Episode Twenty-Two – Gerald the doll
(Content Warnings for domestic abuse, blood, death)
The donation bag was sitting beside the door when Sherry got to work at Oceanside Thrift. It was early, the sun still rising as the cool morning air blew softly through her hair. She was tired. It had been a long night and she’d been up until nearly two fighting with Steve, her boyfriend who had arrived home late, drunk and with the scent of perfume on him. He’d insisted he had been working late and the perfume must have been from some tourist on the boardwalk. But she knew that the last showing let out long before he’d gotten home. So they’d spent hours just yelling at each other and now she was exhausted.
So exhausted, in fact, that she nearly missed the small bag as she unlocked the door. It was a small reusable Market Basket grocery bag with a close up picture of apples on the front. A note pinned to the handle read DONATION. Normally people left donations in the bin by the back door, but maybe the instructions hadn’t been visible when the donor arrived last night. Oh well, not a problem.
Sherry got inside and set the bag down on the counter. It was heavy, so clearly there was something more than clothes in there. But her curiosity would have to wait until she had performed her opening duties.
As she arrived back at the register forty minutes later, doors unlocked and shop ready to go, the Market Basket bag was still sitting there. She was pretty sure she had the same tote bag at home. But maybe hers had lemons on it. She always tried to bring it when she went to Market Basket, even though Steve said it was pointless. He said she was just virtue signalling. Not that he ever did the groceries, so what did he know?
Pushing thoughts of Steve aside, Sherry finally opened the bag. She expected to find dishes or books inside, but instead she pulled out just one object. A doll. And not just any doll, but the absolute ugliest doll she had ever seen. He wore tattered overalls on his dirty frame. The eyes might have been blue at one point, but one had been scraped nearly clean off while the other was a murky shade of gray. His coarse hair stuck out wildly from under a blue baseball cap and both were as grimy as the overalls. But it was the hideous smirk on his face, the evil confidence, that really made him unsettling. The remaining eye seemed to glitter above the smirk, like he knew your sins and he liked them. And as Sherry pulled him out of the bag, reddish dust fell from his hair and onto her hands.
He was grotesque. And Sherry loved him immediately.
“Hello there,” she said with a laugh as she propped him up on the counter beside the cash register. “You must be Gerald.”
She didn’t know why the name Gerald popped into her head, but it just felt right for this evil little doll. Gerald could live up here with her today. No one was going to buy him. None of her regulars were the type to buy something terrible just for the sake of doing so.
So today he could hang out here and keep her company.
As the store opened and people began filtering in, she chatted to Gerald. At first, it was just about the comings and goings of the customers. Then about the weather.
“Looking like rain tonight, Gerald. Bring your evil umbrella!”
But by lunch time, she was still bubbling with anger toward Steve and it was beginning to seep out.
“You’re such a good listener, Gerald,” she said as an old man walked out with a stack of paperback books in his arms. “Steve interrupts me as soon as I start talking about my day to ask me what’s for dinner. As if he hasn’t been home for hours and isn’t perfectly capable of making dinner himself.”
Gerald didn’t answer, he just looked at her through his murky eye.
Another customer came up, trying to haggle the price of a backpack. But he was polite enough about it, so she took a dollar off and he happily handed her some cash.
“That’s the beauty of some people, Gerald,” Sherry said as the man left. “He was so polite about it. Steve just complains and demands a discount. Sometimes whatever he’s complaining about isn’t real. He’ll tell them his food was cold or something, just to get it for free. It’s so embarrassing and he’s such a jerk about it.”
Again, Gerald listened silently.
The final customer of the day left a couple hours later, a bright summer dress in her arms. “You know what the worst part is, Gerald?” Sherry asked him as she came back from locking the door. “He keeps telling me he’d never hit me. And I guess I believe him. But at the same time, he keeps raising his hand like he’s going to. Like last night. I told him I didn’t believe him when he said he was at work. He raised his hand and I flinched. And he got so mad at me. Like, how could I think he would do that? Did I think he was that bad of a person? He would never actually hit me, I just made him so mad, that’s all. And I don’t know what to think? Maybe it’s me? He said he’d never hit me, so maybe I’m overreacting.”
Gerald was silent, his hideous smirk bright red in the late afternoon sunlight.
As Sherry walked out of the shop a little while later, she saw Gerald still sitting by the register. He faced the door as she stood on the doorstep and locked up behind herself. Sherry was pretty sure she’d left him facing the back of the counter when she’d left. After all, Gerald had been keeping her company at the counter all day. He had been facing her as she vented about her Steve woes.
She must have turned him around and forgot. No big deal. And it was such a small deal that Sherry immediately forgot about it as she started walking home.
The sun was a little further down on the horizon when she walked into her apartment building. The shadows were long in the lobby and she walked slowly on the worn carpet. Steve was probably home and she hadn’t cooked dinner. Maybe they could just get a pizza or something. He’d complain, but she’d just deal with it.
The front door was open when she got to their apartment. Seriously? Her cat was probably long gone because he couldn’t be bothered to check the door behind him? She really needed to break up with Steve, didn’t she? Though she was probably too old to find someone better so maybe that wasn’t the best idea.
Sherry pushed the door open further and stepped into the dark apartment. “Steve?” she called. “Why is the door open? Is Kitten still in here?”
No answer. God, he was probably playing some game with his headphones on. “Seriously,” she snapped as she walked further into the dark living room. “What the hell? The door is wide open, anyone could come in.”
There was a light on in the kitchen. It looked like the stove light. She started walking toward it. “I’m not making dinner,” she snapped. “I apparently need to go look for my cat, not that you care.”
Her foot landed in something tacky and she tugged it off the sticky floor. What on Earth..?
It was blood. Her stomach turned to water and she couldn’t stop the tight scream that escaped as she ran toward the light. And then she was screaming again.
Steve lay in the middle of the kitchen floor, his blood running dark red over the ugly black and white tiles. Several kitchen knives protruded from his neck and chest as his eyes gazed unseeing at the ceiling.
Still screaming, Sherry jerked away from the sight and back toward the still-open door. Her knees shook and she seemed to leave her body as she ran for the hallway, eyes darting wildly through the blackness of the living room. But as she got out and ran screaming and sobbing down the hallway, she realized what she’d seen from the shadows of the living room. And she realized she recognized that hideous little smirk.