"Whoa, what a morning!" Lindy Powell exclaimed to her sister as they walked, dripping from rain, into the kitchen.
Her twin grinned back at her. Lindy hadn't seen a smile that big on Kris's pale face since before Mr. Wood had come to their house - and now that Mr. Wood was gone, no wonder she looked like she wanted to celebrate.
Barky, their black terrier, shook rain drops from his fur and trotted to his favorite spot to take a nap. From his frisky gait, the little canine didn't look at all like he had just survived an attempt on his life by a horrible, red-haired ventriloquist's dummy, who had been thrilled to strangle Barky to make the twins obey him. Maybe it was a good thing the dog could go back to normal so quickly. At least he wouldn't have nightmares. Lindy couldn't say the same thing for herself. But for now, she decided to do like Barky and try to forget her sister's evil puppet.
Ventriloquism had been a recent hobby which the twins had taken up, but where Lindy had had great success with her cute dummy, Slappy, Kris had experienced heartbreak and horror with her Mr. Wood. Lindy wasn't entirely sure how it had happened, but only a few days ago her sister apparently read words on a piece of paper in Mr. Wood's flannel pocket. That had brought the dummy to life, and he had gotten Kris in trouble with both their parents and their school. Then Mr. Wood had tried to enslave the twins. They had resisted him, but they couldn't kill him. The sisters had tried to bury Mr. Wood in the construction site next door, but he had escaped his grave. He had been sitting at the kitchen counter that morning, waiting for them.
Soon after, they had to save Barky. Then they were back next door among the steamrollers. Finally, finally, Mr. Wood was out of their lives.
Lightning flashed in the dark sky outside, followed by a rumble of thunder.
Kris touched her soaked clothes. "I'm drenched. I'm going up to get changed."
"Me too," nodded Lindy, and she followed her sister upstairs.
In their twelve years together, the Powell girls had encountered their own share of problems in being twins: identical dolls for birthday gifts from out-of-town relatives who didn't know their individual tastes; having grownups line them up to see if their broad foreheads, round blue eyes, wide noses, and dimples were really identical; being compared to Double Mint commercials and the Olsen twins from Full House. Yet in moments like these, Lindy was glad to have Kris; she couldn't imagine what she would have done if she had been by herself against Mr. Wood. He had had incredible strength, and he didn't have any problems hitting girls. They had tried to decapitate him, but he could not, would not die. Without Kris, Lindy might have become Mr. Wood's slave.
Of course, we wouldn't be in this mess if Kris hadn't tried to copy me and Slappy, a stubborn side of her whispered, but Lindy squelched that thought in a blink. After all it took for them to escape Mr. Wood without losing their dog or each other, Lindy was only too happy to move forward with her life.
Inside their room, Slappy sat in his usual chair, grinning at the girls. He looked just like Mr. Wood (their father thought the puppets might have come from the same factory), but instead of red hair and green eyes, Slappy had brown hair, blue eyes, and he wore a double-breast suit with a cute red bow tie instead of jeans and flannel. Kris had thought Slappy was ugly, but Lindy found him adorable.
However, what neither girl found cute was that their window behind Slappy had been left open. Rain swept into their bedroom, soaking the floor, and the whistling wind made the curtains carom against the frame like someone shaking out dusty rugs.
"Oh, no!" Kris cried. She crossed the room and leaned carefully across Slappy's chair to close the yawning window.
...And almost immediately, Slappy lifted his peach hand and clutched Kris's arm. "Hey, slave - is that other guy gone?" he growled in a raspy voice similar to Mr. Wood's. "I thought he'd never leave."
Kris shrieked. "No, no! NO!" She tried to lurch back, but Slappy tugged her arm.
He raised his brown head, and his wide eyes glimmered with undeniable mischief. "So, how did you kill him, Blondie Number Two?" he asked in a conspiratorial way, as if he wanted in on a great big secret. His gravelly voice turned into a high-pitched giggle, like a witch cackling over poisoned brew. "I'd just love to hear a good bedtime story."
