Lovely by Candice Alaimo

Under a cascade of dirty water, its head swiveled around several times, then dropped down, like a rag doll’s. Layers of vicious needle teeth grinned an empty smile at no one, the tiny cloth nose sewed inexpertly on, its eerily human eyes staring, glassy, lifeless. But one prick of its finger, and a black ooze would slowly drop out, like an invisible faucet, its viscosity making it move almost imperceptibly.

But quietly, eventually, a perfect teardrop would form—reflecting in its oily surface the blinding halogen light, as it sways slowly from side to side.

The figurine’s neck was clasped in a spiked iron brace—hardly worth the effort, any normal person might think, but not so Jefril. These inhuman creations were all he lived for—he worked solely for the money to buy the pieces to make the dolls.

Ecstatic, giggling, clasping his hands together before his long, exaggeratedly stretched features, he smiled, peering over his tiny little spectacles perched upon the far end of his cartoon-esque nose. Sniffing, he reached over across his workbench, upon which tools and materials were strewn about haphazardly, and closed his elongated fingers around an old-fashioned ink pen, but then hesitated, his hand recoiling as if it had been burned, and picked up instead an uneven chunk of colorless putty. Smiling his close-lipped smile once more, he dug his fingers deep into the pliable substance, pulling out a small portion, which peaked in his hands and eventually separated from the rest of the block.

Over the sink in the dark of the workshop, the needle-toothed doll still hung, slowly creaking on its metallic noose. Jefril paused in his work and glanced up toward the figurine—barely moving at all, but for his eye and big, bushy grey eyebrows. The old man could not shake the notion that it was perhaps toying with him, like it had somehow hanging there silently in the darkness become sentient. It seemed to be watching him. Jefril eyed it suspiciously for a few moments more as it creaked and groaned, and creaked and groaned. Somewhere, further off in the dark recesses of his home, animals made sounds. Jefril smiled, relaxing once more. It was only the rats in the ceiling. Every night they scuttled across it, intent on some mission—no doubt of food retrieval. If there was one thing Jefril loved more than his creations, it was the unfolding of a tale, a story to be watched and enjoyed—the rats living their busy little lives, leaving the nest every day to do...what? Jefril liked to name them, though to be honest, he had never seen any of them for more than a moment at a time.

Once, when he was alone in the kitchen with only the solitary overhead light of the sink accompanying him, eating a cheese sandwich, one had run by in the dark. He heard it skittering across the floor and he paused, not chewing, just listening, turning and scanning the dark room behind him. Nothing. After a few moments, Jefril began chewing again, only to hear it once more—this time he was sure of it. Slowly, without turning around, he placed the now cold sandwich down, glancing behind him out of the corner of his eye. He didn’t want to scare the little thing... Feeling playful, he tore a tiny piece of rubbery yellow cheese out from the corner of the sandwich, rolling it into a ball between his fingers. Then, carefully, he turned around, barely making a sound, knelt down, stretching out his arm, watching every joint unfold as if in slow place his offering on the cold, dusty tile. It would have been quite difficult indeed for anyone who didn’t know the old man—and they weren't few and far between—to believe that there was in fact a human being in the house—there was no sound, no movement, no breath... barely a whisper of recognition from the motionless stone statue kneeling upon the floor. And so it was that the rat came sniffing, slowly, tentatively...

A man of more barbaric tendencies would have no doubt murdered the innocent thing—smashed him with a hammer, delighting in seeing the nose twitch, hear the indecipherable cry for help... of terror... stringing up its poor broken body as a trophy. But no, not Jefril. He merely waited for the furry little creature to approach, sniffing, pausing, standing on its little haunches... then sniffing, pausing... until eventually, it reached the cheese—just out of reach of the vague penumbra of light cast down from the overhead sink lamp. Jefril was happy—glad, that the rodent had taken its treat. He didn’t need to see it clearly, in the full light—he saw the subtle glint upon rapidly blinking eyes... could almost hear a whisper as it scurried away in response to his delighted sigh: Thhaannkk yyooouuu...

Jefril smiled once more, working away on the tiny block of putty with a sculpting tool, expertly trimming and plying and decorating—a perfect meld of human ingenuity and crafting tools... It was turning into... a music box. He could tell already, though what it would possibly be for, he hadn’t the faintest idea. The clock striking three a.m. on the wall startled him—had it not been for his years of expertise and practice, the quasi-formed music box would have been destroyed. “Hm," licking his parched lips, Jefril gently laid the putty down on a piece of brand new wax paper, then laid down the sculpting tool, delicately wrapping the wax paper around the nearly finished box. Oh, it would no doubt delight one of his lovelies. What sounded like an agonized, scratchy voice, echoing from far away yet impossibly close by returned the toymaker’s gaze back to the needle-toothed doll which still, though not as clearly as before, swung back... and forth... It seemed to be deciding something... angry about something... at him? Irritated with him... wanting to break free... and hurt him, end him as it was ended. Jefril spoke, in an impossibly lucid and charming voice, “Oh, but my dear, you’ve… only just begun.” Jefril smiled. The doll swung back and forth in the darkness, unable to break free, once more doused by another deluge of foul, black water.

Drip, drip, drip...

Candice Alaimo majored in Writing at Ithaca College and adores Douglas Adams and exceptionally weird horror. (Art is meant to disturb. Science reassures. ~Georges Braque)