By Charles Etheridge-Nunn
“Daddy! Daddy! Come see!”
That was when everyone met Tiny Broken Doll Face Man. George had a secret identity and loved to build things. His tree house was only a cardboard box nailed to a tree, but his outfit as Tiny Broken Doll Face Man was the best thing he’d ever come up with.
He stood, hands on hips, watching the shock on his family’s faces.
“Georgie’s got Marigold!” Jemima said.
It was true. Marigold’s shattered face and empty eyes were the centrepiece of his costume. Over a dozen little plastic heads stared out from where they were stapled to a woolly jumper. Most were hollow, simple things, Marigold was special. Marigold could talk. It wasn’t her real voice. It was all batteries. She could talk and she could cry and she could vomit. She was special, but not because of that. George knew she had to be liberated. He heard her say, “Thank you,” in a growly, gravelly voice. First when she was removed from her body, then when she was added to the costume.
The neighbourhood girls didn’t even notice the dolls going missing, the bodies were hidden in a grave at the bottom of the garden. Marigold only demanded the heads.
Jemima, unlike the neighbourhood girls, demanded Marigold back. He shouldn’t have picked his targets so close to home. George’s parents kept saying words like, “troubled.” George didn’t care. He had a mission.
“What’s the mission?” he asked Marigold.
“We need a sacrifice,” one of the dolls said. Marigold was so important, they often spoke for her.
Fluffy, the hamster, was happy to go. At least, he didn’t struggle when George picked him up. George had lettuce after all, Fluffy’s favourite.
The dolls drank well that night, but George knew to wash the blood off before going back inside. He had to hide the costume, too. His parents didn’t approve.
“What’s your power?” Eddie asked.
George looked at the doll heads. None of them answered him.
“Well?” Eddie asked. “Superman can fly and shoot lasers.”
“Batman didn’t need powers,” Marigold said. George parroted her. Marigold knew everything.
“So are you a detective, like Batman?”
George didn’t need Marigold’s help to answer the question.
He just needed a case.
He needed a case and he needed equipment. Batman had gadgets, after all.
Some of the doll heads could fit things inside. He had a sock in one, a screwdriver in another. He taped things inside, but two were kept upside down like pockets. Marigold said they didn’t mind. Marigold knew everything, even without eyes.
She saw the locked cabinet. The key was the next problem. There had to be a mystery inside. It was dad’s cabinet, so George followed him as quietly as he could. Wearing his costume he saw the key being put away in a shoe box. Tiny Broken Doll Face Man stole the key and took the brown liquid from the cabinet. The doll faces drank eagerly that night.
Somehow, his parents knew it was him from the way his costume smelled. George tried to explain that it was for the dolls, but no one cared. Mum was the worst. She kept shouting at dad, phrases like, “Three years sober.”
Marigold had a new mystery. The Mystery of the Angry Noises. They happened when mum was away, it sounded like people were fighting in one of the bedrooms. Marigold told him to put the costume on again. To fight crime again.
The cheap doll heads circling Marigold all agreed. The noise was a threat
He spent so long going over the crime scene, he didn’t realise they’d come home already. His eyes widened and he ran to his headquarters, the garden.
“Stop right there young man,” Mum said. He instantly froze in his tracks.
She sniffed the air, like when she smelled the brown liquid on his costume. Dad walked out of the kitchen and saw them stood there.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“He’s in that terrible costume again,” Mum said. “It still stinks of booze… and…” she wasn’t sure.
“I was being a detective,” George said.
“I thought you were a super hero.”
“Batman’s both,” he said. “There were angry noises in the bedroom.”
“Like a monster, right?” Dad said. “Kids, eh?”
“Then dad and aunt Julie left the room,” George said. Mum’s sister Julie lived a few streets down.
Mum kept sniffing the air, then looked at the upturned baby heads. “What’s in there?” she said.
George looked at the floor, guilty. “It’s a balloon, but a dead one. It’s sticky,” He lifted the sagging object out of the baby head, and it fell to the floor.
Mum and Dad exploded in anger. George ran into the garden, to safety. He’d been forgotten. They were angry at each other. Maybe they’d go in the bedroom and fight like Julie and Dad did. He had to get away. He had to talk to Marigold. She’d know what happened.
The mass grave was open. Headless doll bodies stuck out of the earth, limbs reaching up.
“How could you?” Jemima said.
“Marigold told me.”
“No!” Jemima shouted. “You’re ruining it! You’re not listening to her right! You’ve ruined it all!”
“What all?” he asked.
She pointed to the house, the sound of things breaking, of screaming so persistent it stopped sounding like noise.
“I’m sorry,” Jemima said.
“There was only one thing I could do.”
There was a rustling in the bushes. A girl walked out. Then another. And another.
“Rebecca!” one of them said.
“Caroline!” another one said.
“Who?” George said.
“Them,” Jemima pointed at the anonymous heads. “They were all someone once.”
George looked at the heads. How could they tell? They were nothing. Not compared to Marigold.
“They were all someone once, and now their owners want revenge.”
George looked at Marigold for help. Jemima pushed him in the grave. The girls said goodbye to their dismembered toys and started to bury Tiny Broken Doll Face Man.