by Michael Bailey

From Issue 11 (July 2011)

She had saved his eyes for last. A glimpse of their emptiness before inverting the skin, filling his insides, and stitching together the open gap between his legs. As if confused about why Sally insisted on poking a needle through his hollow head, the incomplete stuffed bear twisted in her hands.  Aren’t you finished with me yet? Sunlight from the morning sky beamed through the blinds in parallel rays; dancing life reflected on its button eyes.

Sally hated making the toy bears, but it was her punishment for pushing her sister. She had pushed her hard this time. Megan had backpedalled over a toy on the floor and fallen against the coffee table, breaking her collar bone. “She could have hit her head,” her mother had said. “You could have paralyzed your sister, or worse!”

“Make me a teddy bear. Make me another one, a better one,” her sister insisted every few months. It had become a problem, this bear making. Megan had found a way to exploit Sally’s punishments with requests. “I want a big, blue one this time. With a big smile and button eyes.”

Megan was only six–half Sally’s age–but couldn’t care less about the little bears Sally crafted for her. Sometimes she’d play with them and then toss them on the floor out of spite. The stuffed creatures were usually small, no bigger than her hand; but this one would stand just over a foot tall, as requested.

Megan could be so demanding. “I want it to have droopy arms and floppy legs. It has to have silver eyes, too.”

Earlier that morning, Sally had stolen a pair of Megan’s pants, a pair of tattered jeans. After cutting the pant legs along their seams, Sally had salvaged two ideal pieces of material. With a black felt pen she drew the outline of a bear with droopy arms and floppy legs, and a round head with semi-circular bumps for ears. There wasn’t a body to the bear. He was mainly arms and legs connected to a head. Skinny appendages belled for hands and feet; all four met at the neck. She had looked it over once, pleased, and cut out the design using her mother’s scissors. Then she had set the first section of material onto the second, traced it with the pen, and cut out a nearly identical, two-dimensional figure.

That’s when Megan came barging into the room. Sometimes Sally had to remind herself that Megan was only six. Still, she could at least be courteous.

“Mom says not to use any more of my pants if you’re making another bear.”

“Well, it’s a little late to tell me now.” Sally held up the ruined jeans. “But they’re your old pants, so Mom won’t care.”

“I’m still telling,” Megan said. She slammed the door as she left the room.

Sally sighed.

Stupid sister. Stupid parents. Stupid bear.

She tossed the two cutouts aside. One of the pieces came to rest on a mess of Megan’s toys and seemed to stand upright on its own.

Rummaging through her junk drawers, Sally found a spool of gray string and pulled a sewing needle from the kit she kept there. She retrieved the two bear halves and went back to work, sitting Indian style on the carpeted floor. With the knot where the legs connected done, she began the repetitious act of sewing the two flat pieces of bear together with little crosshatch stitches. She still said “cross-thatch”, like she had when she was little.

She had just finished with the first leg and moved onto the side of the bear’s head when Megan came banging through the bedroom door again with a beguiling smile. Startled, Sally jabbed the point of the needle into her finger, deep enough to draw blood.

“Ouch, you little brat. Don’t you know how to knock, or at least open the door like a normal person?”

“You’re in trouble,” Megan said, stretching the four-syllable phrase.

“For what? What did I do?”

“You cut up my pants,” Megan said. “My favorite pair of pants.”

“You never wear these anymore.” She held up the remains. “That’s why I chose this pair to begin with. You’re such a snitch.”


“I’m trying to make your precious little bear, remember? And look, you made me bleed all over it.”

Sure enough, a little red splotch of blood had seeped onto the material near the bear’s neck. Sally turned it inside out. “At least it didn’t go all the way through. It won’t show. Now go get me a Band-Aid, or you’ll need one.”

Megan fled. At first, Sally thought she would tattle again but she came back with a handful of plasters, dropped them on the floor and left the room without another word. Sally fixed one Band-Aid to her finger, and set another aside for the bear, just for fun.

By noon, she had finished sewing the bear–all but the neck, through which she would eventually turn the bear right side out. She studied her work.

All this for my brat of a sister.

This would be the last bear, she decided. Screw the punishment. Hadn’t she suffered enough for something as stupid as pushing Megan? It wasn’t like anything really bad had happened to her. Like her dad said, kids broke bones all the time. It was all part of growing up.

