“Have you finished cleaning up your room?” asked Mom.
A muffled mumble came from Chile’s closet.
Mom scooped out some moisturizer and began dabbing it over her face, taking particular care to be gentle around her eyes. Chile burst into the bathroom, carrying something in her hands.
“Mom, look.” Chile held up some type of puppet. “This was in the back of my closet. Then it disappeared. And now it’s back, but it’s all dirty or something.”
Mom leaned closer towards the vanity mirror and examined the ends of her hair. It still looked frizzy. The anti-frizz spray sure wasn’t doing what it claimed. “Hmmm,” she murmured. “That’s nice.”
Chile tugged on her arm. “Mom. This was here. Then she was gone. Now she’s back. How can that be?”
Mom took a closer look. “Oh, your Uncle Doug gave that to you.”
“How can she move on her own?”
“He got it in Cuba, I think. Or was it Mexico?”
“Are you listening to me? She. Moved. On. Her. Own.”
“He had a funny name for it. Mary Annette. That’s it.”
“What should I do with her?”
“Find a spot for it in your room.”
“No way. She’s not staying in my room.”
“I’m putting her in your room,” said Chile.
Mom finally paid close attention to Mary Annette. She did look dirty. Her sombrero was askew and a smear of greyish green covered her forehead. Black beady eyes stared out over a slash of red mouth. Her arms and legs were mostly hidden under her long sleeved white top and full red cotton skirt. Tangled strings stretched from her impossibly bent limbs to the wooden operating cross bars. She seemed…off.
Mom felt a chill run up her spine. “I don’t think I want her in my room.”
“I’m putting her in your closet,” said Chile. She tossed the marionette on the floor near the laundry hamper.
Mom went into her closet and watched the puppet for a few moments. Nervously tapping her lower lip with her finger. She picked the marionette up. It still gave her the creeps. She went to her sweater shelf and shoved Mary behind a pile of turtlenecks. Mom changed into her shorty pajamas and settled into bed to read for a while before falling asleep.
The next morning, Mom stood in her bathroom yawning widely while she brushed her hair. Chile popped in, as usual, to kiss her good morning. Staying to chat while Mom changed into her shorts and T-shirt.
“Mom. What’s that?”
Chile came over and pointed to the side of Mom’s leg. Her upper thigh. There was a large mark. Darkly purple underneath with red skin stretched tightly over top like a Damson plum. With long scratch marks running across it.
How can it be scratched and bruised at the same time, Mom wondered.
Chile ran to the closet. Flinging open the door with a bang. “She’s gone!” Chile shouted.
“She’s behind my sweaters, sweetie,” said Mom.
Chile pushed Mom’s sweaters out of the way. There was nothing behind them.
Mom felt a choking weight in her chest. “I don’t understand. Where could she be?”
Mom began searching around the closet. Checking behind hangers and in drawers. Nothing. There was nowhere to hide.
She came out and sat on the end of her bed. “I don’t understand.” A sharp pain stabbed into her ankle, making her yelp and jump up.
She and Chile both stared at the forest green comforter hanging down to the floor. It wasn’t moving.
Chile got down on her hands and knees and crept towards the bed.
“Be careful,” said Mom. Feeling foolish as soon as the words were out of her mouth.
Chile slowly lifted up the edge of the comforter. All they could see was a small wooden hand. Stretched out towards them.
“She’s gotta go,” said Mom firmly.
“How?” asked Chile.
“I’ll take care of it.”
Mom spent the morning thinking up a plan. Chile was at school. She had the house to herself. After lunch, Mom took action. Putting on a pair of heavy leather gardening gloves, she cautiously retrieved the marionette from under the bed. Taking her best scissors, she snipped the strings off the marionette’s hands, legs, and hat. Separating it completely from the operating cross.
Mom wandered around the back garden, picking up rocks. Taking them inside, she stuffed them up Mary Annette’s skirt. Sewing the hem tight shut to hold in the rocks. Mom held up the marionette, shaking it slightly. It definitely seemed heavy enough.
She took Mary Annette to their large goldfish pond. Throwing her into the middle with a splash. The marionette quickly sunk out of sight below the lily pads. The water soon returning to its innocent calm.
Mom nodded once. Firmly. That should do it.
She packed up the wooden cross and drove down to the beach. The tide was up. Lapping the shore greedily. Mom took the cross and flung it out as hard as she could. She couldn’t hear any sound when it hit the water. Disappearing into the dark waves. Done and done.
