Clearing out my father's house was one of the happiest moments of my life. The door to a dark, fearful room in the house of my life...

Mr. Freddo

   Clearing out my father's house was one of the happiest moments of my life. The door to a dark, fearful room in the house of my life was left ajar when I got the phone call that he was dead, and the day I began to dispose of his possessions was my chance to close it, lock it and throw away the key. Although I hadn't spoken to him for years, I still feared the man even through the cloud of disdain that had formed around him in my mind. Whether he blamed me for my mother's death during my birth or he was jaded by his own father's absence, his beatings, jeering and neglect of me throughout my childhood left scars in my own character that I have spent years trying to correct, and can't be sure that I ever will. Sifting through dusty old books and pictures of mum and piles of Men's Health magazines in the loft, it was finally my turn to decide which memories I wanted to keep and which would be destroyed. Dismantling the old dining table we had in our living room, I remembered the time he screamed insults at my first girlfriend for not liking carrots, driving her to run from the house sobbing and never talk to me again. Bagging up my Beano annuals, I was reminded of the time I sat cross-legged on my bed reading them, only to look up and see my dad running toward me with his fists clenched, rushing across the hallway just an instance before his fist hit my eight-year-old head, knocking it into the wall, which luckily impaired my sense of pain for the next eight or nine savage punches to my chest and legs. Suddenly, he ripped himself from me as if something had been pushing him to do it, as if he was forced to beat his son, and shouted "No! I won't... I won't fucking kill you!" before walking away from the room and down the stairs, his head in his hands, weeping. These were the memories I erased.

   Hoovering my old room, ignoring the tiny single bed which reminded me of mornings where I'd wake up bruised and scratched knowing that he hadn't done this to me while I was awake, I noticed one of my only happy memories. In the corner of my room, there had been a ventriloquist's puppet sitting with its arms on the arms of a large rocking chair since I was a toddler. My dad had placed it there out of spite, thinking it would scare me to death, but I had developed an imaginary friendship with the thing and can remember it being a merciful influence on my childhood life, providing a sanctuary when my father's behaviour had become too much for me to handle. Sitting there, dusty, with its rosy cheeks and wooden brown hair, its dull smile and painted-white fingernails, its black dinner jacket and red bow tie, a flood of calming, grounding emotions rushed back to me. Mr. Freddo was back in my life, and was the only thing I wanted to take from this house of evil reminders.
   So, here I am, placing Mr. Freddo carefully in the corner of my room in the flat, giggling inwardly as I hear Alison's voice from behind me saying, "That thing is just creepy." I turn around holding my arms out as if I'm a beautiful assistant presenting a prize on a game show, and she raises one eyebrow and eyes up the dummy once more, with a hint of disgust, before walking out of the room to have a shower and leave for her own flat. I wish she'd stay tonight, but she prefers to travel into work from her flat. Plus it might take a few weeks for her to get used to Mr. Freddo. As I adjust his pose so that he confidently looks out on the room, sitting back in his old rocking chair, arms resting on the chair's arms, I wonder if I could afford to stay at Alison's tonight; before remembering that my ex-wife Jean is bringing our son, Scott, over to spend time with me early tomorrow morning. Shame.

   Alison looks divine in her silk blouse and tight skirt as she leaves my flat, and it makes me want to drag her back in for a quickie, but I never would since she's so uptight about that stuff. We say goodbye, I peck her on the cheek, and I slink off to bed. I dream of my father, throwing my dinner at the walls; snapping my CDs one by one, wide eyed, laughing maniacally; sobbing at night, his cries ringing through every inch of the house, talking to himself, sometimes even shouting; chasing me through wet streets that never end, and he never tires, and exhaustion catches up with me at an alarming speed, until I can run no further and he reaches me and his big, dry hands block the light to my eyes and I brace myself for pain... And in my dreams, this is where he dies. The sky clears and the day is beautiful and relief washes over me until I'm giggling, laughing, roaring through my tears that run down my face and drench my chin and t-shirt, and I kick and jump on the body of my father which smashes like glass, piece by piece, until he is erased from my reality, and I wake up and it's still dark. It's 3am when I wake. I never wake up before 7am. I was woken by a sound, a creaking sound, gentle tension on old wood. But I don't have any trouble getting back to sleep, until I'm woken again by the doorbell.

