A drawinng of a handmade doll with pins in its chest. Caption reads: "A weird hand-stitched doll."

Cult short story by Iris Carden

Settle in dear reader while I tell you the strange tale of Julie, who inherited a nice house in a neighbourhood that wasn’t as nice as it seemed.

Julie had mixed feelings the day she moved into her grandmother’s old home. Of course she was delighted to finally have a home of her own, and not have to answer to landlords anymore. She was also sad, and quite horrified that her lovely grandmother had been murdered in that very same home.

Police had called her grandmother’s killing a “robbery gone wrong”, and had failed to apprehend the offender. Julie could not imagine a robbery going right, and regularly called the police to ask for updates on their investigation. Eventually the detective in charge had threatened to charge her with harassment if she kept calling.

In recent years, Julie had been visiting most weekends to help her grandmother manage the house and garden, so she knew most of the neighbours by sight, if not to speak to.

The house was an old Queenslander, with wide verandahs all around, and the shade helped to keep the interior of the house cool. Julie found the verandah a comfortable place to sit and read, or look at old photos and remember her grandmother.

Julie took a break from unpacking, and was sitting on the front verandah, lost in a book, when the woman who lived next door dropped by to visit. The woman invited Julie to her church. Julie politely declined, explaining quite honestly that she was still close enough to go to her old church, the one her grandmother had gone to as well. The neighbour told her everyone in the street went to the Church of the Enlightened Mind, and if Julie wanted to fit in, she would need to go there too, and invited her to think about it. She insisted on giving Julie a note with her phone number on it so Julie could call her when she wanted to go.

Julie considered the whole encounter odd, but then recalled her grandmother telling her the neighbourhood had changed as her generation were dying, and some very strange people were moving in, and many were pressuring her to join a cult.

Well, dear reader, this was not the last odd encounter she would have.

The next day a pushy woman in a business suit rang her doorbell. The woman’s name was Gerda Swanston, and she was a real estate agent. She told Julie she had a buyer waiting who would pay above market price for her house. Julie explained she’d just moved in and wasn’t planning to sell. Gerda Swanston then asked if Julie planned to join the Church of the Enlightened Mind. Julie said she was not. The real estate agent explained that everyone in the street was a part of the church, and she really ought to join, or sell to someone who would. Julie closed the door in her face.

Looking out the window, to ensure the woman was gone, Julie saw her across-the-street neighbour getting into his car to go to work for the day. She realised it was the detective investigating her grandmother’s murder. Or was he the detective who was not investigating her grandmother’s murder? Was he also a part of this church?

Julie worked from home, and had turned one of the bedrooms into an office. From there, she could see out over the back yard, at the many fruit trees and, ornamental trees, her grandparents had planted years before. A couple of rainbow lorikeets were there drinking nectar from a drunken parrot tree, and having a great time doing it.

She thought she heard a sound at the front of the house, and went out to find on the verandah floor, a hand-stitched calico doll, with button eyes, and three pins in its chest.

She picked the doll up and turned it over, noting that it was so badly made it could have represented a seal as easily as a human, and there was nothing personal about it at all, nothing to represent anyone.

Walking back to her office via the verandah, she was in for a horrible shock. The rainbow lorikeets were on the back verandah, dead, blood smeared over the floor and the back door of her house. Killing innocent, if mildly intoxicated, birds seemed to Julie an extreme offence. It had been done so quickly and quietly. She’d only been at the front of the house for a couple of minutes.

Julie was done with the nonsense. She pulled the pins out of the doll, thinking what amateurs these people really were. Didn’t they know the doll wouldn’t work without something to relate it to the person they were hexing? She found the business card the detective had given her when he’d spoken to her about her grandmother’s death, the real estate agent’s business card, and the note the next door neighbour had written with her phone number. She stuck a pin through each of them, and into the doll’s chest.

Three heart attacks should be enough to persuade the Church of the Enlightened Mind to leave her alone. If not, she was capable of doing them far more harm.

Oh, dear reader, did Julie say she was still going to her grandmother’s church? She meant to say she was still going to her grandmother’s coven.

I invite you, dear reader, to look out for more:

Strange Tales

While you’re here…

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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