NIGHT OF THE LIVING DOLL
ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: The horrible accident ten-year-old Tiffany suffered was only part of the story...
It all took place in the Blum-Decklerís house. Well, not all, but the most important parts. This is the story of a typical Lawndale family, a tragedy that befell them, and what happened when the family attempted to undo the tragedy. It all took place the summer Tiffany would have turned ten. Itís all old hat to us, but, to them, it was all new. So it may thrill you...or it may not...I donít know.
Two weeks after Tiffanyís funeral, Angela Li couldnít stand it any more. She had had it. She listened to her sister and her husband snip at each other since the accident. She was only living with the Blum-Decklers until she got her own place, after finishing her degree in school administration and taking the newly-open position of principal at Lawndale High. It had been a hard summer all around.
"Look, Lee, Ray," she said one evening to both of them, "it wasnít your fault that she died. It was nobodyís fault. Lee was backing the car out of the garage. I pulled my car into the driveway and she swerved to avoid me. She didnít know Tiffany had run into the driveway."
"Itís nobodyís fault," Leona Blum-Deckler said, her voice drained of emotion.
Angela went on. "Lee, you havenít anything to gain by blaming yourself. And Ray, you have everything to lose by blaming Lee."
Ray Blum-Deckler grinned sourly. He was a handsome man, of dark Eastern European stock. "Since when did you get so wise in marital relations?"
"Since I took a course in personal relationships at good old Miskatonic U." Angela adjusted her glasses on the bridge of her nose, and said, "I canít stand to see the two of you suffering any more. I know you miss Tiffany. I miss her, too."
"Tiffany meant the world to me," Leona Blum-Deckler said. She glanced at her husband. "To us."
"Well, Ray, Lee..." Angela sighed, and looked at her sister. Between the two of them, Leona had certainly gotten more in the "good looks" department. It was said in their families that Tiffany had inherited her motherís Asian good looks and her fatherís brains.
Leona sighed. "I remember the time, when Tiffany came home from school with her report card." She sniffed. "All ĎAís. I was so proud..."
"We were all proud..." Ray stepped over to Leona. He raised his hand to put it on her shoulder, then seemed to think better of it and stayed a pace away.
Angela groaned, and turned around so she faced the living room television, away from the couch where her sister and brother-in-law sat. "I just canít stand it any more, the two of you. Because I canít stand it, Iím going to do something I never thought Iíd do again. Or would want to. But Iíll have to do it from here."
Ray sniffed. "What good would anything do? It wonít bring Tiffany back to us."
"I donít want to get your hopes up. But I need to make a call first." There was a phone on the table next to the couch. Angela reached down and picked it up, then bent down and dialed a long-distance number. After it rang a few times, it was picked up.
Ray and Leona could only hear Angelaís end of the conversation. "Hello? Professor Phillips? Yes, itís Angela Li. You remember me, then. No, no, no, Iím calling on behalf of my sister and brother-in-law..."
Professor Phillips looked like any other long-term academic type: suit jacket with patches, a perpetual gaunt and hungry look. Angela told Ray and Leona she had met him during her post-grad studies at Miskatonic University. He must have been at least in his eighties, though he didnít say. He spoke in a stilted and straight manner, that Ray and Leona found slightly off-putting.
Ray and Leona sat on their living room couch. They held hands. Angela stood behind Phillips.
"You must dismiss any fantasies you may have learned from television or the theater," he said. "What will take place, if you agree, is a scientific process. We will not raise an unholy army of the night."
"Yes, yes," Ray said, "but you are talking about raising my daughter from the dead."
"The only difference after the process is that your daughter will be alive, when, before, she was not. There are...certain...side effects, but these can be dealt with as they occur."
"What Professor Phillips means---" Angela said.
Phillips raised his hand. "Please, Angela! Do not interrupt."
Angela subsided, but remained visibly grumpy.
"Professor," Leona said. "Are you telling us that Tiffany might be, well, different?"
"Some differences will be seen, yes."