She and Chile had a nice cup of Earl Grey tea after school. Chatting about their days. Chile was relieved to know that Mary Annette was gone for good.
The next morning, Chile was watching anime on her computer when she heard a strange sound. She listened closer. Was that splashing? Chile jumped off her bed and ran into Mom’s room. The noise was coming from the bathroom.
She stopped dead in the doorway. Unable to believe her eyes. Mom was thrashing under the water. Her face turning blue. Dribbles of blood running down the side of her neck where wooden hands clutched her throat. Mary Annette intent on her purpose.
Chile ran over, grabbed Mary’s body and threw her across the room. Mary Annette hit the wall with a dull thud. Dropping motionless to the floor.
Mom was gasping. Feeling her throat where dark bruises were already marking her skin. “What is that thing?” Mom wheezed.
Chile took the fuzzy blue bath towel hanging by the tub, helped dry Mom off, and bundled her into her housecoat. “Come lay down.”
She helped Mom over to the bed. They both noticed the wet patch. A trail of dampness led from beside Mom’s bed out the bedroom door.
“It can’t be,” Mom murmured.
“Mom, you’re scaring me.”
“I took care of her,” said Mom with a puzzled tone.
“Let me do it,” said Chile. “I know what to do.”
Chile stuffed Mary Annette into a garbage bag, using a long metal twist tie to tightly close the top. She dropped the bag into her bike basket and pedalled fast down the road.
The neighbour’s house had sold. The house was razed. The property was being cleared for development. They were taking down a row of tall birches. For a day or two, the harsh scream of chainsaws had been interrupting her usually peaceful ride to school. Today they had the chipper going.
She pulled up beside the workers, exchanging a smile. “Nice day to be outside.”
They ignored her comment.
She tried again. “Could you do me a huge favour?”
One of them frowned. “Look, kid. We’re busy here.”
“Just a quick favour. I have an old wooden marionette I want to get rid of. It would be cool if you could send it through your chipper.”
“I don’t know, kid.”
She widened her large blue eyes and smiled widely. “Pretty please? It’s just a small bit of wood. No harm in that.”
“I suppose you want to video it and post it on YouTube.”
“That would be awesome.”
They shrugged and waved toward the chipper. “It’s all yours.”
Chile picked up the bag and tossed it quickly into the chipper mouth before the worker could change their mind.
“Not the ba—,” they began, but it was too late.
The satisfying sound of Mary Annette being shredded to bits filled Chile’s ears. She whooped once and pedalled back home. The workers didn’t notice that Chile never had her phone out.
Mom and Chile went out to dinner to celebrate. Sushi. Gyozas. Agadashi tofu. By the time they got home, it was late. Darkness had fallen. Mom could barely keep her eyes open. She waddled off to bed long before Chile felt tired.
Chile was watching the end of Werewolf Weekend when a noise caught her attention. She listened carefully. Nothing. A murmur. Silence. The crash of something smashing to the floor. Coming from upstairs. Chile scrambled up the stairs to Mom’s bedroom.
Somehow Mary Annette had a paring knife. She was using it to stab repeatedly at Mom. Mom was tangled in the sheets. Trying to block the blows. Between her wrists and her elbows were bloody defensive wounds. Slashes splashing droplets around Mom in a circle of gore.
Chile lunged forward. She caught the edge of Mary Annette’s skirt and tugged as hard as she could. Mary would not be stopped. Chile pulled as hard as she could. Suddenly flinging the thing across the bedroom. Mary hit the vanity mirror, shattering it into sharp splinters. She landed on top of the vanity. Unmoving.
“I chipped her,” said Chile. “Shredded her to sawdust.”
They stared into each other’s eyes. Recognizing their identical looks of fear mixed with horror.
“We’re going out,” said Mom. “I have an idea.”
Their blue Chevy sped down the highway. Well over the speed limit. Unlike Mom’s usual careful driving. Mary Annette was strapped into a metal toolbox. Wedged under Chile’s feet.
“Anything?” asked Mom.
Chile shook her head.
They drove on in silence. Not even putting the radio on in case they missed any noise. Any movement. Hours watching the amber cat’s eyes marking the lanes flash by.
It was well after midnight when they reached the border into the USA. Only one lane was open. A rusty white van in front of them seemed to take forever talking to the border guard. Passing documents back and forth.
