Author's Notes: No profit; Copyright laws bent but not broken; Not beta'd

Content: Gen Halloween story, rated PG for odd goings-on; also serving as a belated entry for Sentinel Thursday's Challenge #187, "Supernatural"

Spoilers: Scattered about; Post TSbyBS and Blair is a cop.

A Doll's House

by Roslyn

(With apologies to Ibsen)

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Blair's POV:

"I can't believe we're seeing this again! Who's doing this?"

"Damned if I can figure it out. I can't sense any kind of skin oils or personal care products from it. Don't see fingerprints of any kind. It certainly didn't walk over here, Chief!"

"Got that right. Unless those 'Chucky' movies are real, this doll had to be put here by someone." I believe in the supernatural but have pretty strict limits around the anthropomorphism of inanimate objects.

"Gloves. Must've been someone wearing gloves but there's no trace of latex or powder. Vinyl maybe?"

"Gloves or no gloves, it would've had to float in. Nothing's disturbed the dust on this floor, besides us, for at least a month."

"Well then, I will. Not like this is a murder scene or anything. The doll isn't dead." He circled the damned thing but didnt touch it.

"How do you know? Maybe an evil ventriloquist owned it," I snickered.

A glance from my partner indicated I was the only thing in the vicinity that qualified for the label of 'dummy'.

"Or not," I backpedaled.

"So speaks the walking 'Tower of Babble'."

"Cute, man. October thirty-first and each of three stops we've made today has us up close and personal with this same doll. Someone is yanking our collective chains."

"Unless it's three different dolls?"

"Looks like the same friggin' doll each time to me!" It was on the order of the size and chubbiness of a cabbage patch type, but with the porcelain facial features of old-fashioned dolls and lashed eyes. Long curly hair like mine ...okay, we weren't going there.

"You know, if this is your idea of a joke, Chief, amnesty is available to you if the confession comes within the next sixty seconds. This is a one-time offer."

"Jim." I knew the hurt in my eyes was perceptible to him, even in the advancing gloom of the late afternoon. Okay, faked hurt but he'd know that, too.

"Okay. Sorry."

"Sure, I 'hear' that. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy."

The twitch in his jaw didn't appear to be the beginnings of a smile, stimulated by my brilliant riposte. He was getting royally pissed. We approached the end of the hallway in this dockside building where Sneaks, our footwear-obsessed snitch, had asked to meet us. No exits or windows at this end. We turned back.

"Chief!" The doll was gone again although ours were the only signs of recent movement around here.

Okay, this was seriously weird now. "Jim, I couldn't pull off this kind of joke on you with your senses, but you're perfectly capable of managing it yourself."

"True. And I'm the joking type?"

"You're the one who got a horse up twenty flights in an elevator by getting it drunk on maple syrup, at that cop's retirement bash."

"Glad you remembered that one."

"Not likely to forget it. I'm still wearing a hoof print on my ...hey! What's that?" A flash of movement, low to the ground had gotten my attention.

Jim's head tilted slightly to the side as he listened. "Nothing. Let's go!"

I took off after him, kind of glad Sneaks hadn't shown up. My new running shoes were really comfortable, now that I had a salary and could afford the higher end merchandise. I said a brief prayer of contrition to the gods of consumer excess and ran faster to catch up with my partner.

Jim stopped again and listened some more. I clasped his shoulder to ensure he remained with me on this plane of existence. Not that I objected to his occasional ventures into other realms but I was seriously spooked by now. Maybe it had something to do with the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' marathon I'd watched the night before but, being a hard-boiled detective and all, I couldn't mention it. You know, that I was really only ...poached.

Jim had moved on ahead of me but as I rounded the corner, I noticed something on the dumpster to the right of me that looked oddly familiar. "Holy ..., JIM!!!"

He arrived before the echo of my distress call had died. I hadn't expected less. That's Jim. I numbly pointed to a puffy piece of material on the ugly green metal lid. A severed hand, obviously off of the missing doll.

I hadn't seen that expression on Jim's face since his run-in with Molly, a figure in a mirror. Another recollection we could do without just now.

"This is ridiculous. Let's get this dumpster open."

"Maybe I ought to call for back-up?" I pulled out my cell phone.

There was that impassive stare again. "Sure. I can't wait to hear you tell the dispatcher that we're in pursuit of a foam-filled suspect, about eighteen inches high with a missing hand."

"Which would effectively make me the Richard Kimble of the toy industry. Instead of going dumpster diving, what if we just search the prosthetics department of the local doll hospital?"

"Are you done, Shecky?"

"Fine, open it up." Luckily, it must've been emptied recently as it wasn't too disgustingly ripe or full. Just enough to have Jim reel back a bit and await my report. I hung on to the edge and pulled myself up. Rope climbing at the Academy gym had been good preparation for search and rescue type missions. I just hated expending all that effort in the service of missing and dismembered playthings. "But you're writing this report, not me."

"See anything?"

