Part 2 of 3:
“Hey, why’d ya stop me?” said Mr. Sockforahead. “I think it was coming loose.”
“Do you want to give your ‘helping hand’ a heart attack?” said Sophie. “Didn’t you hear anything I said?”
Trent appeared in the doorway, munching an Arrowroot biscuit. “What was that noise?” he said, through more biscuit than mouth. He looked askance at Gran’s cabinet. “Were you trying to get that open?”
“Of course not, nosy.”
His eyes narrowed. “You were. I’ll tell Nana you were.”
“Don’t you dare, you little—”
“Now hold it a second, pint-size,” said Mr. Sockforahead, hijacking Sophie in mid-sentence. “C’mere.”
Trent swallowed the rest of his biscuit and edged closer, wiping crumbs on his shirt. “Y’know that’s really clever, Soph.”
“’Course I’m clever, cloth-head,” snapped Mr. Sockforahead. “Now listen. The wicked witch doesn’t let you open this, does she? What say we open it up real quick while she’s not lookin’, and have a peek at what the dollies wear under their skirts?”
Sophie couldn’t believe what she heard, let alone that her vocal chords said it. Nor could she believe – well, actually, she could believe Trent’s swollen-eyed reaction.
“How do we open it without a key?” said Trent in a whisper.
“Easy-peasy. It’s hanging on a peg by the kitchen light-switch. But you’ll have to get it while the old prune’s not looking. Think you can do it?”
Trent glanced ’round the door frame. Sophie could hear the kettle coming to the boil.
“She’s still busy with the tea,” said Trent.
“That’s my boy, you can do it!”
Trent disappeared from sight. Sophie grabbed Mr. Sockforahead and swung him to face her. “Now you’re filling his head with corrupt ideas. This wasn’t part of our deal! I want my hand back before you get it into serious trouble!”
But Trent returned, beaming like a little troll, with the key in his greasy hand.
“Well done, short stuff. Now quick, open it!”
“Don’t do it, Trent!” put in Sophie, but little good it did her. The key turned, the glass slid, and the smell of old lace and mothballs wafted forth like heady effluvium from a long-forgotten tomb.
“Tea’s ready, dears!” came Gran’s voice like a siren.
As one they jumped.
“Quick, close it!” said Sophie.
Trent didn’t need telling twice. But before the glass slid to, Sophie found herself doing the unimaginable. Faster than she could think, but so slow she could see every ghastly detail, her hands gripped Madeline and pulled her free.
Click! The door slid shut. Trent locked it tight, dropped the key, and got as far away from it as he could.
Sophie was still staring at the beautiful porcelain face when there came a shriek from the doorway, followed by the crash of crockery across the threshold. She slowly lowered the doll, not eager to behold her grandmother’s expression.
“Sophie… I can’t… I can’t believe this! If this is a joke, my girl, it’s gone too far! You know Madeline is strictly hands-off.”
“Hands-off, socks-on, eh, Sophie?” said Mr. Sockforahead.
Sophie just glared at him, desperate for something to say in her defence. “Gran, you know I’d never do this. I thought he could help me, but… well it’s all gone wrong!”
“So you’re telling me it’s not you talking through the sock after all?”
Sophie nodded, and stared at the tea-stained carpet. Gran said nothing. Sophie couldn’t bear to look at her.
“I’d like to believe you, I would…”
“People don’t talk through socks,” said Mr. Sockforahead. “They talk through hats, or their arse, or a mouthful of biscuit, eh, snot-nose?”
Trent tried to bury himself in the couch.
“I wonder…” said Gran. “You hear about people becoming possessed by spirits. But by a sock? With a smart mouth? I wasn’t born yesterday, but I shan’t dismiss this without careful consideration. Sophie, I want you to look me in the eye and tell me you aren’t having me on.”
If she didn’t do it now, she’d never be able to. She met Gran’s gaze. The old woman’s shock had departed in favour of steely resolve. “I swear, Gran.”
Her gran’s eyes narrowed, probed, found what they were searching for, and lightened. Then they locked onto Mr. Sockforahead with double the fire.
“I knew there was something… evil about that thing. Got designs on my Madeline, have you, sock?”
“That’s Mr. Sockforahead, Granny Knot. How about a little respect? I’ve just been through an operation.”
“That I performed. And this is how you repay me? Hand her to me, Sophie.” Sophie reached out to give her the doll. Her arm stopped half-way with a jerk.
“Sophie? What’s wrong?”
“My arm… it’s gone numb!”
The phantom limb slung Madeline over Sophie’s shoulder with a casual air. Gran yelped, and clutched her heart.
“Mr. Sockforahead, I want my arm back, now!”
“Keep your head on, everything’s in hand.”
“That’s a fine thing to say, when you don’t have any and have to use someone else’s!”
“Look, we made a deal, and I’m gonna hold you to it – with your own hand if necessary. I don’t want you coming any closer, Granny, or Madeline gets it!”