Finally it was their turn. Mom pulled up to the window.
“Where ya from?” asked the border guard. Despite it being nighttime, he was wearing darkly shaded sunglasses. Mirrored. So Mom could see her anxious reflection looking back at herself. She hoped he wouldn’t notice the beads of sweat gathering above her upper lip.
“Mother and daughter.”
“Got the father’s permission to bring her down south?”
Mom frowned. “He passed away. It’s just us.” She could sense Chile fidgeting beside her.
The guard stared at them for what seemed like minutes. Eventually giving a sniff and looking back at his computer screen.
“What’s the purpose of your visit?”
“We’re going to our cabin. Just overnight. For a little vacay.” Mom giggled nervously before she could stop herself.
The guard came out of his booth. He leaned in the driver’s window. Looking them both over carefully.
“Anything to declare?” he growled.
Before Mom could answer, Chile blurted, “I love chocolate.”
“What?” demanded the guard.
“She likes moon pies,” Mom ad-libbed. “We can only get them in the States.”
“You can get them in Canada,” said the guard.
Mom didn’t answer. She didn’t want to disagree with him. Maybe she was wrong. It didn’t matter either way.
He tapped their passports against his hand before slowly passing them back to Mom. He jerked his chin towards the lane leading into the USA. “Have a pleasant trip.”
Mom didn’t start breathing until they were well past the border.
“What were you thinking?” she asked Chile. “Chocolate?”
“I’m sorry, it just came out.”
“Well, we’re in,” said Mom. “That’s all that matters.”
They quietly drove to their cabin. Pulling down the long overgrown driveway. Tips of branches scratching against the car like a legion of marionettes.
Mom lifted the cover off the fire pit and went to the wood pile to chop kindling. Chile gathered newspaper, small sticks, and some shredded bark. Slowing adding a few larger logs to her pile.
“Get the lighter fluid too,” said Mom.
“But we never use—”
By the time Chile returned with the fluid, Mom had the kindling burning. She began adding larger pieces of wood. Chile joined in. Helping to build a roaring fire. The flames snapping and crackling. Sending sparks into the night.
When the fire burned red hot, Mom turned to Chile. “It’s time.”
Chile cautiously pulled the toolbox out of the car, carrying it over to the fire. Mom deliberately undid the straps and opened the lid. Mary Annette stared up at them. Making no movement. Except her bright black eyes that seemed to shift in the firelight.
Mom took the fire tongs and lifted Mary out. Putting her on the ground beside the toolbox. She nodded to Chile. Chile squeezed the container of lighter fluid. The fluid arced out in a steady stream. Reflecting the firelight. Dousing Mary Annette until the chemical reek made them cough and turn their heads away.
Mom used the tongs again to pick Mary Annette up and hold her over the fire.
“Do it,” said Chile.
Mary Annette dropped into the flames with a whoosh. Fire flashing up to engulf her. There was a faint creak. Screech. High pitched and tinny. Lasting so short a time, Mom wasn’t sure if it was just her imagination. Or perhaps a bit of tinnitus from all the stress.
Chile piled logs on top of the marionette. Keeping the fire blazing hot. Usually she would want to roast a marshmallow, but she had no stomach for it. As dawn approached, Mom and Chile let the fire die down. In the end there was nothing left but ashes and small chunks of charcoal. Scattered amongst the ashes like bones.
There was no trace of Mary Annette.
Mom filled a bucket of water and poured it over the fire pit. Leaving a grey sludgy mess. “I think that’s good,” she said.
“It has to be,” said Chile. “I mean…”
Mom nodded. “Let’s get home.”
On the drive home, they breezed through the border. The miles passed quickly as they sang along to Imagine Dragons. “…where my demons hide…”
Safely at home, they had a cup of hot tea and ginger snaps. Mom smiled at Chile. “I feel so much better now. Thanks for your help.”
“No problem, Mom,” said Chile.
There was no escape. Neither of them heard the snick of all the doors and windows locking. They never saw the scanty black trail on the carpet going up the stairs. Or the wisp of smoke that appeared in Mom’s bedroom. The orange and red flames. Accelerating throughout the upstairs before they even realized. Until with a roar, the kitchen ceiling crashed down to engulf them. Until nothing was left but bones scattered amongst the ashes. And a battered marionette sprawled on the driveway just out of reach of any flames.