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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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"You'd like one of those, wouldn't you?"

Mitchy's heart quickened, her eyes locked on the shelves lining a side wall of the 3-PEAT BASKETBALL booth. There, frozen in graceful poses, wearing elegant Victorian gowns, their dainty porcelain faces painted and smiling, were the most beautiful dolls she had ever seen. They were the prizes for making three consecutive shots with a basketball.

The man had easily made his first two shots, and Mitchy glanced quickly to him, then to the ground, then to the barker who stood stiffly behind the counter with his arms folded across his chest. He winked at her then looked intently at the man.

"Well, Mitchy?" the man asked, confidently tossing the basketball from one hand to the other. His face held a smile that looked friendly on the outside, but Mitchy was used to it and no longer trusted it. She didn't because the man wearing it regularly beat her and her mother. She didn't because he constantly mocked and taunted her about the shriveled left leg she had been born with, the leg the doctors said she would always just drag along behind her like a stack of stones. She didn't because she had grown to hate this cruel, wicked man who made life so miserable for her and her mother.

Still, she wanted to believe he would win one of the beautiful dolls for her. After all, it had been his idea to go to the carnival, even though he made her silently watch from a place out of the way while he played this game and that. But maybe this time would be different. Maybe just this once. Maybe.

"Well, do you want a doll or not?" The man's voice thickened and grew surly.

Mitchy nodded once, heard the familiar sneer, and watched the ball fly from the man's hand to ricochet like a bullet off the backboard well away from the basket. He then pointed at her and howled until his mouth became a great open cave and his face marbled with purple blotches.

Shame and anguish blended in Mitchy like a swirling fiery cloud. Shivering, trying desperately not to cry, she looked at the barker, who was staring at the man as though he wanted to kill him. He shook his head and glanced sadly at her.

"Look, mister," the barker then calmly said to the laughing man. "Let's just say you made that shot, okay?" He turned and reached for one of the exquisite porcelain dolls.

The man stopped laughing. His mouth tightened to a flat, hard smirk. "No you don't, buddy! The rules say make three out of three. I didn't, and I say she'll just have to do without. Understand!?"

Mitchy clenched her teeth and fought to hold back the tears gathering in her eyes.

The barker breathed deeply and nodded. "Okay…no pretty doll. But how about this?" He reached beneath the counter, pulled out a lumpy, badly soiled rag doll, and held it up for the man to see. Ludicrously ugly and layered with dust, the thing was a floppy bundle of stuffed cloth that looked decades old. Sitting atop this spongy pile of rags was a faceless head - a blank, baseball-sized fabric sphere crowned with a tangle of orange yarn for hair.

Watching the barker, anger rose like a sudden storm in the man. His teeth snapped together, his brow furrowed into waves and his hands curled into fists. Then his seething gaze shifted to Mitchy, who was staring curiously at the misshapen heap. The storm abruptly receded from the man's face and he laughed contemptuously as he turned and walked from the booth. "Yeah, why not?" he brayed. "It looks just like her."

The barker carefully brushed the dust from the rag doll and handed it to Mitchy. She took it and smiled warmly.

"How old are you, Mitchy?" he asked, leaning over the counter.

"Almost eight."

"Well, how about that. So is your doll."

Mitchy's eyes beamed. "Really?"

"That's right."

"Does she have a name?"

"You can name her anything you want."

"How about Megan? That's my middle name."

The barker nodded and smiled warmly. "That's a mighty pretty name. I think she'll like that just fine."

"But she has no face."

"No, not yet, Mitchy. But she will."

Confused, Mitchy squinted at the barker. "She will? When?"

"When you decide."

Mitchy remained bewildered.

The barker leaned closer. "Megan is your friend now. Your best and dearest friend. She'll be anything you want her to be."

"Anything?"

"Anything."

"I don't understand."

"You will, honey. You will. Now, you'd best hurry along before that man gets angry again."

Mitchy's eyes turned to ice. Her voice deepened to a low, whispery growl which the barker knew wasn't intended for him. "He isn't my dad, you know."

The barker smiled softly and gently patted her cheek. "I know, honey. I know."

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