   As I sit up in bed, alarmed that I've slept so long that I haven't been able to dress before Scott's arrival, I click the aching bones in my back and walk around the bed on my way to answer the door, smiling to myself as I notice that Alison put Mr. Freddo's hands in his lap and closed his eyes before she left yesterday. Outside the door, an angry Jean taps her feet and stands with her arms crossed as Scott stands next to her avoiding eye contact with me. "Sorry," I smile pathetically, "I was sleeping so well." I gesture for them to come in, which Scott does, but Jean stays outside.
   "Well, I'd love to stay, Steve," she growls, "but I'm late enough for work as it is." Looking into the flat, checking that Scott was inside and safe (and probably checking that the flat is clean enough), she nods, lets out a hmph sound and stomps off down the hall.

   Scott and I have always had a strained relationship. While I try my hardest to be caring and attentive and loving like my father never was, I'm sure Jean just poisons him against me. We don't argue, but that's only because we hardly ever talk. Constructing a meaningful, lengthy conversation is exhausting for both of us, and I'm sure he just wants to curl into a defensive ball at the end of every one. So, in the hope of creating a situation where we can both feel comfortable in silence for a few hours, I take him to the cinema and let him pick the film we buy tickets for. A film about child-snatching aliens from the future glitters across a huge screen in which we're the only two viewers, and it bores the hell out of me. In the ridiculous scene where the kids come back to Earth moulded like Play-Doh into huge city-destroying monsters, I need a break, so I leave Scott to have a cigarette in the rain outside. Breathing in the fresh air, sucking on a relaxing cigarette, I close my eyes and lean my back against the front of the cinema for I'm not sure how long. Finally, Scott leaves the cinema and meets eyes with me, the cigarette's bare butt still between my fingers, and it alarms me that I lost track of time so badly out here. Apologising again, I ask him what he wants to eat, making sure he knows money is no object.

   I drop him off at his mother's and he forces out a quiet "Goodbye, dad" and drags his feet up to the front door of the house I paid for. Turning Duran Duran up, I drive home in the rain drumming on the steering wheel, looking forward to seeing Alison tonight, feeling only a little guilty that I'm relieved that the ordeal of seeing my son is over. When I get home, after throwing my coat onto my bed and noticing that Mr. Freddo once again has his arms on the rocking chair and his eyes open and wondering why I don't remember repositioning him, I check my phone to find 23 missed calls from Scott. I've never felt so popular. Dialling his number, he answers almost immediately, and with his breath heavy but steady and regular, he whispers, "Dad, mum's dead."
   Convulsing, hit by a sledge hammer made from the most unexpected 3-word sentence he could have uttered, I can only reply, "What?"

   "Mum's dead. She's dead. Mum... she's ... dead, dad."

   Parking my car again, hanging up the phone to Alison (cancelling tonight's visit - she'll have to wait a few days, Scott will be staying with me if what he's saying is true and he can't know about Alison yet), I jog up to Jean's front door, which has been left ajar, and run through to the kitchen, where Scott is standing above his mother's bloody body, his phone in his hand, his body stiff and silent like a mannequin, just staring. Jean is in a horrible state, in a pool of her own blood, vomit running from her mouth to the floor, her face locked in a gruesome, fearful expression. One of her legs is broken and there are bruises over both legs as if she was beaten with something rock hard, but the scratches all over her torso and neck; the cuts, the bite marks; suggest that something bestial did this. Retching, wrapping my hand around Scott's eyes, I dial 999 and drag my son out of the house; his movements stiff, his eyes blank, his mind erased of innocence.

   Tucking Scott into the spare bed in my flat, my heart is filled with sadness and depression for my son. I never knew my mother, and I've always felt sorry for myself for that; but nothing can take back what Scott has seen today, nothing will ever be the same for him. His pain must surpass mine by a thousand miles. Crawling into bed in the next room, I think back on how the policemen were so understanding; how one of the paramedics had tears rolling down her cheeks and was mumbling that she'd never seen anything like it; how Scott hasn't said a word since our phone call.

   For a few weeks, I phone in sick and tell Janet she's in charge of the pub until further notice. I stay at home with Scott and tell him that he can take as long as he wants before returning to school. For the first couple of days, he walks and talks like a zombie, barely leaving his bed. After a while, though, he begins to open up; the colour returns to his skin gradually, he starts to show emotions and the shock wears off, and I'm relieved that he doesn't feel uncomfortable crying in front of me and I'm pleased to see him smile when he watches TV. I notice that he, like Alison, begins to play at changing Mr. Freddo's poses while I'm in the bathroom or out at the supermarket, and it warms me to know that he's regaining a sense of humour (even if some of the poses are a little creepy - one standing on the chair with his arms crossed and another strangling a Furby, being the most memorable). It only takes two or three weeks before he wants to return to school, saying that the routine and seeing his friends will help him slip back into everyday life, and reluctantly, I agree.

