A/N: Inspired by "043 Square" from the 100 fanart challenge (see FanArt100 on DA). The opening narrative here is paraphrased and tweaked from what R.L. Stine himself wrote in chapters 24 to 26 of Bride of the Living Dummy with some (but not all) of the original dialogue intact.
Jillian Zinman found herself in a tight corner — figuratively and literally.
Green gooey vomit splattered across nearly all four walls of the basement rec room. Six-year-olds screamed and wailed, many nauseous from the stench, even more clutching each other. Jillian herself had been tripped in her rush to get help, and she had landed face first into the putrid puke. Goo on her fair skin. Goo in her straight black hair. Goo on her red T-shirt and blue jeans. She gagged at the smell, close to hurling herself, and her green eyes watered.
The stairs to freedom stood a few feet away. Just five steps. She could run for help.
But she had stayed put at Slappy's threat.
"If you go upstairs, I'll hurt them all," the dummy had rasped at her.
"Don't you touch any of them!" she had screamed, but she had stopped in her flight. Now, she stared at him, glaring in fear and anger at the wooden monster — an evil dummy made from a stolen coffin. The pungent odor from the hot goo didn't help her resolve, but she forced down the chills which Slappy's cruel voice sent rippling through her.
He still held Eddie Simkin by the shoulders, shaking him threateningly. He stood a little over three foot tall, but he easily held a commanding presence even without holding the birthday boy hostage. His white face had many scuffs and scratches from a brawl with his previous owner, and the brown paint he had in lieu of hair had been chipped. He wore a sport jacket with several red and white squares and a matching bow tie, which were underlined by gray slacks. Hardly any of the green vomit had hit him — it had come out of him.
Slappy's blue eyes rolled about, satisfied with his work, and then he turned back to Jillian, perhaps understanding she was one of the two preteens in charge while all the parents were next door.
"This is MY party now!" he told her, his domineering declaration oozing with excitement. "But I don't WANT a birthday party! I want a WEDDING party! I'm ready to claim my bride! I'm ready to claim the one who will be my SLAVE for life!"
Jillian widened her eyes. What in the world…
Her gaze shot to her best friend, Harrison Cohen, who still sat on the stool he had been using for their ventriloquist act. Mary-Ellen, the large, pug-faced doll with frizzy hair that belonged to Jillian's younger twin sisters, sat in the boy's wide lap. Both had been soaked in the gross goo.
Harrison met her gaze, and he shrugged helplessly.
Why didn't we get rid of Slappy when we had the chance? she mourned.
Slappy had caused her so much grief in the short time he had been in her home — kidnapping her pet lizard, ruining her first job with shaving cream, breaking dishes and destroying the dining room — that she had locked him in a suitcase, never intending to see his cold, grinning face again. Then, minutes ago, when Jillian had opened up a different suitcase to pull out Maxie, another dummy of Harrison, Slappy had been there instead. At Harrison's urging, Jillian had lifted Slappy, placed him on her lap, and started the show.
Now look where that had gotten them.
Frightened kids, a stomach-churning verdant mess, a hostage situation, and a wicked dummy demanding a wife to slave for him.
"I want my BRIDE!" Slappy bellowed, as loud as a siren. "I want my bride — NOW!"
"Okay!" Jillian managed to say in a tiny, shaky voice. "Okay. If we give you your bride, do you promise to go away with her?" she pleaded. "Do you promise you'll take her away and not hurt anyone here? Just leave and forget this place?"
Slappy's blue eyes sparkled with excitement. He nodded, and it seemed to Jillian that his smile stretched.
"Yessss," he hissed out like someone cheering their own victory. "I will take my bride away! She'll be by my side forever." He followed that with a cruel chuckle; his gravelly voice made it as rough as sandpaper.
He finally released Eddie. The poor birthday boy scurried to the middle of the room.
"Okay. Okay. Okay," Jillian whispered, doing her best to think.
She recalled the lipstick Slappy had left on her bedroom wall and mirror a few nights ago. Where is my bride? it had read. Did Slappy have any idea who she was?
Only one face came to Jillian's mind, and she hoped she wouldn't make things worse with her offering. She turned to Harrison. He still held Mary-Ellen.
"Give Slappy his bride."
Harrison gawked at her. "Huh?"
"His bride," Jillian instructed, motioning a giving gesture. "C'mon, dummy. Give Slappy his bride."
The click of clarity appeared on Harrison's face. "Oh." The large boy crossed over to the dummy, holding Mary-Ellen in both hands like he was carrying a birthday present.
Jillian wasn't sorry to give away her sisters' favorite doll. Mary-Ellen was one of the ugliest toys in existence: frizzy, brown mop-yarn hair, blood-red circles on her prominent cheeks, staring violet eyes, a heart-shaped mouth that looked crazed, malicious. Katie and Amanda loved her — and they often ignored Jillian to play with her, which inspired dark thoughts of revenge in their older sister. But Jillian had the feeling that the six-year-old twins would rather survive this party than hang onto their doll.
Harrison reached Slappy and handed over the plastic body, leaving her propped next to him. He hurried backwards, watching the evil dummy.
Slappy studied Mary-Ellen. For a moment he didn't speak, seeming beyond words. Jillian began to hope that he was too overcome with adoration for something just as hideous as himself.
Then he growled.
He flung Mary-Ellen right to the other side of the basement. "Are you CRAZY?" he screeched. "That ugly piece of junk! She can't be my bride!"
He spun and charged at Jillian.
She raised her arm to block him, anticipating an attack — but instead he grabbed her wrist, yanking her toward him. She barely stopped herself from landing on her knees, and she found herself staring into the puppet's bulging blue eyes.
