Copyright Lily Luchesi
“Rock-a-bye-baby … in the treetop … when the wind blows…”
Layla paused, unsure of how the song ended. It had never been sung to her as a baby. She gently brushed the doll’s pretty blonde hair back and smiled at it. At the age of sixteen, she’d never had a doll before. Never been allowed toys at all. Mummy thought toys were vain things given to naughty children by sinning parents. So Mummy never got her a doll, a teddy bear, or anything. The cuddliest thing Layla had ever had was a pillow, and even those had been fairly rocklike as a child.
Threadbare dresses and sensible shoes had been all she knew. She never had friends, only Mummy and the little old lady who would babysit sometimes. The same lady who had given her the doll tonight. She was nice, much nicer than Mummy…
“The doll needs care, Layla,” Marie the babysitter said. “She’s made of porcelain, and it was all your mother would permit me to give to you for your birthday. You mustn’t drop her or leave her on the edge of the table or bed. She’ll break.”
Now she sat alone in her barren room, cradling the doll which was the brightest, prettiest thing that had ever entered their little shack of a house.
The front door slammed, and that meant Mummy was home and Marie was gone.
“Layla?” Mummy called. Then she hiccuped. She’d had the Bad Stuff while she was out. Mummy was always telling her how the things that came in glass bottles with an amber hue contained the Bad Stuff, yet she always drank it. It didn’t make any sense.
“It’s bedtime. You had better be ready.”
“Okay, Mummy. Marie made sure I was.”
Her mother came to the open bedroom door, listing to the side.
“What is that?” she asked, her voice deadly and low. It never failed to send a shiver down Layla’s spine.
“The doll Marie told me you said she could give me. The one made of … of glass. Because I always wanted a doll.” Layla, having never been to a proper school, couldn’t recall the word “porcelain”.
Mummy just sniffed, her upper lip pulled up in a sneer and her blue eyes bloodshot. “Get to bed. Now.”
Layla nodded and quickly leapt under the covers, leaving her new doll next to her on the pillow, not too close to the edge, just like Marie had said.
Mummy brought her a glass of warm milk, her steps unsteady. She spilled a little of it on Layla’s thin blanket, but she was so surprised with the kind gesture that she didn’t even mind.
“Thank you, Mummy.”
“Drink it all, Layla.”
She did, tasting bittersweet honey in the mix. It was unusual for Mummy to be so nice. The last time she had was when Layla was eleven and had taken in a stray kitten from the scraggly backyard. She’d given the same bitter milk to Layla at bedtime, and when Layla had woken in the morning, the kitten was never seen again.
Poor kitty, she thought as her limbs began to feel heavy and her thought process became sluggish. I wonder whatever happened to her?
It must have been late at night when she next woke, her head heavy and hard to lift off of her pillow. There were voices yelling.
“What do you want? It’s three in the morning and you’re drunk as a skunk.”
That was Marie, the old babysitter.
“I told you she’s not allowed to have dolls! Vicious little tokens of vanity! How dare you disobey me?” Mummy screamed.
“When you weren’t drunk, you said it was fine if I gave her one, as long as it wasn’t soft, whatever the reason for that! Abigail, I love that little girl, but you’ve abused her far too much!” Marie said. “You need help, serious help.”
“Fuck you, you old bitch,” Mummy hissed.
Layla had never heard those words before and gasped. She knew they were bad, just by the way Mummy said them.
“I should take this hammer to you instead of this!” There was a loud shattering sound, like glass breaking. Layla looked next to her and saw that her doll was gone. She knew, instinctively, that Mummy was destroying her doll.
Maybe it was the drug in her system that Mummy put in the milk, maybe it was all the years of being whipped and locked in this vile house, but something in Layla snapped at that moment she heard her beloved doll being destroyed. She got out of bed and yelled for Mummy.
In the kitchen-slash-living room, Mummy was holding a hammer over the doll, its pretty face smashed to pieces.
“No! My dolly!” Layla cried, tears springing to her eyes. “Why do you do this to me, Mummy? Why can’t I have a doll to play?”
“Go to sleep, Layla,” Mummy said, her voice still slightly slurring.
“You drank the Bad Stuff. Just like when my kitten disappeared,” Layla said.
“Flea-ridden monster. It scratched my face even as I drowned it,” Mummy said with a sneer. “You’re an evil little girl and you don’t need these things to bring vanity and joy!”
“I’m not evil!” Layla cried. Something inside the girl, who was sixteen but had the mind of a five-year-old, broke open and she ran, screaming at Mummy.
Marie cried out, perhaps to stop. Layla wasn’t sure. She ran into Mummy, but Mummy was bigger and knocked her back into the table. Marie screamed something again, and Mummy turned and hit her over the head with her hammer. She fell to the ground with a thump, blood soaking her wispy white hair.
Layla scrambled to stand, knowing that Mummy would hit her next. She grabbed a piece of her doll’s broken face and lunged forward, embedding the sharp porcelain into Mummy’s throat.
Mummy gagged and gasped, blood coming at her lips and at the wound. She, too, fell to the ground, her jugular pierced by the doll she had shattered. Her eyes were wild, staring at Layla as she tried to say the word, “Help.”
Layla bent down, matted, dark hair hanging over her mother’s weathered face, unsure of how to help her. Then she spotted the large porcelain shard in her throat. That must be what Mummy needs help with, she thought.
She reached down and touched the shard, and Mummy began to shake her head a little.
“Don’t worry, Mummy. If I remove this, you’ll be nice to me, right?”
Again a head shake from the drunk woman.
“Why are you never nice to me?” Layla wailed.
Mummy wasn’t talking; it must have been because of the glass in her neck. Layla wanted an answer, so she yanked the glass out, bringing forth a torrent of dark red blood. It spurted out like a fountain, splattering her nightdress, hair, and face with coppery warmth.
Mummy barely had a chance to yell in pain as death found her quickly and the fountain began to slow to a thick trickle that soaked her hair and neck on the dirty linoleum.
Both women were still, and Layla stood in place, marvelling at the sense of quiet that came over the house.
Her doll’s face was broken, but its body was intact. She picked it up and rocked it, soothing it as a good mother would soothe a baby. Now it was quiet. No one was drinking the Bad Stuff, and Layla could play as much as she wanted.
That was where the police found her the next morning, after Marie had been reported missing: surrounded by two dead women, rocking her doll as blood soaked her knees.
She was singing Rock-A-Bye Baby.
Lily Luchesi is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of the Paranormal Detectives Series.
Her young adult Coven Series has successfully topped Amazon's Hot New Releases list consecutively.
She is also the co-owner of Partners in Crime Book Services, where she offers a myriad of services alongside her business partner Annie Smith, including editing.
She was born in Chicago, Illinois, where many of her stories are set. Ever since she was a toddler, her mother noticed her tendency for being interested in all things "dark". At two she became infatuated with vampires and ghosts, and that infatuation turned into a lifestyle. She is also an out member of the LGBT+ community. When she's not writing, she's going to rock concerts, getting tattooed, watching the CW, or reading comics. And drinking copious amounts of coffee.
She also writes contemporary books for adults as Samantha Calcott.
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”