Short Stories 366:303 — “Chaya and Loony-Boy,” by Rati Mehrotra

A favourite from Playground of Lost Toys, “Chaya and Loony-Boy” walks this fine line between a youthful ghost story, creepy “dolls are live when you’re alone with them,” and something altogether charming and compassionate. We meet a little girl who has broken something of her grandmother’s—or, rather, her somewhat petulant and ill-behaved doll, Chaya, has done so but the blame is placed on her—and is sent to the attic as punishment, where the Grandmother declares an attic ghost will make sure she learns a lesson.

Yeah, the grandmother is not the warm-and-cuddly sort.

At first the duo have some bluster to them, but once things start moving and making sounds, the doll declares they must go, and the girl agrees. They can’t go back the way they came, but they can go in a different direction: to the roof patio that puts them on even keel with the neighbouring houses, including the house where “Loony-Boy” lives (an oversized grown adult son of a woman who is rarely seen, but sometimes his cries are heard).

This turn of the story is more of a “from the frying pan to the fire” than an escape, and leads to the story’s final turns. For a ghost story complete with a cruel grandmother and a creepy not-quite-alive-but-alive-enough doll, the tone at the end shifts to one of approaching adulthood, sacrifice in the name of empathy, and while the ghosts still thump in the attic, and the girl is still very much aware of the horrible things around her, this tale ends with just enough hope—or something like it—that I was left feeling not depressed or morose, but a tiny bit comforted.

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