Granny Maureen was shaking. Trent appeared nervously at her skirts, and she caught him by the shoulder. “Stay back, Trent. Your sister’s not herself.” She backed away to the kitchen counter and picked up the phone.
Sophie heard her dial three digits. “Are you happy now, you demented sock? She’s dialling the police. Give me my hand back before I—”
“What? You’ve got no hands, what’cha gonna do?”
Sophie blinked. “Have you ever been kissed before?”
“Certainly not. Whoever heard of someone slobbering their squidgy lips all over a sock puppet? Euch!”
“I can arrange it, if you don’t cut me some slack.”
She heard Gran talking frantically on the phone. Things were about to get worse if she didn’t get control of the situation.
“All right,” said Mr. Sockforahead. “You can have your arm back, and your feet, in just a moment.”
“My feet?” Her legs walked forward unbidden. They moved woodenly, as if she had no knees, as if she were… a doll. Mr. Sockforahead grasped Madeline’s ankles with both of Sophie’s hands, and lifted the doll above her head…
* * *
Sally Anderson’s morning at the emergency switchboard had involved two calls about dogs getting into someone’s garbage, and one call from a distraught boy whose rabbit had died of natural causes. These weren’t the kind of adrenaline-fuelled situations she’d pictured her fresh-out-of-college self dealing with when she started her training six months earlier.
This was her second week as a police operator, and it had just reached the point of mediocrity. Oh, there’d been emergencies; there’d been some hum-dingers. But when there weren’t, there were idle moments, which became idle minutes, which stretched into idle hours. One can only read the wanted posters so many times.
She gave her scalp a frustrated kneading and put her blonde hair back into the ponytail it had fallen out of. She considered getting another cup of coffee, but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble after the last time. Taking one emergency call on the loo with her wireless headset was enough.
A buzzing noise ended her dilemma. The incoming call button had lit up.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“Hello, it’s my granddaughter, she’s… possessed!”
Sally did a mental double-take, and took a moment to find her voice. “I’m sorry, did I hear you correctly? Did you say your granddaughter is—”
“Possessed, yes. I don’t know what to do, I’m afraid for her life. I’m afraid for my life!”
At last, something new and refreshing; if it proved genuine. It had to pass the acid test.
“Okay, stay calm, Ma’am. Who has possessed your granddaughter, exactly?”
“Not a who so much as a what. Oh dear, I’m afraid you’ll think me a doddering old fool…”
“Please, stay focused.”
“All right, out with it I suppose. A sock puppet.”
Now, on an ordinary day, Sally would’ve taken down the particulars at this point and ended the call; writing ‘hoax’ next to the entry in the log book. But on this occasion…
“One moment please, Ma’am.”
She pushed her chair back towards the notice-board, and quickly located the relevant wanted poster. It was held by a single thumb-tack to the bottom corner of the board. There were many pinholes and tears in it, suggesting that whoever had posted it needed to replace it often. It had even been used as a drinks-coaster at one point. Sally snatched it up and flattened it out on the desk.
“Ma’am, if you provide your address I’ll send an officer over right away.” Sally typed the forthcoming stream of information into her terminal and prepared to sign on to the radio network. “Thank you, please stay on the line.”
“Do hurry, I think he’s—”
There was a clunk, followed by sounds of confusion. Sally thought she heard a young woman shriek. “Ma’am, are you there?”
There was a ‘thpp!’ noise, like someone blowing a raspberry, then a click and the phone went dead.
“Shit!” Sally operated the radio. “All units, all units, I need to locate officer…” she looked at the poster, “Peter Gumption, over.”
“Dispatch, this is car eleven. Gumption’s been transferred to HQ. Have you found his missing sock? Over.” The ‘over’ was followed by whooping laughter before the signal cut out.
Sally cursed herself for even bringing it up. She obviously hadn’t been brought up-to-speed on the sock puppet issue. At the risk of ‘crying wolf,’ she signed off. She tapped on the desk, weighing her options.
She picked up the poster and looked at it. An artist’s bad impression of a sock puppet that’d been through the wars stared back at her. ‘Wanted,’ it said, followed by a list of crimes. They were many and horrible, and, frankly, hard to believe. ‘Refer any information to officer Peter Gumption,’ she read.
Removing her headset, she went to the window that looked out into the reception area. She tapped on the glass, and a young officer typing a report looked up at her. For the promise of a lunch date, he covered for her and told her where to find Gumption’s office.
She found her way to a door marked ‘Records,’ and couldn’t help picturing a room full of vinyl LP’s. The reality was far less interesting, and in the midst of this reality sat a large man polishing his spectacles at a small desk. Sally knocked, despite having already entered, and the man hurriedly replaced his specs.
“Officer Gumption?” she said.
“Yes, that’s me. Come on in – oh, you have. Well, sit down.”
“What can I do for you?” said Gumption. He seemed pleased to have some company.
“I’m Officer Anderson; Sally, if you like. Is this yours?” She handed him the poster. The effect was the same as if she’d kicked him in the stomach. His face creased and he slumped forward, looking vulnerable and drained. “Are you all right, Gumption?”