   Now, Alison visits during school hours and I slip in the odd hour or two at my pub wherever I can, knowing that Janet's hands are as capable as my own and that if I pay her a little extra she won't mind how much time I take off. With Alison in the bathroom, getting washed and dressed to leave, I lay back in bed and slip into a daydream, cigarette in my mouth, wondering what the police are doing about Jean, and why I don't feel any sadness for her demise, just numbness. The daydream isn't a long one though, as the trance is blown apart by the raspy, gritty voice that fills my ears.
   "I did it."

   Not sure what's going on, feeling as if someone has slapped me out of a deep sleep, I stutter, "W..what?"

   "I did it. It was me." It can't be Mr. Freddo. That's where the sound is coming from, but it can't be. This is how Jean's death must be affecting me - I'm just going a bit mental.

   Taking another drag, laughing at myself, my moment of insanity, I say, "Shut up." And the room falls silent for a long time.

   "Don't tell me to shut up, numbnuts. I did it. I killed your ugly fucking wife, and I'm gonna kill Alison and then you. You prick." I hear, and my back jolts up and I sit naked on the bed staring at the doll. "I beat her legs with my fists, then I bit and scratched that bitch until she was dead." Not moving its mouth as any of these words are emitted, it continues, "Check my nails, fuckwit." Slowly, doubting my own mental stability, I walk toward the dummy until its hands are in mine, and I'm checking its nails, which are red and brown and dirty, covered in tiny bits of skin and hair. In complete denial, backing away from the doll still sporting its confident smile and blank, soulless eyes, I take the cigarette from my mouth and try to take some deep breaths. "Act normal, here comes your new slut," it growls, and Alison walks in, wrapped in a towel.

   "Who were you talking to?" She asks in a sing-song, jolly voice, and I spin on my heels to face her.

   "Erm... Oh, er... Nobody. I... I wasn't. I mean, I was on the phone." I dribble these words out, and she slips her clothes on as she slips me a puzzled look, obviously in too much rush to question my agitation. Kissing me and leaving, she says she'll see me tomorrow, and I rush back to throw the doll in a black bin liner and take it to the dump. Driving fast, panicked by the afternoon's events, I feel hot, my brow feels wet, and much to my disappointment, none of this is taken away when I throw the bin bag into the pile of rubbish and old computers and broken furniture at the council dump, driving off to collect Scott from school. Driving with less urgency, I try to contact Mick for a chat, just for some human contact, but neither of his numbers are being answered. He's shit with phones.

   By the time Scott gets in the car, I've had a few more cigarettes and listened to a few songs I like, so I've calmed to a state of near normality, and am able to laugh inwardly at the state I got myself into earlier. Still, I don't want to return home yet, so I ask if he wants Burger King for dinner, and drive there slowly to drag out the time I spend inside my car, in safety, with my son. I order an XL Bacon Double Cheese meal and he orders a Whopper meal, both with Cokes, and we sit and I savour every mouthful, watching my son gaze out of the window, chewing mechanically. So much of his life was Jean, so it's amazing to me that he's coping so well. His strength and attitude is inspiring, and it's uplifting to me that we have been brought together somewhat, even if the events that caused it were so horrific. Before we drive home, I stop by Mick's office and home, neither of which seem occupied, which is a shame since I could have done with a drink with my best friend tonight. Instead, Scott and I watch a film and go to bed at midnight.

   When I wake, the room smells like a sewer. It's after 9, so Scott must have left for school already, and my tiredness is overcome quickly by the stench that's filling the room, and I have to rush to open a window and let some fresh air in. A gut-wrenching combination of vomit and shit and death and rotten fruit fills my nostrils as I turn to survey the room, trying to find what's causing the smell, until my eyes fall on Mr. Freddo. Mr. Freddo sitting there in his rocking chair, in his old pose, his eyes staring straight into mine. My heart sinks, and I have a crippling urge to be sick.

   "You can't get rid of me, you little shit." It says, its body perfectly still, its mouth closed.

   "Wha.. what the fuck is going on?" I ask nobody, refusing to believe that an old doll is talking to me.

   "Had any trouble contacting Mick?" Its voice is knowing, suspicious, sarcastic and nasty all at once. It fills me with fear and dread, makes me want to cry. Outside my room, I hear Alison letting herself in with the spare key I gave her. "That's because I killed him," it rasps, "I bit a chunk out of his fucking neck and then I watched him bleed out. They won't find him for weeks." I'm welling up, my chin is shaking, my arms tensing and relaxing uncontrollably at my sides. My breath short and sharp, I feel claustrophobic, caved in, forced into a box in my head, as I notice that Alison has been standing just inside the bedroom door since before the doll's latest confession. Her face is locked into a terrified but doubtful expression, as her eyes alternate every few seconds between my sweating, panicky face and the evil doll at which I stare.