I should have pushed her harder.

Sally opened Megan’s dresser drawers and rummaged through the sweaters. Not all of them had buttons, but one did: Megan’s favorite, a white knitted one with a chaotic silver pattern. It had eight shiny silver buttons with white trim that would suit beautifully as eyes. Sally worked the buttons free and folded the sweater back into the dresser.

Sally stitched the two buttons onto the bear, crisscrossing through the holes in their centers. She pricked her finger again as she fed the needle blindly through from the other side.

It took a while for the strange creature to look less spidery. She had left such a miniscule hole to feed the heavy material through in order to turn the bear inside-out. The arms and legs proved most difficult, but with the help of an unsharpened pencil, she was able to feed everything through the open gap between the legs–head, buttons, and all four appendages–inverting the bear. The bear was droopy and floppy, as requested.

Sally’s mother brought in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and apple slices for lunch. She told Sally not to worry about Megan’s jeans, but added, “You need to be more responsible, Sally. You can’t just go around cutting up good jeans whenever you feel like it. I was hoping these bears would help you and your sister bond. And keep you from possibly hur… Remember what we talked about? About how fragile Megan is? You were that fragile once. Remember what the doctor said about your mind wandering, and your temper? Will you tell me if something’s bothering you? I need you to talk to me, Sally.” But Sally had stopped listening.

“Can this be the last one?”

“Sure, Sally.”

She snuck downstairs later and snagged a bag of dried beans from the kitchen. She funneled the beans into the ends of the bear’s legs and then the arms. From her closet she pulled some scraps of material and filled the interior of the bear in a loose manner to keep it droopy and floppy. When she was finished, Sally sewed shut the magic portal.

She spent the next hour with the fine details. She stitched pink thread in multi-parallel lines to help the half-circle ears stand out. Using a coarser thread, she added thick crosshatched “X” marks for a crooked smile. Actually, she thought afterwards, it looked like the bear’s lips had been stitched shut.

At least he’ll be quiet.

Sally played with the bear, moving its limbs back and forth.

She was happy with the results, although she had to admit the bear was ever so creepy if you stared at him long enough. It could almost stand on its own. The weight of the bean-filled legs kept it in place, legs upright, with its head and arms hunched forward. The arms were as heavy as the legs, and likewise touched the ground, giving the toy an apelike stance. The bear kept falling forward when Sally tried to prop it upright.

The bear stared blankly at Sally. Aren’t you finished with me yet? A tiny red flower of blood had seeped through the material after all, right below the neck.

“Not done yet,” she told the bear, looking at its wound. A smaller crimson flower bloomed next to the first. The two red dots reminded Sally of old vampire movies. She picked up the Band-Aid she had set aside and covered the marks on the neck.

“Now you’re finished.”

She stabbed the sewing needle into the bear’s sad face. The bear stayed upright a moment before plopping to the ground, head tilted, mouth mute, eyes gleaming in the early evening sun. Gray string, still looped through the needle, lay coiled at its heavy feet.

The bright bulb of the moon turned everything gray.

The bear lay at the foot of Sally’s bed, the needle and string still protruding from its cheek. Sally had deemed it a boy bear before going to bed, and named him Thatch, for his “crossthatch” stitching. He faced the window, head tilted away from the rest of his body, smiling with his crooked mouth.

If only Megan were so quiet.

Thatch stared at the perfect circle of moon. A black bird fluttered by the window, and the light flickered in the bear’s eyes.

At twelve past two in the morning, Sally was woken by a scream. It was Megan. The room was black, the moonlight gone. Sally could barely make out the silhouette of her sister sitting upright in her bed. Megan shrieked a second time, and the sounds of Mom and Dad racing up the hall followed. Sally tried the lamp on the nightstand but knocked it over. It crashed onto the floor.

The bedroom door swung open, the light was switched on. Megan screamed a third time.

“What’s going on in here?” Mom asked. “Is everyone all right?”

Dad was rubbing his eyes behind her.

“I broke my lamp by accident,” Sally said. “Megan just started screaming.”

Megan cried, her chest bobbing up and down. She was scared. Mom sat at her side and held her tight.

“It’s all right. Everything’s okay now, sweetie. You just had a bad dream.”

“Neuh-neuh-neuh.” Megan couldn’t get words out.