"Jillian, YOU are my bride!"
His grip tightened.
"Ow!" she yelped, trying to pull away from him, but the warm vomit beneath her made her slip. Shock froze her brain. She hadn't heard him right. He had demanded somebody else. He had told a bad joke. He really meant Mary-Ellen. Or some other doll. The stench around her had to be affecting her mind.
Instinctively, wildly, she searched the room for her sisters. Katie and Amanda huddled a few feet away beside the stairs. They dripped with the gross green goo, and they watched Jillian and the dummy in mute horror. Harrison goggled at her, shocked as well. He took one step toward her, right in a puddle. He skidded a little.
Then Slappy tugged Jillian closer to him, demanding her attention. He grinned wickedly, and she didn't like how close his ugly face was to hers now. He leaned forward, tilting his head to whisper in her ear.
"You will be my slave. You will be my slave for the rest of your life!"
"No!" The scream tore from her throat. She tried to pull away. She pushed against his hard chest, pushed at the wooden hand trapping her. She thrashed her legs, trying to regain her feet. She used all her strength to escape him.
But the slippery goo gave her little freedom. And the dummy was stronger. His grip tightened even further. Her fingers began to feel numb.
Slappy smirked at her, amused and pleased. "A blushing bride, all for me. But there's no need for wedding-day jitters, Jillian — as long as you obey your Slappy."
She shrieked in disgust. She spun toward Harrison. He was bigger and faster. He could jump around them and reach the stairs. She tried to scream at him to go get the parents next door — but a voice cut her off.
"Let GO of that girl, Slappy! She isn't your bride! I AM!"
Jillian spun toward the owner — and stared.
Mary-Ellen clomped toward them from the other side of the basement, mad as an attack dog.
Jillian gaped at the doll. How...?
Slappy straightened, sneering at Mary-Ellen. "And you are?" he drawled.
"You worthless stick of rotting wood!" she screamed. She grabbed the front of his checkered jacket, hauling him toward her. Alarmed, the dummy released Jillian.
Jillian backed up against the wall, massaging her wrist. She glanced up the stairs. Could she…
"Stay where you are, wife, or I break necks!" Slappy commanded, struggling against the enraged doll.
Jillian stilled. One look at his furious face said he meant it.
Mary-Ellen throttled his wooden head with her plastic fist. "You'll be sawdust before you can touch her! I didn't bring you to life for HER!"
"I don't want him," Jillian stammered weakly. This couldn't be real...
Then what Mary-Ellen said finally registered. Jillian sat up, narrowing her eyes at the furious toy. The doll had brought Slappy to life? When? How long had she been alive?
Mary-Ellen snarled in Slappy's face. "You better shape up, or you'll see just why a certain place hath no fury like a doll woman!"
Jillian heard little feet scurrying, and suddenly her sisters were next to her. Katie took one of her hands, and Amanda took the other.
Katie rarely cried, even when she had been a baby, but now tears welled up in her little green eyes.
"We wanted to tell you about her!" she wailed. "Mary-Ellen wouldn't let us! She said if we told anyone, she'd hurt us!"
Amanda sobbed hard, tears mingling with the goo on her face. "Mary-Ellen is the one who did all those scary things you thought Slappy did!" she blubbered. "Those messages in your room. Stuffing your lizard in Slappy's mouth. Everything!"
"She did what with a lizard?" Slappy demanded, but Mary-Ellen shook him until his head clonked against the wall.
"Everything?" Jillian whispered.
"Everything!" Katie insisted. "Slappy didn't do all those things. Mary-Ellen didn't bring him to life until a few hours ago. She made us help her take him out of your closet and toss out Harrison's other dummy."
Jillian could barely fathom it. Two toys were alive in her house — and they were both evil. Her mind raced again over the things she had thought Slappy had done. Her poor lizard, Petey, trapped in the dummy's body. The birthday party last Saturday, her first real job, ruined when the whip cream in a trick pie for her clown act had been swapped with shaving cream, injuring two little kids. The broken dishes and the damaged dining room last Monday, which would cost her parents so much money to repair. Her parents grounding her and the twins for blaming a dummy.
All done by Mary-Ellen.
She turned to the plastic toy. "Why?" she managed to force out. "Why would you do that to me?"
Mary-Ellen sneered. "Because you said you hated me, Jillian. Because you'd never let the girls take me anywhere unless your mother forced you. Because you slapped me and said I was ugly and would tell the girls how you'd toss me in the trash if you could."
Jillian shivered. "I didn't... I didn't know..." But then she spun toward toward her sisters, at first looking for help against their favorite possession. Then she remembered what they had said. Mary-Ellen had threatened them.
She sat up. "What did you do to my sisters?"
"Nothing compared to what you'll be getting," Mary-Ellen snarled. "The twins have been good servants, so they'll stay with me once Slappy and I are ruling the world together. But you, Jillian — you are going to suffer. For how ever long I decide to keep you alive, you will be our slave, the lowest of all others."
She spun Slappy toward her again. The dummy had been listening with a cold expression, but now Mary-Ellen yanked him closer to the door of Dad's workshop.
"Let's get married right now, my darling," she urged. "We have a kingdom waiting for us once we say our vows!"
Slappy pulled back. "No way!" he snarled. "No way!" Before Mary-Ellen could do more than glare, he drew his arm back — and slammed his fist between her eyes.
Mary-Ellen staggered back and fell against the workshop door.
Slappy sent a kick at her. "I will rule. I promise you that — but not with an ugly rag doll like you." He turned to the Zinman sisters. "There's only one girl who has what it takes to be my queen."