He shook his head and looked up at her. “S-sorry. Peter, please, call me Peter. Yes, I put this up. Thanks for bringing it in, you’ve saved me the trouble of pulling it down myself.” He thrust it into the drawer of his desk and took a swig of cold coffee as if it were alcohol. Clearly she’d stirred his demons; but he swallowed them and put on a brave face. “So, what can I help you with?”
Sally weighed him up, which wasn’t easy given his leanings toward obesity. “You misunderstand me, Peter. You want information, don’t you? About the sock?”
His face flushed. “N-no. I did, but not anymore. Now please, I’m very busy. The database needs my constant attention—”
“Hold it a minute. I just agreed to go on a date with Harry Stenson to come talk to you.”
“That’s not my fault—”
“There are lives at stake, so you’re going to listen.”
Peter’s face fell in resignation. “He’s back, isn’t he. Mr. Sockforahead’s back.”
“That’s his name, is it?”
“The foul creature ruined my life. I lost my job, shot a cop in the foot, humiliated my boss, and was nearly killed in a car crash because of Mr. Sockforahead. Things started to pick up for me when I was put on probationary street duty, but then he showed up a second time – only to literally slip through my fingers before I could put an end to him.
“I became a driven man after that. I would do anything, everything to rid the world of Mr. Sockforahead. I knuckled down, walked those streets, caught the bad guys – I even lost forty pounds. But a couple of weeks ago they gave me another desk job; a safe, anonymous desk job. I can’t let him take that from me a second time!”
His story plucked at the heart strings, certainly; but Sally’s played only the feeblest lament. “Then don’t let him take anything from anyone again. An old lady could be lying in a pool of blood at this very moment, and it’s up to you and I to help her.”
“Who else would believe there’s a killer sock puppet on the loose?”
Peter opened his desk drawer. He reached in and took something out; Sally didn’t see what it was.
“All right. Let’s go.”
“That’s the ticket. I’ll drive.”
* * *
Sophie looked in horror at the limp body of her grandmother on the floor. She let the doll, its head shattered, drop in a grim parody beside Granny Maureen.
“What have you done?” said Trent, dropping to his knees at Gran’s side.
“It wasn’t that great of a doll anyway,” said Mr. Sockforahead.
“He means what have you done to Gran!” said Sophie, rage eclipsing the urge to cry.
Mr. Sockforahead shrugged. “She can’t rat on us now.”
“I hate you, I hate you!” said Trent, managing tears and anger at the same time.
“Fine. How about I sew your eyelids shut? Let’s have a show of hands.” Both of Sophie’s hands shot up. “There, two against one.”
Bawling now, Trent ran down the hall.
“Trent!” cried Sophie. “I wouldn’t let him – you’ve got to believe me!”
A door slammed in defiance, and she wondered at the truth of her words. After all, her grandmother had just been hit in the head with a very expensive, and now very broken, doll – and she hadn’t been able to stop that. She checked Gran’s pulse, and saw with relief that she was still breathing.
“She’s alive,” she said.
“’Course she is,” said Mr. Sockforahead. “We have a deal, and despite what you may think, I don’t kill just any old woman I meet. Unless… hey, did you want her dead?”
“Not even a little?”
“I didn’t even want her unconscious!”
“You’re not seeing the big painting. She was cramping our style. Now we’re free to work on the Trent-monster. That’s what you wanted, right?”
“The deal’s off. This has gone too far. I want no more ‘help’ from you.”
“We were just making progress.”
Sophie stamped off down the hall, but realised it was impossible to stamp off in a huff from her own hand. She came to the sewing room door, which was firmly closed. There were sounds of things being frantically piled against the other side.
“Trent? It’s me, Sophie. Gran’s all right, she’s not dead—”
“Don’t come near me!” said a muffled voice from behind the door.
She turned to Mr. Sockforahead. “This is your ‘progress?’ I didn’t want him scared to death of me.”
“You need respect, and the best way to get it is to scare the bejeezies out of him.”
Sophie tried the door, but could barely open it. She put her whole weight against it and forced it just enough to get her head through the gap. A jar of buttons came flying across the room at her. When the clatter of buttons hitting myriad surfaces ended, she peered in and met Trent’s eyes. He was cowering beneath the workbench.
“Trent, please give me a minute to speak. You can throw all you want at me afterwards if you don’t believe me.” Trent rubbed his face and whimpered. “Do you remember, Trent, how we used to play and have fun? I used to push you on the swings, didn’t I?”
“Now you only push me around,” said Trent.
“I suppose I do… but I don’t mean anything by it, deep down. You’re my brother. I’ll always love you, and always be your sister.”
Trent dried his eyes, but said nothing. Sophie sensed Mr. Sockforahead wanted to put in two pennies worth and make it seem like a dollar; so she added, in a whisper, “Help me, Trent. Help me get it off!” then shut the door.
To be continued…