I write character-driven dark fiction.
What do you do?

Kate walked into her daughter's room with an armload of clean laundry to find the little girl hosting a half-dozen dolls and stuffed animals to tea. Curious George sat next to Bun-Bun while across from them the Little Mermaid shared a small bench seat with Dora the Explorer. At the third side of the table, to George's right and Dora's left, Sock Monkey and Calamity Jane at side-by-side, large blue eyes and shiny black buttons staring across the tiny table at Shelly. Shelly, for her part, sang happily as she poured imaginary tea into the mismatched plastic cups scattered about the tabletop.

“I'm a little teapot, short and stout, this is my handle, this is my spout. When I get all steamed up hear me shout, 'tip me over and pour me out!”

“That's very good, Shelly,” Kate said as she walked to the bureau. “Did you learn that song in kindergarten?”

“Yes, Mommy,” said Shelly, peeking into the Easy-Bake Oven she had set up next to her little table. “But I learned it from Elmo first.”

Kate straightened up from layering very small pants and shirts into the available drawer space and looked about the room.

“Didn't I hear Bobby in here with you a while ago?”

“Yes.” Shelly was holding each cup up to its owner's 'mouth' in turn, helping her guests enjoy their tea. “He was in here this morning looking at my oven. Then he went outside to play with Champ and I started a party.”

Kate recalled her son tramping past her with a ball in his hand, excited puppy dancing along behind him. That had been a long time ago, though, before she had even started washing the clothes she had just put in the drawer.

“No, honey, not then. I thought I heard him in here just a little while ago.”

“Oh, that,” said the little girl, peeking into the little toy oven again. “He just came by with Champ again. He didn't stay.”

“Oh,” Kate nodded. “I see. Well, it's good that your brother is playing with you, sometimes, and that he's playing with Champ, too. He doesn't really seem interested in playing with other kids a lot. I have to say I was a little surprised to hear you two getting along so well this morning. I didn't hear you two fighting at all.”

Shelly straightened Sock Monkey in his chair, where he had been slowly listing more and more to the left. The poor old boy had nearly tipped to the point of falling out of the chair entirely, and Kate smiled to think that maybe tea wasn't all that was in the doll's cup.

“Bobby wasn't playing with me this morning. He was looking at my oven.”

She gave Sock Monkey a little pat on the head, as if to say there, right as rain.

“...and trying to get me to give him one of my dolls.”

Kate felt the smile fading from her lips.

“Bobby was trying to take one of your dolls?”

“He didn't take one. That would be stealing. He wanted me to give him one. But I couldn't do that! We were just about to have a party! He was really looking at my oven.”

“Your oven?”

Kate looked at the sleek purple plastic shell of the little toy oven, comparing it with the memory of her own boxy, yellow Easy Bake Oven, a memory so old it was just as vintage as her toy would be considered today.

“What did he want with your oven, Dear?”

“He said if there was an Easy Bake Oven, there should be other easy things too. Like butcher things. He said there should be an Easy Butcher Set. He said he was going to go make an Easy Butcher Set of his own, with tools from Dad's shed. That's why he wanted one of my dolls. But I wouldn't give it to him.”

Kate's eyes widened in sudden alarm, visions of Bobby hurting himself quite badly with her husband's tools flashing through her head. Gary had power tools in that shed!

“My God, I hope he hasn't hurt himself,” she said as she started for the door, intending to search for her son.

“It's okay, Mommy,” said Shelly. “He's all done playing butcher, and he's not hurt or anything.”

Kate stopped in the doorway, looking back at her daughter, a tiny figure not much bigger than the dolls she played with.

“What are you talking about, Honey? How could you know?”

“Remember, Mommy? I told you he came back with Champ afterward.”

The tiny hand reached out once more to take hold of the handle to the oven door, but this time, rather than just peeking in like she was checking on a cake, or a batch of cookies, the little girl folded the door down, opening the oven wide. Kate saw the oven interior, spattered with viscous stuff, the color of wine but far too thick, the stuff coating several nearly unidentifiable lumps of something. They might have been entirely unidentifiable, were it not for the toenails. And the ears. Those floppy, little ears.

As the blood dripped from the open oven door to stain the carpet below, Kate began to scream...

~ ~ * * ~ ~

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