He straightened his checkered bow tie, primping himself with arrogant ease, then advanced. The twins held onto their older sister. Jillian managed to get to her knees, pushing them toward the stairs to escape. But before she could follow them, Slappy grabbed her bruised wrist.
"Come with me, wife," he ordered.
Jillian tried to wrench away. "Let go of me!" she screamed. "Let go!"
"Leave her alone!" Harrison cried.
He attempted to bolt forward, but he slid and fell backwards. His dark head hit the hard basement floor. He groaned, clutching the wounded area.
Slappy snickered. "So much for your hero," he said with a baleful smile. His fingertips dug into her aching skin. "Come with me, and no one else gets hurt."
"Get off me!" she wailed. "You're hurting me! Let go!"
On her knees, she was closer to Slappy's height. He pulled her hard, nearly sending her nose first into another puddle of vomit.
"Never!" he hissed, grabbing her other wrist. "You're my bride now, Jillian. You'll go where I tell you to go. You'll obey any command I give you. I can be very nice to the ones I like — and I can be cruel if I have to be. Don't fight me, and I'll let you see your family in a year."
Jillian still struggled. Fear chilled whatever anger she had previously felt. She could barely think — but she wouldn't give in. She wouldn't marry a dummy — not an evil dummy made from a coffin!
"Let go!" she shrieked. "I hate you! I hate you!"
Slappy dragged her toward the stairs, herculean despite his size. "You'll never escape me, my bride!" he screamed in her face. "I'm taking you away — right — NOW!"
Then a door slammed open, causing Slappy to start and spin around — but it was not the basement door above them. It was the workshop door. Mary-Ellen stomped out and planted her feet. She faced the struggling girl and dummy.
"Jillian Zinman!" the doll screeched. She held up an item in her hand; it looked like the wooden white king piece from Dad's chessboard. "Lata ne ajo aga bera!"
Slappy stilled. "I know that language," he breathed. His wooden body shook.
Mary-Ellen jerked a nod, then pointed at the dummy. "Padla SLAPPY kara ne. Eela eela."
Slappy released Jillian, who shrank away from him. "Whatever you just said, you keep me out of—"
Mary-Ellen pointed at him — and Slappy's limbs clamped together, stiff as a board. Then she made a pulling motion as if she held an invisible string. Slappy's paralyzed body dragged across the green floor like a fish on a line. He disappeared into the workshop.
Jillian shivered. Any relief she felt died as Mary-Ellen glared at her. The girl inched closer to the stairs, intending to flee and seek help.
Then she saw her sisters, mid-climb. Frozen. Rigid.
Then she noticed how quiet the rest of the basement was. She whirled around, eyes darting about in sick dread. The six-year-olds littered the square room like green statues, many with tears dripping from their faces, but the droplets did not reach the ground. One boy had tried to run for the wall. He hung in the air like a puppet. Harrison had been in the process of getting to his feet, and he remained, half bent.
Then she noticed the vomit didn't reek anymore.
"What happened?" Jillian whispered.
"I invoked the spell of death chess," Mary-Ellen growled. "Winner marries Slappy. Loser dies. Now come." She spun on her heel, disappearing into the workshop.
Jillian's limbs felt as stiff as stone. She gaped at the frozen figures — frozen in time.
"Impossible," she breathed.
How was it that she ended up with two living dolls who performed magic? She had learned, thanks to the dummy's previous owner, that Slappy has been brought to life when his toy maker's evil went into him. But where did Mary-Ellen come from?
Then her brain woke her up. What had Mary-Ellen said about dying?
Jillian pushed herself to her feet, trembly, and stepped awkwardly toward the workshop, using the cleanest route she could.
Slappy had his back to one wall of Dad's shop; although life had made her father a lawyer, Dad's grandfather had been a carpenter, so he had grown up loving the craft. The room contained all sorts of power tools, planks of wood to be cut, and Dad's creations, both whimsical and practical.
Mary-Ellen used one of the towels Dad kept to wipe off sawdust from his equipment. She swept as much green goo off herself as she could, then she went to the shelf with some of Dad's completed projects. She pointed to the handcrafted chess board, which Dad had won a prize for in his tenth-grade shop class. Both the checkered field and the lovingly whittled pieces had been carved from white oak and black walnut. As Mary-Ellen focused her attention on it, the square board floated down to her. She took it and set it on Dad's unfinished coffee table.
"Let's play," she ordered.
The stiff Slappy growled, "You're insane if you think this will make me want you."
Mary-Ellen pointed at him. Then the squares on his sports jacket rippled like a reflection in a disturbed pool — and red and white cords sprung from the cloth. They zipped and snaked around his small body, binding him.
Slappy looked down, startled. Then he hissed. "Was the bow necessary?" he demanded. The red cords had formed a large, intricate bow, making him look like an unwanted Christmas present in a White Elephant game.
Mary-Ellen merely snapped her fingers, and Slappy sat on the floor, back to the wall and feet in front of him.
"Oh, you're gonna pay," he seethed.
Jillian gaped at it all. What was Mary-Ellen? "You-You could do that this whole time?" she gasped.
Mary-Ellen snapped her head toward her. "If I could, I would've dealt with you already," she said. "Since I'm the challenger in this death game, it increases my natural magic in regards to handling the prizes and the like. Slappy is our prize. You won't get my man without a fight."
Jillian held out her hands. "Wait! I don't even want him!"
"Don't lie to me! Who wouldn't want to marry such a specimen of manhood?" the doll demanded, spinning to look at Slappy with jilted devotion.
"Anyone with eyes!" Jillian cried. "Just take him and leave me alone!"
Slappy turned his head, and his face actually lost its smile. "My lovely bride," he rasped, "you heard the part about it being death chess, right?"
She stopped, stock still.