“Sally, clean up that mess and get back to bed, unless your father wants to do it for you.” She turned to Dad, but he was already gone from the room.     Sally tidied up the pieces of her lamp while Megan mumbled.

“It was just a bad dream,” her mother said, easing up on the hug.

“It wasn’t a dream,” Megan said through a face of tears. She pointed to the base of Sally’s bed.

“The bear?” Mom asked. “Did the bear scare you?”

Sally returned to her bed and leaned over, lifting the toy from the floor. “Thatch is just a stuffed animal, Meg. See, he’s just a dumb toy.”

She made it dance. The bear’s heavy arms and legs moved like a string-less marionette, the head slumped over, almost grinning.

“Stop it! Stop it!” her sister yelled, her eyes filling with tears. Something about the bear clearly scared her.

“Put that thing away,” Mom said, holding Megan against her. “It’s okay, sweetie. Sally is just teasing you. It’s only a toy.”

Sally dropped it back to the floor. It fell in a clump, face flat on the carpet.

“It wasn’t there before,” Megan said, each word separated by a sob. “It was on my bed.”

Mom looked in Sally’s direction, suspecting foul play.

“I was asleep. I swear,” Sally said. “Until she started screaming, anyway. That’s when I tried to turn on the light and knocked it over. Thatch was there all along… that’s where I left him.” She pointed to the lump on the floor.

“Nuh-uh,” said her sister. “I woke up and he was sitting on my stomach, staring at me.” She started a series of forced sobs. “His eyes were glowing, and his neck was bleeding, and he had a needle sticking out of his head, and then…” The rest was unintelligible.

“Can you put this thing away for the night?” her mother asked, swiping the bear from the floor. She gave it a quick inspection. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. Megan’s your sister. You need to start treating her like one.”

“I didn’t do anything!” Sally yelled.

Enough. I don’t want to hear another word.”


“Not another word!”

Mom took Thatch under an arm, poking herself with the needle. She swore under her breath and tossed the bear back to the floor. In a softer voice she said, “I want you to put that thing away and go to bed. If I hear another peep from this room…”

Sally chose not to say anything.

Thatch was alive in Sally’s dream. He sat on Megan’s chest as she lay in bed, screaming desperate, bloody cries. His tilted head stared into her soul. His silver button eyes reflected the terrified expression on Megan’s face. The needle in Thatch’s face glinted, trailing its gray string. Megan’s screams were constant, and soon became dried-out, wheezy, almost maddening to tolerate. Thatch’s droopy arms played in the red mess around Megan’s neck. A pair of scissors skewered her left shoulder. Sally cried out for Mom, for Dad, but no parental footsteps raced down the hall. Thatch got to them first, Sally thought. Megan reached a weak, blood-streaked arm out to her sister. Two fingers and a thumb curled upward, as her skinny wrist shook. Her pinky and ring fingers stayed behind on the pillow. Megan pleaded for her sister to help, but there were no words, only a strained, choking gibberish. Her eyes met Sally’s, but Sally’s gaze drifted to the stuffed bear. As she watched, the bear’s head slowly turned in her direction. This bear she had crafted using pants and buttons and whatnot. The bear she had named Thatch. As he turned to face her, Sally saw that the Band-Aid she had placed on his neck was gone. The two holes of red oozed blood. It was Sally’s blood in the bear, Sally’s blood that gave it life. Glowing eyes bore down, hypnotizing her, and she screamed, just like her sister.  But her sister wasn’t screaming. Not anymore. Megan was dead, like their parents down the hall. Sally’s family was gone.

Thatch no longer had a mouth. The silver eyes were there, and the semi-circle ears, but the thick stitching of his mouth was gone, and in its place only tiny holes remained where thread had crisscrossed in a crooked smile. On his face was a connect-the-dots constellation of grin. Thatch was alive, and he held Sally’s stare. She forced herself awake.

Her heart raced in her chest, her entire body shaking and sweaty as she eased out of the nightmare. She buried herself in the covers and made sure to tuck her feet and hands underneath, feeling that if she was covered, she was safe.

The bed soon became an oven, though, as body heat filled her makeshift safety blanket. Soon she would have to spring for fresh air. What if Thatch was out there in the darkness, ready to pounce at the first glimpse of exposed flesh? She’d poke her toe out, and he’d grab it and pull her out. And what if her sister was out there, not waiting, but dead? Sally anxiously tried to shrug off the nightmare. It was only a dream. Megan was alive. So were her parents. And Thatch was just a handmade toy.