"There are too many variables---" Angela said.
"Angela! I wonít warn you again." Phillips took a moment to adjust his tie, then continued. "I cannot with any confidence predict which side effect will manifest itself. I have been able to perform this experiment only thirty-four times before over the last thirty years. It is not enough of a statistical database to make any valid predictions."
"Like deciding who goes to the Super Bowl based on twenty-some games?" Ray asked.
Phillips looked a little confused at this. "I am sorry. I do not follow sports."
"Hmm." Ray thought for a few moments, then said, "Doctor Phillips---"
"Professor Phillips, then. Your demo on those, those lab rats---" He said "lab rats" through clenched teeth. "---was convincing. I think you may be able to do this. Iím sold. Letís do it."
"Ray..." Leona said.
"Should we do this?"
Ray sighed, and patted his wifeís hands. "Weíve got a chance to get our Tiffany back. I think we should take it."
"But---I just donít know."
"Mrs. Blum-Deckler," Phillips said. "You must trust me on this. I can bring your daughter back to you."
"Weíll go ahead with it, Doc---Professor."
Phillips let out a shallow smile. "Very well. Now, there is the small matter of---"
"I will handle it," Angela said. "I mean, I will represent my sister and her husband in this matter. You will be paid."
Ray nodded. Phillips seemed to relax a little.
It took about a week to set up, and a van full of mysterious equipment unloaded and set up in their basement. But the day came when everything was in place and ready, and Ray and Professor Phillips made a secret night trip to the cemetery. As they dug in the chilly ground, Phillips whispered further explanation.
"...the academic world tended to ignore me. One attempts to present a serious scientific paper on raising the dead, and one receives scorn and laughter in exchange." Phillips stopped digging and leaned on his shovel. "Why, the Journal of American Medicine alone said---"
"Youíve told me," Ray said, with some irritation leaking into his whisper. "Angelaís told me. It doesnít matter. I believe you. Iím sold. Letís just do it."
Phillips resumed digging. "Just so you keep in mind that your daughter might be...ah...different than you remember. The side effects can be, well, disarming."
"Thatís the chance weíll take. Letís do it."
"Shh!" Professor Phillips stopped digging and looked around hastily. "I know the cemetery guards have taken your bribe but I do not wish any undue attention."
"Itís all covered. Donít worry." Ray had not stopped digging and his shovel hit the lid of the vault. They stopped a moment, then began to clear the dirt away.
Once they began to lift the vault lid, Ray whispered, "Tell me again why youíre doing this?"
"Research," Phillips replied. Ray looked him over. Even in the light he looked every inch the eighty-year-old academic he was. "I will be filming this experiment. I reserve the right to publish my notes in scholarly papers, subject only to keeping your identities a secret." He paused, to get a better grip on the lid. "Besides, Angela Li was one of my most promising students, even though Occult Arts was not her major. Owing to---prior instances---I promised her that if she ever needed my services, I would grant them."
"There!" Ray said, and put his shovel down. At last they had cleared enough dirt.
The vault lid was exposed to the air. Ray and Phillips bent over and grabbed the lid edge. Ray said, "All right, on three. One...two...three!" They both heaved and lifted the lid. The small coffin lay below, unchanged from when it had been put in the ground, except for a little dirt.
Ray felt himself about to cry. Phillips noticed this. It was common among relatives of the deceased. He himself was immune; he was not related and had been through this too many times before. "Okay," Phillips said. "We will open the coffin back at your home."
The two men bent down and started to lift the coffin. "Oh...my back!" Ray whispered.
Tiffany lay at the center of their transformed basement on an unpleasant-looking stone-topped table. It raised unpleasant associations, but the Blum-Decklers did not ask questions about it. Phillips had stripped Tiffany of the dress she had been buried in and done things to her that even Angela found hard to take...even though she had done it with him several times before.