Mary-Ellen stood on one side of the coffee table, taking the white pieces. "I'm aware you play chess with your father. At least you used to." Her disturbing heart-shaped lips turned into a smirk. "It's been a few months, hasn't it? Good."
Jillian retreated a few steps. "Why?" she choked out.
Cold anger turned Mary-Ellen's violet eyes into sharp icicles. "You pushed me into this, Jillian. I had to put up with you slighting me at every turn, making my life miserable. I was ready to make you our slave and have you suffer. But now, I see what I must do. Even if I marry Slappy this second, he'll just keep wanting you for his queen. He might even try to off me just to make room on the throne. And you'd probably help him do it."
"I said I don't want him—"
"But this way," continued Mary-Ellen, "the spell will force Slappy into marrying me, since he's the prize. It'll also kill you, so two birds, one curse."
The words cut through Jillian like a knife of ice. She wanted to turn and flee. She wanted to fly up the stairs and run next door to her parents. But her knees knocked together too much.
Slappy struggled against his bonds, but in vain. He glared at the doll. "You're making a big mistake, creepface."
Mary-Ellen ignored him. She tapped the white queen, and her smirk returned. "My mother used the spell of death chess to destroy many of her enemies. The one who finally defeated her," she gleamed, "was me." She sat down on the bare floor. "Since I'm the challenger, I get to be White."
"What if I don't play?" Jillian asked faintly.
"Forfeit means death. But I think I'd enjoy my marriage more if I watch you suffer a little before you die."
The girl gulped. "What about a stalemate?"
"It'll be treated as a victory for the challenger." She pointed to the spot in front of her. "Sit."
Jillian stood in place. This can't be real. This can't be real.
Slappy spoke up from her left. "You can do this, my bride."
She groaned in disgust.
Mary-Ellen frowned at her would-be sweetheart. Then she chuckled. "Oh, I think I know what else we can play for, Jillian," she said. "As the challenger, I'll tweak the winner's pot and throw in another incentive. It'll make your defeat all the more painful."
"What could you even add?" Jillian asked.
The red lips became a sneer. She raised a hand, gesturing toward the time-stopped party. "The winner gets the twins. I hope you're thinking of that while you die."
That caught Jillian's attention. "Wait, what—"
The doll's head snapped toward the door. "Katie, Amanda, get in here," she commanded coolly.
Murmurs suddenly arose from the other room, and soft footsteps crept down the stairs.
A gasp came from Amanda. "What happened?!"
"Mary-Ellen! They're — They're all frozen!" Katie squeaked.
"I said get in here," the doll ordered.
The little girls appeared. They huddled together like panicked kittens, holding hands. Their identical pink party dresses, covered in green goo, made them look all the more vulnerable. Amanda leaned against Katie for support, and her twin tried to wipe the mess from Amanda's short black hair and her own ponytail. Their green eyes widened at the sight inside the workshop, but they jolted, gulping, when Mary-Ellen snapped her plastic fingers.
"Stand next to Slappy," the doll said.
Katie squeaked, "What's happening, Mary-Ellen?"
"Do as you're told. When this game is over, you'll have a better sister than this lanky wretch."
Amanda burst into tears, releasing Katie to clasp her hands together. "Don't hurt Jillian!"
"Please!" Katie begged.
Mary-Ellen frowned at them, and the girls instantly wiped their noses and eyes with clean parts of their sleeves. "By Slappy," the doll said. "Now."
Hand in hand once more, the twins tearfully crossed over to stand by the dummy.
"The barf is an improvement," Slappy muttered, looking up at them, but it lacked his usual bite, like he was only trying to cheer himself up with a joke.
At the exchange between Mary-Ellen and her sisters, something snapped inside Jillian. She rounded on the doll. "What have you been doing to them?" she demanded.
"I trained them. They were obnoxious before I whipped them into shape."
Jillian narrowed her eyes. She took a step forward. "Did you hit them?"
Mary-Ellen hooded her eyes in condescension. "What do I care what you think? You'll be dead soon. Take your seat now unless you wish to stand." She then moved her kingside knight. "The game of death chess has begun."
Jillian gritted her teeth. She plopped down across from the evil doll. "It — is — on!"
Jillian followed an opening technique her father had taught her to set up her defenses, intending to move the two middle pawns forward, then send her knights out. However, too late, she remembered she had to bring her pawns out one square, not the opening two. Mary-Ellen's lone knight captured the king's pawn in her second turn, and Jillian's king stood exposed to future attacks.
"Your move," the doll gloated, toying with the black pawn, the first capture of the game.
"Okay, okay," Jillian murmured to herself. Her mouth felt dry, and her throat still hurt from screaming in her efforts to escape Slappy's attempted kidnapping. She forced herself to ignore it. She studied the carefully carved alternating squares and their pieces, trying to remember what Dad said about thinking three moves ahead, but her mind drew a blank.
She glanced at her sisters and pushed down her fear. She squared her shoulders and started to protect her king.
Move this bishop. Now a pawn. Keep the queen safe but ready to attack.
Knight at the rim is grim, she heard her father instructing her, and she dared to start moving the horse-shaped pieces into the middle of the board.
Yet Mary-Ellen could play as expertly as Dad. By the time Jillian captured one of her pieces, the doll had taken three black pawns and a bishop and had her eyes on a knight.
Out of habit, Jillian started to run a hand through her hair, and her finger touched the warm green goo.
"Yuck! Yuck!" she groaned, flinging away her hand to fan off the flecks.
"I think it brings out your eyes, actually."
Jillian started at Slappy's rasp. She had almost forgotten he was less than five feet from her. She glanced at him despite her odium, and his arrogant smile made her bristle.
