Janet sat at her sewing table, listening to the radio as she continued the work on a bridal dress that’d been ordered from her shop three days ago. The wedding was due to happen New Year’s day, with the dress to be finished the day after Christmas. She only had three days left, but she had confidence that she would have the dress finished in time; she only had to do the lace trim and work in the corset that was to help the bride achieve the thin look she desired for her biggest of days.
The radio softly played some nameless Christmas carol as Janet sat, starting the lace at the hem of the dress. Squatting low, the Japanese woman’s back would ache in the morning for being so crooked for so long, but the dress would be worth it. It was truly going to be one of her better pieces, and for good reason; she’d charged an arm and a leg to the bride (technically the bride’s father) to make this dress, as she was full up on orders for alterations already. The father had been reluctant at first, but his daughter’s insistence had won him over. Janet suspected that this was a rushed wedding for a reason, a reason that had caused Janet to look over the girl’s stomach on more than one occasion during their fitting sessions. The daughter had caught her looking, a strained look on her face as Janet ghosted her fingers over the girls frame to keep up with the measurements.
Now, with the corset already set into the dress, set with elastic edges so that it would stretch to conform more to her body so as not to endanger the baby (should there be one), Janet was able to focus on the easier parts of her dress making and take a chance to relax and enjoy the season that was Christmas.
Not that she celebrated mind you; she and her youngest were Buddhist, with her older daughter floating somewhere in the ether when it came to questions concerning life. College does that, Janet thought bitterly. Hopefully she’d grow out of this rebellious phase when she meets a boy.
Her youngest, Julia, was only nine years old and practiced the old ways with her mother every night, lighting incense in the small shrine they had set up in the hall closet and praying to their ancestors for guidance in the coming days. Julia was a good girl, and Janet was proud of how much of a young lady she was becoming every day.
Setting her needle in the dress to hold her place, Janet reached over and turned down the dial, so as to listen for her daughter and to make sure she was okay. The howl of the wind beat against the shutters outside, and the faint noises of giggling made Janet smile.
“Good,” Janet said as she turned the radio back up. “Probably playing with her imaginary friend again.”
Janet had been surprised when Julia had begun spurning away other children in favor of playing with her imaginary friend Zozo. Janet had been a little concerned at first, but had finally decided that like her oldest daughters religious wavering, this too was a phase that would pass. Zozo was apparently a good influence on her as well, encouraging her to pray to her late father and grandfather every night and reminding her to do her chores. Janet had finally given up worrying over how her daughter was spending her time, so long as she aided in keeping the home clean and kept up with her homework.
Reaching down to grab her shears, Janet cursed when she patted an empty spot on her table. Looking around, she couldn’t see her shears anywhere in sight; and these were big shears, some eighteen inches in length, made from polished iron. It was kind of hard to misplace them. Sighing, Janet decided to just use her small pair of scissors to clip away a length of lace. This forced her to be more careful and take a bit more time, but the result was the same; a foot and a half of lace ready to be sewn into the trim of the wedding gown.
The radio crackled for a moment, causing Janet to look over at it. The old battery powered radio was one she used in her shop beneath her home, and was reliable to a fault. Reaching over to fiddle with the dials, Janet caught sight of her daughter’s short frame standing in the doorway, just over her bed.
She was dressed in the blue dress Janet had made her for her birthday, a sleeveless blue silk dress that had a half-jacket she wore to keep her arms from growing cold. She’d worn it just a few days earlier to have her picture taken with Santa at the mall, and Janet hadn’t had a chance to clean it yet. It didn’t look dirty, but with silk you needed to clean it after every wearing so as not to accumulate stains.
“Julia! What are you doing there, you scared me!” Janet said, giving her daughter a cross look. She turned back to her radio, fiddling with the dials. “Go take off that dress this instant and get into your pajamas, it’s almost time for bed.”
“Zozo said I don’t have to go to bed tonight,” Julia said, her tone flat.
“Well you tell Zozo that so long as you live under my roof, it’s my decision when you go to bed!” Janet scolded her, smiling as she found a channel on her radio, the sound of an orchestra filling the room as they played a slow and melodic tune.
Turning to look at her daughter, Janet’s eyes went wide as she saw Julia leaping down from the bed, having obviously climbed up onto it while Janet was busy. Held tightly in her hands was a pair of iron shears, shears that sank deep into Janet’s neck as her daughter landed next to her. A spray of arterial blood stained the pristine white dress and Julia’s silken clothes as Janet gasped for air, too stunned to really move from her seat. She let out a choked cry as Julia, who had righted herself upon landing next to her mother, reached up and yanked the shears free from her neck.
Janet dropped to the ground, blood pumping from her neck in great gouts as her daughter stabbed her again and again with the shears, straddling her mother’s body in order to get better access to the exposed back.
Janet’s eyes glazed over as the life ebbed from her frame, her drastic loss of blood causing her to finally pass onto the next life. The last thing she saw was a young boy dressed in the clothes her grandfather had worn as a child, his pale face streaked with black veins, kneeling next to her and staring into her eyes.
Zozo looks up at me, his face blank save for the black lines beneath his skin. I smiled at him, trying to reassure him that it should work. Mommy always told me that love was one of the most powerful forces in the universe, and that it couldn’t be beaten by anything.
Tossing the shears aside, I grabbed Mommy and sat her up in her chair, eyes wide and her mouth open, drool trailing from her lips to the front of her shirt. I grabbed a section of lace that wasn’t stained from the dress and wipe Mommies face for her, knowing how she was about such things. She would always make me blow my nose, holding the Kleenex for me whenever I was stuffy, and she’d wipe away smudges of dirt that were on my face after I was done playing.
