Martin (IV/IV)

There’s a knock at the door. Six-year-old Bethany answers.

Martin’s standing outside. He’s thirteen. He’s wearing a black suit. It’s snazzy. It might be older than he is. He’s also wearing goggles.

“Hi, Bethany, ” Martin says. “Could you take me to your room?”

“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers, ” Bethany explains.

“I’m not a stranger,” Martin says. “I’m the smith. I’m the test. I’m the maker.”

Bethany considers. Then she nods, gravely. She reaches up with her pudgy fingers and takes Martin’s hand. She leads him to her room. He looks over her toy shelf. He takes down a Barbie.

“Her name is Watcher,” Bethany says. “But she’s all weird.”

“Don’t worry,” says Martin. “I’ll fix her.”

**

Edna reads. Martin knocks on Edna’s door. Edna opens the door.

“Hi,” Martin says. “Do you have a Barbie?”

Edna looks Martin over. “Are you the Barbie Inspection Squad, or the Barbie Repossession Unit?”

Martin smiles at her. “Please, ma’am, just answer the question.”

“Yes,” she agrees. “Would you like me to fetch her?”

“That won’t be necessary, ma’am.” He slides past her into the apartment. His eyes scan the room. Finally, he sees it, on top of the VCR.

“Has your Barbie been acting . . . oddly, ma’am?” he asks. He walks closer. He touches it.

“Oddly?”

“In an aberrant fashion, ma’am. Doing things that one would not expect Barbies to do. Changing her appearance. Moving. Engaging in philosophy.”

“No.” Edna looks mildly unnerved.

Martin frowns. He twists the Barbie’s head off and looks inside. He shakes it some. Then he smiles. “Ah,” he says. “It’s stuck.”

He bangs the Barbie sharply against the VCR and something shiny falls out into his hand. Martin replaces its head with one sharp screwing motion. It locks back into place. Martin sets the Barbie back down.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

**

It is 2001. The monster sits in his living room and reads. Martin knocks on the front door. The monster answers. Martin smiles at him. The monster looks uncomfortable.

“Pardon me, sir,” Martin says, “but do you have a Barbie?”

“You can’t come in,” the monster says, then turns. Martin is already browsing the monster’s shelves. After a moment, the monster grinds out, “I have one. But it’s perfectly normal.”

Martin glances around, then spots it. He walks over to it. He holds it to his ear.

“I know why you’re here,” the monster says.

“Barbie Inspection Squad,” Martin says. He takes his goggles off and looks into the monster’s eyes. The monster adjusts his shiny tie. Martin looks away. “A while back, someone thought it’d be a good idea to come out with a new Barbie line that had souls.”

“You can’t just come in here and start taking my stuff,” the monster blusters. “I could have you unmade.

Martin replaces his goggles. He shakes the Barbie. Its eyes begin to shine with a golden glow. He holds it up. “See? Soul.”

“Glowy eyes,” the monster says dismissively.

Martin breathes in the Barbie’s mouth.

“Living with monsters is hard!” the Barbie says.

The monster clenches his jaw. “Mindless babbling.”

“See?” the Barbie says. “He disses me at every opportunity. And we never play dress-up. He likes his spider more than he likes me.”

“The Barbie Inspection Squad,” Martin says, gravely, “tracks these Barbies down and deals with the matter.”

Suddenly, the monster relaxes. “You don’t know what you are.”

Martin smiles lazily. “I’m the smith. I’m the test. I’m the maker. You’re just the dross.”

“Prove it.”

Martin pokes the monster’s chest. “I can touch you.”

“That’s even lamer than bringing my Barbie to life.”

Martin grins. He takes the monster’s hand. He leads the monster down to the basement. Then he lets go. He walks out into the middle of the room.

“It’s funny walking here,” he says. “It’s like the floor is piled high with the bones and wings of angels.”

The monster taps the floor with a foot. It’s stone. It’s dusted. It’s reasonably clean.

“I figure,” Martin says, “that you went through a few dozen before you got to me.” He kicks the air above the floor. “Frederick. Manuel. Steven.” With a tone of wry amusement, he adds, “Lisa.” Then he continues. “Cedric. Clay. Tilly. Basil. Gerard. Earl. Morgan. Thess.” He hesitates.

“The rest weren’t angels,” the monster says.

“Ah,” Martin says.

“So,” the monster says, “you can see names.”

“No,” Martin says. “I can do what it takes. I can kill woglies. I can make myself from nothing. And I can do this.”

He looks around. The room is full of the bones of things that never were. He raises his hand.

The air fills with a storm of becoming. Wings wake and bones straighten. Limbs and fluttering fills the room, and feathers squish into the monster’s mouth. Martin is gone, and the monster realizes, with an odd detached sort of humor, that he is drowning in angels.

The monster turns, choking and gagging, and flounders towards the stairs.

**

“Tell me,” Augusta says. “Why would anyone put a soul in a Barbie?”

“There’s only so much that Heaven can do in the world,” Martin says. “There’s only so much. So evil and horror slips through the cracks. A bunch of souls volunteered to get put inside childrens’ dolls, and come into the world, and help.”

“Oh.” Augusta frowns. “Then why is it bad?”

“I dunno,” Martin says, and shrugs. “It just kinda creeps me out.”

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