I don't want to die, but I can't believe the winner has to marry a barfing toy. Why does Mary-Ellen even WANT someone so gross?
Feeling annoyed enough to summon a bit of bravery, she asked, "Why would you throw up on everybody if you wanted to get married today?"
Slappy frowned. "That kid in the front row criticized your act."
That was right. Slappy and Mary-Ellen had driven it from her mind with their shenanigans, but she remembered now that Eddie had asked for better jokes. Then Slappy sprayed the gunk on the guests like a fire hose and took Eddie hostage to demand his bride as ransom. But what did an evil dummy care about that for?
Jillian narrowed her eyes. "Eddie was the birthday boy," she answered. "We put the show on for him."
"So?" the puppet retorted. "To insult Slappy's bride is to insult Slappy. The freak had it coming."
Jillian glared at him. "I can handle a six-year-old heckling me. I'm a big girl."
He smiled, lowering his eyelids. "Yes, you are, Jillian."
Mary-Ellen drummed the floor. "And she's also stalling. Make a move."
Jillian moved a pawn closer to her own knight to discourage the important piece's attempted capture. However, Mary-Ellen brought out her rook through an opening Jillian had overlooked and snatched up the pawn.
Jillian's heart pulsated, but she forced herself to study the board again, looking for any more blind spots.
Mary-Ellen turned to Slappy. "I haven't had a chance to ask you yet, but are you able to eat, my darling?" she asked. "I myself enjoy the taste of sugars and breads, and I would like to have a cake at our wedding feast."
"Eat dirt for all I care," Slappy snapped. "You'll get a lot of it just as soon as my bride buries you."
Mary-Ellen shook her head. "Did you intend to go for a human, or did somebody cast a curse of stupidity on you?"
Jillian looked up, frowning. "Wait. If you only brought him to life today, then you want to marry without even dating him first?" she asked, aghast and frustrated. Her life was on the line for a crush?
Mary-Ellen sniffed, tossing her frizzy head. "As if a human could understand. When a doll spots their mate, they just act."
"Boy, is that true," Slappy agreed, and his eyes swept over Jillian with relish. "The second I saw you in the dressing room — the second, my dear — I knew right then you were the one for me. Send all the other applicants home. Auditions were over."
Jillian inched a little away from him, trying to ignore his greedy gaze and focus on the game.
Then she remembered.
She first saw Slappy at the theater down the street. His ventriloquist, Jimmy O'James, had called Katie, Amanda, and Mary-Ellen to the stage to meet Slappy, trying to make the show positive after the dummy had verbally barbed him. That had instead resulted in disaster: Slappy had humiliated the girls.
Incensed, the twins had ran backstage with their doll to make Jimmy apologize. Jillian and Harrison had gone to look for them and had had to split up. Jillian had found her way to the ventriloquist's dressing room where he had been arguing with his dummy — then Slappy had punched him.
When Jimmy had spotted her in the doorway, Slappy had gone limp in his arms, and the young man had laid him on the table. After Jillian had explained her mission and discovered the twins hadn't come by, she had apologized for disturbing Jimmy.
"No problem," the ventriloquist had said.
"No problem," a raspy voice had echoed.
Jillian blanched at the memory. Slappy had already singled her out in that brief meeting? She hadn't even talked to him — hadn't even known he was alive!
"But — But I'm human!" she stammered, staring at him. "And I'm going to age."
Slappy let out a string of heehee's. "Shows what you know about puppet marriages."
Jillian looked away. "There's prettier girls than me," she said softly, "and most of them are old enough to get married."
He shook his head. "Listen. When Slappy says you're beautiful, you are beau-ti-ful." His eyes widened. "You're covered in puke, and I'd still marry you right now if I could just move my limbs. But I can wait until you win. I wouldn't have woken up in your house to lose my bride now."
Jillian returned to the board, trying to block out Slappy's almost cheerful patience. But her mind kept repeating, Death or a dummy. Death or a dummy.
Mary-Ellen gave an icy chuckle. "Oh, I'm going to enjoy your death so much," she said. "Enjoy your flirting while you can, tramp."
Jillian looked at her little sisters. Amanda still snuffled against Katie's shoulder, and Katie watched the chess game with enlarged eyes. Jillian's death would mean they remained under Mary-Ellen's tyranny. But if she got stuck with Slappy, he might harm them, just for the fun of it.
How was it that the coffin-made dummy she had locked up a few days ago, in an effort to protect her family, could be the lesser of two evils?
Jillian glanced from the twins, then to the Slappy, then to the doll. "Can you alter the prizes again, Mary-Ellen?"
"If it interests me."
She pointed at Slappy. "If I win this and get forced to marry him, can you make it so that he'll never be evil?"
The violet eyes illuminated. "Ooooh, now that is an idea!" she chuckled, rubbing her hands. "If I win, Slappy, you can follow your black heart to its darkest whims. If your bimbo wins, you have to be on the straight and narrow forever. So, who are you rooting for now?"
Slappy's eyes darted between the opponents, horrified. "Marry a hag and stay evil. Marry a beauty and become a dweeb and a square." He moaned, slumping back. "Why me?"
"You won't call me a hag once you're on a throne," Mary-Ellen insisted. "I'll give you a dungeon to keep your enemies in as a wedding present."
Slappy gazed at Jillian, miserable and blaming. He hid his face against the wall with a twist of his head, sulking over his rotten luck.
Jillian thought she started to build a pretty good middle game. Her pile of white pieces had grown, and her king had been safely castled.
Then Mary-Ellen slipped a pawn through Jillian's defenses and claimed her second white queen. Then the two queens went after the vital warriors. Soon, Jillian didn't have much left.