I thought that was why she was happy when I started playing with Zozo, having found him only a few weeks ago. He walked up next to me, his skin shivering and wet like it always was. Whenever I tried to dry him off or help him, he’d back away and vanish. He’d come back after an hour or so, but he never let me try and clean him.
I guess he wanted his own Mommy to do that for him.
Looking into his shimmering black pools that were his eyes, I smiled at him. “What now Zozo? She’s asleep like you said she would be, but the whole bedroom is a mess. She bled everywhere!”
Zozo just looked at me, tilting his head to the side as he silently pondered what should be done to clean this up.
“Wait, you think I should clean this up? Why do I have to clean it up?” I asked, somewhat hesitant at the thought of cleaning all this up.
He rolled his shoulders in a shrug, pointing at the wedding dress and miming the actions of sewing and then scrubbing before pointing at me. I shook my head.
“I can’t finish that dress, let alone clean it! Mommy had it on rush order and had been working on it for ages!” I said, the pit in my stomach growing as I watched Zozo rub his pale chin. I stamped my blue shoes down angrily. “You said if I made Mommy sleep she’d finally get the rest she deserved! Now you’ve left me to handle all the work that Mommy had to do, plus cleaning up her bedroom!”
Zozo looked at me for a moment before looking over at the shears, cast aside after puncturing Mommy for the fifteenth time. The first time had put her to sleep, so fast that she didn’t even close her eyes, but Zozo looked so happy while I was using the shears, he clapped and clapped and danced about madly; I just couldn’t stop until the blood stopped flowing. I caught him staring at my feet and then at the bed, one of the only pieces of furniture in the room not stained with puddles of blood. He looked at me pointedly.
“She doesn’t have any left!” I protested, holding up Mommy’s limp arm and letting it drop. She’d become as pale as Zozo. The radio, still playing some old music of hers, went to static for a moment as the dial slid through the channels. It stopped on a channel where no music was playing, a dead channel. Ninety-Nine point Nine.
“We need to get you out of this Julie, or else you’ll be stuck cleaning everything. And imagine how much your sister will lord it over you when she finds out how much you have to clean?” The radio whispered in a light, airy tone.
I looked over at Zozo, who merely nodded. Looking back at the radio, I walked over and picked up the bloody shears. “Will you play some music for me while I do it? Mommy went to sleep with music.”
Zozo looked at me sharply. “What do you mean when you do it? You don’t need to go to sleep, you’re not tired!”
“But if I’m asleep I’ll get out of having to clean this mess up!” I chirped, walking over to Zozo as the radio crackled angrily.
“But what about me? Who will I play with if you’re asleep?”
“You can play with my sister,” I said, pressing the shears into Zozo’s hands. He held them as if they were a sword, gripping the blades with a pale hand.
“Your sister, huh? She doesn’t sound too much fun…” The radio sighed.
“She can be, so long as you play the right games. I always like to scare her.” I giggled, thinking of the times I’ve jumped out of the laundry hamper at her.
Zozo’s eyes widened as he looked at me. “Scare her? Hmmm… listen, if you want to go to sleep, let me help you. That way, you can have a really restful nap.”
“Just like Mommy?” I asked, looking over at her.
“No, not at all. You would lay down in bed, and rest there. While you sleep you’ll be able to dream, and still play with me. Together we can scare your sister!”
“Yeah, that would be so cool! Ever since she went to college she barely has any time for me anymore.”
“I’ll always have time for you,” the radio popped as Zozo smiled. “Now go grab one of your dolls and come back in here.”
“Because you want to go to sleep with a friend, right?” The radio pressed.
“I guess…” I said as I walked past Zozo and out of the room. Moving into my room, I go over to the small bed where my Princess doll is sitting. She’s an old Chinese figurine, with movable limbs. She’s been in the family for ages… Zozo seems to really like her. I walked back into the room, holding up my Princess to show Zozo. He’s already placed to pillows at the headboard, and is standing by the bed with the shears.
“Perfect choice,” the radio crackled, “that’s a doll with character.”
“I knew you’d like this one!” I said, walking over to Zozo. “What now?”
“Climb up to the foot of the bed and stand there. Then we’ll play one last game of deadfall, okay?” The radio instructed.
I smiled; I like dead fall. It’s a game where I climbed up high and fall backward and let Zozo catch me. It felt like I landed on a cloud when he caught me, gently placing me on the floor after I jumped from a piece of furniture.
I climbed up onto the bed and stood shakily on the mattress. Normally I don’t have shoes on in the house, but my blue shoes are clean so it’s okay. I looked back at Zozo, who smiled at me.
“Do it,” the radio commanded. “Do it now.”
I smiled and turned back, facing forward as I leaned back and fell. A sudden sharp pressure pierced my back and my chest almost instantly, but I floated down onto the mattress as Zozo caught me once more. I felt a little cold after a few seconds and found that I couldn’t move my limbs. Zozo climbed up onto the bed and petted my forehead before leaning over and giving it a cold kiss.
“The moon is bright, the wind is quiet, the tree leaves hang over the window, my little baby, go to sleep quickly, sleep, dreaming sweet dreams.” The radio crooned in Zozo’s feathery voice, the first verse of the lullaby that Mommy always sang to me whenever I was going to sleep. I barely had my eyes open as he ended the first verse, when I barely felt his hand slipping into mine, giving it a squeeze. I squeezed back as the lights went dim, and I slipped off into dreamland.