Lindy sprang forward, grabbing her sister's other arm to rescue her. "No. Slappy, not you too!" she cried, pulling Kris back. "I liked you, Slappy!"
He turned his head. "Hmm?"
Kris took advantage of his distraction and yanked, freeing her wrist. The twins retreated to Kris's bed, staring at their new enemy. "Oh, how did we get into this?" Kris groaned, linked tight to Lindy. "There's two of them!"
"Hey! I'm one of a kind, Barbie!" Slappy retorted. He leaned forward, glaring at the girls. The curtains continued to dance behind him, but he didn't seem to care. "I'm better than that red-haired loser in every way, and don't you forget it!"
Lindy stared at her toy, and her chest tightened as if someone were twisting her heart with a wrench. Slappy - her Slappy - was alive, and he was wicked too. She had taken him to babysitting jobs, performed at a birthday party and at school. She had spent hours rehearsing with him on her lap, and now he was talking to her, and he looked just as angry and as brutal as the puppet they had just escaped.
Her throat seemed to close as she choked out, "Slappy, please don't be evil like Mr. Wood was. You're better than him."
He grinned back, his pretty blue eyes now frosty and malicious. He pointed at Lindy. "Why do you call me that, slave? Why 'Slappy'?"
Lindy met his gaze. "When I pulled you from the trash, I thought it just suited you. Something cute and funny."
His eyebrows twitched into a thoughtful expression. "Slappy. Slappy." His jaw clicked as he let the word roll from his mouth. "Hmm, I like it. Much better than what the toy maker gave me."
"Oh?" She looked at Kris. Rarely had they ever experienced what people dubbed twin telepathy, but right then she saw Kris had the same idea. Could they escape Slappy without getting into another fight and chase?
Lindy released her sister, but she stayed close as she sank onto Kris's dry bed. She tried her best to smile, using the skills she had acquired both from babysitting and from performing in front of crowds with her dummy. "What's your real name?"
Slappy's eyes darkened. "Nothing," he growled. "The sorcerer died before he could name us." For a stressed moment, Lindy wondered if she had asked the wrong thing, but Slappy smiled again - or rather, he smirked. "But I like 'Slappy.' Well done, slave." He clapped his stiff palms in a soft applause.
"Who's 'us'?" Kris asked, taking her place beside Lindy on the bed.
"The redhead," Slappy replied. "The one you call - sorry, called 'Mr. Wood'." He chuckled. "Ding dong! The redhead is dead! For helping Slappy, I will reward you, ladies."
The twins shifted uncomfortably. Was that a good sign or a bad one?
Lindy asked, "You will?"
"A king needs governors to make the people obey him. If you serve me, I'll give you girls power in my new kingdom now that I don't have any rivals left."
"What kingdom?" Kris demanded.
"Wait and see," he grinned.
Lindy leaned forward, folding her hands on her wet lap. "Slappy, please explain it to me," she pleaded. "Where did you come from? How did you come to life?"
Slappy raised his hands dismissively. "Later. First, pledge your loyalty to me, slaves," he commanded, pointing to the ground as if he expected them to kneel.
"We aren't your slaves!" Kris cried. Lindy nudged her side, and Kris changed her tone. "I mean, Lindy saved you from the Dumpster, Slappy. You should be thanking her, not trying to enslave her."
Slappy's dark eyebrows quirked. "Ah, so that's what Joe did with my body then?" he mused. "Well, he pulled me from a trash compactor, and I still wouldn't let him pull the strings in our partnership. I am not a toy to serve you humans. You serve me, and you will know your place - or else, slaves!" he snarled.
Lindy tried to keep a calm voice like she did when the Marshall kids threw tantrums. "Why do you want slaves, Slappy?"
He gave her a sneer. "Why else? You girls will take good care of me. I need some useful lackeys, and you two seem like fine specimens."