Now Tiffany was wrapped in sheets, invisible except for the face, a small and pale bundle. There had been little deterioration. Hundreds of wires ran through and around the sheet connected to her. Tubes, with fluids pumping through them, also connected. The other ends were connected to the strangest sorts of equipment. Ray looked it over. There were a couple of TV screens among the equipment. But he was no scientist---and most of it just confused him.
Phillips finally said, "It is ready. Should I do it?"
Ray held his wife tightly. If nothing else, this experience had drawn them closer together. "Do we really have to be here?"
"Yes. For your daughterís sake. You must be here, so she can see and hear you."
"But both of us?"
"Both of you. Now, if thereís no further objection..."
Ray looked down and met his wifeís eyes. Through her tears, she nodded. He looked back at Phillips, and nodded himself. Phillips then turned to Angela, who sat at a computer keyboard. He nodded. Angela nodded back, completing the cycle of nodding.
She typed a word, as Phillips took a seat at a more old-fashioned panel of switches and dials and knobs. He began to flip the switches, one by one, from positions Dymo-labeled "OFF" to "ON." The equipment began to hum and the basement lights dimmed.
"Shouldnít there be words?" Leona asked, of no one in particular.
"Yes," Ray replied, thinking over the tales his grandmothers had told. "There should be words."
"Words?" Angela swiveled her chair and faced Leona and Ray. "This is a scientific process. We will not dress up in barbaric costumes and chant in church Latin to bring this about. We know what weíre doing. We---"
"Keep your eyes on the screen, Angela!" Phillips said, and fixed Angela with a glare. Angela gulped and turned back to her screen.
The basement lights dimmed further. But there was light. It seemed to come from the still form that had been Tiffany. Was her body---glowing? There was light, from her pale face.
Phillips nodded to Angela and twisted a knob. There was a soft, hollow buzzing in the air, and the light from Tiffanyís face grew brighter.
"Iím scared, Ray," Leona whispered. Ray said nothing but held his wife tightly.
Abruptly the buzzing stopped. The basement lights came back on at full force. "Thatís it," Phillips said, and quickly flipped his panel of switches back to "OFF." But he wasnít looking at them. He was looking at Tiffany.
There was no light from her now. Tiffany looked as she did before, still, pale. Then her eyelids fluttered...and opened. Tiffany looked around.
"Tiffany!" Leona said, and broke out of her husbandís grip to run to Tiffany. Ray was a close second.
"Careful!" Phillips shouted. "She is still attached! You might hurt her!"
The ten-year-old looked around without moving her head, and finally focused her eyes on her parents. The sheets wrapped around her rustled and twisted. They stood side by side, uneasy with the moment, the circumstances, for the longest time not daring to speak.
Finally, Tiffany opened her mouth. "Iím...hungry," she said, in a voice so slow that the four of them in the room, hearing it, immediately questioned her mental state.
"Oh, Tiffany!" Leona said, suddenly kneeling at her daughterís side. "Youíre alive!"
"Iím hungry," Tiffany said, more firmly.
"Weíll get you anything you want, honey," Ray said. "What do you want."
Tiffany looked at them, seemed to hesitate a moment...then leaped from the table and tried to sink her teeth into her motherís throat.
Professor Phillips had anticipated it. They left Tiffany in the basement, tied to the stone-topped table, a video camera pointed at her. The camera was linked by a long cable into their living room TV and showed an unchanging picture. When there was nobody around, Tiffany was still and calm, though clearly awake and breathing. She seemed indifferent to the ropes that restrained her. But whenever somebody came near, she tried to break loose from her bonds and attack the person.
Ray and Leona listened to Phillips as Ray finished wrapping a bandage around his wifeís arm. They all had numerous cuts and bites. There was another bandage on Leonaís throat. Angela had a bandage on her hand and Phillips had lost the right elbow patch on his jacket. Phillips also had to treat Tiffanyís wounds, where she had pulled the tubes and wires from her body while struggling with them. It wasnít easy, putting bandages on a ten-year-old who was trying to take a bite out of him.