"Nope." I dropped down and closed the lid. We headed back to the truck, taking the long way around the opposite side of the building. A crowd of teens dressed up for trick or treat walked by us. Not really a holiday for that age group but a great excuse for scaring the crap out of senior citizens while holding them up for candy. "Have I told you my theory that the festival of Samhain was corrupted by the Colonial American Dental Society in pursuit of universal insurance coverage for amalgams?"

"No. I'll wait for the documentary to come out on the History Channel. Let's clock out and get some dinner. It's not like we've got a crime to investigate. "

"And the report?"

"We conducted two witness interviews during the morning and got stood up by an informant in the afternoon."

"Works for me."

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Jim's POV:

My partner was more nervous than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I have no idea why that metaphor came to me. My background is more country club than countryside, but, well, when Sandburg gets twitchy it's the first thing that comes to mind. Must be the hair and the fur. Well, enough said on that head. No pun intended.

Yeah, I'm a bit 'twitchy' too, tonight. Despite his threats to make me do it, he wrote up the day's events. Just omitting a couple details of course as suggested to him earlier in the day.

It's unnatural. That's the problem. We kept seeing this doll wherever we turned up today. But I couldn't hear it being carried anywhere, despite being at least within a quarter mile of it for much of the day. When in visual range, I couldn't see any of the usual microscopic leavings of an owner with a possession. And children leave a lot behind on their toys. It's part of the nature of the beast. The kids, I mean, not the toys. Well, hopefully not the toys.

So, neither macroscopic nor microscopic signs; nothing on any auditory frequency (and I have quite a range); a complete absence of odor, and not a single tactile vibration from passive or active movements of the doll which would have shifted the air as it passed against my skin.

It's unnatural, I tell you.

So we go home, stopping at a local health food store because Sandburg refuses to hand out any form of Halloween candy that might lead a child to actually eat it. Miniature packets of yogurt coated, spelt flour pretzels.

That was even more unnatural than the doll. But I digress.

So, we took in some take-out. Then I put a snack table by the door, so doling out the candy could be done efficiently and neatly. You never know how many kids might come by at once and you don't want to turn your back on 'em for a second. It's the one night of the year when it's legal to walk the streets in a mask. Most of 'em understand the benefits of that kind of anonymity, no matter what Sandburg believes.

It happened at eight P.M. Sandburg was ragging on me about having picked up some bags of miniature chocolate bars - you know, Hersheys, Krackles, Goodbars and the like. They still make them every year and, well, I wasn't really looking forward to the intense disappointment that was going to register on all those little faces when those other, uhm, treats, were being handed out. I explained to Sandburg of course, that it was done in defense of my property. Let's face it. The kids would have every right to trash the place as a 'trick' to repay the absence of 'treat' if I couldn't come up something more appropriate. And maybe there wouldn't be too many of the little tykes...

So the bell rings and we both head over to the door. I was finding it rather entertaining to watch the kids try and figure out what the hell the big kid was handing out to the littler ones. And they liked the chocolate a lot. But one little fairy princess was pushing her own personal Halloween cart before her. Clever kid. A baby carriage to carry the loot home. So, I turn to get some chocolate bars for the sweetheart, when Sandburg makes this noise somewhere between that of a strangulation victim and a snapped violin string.

He's pretty tolerant of all kinds of mayhem - even gets off on it, so to speak. So that noise alarms me and I turn around real fast. In the carriage, is our foam phantom, sitting up and looking at us. Well, likely not. I mean the chocolate had given me a caffeine buzz and who knows how over stimulated my visual cortex had become (to use one of Sandburg's phrases). But it seemed like those eyes should've been staring straight ahead. Yet ...no. They must have been doing that. But I was quickly distracted from the eyes by a bit of red cloth on one of the doll's hands. Well, on one of the doll's wrists. A hand was on the other wrist and that one wasn't red.

Obviously, the doll protected its owner that night. Sandburg cut and ran, straight back into the apartment before she'd become the recipient of those pretzel things. She did pretty well anyway, because I tossed the entire bag of mini-bars into the carriage before muttering a fast, "Good-night kids", and following in Sandburg's wake. But not fast enough to avoid seeing the little girl lie the doll down in sleeping position. And hear a softly spoken word. "Mine". Different from the chorus of high-pitched voices singing out 'Thank you.'.

I locked the door. And checked the locks again afterwards. Okay, three times if anyone was counting. Then Sandburg came by and checked it for a fourth time.

"Jim? Don't zone out on me here, tough guy. So, you saw it too, right?"

"Uhm, maybe. Okay, the doll was there, alright. But I must be wrong about what happened just now. Chief, tell me how it works again. You know, a doll's eyes are open when sitting up and ...?"

"Yeah, Jim. When you lie them down, the eyes close - oh, no. Please don't tell me..."

"Then you'd better not ask, Chief. I'm going to bed without my sleeping mask and with every light in the place on."

"Im gonna make up the couch. How about I make up both couches?

"A fine idea. Maybe we can watch a video or something. You got any Disney?"

"I might. Sounds like a good night for a sweet, G rated flick. Got a preference?"

"Anything but Pinocchio."

The End

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