Lindy shifted closer. "I'd take care of you anyway. You don't have to call it 'slavery'. I already wanted to take care of you before, Slappy."
His blue eyes narrowed. "Why would you do that, human?" he asked, suspicious.
"You're my dummy."
Slappy snorted. "So, you don't want to be my slave, but you want me to be yours? That's rich."
"No!" Lindy cried. She held out her hands. "The way I see you - I mean, the way girls see dolls is like small friends or - or family. Like how some girls pretend to be mothers to their toys - no, no! I can say that better. Let me think - "
"A mother, huh?" Slappy repeated, interrupting. He narrowed his eyes, regarding Lindy, then said, "What do you mean by mother?"
Lindy exchanged another look with Kris. "Well, you know, how girls take care of toys. Keeping them clean. Taking them on walks. Pretending to feed them. Playing House and playing School."
"Go on," the dummy said, his expression not changing.
"I…" Lindy searched her memory. She had given away her Barbies and Skippers two years ago, and her baby dolls had been history even back then. "Finding them clothes to wear," she continued to list. "Taking them to a doll hospital if they get broken. Talking to them. Reading them stories. Watching T.V. Listening to music. Putting them to bed."
"Huh." His eyes didn't soften, and his smile still looked like a sneer. He touched his chin.
"...But I wouldn't try to be a mother to someone unless they wanted me to be," Lindy said in a hurry. "I can be a friend too. Totally cool."
Slappy blinked. He didn't reply right away. Then a rasp: "The last time I tried to get a mother, it didn't end so well."
"Really," he replied. His face contorted into a look of anger, then he scoffed. "But what would I need a mama for anyway? I may have come from a tree, but I'm no sap. Once wood goes soft, it's only good for the fire pile."
"Sure, sure," Lindy said, pretending to agree. "Who needs the mushy stuff? But there's also good things about having friends and family too."
He shook his head. "Didn't have a proper family either," he said softly. "The toy maker died and just left a journal before he could finish his experiments." Even with his carved smile, his gaze grew serious. "All I had for a family when I first opened my eyes was the redhead puppet and my toy maker. On his deathbed."
"Ohh!" Lindy shuddered, and Kris's hands threw to her mouth.
"So, no papa. No mama." Slappy inched to the edge of his watery seat, as far as he could before toppling off. "What would a mother do for me that a slave can't?" he demanded.
Was he making fun of her? Lindy studied his eyes. She had a feeling that everything hinged on her response. "A slave might do things because they have to. A family does things because they want to. To make you smile, for real." She paused and added, "And if you don't want a family, friends are nice too."
Slappy's eyes hardened again. "Which one would you be, Lindy?"
"I told you. I'd take care of you anyway," Lindy said, evading a direct answer.
He traced the surface of his seat, and a tiny stream of water fauceted to join the puddle on the floor. "Could you, would you…" he mumbled, and his grinning face seemed to become something like self-conscious. He closed his eyes briefly, and his teeth showed in a grimace. Then he folded his arms, sniffing. "Like you'd have a choice unless I gave it to you," he drawled. "I'll take either a slave or a family. Those are the only options you got, Blondie."
Lindy looked just as awkward. "I've never been a mom before," she answered. The dummy's eyes flashed, and she quickly, sweetly added, "But I could try. It's kinda like what Wendy did for Peter Pan, right?"
Slappy's smirk seemed to alter into something which wasn't entirely frigid.
An image of Mr. Wood flashed across her mind: how the dummy had tried to strangle poor Barky and how scared she had felt trying to rescue their dog. All because they wouldn't do what he demanded of them. But Lindy and Kris hadn't become his slaves, and now Lindy didn't want to enter a different kind of servitude. As Dad said, it was time for negotiations.
"If you don't try to make us your slaves anymore," she said firmly, "I'll be your mom, and Kris will be your aunt."
"Lindy!" her sister cried.