"This side effect shows up in six of the previous subjects," Phillips said. "Upon questioning, we discover that the subject seems to be motivated by an unnatural but nonetheless intense craving for human flesh." Phillipsís gaunt face seemed more bland than usual. "It only occurs when another human being is nearby. I confess I do not understand it, and cannot explain it."
"So youíre saying my daughter is a cannibal," Ray said.
"She is alive," Phillips replied. "She was not alive before."
"Exactly!" Angela said, with some enthusiasm. "All that matters is that she is alive! This unfortunate habit doesnít matter. Iíve seen it before."
"I know I canít go near her," Leona said. She felt past tears now, having been through too much.
Ray looked indignant. "But, I mean, human flesh?"
"The movies had to get it from somewhere, Ray," Angela said.
"Exactly," Phillips said, brightening a little.
Ray shrugged. He looked and felt utterly defeated. "A month ago, my daughter was alive and happy. Last night she had been in her grave for three weeks. Now, sheís a raving cannibal."
"Look at that picture, Mr. Blum-Deckler," Phillips said, pointing to the television. "She is calm now. All that is necessary is that a behavioral problem must be broken." He straightened up. "I have another former student---a psychologist---"
Margaret Manson claimed "Doctor" as a title---she said her degree was in Psychology---but something about her manner raised doubts in the minds of Ray and Leona. "Of course I can break your daughter of this habit," she said. She glanced at Professor Phillips. "Though the circumstances are ah...unusual, to say the least."
The four of them had watched, via their television, as the psychologist examined Tiffany. The raving had started full blast when Dr. Manson approached, and disappeared when she left the basement. There was no sound, but Dr. Manson asked questions and appeared to get answers.
"But you can cure her?" Ray asked.
"Didnít I just say that?" Dr. Manson smiled. "Of course your daughter will have to stay with me, for intensive treatment. In addition to her, er, craving, she is genuinely hungry."
"Of course that will be arranged," Phillips said.
"Now, as for my fee---"
Ray began, "Iím sure we can afford---"
Dr. Manson held up a hand. "No, no, nothing like that. Something else." She slipped her glasses down to the end of her nose, and focused her gaze on Angela. "Ms. Li, I understand you have recently been appointed as Principal of Lawndale High, is that correct?"
"Yes, yes, but I donít see the relevance---"
"I want an appointment to Lawndale High. Staff Psychologist, or some such title. We can discuss further compensation later."
"I could do that, yes."
"No, no, you will do it. Or I will---" She lowered her voice a little. "Or I will bring the details of this completely irregular affair to the attention of the appropriate authorities."
Angela groaned. It was finally sinking into her brain that her effort to help was going to cost her, and cost high. She turned away and raised her hands up as if trying to push Dr. Manson away. "All right, all right. Weíll work something out. Now just do your thing."
They had both seen and talked by phone with Tiffany several times during Dr. Mansonís treatments. Now Dr. Manson pronounced her cured and was bringing her home. Ray and Leona and Angela waited in the Blum-Deckler living room for the ringing of the doorbell. Professor Phillips waited with them. They sat around drinking tea and talking.
"I must warn you again," Phillips said, "that your daughter may be different than you remember."
Ray and Leona looked at Angela. Angela nodded, but her expression was grim. Ray turned back to Phillips and said, "How different?"
"Iím afraid I will not know until Dr. Manson brings her back. But Iíve observed other cases---let me just say that the bright, outgoing girl you have described to me may no longer exist."
"What Professor Phillips means," Angela said, "is that Tiffany...may no longer be bright."
"She may be, um, stupid." Phillips looked down at the tea cup in his hand.
"Stupid?" Leona asked. She and Ray were beyond tears now, and were just numb.
"Slow, dense, poor grades in school."
Angela added, "The days of Tiffany bringing home all ĎAísí on her report card may be over."
Phillips looked a little disturbed at Angelaís interruption. "Hhmph! Yes. Of course, given the nature of the process, she will of course remember everything from before, but it may not mean anything to her. She---"
The doorbell rang just then. The tea cups were hastily put down and forgotten. Ray hurried to the door. It was Dr. Manson. She was smiling. "Mr. Blum-Deckler, here is your daughter." She had her arm on Tiffanyís shoulder. Tiffany stood there, not smiling.