   "Steve," she says, her voice full of dread, "what's going on?"

   Slowly, the creak of the wood echoing around the room like nails on a chalkboard, piercing our ears and rushing our heartbeats, the doll turns its head to face my girlfriend. "Next," it says, its words coming out in slow motion, its mouth still, "I'm going to kill this bitch." And in a flash that in my head lasts an hour, but in reality passes in moments, I'm running across the room not sure whether to hold Alison, push her out of the door, protect her; or go for the dummy, which now stands next to the rocking chair, living, its tiny chest rising and falling with every breath. I hear her scream, run out of the flat; my head hits the wall, I'm not sure if I tripped or if I was pushed; and I black out.

   My eyes open slowly hours later, to a silent, calm room, and the doll standing over me, still reeking of the dump. As I cough, splutter, try to force myself up to my feet, the dummy launches itself onto my chest and headbutts me once, twice, three times; its wooden hairstyle knocking my head against the floor, making me dizzy. Its arms hold my wrists against the floor with immense power, as I struggle to get up but I can't, forced to lay down by a 4-foot-tall doll. Still writhing, still hitting out, still trying to get up, I hear the doll whisper, "Your wife, your stupid ugly friend, and then your slut girlfriend, and now you. Now I'm going to kill you, Steve." I'm sobbing, exhausted already, I want to be sick and cry and I want it to be over with and I want to be dead, as it begins to laugh crazily and scream, "And once you're dead, I'm going to kill Scott, and once Scott's dead, I'm going to make this my mansion, and me and all the girl dolls are gonna have sex in your bed. We're gonna have sex in your bed and we're gonna murder more people, Steve, and it'll all be your fault because you rescued me from your wonderful dad's house and you brought me into the world and everyone will blame you, Steve! You did all of this, Steve! You did aaaallllll of this!"

   And that sentence, that dragged out, taunting word, is when it hits me. The doll isn't looking at me any more, it's just laying on my chest, lifeless. My wrists, they're not being held to the ground; in fact, my hands are wrapped around the doll's wrists. The reason that the doll's mouth has never moved is that these words, these evil, poisoned sentences have been coming out of my mouth. It's my mouth that moves as he says these things. It's me that did all of this. That day at the cinema, I blanked out, I lost track of time - because I was at Jean's, ripping her skin apart with my nails and teeth. Those weeks of looking after Scott, feeling numb, never aware of what I was doing, gave me ample time to torture Mick. I have no memory of doing any of these things, but it's the only explanation. This horrible realisation hits me much softer than it should, and I'm filled with a complete lack of surprise, as I sit up, the doll falling limp at my side, and check my hands. Just like the doll's, my hands are covered in someone else's blood. In my mouth, I taste the metallic, warm flavour of blood. I dial Alison's mobile number, her house number, her office, but get no answer anywhere.
   I've killed her. I must have.

   With a steak knife I found in the kitchen, having locked my door and left a note for Scott reading "I'm sorry. Now everything will be ok. I love you, Scott." I cut a long, deep gash down my left forearm and another down my right, and as I eye the dummy that lays motionless on the floor, I slip into a sleep that is eternal and relieving and relaxing and beautiful. I fly through an eternal blue sky and my soul feels free and wind blows through my hair and I feel young again, but not the way I felt young with my father, but the way films say we should feel young. Energetic, care-free, enlightened, I sore through a cloudless blue and whether this is heaven or hell or somewhere in between I don't know but I know that it is making me feel a happiness that I have never felt, and time is meaningless and all that is transient no longer matters and I'm dead and Scott is safe and nothing will ever be terrible for him again.

   That is, until I wake up, in a wooden skull, that I share with my father and his father and his father's father. Until I wake up 48 inches tall, sitting in a rocking chair, in an unfamiliar lounge, looking out on a room in which my son Scott, now 25 or 26, plays with his toddler, and embraces his beautiful wife. Looking out on the scene, unable to move, trapped in a hell where I spend an eternity living in a doll with everyone I ever learned to hate, only one thought occupies my mind: everyone in this room has to suffer. Ripped from my bliss, torn from heaven, having fallen a thousand miles to reach the hell in which I am now eternally enclosed, shocked by the realisation that it was the doll all along, it was my father in a doll in my room that was doing these things, all I can feel for my son is hatred. All I want to do is pass this pain on.

   As I think this, unable to move a muscle in my body of wood and cloth, I hear my dad's voice whisper, "And the cycle begins again..."

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