Once upon a time there was a lady who made toys. She lived in the woods, and one day she found nine dead babies in the snow.
Stitches and Smoke
By Sophie L Macdonald
What disturbs me most is not the emptiness of Matthew’s room but the thin white envelope on his bed. One word is printed across it in thick red felt-tip pen, smudged by Matthew’s usual way of resting his hand on the ink as he writes.
Dr Pleasance places a hand on my back, and I creep across the room as if approaching a venomous snake. I sit on Matthew’s bed and am immediately overwhelmed by his smell. He is a baby.
“We need to call the police,” I say urgently, but my hand is reaching for the envelope.
The letter inside was written by Matthew. It has his manner of sometimes forming the letter F back to front, and occasionally confusing a B and a D, but the words are not his at all. Matthew can’t write like this. He doesn’t know these words.
I read the letter aloud and my whole body starts to shake.
“Dear Mummy and Daddy
Once upon a time there was a lady who made toys. She lived in the woods, and one day she found nine dead babies in the snow. She was very sad because she wanted a baby, but didn’t have one, and these were all just thrown away in the snow to die. She made a bonfire in her yard for their bodies, and she sat by it, stitching a doll and crying for the babies who died. With every loop and jab of her needle she sewed in love and protection for babies, and spite for parents who were murderers. As the fire got higher, and smoke filled her yard and her house, she finished her doll and she knew what she had to do.
The toymaker went to the farm where she found the dead babies and she knocked on the door. The bad mummy answered the door, and pretended she was nice. The toymaker gave her a doll and said she would have a baby soon and the baby would want the toy. The mummy took it, but when she closed the door she laughed at the toymaker and said she was never having a baby. She threw the doll in a corner and forgot about it.
Then she got pregnant, and when she had the baby she went to put it in the snow like the others, but she found she couldn’t. So she kept the baby, and called it Mary, and gave it the doll lying in the corner of the room. Mary called her doll Charlie. He was one of nine.
When the mummy and daddy were killed in their sleep, Charlie died in his sleep too, and Mary became one of nine.
Later a new mummy and daddy lived in the house, and they had a baby they tried to kill called Ninny. He had a doll called Mary, and she looked after him until he became one of nine too.
The toymaker couldn’t save the babies, but now those babies are saving everyone from the bad mummies and daddies.
Ninny and I have gone away but we will come back soon. I know what you did, I know why I was born, and I know now that you are a bad mummy and daddy.
I am one of nine, and I won’t let you hurt any more babies.
We look at each other in silence for a moment.
“Don’t call the police,” I say.
“Lisa, he’s six,” she says.
“He’s going to kill us,” I stare at the curtain floating around the window like a ghost, “unless we find him and stop him first.”
“He’s just a little boy,” she says, but her voice is weak.
I am thinking of the toymaker, stitching furiously in the smoke of the fire. I can’t say what I’m thinking out loud, but the words are so bright they burn into the back of my eyes.
I don’t know if Matthew is real.