She covered her mouth, trying not to let out a moan of despair. She willed herself to remember what Dad advised about endgame strategies.
"Girls," the doll suddenly said, breaking Jillian's concentration, "one of you will be the flower girl at the wedding while the other gets to be a bridesmaid. What color dresses do you want to wear?"
Katie whispered. "You can choose, Mary-Ellen."
"I think pink would look good," the doll decided.
Jillian tried to ignore her, but the doll kept speaking.
"Your mother can sew a tuxedo for the groom, and we can get him a pink boutonniere to match the wedding party. Oh, Jillian, do you think Harrison would be interested in being the best man?" the doll asked. "After the wedding, he can reuse his suit for your funeral."
Jillian refused to acknowledge her.
"How about you shut your fat mouth and let the girl play?" Slappy ordered, twisting against his bonds and causing the giant bow to shake.
Mary-Ellen exhaled and tightly smiled at her intended life partner. "You know, your insults aren't as evil as you think they are. You come across as childish rather than menacing."
Mischief appeared in his cut eyes, and he lowered his head as if accepting a challenge. "Then if you're so above them, you won't care what I have to say," he said. "Like how you're so ugly, Medusa is afraid you'll turn her to stone. You're so ugly, Cthulhu mistook you for his mama. If I ever wanted to torture someone, I'd tell them to give you a kiss—"
Jillian slammed her hand against the floor and spun toward him. "Slappy, will you shut up?" she demanded.
He paused, twisting his head. Then he seemed to remember she needed to concentrate.
"No problem," he smiled, attempting to sound suave.
Yet his words reminded her of the dressing room, and a hot wave of discomfort flushed Jillian's cheeks to identical tomatoes.
Mary-Ellen steepled her fingers. "Enjoy her while you can, Slappy. I see checkmate in eight moves."
Jillian's head snapped up. "You're lying."
The doll grinned. "Find out in eight moves."
Jillian couldn't stand sitting anymore. She got to her feet.
"Are you forfeiting?" asked Mary-Ellen.
"You're only delaying the inevitable," the doll drawled.
Jillian wandered to the door, almost staggering. She leaned against the frame for support and looked out at the three-dimensional snapshot of agony. Is the whole world affected by this spell? she wondered as she glumly scanned the rec room. Does Mary-Ellen's power go all the way to Australia? China?
She thought of her parents next door. They had been so angry at her for claiming Slappy had destroyed the dining room that they had barely spoken to any of the girls. Jillian tried to remember the last thing she had said to them, but it was hazy. Why didn't she try to hug her mom before she left? Or tell Dad she loved him?
She then gazed at Harrison, still in the middle of regaining his feet to come rescue her from Slappy. I won't even get to say goodbye to you, she thought. Or to Mom and Dad. Or to Nana and Gramps. Or to Petey.
She wanted to scream, to cry. But when a small sniff escaped her, she heard Mary-Ellen snicker, satisfied with her suffering.
Jillian found an untouched spot on her soiled T-shirt to wipe her eyes. She gulped several mouthfuls of the still air until she could compose herself. She spun around, shoving her hands into her jeans pockets. She avoided eye contact with both toys and did a lap around the square workshop. She passed Katie and Amanda, who now sat together with as much distance between them and Slappy as they dared.
About a week ago, I would've been up at night dreaming of horrible revenge ideas to do to them, Jillian remembered. But they didn't really want to hurt me and ignore me.
She paused in her walk, then stretched out her thumb, index, and pinky. Mom did that to reassure the girls in scary situations, like trips to the dentist or before a school play. It meant "I love you" in sign language.
Katie and Amanda shook against each other, but they each weakly rose a hand, returning the sign.
"Stop that, girls," Mary-Ellen clipped, and the twins snapped to attention. The doll turned to Jillian. "I suppose you think you're a better sister to them than me."
Jillian glared. "You're not their sister."
"As if you can decide that."
The tall girl spun on her heel, facing the bugbear. "How could any doll become so hateful?"
Mary-Ellen fluffed her stained skirt. "I am merely what my mother created me to be. No less," she replied. "Categorically, I can say Mother's death was a necessary evil. I gained little pleasure in watching her die. The pain alone is at least to the square power of a normal death. Perhaps more. It's hard to get an accurate measurement."
Jillian widened her eyes. "Why would you kill your own mom?"
Mary-Ellen turned to the board. "She challenged me to a game, and I won it." She picked up one of Jillian's bishops, studying it. Then she raised her head. "But, like I said before, you drove me to this, Jillian. When you're dead, we'll finally be even. Return to the board now, or I'll declare it a forfeit."
Jillian woodenly stepped to her position across from the doll. She examined the pieces, but she couldn't think of a suitable move.
Her own mom wanted to kill her. No wonder she turned out rotten. She felt a swell of genuine sympathy for her opponent.
Then she thought of the whip-cream pie. Jillian and Harrison had bought that trick from the local magic store, intending to spray themselves in their clown act. Mary-Ellen had switched the whip cream for shaving cream. The doll had intended to hurt Jillian and Harrison. It was only on accident that two four-year-olds had been hit instead — and their screams rang in Jillian's ears even now. If things had gone according to the insane doll's plan, Jillian could have been blind that very moment.
Then she thought of her scared sisters and how her parents would find her dead body in the basement. She thought of poor Petey in his lizard tank, wondering where his dinner was when she didn't return to her room that night. Mom and the twins hated reptiles; Jillian had to beg Dad for weeks to get her lizard. Would her parents give Petey away to some stranger when she was gone?
She picked up a pawn and moved it, protecting her little black queen against the two white ones.
"Mate in six, Jillian," Mary-Ellen leered, moving a piece, "then I'll take my mate."
