Horla Flash Fiction (February 2021)





THE morning my wife became a doll, I was nursing a two-wine bottle hangover, and my guts were a toxic swamp. I sat at the kitchen table in our single-story brick rancher, waiting for the shrew to come in and begin her morning, fulminations about the government, the price of groceries, the cat’s veterinarian, or my cigarette habit. As I waited for what I thought was the inevitable claptrap, I put my head on the table and fell back to sleep.

Three hours later, I awoke. Except for the cat munching on his food, I was alone in the kitchen. I went to my wife’s bedroom to check on her. She was lying on her neatly made bed, in a gingham blue and white checked dress with a white blouse. She was a Wizard of Oz doll, Dorothy with everything but ruby slippers. Her bare feet had no toes. Her blue eyes, too bloodshot free to be real, stared at the ceiling. Well, no, dolls don’t stare.

My phone rang, and I went to my bedroom to retrieve it. It was my son.

“I have been trying to call mom all morning,” he said. “Is she all right?”

Panic! Immediately, I responded and wondered later why I said what I did.

“She took off on a trip this morning. The ship she is on has no cell phone service, so she’ll be out of touch for some weeks.” I could feel icy suspicion seeping through the phone.

I took the doll down to the kitchen and set it in a chair. The doll wife was a lot lighter than the real wife, although it had been years since I had lifted the latter. I sat her across from me, poured myself a cup of coffee, and asked the doll what I should do. Of course, there was no answer, but I found myself throwing out different ideas, and the doll listened.

No, dolls don’t listen. But they don’t talk back either. They don’t go on rants hurling insults and harsh language.  Talking to my wife without confrontation was a new experience, and I continued sharing my ideas with her as I fixed myself a sandwich. For fun, I offered her half. Her clear blue eyes seem to say, “Dolls don’t eat.”

I decided it was best to carry the “long voyage” story forward. I packed my wife’s suitcase and announced her voyage on her Facebook page, which was easy to do since the woman had no imagination when it came to passwords. I should have altered the posting date.

That evening I opened a bottle of wine, put two glasses on the table, and filled them both. My monologue went deep into the night as I talked about places we had been and adventures we had shared. Since dolls don’t drink, I drank the wine in both glasses, refilling them and frequently toasting my silent wife. It was the most fun I had had with my spouse in ages.

The next morning the gut swamp was back, and I stumbled down the stairs to get some coffee. There at the kitchen table was the doll wife, exactly where I left her. Unfortunately, she did not clean up the kitchen, and the place was a mess. Party detritus cluttered the table. My cigarettes left ashes there and on the white linoleum floor stained by a puddle of wine, spilled when I got excited, recounting a trip we shared to Paris.   Dolls don’t do household chores, an obvious disadvantage to having a doll for a wife. I sat across from her with my coffee and said nothing.

It would not do to hide the doll and the suitcase somewhere in the house. It would be best to bury them both in the back yard. Then I would invite my son over and, after placating his suspicions, dig her back up and set her wherever I wanted. I imagined her sitting next to me on the sofa as I watched television. The doll wife would not disrupt the flow of the show with inane criticisms and off the wall conspiracy theories. Best of all, I could drink both halves of every wine bottle that came in the house, and she would never complain.

I took the doll and suitcase out to the back yard, selected a spot near the graves of deceased pets, and set to work with a pick and shovel. The work was exhausting, and I took several breaks along the way. When I finally had a hole six feet in length and about three feet deep, I took the doll and gently laid it supine in the bottom of the cavity. I closed the eyes and placed the suitcase at her feet.

I then began the backfill. I threw shovelfuls of dirt on the suitcase, then the doll’s toeless feet, and the Dorothy dress. When I threw a shovel full of dirt on the doll’s face, the eyes opened. They were bloodshot. The doll sat up. It was not the doll anymore; it was the wife.

“What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” she shouted. “And why in hell am I dressed like this?

I stood, shovel in hand, dumbfounded as she stood up, brushing the dirt off her face and dress. A voice came from behind me.

“Sir, drop the shovel and step away from the lady.”

I turned around. Two uniformed police officers in my back yard had their pistols aimed at me. Behind them stood my son with a look of utter contempt on his face.

My sentence for attempting to bury my wife alive was ten years, with a lot of psychological counseling. Perhaps when I get out, she will revert to a doll, and we can pick up where we left off.





Steve Bailey is a retired middle school teacher starting a second career as a freelance writer. During his teaching years, Steve wrote articles about using computers in the classroom. Earlier in life, he wrote stories for two English language newspapers in Panama, The Panama American, and The Star and Herald.

He lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his wife, Cindy. His two children and five grandchildren live nearby. There he writes fiction, creative non-fiction, long stories, and short. He has a novel long manuscript in search of a publisher. His blog is vamarcopolo.blogspot.com

Title photo credit – Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

Horla standard disclaimer – image has no direct connection with the fiction