black button eyes and a rosary draped over its head. She fondled the beaded rosary and held it against her body.

“Look what you did,” the voice said.

Violet knew she was ruining everything but she couldn’t stop. The house rattled from inside. Violet gathered all of her dolls, dolls she’d made in the past few days to prepare for this night, and walked to the window. The trees were bent in half, right outside the glass. She thought about stepping away before the wind shattered it, but she held out her hand instead, yearning to touch the wind, to feel it slip between her fingers. Violet dropped the dolls and watched as the glass shattered and embedded itself into the skin on her left hand.

“I caught you—red handed!” the old woman said, and grabbed her tightly by the wrist. She dragged her to the kitchen table. She saw them, adorned with red fingernail polish.

“It’s the devil’s influence before my very eyes,” Ninny said. She scraped each nail until the beds were bloody and scarred.

“That’ll teach you. That’ll teach you good,” Violet bellowed. She gathered all of her dolls again to rush to the attic where they would be safe. She needed to escape from the wind.

“Not so fast, young lady,” the low voice said.

“Gotta get out… gotta get out,” Violet repeated and turned the old key in the door to the dusty attic.

For a moment the house was still again. A calming smell drifted through Violet’s nose as she climbed the stairs. She placed the dolls by the others, covering the slowly expanding shadow on the interior wall of the attic, the storage space that now bowed out. The dolls sat, making a silhouette on the wall that looked like the outline of a frail body, a dark set of eyes, an angry grin.

Violet turned away from the shadow, afraid that if she looked any longer, it might emerge and become real. She faced the stairs and thought about the way Ninny’s legs had lifted, how her body had danced down the stairs like a clumsy bird in flight. Foot, shoulder, knee, head. When she danced Violet had sung a sweet melody in her head, “Upon this night… upon this night… upon this night.” She remembered how her body had opened up, how all of the meanness had spilled out of her and stained the stairs. Each movement had been so effortless, so elegant.

Violet heard the wind push its way through the house until it knocked on the attic door. She scrunched her eyes, focusing on the doorknob, turning right, left. She’s arrived, she thought, she’s finally come for me. She scooted her body closer to the crowd of dolls lined up against the wall next to the looming shadow. The shadow that would not go away, that refused to be buried, even in the dark. The intense smell breezed past her, filling her body with calm and nausea.

That’s when Violet heard a light rap-tap-tap on the attic window. Rap-tap-tap! She gathered her dolls in her arms and leaned against the wood, against the shadow. Warmth spread over her back as she petted the dolls’ hair and stared at their button eyes. Then she noticed the blood trickling down her left hand, smearing the faces of the dolls. She smiled as she rapped lightly on the wall behind her. And the wind came to a sudden halt.

pencil

Lana Thiel is from Appleton, Wisconsin where she works as a high school English teacher. She enjoys writing poetry and fiction in her spare time and has self-published one novel. Email: fionashakespeare[at]aol.com