Slappy groaned, leaning back against the wall. "What did I ever do to deserve a Gorgon?"
Then at once Jillian saw a move — and a possible trap. She closed her eyes, hiding her face with her palms. Had Mary-Ellen guessed her thoughts already?
You can't blow this, Jillian. She let her voice come out softly. "Mary-Ellen."
She opened her eyes. "Whatever I did to you before I knew you were alive, I'm sorry."
The doll's painted eyebrow rose up her blank forehead like a picture come to life. "You think an apology will change anything now?"
"No," she replied, "but I know… I know that I wouldn't have slammed your head in macaroni or tried to keep you at home all the time if I knew you could feel pain and had your feelings hurt. Before I saw Slappy at the Little Theater, I never thought dolls could really be alive, but I get it. I see why you want to get even."
"And I will in six moves. Apology not accepted."
Jillian held up one palm. "Let me finish." She narrowed her eyes. "I'm only apologizing for the things I did that were actually wrong. But I'm not sorry for hurting a doll that put soap in a pie and almost blinded two little kids. I'm not sorry for making the girls keep you at home when you've been hurting them."
Mary-Ellen's eyes widened, but then the cold glare settled upon her face. "Impudent girl."
"And I'm not sorry for taking down a bully. You're not a victim. You're just a bully, and nobody's going to miss you when you're gone."
Mary-Ellen stared at her for a long moment — then she shot to her feet and swung her plastic hand right at Jillian's cheek. Supernatural strength knocked the girl to the floor. The twins shrieked in surprise.
"Ow!" Jillian cried out despite her resolve, the sting worse than a bee.
"Make your move, Jillian," Mary-Ellen ordered in a voice of ice. "If you want an open casket for your funeral, make your move."
Jillian crawled to her knees. Stars danced in front of her, but she gulped a few breaths and resumed her seat. Then she lifted her queen and took Mary-Ellen's last bishop, leaving it open as a sacrifice.
"Such a fool," the doll gloated, taking the slender game piece with her knight. "Your death will be glorious to watch."
Jillian closed her eyes, inhaled once, then she moved her own bishop as far as she could to the right, perfectly in line with Mary-Ellen's trapped king.
Mary-Ellen sprang back, scanning the board. "No, you must've made a mistake—" she screeched, but her high voiced erupted in a death scream.
Jillian covered her ears as the doll fell to the floor. She couldn't watch — and her eyes shot to the twins, who had buried their faces into the other's shoulder, sobbing. She pulled herself up and flung herself over them, blocking their view.
Only Slappy leaned forward, spectating the doll's final moments with interest.
Then the doll's screams ceased, like a radio flipped off.
Then the groans and weeping from the next room resumed as if uninterrupted. The putrid smell of Slappy's vomit returned full force, nearly choking Jillian with its odor.
"Gross, gross," she moaned. The stench was in her sisters' hair, but even so she couldn't bring herself to let go of them.
Harrison stuck his head into the workshop. "How did you guys get in here?" he demanded. He looked down at where Mary-Ellen laid. "Is she…?"
Jillian just hugged her sisters tightly. They trembled and wept, but she spoke gently to them. "You're safe now. You're safe. Safe. Safe."
Then Harrison cried out. "Hey, you! Stop!"
Jillian started as a small hand tapped her hip. Her head shot up, and Slappy stared at her with a frown.
The bonds and giant bow had disappeared. His ugly freckled face had tightened, looking strained.
Jillian shielded the girls behind her. "Don't even think about it."
"What can I do for you, Jillian?" he said tightly, like he had just swallowed a bug.
She frowned at him. "What?"
"What can I do? To help you out?" he clarified. He shuddered with revulsion. "I'm forced to be on the straight and narrow. It's so horrible. But I don't have a lot of experience doing good deeds, so tell me where to start, my bride."
She straightened. "I'm not your bride."
"You won the game. You have to marry me. Even though I'm good now, I can't cancel our marriage. Not that I want to," and here he grinned. "You're the prettiest thing I've ever seen in my life. We'll have a long, enjoyable life together for sure."
Harrison had almost tripped over Mary-Ellen, and he had stooped to pick her up, and now the still body dropped from his puked-on fingers. "What's he talking about?" he asked sharply.
"Long story," murmured Jillian, staring at the eager dummy. I'm NOT going to marry that thing! she wanted to scream. Her sore throat tightened in despair.
But the wails of the six-year-olds brought her back to earth. What were they going to do when the parents came back?
She looked to the door and the glimpses of the mess beyond. Then she turned to the shorter puppet. "Can you clean up your mess?" she asked. "Quickly?"
Slappy nodded, rubbing his hands. "Tell the kids we're doing a magic show."
Like Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Slappy made several cleaning utensils spring to life as quickly as the Zinman sisters and Harrison laid them down. Wash rags, mops, brooms, sponges all dutifully danced about the room, calming the scared kids who now thought Slappy's vomit was just part of the show.
Jillian and Harrison helped wash out the eyes of the kids who had gotten a face full of vomit. They weren't so easily soothed emotionally, and one girl wailed for her mother. Jillian forced Slappy to apologize to each of them, and he begrudgingly told wholesome jokes until they were laughing and bright eyed again. Fortunately, in all the earlier commotion, the birthday cake had been spared. The kids lined up for slices, and they soon sat on the floor, too busy munching for chatter.
Katie and Amanda snuggled beside Jillian, more chipper than she had seen them in what felt like months. She kept an arm slung around them as they enjoyed their cake — but her heart sank when she noticed Slappy watching her.
Harrison put on a movie for the kids; nobody wanted to start up the puppet show again. Jillian retired into her father's workshop, shut the door, and collapsed on a chair. The chessboard sat where they had left it.