She looked fine to Ray, who knelt down and embraced his daughter in a bear hug. After a momentís pause, she hugged back. "Daddy," she said. Her voice was soft, slow.
They brought Tiffany to the living room, where Leona replayed the scene at the door. "Oh, Tiffany," she said, her voice cracking. She leaned back, and ran her hands along Tiffanyís sides. "Oh, but youíre so thin! How about I make you a grilled cheese sandwich? Your favorite!"
"No!" Tiffany said with surprising force, and stepped back from her motherís grip. "Iíll get fat!"
"But, Tiffany, youíre---"
Dr. Manson held up her hand and made shushing noises. Leona cut herself off. Dr. Manson said, "Tiffany, dear, why donít you go up to your room?"
Tiffany obeyed without hesitation. Ray and Leona watched her, concern showing on their faces. Tiffany moved slowly. They heard her footsteps on the stairs, fading out as she climbed. Dr. Manson turned to them and said, "There is something you should know about your daughter."
"Sheís thin!" Leona said.
"She is healthy." Dr. Manson sighed. "I have...treated her and she will be fine. But in order to break her of the habit of, oh, you know...well, the best I could do was to substitute another form of compulsive behavior. Iím afraid there was no other way."
Ray said coldly, "What did you do?"
"I convinced Tiffany that if she ate, er, human flesh---" Dr. Manson had to force the words out. "---she would get fat, and that fat was bad. Iím afraid it spilled out beyond that, into eating in general. Your daughter will be an appearance-obsessive picky eater from now on."
"But sheís so thin right now!" Leona said. "Sheíll starve!"
"Sheíll eat enough to live. Donít try to force food on her. If it gets worse...well, come and see me again."
Ray shook his head. "But itís another bad habit."
Phillips cleared his throat, getting their attention. "Would you prefer your daughter attacking anyone who came near her and eating their flesh?"
"Exactly!" Angela said. "You should be grateful, to Dr. Manson and Professor Phillips, for having Tiffany back, not worrying about her behavior or stupidity."
"Never mind about that," Dr. Manson said. "Thereís one more, very important detail, I must tell you. You must never, never ever, stop your daughter from worrying about being fat."
"Because if she stops thinking that, her old habits might resume."
Ray and Leona looked at each other, then each nodded.
With the help of Angela, and Angelaís connections with the Lawndale school district---and a few hefty bribes---Ray and Leona were able to pass off reports of their daughterís death as a near-fatal accident and a mere clerical error. Tiffany returned to school in the fall, leaving her old friends and teachers concerned and a little confused. But she soon made new friends and the matter rested.
The Blum-Decklers found they were grateful to have their daughter back---though they remained slightly uneasy about it. They did their best to put the whole matter behind them. They stuck to their story. Tiffany had been in an accident. She was fine. They kept repeating that, almost as a mantra, and soon believed it.
Tiffany was alive and healthy, and soon grew into an appearance-obsessed young woman. Despite it all, Ray and Leona loved her dearly. But it was always in the back of their minds, that someday, someday, one of Tiffanyís new friends might, somehow, convince Tiffany she wasnít fat.
Then they would have a whole new set of troubles.
DISCLAIMER: "Daria" and the characters and settings from it are the property of MTV Networks / Viacom International.
This parody of "Daria" is copyright © 2001 by Robert Nowall. It is not intended to profit the author in any way, and may not be distributed without permission of the author. (That means please donít post or circulate this without getting in touch with me first.) For the time being, Robert Nowall can be reached at: RobtNowall@aol.com
This was originally written for Brian Taylor, for a try at a "Daria" horror anthology. That didnít work out, but I did finish the story.
Written 4/23/01 to 6/30/01. (Donít be misled by that. I wrote and rewrote in April, and touched it up at the end of June.)