Slappy looked at Kris sharply. "Yes, Auntie?"
Kris's white cheeks grew pink. "I-I need to talk to my sister real quick," she stammered. "M-Mom and aunt stuff."
Slappy frowned at her. Then he waved his hand, giving his leave. "Don't make me come looking for you, Mama," he warned.
The twins retreated to the hall, still dripping water onto the floor. Kris leaned close to her sister and hissed, "You aren't seriously going to pretend to be his mom, are you?"
"What do you want to do then?" Lindy whispered back. "We couldn't kill Mr. Wood on our own, and we can't just throw Slappy under a steamroller whenever we want."
"Mr. Wood wanted to hurt us and tried to kill Barky," Kris argued. "Slappy seems just as bad."
"Maybe, but we gotta play along until we know if he'll be good," Lindy said. Oh, she hoped he could be good. "If he's never had a mom or dad, who did he have to teach him right from wrong? If we can get him to behave, he won't be a problem."
Kris fixed her blue eyes on Lindy's. "You really think you can be a mother to an evil dummy?"
"I gotta try," Lindy whispered. "You too, Aunt Kris. Can you help me?" She held up her pinky. "If we don't want another Mr. Wood, we gotta be a team," she urged.
They fought over almost everything and anything: toys, clothes, popularity, who got to hold the T.V. remote. Yet they could work together when they needed to. They had pulled together against Mr. Wood. If Kris helped her, Lindy knew they could survive Slappy as well.
Kris visibly shivered, and her hand rubbed the spot on her stomach where her own puppet had hurt her. She gazed at their bedroom door, biting her lip. Then she nodded. "A team," she repeated, hooking her pinky to her sister's, and they sealed it with a shake.
Together, they returned to the dummy.
"Welcome back, Mama," Slappy rasped, still sitting in the puddle of rainwater. He eyed the twins carefully, as if expecting them to spring a trap.
Lindy moved closer and knelt beside him. "It's almost noon, Slappy. What would you like to do?"
He fixed his eyes on her. "What do you usually do, Mama?"
"On rainy weekends like this, I like to read or watch T.V. or play a boardgame," she answered. "Have you ever played Clue before? We need three people to play it, so Kris and I only play it when we have friends over."
Slappy slowly rasped, "That sounds like it could be fun." He raised his little hands. "Will you carry me, Mama?"
Lindy nodded and then held up one finger. "But first, dear - uh, sweetie," she began, hoping pet names wouldn't upset him, "Mama has a rule. If you want to be part of this family, you can't be mean to us like Mr. Wood. You have to be better, son."
Slappy stared up at her. His painted eyes seemed to grow wider. Even in the dim light, they appeared to twinkle, just for a moment. "I promise you this, Mama," he rasped. "I will be better than the redhead."
Lindy nodded, trying to put every particle of sunshine that she could into her smile. "Let's get you dried off, son."
He lifted his hands again, and Lindy drew him onto her shoulder which was still soaked from chasing his brother in the rain. Should she give him a little squeeze? No, not right now. She patted his head, and he scissored his arms around her pale neck.
"I like your dimples, Mama," Slappy said. "I'm glad I don't have an ugly mother."
"I think you're cute too, honey," she answered.
Lindy headed for the hall while Kris finally closed the window. Lindy pulled out a blue towel from the linen closet and draped it around her puppet's tiny back. Thunder rumbled outside, and despite it being morning, shadows filled the second floor like twilight. As Lindy carried Slappy to the upstairs bathroom, the dummy pressed his face against her ear.
"I'll be your good son if you'll always be my good mama," Slappy whispered, and Lindy heard a hint of affection in his throaty voice - and a clear threat.
Lindy made her smile wider. "No problem, honey."
A/N: Since Stine (in the Movie Verse, that is) supposedly wrote Haunted Halloween before any of the NotLD books in that universe, I had the idea of using Slappy's desire for a mother and bridging the two points on Slappy's timeline.