I'm never playing that game again, Jillian vowed. She curled up and buried her face in her arms.
Then all the terror of the past hour hit her, and she wept — in relief for her survival — in shock of causing the death of a living thing, even if it was Mary-Ellen — in anger at the doll's murder plot against her — in rage at the misery her little sisters had to endure at those plastic hands.
When she could be herself again, she straightened and wiped her face.
"Now, we're even," she whispered to herself, resolved to block it from her mind from now. Then she thought of her future with Slappy, and she wanted to cry again.
I'm just a kid, she mourned. What would her parents say when they found out? Would Slappy try to make her leave with him like before?
Then, as if on cue, the door opened, and the magically reformed dummy slunk in. He shut the door and grinned at her.
"Finally, a moment to ourselves."
Jillian clutched the chair, springing to her knees on the seat. "Don't get any ideas."
He pushed himself off the wall. "No need to be shy, dear," he cajoled, shuffling toward her with awkward steps. "Now that I'm a good dummy, I can spare five minutes for a proper courtship."
"But I don't want to marry you," she protested, gripping the backrest. "You're a puppet."
"Don't be a bigot, Jillian. I'm sure you'll love marriage once you get used to me."
She held out her hands, pleading. "Can't you do something now that you're good? Find a spell to keep me from marrying you?"
Slappy's face grew serious. "Death bought this wedding, Jillian. Do you really want to see what happens if you disregard your prize?"
She curled up over the backrest, laying her head against her arms. "It's not fair," she whispered.
Slappy reached her then. "It won't be so bad," he rasped gently. "I'm incredibly talented, which you'll love, and you have many skills which I'm already fond of."
"You don't even know me," she sulked. "You've been asleep."
Slappy threw back his head and laughed. "Don't know you? I saw you when death was on the line. You learn more about a person when they are under attack than at any other time."
She sniffed at him. "You know what I meant."
"Fine," he said, folding his arms. "I'll just share the impression I got from you, and you tell me how accurate it is." He gave her an easy smile — now that he wasn't evil, it didn't look quite as angry or cold as before — and he began.
"You were planning to put on a puppet show with your friend's other dummy, right? That tells me you're a performer. You did the puppet show with me despite being scared, and you even came up with a new joke about my name and deviated from your other script. That tells me you can improvise under pressure. Mary-Ellen mentioned before the party that you were trying to start your own entertainer business. That makes you an entrepreneur. You beat Mary-Ellen in a way she didn't spot, so you must have some kind of smarts in your pretty head. She also mentioned that the parents are next door right now, so you must be responsible. Do I need to go on?"
His little face gleamed. She gaped at him, shocked that he could assess all that in a short amount of time. But instead of feeling flattered or any sort of warmth, she felt more like cornered prey.
Did I really survive Mary-Ellen only to get Slappy for a husband? She hugged her chest. She had never even kissed a boy before, and she didn't want to give her first kiss to a talking coffin.
Slappy peered up her. "Would you like another slice of cake before we have our wedding? Or did you want to change into something nicer first?" He smiled, flirtatious.
Jillian raised her head. "Wait a minute." She leaned over Slappy, hope flaring. "Did Mary-Ellen say when you had to marry the winner?"
His sliding jaw dropped. He narrowed his eyes. "Now, see here—"
Jillian grinned. "So, if I wanted to wait until I was, like, a hundred, I could do it, right?"
He glowered. He clenched his fist. "Technically."
Jillian clapped her hands once, chuckling with relief. "The dumb doll did something right for once!"
"Exploiting a loophole! That's just being a poor sport!"
Jillian felt like cheering from the rooftops. She shot up, standing in the chair and clapping still more.
"No need to gloat," Slappy muttered. "But you should know, even though you put off our wedding, you can never be with another." He raised his hand in warning. "Procrastinate all you want, but you can never have a different sweetheart. Only me."
She beamed down at him. "That's something I can worry about tomorrow," she said. "Today you have to be good and not force me to get married before I'm ready."
She hopped to the floor. "And you have to meet my parents," she said. "They grounded me for saying a dummy came to life. Even if it was Mary-Ellen who got me in trouble, you're going to show them the truth."
"I don't know if they'll let you stay in the house once I tell them you want to marry me," she continued. "But it serves you right if they kick you out, you know."
"Ugh!" he moaned again, clutching his chest as if she had stabbed him. "Why aren't I evil now? You'd be the perfect wife of a tyrant, you beautiful, despicable thing." His expression gravitated between disgust and reproachful infatuation.
Jillian pirouetted. She had never known anyone who literally danced for joy, but now she did a little jig, and — because she didn't mind rubbing salt in the wounds of a puppet who'd been thrilled to force her into marriage — she hummed a favorite song which popped into her head: "It's hip to be square!"
A/N: If you guys were wondering why I write so many AUs where Slappy befriends kids, this is why — because when you write him closer to the canon, he's a jerk! He doesn't even try to be sneaky about it either. Which is why it's fun to make him get his comeuppance.
So, did you know that BotLD was re-released? And that they made some changes to the text? Like what Slappy wears?
Original version: "He was dressed in a red-and-white-checked sports jacket that reminded me of a tablecloth. A white shirt with a red-and-white bow tie. He had baggy gray slacks and black shoes, very big and very shiny."
New version: "He was dressed in a dark gray sports jacket and a white shirt with a red bow tie. He had baggy gray slacks and black shoes, very big and very shiny."
Clearly, the new version is keeping things consistent with Slappy's normal appearance (which means I can start describing him in his gray suit from now on, haha). Still for the purposes of the "Square" motif, I'm glad to use the checkered jacket for this fic.