Clenching her teeth, she poked out that toe, ready to feel a soft denim paw wrap around it. A breeze greeted the toe, and nothing else. Sally slipped the rest of the foot out, and then the other. Her fingers crept out next. One by one they curled back the edges of the comforter and found the cold air. Sally pulled her head free, keeping her eyes sealed. Then she forced open a pair of persistent eyelids that would rather have stayed closed.

Sitting upright, Sally let her eyes adjust to the dark room.

Megan’s chest rose and fell. There was no stuffed bear in sight.

Only a bad dream.

She had to check the base of her bed. Thatch would be there for sure, plopped on his side, staring at nothing. She leaned over the edge.

Thatch stared at the carpet, his face flat against the floor, his legs and arms sprawled like the compass on a map. One arm pointed to Megan, the other to Sally; one leg pointed to the door, the other to the window.

Outside, dead leaves floated across the yard. Looking to her sister, she sighed.

Megan’s your sister. You need to start treating her like one.

Maybe Mom was right. Maybe she needed to step up and be a better sister. She was her kid sister after all. Sally remembered how proud she had felt the first time Mom let her hold her baby sister. If Thatch was scaring Megan, maybe she should get rid of him, destroy him even. She wouldn’t have to make the bears anymore, that much was certain. She could tell Megan in the morning that Thatch would never scare her again because she took care of him. “See, he’s just cut-up pieces of material,” she could say.

Sally headed to the dresser to get the scissors. Moonlight shimmered on the sharp blades. Sally’s smile widened to a grin as she approached to the edge of the bed.

Megan would never have to be scared again.

She sat next to Thatch and propped him up to face her. He did nothing to stop her, just looked back confused, head tilted to the side. She stabbed the scissors into his neck until they tore through. Everything had to come out. She pulled and pulled. She’d save the eyes for last–those lifeless silver discs. She’d rip them right out.

Thatch started to struggle. Along with the stuffing, blood erupted from the wounds she created.

But isn’t this my blood?

Thatch offered a blank, hopeless expression as Sally tore his insides out. Still he bled, and soon she sat in sticky red.

She held out her hands, covered in red.

I’m dreaming.

She checked her fingers, palms and wrists to see if it was she who was bleeding; nowhere could she find a cut on herself. She grabbed the creature’s paw, clipped off the tip. Blood poured out.

I am dreaming.

The creature’s shiny eyes bored into hers. It struggled to break free. Sally tried to hold on, to let it bleed out. It writhed, and squirmed, and would speak to Sally if not for the stitching that was now inexplicably back, sealing its mouth. She sobbed in silence as she stabbed and ripped and pulled.

Wake up!

She waited for her parents to come running down the hall.

Wake up!

For once, she wanted her sister.

Please… wake up.

Sally snapped out of it. She was blanketed in sweat, sitting upright, shaking uncontrollably, sobbing aloud to no one. The house was dead. Megan lay beside her in a pool of blood, scissor handles protruding from her neck. The tips of a few fingers lay nearby. She wore a Band-Aid with two dots of red underneath. Her mouth was sewn shut with crosshatch stitches; scraps of material poked randomly from the gaps. Her head was tilted at a curious angle. And those eyes…

Copyright © 2006 by Michael Bailey
originally published in Something Weird Horror Anthology,  compiled by Troy Kealley.
Reprinted by  permission of the author.

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Michael Bailey

Michael Bailey is the author of Palindrome Hannah, a non-linear horror novel and finalist for the Independent Publisher Awards. His follow-up novel, Phoenix Rose, was listed for the National Best Book Awards for horror fiction and was a finalist for the International Book Awards.

Scales and Petals, his short story collection,won the same award for short fiction and Pellucid Lunacy won for anthologies.

His short fiction and poetry can be found in various anthologies and magazines around the world.

His short story “Without Face” previously appeared in Something Wicked Issue 6 and was mentioned in The Best Horror of the Year.

He is currently working on his third novel, Psychotropic Dragon, a new short story collection, Inkblots and Blood Spots, and tossing around ideas for a second themed anthology.

You can visit him online at

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