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About the Author

J.E. Deegan, a teacher/writer by trade, has a volume of published poetry and has had a number of short stories published in small-press magazines. He has also completed a novel and two screenplays. His writing interest is in spooky things; of things that make us know why we are afraid of the dark.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Outside In: Review by A.L. Sirois

Anything

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Sounds echoed down the hallway, from the other bedroom. Sharp, suffering, full-of-anguish sounds followed by soft, supplicating sounds. Terrifying yet familiar sounds her mother often made. Sounds Mitchy often made, too, most recently just a few minutes earlier when the man who had been living with them for the past four months had beaten her for reasons she no longer tried to understand.

He simply liked to.

Mitchy knew little about the man, only that he worked in a seedy section of the city known as Limboland, in a restaurant named Nighthawks, the same place her mother worked. At least that's what her mother had said when explaining that the man would help pay the bills they couldn't afford on their own. Mitchy had never been to Limboland, but she had seen stories on TV news shows about the terrible events that occurred there. It was a dreadful place, a place where wicked people did horrible things to each other.

And now the man had brought the evils of Limboland into her home.

In the doorway to her room, trembling with anger and pain while listening to the agonized cries of her mother, Mitchy felt the intense loathing for the sadistic man down the hallway suddenly mutate into something vastly more powerful. Being but seven years old and not yet capable of attaching words to all of her emotions, she didn't have a name for this newly evolved feeling. But in the very core of her soul she knew that what had been hatred for the man had turned decidedly downward toward something even more dark and raging.

Moving brought a fiery ache to her legs, especially to her stunted left one. She lifted her nightdress and the full moon frosting the window provided enough light to reveal that her bad leg was swollen and discolored with bruises. A throbbing pain beneath her left eye drew her fingers there and she winced at the sharp pain that ignited in her cheek. Her bottom lip felt full of hot needles as her tongue gingerly scooped a bead of drying blood from the gash at the corner of her mouth.

She limped to the bed in her small room where her rag doll Megan rested neatly on a pillow. Reaching for the doll, her hand froze in midair and a swift gasp hissed between her teeth. She rubbed at her eyes, which seemed strangely blurred, then squinted at something that must have been caused by a trick of the light. Moving closer, she looked closer, then believed. The tangle of stiff orange yarn on top of Megan's head had lengthened and was turning a silky, golden yellow. In the same instant that she grabbed at her own hair, Mitchy realized that her doll's had assumed an identical color and texture.

Only her own wasn't so long anymore, she noticed. And it was thickening and growing coarse.

Carefully lifting Megan from the pillow, Mitchy saw that the doll's legs were tumored with lumps and knots, in precisely the places her own were. A breath caught in her throat when she examined Megan's left leg, now as stunted and shriveled as her own. Her inspection shifted to Megan's face, which had been a blank featureless stretch of rough, stained fabric. She rubbed her eyes again until they hurt, but the odd fuzziness remained…was getting worse. But despite her clouded vision she saw a small jagged slash forming at the corner of a slowly widening mouth and a dark crescent-shaped swelling taking shape on Megan's cheek, just below a steadily materializing left eye.

Mitchy held her doll at arm's length and turned rigid with bewilderment. Her mind froze, a dark wave of dread began rising inside her - then quickly faded away. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell slowly open as she thought of the night before, of the carnival, and of the barker at the 3-PEAT BASKETBALL booth. She remembered what he had said: Anything.

"Oh, Megan," she whispered softly, embracing the doll and rocking her gently side-to-side. She smiled and placed her lips against Megan's newly developed ear.

"Anything?" she asked.

Then, focusing every ounce of energy on the bedroom down the hall, on the evil man there, she repeated the question.

"Anything?"

* * *

(continued)

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